Connecting Existing Sites to New Projects

Before late August 2012, users could create sites that weren’t connected to a project. ¬†In the process of improving the overall organization of the OpenLab, and to keep all the wonderful work everyone is doing here visible to everyone (when the creator chooses, that is), that had to change: ¬†at this point all sites must ¬†be connected to a project.

We have no doubt that this will improve the structure of our¬†virtual¬†campus, but it does mean that if you created a stand-alone site you’ll need to connect it to a project before it can appear in your “My OpenLab.” ¬†But don’t worry, it’s still there!

To do so, go through the process that you would to create any Project, whether that’s a course, project, or club.

First log in to the OpenLab, then click MY <choose your project> in the right hand column, then click CREATE <project>.

Follow the steps as you would when creating any project (see our help section for assistance on this). ¬†When it comes time to choose a site, though, you should see “Use an existing site” as one of your options, as in this screenshot:

NOTE: ¬†this option will not appear if you did not create a stand-alone site–if you don’t see “Use an existing site,” then this tutorial is probably not for you.

In the drop-down (where it says ‘scotttest’) above, you should see your existing stand-alone site. ¬†Click it, follow the rest of the instructions, and you’re done!

As always, contact us with any questions!

Twitter Tools: Pt. 2 (Options)

(Image by petesimon via Creative Commons)

Twitter Tools is a way of integrating Twitter and your OpenLab site (or any WordPress site), so that your posts can be tweeted automatically as soon as you publish them. ¬†It also gives you a great deal of flexibility: ¬†you can set it to exclude certain categories, and our present installation comes with url shortening and a hashtag creator (if you don’t know what those are or why you’d need them, you’ll want first to brush up on ‘What’s Twitter?’ ¬†The rest of this tutorial presumes you’re already familiar with Twitter, just to save space and time).

And as you can see from the title, this is part 2 of our Twitter Tools tutorial, which deals with options and set-up. ¬†If you haven’t already, check out part 1 here.

Most of this tutorial will concentrate on the glories of the Twitter Tools Options Page, which is found in the left hand column of your dashboard under SETTINGS>TWITTER TOOLS. ¬†But first let’s make sure there’s no confusion: ¬†you can also find TWEET under POSTS in the left hand column of your dashboard. ¬†This allows for direct tweeting, unrelated to a post, and what it gives you is this:

That is NOT where you can set your Twitter Tools options, however. ¬†As we said, you can find the Twitter Tools options page under SETTINGS>TWITTER TOOLS. ¬†Once there, you’ll see that the Twitter Tools Options page has three major sections, which we’ll deal with in turn.

NOTE: ¬†We’re only going to say this once, but we’ll put in bold because it is very important: ¬†Be sure to save at every step of the way with Twitter Tools Options.¬†You’ll note that almost every option has its own “save settings” button, and a section-specific save button needs to be clicked to save a change to that section.

That said, this is the first section…

Most of these are pretty self-explanatory, and involve automatic tweeting options for any post that you create. ¬†But let’s note three important things:

1) If you choose yes on the first option, you’re setting things up so that a Twitter Tools box appears way way way down on the lower right of¬†your ADD NEW POST or EDIT POST page. ¬†This will be set to “yes” when you open the page, and hitting publish will¬†send the tweet automatically. ¬†But you can change it to “no” for a single post. ¬†Switch the above setting to “no” to have the box disappear across your site. ¬†You can also here add a post-specific hashtag.

2) Twitter Tools sends any blog post as a link to your Twitter Account, but it also¬†can go the other direction, turning any tweet into a blog post. ¬†If you’re a heavy Twitter user, this can be an invaluable option.

3) “Tweets to show in sidebar” refers to a Twitter Tools widget (found under APPEARANCE>WIDGETS) which can be dragged into any sidebar to show your latest Twitter activity. ¬†You can see an example on the home page of this website. ¬†Remember, as with most widgets, this isn’t on by default: setting a number here only changes the setting, but the widget still needs to dragged in the widgets area.

