Want to make a great looking website? Try 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:
- Create a free account at WordPress.com and set up a basic website for free.
- You could also create a free account at Edublogs.org (which uses WordPress software.)
- 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.
photo credit: bobbigmac, shimelle, clevercupcakes, Reckless Dream Photography, Elsie esq, clevercupcakes