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How to protect your students from inappropriate comments getting left on their student blogs

Student blogging can be a lot of fun, but as a teacher, you need to be thinking about student privacy.

  • Yes, it’s fun to let your students create and administer their own blogs. This can be a great media literacy lesson were your students create a variety of media text (i.e. websites) for different purposes and audiences using appropriate forms, conventions, and techniques.
  • Yes, allowing your student blogs to go public and get listed on Google can be a really motivating and rich, authentic writing task. After all, seeing your work on Google for the first time can be a lot of fun.
  • But you need to make sure that your student work doesn’t become a open door for strangers and inappropriate spam bots to say hello.

Personally, I use a self hosted WordPress account to set up our student blogs and class websites. Teachers have a few options to allow students to create content online while protecting them from some of the dangers of the internet.

One option is to create a class blog where the teacher moderates all student content. If the teacher is the admin of the site, then they can control which comments get published or seen by students.

A second option is to create a private student blogging network (like Educircles.org) so that each student is the admin of their own blogs and each blog is protected behind a login page.

  • If you have a self hosted WordPress account, then you can install the free More Privacy Options WordPress plug-in to lock down your entire student blog network. (More privacy options is installed on Educircles.)
  • Another option is to install the WPMU Premium WordPress plug-in Multisite Privacy which provides a little bit more control than the more privacy options above. (You can choose which privacy options are available to your students, and you can easily update the privacy settings of your entire site by clicking “update all blogs”)

A third option is to create a public student blogging network and use a WordPress plug-in to prevent external visitors from leaving comments. Let’s talk about the comments and how to keep prevent your students from getting exposed to inappropriate content from visitors leaving comments.

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How To Add Widgets To Your Blog’s Sidebar

  1. Log into your blog.
  2. Click on the down arrow beside Appearance.
  3. Click on Widgets.
  4. Choose a widget (i.e. the Meta box).
  5. Click and drag it to the right sidebar.
  6. Change the title if you want and click save.
  7. Choose another widget (i.e. Recent Posts). Click and drag it to your sidebar.
  8. Change the title if you want and click save.
  9. Choose another widget (i.e. Text box.) Click and drag it to your side bar.
  10. Change any options and click save.
  11. Click on the title of your blog in the top-left corner of your dashboard and you can see what your blog looks like.

Watch the video:

How To Change The Theme Of Your Blog

  1. Log into your blog.
  2. Click on the down arrow beside Appearance.
  3. Click on Themes.
  4. Try a theme out by clicking on the preview image.
  5. If you don’t like the theme, click on the X in the top-left corner.
  6. Try another theme.
  7. When you find a theme you like, click on Activate Theme (found at the top-right corner)
  8. Click on the title of your blog to see your site.

Watch the video:

How To Change The Title Of Your Blog

  1. Log in to your blog.
  2. Click on the down arrow beside Settings.
  3. Click on General
  4. Change the Title of your blog
  5. Change the tagline of your blog
  6. Click Save Changes.
  7. View your blog by clicking the title in the top-left corner.

Watch the video:

Keep Students from Logging in to your Class Website from Home

Creative Commons License photo credit: rightee

Blogging in the classroom is great, but there are times when you don’t want your students working from home. For example, you want to see what your students can do independently – without the help of an older brother or sister. Sometimes that means having your students do their work in class.

If you do everything on paper, then you can just make sure the assignment stays in class. But, if you ask students to publish their work online, then you need a way to keep students from finishing their work from home.

We run several different websites and networks of student blogs for different teachers using a single (multisite) installation of WordPress. Even though it looks like all of our sites are independent from each other (heck, some of them even use different domain names) – underneath the hood, they’re all using a common set of files and code.

When you log in to the administration back end of a WordPress site, you’re in a directory called wp-admin. This is where you can see your dashboard, edit your posts, moderate your comments, etc. Every computer in the world has a unique address. (If you want to know what your IP address is, you can visit a site like wp-adress.com)

It’s easy to figure out the “IP address” of your school computers and then to set up your class website to only allow visitors from these machines to login.

Although, there are lots of ways to restrict access to this “wp-admin” back end of your self hosted WordPress website, if you’re not careful, you might accidentally lock out students and teachers from other sites. (And then you get a flood of e-mails and comments from students, teachers, and parents, letting you know that they couldn’t access their website from home.)

