from the Library of Maura

Another Satisfied Customer

March 21st, 2010 by Maura A. Smale · 3 Comments

For a while now I’ve been thinking on a post about using WordPress for the course I’m teaching this semester, but have been too busy to get to it. Then this past week saw a post along the same lines from David Parry over at Prof Hacker, with extensive comments by CUNY’s own Joe Ugoretz, who has blogged about using WordPress in his online course this semester right here on the Commons. What could I possibly have to add to these great, detailed posts and comments?

Well, I’m here to give a plug for the humble old freely-hosted course site/blog on My course is fully face-to-face, so I don’t need many of the customizations that others use for their courses. And while I do admit to a bit of envy re: integrating gradebook functionality, especially, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well my course site has worked this semester. Importantly, it took a minimum of time and tech skills to set up, and is easy and fast to maintain. While it’s true that I had used WordPress before this semester, none of my students had, and they were expert bloggers after the very first class.

Why use the free version of WordPress? For me it mostly came down to economics: I didn’t want to shell out to buy a new domain. (I have a personal website and server space, but didn’t want to host something work-related on that domain.) I also didn’t want to spend the time on a custom WP install during the intersession. This is my first semester teaching a credit-bearing course in a while, and I had lots to do to prep the course in January.

My course site–LIB 1201 Research & Documentation for the Information Age–was set up in about an hour, not including creating the custom header graphic (and obsessing over which template to use). WordPress allows for both Posts (i.e., the traditional blog functionality) and Pages. My students are required to blog, so I left the Front Page of the site to use for their blog posts and announcements from me (tagged “announcements” so they can be found easily from the tag cloud on the sidebar). Then I created four Pages:

1. Syllabus: I made a traditional paper version of the syllabus to hand out on the first day, with the usual course requirements, policies, schedule, readings, etc. Everything from the syllabus except the readings is on this page. Bonus functionality: when the schedule has, inevitably, had to change a bit, I’ve been able to post updates.

2. Blogging Guidelines and 3. Assignments: Since their blog posts and comments are a fairly substantial part of their grade for the course (20%), I wanted to give my students detailed guidelines and a grading rubric. And while a brief description of all course assignments is on the syllabus, as the due date for each approaches I’ve posted more detailed information about each assignment, too.

4. Readings: This page lists all of the readings for the course. I am using a short textbook, but most of the readings are either freely available on the internet or accessible to students in our library’s subscription databases. Using the permalink feature in the databases I’m able to link to those articles directly from this page. I’m so pleased to be able to link to almost everything we’re reading this semester right from the course site (as opposed to the hours I spent in college waiting in line to buy coursepacks at the local copyshop).

This setup has worked swimmingly so far. I might change things around some next semester — maybe a dedicated announcements page would be handy? I’ve been adding links to websites we discuss in class to my delicious (tagged “lib1201”), which I’ve linked on the sidebar as “Additional Resources,” and maybe I could pipe the RSS feed for those links right into the site at some point. But for now I’m happy with my course site. And while I’m still using a plain old spreadsheet for their grades, I’ve subscribed to the course blog posts and comments in my feedreader, so I always know when my students submit their blogging homework.

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