10 reasons for building course websites in WordPress
When faculty members ask me about tools for building a public-facing class website, I nearly always suggest using WordPress. One common reaction is “but I don’t want a blog!” What people mean is that they don’t want to be obligated to write blog articles. You don’t have to. Just use WordPress as a framework for your website. You might be surprised how many sites do just that.
Why use WordPress?
- Visual editor – makes it easy to create content. You also have the option of resorting to code.
- Pages – for static content like the syllabus, bibliography, projects, etc.
- Posts – dated articles (tips, announcements, etc.) with a way for students to subscribe.
- Media – it’s easy to embed video, slides, and images into posts and pages.
- Comments – allow them only where you want them.
- Themes – with lots of choices for “look and feel” you can easily create a visually pleasing site.
- Help – there is extensive help online and WordPress is widely used, so you won’t be the only one.
- Mobile friendly – create responsive sites and edit posts on any device (I drafted this on a phone and revised it on a tablet).
- Domain name – WordPress.com makes it easy to buy and use one for an $18 annual fee.
- Customization – if you want, you can use widgets, CSS, plugins, and more.
Disclaimer: I have nothing against other blog systems, but WordPress is by far the most widely used. More top blogs use WordPress and WordPress.com is one of the most visited websites on the planet.
Why NOT use WordPress?
- Privacy – if you don’t want your course material to be available to the public, a Sakai or Blackboard site is normally restricted to your students
- Discussion – blogs are not the place for threaded discussions. People can comment, but it’s not the same (see Blog vs. Forum).
- Total control – if you want control over every facet of the website, you’ll be better off with a full-blown website and an editor like DreamWeaver.
How to get started
WordPress refers to both the free software and the commercial website. You can use a blog at the commercial WordPress.com site for free “out of the box” or pay for upgrades like removing ads. Your institution may also have its own WordPress installation. Finally, you can pay for an off-campus hosting account and use it as a platform for your blog; setting this up should not be difficult.
Examples – courses
These are not meant to represent the best of the best, rather they are simply examples.
- Medieval music – built by a colleague to go with a recently published textbook.
- Teaching (and Learning) with Google Earth (Duke)
- Minimalism and Economy in Creation (Penn State)
- Urban Borderlands (Tufts)