Three ways to lock down your class website

1. Using an .htaccess file

  • If you’re only running one class website, then one of the best ways is to use an .htaccess file to restrict access to your website.
  • This is also a great way to protect your website from hackers because it keeps computers from the wrong IP address from even getting to the important files in your wp–admin directory.
  • Unfortunately, if you use’re running a multisite WordPress blog, then all of your websites will get locked down.

2. Using the WP Block Admin plugijn

  • WP Block Admin is a great WordPress plug-in that lets you keep students from accessing the back end of your WordPress blog based on what user account you give them. We use this on a number of our websites.
  • By default, this plug-in redirects subscribers, contributors, and authors to the front of your class website. Editors and administrators (i.e. teachers) are able to login and see the back administrative side of the website.
  • Unfortunately, this plug-in can’t figure out if you’re at school or at home – it only restricts access based on your user level. Students will still be able to work from home

3. Using the Private! WordPress Access Control Manager plug-in

  • Private! WordPress Access Control Manager is a comprehensive security plug-in they give you several different ways to lock down your class website. You can use it to create a completely private website, restrict certain parts of the website, or allow complete access to your site.
  • It also lets you lock down the administrative backend (/wp-admin) of your website to a single IP address. This means that you can lock your class website so that students can’t edit their posts from home.
  • Unfortunately, it seems that if you lock down one website so that it can only be accessed at school, then all of your websites are affected. (We learned that the hard way.)
  • Also, there was no way to create a custom message telling students that they cannot access the block from home.
  • Finally, the Private! WordPress access control manager won’t even allow you to login from home… which means that teachers will also be locked out of their websites. (if you accidentally lock yourself out of your class blog, you have to delete a specific file in order to let yourself back in.)

We couldn’t find an easy way to block access to the site administration (wp-admin) of our multisite WordPress blog… so we made a plug-in.

Block wp-Admin by IP: Block access to the site administration (wp-admin) of your multisite WordPress installation: [download id=”1″]

This is one of our first plug-in, so please be patient. Eventually,we will be uploading it to the WordPress plug-in directory to make it easier for classroom teachers to install it on their class websites.

For the time being, you can download the plug-in here: [download id=”1″]

Restrict access so that only computers from a specific IP address can access the administrative backend of your blog (/wp-admin). Everyone will still be able to log into your site, however only users at the correct IP address will be able to visit site administration pages.

  • Administrators, Network (Super) Administrators, and other users who are able to “manage_options” will always be able to access the back end of your site. (This means that teachers will be able to access their class website from home and school.)
  • The first time you activate this plug-in, it will detect your current IP address and automatically restrict access to your administrative panels.
  • Visit the settings page (Settings > Block wp-admin by IP) to change the IP address or to create a custom error message.

Note: this plug-in is only designed to prevent users from adding/editing postsor accessing the administrative end of a WordPress website.

  • It uses the  is_admin function to to check to see if the dashboard or the administrative panels are being requested.and then check your IP address to see if you are allowed access.
  • It is not intended to be a security plug-in. There are other ways to lock down/harden your WordPress installation.
  • You will still be able to access the login page (wp_login). This means that users can still login to access the front end of your website and leave comments. They simply won’t be able to access the backend.

How to make a blog, class website or online school community

Want to make a great looking website? Try WordPress

Option 1: Start a free WordPress class website

Option 2: Upgrade to a premium WordPress to unlock features and apps

Option 3: Do it yourself – run your class website off your own WordPress server

Use WordPress.

More and more teachers want to know how to make a blog for their students or to set up a class website.

Educircles.org is an example of what your class website, student blog or online school community could look like if you used WordPress.

3 Reasons why teachers should use WordPress for their student blogs and class websites

1. WordPress is free

WordPress is free blogging software used by millions of people around the world.

  • In June 2010, there were over 25 million people using WordPress.
  • 11.4 million blogs were on WordPress.com and
  • 13.8 were self-hosted WordPress blogs (using the free software from WordPress.org)
If it’s good enough for 25 million people, it’s probably good enough for your classroom.

2. WordPress is popular

WordPress is more than just blogs. It’s an easy way to set up your website and get “stuff” online.

You don’t have to be a technical wizard. Once someone sets up your class website, students, teachers, and/or parents can log in to post information on line.

