Monday, February 11, 2013

A Wordpress 101 Workshop for History Students

Ben Wright's class is a great example of how to integrate (free) digital tools into a history class, I'm enjoying hearing about it and hope there's more in store. On a related note, I recently had the change to run some workshops for history majors who were going to be using Wordpress for course blogging (in this case, each student was making her/his own, rather than posting/commenting to a class blog - more details here). I've been simply asserting that knowing Wordpress is a useful skill for history majors, but I think the case probably still needs to be made to the satisfaction of some of our more computer-phobic majors (and yes, they exist, even among the so-called "digital natives"). I'd love to hear, in the comments, what you feel you or your students have learned from using Wordpress, or from blogging in general (either reading or writing or both), or what the value might be of humanities majors knowing a bit about how to present a polished-looking internet presence. All of the above might seem rather self-evident, especially with our campus's emerging emphasis on integrative learning and information literacy (and I'm sure we're not alone in that), but not everyone yet sees the light and I'm kind of stunned by how few students have tried Wordpress on their own: almost none, actually.

Anyway, within the last couple of weeks I've had the chance to run two workshops, each one designed to get a full class of students signed on and familiar with the rudiments of setting up their own Wordpress.com site for class use. By the second one, I had created a sample Wordpress.com site and populated it with a couple of basic posts, a few pages, a header photo, and a list of basic tasks for the workshop. I thought I'd link to it here, in case it proves helpful for anyone else or as a model for how to run a similar workshop for beginners.
We occupied a computer cluster classroom so everyone had their own PC but this could also be done in a regular classroom if everyone has a laptop. The key to making this work is keeping 2 tabs open: one that has the "front end" blog URL, and the other that has the dashboard, and toggling back and forth, refreshing with each new change to see how changes to the dashboard are reflected on the site itself.  

I walked the students through the following steps (more or less):

1. Open a WordPress account (choose username, password). Choose Basic = $0

2. Create a blog by choosing a URL – it will be http:// [yoursomething] .wordpress.com. Clarify this is not the same thing as the TITLE of the blog, which you can set later and change at will.

3. Confirm & activate the blog by going to the email you used to open your WP account and click to activate.

4. You now have a basic bare blog at your selected URL. Keep it open in one tab while you work in the Dashboard in another tab.

5. Begin with some customizations in the Dashboard tab (check results by updating/saving in Dashboard and then refreshing the blog’s tab):
  • change the blog title and tagline (Settings –> General) 
  • decide on your public v. private settings, and add your prof as a follower or viewer (Settings –> Reading) 
  • add an image to your profile and decide how your name will show up on the blog (Users –> My Profile) 
  • decide on a theme (Appearance –> Theme) 
  • add some widgets to your new theme, if it has a sidebar enabled (Appearance –> Widgets) 

 If time (we didn't, but this might be a Part II class)

6. Learn about Posts: edit the default post and/or make a new one including:
  • a hyperlink, an image, and an embedded video 
  • Try setting a post to auto-publish at a later date/time 
  • Add categories or tags to a post Under All Posts –> Quick Edit
  • enable or disable comments on a post 

7. Learn about Media: upload a file to the media library and link to it from elsewhere on the blog (like in a sidebar, post or page)

8. Learn about Pages: edit your “About page” and create a new page

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