The first ever WordCampED took place today on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. WordPress users love WordPress – and when you mix that with a passionate cause (like learning/teaching/education), lively discussion ensues.
Jeff McClurken talked about how he uses blogs to manage his classes (instead of, say, Blackboard). For anyone who hasn’t used the Blackboard LMS, it’s ugly, expensive, difficult, proprietary and it values data more than learning and usability. There are open source LMSs (like the really great Moodle) – and WordPress actually fits well into this category (see below).
What are the options for hosting WP blogs? A public school teacher may not have access to server space within the school system and could easily set up a blog on WordPress.com. For those who do have access to in-house hosting, there’s WordPress.org – the latest version can be downloaded and installed in 5 minutes or less. And it’s possible to host many blogs with one installation using WordPress MU (multi-user – it’s what wordpress.com runs on).
There’s discussion as to whether having a single blog with many student logins is best, or individual blogs linked via RSS (syndication) to a single parent blog. I like the latter because:
- Students have control over their entire blog instance
- Students may be inclined to continue blogging after the course ends
- New bloggers may feel slightly less self conscious blogging on their own blog and more inclined to blog regularly
However, having a single course blog can make sense because:
- It might be slightly easier to maintain from an instructor’s perspective, and key students can be tapped to help maintain the blog
- Content may be retrieved faster (all the comments are in one place)
- This could potentially be more collaborative than individual blogs (although the individual blogs can be linked to the parent blog).
Selling the administration on WordPress
OK, so you are sold on WordPress like I am – how does one bring it to their organization? There are predictable questions that regularly have to be addressed.
“We’ve already allocated $150,000.00 for Blackboard.”
Hmm. And we are looking at shrinking the faculty/educational budgets because the economy isn’t sure it wants to live in the United States anymore. Wouldn’t $150,000 dollars help? WordPress is a mature platform – and it’s free.
“There isn’t a budget to hire programmers.”
We don’t need to hire programmers. The people who make WordPress keep it like a shiny new pin, security issues are resolved often before they are issues, and given that there are MILLIONS of WordPress installations all over the world, it’s extremely well tended by its own community. There are virtually plug-ins for every possible feature/configuration request/idea.
“WordPress is a blog. Why would we use a blog in a course?”
There are plug-ins that can transform WordPress into courseware – like ScholarPress.
And, we DO need blogs in the classroom. Having blogs hosted in education helps shepherd our student’s digital identities, and teaches valuable skills in communication, fosters digital literacy in the course/classroom AND promotes creativity and collaboration.
“What about FERPA issues? And how to we manage the institution’s image when students have blogs?”
Privacy can be managed at the application level, and through policy as well. Hopefully, there are already policies in place to govern Internet usage and digital materials within the institution. We could start here.
And here’s the thing – this is already happening in institutions all over the world. We can approach this though a fearful, risk based approach (inspired in a big way by the RIAA and like minded organizations). Or, we can be A PART of the bigger conversation about education, and contribute to it – we can propel education and e-learning forward and NOT be left behind. Communities often behave in the spirit they are created – so, let’s create a positive, powerful collaborative learning environment. What could be better?
“Blogging takes time.”
What doesn’t? Sure, you can manage course documents via e-mail and worse, printed Word documents. And, when the class is over, projects once toiled over whither and fade. Blogging, however, can ensure that research projects endure. Which may lead to future opportunities for bloggers (employment, grants, fame, etc). Check out the Historical State Markers blog, which is actually linked as reference material from the State site – it’s a fantastic use of research.
There are challenges to introducing blogging into our courses – how do grade a “blog?” How do I encourage real participation from students and not just “I agree with the article” comments.
There are endless possibilities and many amazing success stories. As educators – we can and should share our thoughts, approaches, code, ideas and help each other to succeed. As students, we can shape the course with our participation. We can build relationships with our peers and create lasting works that actually help others. We can foster amazing educational experiences, develop life long skills and partnerships and help define the next wave of educational technologies.