This is the first in a series of reviews of websites, platforms, and social media sites. Some are useful for teachers in a SMART classroom (with a teacher-station computer, internet connection, and projector). Others lend themselves more to a lab where each student has her own computer. Hopefully these can help us communicate with our students, present information effectively, and encourage collaboration, feedback, and active participation.
When I first began teaching in a computer-mediated room, I thought the height of technological advancement was that I could load a typed lesson on the overhead instead of scratching it in chalk on the board. Now, of course, there are a multitude of technologies for the writing classroom.
At my college, students sometimes struggle with access to computers. More often, they struggle to get internet access. It’s getting easier and cheaper to get both at home or on their phone; they’re catching up with their digital-native peers. Despite the challenges, students seem to understand that technology is an unavoidable part of school, and are more than willing to learn and practice.
WordPress Blog Review:
I’ve been using WordPress for content management for a few years, and am still learning all of its various features. Below are some ways I use the main ones.
The main page of a WordPress blog can be used for updates, announcements, or daily lesson plans. You can ask students to be authors and create their own posts, or to comment on class materials. This semester, my WordPress blog uses the front page for daily agendas, in-class writing prompts, and announcements. Essentially, it serves as a visual for my presentation materials. One of the benefits of keeping your class content onlines is that you build an archive. Tell students who missed class to go look at what you covered that day, or tell students who need to review for an exam or paper to go back through the days you worked on a project.
You can create multiple pages for Assignments; storing Documents like your syllabus; Contact Information; Student Profiles; etc. There’s no limit to how much content you can put on a single page, but, depending on your blog’s theme, you may be limited to the number of pages you can create. One way to include students in this online space is to have them write short bios and upload a profile picture for a Writers Page.
Links can go anywhere in a blog post, on a page, or in the sidebar. Your WordPress blog can connect students to campus resources, interesting readings, news, or components of their assignments. It’s also been nice to link to my students’ websites; they’ve been musicians, club members, restaurant owners, independent caterers, etc.
WordPress allows you to upload documents directly onto every page and every blog post. It’s a drop/drag function that lets you upload to a media library, then create a link for download. You can, with a paid subscription, embed audio files and videos. I try to keep all of my assignment files, syllabus, and all in-class handouts uploaded to a Documents page. Students are never without access to their work.
Comments & Discussion
One nice feature is that students can comment on just about anything you allow access to–pages, posts, other comments, documents, etc. They can also post anonymously, if you’re looking for feedback (or you can create a poll). In class, I make a post with an in-class writing promp that everyone responds to with a comment. We can see the class’ writing, give feedback, and make revisions instantly. Also, it’s another archive for students to return to when building assignments.
You can set your blog to private, require users to register and sign-in, and restrict access to certain portions. Or, as I did one semester, I just left it open and public, and told students they had a wide, anonymous internet audience they had to consider whenever writing. Eventually, I returned to a private blog so that students would feel more comfortable taking risks, making mistakes, and feeling a sense of community.
This is the only thing I can’t use WordPress for. I keep my grades on Blackboard because there’s no privacy setting to allow just one user access to one feature.
I’ve been happy with this platform. I can use it to present and archive information; students can use it to interact with each other and me in a computer lab classroom. Students can also easily print off site pages they need. While our college purchases Blackboard, which has all of the features above (and which I also use), I like that the look of WordPress is familiar and intuitive. It looks like websites my students have seen before. They can figure out how to find stuff, they know where and how to click on links. Also, the dashboard is pretty intuitive, and it was easy for a novice like me to figure out how to customize the header, how to mediate comments, how to set privacy controls, etc. Are there other features on WordPress you use for your classrooms? Add your review in the comments.