WordPress 101 for Teachers

I’m a big fan of WordPress. I believe it is the best option for blogging and content creation on the web. And I’m not alone. WordPress now powers almost 19% of the entire web – – pretty impressive.

So, what does that mean for us in education? First, it means we shouldn’t limit ourselves to “easy” and “simple” solutions for blogs, class sites, and content management systems. Second, if 19% of the web is powered by WordPress…then what do they know that we may not? A few years ago I wanted to learn WordPress on our Holiday break…and I’ve been learning and using it ever since to build over twenty different websites that powered my classroom, personal blog, and group blog.

This post is going to be long, but it’s also going to leave much to be discovered. This table of contents will also help you jump between different sections:

  1. Why WordPress
  2. WordPress.com vs WordPress.org
  3. WordPress Basics (from the Dashboard to Social Options)

Why WordPress?

It’s Ubiquitous: WordPress powers 19% of the web. Think about that number. Major business use WordPress for their web presence (Charity Water, TechCrunch, MSNBC), as well as some very influential bloggers (Tim Ferris, Anderson Cooper, Stephen A. Smith). The list could go on… More importantly, however, is the WordPress community. With so many people writing books, tutorials, and guides – you really will have a variety of resources to help you use WordPress. Before I learned about WordPress I tried a number of different blogging solutions. None of them stack up to WordPress’ usability, and that is why so many around the web use it as their all-in-one solution.

Powerful: One of the main reasons so many people use WordPress is its power. Whether you need it to manage class rosters and assignments, or host videos and projects…Wordpress can handle it. It can serve as a full classroom management system (using Buddypress) where students can have features like forum discussions, walls, profiles, and direct messaging. It also can replace Google Docs for writing/editing/revising needs if that is what you are looking for. The community has tailored WordPress to meet thousands of different needs.

Easy to Use: Often we don’t tie “powerful” with “easy”. Many programs that are powerful can be cumbersome and hard to understand. WordPress is very easy to get started with (as you’ll see below). The layout is simple, and once you get the “terminology” down, it’s quick to navigate and create.

Flexible: The functionality of WordPress allows it to serve purposes for blogs, personal websites, portfolios, photography and video sites, business and corporate sites, as well as group and multi-user sites. With the thousands of plugins, you can add/change/modify your blog for any specific use.

Changes with the times: WordPress does not stay static. It’s team focuses on improving and releasing updates every couple of months. This allows the service to keep up with current technology trends, and the large community of developers are always pushing WordPress to be the first to make the jump in any advancements. I love the ability to make changes on the fly, and keep up with new ideas that others are working on.

WordPress.COM vs WordPress.ORG

WordPress.COM is a version of WordPress hosted by Automattic (the company that created WordPress with founder Matt Mullenweg). WordPress.ORG is the “self-hosted” version of WordPress. While both versions are very similar, there are some differences that you need to know about before jumping in.

Let’s start with WordPress.COM. This is very easy to get started with. It’s almost impossible to “mess up” during any type of installation and has safeguards so beginners are lead down the correct path when choosing themes, plugins, and any modifying features. Problogger puts the benefits this way:

“The biggest selling feature of WordPress.com is the fact that everything is free and easy to use. You can head over there right now, sign up for a free account, and be blogging before you know it. You won’t even need to invest in a domain name if you don’t want to. Without any expense, you are able to have a website of your own at a domain like yourname.wordpress.com.

That’s right: you don’t even have to purchase a domain name to get started. However, going from a yourname.wordpress.com domain to yourname.com in the future is going to hurt your search engine rankings. This is something that you might want to consider before going the totally free route.

In the event that you are even remotely serious about creating a blog, you’re best to start off with your own domain. You can have your own domain name at WordPress.com for an extra $12 per year plus the cost of the domain itself.

My advice: If you are totally new to blogging, you probably should start with this option. However, if you are going to be more serious about blogging or website creation, you should go with WordPress.org.

WordPress.ORG is the self-hosted version of WordPress. Basically, you’ll have to host WordPress and your blog through a company like BlueHost* (very popular hosting site). So in order to get this version you’ll have to buy your domain name (ajjuliani.com) and hosting ($6 per month with BlueHost) through a hosting company and then install WordPress. Bluehost has a “one-click” installation for WordPress:

*I’m a bluehost affiliate, because they are awesome!

So, why WordPress.ORG? Two answers: Plugins and Themes. WordPress.org allows you to download and install any custom themes (some are free but many cost around $20-$50). The .COM version of WordPress has a very limited selection of Themes, while .ORG gives you the ability to use any themes available (or create your own).

WordPress.ORG also gives you access to any and all plugins. Plugins are add-ons that add to the functionability to your WordPress site, and boy they cover everything! IF you want to see what plugins can do, check out this link of some of the top plugins of the past year on WordPress.

Moral of the story: WordPress.com is easier to set-up and use right away, but WordPress.org provides more power and functionality for serious users.

