We Launched a Community Events Calendar and You Can Too!

Chicago is known for having one of the richest out-of-school time learning ecosystems in the US. So much incredible work has been done in this city to advance and nurture that ecosystem through collaborative networks like After School Matters (ASM), the Chicago City of Learning (CCOL), Thrive Chicago, Mozilla’s Hive Chicago and others! In particular, CCOL and ASM have done incredible work to make these opportunities visible to young people and adults of influence through online portals, calendars, and searchable databases.

But much of what is true for the needs of young learners is also true for their educators. At the Hive, we believe that exceptional connected learning (CL) experiences for young people begin with exceptional CL experiences for educators. Learning is a lifestyle! The same organizational members of Mozilla’s Hive Chicago Learning Network that provide incredible learning experiences for youth bring that energy and creativity to the professional development of teachers, mentors, coaches, and program providers. Yet, we don’t have a community calendar or online portal for those adults.

In the Hive, we make unmet opportunities just like these our mission. Through our Moonshot challenges, community members document issues that stand in the way of a richer learning ecosystem, then curate and incubate solutions from our community to address them. The Hive-School Connections Moonshot group works to strengthen the connection between Hive and schools. Month after month of discussions yielded repeated feedback from the community: there needs to be a way to make professional development for educators more equitable, accessible, and peer-driven. After some nudging from an enthusiastic student at our Hive Chicago Buzz hack day, and inspired by what Ingenuity has done with their creative schools initiative, the team finally pulled it together and threw down the gauntlet: the Teachers @ Hive Chicago public calendar was born!

Since our launch on August 20th, we’ve already added dozens of events and had some great feedback on the work already!


Our Community Events Calendar

What makes our calendar special? Here’s what what we found were three absolutely key, must-have features:

  • Community-sourced events: you don’t have to be a registered user! Anyone can add events to our calendar. Just go to http://teachers.hivechicago.org/events/community/add/ and try it for yourself. Before it goes live though, someone on our team has to approve it.
  • Rich filtering and sensible categories: teachers wanted to be able to find stuff that worked for them and serves their needs, FAST. So we made sure that whatever we setup would be easily searchable by keyword, category, cost, subject, location, etc.
  • Social media integration: social media is key; social media posts should result from event contributions and events should be easily shareable through social media channels.

That’s it. We used these key features as design criteria and worked to find the best solution, given our tight constraints in budget, staff, and expertise.


And You Can Do It Too!

Our calendar didn’t take a team of developers or a million dollar grant. It took a rag-tag crew of local educators, network staff, and yes, a web developer working together for a couple of hours with WordPress. It’ll cost us under $500 a year to maintain the site domain, hosting and licenses.

So now that we’ve made all the mistakes ourselves, we can share our pro-tips with you. Here are the basic ingredients:

I've highlighted the steps that might need some minor web developer support in this code-y font.

0. User-Centered Design: Community Input, Feedback and Buy-In

Before anyone got code-happy, the calendar development work began in group-discussion at monthly Hive Meetups; it continued in shared-community sessions at Hive Chicago Buzz; and after receiving a modest start-up grant from the Hive Fund, it continued in teacher focus-groups and a Hive Dive workshop. So much about what would make or break this effort was learned by prototyping for feedback from the folks who would use it directly; quoting from the gauntlet-throwing blog post linked above:

Teachers had a lot of other great feedback regarding Professional Development in general. If you are interested in that feedback please click here for the slide presentation based on their comments.

Organizational representatives who attended the Hive PD Calendar Crunch Party also had a lot of great feedback. Our web developer was on deck to answer questions and to take note on the functionality of the calendar and what other possibilities were available in the design.

1. Host A WordPress Site and Pick a Theme

To begin our website build, we added a sub domain to our existing website (i.e. the “teachers” that precedes the hivechicago.org in our URL) and installed WordPress on our server, hosted with Bluehost. This is easy to do using any number of web hosting services like Bluehost, Go Daddy, or others and will cost you somewhere in the range of $100 per year, depending on your options (there’s little or no cost for sub domains).

Once your WordPress site is up and running, pick a theme that works well with your vision for the calendar, your audience, and your brand. We went with the Sela theme because it was clean, simple and put images front and center.

Even if the color scheme isn't quite right to begin with, you can easily edit the theme CSS to use your own custom colors.

2. Buy The Events Calendar Plugins from Modern Tribe

Here’s where most of the cost came from, but we’re in love with the results. Coding something like this from scratch would be a bug-ridden nightmare and cost the budget of a small non-profit in development. So we thank the good people of Modern Tribe for bringing us The Events Calendar plugin for WordPress. For the full effect, we purchased the Community Calendar, PRO, with the Filter add-on. They’ve also got add-ons to integrate with Eventbrite and other cool e-commerce stuff we didn’t need but you might like. If your budget is extra-tight, skip the filter and the PRO upgrade.

Don't want to pay for their plugin because you've got the coding chops? OK, then you should at least fork their GitHub repo and give it a go from the source-code to make your own adjustments.

