WordPress for education: giddy new heights not same old LMS doldrums

Week 2 of the UBC.ca Teaching with WordPress Course

“Colossal octopus by Pierre Denys de Montfort” Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Colossal_octopus_by_Pierre_Denys_de_Montfort.jpg#/media/File:Colossal_octopus _by_Pierre_Denys_de_Montfort.jpg

“Colossal octopus by Pierre Denys de Montfort” Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Colossal_octopus_by_ Pierre_Denys_de_Montfort.jpg#/media/File:Colossal_octopus _by_Pierre_Denys_de_Montfort.jpg



















Well the great thing about open courses of course, is you can continue the course, ahem, some six weeks after the thing has actually finished. 

This week is all about how to use WordPress effectively as an educational tool. I was with Christina on her Twitter comment:

Christina's Tweet

How are we using WP to create our courses differently than we might do on an LMS?


Good point. It is probably easy to hit that slippery slope of just dumping content and emailing the link to the student. That is no different than dumping content on Blackboard and emailing the link to the student. I must admit I am totally guilty of doing just that with the limited teaching that I do – my blog is just a repository, but a step forward, it IS open content, and it IS visible by any student and not just ones enrolled onto that particular module, e.g. my ‘Introduction to Systematic Review’.

Actually I’ve always hated the LMS, or VLE as we say (virtual learning environment) with a passion. They look dull, and have engendered a generation of content-thirsty students who’s favorite question to ask is, “will this be on Blackboard”? I’ve marked exam scripts where students have memorized my notes and even written out word for word my text with bullet points. These feelings have been recapitulated by others. The wonderful Jim Groom and Brian Lamb wrote in their article about reclaiming innovation that the danger with the LMS is that everything is locked away and inaccessible, and students are cut off from each other. In reality, not a single person ever works like this do they? As they say, also, the LMS does nothing to provide students with practical web skills, so how can I enhance what I do to destroy the silos and enrich what and how people learn? So what can I learn this week in stepping up my game?

What I do so far?

  • OK my materials are openly licensed. My university has no open policy, so I do it anyway under what I believe are my ‘learning resources’ as opposed to university-owned content such as module handbooks and any formal learning materials.
  • My materials are available to anyone and aren’t locked into module runs where students in year 3 for example doing their research projects can’t even look back at the research materials they used in year 2. So no additional bonkersness there.

So how can I think about being more ‘coursey’?

So, the Google Hangout with Cogdog, Tannis and Christina was great, and provided me with a view of what different designs of open course could be. OK, question number one. What is a course?

A course is a unit of teaching that typically lasts one academic term, is led by one or more instructors (teachers or professors), and has a fixed roster of students. It is usually an individual subject. Students may receive a grade and academic credit after completion of the course. (Wikipedia 2015).

So building a framework for a course containing a unit of teaching, instructors and final grade, we can start to define what is an open course, which for a start, is far more fluid. Also we can start to add thoughts about content and educational ethics.

Open course designs


To track or not to track?

Many strategies were discussed for this, like open content just on WP and page hits tracked by Google analytics. Minimal tracking could be introduced by students completing a final test within the institutional administration / grading or testing platform. Creation of accounts, use of Google forms, Gravity forms, Buddy press, were all mentioned as means of more sophisticated tracking of learner attendance and possibly engagement. Learn dash, badging all suggested as means to track.

Business cases?

Open course 1 could be a free ‘unit’ offered as a precursor to enrolling on a fully- fledged university course, or allow for payment just for registration to sit exams and build credit. Back to the ‘pic-a-mix’ approach to learning. Open courses would be great for outreach, supporting student transitions to university or reaching non-traditional academic audiences. Of course we all know that universities use open courses and content for marketing, but I believe this should not be the reason for being, surely the motivation should be an educational one?

So using WP as an educational tool?

My big questions would be around how does WP differ from many of the learning management platforms, and their open variants, in terms of copyright ownership and privacy?

On WP’s Wikipedia site (http://etec.ctlt.ubc.ca/510wiki/WordPress_as_an_Educational_Tool) they list these as concerns, but then don’t state what WP does about it:


Content and ownership: Both students and educators that blog must be aware of copyright laws and issues. In order to ensure best practices in education, teachers and students need to be aware of and adhere to copyright laws and licenses. 