WordPress is so easy to use that 13% of the world’s top websites use it to manage their website. It is the world’s most popular content management system for websites and it’s free.

3. WordPress is Great for Teachers because you can Provide a Safe Space Online for Students

Don’t worry, there are lots of ways for teachers to protect and moderate their students’ work.

  • Control whether students need teacher approval for their work to appear on the internt. Teacher accounts can be set up to moderate student work and comments. In other words, students can submit work but they don’t have to have publishing rights. Student work won’t go live on the site until a teacher approves it.
  • Hide your student blogs from the world so only certain people can see it. You can set up your site so anyone in the world can see it or you can password protect certain sections. Heck, you can even password protect the entire site.
  • Allow your students’ work to appear in Google… or hide it from the Search Engines. You can set up your edublog to block search engines from listing your site or to let them crawl around.
  • Lock down your class website so students can only edit their work when they’re at school. There are ways to set up your class website so it’s only accessible by your school computers. This might be useful if you want all work to be completed at school so you know how much students have done independently.
  • Publish student work online to have your students engage with a global community. You can set up your class website to allow anyone in the world to leave comments, or only students in your class.
  • Translate your site into different languages so more parents have an idea of what you are doing in class. There are ways to add options onto your class website to let Google translate your site into a different language. This way, non-English speaking family members have an idea of what is going on at school. It’s also a great way for relatives overseas to share in what your students are doing.
  • Engage your students in a way that traditional paper-and-pencil assignments don’t. Our students are growing up in a digital era fueled by Facebook and Twitter. By adding voting plugins or allowing comments, you can catch your students’ attention. There’s even a plugin (BuddyPress) that lets you turn your class website into your own private class social networking site.

How to Make a Blog, Class Website or Edublog

WordPress comes in a few different flavours and varieties. Although the WordPress software is free (you can download it here), you may have to pay to use certain features or to run the software yourself.

Option 1. I just want a free basic WordPress website.

This is the basic option – a no frills, simple cupcake:

  1. Create a free account at WordPress.com and set up a basic website for free.
  2. You could also create a free account at Edublogs.org (which uses WordPress software.)
  3. Kidblog.org also runs on WordPress software but they’ve tweaked it to make it more kid-friendly and kid-safe.

WordPress.com runs over 11 million websites for the world about many different topics. Edublogs.org runs over 700,000 edublogs and all of their sites have something to do with education. Kidblog has over 3 million student accounts from around the world.

WordPress.com and Edublogs are excellent places to set up a basic class website and to get used to using WordPress.

Kidblog is also a great place, but you don’t have nearly as much flexibility in changing the appearance of your site.

There are several good reasons to choose a free account with WordPress.com or Edublogs.org

  • It’s easier to set up. Just visit their website and create a class website or student blog in a few minutes.
  • Your class website (probably) won’t slow down or crash because of high traffic. They have lots of servers and IT professionals behind-the-scenes to take care of the software updates and security to keep things running smoothly.

Option 2. I started with a free WordPress.com account, but now I want more. Upgrade your account to get a few extra features.

Once you start working with WordPress, you’ll start to notice how many websites use WordPress. You’ll start to see some things that they have that you don’t.

  • They might be using a different theme that isn’t available to you on your free account.
  • They might have some cool features from a WordPress plugin that you can’t get on your free account.

Eventually, you’re going to want the fruit and the icing as well.

Here’s what you get for free from your basic WordPress.com account: http://en.wordpress.com/features/

Here are some of the upgrades that you’ll have to pay for:

  • Customize the appearance (CSS) of your theme  ($14.97 per blog per year)
  • Use your own domain name (like YourName.com instead of YourName.WordPress.com): $12 per domain name per blog per year if you already own the domain name, ($17 per domain name per year if you have to buy it; $25 per domain name per year if you want to keep your personal information private.)
  • Turn off the ads that occasionally get shown to new visitors. ($29.97 per blog per year)
  • Get unlimited private users. ($29.97 per blog per year.) Normally, if you make your blog private, you’re only allowed upto 35 users who can log into your private blog. If you want more than 35 users, you’ll need this upgrade.

Here are some things that you simply can’t do on a basic WordPress.com account.

