I have a client who wanted an email newsletter last spring; I investigated the possibilities, chose Constant Contact, and started sending monthly newsletters I’d research and write. Worked great. Easy software. Then my client asked, could you build just a little website, just a landing page, so we have a web presence? No problem. I know a little bit of HTML and, more importantly, know an easy software program (CoffeeCup) that would build a page.
This winter I was asked to do something much bigger. In my defense, I suggested at that point that they get an actual professional. But it was too late; they liked me. So I spent time trying to learn about the different content management systems (paid/unpaid) and tried Joomla for awhile; at the end of the year, I investigated WordPress (the .org version) and decided to learn it. The blog I have here for CCK2011 was my first use of the engine. And it’s great and quite intuitive. The .org version gave me fits, mostly because [tip coming!] Yahoo won’t support installing it at the root, so if you choose a funky theme with bells and whistles, it ain’t gonna work right. [Another tip: don’t pay for a theme design; get a free theme where you can pay to join the support community.]
I learned a lot, which is always fun for me even when it’s incredibly frustrating. I learned what plugins were, how to make menus, ways to upload images WordPress says are too big, and how to embed videos and podcasts (uh, plugins again!). At one point I tried something new and managed to shrink the whole front page down to a 10 x 10px square. That was cool. Then I messed with the PHP functions (bad idea) and wiped out the whole thing; I had to start over from that point, but I had sure learned not to do that again.
Over the last four weeks I have spent probably close to 100 hours on this project. But I suspect it would have been 100s more had it not been for the knowledge in the Web. I was able to post some questions on the support forum of the developer who created the theme I chose (Justin Tadlock, www.themehybrid.com; awesome work). Justin answered some direct questions, and so did some other members of his community. What didn’t get answered there, I managed to find on or cobble together from a variety of sites that have free tutorials about XHTML/CSS/PHP and a whole lotta other stuff. Also, his code is commented all over the place, so I could follow along and consult tutorials about things I didn’t understand. Finally (way too) late last night, the one tiny detail I couldn’t figure out…I figured out (how to float that tube image). Eureka!
I consciously thought about connectivism as I did this because I do think that our new era requires this kind of traveling around the web to learn. That’s the part of the theory I’m definitely subscribing to. So I wondered about what I could do to sort of pass on my learning, put another path or at least a picnic bench up there. I’m doing that a bit here; but also as I got the answers I was looking for, I went back to Justin’s support forum and posted the answers to my own questions and the code I used.
“Programming is the new literacy of the digital age.”