WordPress as an Educational Tool
This page is authored by Deb Kim (2012). Edited and Revised by Jonathan Tang and Rhena Bowie (2013)
- 1 Introduction
- 2 History
- 3 WordPress.com Vs. WordPress.org
- 4 Specific Uses in Education
- 5 Benefits
- 6 Concerns
- 7 Examples in Education
- 8 Features
- 9 External Links
- 10 Links to Other Wiki Pages
Topics of blogging range from a simple daily log to posts that are related to specific themes chosen by users. In general, people use blogging as a way to carve out a niche market and embrace a new way of communicating with people. WordPress has been used to support a wide range of blogs from the personal blog that has very few readers, to collaborative projects surrounding specifics interest, to major commercial ventures such as, BBC America. Blogging is often used for a commercial purpose to promote products, services and/or websites. As individuals become more familiar with sharing their information in online communities, blogging is expected to enhance the effectiveness and the opportunities of online communication and collaboration. Blogging is also developing a significant role in education and is providing a foundation for teaching and learning in online communities. Educational blogging refers to the use of blogging for educational purposes and includes a range of uses. WordPress is the most popular blogging site that has been recognized by educators. It is a free and open source content management system (CMS) powering nearly 25% of all websites in cyberspace (WP Templates, 2012) . It allows users to make postings and communicate with each other both synchronously and asynchronously.
WordPress was started in 2003 and has since grown to a community hosting over 60 million blogs and thousands of plug-ins and themes that have been created by a growing community of users (WordPress.org, 2013). Given the collaborative and knowledge building affordances of blogs, the educational community has embraced blogging to extend and alter a number of practices. Due to the popularity of blogging in education, EduBlogs was established in 2005 and has since grown to the second largest WordPress site in the word, powering 1.5 million student and educator blogs (EduBlogs, 2013).
Based in Australia, but hosting a diverse network of employees, EduBlogs believes "in the power that blogging can have to transform the educational experience...[through] increased ownership of learning, and engaged students" (Edublogs, 2013). EduBlogs boasts a safe and secure space where educators and students can control security settings and monitor content.
Through the EduBlog Awards, the community recognizes and appreciates the contributions of innovative educators and students who make outstanding contributions to the blogging community. The EduBlogs Awards encompass multiple catagories including, best class blog, teacher blog, student blog, librarian blog, influential post, individual tweeter, twitter hashtag etc (EduBlogs, 2013). EduBlogs are a powerful tool for extending and sharing best practices in the developing field of educational blogging. The supportive EduBlogs community is an established global network of enthusiastic educators who are able to support each other through blogging as they work to practice and promote best practices in all areas of education.
WordPress.com Vs. WordPress.org
WordPress.com is an online service which allows users to easily create a blog, but is not as flexible as installing WordPress software and creating the blog yourself (WordPress.org, 2013). WordPress is unique open source software that has been created for and by the growing community of WordPress users. Users are encouraged to create new content through WordPress software. Wordpress is "completely customizable" and allows you complete freedom to customize and create themes, plug-ins and widgets (WordPress.org, 2013). WordPress software affords students and educators the opportunity to learn and create code in an authentic context and could provide many learning opportunities. According to Hendergren (2012), WordPress should always be considered as a viable option when building a website and offers many more options than simply a blog-publishing platform. A considerable affordance of choosing WordPress.org as a content management system in education is that there is a well established community to assist when problems arise and it is free and open-source platform.
Specific Uses in Education
- Blogs - Teachers and students can easily setup a blog for multiple purposes. Teachers can use the blog as one place online that can host a classroom website and be the central location students go to gather information about upcoming assignments or examples. Educators can also use the blogs as a reflection site to the ongoing teacher practice. Students can also setup a blog as a reflective site or as a project space. The flexibility of allowing these sites to be both public, private or semi private enables privacy when needed. Teacher and student anonymity can also be achieved through the use of nicknames as well
- Communication - Teachers often create a blog to provide students, parents, or other teachers an opportunity to communicate with each other. They can start a blog for courses they teach and post homework or other assignments. This type of blogging can help parents understand what their children are working on and students who have been absent from class. Furthermore, the comment feature can help students and parents ask or answer questions for each other. Plugins can be downloaded to help teachers create tests and a grade book, so students and parents can monitor students' academic progress in class. In another use case, one could imagine newsletters being sent out via the blog.