(If you want to know more about¬†XML-RPC, you can do that here, but if you don’t know, this probably won’t¬†clarify¬†much! ¬†Most of our users only need to know that leaving it on will allow the default tweet prefix (you can change that phrase to whatever you like) to appear whenever you create a new post. ¬†And there’s no number next to it because it’s outside the use of most of our members, but if you want to know more about which of the two JavaScript (js) library options might be best for you, here’s at least one comparison.)

That finishes up the first section of the Twitter Tools Options Page, here’s a screen shot of what we’re calling the second:

Most of these are self-explanatory¬†as well, dealing with setting up a daily or weekly digest blog post from your tweets. ¬†As we’ve suggested, the idea behind Twitter Tools is to limit the gap between your Twitter Account and your OpenLab site ¬†Here’s a way to not have a bunch of 140 character posts on your site, but still be sure to have your Twitter activity appear at regular intervals. ¬†The main thing we want to say here is there’s a reason why these are marked “experimental.” ¬†These features are under development and may very well act erratically.

The third and final section of the Twitter Tools Options page has four features:  update Tweets/Reset Checking and Digests,, exclude categories, and hashtags:

The first of these is simply a way to manually make sure that all tweets are heading in all directions: ¬†if something with Twitter is “technically wrong” for a while, or there is a problem or pause in your site for some reason, you can click here to have everything re-synced., of course, is a url shortener, and if you use Twitter a lot you know how valuable it is (and if you don’t use a url shortener, you should). ¬†There are other url shorteners out there, but only the option for Twitter Tools. ¬†To make this work you need two things, a username (which means you need a account) and an API Key, which you can find in your account here. ¬†Remember, you’ll need to be logged in–once you are, you’ll see an uncensored version of this:

Just copy those onto our Twitter Tools Options page, and you’re done!

The next Twitter Tools option is Exclude Categories which, like the Bitly option, is so valuable we can’t be sure why it’s at the bottom of the page. ¬†But it’s also pretty self-explanitory: ¬†because everything is set to be automatically synced between your twitter account and your OpenLab site, this is an easy way to exclude any category. ¬†It seems particularly useful for, say, updates that are useful for your site users/members/students, but that might not have a wider audience.

Our very last option allows you to create a default hashtag for all posts. ¬†Remember, that’s ALL posts, so you would want to be rather general. ¬†To add post-specific hashtags, see the very top of this post!

And that’s it! ¬†As always, contact us with any questions…

Twitter Tools: Part 1 (Set-Up)

Twitter Tools is a way of integrating Twitter and your OpenLab site (or any WordPress site), so that your posts can be tweeted automatically as soon as you publish them. ¬†It also gives you a great deal of flexibility: ¬†you can set it to exclude certain categories, and our present installation comes with url shortening and a hashtag creator (if you don’t know what those are or why you’d need them, you’ll want first to brush up on ‘What’s Twitter?’ ¬†The rest of this tutorial presumes you’re already familiar with Twitter, just to save space and time).

To use Twitter Tools, first, you’ll want to visit the plugins page on your OpenLab site and activate all of the Twitter Tools plug-ins (you can choose not to activate them all, but we’re recommending it for now).

Once you do that, go to SETTINGS>TWITTER TOOLS, and you’ll come to the Twitter Tools Options page:

Now, as you can see, even the plug-in developers think these next couple steps are a bit complicated. ¬†Bear with it, though–you only need to do this once!

When you first click on Twitter Tools, you’ll be asked to connect your site to your Twitter account. ¬†Click ‘register this site as an application on Twitter‚Äôs app registration page,’ which will take you to a page on Twitter that looks like this:

These fields aren’t very self-explanatory for the uninitiated, but basically you want your Twitter user name in the first box, a description like the one I’ve written in the second (the official Twitter stream for (your site)) and the site URL (not openlab, as here, but your specific OpenLab site URL). ¬†Then you’ll need to agree to the terms and conditions, fill in a captcha and…you’ll see a page like this:

First, go to the SETTINGS tab and change Read-Only (which is the default) to “Read, Write and Access direct messages”.

Then you’ll want to note the blocked out bits in the screenshot above. ¬†We’ve blocked them out because you need to keep these things private, but you want to copy that Consumer Key and Consumer Secret from the Twitter page pictured above and paste them into the appropriate fields back on your OpenLab site Twitter Tools Setting page (which, at this point, still says ‘Connect to Twitter’ at the top‚ÄĒit‚Äôs the third screenshot from the top of this post).

