WordPress of One's Own: Or, thinking through creating a not intimidating menu of options for domain installs

Something I’ve been thinking about lately is the ubiquity of WordPress for Domain of One’s Own-like initiatives. I’m a long-time WordPress user. Started using it for course sites and student blogging back in mid-2000s. Also launched a hybrid Digital Humanities degree program that used WordPress multisite for course sites as an alternative to the LMS. I still tend to teach WordPress for web design, because if a 1/3 of the web is WordPress, then giving students skills in developing WordPress sites seems super valuable.

And, yet, thinking about the philosophies underpinning Domain of One’s Own has made me want to start experimenting more with other platforms. In part to offer alternatives to students thinking about what to put on their Domain, but also because WordPress is not really tuned for all the uses I put it to.

So, this last year, I mapped a Domain (that I got through UMW DoOO) to a Medium site for my Digital Studies course.

And, now, I’m experimenting with two different approaches to installing Ghost via Reclaim: one for my personal site and the other for my new daddy blog. Thanks for the help, Tim :slight_smile:

What I’m wanting to think through is a way to offer students and faculty a menu of options for stuff to put on their domains, which isn’t WordPress or WordPress or WordPress. But I’m also sensitive to the fact that “you can install ANYTHING” can be overwhelming. My impulse (and what we’re working on for UMW’s DoOO) is to highlight three platforms/applications and approaches to using those. Tuning support and development work toward those three approaches. But, then, of course, also saying and supporting “you can install ANYTHING.”

I’m curious if others have been thinking through how to strike this balance.

Hey hey
So here is an idea - is the problem basically going too far to turn back, and what you need is a content babelfish, that would allow you a cPanel click through to take WordPress content into Ghost, or into Drupal, or into Magento, or into Omerka. This way you’re much more likely to experiment a bit more.
I am not sure how you build a cPanel plugin (Guide to cPanel Plugins - Developer Documentation - cPanel Documentation) but it doesn’t look too hard to do and I bet conversions between CMS isn’t too hard

I love this question, in part because I think onboarding and scaffolding in these spaces is a whole new frontier ripe for exploration and development. I don’t confess to have any solid answers but I think it’s going to have to go beyond just a list of apps and ways to use them. I love how UMW approached their digital roadmap by starting from a frame of what a faculty member wants to accomplish.

At the end of the day 2/3 of the answer is still WordPress but it does get them thinking about their approach. WordPress has very much become a swiss army knife, but a vanilla install of it in a Domain of One’s Own environment is no closer to any “solution” because you have to know where you’re going before you get there. @cogdog recently wrote an update in a conversation about templated (Apple tells me that’s not a word but I’m going to disagree with them) approaches to using WordPress that I think is tangentially related here as well. I don’t have any real answers but would love to blow open the possibilities because I do think this screen is an overwhelming menu of choices, many of which are frankly not great, and can paralyze a user in these spaces (after they already spent so long just figuring out what they wanted their domain to be) and reducing those bottlenecks would be a huge win.

Yeah, Pat, I do like this idea – that content wouldn’t be dictated by platform but more easily flow from one platform to another. The nice thing about what you describe here is it could get folks playing with multiple approaches more easily. I do often notice that turning back is hard for people. They feel like they’ve invested too much time to turn back. Honestly, it took quite a bit of emotional work [grin] for me to decide to excise my personal content from WordPress. The actual getting it into Ghost was much easier than the deciding to let go of all the work I had done tweaking my WordPress installation.

My concern about the templates is they customize the install package, but they don’t really change what users encounter when they first hit their install – the enormous dashboard of contextual menus and the empty Hello World post. What I like about some of the newer platforms (Ghost, Medium, Social Media platforms) is the way the default post and the menus themselves more clearly guide the user in their decisions about how to interact. There is a sense that the platform offers points of entry. Doesn’t hold the user’s hand – but welcomes them, points to stuff, and smiles at the user a bit more.

That’s a fair point, though the templates do allow you to remove the cruft like Hello World posts and put something else in its place and in some cases like the SPLOT tools @cogdog built they’re almost mini applications where users only interact with the frontend of the site. But I’m right there with ya that I wish WordPress would focus at some point on their initial Dashboard experience and what that’s like for new users.

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There are definitely some ways to do this. Tom Woodward worked on some ways to “Cleanse the Dashboard”](http://bionicteaching.com/cleansing-the-dashboard/) to reduce the Wordpress overload.

I could speculate perhaps on a plugin approach, hence it has a chance to work in multiple themes, that could both pre-populate some help content in the content, and maybe something like Tom did. Perhaps there could be some kind of Dashboard slider widget to slide between Full Bore Wordpress Dashboard to On Board Newbies.

This is but one end of the problem/solution spectrum.

The other is figuring out how to move the expectation of being able to full use platforms after a sitting or a workshop, that it needs to be baked in to a regular routine of practice. The meaning of all that Dashboard is best reveled IMHO through sustained practice, as much as training for a marathon or learning music. There is no short cutting learning from sustained activity over time. The trick is making that time useful to a person, not an exercise.