- Class Website - An informative classroom website can be created. This can be used to inform the parents of projects that are happening in the classroom and work that was just recently completed. By encouraging student participation, a website can act to extend the walls of the classroom.
- Share Lesson Plans- For educators, the ability to quickly post and share their online lessons is a powerful experience. An online community of educators can quickly be amassed for providing feedback and alternative methods a particular lesson can be used. Not only is this resourceful, it allows for teachers to save on teaching resources at education stores.
- Gather Information Preloading or teaching students concepts can be created and published in a post allows for instant access by students. Online courses can use feature to direct students to one site that can act as a gateway to instructor or student researched material. In many ways the post can act as a binder full of resources.
- Integrate Multimedia - Embedding online videos, presentations, slideshows, songs into posts can be easily done. This allows students to understand concepts in an interactive and engaging manner.
- Online Discussions - The ability to respond to posts allow for asynchronous communication to occur between students in the class an the instructor. An alternative is to use the forums feature, where discussions can be conducted and used to facilitate conversations outside of the classroom walls.
- Share Material - Materials that are posted online in the form of documents, content and links can be posted and immediately accessed without need for a password. The ability to post to a page or a blog post, makes this a feature that can be easily utilized.
- ePortfolio - Students can quickly create an ePortfolio of the concepts they have learned over the term or the year. By adding links, multimedia, and original content they are able to demonstrate their learning online without having to deal with physical papers and books. The flexibility of storing their work online, allows them to access the information anywhere a computer and internet connection is accessible. WordPress has recently added a specific template for ePortfolios, which increases the function of WordPress as a place to store and organize work. This allows students and professionals to showcase their work practically and easily to a worldwide audience of peers, clients and employers.
- Learning Management System - While there are inexpensive alternative like Moodle that could be used to host a Learning Management System (LMS), Wordpress with its plugins allows novice users to easily manage their courses. Course information can be stored as draft posts and published when the appropriate time passes. Wordpress because of its growing number of plugins, allow for a more flexible LMS to be created based on needs of the student and the instructor.
WordPress is one of the most popular blog creating sites that people prefer because of the following reasons:
- Easy to create and maintain: As WordPress can be customized easily, with many interfacing features, users can concentrate more on design and content rather than on coding. As a result, you get to save money and time. It allows the user to upload all his own content, such as texts, images, PDF files, and links. It is not necessary for the user to know about HTML codes. Moreover, the user is able to edit his/her blog using the online admin panel. Plugins also help the user add more functions to his/her blog in a click of the button.
- Developing a social network: Social media links help the user to be highly interactive in cyberspace and as a result, allows him/her to build a community and communicate with others in cyberspace. Barab and Duffy (1998) describes this phenomena as "a shift from a focus on the activity of an individual in a collaborative environment to a focus on the connections on has with the community and the patterns of participation in the community".
- Free and open source: WordPress is a free open source CMS that offers many easy-to-use plugins and templates. It is an important consideration for school districts. Also, the user does not need to be tech savvy to afford a nicely designed blog with many useful features.
- Flexibility and Versatility: Whether a user is novice or advanced, WordPress is suitable for anyone. Anderson (2008) says that "the unique characteristics that define online learning (appropriate combinations of asynchronous and synchronous voice, text, and video) can actually lead to enhanced or hyper communications". With the help from the mobile app, he/she can participate in online collaboration anytime, anywhere. It also works well with existing network infrastructure, so little or no cost should be incurred. School boards will need to invest in some upgrades including computer servers, teacher computers, internet service, and so on. This will complement existing network infrastructure since the schools already have their own networks. Most teachers already have teacher computers available either at school or at home, so financial resources for infrastructure will probably be minimal.
- Support teacher pedagogy and student learning: WordPress helps educators build an online learning community with students. Anderson (1998) argues that effective online learning is "community-centred, knowledge-centred, learner-centred, and assessment-centred". WordPress can help support teacher pedagogy and build a student learning environment.
- More eco-friendly: By using WordPress, less paper is used. Teachers and students can participate in building the eco-friendly environment.
- Parents can have access: Parents can access the WordPress blog to monitor their children's progress and help them with school work.