Once you’ve done that, go back to the Twitter page, scroll down, and click ‘Create Access Token.’

Once you do that, after a few moments an Acces Token and Access Token Secret will appear under the OAuth Tool tab, which the arrow points to here:

Copy what you find there (again, blocked out in the screenshot above) and go back to your OpenLab site Twitter Tools setup page. Paste the keys into the Access Key and Access Key Secret fields on your Twitter Tools setup page.  Again, keep that secret secret!

If all goes well, you’ll click ‘connect to Twitter’ and you’ll see ‘Yay! We connected with Twitter.’

The page you’ll find yourself on has Twitter Tools options which you’ll want to familiarize yourself with, though soon we’ll have a follow up tutorial that’ll give a bit more detail on how to use these options.

This is all a bit confusing, but hopefully this process makes a bit of sense–there’s another description of the same process here that might help as well. ¬†And as always, contact us with any questions!


Embedding YouTube Videos

Embedding YouTube Videos on the OpenLab is about as simple as it comes. ¬†Just a couple steps, and you’re done. ¬†The only thing to note is that this might be a little different than what you’re used to if you’ve used other wordpress systems, including ¬†In fact they’ve made it a little easier.

First, click the “Share” button beneath the video, then click “embed.” ¬†Then copy and paste the link (circled below) NOT the iframe embed code (and here’s the difference from what you might be used to.

Next copy that link into the html window of your post. ¬†If you’ve never noticed, there are two tabs in the upper right of your post dialogue box. ¬†Click the html tab, then enter the copied link.

You can then switch back to the visual tab to finish your post. ¬†Then hit publish, and that’s it! ¬†As always, contact us with any questions.

Importing and Exporting Sites

If you’re a faculty member, you might be wondering what to do with your courses when we want to move them to the next term.  There’s admittedly a lot to think about when it comes to this issue, and depends on how you set up your course, whether you’re teaching the same course, how many sections of a course you teach.  Your Community Facilitation team  is always available to help you plan these things out.  But one simple solution to issues of how to best move course materials from one term to another is to create a new site for your upcoming courses, and export all the old material there.

To do so simply follow these simple steps:

1) click “export” under “tools” in the left hand navigation bar

2) You’ll then see the Export dialogue: You can choose “All Content” or just pages and posts, you can even choose which authors to import. ¬†Once you’ve made those decisions, click “Download Export File.” ¬†¬†That saves all your site’s information on your computer in an .xml format.

3) ¬† Now once you’ve created a new course (if you need a refresher, you can find that here).

4) Once you’ve got your new, blank course, go to “Tools” on that new course dashboard¬†and click “Import.” ¬†On our system, you’ll be asked to choose a system. ¬†We only have one, so click “WordPress.”

4) Choose your .xml file from wherever you saved it (on most, the default is your download folder). ¬†Click upload file and import, and you’re done!

A few things to note:

  • not everything will look the same–images will move, formatting will change, widgets will be reset, and menus will reset to default. ¬†But all of your pages and posts and content will move (look for them under pages and posts on the dashboard), and it won’t take long to readjust things the way you like. ¬†This import/export process is really about content, not form.
  • exporting will not take documents from the course profile page, only the site. ¬†Documents from the course profile page have to be moved or re-uploaded.
That’s it! ¬†As always, please¬†contact us¬†with any questions.

LaTeX update: What if I can’t write LaTex?

A few weeks back we created a tutorial to use the WordPress LaTeX plug-in, which allows users to use a set of commands to turn this:


Into this:

$latex \sqrt{x^2+1}$


Our tutorial was designed for faculty and students who already know LaTeX.  But also, Jonas Reitz has developed an exercise to help students learn how to use it here.

But what if you don’t know the commands that make the equation magically appear? ¬†Or if your students have usually used a LaTeX equation editor? ¬†And what if you don’t have time to make learning the LaTeX a part of your course? ¬†We think we have a solution.

When your students create a LaTeX equation using an equation editor, they click the superscript button, or the square root button, or the pi button, or whatever.  When they do so the equation appears below the dialogue box in pretty LaTeX form.  But also the commands appear in the meantime inside the dialogue box, as here:

Once the equation appears below the box in the way they would like, they simply need to copy the commands from the dialogue box into our website page.