If you want to install plugins, you have a few options:

  • If you’re a big company, then you could pay for the Premium VIP program with WordPress.com ($2500 per month for 5 sites). They basically run your self-hosted WordPress site on the WordPress.com network.
  • If you’re a university or a school district, you could pay for the Ultimate Edublogs.org Campus plan ($6500 per year). This gets you unlimited blogs and custom plugins.
  • If you have a few classes, you might consider the Bronze Edublogs.org Campus Plan ($900 per year) for 100 blogs and some custom plugins.
  • If you’re like most people, you’ll opt to go for a self-hosted WordPress site using Option 3.

Option 3. Unlock the Power of WordPress by running a Self-Hosted WordPress site.

Eventually, you’ll want the ability to create hundreds of blogs with any theme or plugin that you want. And you won’t want to pay for each piece of fruit or swirl of icing separately.

That’s when you’ll want to run your own self-hosted WordPress site by renting some server space somewhere and installing the WordPress software.

You can download the WordPress software for free at WordPress.org.

  • The software is free, but you’ll need a web server to host your website.
  • Your school or school board may be willing to install WordPress on their servers for free.
  • Otherwise you’ll have to find your own web host.

There are several good things about running your own self-hosted WordPress blog:

  • You can install any WordPress theme that you want.
  • You can install any WordPress plugin that you want.
  • You have complete control over the code so you can tweak it if you want. There’s a great community out there that can help you.
  • There are no limits to the number of users or blogs that you can set up. (Well, you’re limited by the resources you’ve purchased on your web host, but WordPress itself isn’t limiting you.)
  • There are a few WordPress plugins out there that will help you to use any number of domain names for your site. (You’ll still have to buy the domain names on your own, but at least you won’t have to pay extra to have the ‘premium’ feature of using your own domain name for your site.)

There are several downsides to running your own self-hosted WordPress blog for your class website.

Here are a few of them:

  • You need a good web host. Shared Web Hosting which is a good place for most teachers to start will cost around $10 per month.
  • If you have a huge spike in traffic (like many students logging in at once), your class website might lag or go down completely.
    • If you use your class website just to post homework, assignments and information, then you should be fine running on a shared web host.
    • If you take your students into the computer lab and have your class log into your class website to post work (or if they’re logging into their own student blogs on your self-hosted WordPress network,) then you might see some lag – it depends on your shared web host and it depends on how much work your students are doing on your class website.
    • If you have several classes of students logging in simultaneously and trying to do work, you’ll need to upgrade from Shared Web Hosting to a Virtual Private Server. (VPS)
  • If you have a high traffic site, you’ll need to move to a Virtual Private Server (VPS) or a Dedicated Server. This can cost anywhere from $20 per month to thousands of dollars per month. If you use VPS cloud hosting, then you may have the option of adding more resources when you need it (and pay per day.)
  • You need to install and update the software yourself. This is easier than it sounds. If you’re on a shared web host like Blue Host, that’s basically a one-click installation. If you’re running a VPS or a Dedicated server, it’s a heck of a lot more complex.

Where to Find a Good Web Host

If you’ve never had a class website before, then we strongly recommend that you stop reading and go back up to create a WordPress site for free. You can create a perfectly good class website or blog for free with WordPress.com or Edublogs.org.

Heck, you might even decide to spend a few bucks with these guys to get their premium features (like using your own domain name or adding more than 35 users to a private website.)

But if you’re like us, eventually you’ll want more. In order to unlock the full power of WordPress, you’ll have to install the WordPress software on your own web host. This is called a self-hosted WordPress site. If you do this, you can install any WordPress plugins or theme that you like.

Cheap (shared) web hosting space to run your website which starts at around $4 to $8 per month. (Professional dedicated web hosting costs hundreds of dollars a month.)

You don’t have to be a computer genius to set up WordPress on your own shared web host account, but you do have to be comfortable with computers. If you’re the computer contact person in your school that everyone goes to for help, then you’ll be just fine.

There are hundreds of web hosts out there. Here’s some food for thought.

GoDaddy (Shared Web Hosting) – as low as $2.99 USD per month

GoDaddy is currently the world’s largest domain registrar. They currently offer WordPress hosting for as low as $3.07 (CDN) per month. Make sure you read the fine print. They offer great deals but we’ve had buyers remorse with them before. It’s hard not to fall for their deals.

