Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Day 28 -- WordPress Multi-User (WPMU)

Today's guest blogger is Nathan Davidson, Manager of Technology Integration, MSD of Wayne Township.

Almost two years ago, I had multiple teachers contact me about starting a blog. I found out that some really wanted to blog, but most teachers wanted a website to communicate with parents, display student work, and post announcements. The problem was my district didn’t have a website tool to offer teachers. So what did teachers do? They took the matter into their own hands and created their own sites using Wikispaces, PBWorks, Blogger, Weebly and others of which I’m probably not aware.

So I needed to find a solution. After researching a number of different options, I gravitated towards a blogging tool called WordPress. There is a commercial Wordpress.com site that anyone in the world can use, but there is also a multi-user version called WPMU. School districts or universities can install the software for free. You just need a server and someone with the knowledge to set it up.

Why did we go this route? I had specific criteria when selecting a web tool for my teachers. For schools, I think WPMU makes a lot of sense. Here’s why...
  • Cost--We already had a district technician who could install the server software. There was also an available server. Since the software was free, the only cost was time to get it up and running.
  • Flexibility--Some web tools lock you into certain templates and functions. With WPMU, you can install hundreds of templates for free. That allows you teachers to do some customization and personalize their sites. Also, there are a number of free plugins that allow users to post pictures, embed videos, connect to social media, and more.
  • Mobility--There is a free mobile app for iOS, Android, and Blackberry. Since half our users have smartphones, this was an attractive feature. With the mobile app, you can manage the content of your blog from your phone or tablet. This includes adding blog posts, pages, images/video, and even moderating comments.
  • Scalability--Since WordPress is open source, there are pretty consistent version changes and updates. As updates are available, this allows for scaling of features and usability. It’s to the point now where most themes and plugins from Wordpress.com work perfectly well in WPMU. Also, you have the ability to have unlimited blogs and users. There’s even the ability to have student blogs moderated by a teacher. Pretty amazing!
  • Ease of Use--In a one hour training, teachers are up and running with the basics. This was important for me as teachers needed to get off the ground quickly without a steep learning curve.
In almost two years, there are nearly 600 sites running at Wayne Township. I also know Westfield Washington and Perry Township have teachers creating blogs in WPMU as well. If you’d like to check out teacher blogs at those sites, check out the links below. WPMU is a fantastic web tools that’s easy to use and very cost effective for schools!
The Challenge

Would you like a classroom website? Have you looked into the options that you have? If WPMU sounds like a good opportunity for your school, share this post with your school or district technology staff and have a conversation about classroom blogs and websites.

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