So for faculty sitting down to create a Wordpress based course, I’d dream that they spend some time first learning to communicate in the platform, rather than starting with building a course.

Yes, and I love what you say at the end about inhabiting the platform and using it to communicate before trying to build in it something as supposedly important as a course.

I forgot to mention a project my friend Todd Conaway did for a few years at Yavapai Community College, and spread a few other places, the 9x9x25 Challenge https://9x9x25.wordpress.com/

It’s a simple formula:

What is the challenge? Well, TeLS and the GIFT Center invite you to create 9 pieces of writing with 25 sentences or more each week for 9 weeks beginning September 16th. Aside from the 25 sentences each week for 9 weeks, the only other rule is that the writing must be about teaching and learning. That’s a lot of latitude to write about pedagogy, tools, successes, challenges, or hopes and dreams.

The short term goal of the challenge is to give faculty a playful space to share and learn and to see what colleagues are doing in classes. These writings will also be in a place where new and seasoned faculty can easily access them for years to come. The long term goal of the 9 x 9 x 25 Challenge is to push teachers to be reflective practitioners in the field of education and share their reflections with colleagues. While the nine weeks of writing may be a start, we hope that some of the participants will continue to write and share their thoughts about the educational landscape.

Doing this in public and along side others asks faculty to do maybe what gets lost in the busyness of course planning, teaching, committee service- to just talk about / relecton on the practice of teaching

I just came from Muhlenberg College, and how they seem to be approaching this is building a faculty cohort wherein the discuss what specifically they want to do, and then working on exploring the tools that make it possible. They may initially setup a WordPress blog to start reflecting on this process, but that does not need to be the end of the exploration.

That said, the reality is WordPress has become so powerful because of its extensive plugin and theme infrastructure, it is like applications within applications. And as much as I love WordPress Multisite, that never gave faculty control over which themes and plugins they want to use—arguably the two most empowering elements of the application. It almost seems as if WordPress is its own open source universe, and it is usable and accessible to many. And the fact that folks feel comfortable and able to use it after a bit of guidance means it can scale for a community in terms of support. I wonder if focusing on curating and recommending themes and plugins for various site-types (database site, CV, blog, etc.) could be another focus.

If you are working with focused cohorts of faculty you may be able to introduce more apps and possibilities, but as with Omeka and Scalar that often comes with more dedicated support and one-on-one time, which may not only always be possible. I would argue a WordPress of One’s Own is pretty damn powerful in and of itself. Not everyone will explore beyond that, but it is a far cry from what has been available traditionally.

I’ve got to write a post on the super cleansed/aligned backend built (mostly complete) for anth101.com students. It certainly gets down to business.

If I was working with someone who wanted to do this intentionally, it’d be fun to progressively release elements of the dashboard alongside projects and work that made those options more relevant and/or have them do it the hard way prior to looking at the built in “solutions” – a bit like Dan Meyer does 3 act math.


Definitely this. When I used it as the Non-LMS LMS for the degree program I developed, the only major complaint I got from faculty was, “it doesn’t have a grade book,” to which I responded, “that’s part of the point.” :slight_smile:

What I am thinking about for a “toolkit” of apps to recommend for a first install on a Domain:

  1. A robust development space like WordPress (an “it can do almost anything” tool with a modest learning curve – Truthfully, WordPress might be the only tool I’d recommend in this category). A theme/plugin roundup would be useful. Most of the themes and plugins officially tuned for EDU are pretty bad and try to duplicate features of the LMS inside WordPress. So, some curation by folks with more progressive pedagogies could be valuable.
  2. A tool (like Known or Medium) more finely tuned for interaction, one that emphasizes conversation and the connections between people more than sites. WordPress has this functionality, especially via Plugins, but I would say it’s fundamental building block is pages/posts, not people.
  3. An easy page-building tool for folks that just want to put something (whatever it is) on the web. Something with no learning curve whatsoever. That’s what Kris Shaffer and I imagined when he started his work on Peasy, which he just released in Beta.

I’d say Omeka and Scalar are both more specialized tools for folks looking to dive deeper. And I agree that pushing either of those more heavily has considerable support implications.

Definitely interested in the concept of super cleansed/aligned backend, Tom. I hope I can carve the time to maybe work on it. It aligns nicely with what I’m figuring here at LCC open lab. The learning curve leap into straight WP, let alone DoOO cPanel, is just too much for our students and 97% of fac.

We’ve been working on a sort of SPLOT-type thing which is essentially slimmed-down backend for sites whose sole purpose is completing a writing assignment(s) for a single class. I like the TRU SPLOT approach and we’re going to use that in some use cases, but we wanted something that functions kinda like a SPLOT but begins to introduce students & fac to the real WP backend. We’re viewing it as a beginning on-ramp to later those students feel comfortable with their own WP blog with simplified options. Then onto more WP options and then maybe to full DoOO someday.

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Hey there,

New and just wading in here :blush: I work at Fleming College in our Learning Design and Support team/department

Our medium sized college has always offered our students and faculty a choice in terms of the platform they choose to use: Wordpress, tumblr, weebly, medium, etc., mostly because we didn’t have anything else to offer them other than the LMS that was supported by the institution.

