Learning Outside of LMS with WordPress
If you are looking for an alternative to LMS to house your course or for a platform to supplement your course with a blog and community building, WordPress is a great alternative. HSU College of eLearning and Extended Education has a multi-site WordPress installation to primarily serve the needs of faculty for open course materials, blogging and to enrich students’ learning experience in online and hybrid courses.
WordPress is a blogging software and a Content Management System that is free and open source. Depending on your needs there are two choices available:
WordPress.com — a free software platform hosted on wordpress.com. Great resource but with limited themes available and no option of installing your own plug-ins or modifying the themes design-wise.
WordPress.org — an open source, self-hosted, with single and multi-site installations.
- Many hosting service providers have a one-click installation capabilities, but if they don’t here are instructions on how to do it manually. You might have to verify with your provider that they support a multi-blog installation.
- There a few web hosts out there that still offer a 1-click installation of WordPress that comes with a free (sub)domain name: squirrel-host.com and biz.nf are one of them (source: Christen Bouffard). This is handy if you just want to create a small project, like course blog but do not have server capabilities on your campus and don’t want to pay for hosting outside.
Examples of Courses and other University sites using WordPress for education:
Sigle course sites:
- http://humboldt.edu/dee/art100 - Global Perspectives through Contemporary Art Practices hybrid course at HSU (used for student artwork sharing, feedback and research project assignemnt).
- http://humboldt.edu/dee/wildlife210 - An Introduction to Wildlife Conservation and Administration hybrid course at HSU.
- http://mfjs2210.wordpress.com - Media and Culture course.
- http://mfjs2290.wordpress.com - Innovations in Media course.
- http://criticaldms.wordpress.com - Critical Approaches to Digital Media Studies course.
- http://ed694.community.uaf.edu - a community blog for Dynamic Earth course for teachers.
- http://elementarymath2.community.uaf.edu - good “getting started” page example for course blog.
- http://openancsa.community.uaf.edu - Open Course.
- http://humboldt.edu/child/wp - HSU Child Development community page (simple one blog installation that uses pages for separate courses).
- http://blogs.cyoc.wa.edu.au/elfadacourse - “Extraordinary Learning For A Digital Age” course blog that has links to other students’ blogs. Multi-user blog installation.
- http://gus.org/resources/class-pages/ - Multi-user blog installation for Glen Urquhart School.
- http://rossieronline.usc.edu/blog/ — Masters of Arts in Teaching Program site USC Rossier.
WordPress (self-hosted installation) Structure and Dashboard Overview:
WordPress structure is fairly simple and consists of adding content in a form of pages and posts. Additionally, the functionality of site/blog relies on the theme that you choose (which come with prebuilt functionalities via varios theme features such as headers, menus, and widgets that add content and features to site’s sidebars). You can add functionality to the site/blog via plugins, of which there is a vast amount available and which can be found on wordpress.org repository site: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins or through various developer sites. The content can be organized and structured via categories and tags, and navigation created through menus, widgets an plugins.
The main difference between a single-site and multi-site WordPress Dashboard is an additional layer of administration:
When super admins add admins to a particular site in multi-site installation, the site admins do not inherit super admin privileges.
User Roles and what is the difference:
WordPress has 6 general roles:
- Super Administrator — FULL ACCESS to entire network (only on multi-site installation).
- Administrator - FULL ACCESS to creating, editing, deleting site materials, etc.
- Editor – able to comment on, create or edit ANY post or page.
- Author – able to create and edit THEIR OWN posts and comment on others.
- Contributor – can comment but not publish (can not upload images).
- Subscriber – can view only.
With a plugin sich as Role Scoper you can tailor, expend and edit the capabilities of each one. You can see description of each role here. Generally, I find myself working with 3 roles: Super Admin for an entire network (myself and other designers), Admin for a site (assigned to faculty for each site/blog), and Authors (who cannot create the pages of the blog or website but only the posts) which I usually assign to students contributing/participating in the course site/blog). Sometimes when a collaboration on a project is required, students can be assigned the role of an Editor instead in wich they can create and edit pages as well as posts.