Bluehost (Shared Web Hosting) – as low as $6.99 USD per month

When we started creating class websites and blogging in the classroom, we used Bluehost. In fact, we still have an account with them. You can get web hosting for as low as $6.95 (USD) per month (and they offer a pro-rated, “Anytime Money Back Guarantee”).

You get unlimited space, unlimited transfer, a free domain name (with registration privacy), and unlimited domains on 1 account. What all this means is you can basically create as many WordPress sites as you would like to. And, they offer 1-click WordPress Installation. (If you’ve ever read the instructions on how to install WordPress yourself, I’m sure you’ll agree it’s not for everybody. Bluehost has a step-by-step tutorial on how to setup WordPress as well as a video you can watch.)

Over the past few years, we’ve hosted over 20 sites with Bluehost on our account. (After all, you just click that little button and you can create another website in a couple of minutes.)

Now we find that shared web hosting is starting to cramp our style, so we’re paying some more money to play with virtual dedicated hosting.

VPS.net  (Virtual Private Servers) – as low as $20 USD per month

Right now, we use VPS.net. Prices start at $20 (USD) per month and can go up to $234 per month depending on how many nodes we want to power our site.

You can set up a perfectly good class website using a free wordpress site. If you want to customize your site and add special premium features, add-ons (plugins) and themes, then you’ll want to run your own wordpress site on a shared web host.

But the problem with shared web hosting is that you’re sharing a server with a bunch of other people. Which means you’re sharing the limited resources (like CPU power and RAM memory) with everyone else on that box. Think of shared web hosting as having a large party with only one bathroom.

Sure, you may be getting “unlimited” transfer and storage, but you get what you pay for (one bathroom.) At $4 to $8 a month for shared web hosting, the speed of your website may be limited or throttled.

Don’t get us wrong. Bluehost (which is the shared web host that we still use today) works great for our class website that students and parents access from home. It was ok when we had our class of 30 students in the lab blogging simultaneously. (There can be some slow downs depending on how quickly everyone was commenting, but it’s fine if students were working on projects or writing blog posts.)

But we’re starting to expand our sites to having hundreds of students commenting on the same site at the same time, and a shared host just can’t handle that. So, we’ve taken the plunge and gone with virtual cloud hosting.

The bad thing about VPS.net (aside from the fact that we’re not paying $4 to $8 per month anymore)  is that you have to do everything – and we mean everything. It’s a lot more technically demanding than a shared web host. You have to install and update the operating system, the security, and all of the other behind-the-scenes stuff that your shared web host managed for you.

The good thing about VPS.net is that you can add or remove resources (nodes) – basically, we can access unlimited resources with instant scalability. As more and more classes start to use our online literature circles, we can add nodes to meet the demand. They also offer billing by the day: $1 per node per day. So if we know we’re having a huge party on Thursday and need a couple of extra porta-potties, we can get some extra nodes for that day only.

Once you are running your own WordPress server, you have other options. We use the premium WordPress Thesis theme to get more control over the appearance of our websites.

Creative Commons License photo credit: bobbigmacshimelleclevercupcakesReckless Dream PhotographyElsie esqclevercupcakes

How to Make a Better Looking Class Website, Student Blog, or School Edublog


Creative Commons License photo credit: bobbigmac

educircles.org is an example of what your class website, student blogs or schooledublog could look like if you used WordPress.

WordPress is free

WordPress is free blogging software used by millions of people around the world.

  • In June 2010, there were over 25 million people using WordPress.
  • 11.4 million blogs were on WordPress.com and
  • 13.8 were self-hosted WordPress blogs (using the free software from WordPress.org)

WordPress is popular

WordPress is more than just blogging software. It’s an easy way to have people publish “stuff” online. In other words, someone sets up the class website and then students, teachers, and/or parents can log in to put information on line.

(WordPress is so easy to use that 13% of the world’s top websites use it to manage their website. It is the world’s most popular content management system for websites and it’s free.)

WordPress is Great for Teachers to Provide a Safe Space Online for their Students

Don’t worry, there are lots of ways for teachers to protect and moderate their students’ work.