Privacy and Security: Expressing opinions and beliefs to a worldwide audience has cost some educators their jobs, as issues surrounding freedom of speech blur the professional and personal blogging practices of educators and students. For example, a senior faculty member in Colorado, USA, was fired from her position after questioning university policy and leadership in a personal blog posting (Horwedel, 2006). Additionally, adolescents often will disclose a great deal of personal information about themselves when blogging. Issues surrounding safe Internet use must be taught directly and intentionally in the classroom in order to ensure the well-being of students (Davis and McGrail, 2009). (WP Wikipedia Page)

Copyright ownership of content?

So if the teacher places openly licensed content, and learners produce content, does WP have to comply with the terms of the license? I guess this is OK then. But what about the rights of the hosting company? I think the issue would be if teachers / learners were posting non-openly licensed content that might be copyright of the university or others, and the comment now would be, what would WP or the hosting company have rights over? I’D LOVE PEOPLE TO INFORM ME VIA THE COMMENTS BOX.

Learner Privacy?

Again, if we are encouraging learners or our own campus-based students to log-in and enroll, or create accounts, my question is, what happens to this data? Does WP end up having rights over it, and is this any different to a VLE such as Blackboard or Moodle? And what about the hosting company? AGAIN, COMMENTS PLEASE!
I suppose it is all about risk. I feel nervous now that I’ve set up a student blog and their contributions reveal their names. But here is a good resource and some useful insights from the University of Notra Dame blog, and like with copyright, an area I feel my institution should be able to support me with. Here are the guidelines Notra Dame issue to students:

Explain on day one that due to of the nature of the course students are required to publish work on the Internet. If they were unaware of that fact and have a major problem with it, they can drop the course.

Let students know they have privacy rights and are not required to reveal personal information. Reassure them that the professor will not release such information and enjoin them not to disclose personal information about other students.

They advocate the further advice to students:

Only provide the exact account information required; hide anything you do not wish to be made public; use a screen name or fake name; use a graphic rather than your photo; have separate email addresses for separate account registrations.

This university also gets students to sign disclaimers regarding privacy rights and options. All very good, but what about open learners on the web?


I seem to have been left with more questions than I’ve answered this week, but I do have a really clear picture in my head of levels of open course designs which is great. I haven’t made the leap from VLE to open course as I’m still missing levels of interaction I think, but this is all work in progress.

  • How is WordPress different from LMS / VLE in terms of copyright ownership of content and data privacy and security?
  • As open educators, how can we equally protect open learners as well as our campus-based students?


Oh, and some other nice things this week:

Getting students to use tag clouds

UBC guide to copyright


The pic-a-mix of open education

Fabio Alessandro Locati

“Fale – Barcellona – 194” by Fabio Alessandro Locati CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fale_-_Barcellona_-_194.jpg


Week 1 thoughts:
An awesome and informative week learning about open pedagogy with details of the course right here:

The webinar by Amanda Coolidge and Tracy Kelly was super and made me think about open pedagogy really for the first time really. I’ve been working on open educational resource (OER) projects for around ten years with rather a ‘bull in a china shop’ approach, and this week is really making me think through more of a structure that would be useful.

How do we define open?

The webinar started off assisting us in thinking about defining open pedagogy. I really have struggled recently with how on earth the open movement can move forward unless we start defining the ethical boundaries in which we operate? Open ultimately is a free-for-all on the web and we are all familiar with the more negative aspects of this. We need ethical common ground for sure. Hopefully his community will help define it. (Here is a pitch for funding that was unsuccessful but shares my thoughts…).

David Wiley’s definition of ‘open’ and the 5 Rs of openness

The 5 Rs of openness provide a useful framework for us to think of in terms of sharing learning materials openly – reuse, revise, remix, redistribute and retain (the control of the content produced). I would add a 6 category of course – to participate in the spirit of openness in an ethically appropriate manner.

(Just thinking the 6th R might be – responsibly or responsibility).

