I have a confession to make. I haven’t used Blackboard, the preferred/subscribed Learning Management System (LMS) at my institution (Ohio University) for the past four years. I’ve gotten complaints about this from students. But the truth is, I really don’t like working with it. I think it’s bulky and confusing for instructors and students. It has way more options than we need. And it’s a closed system – which is good for student privacy – but which doesn’t take advantage of the public writing opportunities offered by the open web. Finally, Blackboard doesn’t have any other applications for students. It’s used in education and that’s it. Students can’t take their knowledge of the software to another context.
I’m a huge proponent of digital literacy. If we’re not asking students to become more familiar with new media and new writing softwares, we’re not engaging them in the literacies that are currently valuable and useful. This is one of the many reasons I like to use WordPress as an LMS in my writing courses. It can be used for so many different applications. If students use it and learn it in the classroom, they can re-appropriate that knowledge for other purposes later on. I also like how WordPress looks like the rest of the web, that it’s free and open-source, that it has a huge support community, and that it can do everything a proprietary LMS does in a much more user-friendly way. In this tool review, I’ll describe how WordPress can be useful as an LMS and provide some screenshots of a WordPress CourseSite created for a course in Digital Rhetorics and Literacies I taught last Spring.
What can WordPress do for your course?
My use of WordPress typically entails the creation of a main CourseSite, a WordPress site that I maintain, and the creation of students’ own WordPress blogs, which are linked to the CourseSite, and on which students can post daily writing and other assignments.
Organize/provide access to course materials
My CourseSites contain all pertinent information about a course including learning outcomes, major projects (assignments), the syllabus, and the schedule. I often also include lecture and activity slides.
Create a class network
Once my students create their own blogs, I create a list of all of them on the main CourseSite. Students can access and comment on each other’s work from this list.
Daily homework assignments and announcements are posted on the CourseSite’s blog.
Organize daily writing
Students each have individual WordPress blogs where they post low-stakes writing, and can comment on each other’s work.
A common critique of using blogs or other writing tools online is that students’ work is made public, and that online spaces aren’t safe venues for students to make mistakes. In my own classes I make sure to tell students they have numerous options for making their work private. First, they can choose not to put any identifying information on their WordPress blog. Another option is to make their WordPress blog completely private, letting only the instructor (myself) have access to their writing. Both options are made available in WordPress. But instructors need to make sure students are aware of them.
What Does it look like?
What does a WordPress CourseSite look like? Check out a few screenshots from a course I taught last Spring, Digital Rhetorics & Literacies, below or just surf to the site itself and explore.
CourseSite front page, with course description and information
CourseSite blog, announcements and assignments
CourseSite projects page
What are you waiting for?
Get started by visiting wordpress.com and creating your own WordPress site and account. Once you’ve explored a bit on your own, try practicing the following:
- Try on a different theme
- Add new pages to your WordPress site and update your menu
- Add links to your site
- Embed a document using Scribd or Google Docs
- CUNY’s Academic Commons is running WordPress: http://commons.gc.cuny.edu/.
- “Using WordPress in Your Class for Student Writing and Websites.” Academic Technologies, College of William and Mary. http://at.blogs.wm.edu/using-wordpress-in-your-class-for-student-writing-and-web-sites/.
- Parry, David. “WordPress: A Better LMS.” The Chronicle. http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/wordpress-a-better-lms/23050.