Workshop: Working with WordPress


On February 18 I’ll be leading a faculty workshop, hosted by the “Democratizing the Archives” working group (of which I’m a part) and funded by a Civic Engagement Grant, on “Working with WordPress.” As our call for participants indicated, “This workshop will explore how we can use WordPress, the highly customizable open-source blogging platform and content management system, to support our research, practice, and teaching. We’ll examine WordPress sites used as portfolios for individual scholars/practitioners, as hubs for collaborative research and design projects, and as “nerve centers” for classes — and we’ll work through the steps of setting up a WordPress site and making basic design decisions.”

We did a little survey of our audience and discovered that most of them — or, depending who’s reading this, most of you — are new to CMS’s and blogging, so I’ve pitched my presentation at a beginner-to-intermediate-beginnger level. I also want to encourage faculty to make use of their TAs and the TechShops (free, individualized tutoring sessions) offered by the Provost’s office. Remember, too, that TNS has access to, which offers software and professional development tutorials.

I’m posting my workshop agenda and notes here — in part to keep myself on track, but primarily to serve as a reference for the workshop attendees and whoever else might find this useful.

Why a class blog? Why use a course management system?

Benefits for course instructors

  1. Everything in one place — class logistical info, syllabus, readings, supplemental resources, etc (note: you can save copyrighted material behind a password-protected firewall, or password-protect pages with sensitive info)
  2. Ability to share timely information, course announcements, etc.
  3. Potential to open up the classroom beyond the classroom walls — which not only fosters (global) engagement with your course, but also creates incentives for your students to share their best work
  4. With BuddyPress: options for public or private groups, online discussion forums

Benefits for students

  1. One-stop shop for course content
  2. Access to timely updates
  3. Platform for (low stakes) multimodal engagement with course material + opportunity to develop a voice
  4. Potential Uses: reading responses; reflective exercises; resource-shares; project proposals; methodology statements; “process blogs”; event reviews; portfolios for individual students; class-wide final project showcase
  5. [Optional] Local engagement with their work, and potential for global audience

Which platform? WordPress, Edublogs, Tumblr, Github, etc.?

  • Edublogs: education-focused WordPress hosting; teacher controls security settings; wikis, forums, quizzes, etc.; access to support with institutional subscription (We’ll have a representative from New School Online present to talk about TNS’s potential partnership with EduBlogs.)
  • Tumblr: great for “scrapbooking” quotations, photos, video, etc.; lots of themes, but not easily customizable; poor platform for commenting; your content survives at the mercy of Yahoo!
  • GitHub: repository for open-source code, supports version control
  • WordPress: my choice — and our focus for this workshop. Why? It’s more than a blogging platform; it’s an entire content-management system. It supports rich content and formatted posts enhanced with multimedia. It’s relatively easy to use. Plus, it’s open-source, which means that it’s more politically kosher than some of the other options, and there’s a built-in community committed to its sustainability.


via wpmudev
via wpmudev 


Setting up / installing WP



  • You can change your security settings for, and on, you can make individual posts public, password-protected, or private; or install a plug-in to make the entire site private.
  • Do you want one class or project “home” blog, a “central clearing house” with multiple subscribers — or do you want a “hub” blog featuring info of common interest, over which you likely have sole editorial control, and which links out to contributors’ individual blogs (as with Warwick’s class, above)?



Which theme?


  • Standard (free) or Premium? Check out WP’s own Theme Showcase and the offerings from many of the commercial theme “studios.” Also, try Googling “best [free] wordpress themes 2014”; you’ll find lots of sites that highlight and describe interesting new designs.
  • Do you need a theme that’s optimized for text-heavy or image-heavy content? What look-and-feel reflects the character of your class, your group — or you?
  • You’ll find themes in the Dashboard under “Appearance” ==> “Themes”
  • I recommend trying out a few themes to see how they look and feel once populated with content, an to ensure that they’re sufficiently “responsive” across different devices — e.g., laptop, ipad, phone, etc. Create a couple sample pages and posts — you could even use lorem ipsum text and “dummy” media — and test your top-choice designs on various devices.
  • Why I like grid themes: You can see multiple posts in one glance, which allows you to gauge the extent of recent activity on the site. The grid also minimizes the implicit hierarchy built into the linear “scroll down” mode of presentation. Plus, it visually conveys action, dynamism, and organization — the latter proving particularly appealing to us OCD-afflicted folks 🙂

Customization, Widgets and Plugins?

