Why we’re thinking about leaving Bluehost and finding a new home for our Classroom Blogs

We run several classroom blogs and professional sites, including this blog on using educational technology in the classroom. Mostly we use WordPress, but lately we’ve been experimenting with bulleting boards (phpBB) for our online literature circles.

You can only go so far with free accounts, whether they’re with Blogger, WordPress.com, Edublogs, or Wikispaces. Eventually, you want to be able to do more. That’s when we looked into setting up a self-hosted WordPress account and looked into finding a web host.

Up until now, we’ve been quite happy with BlueHost. They use Simple Scripts to let you set up a variety of websites with the click of a button, including WordPress, phpBB, etc.

So, what changed?

Continue reading “Why we’re thinking about leaving Bluehost and finding a new home for our Classroom Blogs”

Still using WordPress for our Classroom Website

We’re just creating our new classroom website for the 2009-2010 year. We had it up and running in about 15 minutes by setting up WordPress 2.8.4 (3 minutes to create the site; 12 minutes to cut and paste the content from our Meet the Teacher newsletter.)

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Twitter in the Classroom

twitterAt the end of June, our Grade 8 Language Arts (English) class experimented with using Twitter in the classroom.

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How to Hide Unmoderated Comments from Students in WordPress

Many teachers are blogging in the classroom. It’s authentic writing that hooks struggling readers and writers, especially boys.

However, there is one huge flaw with using WordPress or Edublogs in the classroom. Students can read unmoderated comments when they are logged into the edublog or class blog before the comments get moderated and published online. They can’t edit the comments, but they can still read them.

What does this mean? Continue reading “How to Hide Unmoderated Comments from Students in WordPress”

Eduwikis: Create a Wikispace for your Classroom or School

This post is a work-in-progress as we experiment with using wikis in the classroom and school environment.

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Students that inspire

This is an ongoing draft about students who do inspiring things. Eventually, I hope to use these examples to inspire students in my own class. We’ll keep you posted as our research unfolds.

Dalton Sherman, fifth grader in Dallas ISD

Edublogs that catch my eye

Travel across the blogosphere and you inevitably come across your fair share of blogs. Here are a few that caught our eye:

High School Teacher Blogs

Elementary Blogs

Teacher Blogs

Domain Names: Things Teachers Need To Know Before They Buy a Domain Name for their Classroom Blog or School Website

There are lots of good trusted companies that will register domain names for you. They range in price from a few dollars to fifty dollars per year.

But, be careful. Often times, the refund policy on a domain name ranges from no refund to a few days. Different companies have different special offers, but always read the fine print.

Teachers are not usually webmasters, so here are some things to know if you are thinking about buying a domain name for your school website or classroom blog:

  • You can buy a domain name separate from a web hosting package. (If you’re using a free service like WordPress.com or Edublogs.org to host your class blog, chances are, you’re only in the market for a website name.)
  • Sometimes a domain name registrar will sell domain names for $1.99 per year. Read the fine print: they might be for less popular domain extensions (i.e. .info), the price might be valid for only the first year, or you might need to buy a hosting package as well.
  • The typical .com or .ca registration costs around $10 per year. At this price, you should be able to point your domain name to any server in the world. (Be careful: If you use a free service like WordPress.com or Edublogs.org, you might have to pay a fee to have your new domain name show up on the address bar. For example, if I buy the domain name classroom-teacher.ca, I can point it to my wordpress blog (classroomteacher.wordpress.com). If I type in classroomteacher.ca, it will send me to my wordpress blog, but the address in my webbrowser will switch to classroomteacher.wordpress.com unless I pay a premium to WordPress.com).
  • The Canadian Internet Registration Authority publishes a list of accredited registrars that are allowed to sell .ca domain names. Make sure you shop around. Prices vary significantly. (Some places charge over $30 per year for a Canadian domain name.)
  • Make sure you get domain name privacy when you register your domain name. (Otherwise, students can look up your address, email, and telephone number). By default, the information you use to sign up for a domain name is publicly listed in the whois database, unless you get a privacy package included from your webhost. (For example, BlueHost offers free Privacy with their web hosting package. UPDATE: Why we’re thinking about leaving BlueHost.). All personal domain name registrations in Canada are automatically hidden from the whois database.
  • It can take up to 24-48 hours for your domain name to become live on the internet. (Your new domain name address needs to be sent to DNS servers around the world and sometimes this can take time.)

Where do we shop for domain names?

We currently have domain names registered with the following companies:

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.

Why we chose Bluehost to run our Classroom Blogs

UPDATE (Dec 2009): Why we’re thinking of leaving Bluehost.

Paying for a web host to run your own self-hosted WordPress blog is not for everybody. In fact, it’s for very few teachers out there.

If you’re new to blogging, start out with a free WordPress blog, either at WordPress.com or Edublogs.org. Try it out, create a school or classroom blog and see what you can and can’t do.

Many teachers are perfectly happy with what they are able to do with a free blog. Your students can post and comment in a perfectly safe environment using the basic templates (themes) and features (plug-ins) provided.

But some teachers will want more. And these are the people who should consider paying for some server space on a web host and running their own WordPress blog(s) off of their shared server space. Here are some ways to know if you’re ready to move up to a self-hosted WordPress blog. Continue reading “Why we chose Bluehost to run our Classroom Blogs”