What to look for in Themes and Plugins:
First of all, security of your site/blog is important, so it’s a good idea to choose your themes from the Official WordPress Theme Directory and also run the theme through Markup Validation service like W3C after installing with a default setup of the theme to make sure it does not have drastic coding errors.
Generally, choosing a theme for you site or blog highly depends on the look and what functionality you need your site/blog to have. When building for an open course or supplemental course blog or a project site generally you would want to have decent flexibility with menus (and preferably more than one available) and the number of widget areas available. Another important feature to look for is custom header which gives faculty or site/blog administrator freedom of customizing the site simply by changing the header image without a need of knowing html and css.
- Akismet – best guard against comment spam for WordPress blog.
- WordPress Database Backup – Allows on-demand backup of your WordPress database.
- wpDirAuth — WordPress Directory Authentication (LDAP/LDAPS).
- SSH SFTP Updater Support - Update your WordPress blog / plugins via SFTP without libssh2
- ThreeWP Activity Monitor - Plugin to track user activity. Network aware. Super useful when working with multiple course blogs and a big numer of users.
- Role Scoper — CMS-like permissions for reading and editing. Content-specific restrictions and roles supplement/override WordPress roles. User groups optional. or User Role Editor - makes the role capabilities changing easy. You can change any standard WordPress user role.
- Add to Any: Subscribe Button – Helps readers subscribe to your blog using any feed reader.
- Category Specific RSS Menu – A simple WordPress plugin to add category specific RSS subscription menu into your posts, pages, sidebars. Very handy when your blog covers multiple topic from non related subjects. This plugin was developed by me.
- Print Friendly and PDF - PrintFriendly & PDF button for your website. Optimizes your pages and brand for print, pdf, and email. Has java-script fallback option.
- jQuery Vertical Accordion Menu — creates vertical accordion menus from any WordPress custom menu using jQuery. Add menus using either widgets orshortcodes. Features include — handles multiple levels, saved state using cookies and option of selecting “click” or “hover” events for triggering the menu
- CMS Tree Page View - adds a CMS-like tree view of all your pages, like the view often found in a page-focused CMS. Use the tree view to edit, view, add pages and search pages (very useful if you have many pages). And with drag and drop you can rearrange the order of your pages. Page management won’t get any easier than this!
- Simple Tags – makes WordPress Tagging life so much easier: helps with Auto completion, Suggested Tags, Tag Cloud Widgets, Related Posts, Mass edit tags.
- WP-Polls – Adds an AJAX poll system to your WordPress blog. Allows you to easily include a poll into your WordPress’s blog post/page.
- Online manual for WordPress and a living repository for WordPress information http://codex.wordpress.org
- WordPress video tutorials (from WordPress.org) http://wordpress.tv
- Helpful WordPress Cheatsheets http://www.1stwebdesigner.com/css/23-extremely-helpful-wordpress-help-sheets-and-resources
- 10 html tags you must know to blog http://lorelleteaches.com/2012/01/06/the-10-html-tags-you-must-know-to-blog
- WordPress widgets: http://en.support.wordpress.com/widgets/
- a comprehensive resource on blogging with WP for education http://blogsforlearning.msu.edu
- An excellent tutorial for WordPress.com (from wordpress.com) http://learn.wordpress.com
- Killer WordPress Resources on Scoop.it http://www.scoop.it/t/killer-wordpress-resources
- Custom roles and capabilities in WordPress http://wp.smashingmagazine.com/2012/10/25/utilizing-user-roles-wordpress
- Repository of currently available WP plugins http://www.bloggingpro.com/archives/category/wordpress-plugins
- Overview of many WordPress Themes http://www.bloggingpro.com/archives/category/wordpress-themes/
For more information and further questions please contact Tatiana Piatanova (707.826.3573 or firstname.lastname@example.org), Instructional Designer at Humboldt State University College of eLearning and Extended Education.
Twitter — @boris_dog
Learnist — learni.st/users/tatiana.piatanova ( WordPress resources board)
Scoop.it — www.scoop.it/u/tatiana-piatanova