Using WordPress in Your Class for Student Writing and Websites

WordPress logo

If you have decided to have your students to create a website, you can streamline your Web-based assignment by using WordPress.  Rather than asking students to create a website from scratch (which can be complicated), using WordPress to manage student Web projects can help  you to focus more on the assignment and less on the technology.

WordPress is Easy, Writing Assignments is Hard

WordPress is easy to use and delivers polished-looking websites.  In fact, WordPress works so well that when assigning a Web-based project, the limitation is not the technology, but rather the assignment.  Having students create or contribute to a website does take more time than asking them to write a traditional paper — students have to learn a new skill set in order to complete the Web assignment.  However, it takes even more time to craft your Web-based assignment.  For instance, you might want to consider how you are going to grade Web-based work.  If students create original images for their sites, is that something you are grading?  If so, how?  The more you ask questions like this, the smoother your assignmnent will go.  There will be technological glitches for sure, but the times I have had Web-based assignments fall apart in my own classes, it was the fault of the assignment, not because of technological hiccups.  (Read Blogging in the Classroom: Three of My Mistakes so you can avoid some of the problems I had…)

It seems that the faculty who have the best luck using WordPress in their classrooms are those who have considered the benefits of what the Web has to offer and who have tailored their assignments and expectations to the medium.  It might take you some time to figure out how to best use a Web-based project in your class, but those faculty who invest the time in these types of assignments seem to be able to reuse them for multiple semesters and courses.  (Along to the same lines, if you learn how to use WordPress yourself, that initial investment of time will pay off in the future.  While the interface may change, the basic concepts of how to use it stay the same, so you won’t be relearning the application every semester.)

Luckily, many instructors who use websites in their classes also write about their experiences.  Here are a few resources to get you started thinking about how to go about thinking through your assignment:

Searching the Web will turn up many more opinions about using the Web in higher education, as will checking out the archives of ProfHacker (a blog hosted by the Chronicle for Higher Education about faculty using technology).  If you find other resources, feel free to share them with us in the comments section at the end of this post.

Getting Started: Introduction to WordPress

Once you have decided to use WordPress to manage student Web projects, I suggest you get comfortable using it.  The easiest way to do this is to set up a test site that you play around with in order to get a feeling for how things work.  Here are the basic things you need to know in order to get your test site up:

Once you set up your test site and work through these tutorials, you will have a working site that looks nice.  You can then set up a second site for your class and you are ready to go.

WordPress and Your Students

Now that you are (more or less) comfortable with how WordPress works, you can create the site for your class and add your students to it.

When I have used WordPress in my own classes, after getting students registered on the appropriate site(s), I ask them to write and publish a test post (about the first day’s reading or something along those lines).  In that post they should include:

  • Some text
  • An Image
  • A Video (optional)

I have also asked them to leave a comment on another post.  Once they can do these things, they know the basics of WordPress and are ready to do their assignments.  The best way to teach students (and yourself) how to use WordPress is through using it.  This way too you can iron out glitches and help students who need it before they are working on their assignments rather than while they’re working on them.

Finding Help

One of the benefits of using WordPress is its popularity.  WordPress software runs around 16 percent of the sites on the Web.  As a result, if you search the Web for help, you can usually find what you need.  Here are some resources for troubleshooting:

Questions?

If you have any questions about using WordPress in your class, feel free to post them in the comments section.

About Evan Cordulack

Evan Cordulack is a Web Applications Specialist for Academic Technology. He helps faculty members with Web-based projects related to their research and teaching. He earned his PhD in American Studies at William & Mary in 2013. Find him at http://cordulack.net/