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Learn­ing Out­side of LMS with WordPress

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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:

Multi-user instal­la­tion:

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:

single-site-dashboard Multi-site dashboard

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.

Use­ful Plugins:

  • Akismet – best guard against com­ment spam for Word­Press blog.
  • Word­Press Data­base Backup – Allows on-demand backup of your Word­Press database.
  • wpDi­rAuthWord­Press 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 ScoperCMS-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.
  • Mod­ern­izr - a small JavaScript library that detects the avail­abil­ity of native imple­men­ta­tions for next-generation web technologies.
  • 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.

 Resources:


Presenter’s Con­tact:

For more infor­ma­tion and fur­ther ques­tions please con­tact Tatiana Piatanova (707.826.3573 or tatiana.piatanova@humboldt.edu), Instruc­tional Designer at Hum­boldt State Uni­ver­sity Col­lege of eLearn­ing and Extended Edu­ca­tion.
Fol­low me:
Twit­ter — @boris_dog
Lear­nist — learni.st/users/tatiana.piatanova ( Word­Press resources board)
Scoop.it — www.scoop.it/u/tatiana-piatanova

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