Class Projects Using WordPress

Last semester, the IT department launched a new instance of WordPress to host sites for class projects.  WordPress is a versatile and easy to use web platform that can be used for blogs, portfolios, traditional web sites, or combinations thereof. The way a WordPress site looks and feels can vary widely, depending on the “theme” chosen- and some of the newer themes are very slick-looking indeed. Also, since a large percentage of new websites worldwide use WordPress, this is a great skill for students to be learning.

Two classes this past fall used WordPress- the course topics were very different, but the way they used WordPress was quite similar. Both faculty were drawn to WordPress because of its ability to easily let students incorporate visuals and multimedia into their projects.

In Alex Dika Seggerman’s class, Globalizing Contemporary Art, the class focused for a couple weeks at a time on art from a given area of the world. Each week, the students chose a work of art, researched it, and wrote a blog post about it for the class “archive.” The blog posts were then categorized, so someone browsing the WordPress site could view, for example, all the posts related to Korean art grouped together.

WordPress site for Globalizing Contemporary Art. Each image represents a blog post.

Working with blog posts and categories is a great way to let students add content to the site and then display and group that content together in many different ways. It’s also easy to see one student’s work all on one page. A single blog post can contain images, media, links, etc, as well as writing.

Example Blog Post for Piece of Work
Example Blog Post for Piece of Work


Rachel Rubinstein also had students write blog posts about the various themes and topics in her class, The Art of Being Jewish in (Post)Modern Times. We used categories in their site as well to pull posts on a given topic together.

Both classes had a final project assignment which involved creating a digital exhibit. In Professor Seggerman’s class, students chose an item from the Five College Museums collections and created a researched web exhibit about the object. Each student had a dedicated page for this project on the class WordPress site. Some used the single page for their project, while others designed entire new websites dedicated to their art object and simply linked to those sites from the WordPress site. In this class, students had additional guidance from Kress Curatorial Fellow Jocelyn Edens on designing their exhibits.

Professor Rubinstein also had her students complete a final project which was a curated multi-media exhibit about a topic of their choice (relating to the course subject). As above, students each had their own page on the class WordPress site where they built their “exhibits” which included writing, images, embedded media, links and references, etc.


Exhibit Page for Student Project in The Art of Being Jewish
Exhibit Page for Student Project in The Art of Being Jewish


Both of these classes were studying contemporary culture in its various forms, so it made perfect sense to use a contemporary tool. That said, WordPress can work well for any class project where you want to students to collectively build a shared repository of information, or simply share content or ideas with each other. Web publishing is a key skill for students to gain experience in, no matter what their field.

WordPress sites can be kept private to just the class, or just to the Hampshire community, or can be opened up to a wider audience (as long as copyright and FERPA guidelines are taken into account- hence the fact that we cannot share the actual sites with you!).

Asha Kinney in IT and Alana Kumbier in the Library are available to support these projects from start to finish. Here are our recommendations, coming from the experience of the past couple semesters:

  • Build in class time for students to learn to use WordPress. While most students can get up to speed fairly quickly, it’s essential to block out at least 45 minutes of class time to introduce both the assignment and WordPress itself.
  • Have the WordPress project be a required assignment for the class that is tied to a key learning goal. While it can be nice to keep a blog on the side for a class, we find that these sites really don’t fully develop unless the WordPress project is fully integrated into the course.
  • Since completing a successful digital project takes a lot of time and effort, think about substituting in the WordPress project for another project you might have assigned- don’t simply tack it on as an additional project.

Interested in using a WordPress site for a class next semester?

Request a site

La Vie en Chrome

This piece reflects the personal experience and opinions of Asha Kinney and does not reflect the opinions or recommendations of the Hampshire College IT Department 🙂 .  

This past summer, the “m” key broke off my ancient PC laptop. I was aware that its days were numbered, but this really hammered it home. I was also starting to realize how quaint it was to have all my family photos stored on a local device- yes, they were backed up, but still. I realized it was time to act in a manner befitting an IT professional and get all that stuff into the cloud, one way or the other.

At around the same time, I discovered that through my Marlboro College alum account I had unlimited cloud storage on Google Drive. Giddy up! I proceeded to upload 200 gigs worth of photos and bade farewell to the Dell of yesteryear. However, I still needed a computer to work on. My work Mac was also starting to feel its age. It took about 15 minutes to boot up in the morning, and a day without a spinning beach ball was a very lucky day indeed.

Enter the Chromebook.

A Chromebook is a small, cheap ($200-$300) laptop that is neither Mac nor PC nor Linux but it’s own thing- totally Google, running Chrome OS. The concept is that your electronic life is entirely in the cloud, and nothing is stored on, or run off of, the actual computer. The computer runs a web browser, and that’s about it.

This reliance on cloud services means the computer itself doesn’t have to do much work, and this means there’s not much to go wrong. It’s super fast. It boots up in three seconds. There are no spinning beachballs, ever. Did I mention the $200 part?