BUT:  they need to add the markers (tokens) which help the wordpress page recognize that this is a LaTeX equation.  Those tokens are a dollar sign, the word latex, and another dollar sign.   So surround the commands copied from the equation editor with those tokens, like this:

 and our plug-in will re-translate those commands into the LaTex equation, so they see \sqrt{x^2+1}  on our page.
A bit of a convoluted solution, but if I can do it, with my zero mathematical knowledge, it should work for most.  That said, any better solution would be more than welcome.  Please  email us with questions of comments at anytime time.


Image Resizing

The simplest way to resize an image is to use an online service like ¬†We don’t endorse any particular online service here at the OpenLab, and there are many online resizing free services. ¬†But this one is solid in that it has the things most people need when resizing (a bit of color changing, a size change option, a crop feature, and a way to reduce file size). ¬†If you don’t like PicMonkey, go ahead and search online for “free image resizing” and you’ll find more options than you can handle. ¬†And here’s an article that looks at a few similar editors.

Most of these are pretty simple.  Just two things to keep in mind:

1) most of the time, roughly 600 pixels wide is the most you need for an image on one of our sites.

2) when it comes to file size, you don’t need a large file for most online work. ¬†Save a large image somewhere else, and post images that are less than 60KB. ¬†To do this with PicMonkey, move the ‘quality’ slider when you go to save the image.

Here’s an example. ¬†The image below was originally 1440 X 1080 pixels–way larger than we need. ¬†What we end up with is a thumbnail that’s 600 pixels wide which you can click on to see the full-size image. ¬†It’s pretty rare that we need that second size, but it’s on the site now, and taking up an enormous amount of space.

(image by j_bary on Flickr  via Creative Commons)

So if we resize the image (I used PicMonkey here) to 600 px wide, and then lower the quality to 50KB, we end up with this:

It’s not quite as nice, but it’s going to save you a lot of space on your site, and if you don’t need the larger image, it’s a great idea to do it in advance. ¬†Of course, if you do need the larger sizes, you should by all means post them. ¬†The key is to think through what you need your images for, so that you can use the extra space when you need to. ¬†Images that come straight out of your camera or phone, for example are almost always much larger than you probably need.

Of course, PicMonkey is, as we said, very simple.  Much more can be done using Photoshop or Gimp.  Here are two short tutorials on doing these simple tasks with these two much more robust applications:

Here’s a tutorial on resizing using photoshop:

And here’s a tutoria on resizing using gimp:

That’s it! ¬†As always, contact us if you have any questions.


Using Screen Options

As I remembered just this morning as I accidentally deleted a post, WordPress has a convenient way to recover revisions and older drafts of a page or post.¬† In newer versions of WordPress, however, that feature is hidden in the default setting.¬† To access it (and several other screen options), click the ‘Screen Options’ button in the upper right of the dashboard.

When that opens, you’ll see a set of options, one of which is ‘Revisions.’¬† Click that, and beneath your main post or page box you’ll see a list of various drafts appear.¬† Clicking on any of them will allow you to view, compare, or restore that draft.

Very simple, but a bit tucked away, so easy to miss!  As always, contact us with any questions.

Google Maps


Our Google Maps plug-in allows users to embed google maps into posts and pages. ¬† If you’ve used wordpress in other settings before (, for example), you’ll want to look through this tutorial because the embedding process might be a little different than you’re used to. ¬†A little different, but very simple.

To use it, first activate the plug-in on your plug-ins page. ¬†Once you do, you’ll see a new icon appear in your posts or pages toolbar.

Once you’ve created a google map, click the small link icon at the upper right of your map, and then copy the URL from the dialogue box that appears. ¬†Note: you shouldn’t copy the iframe code in the lower box, even though it says to copy that to ’embed’ in a webstie. ¬†Copy the code in the upper field.

Click on that icon we pointed out above, and copy the code into the dialogue box that appears–note that here you change the size of the map as well.

Hit ‘okay,’ and then publish the post, and your map will appear! ¬†As always, contact us with any questions.