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BBHCSD-WordPress Getting Started Guide

Last updated 1 March 2007

Introduction

WordPress is a blog package that makes it easy for teachers to communicate online with parents, students, colleagues, and community members. It allows them to have a presence on the web without learning a lot about creating and managing web sites. Teachers who want to have a professional-looking site on the web that is easy to maintain should consider using this tool.

What’s a blog? Traditionally, blogs have been online diaries. People can write journal entries and post them online. These entries may contain pictures, or file attachments, or links to other things online. When people read these entries, they can post comments about them and form an online discussion. Blogs have a negative connotation for some people because they make it very easy to post things online. Some people don’t have much to say, and their blogs are meaningless rants about the people in line at the grocery store, or something that happened to them at work, or an argument they had with an acquaintance. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Blog software is easy to use. It can be used to post text, pictures, and files quickly and easily. That’s perfect for teachers. There’s practically no learning curve, the sites are professional-looking, and they can improve communication with teachers and students while saving time.

Account Set-Up

If you would like to have a blog, go to the User Management interface at http://www.bbhcsd.org/user. Log in with your network username and password. Once you’ve logged in, click “Set up a Blog.” The system will confirm your name and set up your blog.

Note: If you already have a blog or a web page on staff.bbhcsd.org, you should contact the technology staff to have it removed before you create your blog.

Your blog will be located at https://schinker.files.wordpress.com/2007/03/seaofinformation.pngusername, where “username” is your network username.

Once your blog has been created, there will be a number of things that you’ll want to customize to tailor it to your needs. The remainder of this document will cover those customizations and address some of the things you can do with your blog once you have it configured.

Personalizing Your Blog

When you first visit your blog, you’ll find that it’s pretty generic. There are two “posts” on the left side about using the software. There are a few categories on the right. The page is called “Class Site”. We want to change most of these things.

Start by going to the administrative interface. This is where you’ll make changes to your blog. On the right side, at the bottom, is a link called “Login”. Click it, and enter your network username and password. You can also get to the administrative interface by adding “wp-admin” to the end of your site’s address. For example, https://schinker.files.wordpress.com/2007/03/seaofinformation.pngschinkerj/wp-admin will take you to the admin interface for John Schinker’s blog.

When you log in to the administrative section, the first thing you see is the DASHBOARD. This gives you an overview of the things happening in your blog. On the right side, “Latest Activity” shows recently added or updated items. On the left are some “Getting Started” links. Across the top, you’ll see a number of menu items. These are the tools that help you manage your site.

Let’s start by going to OPTIONS. The general options tab includes the name and tagline for your site. You’ll probably want to change these to something more interesting than the defaults. The “Wordpress” and “Blog” addresses should already be configured, along with your email address. The other items on the page should not have to be changed. At the bottom, click Update Options to save your changes.

Changing the Appearance of the Blog

Let’s do something more fun. Click on PRESENTATION. You’ll see a list of several different themes that you can apply to your site. These themes have a dramatic affect on how your site looks. The default theme is the “Wordpress Default” one. You can select another theme by clicking on it.

The themes show thumbnails that give you a sense of how they look. The best way to try out different themes is to open your blog in one window and the admJust Can’t seein page in another window. Change the theme, go back to the other window, and click “refresh” to reload it. It should reload with the newly selected theme. Using this method, you can try out as many as you like until you find one that suits you.

A quick word about additional themes: There are literally hundreds of different themes available, but they’re not all installed. Most themes that are designed to work with WordPress 2.1 and support widgets will work. If you want a theme that’s not listed, create a help desk ticket that includes the name and location of the theme, and the tech staff will try to accommodate the request.

Organizing Information with Categories

In a blog, you can configure a number of different categories. These categories determine how information is displayed on your blog. There are some categories that are pre-configured, and you can create others to meet your needs.

When you post something, you determine which categories your post will belong to. Sometimes, information fits in more than one place, and this can be accommodated by simply selecting all of the appropriate categories.

Click on MANAGE, and then choose Categories. You should have several five categories pre-defined for you. Some of these have special meanings:

  • Front Page: Items in this category will appear on the front page of your blog. That is, ONLY items in this category will be displayed on the first page people see when they go to your site. So if you want an item on your front page, make sure it’s in this category.
  • Events: This category ties in with your blog’s built-in calendar. Items in this category will also show up on the calendar. More on this later (See Calendars, below).

  • Who is your audience?

     

    What are they looking for?

    Uncategorized: This is the default category. It’s used when you don’t select any categories. It also inherits items if you delete their categories. Ideally, you shouldn’t have anything in this category.