3. Install (and Hack) Some Key Plugins

Here are four, key, FREE plugins that you will need to install to get the full-effect:

  • Jetpack: this should come pre-installed with WordPress these days, but if not, get it. You’ll need to link it up with a WordPress.org account. Then make sure to activate Publicize specifically, which is the only reason you really need Jetpack. However, there’s other cool stuff in it.
  • Yoast SEO: stands for Search Engine Optimization. This will allow you to create slick Facebook and Twitter cards for your site. It’s all the rage with the kids these days.
  • Functionality: this one is a little wonky, but it lets you customize (hack) functions (stuff in plugins). See below for deets.
  • Import users from CSV using meta: this is how you’re going to save a million hours when it’s time to add users to your site. Skip it if that’s not the route you want to take. See below for deets.

Phew! That’s a lot of plugins, but it’s worth it. The hard part comes next. You’re going to hack Publicize to work special for your events.

Publicize is a particularly nice plugin that allows you to link your WordPress posts to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and some other stuff. By this I mean: when you hit publish in WordPress, it will automatically send out social media posts to publicize your posts! It also adds those nice sharing buttons to your posts. It’s awesome.

Once you have it installed, go to ‘Settings>Sharing’ in your Dashboard to link up your accounts. The only problem is that Publicize only works with standard posts, not Modern Tribe Events. So we’re going to hack it.

Basically, you need to hook `tribe_events` custom post types into the Publicize function. This is made really easy with the Functionality plugin. You can find great instructions on adding custom post support in this link (just use option #1, not #2).

The short story: copy/paste the following code under ‘Plugins>Edit Functions’ in the Dashboard menu.

add_action('init', 'my_custom_init');
function my_custom_init() {
     add_post_type_support( 'tribe_events', 'publicize' );
}

4. Customize Your Events Calendar Plugin

You’re going to have to do a little work to customize the Modern Tribe plugins to make it work with your theme and to add categories, venues, organizers, etc. Go to ‘Events>Settings’ and poke around the tabs and options. Set default currency symbols, cutoff times, etc.

Pay particular attention to “Default Stylesheet” and “Events Template” under the “Display” tab. With the Sela Theme, we found “Tribe Events Styles” and “Default Events Template” work just fine.

Under the “Community” tab, we found it helpful to set the “Default status for submitted events” to “Pending” so that it’s easy to find them in the Events list later. Also, under “Alerts”, make sure to add emails for folks you’d like to be notified when a community contribution is submitted.

Pro-Tip: Make sure to create a How-To Guide for users of your site. We used our (still draft) guide to explain what our categories meant and we’re going to add more detail to explain our event review process too.

5. Setup Admins and Authors

OK, so now that you’ve got everything setup nicely, it’s time to start soliciting for events! Nope, wait, hold on. So who exactly is going to manage them when they come rushing in?

Community-sourced contributions need to be reviewed by a site admin; someone with the authority to edit and post events, or delete them. Or, you can create other trusted authors and editors to do that for you or for themselves. WordPress has multiple “user roles” to help you manage who has permission to do what

Here are a couple of solutions to help manage this deluge of events likely to follow your site-launch:

  • Establish an event review schedule: help your contributors anticipate when they will see their calendar events appear and help your admins fit event review into their schedules. Perhaps you’ll be posting events every Monday afternoon? Or on Tuesdays and Thursday mornings? Whatever your schedule, make it public and stick to it.
  • Share the responsibilities: Identify a core-team of admins to help you review event postings and assign a rotation that everyone can stick to using calendar invites with reminders.
  • Expand your site admins: do you have strong community leaders that are likely to be trusted event providers? Local cultural institutions or community based organizations? Well, skip the review process and grant those organization representatives admin, editor, or author access to draft, preview and publish their own events without your approval.
  • Create organization logins: as we all know, organization staffing is dynamic and individuals change positions over time. Consider creating an organizational login that can be shared by multiple staff, but if you do, limit their role to contributor so that you still review their posts. You want to prevent anonymous publishing!

Depending on the size of your network, setting up all those user accounts can become a real nightmare. That’s where the Import users from CSV using meta plugin (seriously, that’s what it’s called) will come in handy. It’ll allow you to bulk-upload a CSV file (from Excel or Google Sheets) with all the user information in columns, saving a lot of time!

6. Get Social Media Savvy!

I’m no social media expert so I’m not going to get too detailed or too instructional here. I only wanted to note that even with a calendar, people tend to find out about events from their peers: learning is fundamentally social!

The biggest value-add from a shared calendar like this is visibility. But while the event postings will serve as an anchor, nobody will find them unless you publicize, publicize, publicize. The spotlight doesn’t shine on it’s own, you need to light it up.

Again, the Publicize plugin will help you do that, so make sure to take the time to understand how it works, but you should also take the time to do some good, old-fashioned networking too. Thank your event contributors when they add events and promote the calendar and events to influential members of your community. Check out the Tweets above for examples.

If you need more support, consider posting a “social media strategy” volunteer position. You’d be surprised how many marketing and communications professionals are eager to share their expertise for a good cause, or sharpen their skills. We found Catch A Fire to be a particularly nice place to do that.


The Teachers @ Hive Chicago Team

The core contributors to this project included:

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