[stextbox id=”info”]Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 just came out and I used the voice recognition software to write this post. Is Dragon 12 better than Dragon 11? It’s supposed to be more accurate, but time will tell.  [/stextbox]

If you blog in the classroom or run your own class website, chances are you’ve heard of edublogs.org. They’re the Australian startup company that currently hosts over 1 million educational blogs using WordPress software.

(If you’re just starting to blog with your students, here’s a list of reasons why edublogs is a safer platform for the classroom, than running a website on the more public WordPress.com or Google’s Blogger.)

If you’re not very tech savvy, then edublogs.org is a great service for you. If you’re comfortable with mucking around and installing software, then I find running your own self hosted WordPress blog provides much more flexibility to meet your classroom needs.

  • You can install any plug-in you want, and if you can code, the sky’s the limit.
  • The catch is, you need to be able to troubleshoot problems and need to have the time to manage your class website (in addition to all those lovely things like teaching, marking, lesson planning, communicating with parents, etc.)

Lots of teachers have heard of edublogs.org, but not everyone knows that the folks behind edublogs.org are also the same people behind WPMU DEV. Why should you care about WPMU DEV if you run your own self hosted WordPress blog? Because they actually sell some of the plug-ins and code that they use on edublogs.org.

Here are some of the WPMU DEV premium plug-ins and themes that I’ve used on my classroom network:

WPMU DEV Premium Plugins that I use on my classroom blogs

  • Pro Sites – if you run a multisite WordPress network and each student is the admin of their own blog, then pro-sites lets you control which group of plug-ins and themes they can access. (Obviously, you’re not charging your students any money. You can disable the money page by restricting access to it using the membership plug-in. The pro-sites plug-in is just a way to quickly control what students can access on their blog. You can create a different pro-sites level for teachers with access to a different group of plug-ins, if necessary.)
  • Membership is a nice plug-in for your class website because it lets you quickly restrict access to certain pages or features. For example, right now I’m playing around with using BuddyPress and integrating social networking into my classroom. The membership plug-in lets you restrict pages based on URL or other features which means it’s a great way for me to block students from editing their profile or being able access certain BuddyPress features.)
  • Google maps – this is a nice plug-in that I’m letting my students use next year. Once activated, it lets students easily add a Google map onto the student blog so they can quickly turn their site into a travelogue or add a map showing the location of the news article.
  • Autoblog pulls in content from different websites via RSS feeds and republishes them on your site. I use it to pull content from a student blogging network into a separate WordPress blog.
  • Question-and-answer – I use this plug-in to create a homework question site. One of my students said it’s like Yahoo answers. I like the idea of this plug-in, but it doesn’t exactly meet my needs. It’s great because students can ask questions, their friends can post responses, and then the student who asked the question gets to pick the best response. (You get points to encourage participation and then I gave prizes based on points.) The problem is that you can’t comment on a response (like you can stack overflow) , so I’m looking for a different question-and-answer solution. Right now I’m checking out Question2answer.org as a possibility.
  • Domain mapping – this is nice because it makes my website look more professional by using my own domain name.
  • Videos – I’m in the process of setting up these videos on my class website to help students use WordPress to blog. Some of my students a very good at playing around with software and other students aren’t very tech savvy, so these videos should help. (You need a membership to be able to access videos. So if you stop the membership, you lose access to the videos.)
  • Batch create – this is a really important plug-in if you’re running a student blogging network using WordPress multisite. You can upload an Excel file and batch create your student accounts and your student blogs with the click of a button. I basically use this plug-in once a year and I like it because this is cool status bar that goes across as you create your websites. (I have used the free CIMY User manager plug-in to import and export user settings and custom CIMY User extra fields. Unfortunately, you can’t use the CIMY User manager plug-in to create blogs.)
  • If you use WordPress for your classroom blog and your students are commenting on your blog at the same time, chances are you’ve seen the “slow down your posting too quickly” message. WPMU DEV has a comments control plug-in that lets you get around this for your students can comment at the speed of thought.
  • You can even get the old edublogs.org theme from WPMU DEV.

Some of these things, I can code myself or I can find other free WordPress plug-in solutions. (Some of these things, are way out of my league.)

But sometimes, it’s just easier to buy code than to pay for it in hours of development and testing. A WPMU DEV membership is not cheap. You’re looking at $419 for a one-year membership. That’s a lot of money for a classroom teacher who just dabbles in web design. (You can get a lot of classroom resources for $419.)

Right now, you have a chance to get a WPMU DEV membership for free.

They’re celebrating their 100,000 WPMU user by running a contest and giving away three annual accounts (worth $419 each). All you have to do is tweet or share their 100 K image on your own site. Check out this post for more details. The winner will be announced on WPMU.org next week.

Celebrate 100k users at WPMU DEV to enter the draw for a free annual account!

All of these contest links will probably help WPMU recover even more from their Google Penguin slap when their Google search engine traffic dropped a few months ago.

You might like the edublogs.org service, but just be aware that not everyone likes what WPMU DEV does. Check out this post, this post, and this post, and you’ll see what I mean.

This blog post was written using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 premium in Microsoft Word.

  • There were 1105 words in the first draft of this post.
  • Dragon Naturally Speaking made 33 word errors which mean that it transcribed 97.0% of the words correctly.
  • The voice recognition software also made an additional 6 punctuation errors meaning the total accuracy rate was 96.5%.

Read more about how good Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 is compared to Dragon 11. The student / teacher version of Dragon 12 will start shipping in September 2012.


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