This is the point at which you should think about your audience. Who are you writing for? What kinds of information are they expecting to find? What makes the most sense for organizing that information?

Two other categories that are automatically created are Parents and Students. Many teachers create their sites to get information out to parents and students. Having these categories would enable you to tag items that are specifically related to one of those two groups. Then, they can click on a link under “Categories” and just see the information that applies to them. Rember that information can belong to more than one category – items that apply to both students and parents could be in both categories.

This may not make sense for you. You might have different categories for different kinds of information. You may have different categories for different classes you teach. You may have different categories for different units. It really depends on what makes the most sense for your situation.

Take time now to create the categories for your site. While you can always change them later, it’s a good idea to at least have a starting point right off the bat. If you don’t need them, go ahead and delete the Parents and Students categories, but leave the others.

Writing

So let’s post something. In blog language, a post is just some piece of information that you want to make available. It’s usually text, though it can be accompanied by a picture or file attachment, too. Click on WRITE.

Type a descriptive title for your post. On the right side, select the categories your post applies to. Remember that Front Page MUST be selected for your post to appear on the front page. Otherwise, it’ll only show up under the categories you specify.

The main window is an editor. You have all of the normal font, size, color, and text tools available. If you hold the mouse pointer over the icons, it will tell you what each tool does.

Pictures & Attachments

You can add pictures and file attachments to your post using the Upload tab under the editing window. Browse to the file you want to upload, give it a title and (optional) description, and upload it. Once you’ve done that, you can send it to the editor to insert it into your post. Once there, use the Insert/Edit Image button to control how it appears in relation to your text.

Note that there’s a choice for notifying subscribers. If you select that, an email message will be generated sending out your post to everyone subscribed to your blog. See the Email Notification section, below, for more details.

On the right side of the screen, there’s a box that lets you control the Post Timestamp. This setting determines when your post will appear. If you want to post the answers to tomorrow’s pop quiz, but don’t want them there until after school tomorrow, you can just set the date and time to tomorrow afternoon at 4:30, and the post will automatically appear at the specified time.

This screen also has options for podcasting, password-protecting posts, custom field options, and trackbacks, but this is a Getting Started guide.

When you’re done writing, click Save to save it as a draft, or Publish to save it and publish it to your site. Drafts are saved on your site so you can edit them later, but they are not visible on your blog.

So far, you’ve set up your blog, customized the name and layout, created categories to organize information, and posted content. Those are the basics. If you’re ready to take on some of the other neat things the software can do, keep reading….

Optional

In order to add pictures to your posts, you will need to make sure your computer is not blocking Popups. In Internet Explorer, go to Tools, and select Internet Options. Go to the Privacy tab.

Under Pop-Up Blocker, click Settings. For address of web site to allow, type “staff.bbhcsd.org“. Select Add, and then Close, to return to Internet Explorer. This procedure will allow popups from the server staff.bbhcsd.org, while still blocking popups from other sites. This will enable the image functions to work when writing a post.

If you have other popup blockers installed, they will also have to be configured to allow popups from staff.bbhcsd.org for this to work.

Email Notification

There is no need to ask people to “check back for updates.” Your visitors can sign up to receive email notifications when the site is updated. They start by signing up on your blog. After entering a valid email address, the site sends them an email message asking them to confirm their subscription. Once this is done, they’re added to your subscriber list.

Remember the “notify subscribers” option when you were writing a post? If you select “yes”, it will email a copy of your post to all of your subscribers. The email will come from your email address, and it will include a link for unsubscribing.

If you’d like to see how it works, sign up on your own blog. Then, post something and notify the subscribers. Then, check your email.

On the MANAGE screen, you can select Email Notification. This will allow you to manually add or remove subscribers. You can also send a message to all of your subscribers, and change the email notification settings. Note that the site name doesn’t automatically get updated here when you change it in the general options – you’ll probably want to fix that.

Widgets

Most of the themes in WordPress include a sidebar. This is the menu on the side that has links to the various categories, archives, and other things. Widgets allow you to easily customize the look of the sidebar by including elements you want to show, and leaving out the ones you don’t. For example, some teachers may want to have an online survey in their sidebars. Others will want to leave it out. Widgets give you that flexibility.

In the management interface, click on PRESENTATION, and then Sidebar Widgets. If you haven’t configured widgets before, you will see a rectangle representing your sidebar and a number of available widgets. Simply drag the widgets you want to use onto the sidebar, and arrange them in the order you want them to appear. Some of the sidebars have edit icons that allow you to configure them. Once you have the sidebars arranged the way you want them, save the changes.

