I came across this tweet today, thanks to the @getgrav Twitter feed:

This is something I can definitely speak to, as in fact just over a year ago I tried out each of the above CMSs (and a few others) for use as a new course website platform. Here is a little trip down memory lane…

I even went ahead and purchased a single user Statamic 1.0 license, as there was no free trial available at the time. As you can see from the above, I also checked out OctoberCMS and Bolt during my evaluation phase.

For each CMS I tried to modify either a default site and/or start a new simple project site. I was able to do this with each CMS easily enough, but found the CraftCMS had the most feature-rich editing environment and a very strong modular content approach as well. Statamic was also quite promising initially, but I soon ran into several difficulties including getting the available Foundation theme handling dropdown menus. Overall, I found that things work the easiest for me with OctoberCMS, Kirby, Bolt, and Grav.

All of the above CMSs are also “modern” in general terms, but as I learned more about what a flat-file CMS could specifically provide I decided to focus on that aspect.

Some key benefits of flat-file CMSs, especially for educators:

  • No database means less (or no) IT involvement needed
  • Increased portability, as moving a site now only requires simply copying files to another location
  • Takes full advantage of the collaborative ecosystem now available (i.e. GitHub, GitLab, etc.)

Once I decided that a flat-file CMS was the best fit for my needs, then OctoberCMS, CraftCMS, and Bolt were all eliminated from the running. I also wanted to use an open source platform, so that then removed Statamic from the running.

So why did I choose RocketTheme’s Grav over Kirby given my initial analysis? After a bit of thought, I would say the main reasons were:

  • Excellent conceptual/design model
  • Markdown/Twig/YAML usage
  • Self-contained Skeleton format
  • Inherited themes
  • Multiple open-source themes suitable for my needs
  • Powerful modular content support
  • Custom content type definitions
  • File editing and/or fully-featured Web editor (which was planned for Grav 1.0)
  • Documentation quality (bonus points: it’s built with Grav learn.grav.org)
  • Level of community support/engagement
  • Example GitHub integration (which also supports my current preferred workflow)

Speed/responsiveness was also an important consideration, but based on my initial experiences Grav and Kirby seems pretty evenly matched on that issue.

It’s just over a year later and I am feeling really good about my choice. Grav v1.0 has now been released, and both its capabilities and the community keep growing. A public roadmap for Grav in 2016 is available which also includes Gantry 5, RocketTheme’s theme framework available on Joomla and soon on Wordpress. From everything that I’ve seen so far Gantry will bring some really easy-to-use but powerful theme customization features to Grav.

As a side-note, I’ve also used other platforms such as WordPress, Concrete5, and Moodle to create my course hubs in the past, but with Grav I’ve been able to achieve a much higher level of customization than ever before. With only basic HTML/CSS knowledge, coupled with the incredible ease of use of the Twig language, Grav has enabled me to design and deliver much better experiences for my students and fellow educators. I’ve even been able to create my own open source Course Hub project to help other educators get started with Grav, which I plan to also release as a self-contained Grav skeleton package.

Want to read a more detailed overview of Grav? Check out David Walsh’s article Grav: Building Fast and Flexible Websites.

I look forward to reading Patrick’s CMS comparison article next!

I am putting together a very brief presentation about flipping an LMS with an open + collaborative platform. Here is what I’ve got so far:

Flip it Good! Flipping the LMS with an Open + Collaborative Platform
Do you have unmet pedagogical goals due to the constraints of your current LMS? Do you want to have a better experience for your students and yourself? In preparing his Fall 2015 CMPT-363 (User Interface Design) course at Simon Fraser University, instructor and interaction designer Paul Hibbitts faced these same challenges. His solution was to ‘flip the LMS’ by designing and developing an alternative front-end to the institutional LMS Canvas (http://paulhibbitts.net/cmpt-363-153/). In this approach, the LMS was used only for elements it was best suited for (i.e. student records, grades, etc.) with all other elements handled by an open extensible platform completely under his control.

Based on the positive feedback of his students and his own experience, he decided to create an open source course hub built with the CMS (Content Management System) Grav to help other instructors get started in flipping their LMS with an open + collaborative platform.

In this presentation Paul will share his flipped-LMS approach and introduce his ready-to-run open source Grav Course Hub for use by other educators.

In-progress Slides

This article is now outdated. Please refer to the Grav Course Companion Getting Started Guide.

I am pleased (well, actually quite stoked) to announce that my ready-to-run Course Companion, built with the open source CMS Grav, is now available for fellow educators to take for a test drive.

Continue Reading

Here is a quick sampling of some Grav CMS Course Companion workflows:

Video 1. Simple install of the course companion on a Web server (in under 30 seconds).

Video 2. Instructor workflow of making a course companion edit and pushing change to live site (recommended desktop and server install).