via Jane Friedman
via Jane Friedman 
  • You can customize your menus, headers, footers, sidebars, colors, CSS style, etc. You can even add a static front page — a nice “landing page” that greets your visitors before they dig into the heavy content. Plus, some themes allow for theme-specific alterations. You’ll find these customization options in the “Appearance” section of the Dashboard.
  • Widgets (which you’ll also find in the Dashboard under “Appearance” ==> “Widgets”) allow you to add “chunks” of content and new functionality to your site. You can add RSS readers, text blocks, lists of your post “Categories,” lists of recent posts and/or comments, your Creative Commons license, etc.
  • Plug-Ins extend the functionality of your site. You can add spam filters, event calendars, photo galleries and zoom viewers, multimedia players, back-up automators, broken-link detectors, SEO optimizers, etc. BuddyPress adds a lot of social networking functionality — e.g., user profiles, groups, etc.
    • I added the event calendar to my Fall 2013 Archives/Libraries class, for example. You might also find a calendar useful in chronicling your research group or design collective’s presentations or events.
  • What information about your class is (relatively) static — e.g., the course description, semester schedule, assignments, etc. — and what is timely and/or emergent? Pages are static and not time-dependent; posts are time- and name-stamped and appear in reverse-chronological order. See this.
  • What deserves to have a permanent, easily locatable place on the page, and what could easily be searched for, our filtered through?
  • For my Archives, Libraries + Databases class, the pages include: (1) an “About” page, which features the course codes, location, and description; (2) a “Schedule + Readings” page, where I list our agenda for each class and embed links to pdfs of all the readings (which I save behind a password-protected firewall); and (2b) nested under the “Schedule” page, a page with “Supplemental Resources”; (3) a “Requirements and Assignments” page; and (3b) nested under that page, a “Policies and Procedures” page, with my plagiarism, assignment submission, and deadlines policies; and (4) a “Resources” page, with sub-pages dedicated to relevant “Artists” and “Sites” and our event calendar.
  • For my own website, I’ve dedicated pages to Publications, Presentations, Projects, Teaching, my c.v. (this page links to a pdf), Links (this page links out to my Pinboard bookmarks), and my Zotero Library (which links out to my online bibliography).



  • Categories offer a “top-level” way to sort through “emergent” content. They’re kind of like tags in that they allow for filtering — but while tags tend to be user-generated, categories rely on more of a “controlled vocabulary”; they reflect the macro-scale “conceptual architecture” of your site.
  • If, say, your students are posting reading responses, or listing relevant extracurricular events, throughout the semester, you’ll probably want, at some point (particularly at grading time), to filter all the reading response or event-related posts, provided students categorized them appropriately when posting. It’s thus important to have your categories set at the beginning of the semester — or at the outset of your project — so students and collaborators know how to categorize their different posts. This is not to say that your categories can’t evolve as time goes on; it just takes a little time to re-categorize old posts.
  • My Urban Media Archaeology class used the following categories: “Class Announcements,” “Event + Exhibitions,” “In the News,” “Map Critiques,” “Opportunities,” “Process Blogs,” and “Project Proposals.” My Emergent Infrastructures research group has classified our posts into “Courses,” “Events,” and “Publications and Productions.” And on my own site, I’ve organized my posts into the following: “Conference + Lecture Recap,” “Exhibition + Site Recap,” “Publication Previews + News,” “Reading + Listening Recap,” “Research,” “Talks,” “Teaching,” and “Tenure.” This categorization system took shape as I used WP for the first year; once I settled on a structure, I reviewed and recategorized all my old posts.


  • Theoretically, anyone can comment on a blog (you can determine whether or not they have to offer contact info; or you can turn off comments altogether) — but in order to post any content, users must be subscribed. There are different user roles: Admin, Editor, Author, Contributor, and Subscriber. For a collaborative peer blog, I make everyone an Admin, so we all can share responsibility in maintaining the site, managing users, adding content behind the firewall, etc. For a class blog, I make all the students an “Author,” which grants them authority to publish and manage their own, and only their own, posts.
  • I also encourage students to choose usernames that do not give away their identities, so as to (kinda) avoid FERPA violations.
  • Something to consider: If you teach a particular class regularly, do you create a new blog for each semester, or do you maintain a single, continuous course blog that “accumulates” users year after year? I choose to create a new website for each class, whereas Sam Ishii Gonzales maintains a single Immanent Terrain blog, and has each semester’s new students add to the posts of their predecessors.

Other Examples

Personal Portfolios

Collaborative Projects

Class Sites

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