Here’s what it’s great for:

  • Email- using Gmail or Webmail or similar web service.
  • Basic productivity stuff using Google Docs/Slides/Spreadsheets. Any basic file in a Microsoft Office format can be imported and worked on just fine. The computer uses your Google Drive as its main file system. Some stuff can be stored locally, but not much.
  • Managing photos, media, music, etc (which can all be stored on Google).
  • Using any other service or site you access through a web browser. This is nothing to sneeze at, as there are even photo editing, page layout/design, and video editing apps now available through web interfaces.

However, there are lots of people for whom a Chromebook will simply not work. Do any of these apply to you? If so, you’re going to hit a wall pretty quickly.

  • You’re wedded to an email client like Apple’s Mail, or Thunderbird.
  • You rely on Adobe products or like to annotate PDF’s.
  • You want to connect to Hampshire’s network printers or file servers.
  • You use the super-advanced features of Microsoft Office programs.
  • You require any specialized software that is not available through a web browser (and/or does not work with the Chrome browser).

Even with these caveats, you can see how the Chromebook is a great choice for the average person doing average stuff. Many higher-ed and K-12 systems are going Google and are giving Chromebooks to their students. The Amherst Regional System just announced their move to Google and subsequent purchase of Chromebook carts for classrooms.  

Does this all mean selling your soul to Google on a personal or institutional level? Yes, yes it does. Increasingly, though, schools and colleges do the math and decide that they simply cannot afford the luxury of NOT going Google. A lone institution would never be able to provide the cutting edge tools and systems that Google does. Similarly, a $200 computer is a huge leveler for students who cannot shell out $2,000 for a shiny new Mac. Thus, it becomes an internal war of conscience between providing your students access to the best possible tools, versus protecting what little privacy they have left. Google makes this choice easier for schools by claiming to protect the privacy of educational accounts, but do they really?

But let’s get back to our little friend, the Chromebook. I spent about six months living very happily with it. It required re-thinking how I did certain work, but I was able to find a way to accomplish most tasks. This is saying a lot given my job as an instructional technologist! When I hit a wall (see list above) I bumped to my Mac.

But then, something happened. I decided to give my Work Mac a fresh start and wipe the hard drive. It perked right up. No more spinning beach balls. And lo and behold, it could do everything I needed to do, without my having to hunt around for the way to do it. I was forced to admit that for me personally, and with my particular job, I really do need a computer that can just do everything, with no limitations or qualifications.

The Chromebook is still great and useful for lots things, but to loosely quote the late, great Queen of Camden: my odds were stacked, and I went back to Mac.


More on MOOCs

This past Friday Sarah Hews gave the NS Lunch talk about MOOCs and how they could be used at Hampshire. She has had a number of students make use of open educational resources over the past year: some for independent studies, some to get up to speed on foundational skills, some to pursue areas of interest that lie outside our course offerings. She made a powerful case for utilizing these resources as complements to the Hampshire experience, and as a natural tie-in to Hampshire’s commitment to innovative education.
Continue reading “More on MOOCs”

Time Shifting

Happy new year. It’s about time I did a new post, and this post is about time.

When I was little I remember saying to my mother “Wouldn’t it be great if we could somehow save a TV show and watch it when we felt like it?”, to which she answered, ominously, “But honey- wouldn’t that be like playing with time?”

Fast forward thirty years and “time-shifting” is now a legal term and common practice, mostly related to the watching of TV shows. We want things on-demand. On our schedule. Having to be in a certain place at a certain time? Forget it. 2013, you say? We’ll see about that!

This on-demand concept is appearing more and more in education. Students of today are saying “Wouldn’t it be great if I could somehow save that class and go when I felt like it?” And guess what- at many colleges they can.
Continue reading “Time Shifting”

MOOC Attack: Confessions of a Coursera Drop-out

A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course, generally offered by an educational organization or affiliation for free for all who want to participate. A MOOC is connectivist education in its purest form, and some of the earliest ones were taught by George Siemens, founder of the connectivist learning model. The MOOC concept has taken off like a shot these past couple years with big names like Coursera and EdX offering courses from leading educational institutions. Are these MOOCs a threat to the very fabric of higher education? Or a passing fad?
Continue reading “MOOC Attack: Confessions of a Coursera Drop-out”

The Kindle Fire: “Appears Serviceable”

We’re in the process of buying a house. The home inspection process introduced me to the single most common word used by home inspectors: serviceable. Doors appeared serviceable. Furnace appeared serviceable. Sauna, hot tub and indoor lap pool appeared serviceable (well…).

It’s this exact word that comes to mind when using the Kindle Fire. I tried the 7″, $159 model. It was perfectly serviceable. It did what it was supposed to do. It did it well. Here’s what you can do on a Fire:
Continue reading “The Kindle Fire: “Appears Serviceable””

iPads, GPS, and one Bad Elf

This semester Myrna Breitbart’s class “Creative Interventions: Locating the Spatial Practice of Social Change” is experimenting with a mapping project, with support from Caro Pinto, our CSI and Emerging Technology Librarian. They’ll be using mobile devices and an app called Fulcrum to collect location-specific data about our campus.   An amazing amount of her students had personal smartphones with GPS already, but we needed to get something on hand for the rest to use. iPads seemed the obvious choice, but there were a couple things to sort out.
Continue reading “iPads, GPS, and one Bad Elf”