In preparing for this academic year, I wanted to develop a simple and clear WordPress architecture to demonstrate to students. We are entering the second year of using self-hosted domains in our DWMA classes, and I knew that many students of mine would have multiple classes in which they were asked to use their own domains.
Some background: Last year many of the classes using domains in our department for the first time were general education classes (composition and literature). Since we have consolidated as part of Kennessaw State, our gen eds have been assumed into the English Department; our classes are primarily for students who have declared a major with us. They (and we) have to become skilled at building different kinds of content and structuring that work intelligently for users on the open web.
My default blog architecture last year was creating subdomains for each new class I was teaching, a message that filtered down to students as: you need to essentially build an entirely new website for work in each class (new subdomain, new install of WordPress, and, potentially, if you’re like me, spending about two hours playing with and modifying themes and plugins). That didn’t seem sustainable. More importantly it bifurcated the author into smaller and smaller identity “slices.” Multiply that over the general work that every new WordPress install creates — updates, file organization, ONE MORE URL to remember, logins, etc. — there had to be a better way.
I think I’ve found it. Or gotten closer. Have a look at the site that I have designed for my classes this semester (classes.peterorabaugh.org). I’ll describe the rationale behind it a bit for colleagues who are interested in riffing on it.
I created one new subdomain that I will use for all classes in the future. This way I can use an easy-to-remember URL for any student in any semester. No mores gamedomain.peterorabaugh.org which was interesting and fun to mess around on but, except for display purposes, never to be used again.
I decided that content I was going to publish for students (responses to work, complex assignment instructions, discussion notes, etc.) would get a Category specific to that class.
I built a static homepage for the site — not too dynamic I know. But I wanted this first page to be simple and point toward the three part architecture of the site. I teach three classes in a semester; there three favors of ice create at this stand. I have my own personal blog (this one that you’re reading) for providing a more dynamic view of my work.
I built an an graphic for each class, essentially branding the class between the button, the welcome blog post, and the home screen on Canvas (the LMS that I use). I typically choose pictures from Creative Commons searches in Flickr because there are so many quality, curious images there. I make doubly sure I’m citing the author everywhere her/his image appears. I use Canva to make them. I could bang around inside of Adobe, but Canva is so simple and pretty, and you can download the images you make from anywhere.
On the static home page, I inserted the course images onto the page and turned them into buttons that opened links for the specific categories that I had created (one for each class). The buttons essentially take a users to different blog streams that are specific for each class. It also allows me to categorize a post across multiple categories if it’s something I want all classes to see (example: my post for students on why we’re using domains).
And, most importantly, this architecture suggests to students a way to simply organize work for multiple classes. It’s a middle path between a constantly updating blog roll (which can work but is chaotic) and a separate build for each new subdomain.
This is not revolutionary. It represents my evolving understanding of the affordances of WordPress as an organizing tool rather than merely a publishing space. Hopefully it gets some of your pedagogical and design juices flowing. I welcome feedback on new adaptions for this method along with unforeseen obstacles that it creates. I’ll put up another post soon on how I feel like I’ve (finally) simplified the issue of working with both WordPress and an LMS (Canvas is my favorite) within a class.