Starting From Scratch

Here’s a video of how to INSTALL a WordPress.com blog, to follow up the video of how to INSTALL a WordPress.org blog (seen above). Let me know if you have any questions in the comments.

The biggest obstacle to getting started is finding a chunk of time to do it all at once. I highly recommend finding a morning or afternoon where you can sit down and follow the exact steps listed in the links below. WordPress.COM is much easier (and will not take as much time), but WordPress.ORG requires more serious time to deal with issues that come up (and they will).

Here are some other great links to get your started with your first post:

WordPress Basics

The following information is taken right from the WordPress.org Codex. It applies to both types of sites. All of the links will bring you to the Codex site where you can browse even more wordpress knowledge. I’ve quoted each section so you can find the information in one spot.

Dashboard: “The Dashboard is a tool to quickly access the most used areas of your blog’s Administration and to provide glimpses into other areas of the WordPress community. The Dashboard Dashboard Screen presents information in blocks called modules. WordPress delivers eight modules, Right Now, Recent Comments, Incoming Links, Plugins, QuickPress, Recent Drafts, WordPress Blog, and Other WordPress News.”

Theme Options: “The Theme Options Screen allows a Theme author to give users the chance to change certain Theme features such as color and layout.

Please note, the Theme Options Screen is only available if the active theme supports a Theme Options ability. In addition, this screen will likely be different for each Theme that enables and builds it. The Theme Options page for WordPress Twenty Twelve theme, for example, provides options to change the Color Scheme, Link Color, or Default Layout.”

Posts and Pages: “In WordPress, you can write either posts or Pages. When you’re writing a regular blog entry, you write a post. Posts, in a default setup, appear in reverse chronological order on your blog’s home page. Pages are for content such as “About,” “Contact,” etc. Pages live outside of the normal blog chronology, and are often used to present timeless information about yourself or your site — information that is always applicable. You can use Pages to organize and manage any content.

In addition to the generally required “About” and “Contact” Pages, other examples of common pages include Copyright, Disclosure, Legal Information, Reprint Permissions, Company Information, and Accessibility Statement.

In general, Pages are very similar to Posts in that they both have Titles and Content and can use your WordPress Theme templates files to maintain a consistent look throughout your site. Pages, though, have several key distinctions that make them quite different from Posts.”

Navigation and Menu: “It helps people move around your site when you have a clean navigation menu in the sidebar and/or the footer. It helps people find the posts and articles you want them to find. There are a variety of methods for user friendly site navigation on your WordPress site.

Helping the user use your site means putting things where they can find them. Following the newsletter formats from the days of print, most website users are used to looking for intra-site links on the sides and bottom of a web page. As a designer, you can put them anywhere you want, but let’s stick with the conventional placement for now. After all, we want our WordPress sites to be user-friendly, right?

In the two WordPress Themes that come with your WordPress installation, both use a sidebar to hold most of the site’s navigation links. Other Themes may use navigational aids in the header and footer. While these navigation links can be displayed in any template file, typically, the navigation links include:

The template tags associated with generating this list of navigation links are found in the default WordPress Themes’s sidebar inside of a nested list. Let’s look at each of these tags individually and then look how to expand the use of navigational aids on your WordPress site.”

Categories and Tags: ” Categories and tags are examples of WordPress taxonomies. If you’re not familiar with the word “taxonomy”, don’t worry! Taxonomy is an academic discipline which defines groups of organisms that have shared characteristics and then names that group.

A taxonomy is a method of classification. WordPress comes with two default methods of classification:

  • Categories
  • Tags

Categories and tags are used to make it easier for your users to navigate your website. Used correctly, they can increase your website’s overall usability.

Each post must have one Category, but it’s up to you whether you have Tags or not. Some good advice is that your Categories are like your site’s table of contents, and your Tags are for your site’s index.”

Plugins and Widgets: “WordPress Widgets add content and features to your Sidebars. Examples are the default widgets that come with WordPress; for post categories, tag clouds, navigation, search, etc. Plugins will often add their own widgets.

Widgets were originally designed to provide a simple and easy-to-use way of giving design and structure control of the WordPress Theme to the user, which is now available on properly “widgetized” WordPress Themes to include the header, footer, and elsewhere in the WordPress design and structure.

Widgets require no code experience or expertise. They can be added, removed, and rearranged on the WordPress Administration Appearance > Widgets panel. The order and placement is set by the WordPress Theme in the functions.php file. Some WordPress Widgets offer customization and options such as forms to fill out, includes or excludes of data and information, optional images, and other customization features.

The Widgets SubPanel explains how to use the various Widgets that come delivered with WordPress. Plugins that come bundled with widgets can be found in the WordPress Plugin Directory.”

Social Options: There are tons of options for making your WordPress Blog have social features. You can check out a full listing on WordPress.org here. With a simple search for “new plugins” you can add Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest and any other social “button” you want to. One of my favorite social plugins is “Digg Digg”. It’s fast and extremely easy to install. You can see it on my site and Education Is My Life (just in different places).