- Blogs as a Knowledge Building Tool: Through WordPress blogging, users typically acknowledge other bloggers that may have influenced their post, by quoting and linking to other blogs and responding to readers' comments (Davis & McGrail, 2009). This typical use of blogging allows for users to build on and extend existing knowledge collaboratively within the blogging community.
- Authentic Learning Context: Platform allows for real learning situations to occur with an immediate worldwide audience. Asynchronous feedback is available as more users are directed to the particular Wordpress site.
- Organizational Tool: Blogging encourages students to organize their thinking visual through hyperlinking and tagging. Being able to physically make links to prior knowledge and then build on that knowledge "through hyperlinking to new ideas, allows learners to keep track and reflect on their thinking in new and visual ways" (Anderson, 2008, p. 54). Tags, allow students to use key words or phrases to mark content of significance on the Internet and retrieve it easily at a later time through.
- Global Collaboration:Blogging is one way that educators can extend the "scope of literacy pedagogy to account for the context of our culturally and linguistically diverse and increasingly globalized societies" (New London Group, 1996, p. 61). By commenting on each other's blogs, students and teachers are able to build meaningful online relationships with classrooms from all parts of the globe. Teachers are able to share best practices and increase global understanding in their classrooms by making authentic links with blogging classrooms in other countries.
Building a Community of Practice
A learning community is "an interdependent system in terms of the collaborative efforts of its members, as well as in terms of the greater societal systems in which it is nested. Being a member entails being involved in a fundamental way within this dynamic system (the community), which is continually redefined by the actions of its members" (Barab & Duffy, 1998). A teacher can promote a community of practices by posting open-ended and thought-provoking questions. Students can also participate in discussions and give feedback to improve on critical thinking.
An authentic community is created not only through the sharing of information and the extension of knowledge, but also through the development of new understandings and concepts. Users work together to constantly build-upon prior knowledge and extend the usability of WordPress. The networked nature of blogging allows educators to extend existing practices in education. According to EduBlogs (2013), the community has grown into one of the most important resources for teachers who are enthusiastic about educational technology or education generally. The EduBlogs community is "changing the way we learn. Students and teachers have access to experts in the field" and are able to take advantages of learning and interacting with a growing global community of peers (Edublogs, 2013). Chhabra and Sharma (2011) note that the emergence and popularity of blogs and online collaboration symbolizes a shift from "information share" to "thought share" (p. 1). The popularity of WordPress is an example of this paradigm shift and increased emphasis on collaboration.
As WordPress is an open source CMS, users are encouraged to not only use the software to power their own blogs, but also create and extend current content. WordPress users are also encouraged to extend their practice beyond simple written form, and use a variety of visual literacies to maintain and create their blog. Blogging supports digital literacy, which as defined by the British Columbia Ministry of Education is “the interest, attitude and ability of individuals to appropriately use digital technology and communication tools to access, manage, integrate, analyze and evaluate information, construct new knowledge, and create and communicate with others in order to participate effectively in society” (British Columbia Ministry of Education). Through the use of WordPress, students are encouraged to develop multiliteracy skills and become active digital citizens that can communicate effectively in a digital environment. Blogs are an exciting and appealing way to support digital literacy skills in a challenging, engaging and collaborative environment.
Additionally, blogging encompasses the variety of text forms students commonly encounter. Students have the opportunity to experiment with creating and sharing visual and audio media within their blogs. Through the process of commenting, questioning and developing an individual voice "students come to understand that grammar, punctuation, word choice, style and syntax were...the means for effective communication" (David and McGrail, 2009, p. 76). There are significant opportunities for students to improve their on and offline digital literacy skills through participation in blogging. The constant exchange of information through blogging, provides students and teachers "abudant opportunities for study" while "encouraging dissimalar standpoints...and thus encouraging student participation, cooporation and heathy debate" (Chhabra and Sharma, 2011).
There are some concerns and issues of WordPress for the educational use.
- Geographical limitation: WordPress cannot be supported in geographically isolated places which have poor or restricted internet infrastructure.
- No plugin problem support: As plugins are created and maintained by third parties, WordPress does not support or help the user if he/she encounters a problem.
- Some templates can be pricey: To host their own blogs with 10GB space upgrade, no advertisements, and custom design, users will have to pay $99 just for an upgrade.
- Frequent updates: Users must keep their eyes open for a frequent release of new versions. Novice users will have difficulty exploring new features whenever a new version is released. It is time-consuming for most users.