  • Control whether students need teacher approval for their work to appear on the internt. Teacher accounts can be set up to moderate student work and comments. In other words, students can submit work but they don’t have to have publishing rights. Student work won’t go live on the site until a teacher approves it.
  • Hide your student blogs from the world so only certain people can see it. You can set up your site so anyone in the world can see it or you can password protect certain sections. Heck, you can even password protect the entire site.
  • Allow your students’ work to appear in Google… or hide it from the Search Engines. You can set up your edublog to block search engines from listing your site or to let them crawl around.
  • Lock down your class website so students can only edit their work when they’re at school. There are ways to set up your class website so it’s only accessible by your school computers. This might be useful if you want all work to be completed at school so you know how much students have done independently.
  • Publish student work online to have your students engage with a global community. You can set up your class website to allow anyone in the world to leave comments, or only students in your class.
  • Translate your site into different languages so more parents have an idea of what you are doing in class. There are ways to add options onto your class website to let Google translate your site into a different language. This way, non-English speaking family members have an idea of what is going on at school. It’s also a great way for relatives overseas to share in what your students are doing.
  • Engage your students in a way that traditional paper-and-pencil assignments don’t. Our students are growing up in a digital era fueled by Facebook and Twitter. By adding voting plugins or allowing comments, you can catch your students’ attention. There’s even a plugin (BuddyPress) that lets you turn your class website into your own private class social networking site.

How to Make a Class Website or Student Edublog

WordPress comes in a few different flavours and varieties. Although the WordPress software is free (you can download it here), you may have to pay to use certain features or to run the software yourself.

Option 1. I just want a free basic WordPress website.


Creative Commons License photo credit: shimelle

This is the basic option – a no frills, simple cupcake:

  1. Create a free account at WordPress.com and set up a basic website for free.
  2. You could also create a free account at Edublogs.org (We are not affiliated with them, even though we have similar names and we’re both using WordPress to power our sites. Find out more about us.)

WordPress.com runs over 11 million websites for the world about many different topics. Edublogs.org runs over 700,000 edublogs and all of their sites have something to do with education. Both are excellent places to set up a basic class website.

There are several good reasons to choose a free account with WordPress.com or Edublogs.org

  • It’s easier to set up. Just visit their website and create a class website or student blog in a few minutes.
  • Your class website (probably) won’t slow down or crash because of high traffic. They have lots of servers and IT professionals behind-the-scenes to take care of the software updates and security to keep things running smoothly.

Option 2. I started with a free WordPress.com account, but now I want more. Upgrade your account to get a few extra features.

Once you start working with WordPress, you’ll start to notice how many websites use WordPress. You’ll start to see some things that they have that you don’t.

  • They might be using a different theme that isn’t available to you on your free account.
  • They might have some cool features from a WordPress plugin that you can’t get on your free account.

Eventually, you’re going to want the fruit and the icing as well.

Here’s what you get for free from your basic WordPress.com account: http://en.wordpress.com/features/

Here are some of the upgrades that you’ll have to pay for:

  • Customize the appearance (CSS) of your theme  ($14.97 per blog per year)
  • Use your own domain name (like YourName.com instead of YourName.WordPress.com): $12 per domain name per blog per year if you already own the domain name, ($17 per domain name per year if you have to buy it; $25 per domain name per year if you want to keep your personal information private.)
  • Turn off the ads that occasionally get shown to new visitors. ($29.97 per blog per year)
  • Get unlimited private users. ($29.97 per blog per year.) Normally, if you make your blog private, you’re only allowed upto 35 users who can log into your private blog. If you want more than 35 users, you’ll need this upgrade.

Here are some things that you simply can’t do on a basic WordPress.com account.

If you want to install plugins, you have a few options:

  • If you’re a big company, then you could pay for the Premium VIP program with WordPress.com ($2500 per month for 5 sites). They basically run your self-hosted WordPress site on the WordPress.com network.
  • If you’re a university or a school district, you could pay for the Ultimate Edublogs.org Campus plan ($6500 per year). This gets you unlimited blogs and custom plugins.
  • If you have a few classes, you might consider the Bronze Edublogs.org Campus Plan ($900 per year) for 100 blogs and some custom plugins.
  • If you’re like most people, you’ll opt to go for a self-hosted WordPress site using Option 3.

Option 3. Unlock the Power of WordPress by running a Self-Hosted WordPress site.

Eventually, you’ll want the ability to create hundreds of blogs with any theme or plugin that you want. And you won’t want to pay for each piece of fruit or swirl of icing separately.

That’s when you’ll want to run your own self-hosted WordPress site by renting some server space somewhere and installing the WordPress software.

