House Cleaning the ol’ Classroom Technology Blog

It’s summer time, so we’re taking the opportunity to do some house cleaning on our blog about classroom technology. Getting rid of things that didn’t work, moving things around, and generally trying to spruce things up around the digital property.

It was embarassing to discover that our teacher blog was so slow that Yslow gave it a “D” and Google Webmaster tools said our site took on average, 18.5 seconds to load which is “slower than 100% of sites” on Google. (Having said that, we’re still making money which pays for a lot of the computer projects and sites that we do in the classroom.)

We made a few tweaks, sped things up to get a Yslow rating of A (96), and we’re trying out CloudFlare on our Bluehost account. Bluehost does CPU throttling which definetely slowed our sites down, but we’re hoping that CloudFlare caching will speed things up and reduce the strain on our pretty cheap shared hosting plan at Bluehost.

We’ll keep you posted.

WordPress MU and pSek Technical Support

We just signed up with a $10 per month business plan with pSek to host our WordPress MU sites and so far, we’ve been impressed with their technical support.

Over the past two weeks, we’ve placed a few support tickets to help us get our WordPress site up and running. (We set the priorities in the support tickets below.) pSek responded quite quickly to even the low priority call tickets, and they’ve been able to help us get our sites up and running.

We spent a fair bit of  time crawling the internet to find answers to our WordPress MU problems. Some things might be specific to installing WP and WPMU on pSek, so we’re posting some of these items to help other pSek users. (I suppose if pSek posted some more information in their knowledgebase, it might reduce the number of call tickets that get placed. Surely, we can’t be the first people to ask these questions.)

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Classroom Blogs, Bluehost CPU Throttling and pSek Webhosting

Update: We’re no longer with pSek. We did set up a multi-user version of WordPress for our class blogs on pSek, but in the end, we found we needed more than shared hosting. Right now, we use BlueHost (shared hosting) for this classroom technology blog, but we use VPS.net (virtual private servers) for most of our larger school wordpress projects. VPS.net offers scalable cloud hosting which means when our school sites need some more power, we can just throw on a few more daily or monthly nodes.

There are lots of places you can set up a free classroom blog: edublogs, wordpress, and wikispaces.

Of course, “free” always comes at a price and there are always limitations with using these free services. In the end, we decided to run the (free) open-source WordPress software off of our own webhost space to unleash the full potential of WordPress in our classroom blogs.

(WordPress software is free. You can download it here, but it’s a pain to install it yourself. Check out their handy installation guide to see what we mean. You’re better off finding a webhost that offers one-click WordPress installations.)

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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?

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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: