Presenting at SITE 2015

ryancousett Education, Grad School, WordPress

I will be presenting tomorrow morning in Las Vegas, NV at the annual SITE conference. The title of my paper is Re-envisioning the Possibilities with WordPress: 4 Tips For Integrating Customizable Themes into the Classroom

This best practice session will work through the benefits of WordPress in education focusing on its use in instruction on information technology in preservice education, inservice teacher usage, graduate teacher education, and faculty and staff development in schools. WordPress is a popular content management system that has been deployed in educational settings especially taking advantage of its potential with Multisite environments. The X theme by Themeco can maximize these advantages and bring more diversity, stability, and extensibility to technology-intensive learning.

Overview of WordPress

WordPress is a popular content management system, a web software program used to create websites with little technical knowledge. It is open-source software developed by a worldwide community of thousands of members and available without copyright or licensing restrictions. WordPress is used by 61.0% of all identifiable content management systems and 23.1% of all websites.

WordPress in Education

WordPress started as an open source blogging tool in 2003 and has since grown up to become the most popular content management system. By now, thanks to its expanding list of features, the platform satisfies the needs of bloggers, online small businesses, and larger sectors such as education. Schools, teachers and students worldwide exploit the possibilities of the platform and take advantage of the numerous benefits that WordPress–and personal websites in general–can provide in the field of education.

The possibilities of WordPress are numerous – it can be used to build simple blogs, forums, portfolios, class websites, blended and online learning, online journals, and even institutional websites. This website platform is probably used in the most varied ways in higher education, the CMS increasingly appears on college and university websites, for instance on the official websites of Bates College, University of Florida, University of British Columbia, Georgia State University, and Boise State University.

WordPress Multisites

One popular implementation of WordPress is the WordPress Multisite feature, which has been available in the unified core package since 2010. A Multisite is a collection of sites within one single WordPress installation. The sites share themes and plugins and don’t have separate installations of WordPress on the server, thereby simplifying administration.

One of the greatest advantages of Multisites is that you can install or delete plugins and themes for all the sites in the network simultaneously. Teachers can easily add students to the new installs through the admin area. This potentially allows an institution to provide websites to all teachers and students. Individual classes can provide a website to each student, and departments can provide a website for students to use throughout their degree.

Most Multisites deployed in educational settings use either a single theme for the department or several simple themes that are available within the hosting platform (i.e. Edublogs). These themes are typically free or available for a discounted price; and as a general rule free themes are of low quality. This solution brings multiple limitations and disadvantages. A single theme for a department limits the creativity of the student; for example, if Twenty Thirteen is chosen at most only the header image and a few colors can be changed. The result is an online environment that administrators find easier to support but handicaps students when they attempt to show their creativity in a portfolio or personal learning environment. A secondary solution is to provide several free or low cost themes, expanding student creativity but burdening support services. Instructional support staff or the teacher must learn all of the themes to be able to help and support the students. Neither of these solutions are ideal for a platform that is going to teach students how to be creative and independent users of modern technologies.

The X Theme

An alternative to these situations is for schools to provide a quality theme that allows substantial flexibility for its users. One example is the X theme, an immensely powerful and customizable WordPress theme. Themeco, the parent company, has developed a near-universal, customizable solution for use in business and education alike. X is advertised as “the last theme one will ever have to buy” and, for education, offers a low cost solution that is cheaper than the typical textbook. X provides a highly customizable environment without the endless support needed for multiple themes. The X theme provides multiple frameworks that can be adapted for a variety of uses in education, offering the creativity and ease of support that until now has not been available.
Flexible themes such as X offer a powerful and customizable WordPress environment that can be taken advantage of by students for project-based learning, blogs, portfolios, or individualized student work. Using X, students are able to achieve virtually any look and layout with minimal coding skills. Students choose from several “stacks” featuring layouts that are good for a variety of educational purposes; each stack can be further customized using both intuitive graphical settings and advanced coding techniques. By providing a flexible design theme, institutions are able to promote a more student centered and personalized environment allowing students to seamlessly use the technology without interferences and focus on learning and engagement with the material. From higher education to K–12, themes like X can be used along with WordPress to present student centered learning experiences in a creative and accessible way. Students share their work with their teachers, administrators, future employers, and friends and family. Those students who are studying abroad or have a unique internship or other experience can leverage the portfolio features within WordPress using X. Since both WordPress and X are mobile friendly and fully responsive, students can also use WordPress in the field or wherever they may be to add experience and reflect on the go. Combining WordPress with flexible themes offers a unique combination to education that can take advantage of the full power of contemporary web design.

References

Gecko Gully. (June 21, 2014). Usage statistics and market share of WordPress for websites. Retrieved from http://geckogullywebsites.com/usage-statistics-market-share-wordpress-websites/
Siteturner. (February 4, 2015). 13+ Best Selling WordPress Themes on Themeforest 2015. Retrieved from http://siteturner.com/13-best-selling-wordpress-themes–2014/

Presentation