Tuesday’s Tool: WordPress

This is the year. This is the year you finally start that blog you’ve always talked about writing. Well, or maybe you’ll at least consider managing a blog or possibly setting up your own space online. The tool you should consider for doing this is WordPress.

First, you should know that there are actually two kinds of WordPress. The first is a hosted blogging community of twenty-five million or so blogs. The second is the open source software you can download for free and host your own WordPress site and/or blog.

At WordPress.com, once can create, write, and manage a blog using one of the internet’s most popular blogging tools for free. Being part of the WordPress community of bloggers, it is easy to network with other bloggers with a similar purpose. This can be especially¬†important when looking for outside input. Also available is the ability to add links and various widgets to the side, top, and bottom regions. Finally, a WordPress blog, unlike many other services, provides the option to add additional pages. This is where you can put policies, contact information, or any other content meant to be more static than blogs typically allow.

Head on over to WordPress.org and you’ll find a community of users looking to improve the open source softerware that powers WordPress blogs. Download the software and host your own site, customizing it as you see fit. eMINTS is currently undergoing a makeover where we will be using this software for site design and management. In fact, the blog you are reading right now is created using this software.

If you’re not sure about joining the WordPress community or hosting your own site, there is an option specifically made for educators. Edublogs is a community similar to WordPress.com, but it exclusively features educator and classroom blogs. There are options to run a blog for free, pay for premium services, and even an option for entire schools, districts, or colleges. It basically gives you the option of using a great tool like WordPress without the worry of an unfiltered audience.

Any of these WordPress options provide a significant amount of choice for teachers. One can add several contributors or authors, limit who can see the blog, and moderate comments in a fashion that works for anyone. There are many themes out there form which to choose that are all largely customizable. The possibilities are endless with a WordPress blog.

So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to start blogging on WordPress!

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.

Thursday’s Tip: Blog Ahead

At times, this blog has been a burden with all that comes with doing my regular job as an eMINTS instructional specialist. The same can be said for the classroom teacher or administrator trying to maintain a professional blog on the side. With the daily responsibilities required to educate children, it’s difficult to find time for blogging. This is why bloggin ahead is a good practice to adopt.

When I am on my game, I try to have a week or more of posts in the can, ready to go. Blogging tools like WordPress and Blogger make this easy. One the posting interface, there is typically an option to schedule posts. For WordPress users, this option is typically found to the right, under “Publish.” Instead of publishing immediately, one can choose the date and time they want a post to publish.

Conversely, Blogger hides their scheduling option below their editing space. Click on “Post Options” and choose “Scheduled at” which will open boxes for one to enter a date and time.

Scheduling blog posts allows a busy blogger to post on a regular basis without falling behind due to their “real” work.

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.

Alternatives to the Typical Classroom Website

School districts are cutting back on server space and software purchasing. This makes it hard to create and maintain usable classroom websites. Luckily, the Web is loaded with plenty of free alternatives.

You say your school is unable to purchase Dreamweaver? Try Nvu. For those who like to have more control than templates offer and no funds to purchase expensive software, NVU is a good alternative to the popular Dreamweaver.

Server space for websites is being drastically cut? If you’re okay with templates, Google Sites and Weebly both offer some great hosting options. With the right know-how, one does not have to be limited to templates, but both services offer a nice variety of templates with many features that will improve the interactivity of your site. Google’s sites offer seamless integration of the many Google tools also available for free. Weebly is a slick online web editor and host that also offers many interactive components to take your site to the next level.

Sometimes districts offer a small amount of space for a “templated” web page, but there are limits to resources. Simply tap into the many web-based tools that are free to users with an email address in order to enhance your students’ experience.

As mentioned above, Google offers many tools that can be easily converted to educational purposes. Google calendars provide both a self-standing website option and an embed-able element so that you can add this feature to your own site. Google Groups can provide a password protected space for discussion and file sharing. Google Docs give you the opportunity to produce collaborative documents, spreadsheets, images, surveys and quizzes, and presentations. Many of the tools on Google Docs can easily be “hacked” to fit teacher and student needs involving sharing and privacy as well as web publication possibilities. These free tools only skim the surface of what Google has to offer and did I mention it was all free? ;)

For lists of resources, teachers can utilize any number of social bookmarking sites. There’s Delicious which uses tags and clouds to create user-friendly interfaces and organizational systems. Diigo has many great collaborative possibilities. EverNote even takes the collaboration a step further and offers a desktop version for easy syncing. All of these tools can be used to provide students their own Internet-based libraries specific for their needs.

Communication is an important component of any teacher’s responsibilities. What better online tool for communication is there than the blog? Google has Blogger. WordPress is another great blogging tool and is utilized over at Edublogs. Blogs are free to set up and provide many opportunities for interaction with your students, parents, and colleagues.

This is just the tip of the ice berg when it comes to free tools that can provide an alternative to the traditional classroom website. Almost any online tool has a practical classroom application. What are some of the tools you use for your classroom website?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center. You can read some of his other posts over at Suppl_eMINTS.