Here is a description of some of the available sidebar widgets:

  • Search: The search widget gives visitors a search box that they can use to search your site.
  • Categories: The categories widget will display a list of all of the categories with content in them, so visitors can find information fitting a specific category.
  • Pages: The pages widget will display any pages that you’ve created on your blog. Pages are just like posts, except each one is displayed on its own page. They’re typically used for information that doesn’t change frequently.
  • Links: If you have added links in the “blogroll” section of your site, they’ll be displayed in the Links widget.
  • Recent Posts: This widget will display items that have recently been posted to your blog. It’s a lot like a “what’s new” section.
  • Recent Comments: This widget displays the most recent comments on your blog. If you’re using comments, you can see what’s new here.
  • Archives: This widget lists all of the posts on your blog, organized by month.
  • Calendar: The calendar widget displays the current month’s calendar. In most cases, you’ll probably want to use the Event Calendar instead, though.
  • Event Calendar: The event calendar widget integrates with your blog’s calendar. You can add items to the calendar, and visitors will be able to click on a day to see what’s happening on that day.
  • Upcoming Events: This shows the same information as the event calendar, but in a list format. This is a great way to remind people about things that are coming up within the next few days.
  • Democracy: This widget displays a survey question. Visitors to the site can answer the question and see the results of the survey.
  • Meta: The meta widget contains information about the blog. This includes the link to the admin interface, as well as RSS feeds for your blog.
  • Del.icio.us: This widget allows you to list a delicious category in your sidebar. If you use delicious, it may be useful because you can integrate your blog with your delicious account. The usefulness of this widget is somewhat hampered by the fact that delicious is blocked by the Internet filter.
  • FireStats: This widget displays information about how many visitors your site receives.
  • podPress: These widgets are related to podcasting, and allow visitors to play podcasts on your site.
  • Text widgets: These widgets can contain any text. Want to add “Where fine education is a hertiage” to your sidebar? You can do it in a text widget.
  • RSS widgets: RSS widgets can be used to pull RSS feeds into your sidebar. These can be very useful for displaying information from other sources on your blog. See RSS, below, for details.

One more note about widgets: if you don’t have any widgets configured, WordPress will use the default settings for your theme. The information displayed in the sidebar will vary depending on the theme. If you do use widgets, they’ll replace the entire sidebar. By default, widgets are not configured.

Calendars

Calendars in WordPress allow you to associate posts with specific dates and times. Let’s say you have a field trip coming up, and you want to put it on the calendar in your blog. You begin by writing a post like you normally would. Before publishing it, scroll down the the “Event Editor” box. Click the “+” to add a time for this event. You can indicate starting and ending times. If you’d like, you can add more than one date, and the post will be associated with all of them.

Finish your post and publish it. If you’re using the “Event Calendar” widget, the field trip will show up on the calendar on the date you’ve specified. If you’re using the “Upcoming Events” widget, your field trip will show up in that list.

Depending on how you use your blog, you may or may not want calendar items to also be posted as normal posts. If you’re posting notification of upcoming quizzes, for example, you may not want a separate post saying, “there’s a quiz on Friday.” On the other hand, if you post class notes every day, you may want to associate them with the school day. In this case, you would want the item to show up like a normal post. You can control the behavior of the calendar by choosing Event Calendar in the OPTIONS section.

Surveys

Some teachers like to ask survey questions on their blogs. Using the Democracy plugin, it’s easy to create a simple, multiple choice survey and make it available to your blog visitors. Begin by going to Democracy Poll in the MANAGE section. Type in the question you want to ask, and the various answers people can select. You may also allow visitors to add their own answers, but concerns about people adding inappropriate content probably make this a bad idea.

Once you’ve entered the poll information, click “submit” to add the poll. You may have multiple polls, but only one can be active at a time.

In order for the survey to be visible on your blog, you must be using the “Democracy” widget. See the Widgets section for more details.

Caveat

The “Democracy” survey tool attempts to keep people from voting multiple times by logging their IP addresses. Visitors who have already voted will not be able to vote again. At school, we use a proxy server for Internet access. Technically, all of the requests for your blog from school computers come from the proxy server, which then relays the content to the computer requesting it. From the blog’s perspective, all school users appear to be using the same computer.

While the survey tool will work fine for people accessing the blog from home, it won’t allow multiple people to vote from school, even if they’re using different computers. If you take a class to the computer lab and ask them to answer the survey question, only the first student will be able to actually answer the question.