Back to the show – many of the definitions of open do focus on resources and as the webinar presenters highlighted there is a whole field of open practice, behaviour and activity that also apply. I know in my own institutions there are discussions about open data, open science and open research. We all increasingly operate a ‘pick-a-mix’ approach to education, dipping in and out of being open, although many learners and teachers find it more easy to just adopt a philosophical stance toward openly working, and apply it to all they do.

So how do I define open pedagogy?

Going back to some of the clearest thinking about education and what it is, Richard Peters’ describes the ‘matter’ and ‘manner’ of education, and discussions about open pedagogy for me cannot isolate the content from the learner-teacher relationship, and the manner in which we all engage on the web. His book “Ethics and Education” is a must-read. (R. S. Peters: Ethics and education. 5th edn, George Allen & Unwin Ltd, London 1968).

Also, going back to the definitions of pedagogy (and andragogy) that are the science and practice of teaching, we absolutely do not want to lose sight of the need to evaluate what we do either to produce well informed approaches. I personally think we have all become a little lousy at that.

How can we reflect on our approaches now?

I really liked this next bit of the webinar. Amanda and Tracy have constructed a matrix to help us position our practice. I might challenge and say there could be a new row on co-creation. The matrix I think identifies a learning journey that we must encourage students along. Obviously, students new to university or anyone making the transition back to education are vulnerable and need support, so may start off in box 4. As they become accustomed to open licensing, use of technology, working openly on the web – as they may not have ever done before – we can gently nurture them toward box 1. It would be good if the journey to 2 and 1 were a quick one as we don’t want to dwell to long on dinosaur methods of education.

Open Pedagogy Matrix

Amanda Coolridge and Tracy Kelly. Open Pedagogy Matrix. CC BY. (BCU week 1 webinar screen grab).

Unfortunately we may be based in institutions that are non-open, and have no policy or inclination to work openly. We may therefore be firmly rooted in 4 and 3, using dinosaur methods, locking learning behind VLEs, and assessing student knowledge regurgitation in examinations, obsessing with providing them feedback, all of which does nothing to develop individuals.

Summary of week 1

  • So I have formed a definition of open pedagogy in my mind, embracing the pic-a-mix of open practices and approaches we all use these days.
  • I have reflected on my own practice and that we need to encourage students (and staff) through the matrix up to box 1 and perhaps beyond as co-producers.
  • I believe in the 5Rs of open plus a 6th category of embracing the spirit of openness in an ethical manner.
  • My question that I hope to explore through this course is – how can I work openly as an educator on the web – because I chose to do so outside of work hours – but operate ethically in terms of copyright (OK, using what is mine), in terms of privacy (OK, using the privacy terms that come with WP blogging) but also ethically in terms of the manner in which we conduct ourselves?




Initial thoughts and why am I doing this?


Open Pedagogy with UBC.

Week 1

I’m very much looking forward to this course by the University of British Columbia (UBC).  It is strange that anything with pedagogy in the title always strikes the fear of god in me. I remember my first lecture role at Nottingham University where I kept hearing this strange word and wondering what the hell it was. Most professions are strange and you drift into roles with no formal training. I’ve drifted from science to management to teaching and now vaguely drift between all three. There was never any formal training about pedagogy at any point.

So for my own benefit, “pedagogy is the discipline that deals with the theory and practice of education” (thank you Wikipedia).

But aren’t we lucky today with open courses such as this. We have such amazing knowledge and learning at our finger tips which I guess is the whole point of open pedagogy – to effortlessly share your materials and learning with others to benefit the sum of the whole. And this is underpinned by the most recent theories, thinking and ideas. How cool is that.

The course structures some topics around pedagogy, practice and design, again all separate but obviously inter-related. I’m planning an open course of my own later in the year so all of this will be invaluable.

The Only Way is Ethics

I’m certainly looking forward not just to the design aspects but learning about ethics for working out in the open. This is an area in need of attention and I look forward to the conversations that will take place. Our technology has out-paced our pedagogy which has certainly out-paced our ethical thinking, and I suppose tech always challenges us in these ways. I’ve talked and written about this a little, and also the bredth of the ethical challenges are wide ranging. My point now is well, what are we going to do about it?

Anyway I need to stop the open rambling and get open learning with UBC. By the way, open rambling is not a ‘thing’ yet. Just remember you heard it hear first.