Video 3. Student workflow of making a suggested change to the course companion (optional feature).

Video 4. Instructor review of proposed student changes to the course companion site (optional feature). Appointed students can also have the ability to review and approve submitted changes.

Flipped-LMS approach using Grav, GitHub, and Deploy
Figure 1. Flipped-LMS approach using Grav CMS, GitHub, and Deploy.

Here is what I have in mind so far for a possible ebook or workshop about Grav CMS for instructors:

  • What is a Modern Flat-file CMS?
  • Getting Grav up and Running
    • Requirements
    • Installation
      • Server Only
      • Desktop + Server
  • The Basics of Grav
    • Admin Panel
      • Account Creation
    • Overview
      • Dashboard
      • Configuration
      • Managing Pages
      • Editing Pages
    • Working with Files
      • Overview
      • Pages
    • Folders
    • Page Content
    • Overview
    • Names
    • Headers
      • Markdown
      • Linking Pages
      • Embedding Media
  • Flipping your LMS with Grav
    • What is a Flipped-LMS?
    • Why Flip the LMS?
    • Flipped-LMS Approach
    • Experience Design Goals
    • Why Grav?
  • An Open and Collaborative Workflow
    • Overview
    • Recommended Toolset
      • MAMP
      • Git Service (e.g. GitHub, GitLab, Gogs, etc.)
      • GitHub Desktop
      • Deploy
    • Example Workflow
    • Setting it all Up
  • Course Companion Skeleton Package
    • Highlights
    • Site Structure
    • Pages Types
    • Configuration
  • Things to Explore Next…
    • Font awesome icons (included)
    • Built-in media manipulation functionality
    • Modular content using Page Inject plugin (included)
    • Additional theme customizations
    • The joys of the Twig templating language
  • Wrap-up

Here is a draft workshop description:
Do you have unmet pedagogical goals due to the constraints of your current LMS? Do you want to have a better experience for your students and yourself? In this workshop, Paul will introduce Grav, the modern flat-file (no database) CMS and his open source course companion to help other instructors flip their LMS to overcome these challenges. Participants should be comfortable with editing text files, connecting to a Web server, and be familiar with basic Web page elements.

And here is a peek at the in-progress slides:

Thoughts or comments? You can find me on Twitter at @hibbittsdesign.

This article is now outdated. Please refer to the Grav Course Companion Getting Started Guide.

To kick off 2016 in style, I’ve just released an early prototype + documentation for my Grav CMS Course Companion skeleton package, based on the Bones Vanilla theme.

Bones Vanilla Course Companion Prototype for Grav CMS
Figure 1. Bones Vanilla Course Companion Prototype for Grav CMS.

You can explore the prototype at http://hibbittsdesign.org/prototypes/bones-vanilla-course-companion/ and download the complete ready-to-run Grav Skeleton Package (and initial documentation) at https://github.com/hibbitts-design/grav-skeleton-bones-vanilla-course-companion-prototype.

In addition to the GitHub repository ReadMe, there are the following step-by-step tutorials:

This prototype is also designed to support a flipped-LMS approach with Grav being used as an open and collaborative platform.

Here are a few recent thoughts about the usage of LMSs and CMSs outside of school/courses, for both students and instructors.

A flipped-LMS approach using an open and collaborative Web platform (i.e. CMS) minimizes effort/time with a closed LMS and maximizes time/effort with an open source CMS.

What is a flipped LMS?
A flipped LMS approach is where an open platform, in the control of course participants, serves as an alternative front-end to the institutional LMS

Flipped-LMS approach
Figure 1. Flipped-LMS approach.

Why flip the LMS?
To support pedagogical goals unmet by current LMS/platform
To deliver a better student (and facilitator) experience
To increase capability of access, sharing and collaboration

What to “Flip” Your LMS With?
Ideally an open and collaborative platform, as shown below:

Open + collaborative Web platform
Figure 2. Open + collaborative Web platform.

Flipped-LMS approach using an open + collaborative Web platform
Figure 3. Flipped-LMS approach using an open + collaborative Web platform.

For example, the modern flat-file CMS Grav along with GitHub and an automatic deployment service such as Deploy can be used quite effectively by tech-savvy educators as an open and collaborative platform to support a flipped-LMS approach:

Flipped-LMS approach using Grav, GitHub, and Deploy

Figure 4. Flipped-LMS approach using Grav CMS, GitHub, and Deploy.

When flipping your LMS what are some key experience design goals?
Student experience design goals:

Facilitator experience design goals:
Controllable (i.e. manageable)
Pliable (i.e. flexible)
Enjoyable (hey, instructors are people too…)

Want to get started with flipping your own LMS? Since this article was written I’ve built an open source project using the Grav CMS to help other tech-savvy instructors - explore the on-line demo and then head over to Grav Course Hub Getting Started Guide to get going.