Get Started Now

I hope this post has given you way more information than you actually need to get started. When I started using WordPress I signed up at BlueHost and bought my domain and hosting (took me about 2 minutes). Then I used their one-click installation for WordPress, followed the directions, and within 10 minutes I was writing my first post. Get started by choosing your domain name here, and you’ll be 25% finished!

Sometime, you just have to do it! Let me know if you have any questions in the comments, as I’d love to help anyone out who is trying WordPress for the first time.

Next Post: Choosing the Right WordPress Theme for Education

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Join the discussion 9 Comments

  • Lorelle says:

    As a fellow educator, actually teaching the world’s first degreed WordPress college course (in two degrees and one certification – AWESOME PROUD), you are right on most of these points, but I’d like to emphasize a few important points you left out.

    First, it’s free. Now this scares educational institution administrators as there must be something wrong with it.

    Free means no budget meetings and tearing hair out trying to find funding – again – when there isn’t any. Free means accessible not just by teachers but students of all financial levels.

    Free means access – open access – anyone can get a WordPress.com site without any barriers. I like that.

    Second, the community. When choosing to make WordPress I a fundamental requirement in the college degree programs at Clark College, the community had a lot to do with it. Learning WordPress can be done in a vacuum, but guess what, we live in a highly connected social world today and learning WordPress means taping into that world.

    There are tons of networking opportunities, providing learning and teaching moments, from online to in person through WordCamps and WordPress Meetups. Many schools are now creating their own WordPress Meetups and WordPress-oriented groups and meetings, giving WordPress fans from a variety of backgrounds and abilities a chance to meet and learn from each other.

    That vibrant community is also part of the Open Source Community, which brings me to reason four. Open Source.

    WordPress is built on Open Source. It is Open Source. Some of the most powerful tools out there are Open Source. Understanding what that means is critical not just for the community and the tools that benefit so many, but to understand how an economy and industry can be built upon community, crowd-sourcing, crowd-funding, and transparency.

    Literacy is point five. “Raincoaster” (Lorraine Murphy) in the Vancouver, Canada, area, taught street folks, drug addicts, and homeless folks how to blog using WordPress, setting them up on free sites on WordPress.com and helping them to learn how to have their say. When people would respond, it gave them a sense of purpose, hope, reasons to learn more and do more beyond survival.

    You cannot learn WordPress without learning literacy, about reading and writing through publishing and commenting, then social web interaction. It’s about communication. It’s about sharing.

    I have many more, but the last point I’ll leave you with is that WordPress thrives on what I call the tripod, a three-legged platform for teachers: content, code, and design.

    Everyone comes to WordPress with an agenda, besides “because I told you do” or “because everyone else is doing it.” The agenda is often “I have something to say,” “I want to program things,” or “I want to design a website” – to keep it simple.

    My students and clients who come in with the agenda of having something to say, share, or sell, often think that they have to hire someone to code or design. When they realize how easy it is to create a Widget and choose their header art, they start thinking this design stuff ain’t bad, and zoom, they are suddenly studying web design and code, something that terrified them before.

    For those coming in with programming or design in their heads, content is the last thing they care about. “I’m not a writer.” I hear that all the time. I insist they blog through the class, even if it bores them. If you don’t know how to add content to a site, how can you design or code a site and how can you teach your clients how to use their sites? Pouting and stomping, they do the homework assignments, and in a few weeks, eyes start sparkling. They race through the door early to class and start hammering the keyboard. They start talking about their topics and finding other sites with common interests. It’s fascinating to watch. By the end of the quarter, some hug me with the fun of it. “I didn’t know blogging could be so much fun!”

    I’ve had many students continue their class sites long after the class is over, including one who fought me every step of the way, who came in last quarter to tell me his site had won a big “best blog” award at Vidcon and one of his scripts (promoted through his site) was in negotiation to become an anime movie! Not bad for a community college web design graduate who thought blogging was stupid.

    In other words, WordPress opens doors. It opens minds, and leads the user down paths they may have never imagined.

    As an educator, this is why we teach. If there is a single reason why a teacher should use WordPress, that’s it.


    • AJ Juliani says:

      Thanks for the info Lorelle! Much appreciated, and adds some great points. Good luck in your course. I’d love to hear how it goes!

  • Lorelle says:

    It has been going for several years and rocking beautifully. The students represent a wide cross range of talents, skills, ages, and backgrounds, thus representing the WordPress Community uniquely. They are testing WordPress to its limits. One of my mottos is that if you want to really bug check WordPress, hand it over to a classroom. No matter how hard you try to divert them, they will always find the bugs. LOL!


  • Roz says:

    Thanks so useful …

  • mersi says:

    Thank you . It was very practical

  • nikan says:

    Thanks so useful … <3

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