- Blogs are just an add-on: Although the successful use of blogs in education have proven to be much more than just an online diary, there is still a risk that teachers may use blogs ineffectively in classroom practice. Without proper procedures, support and systems in place, blogging can easily become an add-on, which does not improve the learning of the student and creates extra work for the teacher.
- Content and ownership: Both students and educators that blog must be aware of copyright laws and issues. In order to ensure best practices in education, teachers and students need to be aware of and adhere to copyright laws and licenses.
- Privacy and Security: Expressing opinions and beliefs to a worldwide audience has cost some educators their jobs, as issues surrounding freedom of speech blur the professional and personal blogging practices of educators and students. For example, a senior faculty member in Colorado, USA, was fired from her position after questioning university policy and leadership in a personal blog posting (Horwedel, 2006). Additionally, adolescents often will disclose a great deal of personal information about themselves when blogging. Issues surrounding safe Internet use must be taught directly and intentionally in the classroom in order to ensure the well-being of students (Davis and McGrail, 2009).
Examples in Education
Here are some examples of the use of WordPress in education. (For more examples, you may go to the WordPress Showcase.)
These classroom blogs demonstrate global and local collaboration and active student participation.
- Ms. Thomas' Year 2 class blog: 2012 EduBlog award nominee.
- Ms. Yollis' classroom blog: An excellent example of visual documentation and student ownership of a class blog. Winner of the 2012 EduBlog award.
- Kathleen Morris' classroom blog: Kathleen Morris is a leader in blogging and sharing information about blogging. Her biweekly newsletter, The Primary Tech, is an excellent resource for teachers of all levels interested in educational technology. Winner of the 2011 EduBlog award.
- Glen Urquhart School: This school site runs off of WordPress Multi-User (MU). All teachers at Glen Urquhart School have their own sites at subdomains.
- Kieran Donaghy's English Media Studies: English media studies, providing teachers of all levels with a variety of lesson plans. Winner of the 2011 Individual EduBlog Award.
- Ms. Baker's Biology Blog: Facilitated by Ms. Baker, a secondary school biology teacher in the United States, students create content and contribute to the blog.
- The Etownian: The Etownian is Elizabethtown College's student newspaper which is published weekly during the academic year. It was first produced in 1904 and is one of the oldest news publications in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. It is one of the top college news sites in Pennsylvania, according to the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association and has won the award called First Place with Special Merit in 2010 from the American Scholastic Press Association for overall newspaper quality. The Etownian site incorporates posting and commenting systems and social media and is cleanly designed to engage students.
- UBC Blogs: The blog site for the University of British Columbia runs off of WordPress MU as well. Instructors use subdomains for their courses. Students can also create their own blogs for ePortfolio.
- We Need More: This site is a collection of microblogs which is created by a group of young graphic designers. They traveled between Colorado and New York City in August 2011 to explore the business of design and the lives of other graphic designers. Blog readers can select the group's current location on the trip and participate in activities ranging from round-table discussions to studio tours and conferences.
Teachers, administrators and superintendents have embraced blogging as a way to communicate effectively as well as reflect and build on their own practice. These are examples of influential professionals in the field of education and technology.
- Shelly Terrell shares her insights and challenges us to "engage our students".
- Chris Kennedy shares his reflections on life as a Vancouver superintendent
- Shelly Wright reflects critically and honestly on the past year as an educational consultant.
- The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: This site is free academic resource archive that has over 500 articles written by philosophers around the world. It was recently redesigned in 2009 to move from static HTML pages to WordPress.
There are many educational features in WordPress that can be used to promote teaching and student learning. Typically, plugins and themes hold an important place in designing an educational blog. Here are some examples of popular plugins and themes. (For more examples, you may go to WordPress.)
Plugins are tools that help extend the functionality of WordPress. In WordPress, there are many educational plugins that users can download and install into their WordPress dashboard. The following plugins are popular plugins selected by WordPress users.
- mTouch Quiz: This plugin helps a user create a multiple choice quiz or exam.
