I made some adjustments to the Beeblebrox theme to adapt it to a college classroom writing situation. The site is here: http://idratherbewriting.com/itt
You have to enter guest as the username and password to enter.
On the site, if you click the About link in the upper-right hand corner (http://idratherbewriting.com/itt/about/), I stated what I expect from the site as well as about 10 possible problems. I would appreciate it if some of you could give me feedback on my site, particularly what I expressed about possible problems I might encounter. I am starting my first class tomorrow, and am excited to see if everything works as I envisioned it.
I would also like to learn about other classroom blogs set up similar to mine, if you know of any. Thanks,
1) “1. Students may write long posts and then suddenly encounter an error message that causes them to lose what they’ve typed.
Response: This should not happen, but if so, I can tell students to write in Word and then post as an attachment, or to save in Word as a backup, or even to copy and paste the text before clicking Publish.”
Never, ever c & p from Word or Office or any rich text editor directly into WP. The extraneous characters added by Ms products will completely screw up your blog. If one of these must be used, c & p from Word into Notepad (or any basic editor) and save it – then c & p into Wp. This strips the unwanted crap. Also, you shouldn’t c & p from your browser without going through Notepad.
5) “25 students working in the WordPress admin console at one time may cause unwanted slowdowns.
Response: According to WordPress techies, WordPress should be able to handle 25 students in the admin console at one time no problem.”
25 students won’t be a problem for WP. I had 41 at one time on a test blog just to see what it would handle.
7) “Students may become more familiar with writing in the WordPress text box rather than Microsoft Word.”
One can only hope. :>)
11) “11. Students may encounter formatting errors with the text editor that they can’t solve.
Response: The text editor only offer simple formatting, but if students run into problems, they can always paste their content in Notepad to strip unwanted tags.”
I think you will do well as you’ve anticipated possible problems and have a plan. You can always come back here for help and don’t worry – WP is quite a robust creation.
Thanks Samboll for your response to my possible concerns. Having students paste into Notepad first will be a pain. Is there any kind of plugin that would help cut out unwanted Word tags?
Barring that, here’s another question. Suppose a student has the WordPress text editor open for 2 hrs while writing a post. Is there a point at which WordPress times out, causing an error message when the student clicks Publish?
I’ve never had a “timeout” when I worked in WordPress. That doesn’t mean there isn’t one – maybe there’s a setting or something somewhere, but for me (which I didn’t touch many default) I’ve never had a timeout for a session.
I *do* however agree about the C&P of Word stuff. Microsoft Word will *seriously* mess up posts. Apostrophes, commas, em dashes and other such characters will show up in the published post as “?” – it gets annoying to try and find them and replace them. Even if they *did* C&P into Notepad prior to posting, they’d still probably miss some of the weird characters (apostrophes, especially, as they don’t look any different unless you *really* look at them). I’d suggest just typing in Notepad, period. Forget Microsoft Word altogether. I don’t know of (or I can’t find any from an initial search) any plugin or widget that will strip Word formatting for your students – they’ll just need to put in the extra work for it, I guess!
There probably is a plugin to do what you want with the text editor – I just never use the rich text editor so I don’t know. Someone else will help you out I’m sure. Maybe start anothe thread and ask.
I did find this one with a quick Google search:
As for the write post page, I doubt it will ever time out. I’ve had mine open for a couple of days sometimes and no problems.
Thanks. Based on your suggestions, I decided to disable the rich text editor.
I have had experience with the wordpress site timing out –sometimes I enter the console in one browser, then enter it in another browser. When I go back to the former to finish the post I was working on and click Publish or save, it logs me out.
The wordpress blog worked well the first day of class. Students did say that having to select a category was not very intuitive. This was by far the most complicated thing I ran into — students usually did not select the right category. They said I should make the dashboard more user friendly eliminating a lot of the unnecessary stuff and making it more easy/direct to use. Any suggestions for modifying the dashboard?
(to see the site, go to http://www.idratherbewriting.com/itt and sign on as guest for the username and password.)
Tom, there are numerous Admin plugins available for WordPress. I caution you, however, to be extremely careful in the use of these. Playing with the WP Dashboard has a lot of potential for hard to correct mistakes. If you do try it, back up everything including your WP database first.
Also, please consider the fact that you’ve posted a (limited access) username and password into a very public forum, and, once a user gets to your site, they have access to all of your student’s email addresses. Depending on your school’s policies, that could represent a violation of student privacy. Just thought you should know.
BTW, you might want to check out Andy Carvin’s educational technology blog for his very positive write-up on the use of blogs for teaching.
Everything from here down is personal opinion and you’re, of course, free to ignore it:
The kind of “dumbing down” of the WordPress interface that you’re considering would, I think, be a disservice to your students in the long run. The WordPress dashboard is actually quite intuitive. Students that haven’t already mastered at least this limited level of technological interaction by college are facing a future of even more limited prospects.
Also, one could make the argument that the ability to categorize one’s writing into specific subjects (categories) is an essential part of the writing process itself and failure to do so shows both a lack of thought and focus on the part of the writer. If nothing else, college-level writing should be about doing some hard thinking, and basic categorization just isn’t part of that–unless this is some kind of remedial program you’re teaching.
Thanks ptvguy for your thoughtful response. I took note of your caution with my posting of the access username and password and decided to change that password. I haven’t ready any policy against using public sites for student work, but when introducing something new and innovative, making it secure and private is one less hurdle.
About not dumbing down the administrative interface, your comment about risking hard crashes if I play around with the dashboard/admin features too much made me nervous. One of my fears is that I’ll screw something up and accidentally delete all the posts and grades for the entire semester. Will installing the admin menu plugin (that creates a menu on the top bar for logged in users) really risk my admin’s functionality?
About dumbing down to student’s level, well, I have to admit I’m teaching at a technical college and the students are by nature technical. However, they have to fiddle around with it a bit first. For example, one student was trying to edit his post and kept looking for it in the admin menu. I finally told him to go view his post and click an Edit button. But I agree that it is teaching them a good, useful skill.
About the categories, I might just assign a default category each week, when students write their essays. That way they won’t have to worry about it.
Tom, I just reread my previous post and realized how pretentious I sounded. I don’t usually get into other people’s business like that. I must have been in a strange mood, perhaps a momentary lapse into self-importance. I apologize for that. : /
I haven’t ready any policy against using public sites for student work…
It’s not so much the posting of their work publically as it is the email addresses posted along with it. The fact that they give it to you, their teacher, doesn’t mean that they want me or anyone else to have it–possibly not even each other. You might want to consider having that feature removed.
Will installing the admin menu plugin (that creates a menu on the top bar for logged in users) really risk my admin’s functionality?
It shouldn’t, but backing everything up is always a good idea prior to any change. There’s a WordPress database backup plugin if you haven’t already gotten that. Just make a quick backup of your database, FTP down a full local copy of your site, and the worst thing that could happen is that you’ll spend an hour putting everything back where it was.
I get the feeling that I’m not inspiring confidence here.
The admin plugin for the menu on the top bar is pretty basic. It shouldn’t be any problem at all.
I don’t think you sounded pretentious at all. I really appreciate the feedback I’ve received on this forum. I only wish there were more WordPress classroom blogs that I could check out to get ideas.
Check out the recently launched Plainville Community Schools site which uses four WordPress blogs to teach different subjects. It’s not college, but it’s still pretty awesome. You can also try Crowe’s Class and Nanobyte Education.
Class Blogmeister is another blogging platform providing educational blogging services. Check out Room Twelve.
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