This past September our communication courses for first year have been using wordpress.com (mostly) as they were encouraged by the teaching faculty who were also using wordpress.com sites for their own writing. The redesigned communication courses have the students learning to write, give and receive feedback, and loop through this cycle several times for an authentic audience. First semester focuses on personal writing, the second focuses on professional writing.

(just wanted to provide some context for my reply - they had to go with wordpress.com as there was no plan or budget to do a local install or have it hosted for the college)

Feedback from the faculty teaching team after teaching for almost 8 weeks is how to template and simplify space for students to use, here is a direct quote: “could we create dedicated blog page for students that would be a pre-made, fool-proof template? When a student’s WordPress blog does not work and we can’t fix the problem, it is very frustrating to be helpless beside an exasperated student.”

I am inclined to suggest freeing up the expectation that the student’s use wordpress and that they instead use a platform that they may already be familiar with (like tumblr etc.,) and create a space AND use categories/titles that are consistent so that the faculty can go in and review, comment, provide feedback etc., easily.

Many students may choose to use wordpress either way but…

One thing that we do here that may help the conversation is that our library holds workshops to assist students in creating their online presence, creative commons, attribution etc.,

I’m interested in any thoughts or feedback on how to approach the our communication faculty request… am I heading in the right direction??



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I tend to get nervous whenever someone wants something “fool-proof.”

I’d want to know how/what is breaking in this way and if there are any goals towards sophistication in the communication/publishing. It brings up questions around intent and faculty skill. It also makes me wonder about if the process is being built for the faculty (grading, commenting, etc) or for the students. Probably some balance in there. Often we get students who have increased technical issues when they don’t care to participate in the process. It happens more rarely around things they want to do/care about.

You can’t break Tumblr because you can’t do anything substantial. I’d think that’d be an element of a communications course but one never knows.

You can make all sorts of restricted/guided/structured paths to WordPress posts. It just depends on the aim. We do lots of front-end editor stuff through Gravity Forms and other tools that restrict options (only these categories, you must fill out this answer) and then created posts of specific structure.

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I agree with your opening comment!! AND thanks for your response!!

I met with some of the faculty team today, and appreciate your comments and thoughts.

We talked about strategies and supports for students, gathering feedback from the students, and making improvements for the course that runs in the winter.

It is a very large teaching team so focusing on their skill and comfort level will continue through the semester and as they get ready to teach the second course in the winter.

Thanks for the reminder regarding ‘intent of purpose’ and ‘intent of process’ - I’m going to think on how to approach that for our next team meeting.

If anyone else has any thoughts or suggestions they would be muchly appreciated!!

Not to diverge too far from the original intent of this thread, but on my wishlist of things to try is to incorporate something like bootstrap tour or Shepherd or Intro.js into a WordPress theme we could call “Get Started”. It could come in faculty and student varieties. The jquery/javascript guided tutorial wouldn’t necessarily simplify the menu options, but it may be a solid way to orient folks early in their WordPress explorations to the stuff that matters most.

I also like the idea that the customized javascript ‘guided tours’ to WordPress (or any CMS for that matter) could be shared via github and lightly customized by other institutions. It’s totally possible that this approach wouldn’t need a theme at all, and could be activated with a <script> call only. While I’ve played around with these javascript guided tours before (to showcase changes resulting from website redesigns), I’ve not had a chance to integrate one into WordPress. Just thought I’d throw this out there to see what others might think.

Hey Tim-

Do you ever get this working?

Oh so many years later I was thinking of using Shepherdjs to do the same thing. It looks like you can loop in js in the global_footer.html.tt

I love resurrecting long-dead conversations!

There may be a bit of a path forward here that some might consider using that has some fantastic flexibility.

There is a WordPress plugin called Micropub (which needs to be used in conjunction with the IndieAuth plugin for authentication to their CMS account) that will allow students to log into various writing/posting applications.

These are usually slimmed down interfaces that don’t provide the panoply of editing options that the Gutenberg interface or Classic editor metabox interfaces do. Quill is a good example of this and has a Medium.com like interface. iA Writer is a solid markdown editor that has this functionality as well (though I think it only works on iOS presently).

Students can write and then post from these, but still have the option to revisit within the built in editors to add any additional bells and whistles they might like if they’re so inclined.

This system is a bit like SPLOTs, but has a broader surface area and flexibility. I’ll also mention that many of the Micropub clients are open source, so if one were inclined they could build their own custom posting interface specific to their exact needs. Even further, other CMSes like Known, Drupal, etc. either support this web specification out of the box or with plugins, so if you built a custom interface it could work just as well with other platforms that aren’t just WordPress. This means that in a class where different students have chosen a variety of ways to set up their Domains, they can be exposed to a broader variety of editing tools or if the teacher chooses, they could be given a single editing interface that is exactly the same for everyone despite using different platforms.

For those who’d like to delve further, I did a WordPress-focused crash course session on the idea a while back: Micropub and WordPress: Custom Posting Applications at WordCamp Santa Clarita 2019 (slides).