It’s possible to fix this by unchecking “Log Ips” in the General Options for the Democracy polls. The down-side is that this would also allow people to stuff the ballot box by voting as many times as they like.

RSS

RSS is a method of syndicating content online. Essentially, it allows you to have content automatically updated, based on the updates made to another site.

RSS Application

Teachers working on the same team could have RSS feeds from each other’s blogs. A sidebar widget on the math teacher’s blog could show new posts from the social studies teacher’s blog. That way, visitors to one blog would see that there’s new information on the other one.

Text Box: RSS Application  Teachers working on the same team could have RSS feeds from each other’s blogs. A sidebar widget on the math teacher’s blog could show new posts from the social studies teacher’s blog. That way, visitors to one blog would see that there’s new information on the other one.For a really simple example, look at your school’s portal page (http://www.bbhcsd.org/start). At the top of the screen, click on “News.” Depending on the building, you should see various news feeds with local, national, world, or school news. The portal pages use RSS to connect to the various news sources (CNN, Reuters, etc.). When a news item is added to one of those sites, it automatically appears on our portal pages, too.

You can use RSS with your blog in two ways. You can incorporate feeds into the blog, so when other sources update their content, your blog automatically reflects those changes. You can also provide RSS feeds, so others can have their sites updated automatically when you post content.

To incorporate an RSS feed into your blog, use the RSS widget. Enter the title that you want to appear, the address of the feed, and how many items to display. To share your RSS feed with others, simply add the word “feed” to the end of your blog address. For example, https://schinker.files.wordpress.com/2007/03/seaofinformation.pngschinkerj/feed is John Schinker’s RSS feed.

It’s also possible to generate RSS feeds for specific categories or comments the same way. Just go to the category you want the feed for, copy the address, and add feed at the end.

While RSS feeds are really useful, it’s important to note that they’re not immediate. When a new item is posted to the web page, it may take a while for it to show up on your blog.

Comments

It is possible to allow visitors to your blog to make comments on the items you’ve posted. While most teachers wouldn’t want to use this feature for everything, there are situations where it can be useful. A teacher could facilitate an online discussion by asking a question or providing a writing prompt, and then letting the students comment on that post with their responses.

By default, your blog requires people to be logged in and registered in order to comment, and it doesn’t provide them a way to register. All comments are also held until you approve them. This gives you the ability to tightly control the information, and it makes it impossible for people to make comments unless you allow them to.

The most liberal comment settings would allow anyone to post a comment. They wouldn’t need to register or log in, and the comments would appear immediately. This isn’t recommended, because inevitably someone will post something inappropriate, or your comments will start getting spam, or you’ll have some other problems with it. Instead, this course of action is recommended for enabling comments:

  • Select OPTIONS, and then General. Under “Membership,” check the box that allows anyone to register. While you’re here, make sure users must be registered and logged in to comment. Click “Update Options.”
  • In the Meta menu, there will now be a “Register” link. Visitors can use this link to sign up for an account on your blog. Please note that this is a different list from the email notification one.
  • Now go to Discussion under OPTIONS. These settings should be fine, but you can tweak them to suit your needs. By default, you will receive an email whenever a comment is submitted, and you will have to approve that comment before it appears on the blog.

It’s worth noting that the comments on your blog are public. If you’re going to use this with students, it is important to discuss what types of information should be shared on a publically accessible site.

Photo Gallery

This is the only thing you can’t do through the web interface. The gallery allows you to upload pictures and show them on your blog. To do this, you must be logged in to a school computer with your account. Open My Computer and find the Staffweb drive. In it, there should be a folder with your last name and first initial. Open that folder.

Inside, you should find a folder called Gallery. Open it.

Now, simply drag your pictures into this folder. If you’d like to organize them, you can create subfolders and put them inside this folder.

On your site, the pictures will show up under “Gallery” as thumbnail images. Visitors can click on these thumbnails to see larger versions of the pictures.

Conclusion

That should be enough to get you started. There are lots of other things the software can do. It can be configured to allow some fairly innovative, collaborative projects. You can do much more with links. You can create subaccounts to allow others to post content. There are many options for syndicating content and linking to other things online. You can create and distribute your own podcast. All of these are in the menus.

Remember that the technology is worthless unless you have something to say. The whole point of software like this is to make it easy for you to share information online without having to spend a lot of time learning how to keep it up-to-date. Your real focus should be on what you’re doing with students every day in the classroom.

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Author: John Schinker

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