Some of the features of mTouch Quiz include the following:
- Specifies hints based on answer selection
- Gives a detailed explanation of the solution
- Selects multiple correct answers
- Specifies when the correct answers are displayed
- Specifies if a question may be attempted only once or many times
- Specifies point values for each question
- Includes customized start and finish screens
Has an option to randomly order questions and/or answers
- Grader: This plugin allows the blog administrator to grade posts. As grades are only visible to the administrator, editor, and the author of the posting, privacy is guaranteed. The administrator and the editor can grade posts by adding a comment that starts with a token (e.g. @grade). Moreover, the administrator can add a comment to a grade. Since both parents and students can see grades, parents can monitor their children's progress and students can regularly check assignments they are currently missing.
- Xerte Online: This plugin helps a user to author E-learning materials quickly and easily collaborate on projects.
- Dell Edu-Connect: This plugin helps collect educational blog articles around the world. It takes content from the highest quality EDU blogs and presents the title and a brief summary.
- BuddyPress ScholarPress Courseware: This plugin has all the features of a learning management system (LMS), such as a gradebook, calendar, discussion forum, quiz/test builder, and overall status. It is similar to Moodle or Edmodo which is a combination of the LMS and social media, such as Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter.
- SSQuiz: Unlike mTouch Quiz, this plugin helps you make not only multiple choice questions, but also written response questions. A user can add and rearrange questions, edit answers, and insert multimedia in questions. All of these can be done within several seconds. Once the quiz is done, the user can go through his/her answers and see correct answers.
- teachPress: This plugin is a course management system that helps manage student enrollment and courses. It also helps import and export publications.
- Participants Widget: This widget helps the administrator see a list of the blog's participants, with a link to their profile, and the number of posts and comments they have contributed.
- PMID Citation Plus: This plugin automatically creates citing. It allows the user to simply enter in PubMed IDs on the composition page and have a references list similar to Wikipedia's.
- Knowledge Building: The user can use postings and comment threads to facilitate meaningful knowledge building discussions. This plugin comes with several knowledge type sets, such as progressive inquiry and six hat thinking, which can be used to semantically tag comments and turn WordPress into a knowledge building community.
- KB Gradebook: As many educators use WordPress as their course websites, this plugin helps students securely check their grades online.
Other Significant Features
- Menu Management: This feature helps a user control over the blog's navigation menus. The user can easily create, drag, and drop menu bars that include any mixture of links to internal pages, external URLs, categories, etc. These custom menus can be embedded as a widget whenever the theme changes. It is especially beneficial to teachers who wish to create a course blog for their students. They can create pages for each chapter or unit and sub-pages for sections of the chapter by assigning the chapter page as their parent page and dragging the sub-page menu bars below it.
- Post Types: WordPress allows the user to publish two different types of content: Posts and Pages. In addition, the user can define additional content types with his/her own attributes.
- Admin Bar (Dashboard): Newly updated WordPress has a redesigned dashboard that offers more strategic enhancements. For example, the search box and appearance menu were removed and the user menu moved to the right side, similar to Google's user bar. As there are less links and elements shown, the admin bar looks neater and cleaner than before. Moreover, it is now more conspicuous by making it a shade darker and bolder.
- WordPress Menu: The "W" icon on the top left corner reveals a new menu with links to the "About WordPress" page. It also displays credits, license information, documentation and the support forums so that users can have easy access to general information about WordPress whenever they want.
- Improved Help Section: The "Help" section is located on the top right corner so people can have easy access to the Help section whenever they need assistance.
- Tooltips: The Tooltip popup bubbles help guide users through the new features introduced in WordPress. They are able to see the Tooltip popups whenever new features are launched.
- Media Uploader: Users can upload media such as images, PDF files, and video clips using the Medial Uploader. In terms of education, teachers can upload PDF notes, homework assignments, and images to their course blogs. They can also assign students to be editors so that they can upload their projects to the blog and participate in discussions for feedback.
- Mobile Apps: There are different kinds of mobile apps available for WordPress. Teachers and students can have access to their course blog wherever they are. WordPress offers a mobile app for the following mobile devices:
- iOS (e.g. iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch)
- Windows Phone 7
- Social Media: WordPress allows a user to make links to Twitter or Facebook. A teacher can post updates and information on important events on Twitter or Facebook and they will be shown on the course blog. This can help students be reminded of significant events, such as dates for quizzes/tests and assignment and project due dates.
- Follow Blog: Users can follow a blog they would like to subscribe and receive notifications of new posts by email. This helps students keep up to date and parents monitor what their children learn in class.
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