You can download the WordPress software for free at WordPress.org.

  • The software is free, but you’ll need a web server to host your website.
  • Your school or school board may be willing to install WordPress on their servers for free.
  • Otherwise you’ll have to find your own web host.

There are several good things about running your own self-hosted WordPress blog:

  • You can install any WordPress theme that you want.
  • You can install any WordPress plugin that you want.
  • You have complete control over the code so you can tweak it if you want. There’s a great community out there that can help you.
  • There are no limits to the number of users or blogs that you can set up. (Well, you’re limited by the resources you’ve purchased on your web host, but WordPress itself isn’t limiting you.)
  • There are a few WordPress plugins out there that will help you to use any number of domain names for your site. (You’ll still have to buy the domain names on your own, but at least you won’t have to pay extra to have the ‘premium’ feature of using your own domain name for your site.)

There are several downsides to running your own self-hosted WordPress blog for your class website.

Here are a few of them:

  • You need a good web host. Shared Web Hosting which is a good place for most teachers to start will cost around $10 per month.
  • If you have a huge spike in traffic (like many students logging in at once), your class website might lag or go down completely.
    • If you use your class website just to post homework, assignments and information, then you should be fine running on a shared web host.
    • If you take your students into the computer lab and have your class log into your class website to post work (or if they’re logging into their own student blogs on your self-hosted WordPress network,) then you might see some lag – it depends on your shared web host and it depends on how much work your students are doing on your class website.
    • If you have several classes of students logging in simultaneously and trying to do work, you’ll need to upgrade from Shared Web Hosting to a Virtual Private Server. (VPS)
  • If you have a high traffic site, you’ll need to move to a Virtual Private Server (VPS) or a Dedicated Server. This can cost anywhere from $20 per month to thousands of dollars per month. If you use VPS cloud hosting, then you may have the option of adding more resources when you need it (and pay per day.)
  • You need to install and update the software yourself. This is easier than it sounds. If you’re on a shared web host like Blue Host, that’s basically a one-click installation. If you’re running a VPS or a Dedicated server, it’s a heck of a lot more complex.

Where to Find a Good Web Host

If you’ve never had a class website before, then we strongly recommend that you stop reading and go back up to create a WordPress site for free. You can create a perfectly good class website or blog for free with WordPress.com or Edublogs.org.

Heck, you might even decide to spend a few bucks with these guys to get their premium features (like using your own domain name or adding more than 35 users to a private website.)

But if you’re like us, eventually you’ll want more. In order to unlock the full power of WordPress, you’ll have to install the WordPress software on your own web host. This is called a self-hosted WordPress site. If you do this, you can install any WordPress plugins or theme that you like.

Cheap (shared) web hosting space to run your website which starts at around $4 to $8 per month. (Professional dedicated web hosting costs hundreds of dollars a month.)

You don’t have to be a computer genius to set up WordPress on your own shared web host account, but you do have to be comfortable with computers. If you’re the computer contact person in your school that everyone goes to for help, then you’ll be just fine.

There are hundreds of web hosts out there. Here’s some food for thought.

GoDaddy (Shared Web Hosting) – as low as $2.99 USD per month

GoDaddy is currently the world’s largest domain registrar. They currently offer WordPress hosting for as low as $3.07 (CDN) per month. Make sure you read the fine print. They offer great deals but we’ve had buyers remorse with them before. It’s hard not to fall for their deals.

Bluehost (Shared Web Hosting) – as low as $6.99 USD per month

When we started creating class websites and blogging in the classroom, we used Bluehost. In fact, we still have an account with them. You can get web hosting for as low as $6.95 (USD) per month (and they offer a pro-rated, “Anytime Money Back Guarantee”).

You get unlimited space, unlimited transfer, a free domain name (with registration privacy), and unlimited domains on 1 account. What all this means is you can basically create as many WordPress sites as you would like to. And, they offer 1-click WordPress Installation. (If you’ve ever read the instructions on how to install WordPress yourself, I’m sure you’ll agree it’s not for everybody. Bluehost has a step-by-step tutorial on how to setup WordPress as well as a video you can watch.)

Over the past few years, we’ve hosted over 20 sites with Bluehost on our account. (After all, you just click that little button and you can create another website in a couple of minutes.)

