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WordPress: Making Blog Building Easy

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Written by: Evan Sanderson

Let’s reveal a little secret–all those fancy blogs you look at aren’t really that hard make. In fact, a good deal of the Internet is built on the WordPress platform. WordPress is a website building platform that is easy to use and elegant in design.

With WordPress, you can create pages, post updates, and manage comments. Visitors can post comments and share your posts through social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter. And best of all? It’s basic functionality is free to use!

To learn more, watch the CTRL instructional video on WordPress here:

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Organize Your (and Your Students’) News

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rss RSS (Real Simple Syndication) feeds and their little orange icon have been around the web for a long time (remember Google Reader?). Usually, people use RSS to collect personal news digests. However, the ubiquity of specialized feeds and the recent increase in academically rigorous blogs means that beyond just getting you your morning news, RSS feeds can also collect articles related to your research and teaching.

The beauty—and main selling point—of getting your news through RSS is that content from around the web is collected in one location for you. This means that rather than remembering to go to a dozen different websites, you can just go to one location where it is all waiting to be read.

Feeds can also help you filter out the noise from sites you visit. Rather than sifting through an entire website to find stories you are interested in, subscribe to a feed about a specific subject. Do you just want the local stories from the Washington Post? There’s a feed for that. Do you only want the evolutionary psychology stories from Scientific American? There’s a feed for that. Are you specifically looking for stories about China’s economy from The Economist? There’s a feed for that.

Don’t stop at traditional news sources. Most organizations have a feed that contains all of their press releases and publications. Does your research involve staying current on particular elected officials, businesses, agencies, organizations, etc.? Subscribe to their feed and immediately get notified anytime they produce new content.

Beyond organizing your own news sources, RSS feeds can also help organize what your students are reading. Rather than just tell your students to “stay up-to-date on current events,” give them a curated list of feeds that you expect them to read before each class. Essentially, you can use RSS to create a free, supplemental electronic textbook that updates in real-time. If your students are each researching a particular topic, have them find feeds that keep them updated on their chosen research area. The possibilities for tailored news digests are endless.

There are a number of RSS readers on the market today, but we recommend Feedly (www.feedly.com). The free tool has a clean, easy to use, problem-free interface on both the web and mobile devices.

To learn more about using RSS in your classroom schedule a one-on-one tutorial or attend one of our workshops this coming Spring.

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Mobile Tool Review: WordPress.com

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This Mobile Tool Review was written by Cathryn Panganiban, CTRL Trainer and Consultant.

WordPress.com

With a wide array of features and capabilities, WordPress is a great platform to use whether you are interested in starting a course blog or promoting your research (or both). Those who have limited experience in blogging platforms or website management may find the platform confusing at first, but the tool is easy to learn. With these advantages and more, it is no wonder WordPress is used by many popular websites today.

Cost

$0-$30 (depending upon upgrades)

Platform

Compatible with any Internet browser as well as iPhone and Android smartphones through the (free) WordPress app.

What does it do?

WordPress allows you to create your own website within minutes. Users can manage and update content with a single click. Furthermore, its accessible features enable the user to customize the look and feel of their site—HTML/CSS/web-design experience NOT necessary. Building your online presence has never been this easy!

Which class can you use it in?

While Blackboard allows instructors to facilitate online discussions through its own blogging feature, accessibility to this content is strictly limited to those with AU Blackboard access. WordPress offers the ability to create a public website, one that can garner an audience from around the world and extend a course outside the confines of the physical classroom. With that said, I could imagine a WordPress-operated blog to be a useful tool for students to learn how to participate in online discourse through commenting and tagged posts. The added ability to share multimedia posts may also be helpful for courses interested in ePortfolios, especially ones that focus on the arts, current events, and/or social issues.

Advantages

One of the many strengths of WordPress, when compared to other blogging platforms, is the myriad of features offered to users. Each individual user can craft a website that satisfies a particular goal (e.g. communal discourse, ePortfolio). I personally like WordPress for its many themes (templates)—many of which are completely free. Themes can be changed to update the overall look of a website. Its clean interface and the ease of creating new posts are major pluses as well. It’s also worth noting that AU marketing and communication blogs run exclusively on WordPress.org. BONUS: The mobile app is handy for those who are always on the go.

Disadvantages

The “myriad of features” also come at a cost—the seemingly endless number of options can get overwhelming and confusing for those who are new to any blogging or website design platform. In addition, editing capabilities for existing templates through the free version WordPress.com is limited. Users can change the color or background image of the template, but that’s about it. Purchasing CSS editing packages or templates costs money.

Overall Grade

A

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