City College of San Francisco professor Erika Gentry talks to PhotoVideoEDU about how she uses the WordPress blog content management system to create a central repository for course materials and resources, interact with students, and teach young photographers to use the online tools they'll need as professionals.
The Educator: Erika Gentry, Associate Professor at City College of San Francisco. Gentry is also co-chair of the upcoming Society for Photographic Education 49th annual conference in San Francisco, March 22-25, 2012. You can learn more about technology and tools for photography educators at SPE's Academic Practicum workshops.
The Tool: WordPress, a blog website content management system
The Goal: To create a "one-stop shop" for course-related information and resources.
Options: WordPress is available in two versions:
- A hosted version available at WordPress.com, which provides the content management system interface, called the "dashboard," for creating and updating a website; hosts any photos and other media used on the site; and provides a WordPress.com URL (for example, erikagentry.wordpress.com).
- WordPress content management system software for creating and updating a website, available at WordPress.org and through many Web hosting services. To use it, you must purchase your own domain name through a domain name service, pay a hosting service to host the website, and install the WordPress software on the host's server to create your site. Many hosting services offer easy WordPress installation tools and also sell domain names. There are many hosting services available. Options to consider are Bluehost, JustHost, iPage, and HostMonster.
Costs: Free for the hosted WordPress.com platform. Free plus the cost of hosting and a domain name for the installable WordPress platform. While many free plug-ins and templates are available, some come at a price, as do premium features on WordPress.com.
Time Commitment: Gentry spends half an hour to an hour a week adding new material to her WordPress site and corresponding with students through the site, and estimates it takes about three hours for a person with basic computer and Internet skills to set up a WordPress blog.
Pros and Cons:
- Free and low-cost templates (known as "themes"), plug-ins, and widgets let you customize the look of the site you create and add a wide range of functions to it.
- Users with knowledge of HTML, CSS, and PHP can create highly customized sites.
- Allows correspondence and interaction with students through commenting and guest-blogging tools and embedded social media functions.
- Teaches students how online tools and social media work.
- A mobile app for posting to your site is available.
- Offers website search functionality.
- Getting up to speed on WordPress lingo (widgets, dashboard, RSS, etc.) can be a hurdle for novices.
Similar Tools: Squarespace
Gentry uses the WordPress platform to create a website that serves as a central repository for course-related materials and resources, lets her interact with students online, and helps her students get acquainted with the online tools that will help them as professionals. We asked her about her experience with the platform.
PhotoVideoEDU: What does WordPress accomplish for you and your students?
Gentry: It lets me create a one-stop shop for instructor-approved references and help relating to courses, things like suppliers and vendors that are local or online, associations or non-profits that they might want to be involved with, virtual tutorials, and sources for research and reference, including our own library as well as databases that our library subscribes to. It lets me provide credible sources for students to visit, whereas if they enter a search in Google, they're hit with so much information that I think it's hard for them to know where to start. And a lot of the content available is citizen content, not necessarily from somebody who's an expert.
My WordPress site is also a repository for things that I find really interesting that are relevant to the field of photography, digital imaging, and multimedia. So instead of bookmarking things, now I post them to my blog so that I can find them again. I want people to read them, but it's also nice for me to have my own library.
The site also has course portals that are linked to individual course websites. I use the individual course websites to give more content that's directly related to each course. I post all of the course notes, and I link out to relevant content on the Web.
PhotoVideoEDU: How do you use WordPress in the classroom?
Gentry: It's the first thing that the students and I bring up in the computer classroom, especially for my computer-based courses. I like to drive them to the course blog first because I like to feature articles of student work in the body of the education blog. And then from there they can link out to their individual schedules and reading assignments for their courses.
I use a tool called Remote Desktop, which allows me to project my screen onto their screen. So I will take them through and show them where things are located, with the understanding that they'll go back and look at them later.
When I introduce an assignment, I'll go to the blog, click on the course website, show them where the assignment link is located, and then talk about the assignment so that they can go back on their own and review it.
Now, when I walk in the classroom, oftentimes they're reading the new articles on the site. It's surprisingly nice to walk in and see people reading the blog before class, especially if there's student work up.
PhotoVideoEDU: Why do you prefer using WordPress to other options for presenting information online?
Gentry: I like using the tools that students are going to use when they leave the college. I think it's important for them to be familiar with them. Tools like Blackboard are very college-specific. Once students leave the education system they're probably not going to see it again. I've found that mashing together things like Flickr, social media tools, and WordPress gives a better real-life sampling of the ways students are going to be communicating and sharing information.
To take a look at the content management system interface for Erika Gentry's WordPress site, view the slideshow at the top of this page.