GitHub Education: Accessing Developer Tools and Building Static Sites

Prof Hacker just posted a follow up to their reminder on the Github plans available to education users. The previous link made it into this week’s Show and Tell, but that is akin to burying a note in my back yard. Coming across this latest post prompted me to dig up that recommendation and dust it off a little. The Profhacker post is essentially a summary of a more detail ‘how to’ guide from the Storybench site. Their solution is a touch esoteric — they're using the statistical language ‘R’ for its value to certain kinds of academic work. But think of it as a case study for using Github Pages, the point is to illustrate the kinds of things you can do with Github in general.

Accessing Developer Tools and Building Static Sites

Github is useful regardless, but the student developer pack is a fantastic resource. It includes things like $50 worth of Digital Ocean hosting, credit for AWS, and a year of free Bitnami access. The GitHub part of the plan includes unlimited private repositories. Think of the freedom of not having to share your dodgy, cut-and-paste, hacked code with the world at large. Even if you’re doing little more than forking libraries and messing them up in an effort to learn (like I do), I would recommend signing up for an account.

There are some really intriguing uses for Github. One that should be of particular interest to readers of this site is using it for collaboration. It doesn’t have to be for coding either. Text is text, no matter what ends up parsing it; be that machine, or human. For example, by using Working Copy the folks at Macstories.net use Github as a weigh station for their editing process. For them, Github has been one of the building blocks of a complex iOS only workflow. While there are a couple of remaining considerations for an iOS only academic, but I see no reason that all student work can’t be done on an iPad. Github can certainly play a role, should you want it to.

Accessing Developer Tools and Building Static Sites
The Working Copy app on iOS

Github Pages as a Blogging Platform

While the Profhacker example is probably only relevant to a subset of users, there are more accessible routes for prospective bloggers. Github is growing all the time as a blogging platform. Using Github pages and a static site generator like Jekyll, anybody willing to follow a few instructions can serve a super slick plain text based website. This brings together more traditional uses of code versioning with the drafting and editing process of web publishing. Static site generators have been supposedly catching on for a while now, but they remain a relatively niche solution that attract more technically minded users. Still, I can honestly say they are not difficult to use. Platforms like Netlify simply the process down to one-click deployment.

You don’t have to go far to find examples of interesting static sites. There are specific academic tools primed for use, whether you want to use Jekyll, or another generator like Hugo. GitHub is also being used to mitigate the difficultly of using a more complicated CMS with the touchscreen interfaces of iOS, with bloggers putting Workflow to good use. In fact, the entire process can be managed from an iPad these days. But, as I say, blogging is just one use for Github; albeit a very good one.

It’s not difficult to get started. Whether its for accessing developer tools and building static sites, or glueing your iOS workflows together. Take a look at Github Education and start breaking things!