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WordPress for education: giddy new heights not same old LMS doldrums

Week 2 of the UBC.ca Teaching with WordPress Course

“Colossal octopus by Pierre Denys de Montfort” Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Colossal_octopus_by_Pierre_Denys_de_Montfort.jpg#/media/File:Colossal_octopus _by_Pierre_Denys_de_Montfort.jpg

“Colossal octopus by Pierre Denys de Montfort” Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Colossal_octopus_by_ Pierre_Denys_de_Montfort.jpg#/media/File:Colossal_octopus _by_Pierre_Denys_de_Montfort.jpg



















Well the great thing about open courses of course, is you can continue the course, ahem, some six weeks after the thing has actually finished. 

This week is all about how to use WordPress effectively as an educational tool. I was with Christina on her Twitter comment:

Christina's Tweet

How are we using WP to create our courses differently than we might do on an LMS?


Good point. It is probably easy to hit that slippery slope of just dumping content and emailing the link to the student. That is no different than dumping content on Blackboard and emailing the link to the student. I must admit I am totally guilty of doing just that with the limited teaching that I do – my blog is just a repository, but a step forward, it IS open content, and it IS visible by any student and not just ones enrolled onto that particular module, e.g. my ‘Introduction to Systematic Review’.

Actually I’ve always hated the LMS, or VLE as we say (virtual learning environment) with a passion. They look dull, and have engendered a generation of content-thirsty students who’s favorite question to ask is, “will this be on Blackboard”? I’ve marked exam scripts where students have memorized my notes and even written out word for word my text with bullet points. These feelings have been recapitulated by others. The wonderful Jim Groom and Brian Lamb wrote in their article about reclaiming innovation that the danger with the LMS is that everything is locked away and inaccessible, and students are cut off from each other. In reality, not a single person ever works like this do they? As they say, also, the LMS does nothing to provide students with practical web skills, so how can I enhance what I do to destroy the silos and enrich what and how people learn? So what can I learn this week in stepping up my game?

What I do so far?

  • OK my materials are openly licensed. My university has no open policy, so I do it anyway under what I believe are my ‘learning resources’ as opposed to university-owned content such as module handbooks and any formal learning materials.
  • My materials are available to anyone and aren’t locked into module runs where students in year 3 for example doing their research projects can’t even look back at the research materials they used in year 2. So no additional bonkersness there.

So how can I think about being more ‘coursey’?

So, the Google Hangout with Cogdog, Tannis and Christina was great, and provided me with a view of what different designs of open course could be. OK, question number one. What is a course?

A course is a unit of teaching that typically lasts one academic term, is led by one or more instructors (teachers or professors), and has a fixed roster of students. It is usually an individual subject. Students may receive a grade and academic credit after completion of the course. (Wikipedia 2015).

So building a framework for a course containing a unit of teaching, instructors and final grade, we can start to define what is an open course, which for a start, is far more fluid. Also we can start to add thoughts about content and educational ethics.

Open course designs


To track or not to track?

Many strategies were discussed for this, like open content just on WP and page hits tracked by Google analytics. Minimal tracking could be introduced by students completing a final test within the institutional administration / grading or testing platform. Creation of accounts, use of Google forms, Gravity forms, Buddy press, were all mentioned as means of more sophisticated tracking of learner attendance and possibly engagement. Learn dash, badging all suggested as means to track.

Business cases?

Open course 1 could be a free ‘unit’ offered as a precursor to enrolling on a fully- fledged university course, or allow for payment just for registration to sit exams and build credit. Back to the ‘pic-a-mix’ approach to learning. Open courses would be great for outreach, supporting student transitions to university or reaching non-traditional academic audiences. Of course we all know that universities use open courses and content for marketing, but I believe this should not be the reason for being, surely the motivation should be an educational one?

So using WP as an educational tool?

My big questions would be around how does WP differ from many of the learning management platforms, and their open variants, in terms of copyright ownership and privacy?

On WP’s Wikipedia site (http://etec.ctlt.ubc.ca/510wiki/WordPress_as_an_Educational_Tool) they list these as concerns, but then don’t state what WP does about it:


Content and ownership: Both students and educators that blog must be aware of copyright laws and issues. In order to ensure best practices in education, teachers and students need to be aware of and adhere to copyright laws and licenses. 

Privacy and Security: Expressing opinions and beliefs to a worldwide audience has cost some educators their jobs, as issues surrounding freedom of speech blur the professional and personal blogging practices of educators and students. For example, a senior faculty member in Colorado, USA, was fired from her position after questioning university policy and leadership in a personal blog posting (Horwedel, 2006). Additionally, adolescents often will disclose a great deal of personal information about themselves when blogging. Issues surrounding safe Internet use must be taught directly and intentionally in the classroom in order to ensure the well-being of students (Davis and McGrail, 2009). (WP Wikipedia Page)

Copyright ownership of content?

So if the teacher places openly licensed content, and learners produce content, does WP have to comply with the terms of the license? I guess this is OK then. But what about the rights of the hosting company? I think the issue would be if teachers / learners were posting non-openly licensed content that might be copyright of the university or others, and the comment now would be, what would WP or the hosting company have rights over? I’D LOVE PEOPLE TO INFORM ME VIA THE COMMENTS BOX.

Learner Privacy?

Again, if we are encouraging learners or our own campus-based students to log-in and enroll, or create accounts, my question is, what happens to this data? Does WP end up having rights over it, and is this any different to a VLE such as Blackboard or Moodle? And what about the hosting company? AGAIN, COMMENTS PLEASE!
I suppose it is all about risk. I feel nervous now that I’ve set up a student blog and their contributions reveal their names. But here is a good resource and some useful insights from the University of Notra Dame blog, and like with copyright, an area I feel my institution should be able to support me with. Here are the guidelines Notra Dame issue to students:

Explain on day one that due to of the nature of the course students are required to publish work on the Internet. If they were unaware of that fact and have a major problem with it, they can drop the course.

Let students know they have privacy rights and are not required to reveal personal information. Reassure them that the professor will not release such information and enjoin them not to disclose personal information about other students.

They advocate the further advice to students:

Only provide the exact account information required; hide anything you do not wish to be made public; use a screen name or fake name; use a graphic rather than your photo; have separate email addresses for separate account registrations.

This university also gets students to sign disclaimers regarding privacy rights and options. All very good, but what about open learners on the web?


I seem to have been left with more questions than I’ve answered this week, but I do have a really clear picture in my head of levels of open course designs which is great. I haven’t made the leap from VLE to open course as I’m still missing levels of interaction I think, but this is all work in progress.

  • How is WordPress different from LMS / VLE in terms of copyright ownership of content and data privacy and security?
  • As open educators, how can we equally protect open learners as well as our campus-based students?


Oh, and some other nice things this week:

Getting students to use tag clouds

UBC guide to copyright


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