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WordPress Roles and Capabilities: How to get Students and Teachers to Put Content on Your School or Class Website

We use WordPress as the engine behind our school website and classroom blogs. It’s great because you can log in to the class website online and use the web interface to add contest to your website.

But WordPress also allows you to set up various levels of access to your site by changing the user role. That way, you can get students (and teachers) to write articles for your website, but you can control what actually gets published online.

There are 5 roles with different priviledges: administrators, editors, authors, contributors, and subscribers. The complete list of roles and capabilities is available on the WordPress site, but here’s what we do in a nut shell:

  • If you want to set up your blog so that only people who login can read your classroom website, then you could create a user for each student and set them up as subscribers. Subscribers can log in to read your blog but nothing else. (We don’t do this because we want our blog to be readable by the whole world,
  • We set up students as contributors on our class blogs. This lets students create posts (and edit posts), but they can’t publish them. The teacher (administrator or editor) has to moderate the post and decide if it should go live. That way the teacher has complete control over what gets published.
  • (We’ve also set up teachers as contributors on our school website. This allows teachers the freedom to create content, but also provides a check-and-balance that helps allows the principal to ensure the content is appropriate for the “official” voice of the school.
  • On our homework website, we’ve set up one student account as an author. We then pick a few trustworthy students to log in to the generic student account to type in the day’s homework as separate posts. As authors, they can publish the post directly onto the homework page without having the teacher moderate it. The risk is that they could also publish other content without permission, but we’ve locked down the website so that students can only login to the website at school. The benefit is that the students can come to our classroom after school, type in the homework on the website and it’s done. Less work for you.
  • We’ve set up a few teachers at our school as editors.  This is the only way that a peson can create pages and not just posts. Once you start getting higher up in the roles, you start to get more options (but then that can be more confusing for some people as well…)
  • And we’ve had to set up a few teachers as administrators. (Not that we wanted to because that allows you to do everything, from install plugins to change themes. But, it’s the only way you can change widgets on your blog. We’ve created a few blogs running on the same installation of WordPress using the WP-Hive plugin. It has a few bugs that we’re working through, but overall, it’s letting us run several sites off of one WordPress self-hosted account.

What’s the catch

There’ s one problem that we haven’t had a chance to overcome yet.

When we had an Ontario Blogs account (which was powered by WordPress Mu), the teacher account could moderate all the comments before the students saw them. That meant, a student could leave a comment on another student’s post, but the other student wouldn’t be able to see it until the teacher moderated it and published it live.

For some reason, with a self-hosted wordpress account or an edublogs account, even though you set up your students as contributors (so they can create posts, but not publish them), for some reason, they can see all of the comments that get left on your website when they are logged in.

This could be a very big problem given the inappropriate nature of spam out there. If you do not need to log into your blog before leaving a comment, then you’re opening your educational blog up to comment spam (and WordPress powered blogs get their fair share of them.)

It’s still a problem if only students are commenting on each other’s blogs because they might leave an inappropriate comment that could be seen by the student just by logging in.

There should be a way to hide unmoderated comments from student contributor accounts… we just haven’t figured out how to do it yet.

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