Now we find that shared web hosting is starting to cramp our style, so we’re paying some more money to play with virtual dedicated hosting.

VPS.net  (Virtual Private Servers) – as low as $20 USD per month


Creative Commons License photo credit: Elsie esq

Right now, we use VPS.net. Prices start at $20 (USD) per month and can go up to $234 per month depending on how many nodes we want to power our site.

You can set up a perfectly good class website using a free wordpress site. If you want to customize your site and add special premium features, add-ons (plugins) and themes, then you’ll want to run your own wordpress site on a shared web host.

But the problem with shared web hosting is that you’re sharing a server with a bunch of other people. Which means you’re sharing the limited resources (like CPU power and RAM memory) with everyone else on that box. Think of shared web hosting as having a large party with only one bathroom.

Sure, you may be getting “unlimited” transfer and storage, but you get what you pay for (one bathroom.) At $4 to $8 a month for shared web hosting, the speed of your website may be limited or throttled.

Don’t get us wrong. Bluehost (which is the shared web host that we still use today) works great for our class website that students and parents access from home. It was ok when we had our class of 30 students in the lab blogging simultaneously. (There can be some slow downs depending on how quickly everyone was commenting, but it’s fine if students were working on projects or writing blog posts.)

But we’re starting to expand our sites to having hundreds of students commenting on the same site at the same time, and a shared host just can’t handle that. So, we’ve taken the plunge and gone with virtual cloud hosting.

The bad thing about VPS.net (aside from the fact that we’re not paying $4 to $8 per month anymore)  is that you have to do everything – and we mean everything. It’s a lot more technically demanding than a shared web host. You have to install and update the operating system, the security, and all of the other behind-the-scenes stuff that your shared web host managed for you.

The good thing about VPS.net is that you can add or remove resources (nodes) – basically, we can access unlimited resources with instant scalability. As more and more classes start to use our online literature circles, we can add nodes to meet the demand. They also offer billing by the day: $1 per node per day. So if we know we’re having a huge party on Thursday and need a couple of extra porta-potties, we can get some extra nodes for that day only.

How to find great (legal) photos to use in your school website or student blog

Click here to Search Flickr for legal photos (creative commons licensed)

Inside the Riemann Sphere
Creative Commons License photo credit: fdecomite

Chances are, most of your students use Google Images to find photos for their school assignments or student blogs. But did you know there are plenty of great photos that you can use legally from Flickr?

Flickr has over 5 BILLION photos uploaded by professional and amature photographers.

  • Many of these photos are copyright: all rights reserved. In most cases, you can’t use these photos without explicit permission from the author.
  • Many of these photos are “copyleft” and published under a creative commons license: some rights reserved. Depending on the creative-commons license, you can use or modify the image. Here’s a quick video explaining the concept: Read more »

What did you do Today at School?

You can add a caption here... or not. It's up to you! (Photo Credit: Woodleywonderworks

A class website / edublog is a great communication tool. You could write some posts about activities that you did in class or things that you’re going to do later in the week.

It’s easy to add photos to your post using WordPress. Just upload your photos when you’re typing your post and then you choose where they appear in your work and how large the images are. Heck, you can even add a caption underneath the photos if you like.

Panda Races (Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks)

WordPress lets you add a photo gallery as well which you can spice up with some WordPress plugins. We’ve used the Polaroid Gallery plugin on our WordPress gallery at the bottom of this post, but there are lots of other gallery plugins out there. (What’s a plugin anyway?) It all depends on how you want your class website / edublog to look.

As the author of a blog, you’ll need to make sure you have consent to publish photos of the kids. These example photos were found on the net. They’re published under a Creative Commons Attribution license. For more information about using photos from the internet in your work, you might want to read this post.

Photo Attribution:

Woodleywonderworks

Where to get Legal Photos to use in your Class Websites and School Projects


Creative Commons License photo credit: nattu

It might surprise a lot of your students (and teachers), but just because an image shows up in Google Images, it doesn’t mean you’re legally allowed to copy and paste it into your work.

Here are a few places to help you find photos that you can use… legally.

  • Creative Commons has a search tool to help you find creative commons licensed stuff on other search engines.
  • You could also try Everystockphoto.  They are a license-specific photo search engine that helps you find freely licensed photos. Please note that some of the sites that they link to may require a free membership account to download the photos – like Stock.xchng (sxc.hu)