WordPress can be used as discussion platform in both face-to-face and online classes. It can be a site for sharing portfolios or final projects. Students may also like a WordPress instance to develop their own final project.
There are many ways to use WordPress in class; if you have designed useful materials in your classes, please share them with the Center. The examples below are drawn from Dr. Jessica DeSpain’s Young Adult Literature class, which she teaches asynchronously in the summer, and from her 400-level Technology and Literature class, which is a face-to-face class with a digital component.
Pros and Cons to WordPress Versus Other Digital Environments
- WordPress’s themes are designed for readability and multimodality, so they make the students’ experiences in reading and sharing materials more pleasant overall.
- Site administrators can determine the level of privacy they require, but the design and format of WordPress is more polished and may help with students’ perception of an audience for their work.
- Like with Blackboard, instructors can archive old posts and materials for new iterations of a class.
- It can be more time-consuming to set up the first time than Blackboard or Padlet. Instructors have to add plug-ins to get things up and running effectively.
- Students are familiar with Blackboard; though WordPress is easy to use, they may have anxiety about a new platform.
Setting up WordPress
Getting your Site
The IRIS Center can make a WordPress instance for you; contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. The new site will have the domain name iris.siue.edu. In the email tell us what you’d like the subdirectory to be (for example, iris.siue.edu/yalit). Additionally, tell us what to title the site.
Choosing a Theme
For a class blog, two-columns themes work well, because the second column allows for extra widgets on the left with author info, calendars of posts, etc. The IRIS Center has several themes already installed, which can be added to your instance of WordPress. Hemingway is a good two-column theme. It’s clean and readable. If an instructor is interested in themes other than those already available on the IRIS domain, send us an email with the theme of choice.
Selecting Plugins (Plugins below are already available on the IRIS domain)
Author Avatars: An author widget makes grading and commenting easier because the instructor can see if students have completed their posts on time and access their work by student rather than scrolling through posts by date. The Young Adult Literature site used the plugin Authors Avatars List/Block. With the plugin installed, a site administrator will visit appearance/widgets to add The Authors Avatars widget to the right column. This site also has Simple Authors Box installed, which provides extra author info at the top of each post.
Authorizer:The site also has the “Authorizer” plugin installed to make the site only visible to students in the class. SIUE has a social media policy that includes WordPress; in an asynchronous class, it can be hard to get the consent forms signed and returned. When the site is private, students do not need to sign the consent form. If you are interested in having students reach an audience with their work, under the guidelines of the policy, you can give students the options to choose an anonymous avatar and site alias.
Recaptcha: This plugin cuts down on spam commenting.
Members: Members is a useful plugin because it allows site administrators to make user roles beyond those automatically assignable in WordPress. For this site, I made one called student blogger. The “editor” role gives students privileges to edit one another’s blogs and the contributor role doesn’t allow for the editing of comments in the dashboard. Once an administrator defines a new role through members, go into Users/Add New and add the email address for each student, being sure to select their role in the dropdown box each time.
WordPress accounts through IRIS are set up so students can automatically logon with their e-id and password once they’ve been added to the site. Go to Users/ Add New/ Add New User to input students SIUE e-ids and emails.
Helping Students Add Content
Visit the YA Lit Blogging Guide to see an example of how to prepare students to share their work on WordPress. In addition to the detailed posting instructions on the page, here are a few useful tips:
- Be sure to explain professionalism for the web to students (they should conduct themselves on WordPress as they would in class while also paying attention to and protecting their privacy as necessary.
- Because they will be writing multi modally with video, image, and sound, set some ground rules for them regarding copyright, the citation of various types of shared materials, and places where they can go online to find materials that are free from copyright restrictions.
- Explain that the blog is an opportunity to consider their class as an audience. How can they develop a style and tone that will both entertain and inform?
- If students will be commenting on one another’s posts, set some ground rules for the level of discourse required in terms of length and content.