You’ve seen Jim showing a million reasons to use WPMU in the college environment and while most (maybe all) can be transferred over to K12 there are some advantages to using WPMU in K12 that are worth looking at a little more directly.
Flexibility – WordPress can handle just about any web need I have in a school setting. I can of course use it to blog but it can just as easily be the backbone for my school’s website and act more like a CMS. And imagine a school website that was both current and easy for multiple users to updated without expensive software. The ability to quickly and easily change themes is attractive to users but it is also a key component in creating engaging web experiences for students. BlackBoard and other CMS options tend to pretend to give you control over how your particular page or site looks but real customization is not an option at the user level and it makes a difference. Being able to control all the aspects of the Richard III page made things far more professional and interesting to the students than changing the buttons in BB to purple. Will most people do this? Definately not. But when they need to or want to it is possible. It is fundamentally wrong to allow software to cap the creativity and imagination of your teachers. It’s a choice you don’t have to make.
I’ve also seen WordPress used to house podcasts, vodcasts, student newspapers1, book reviews etc. Make portions public, some private. Shutting the door on everyone is a horrific and stupid mistake. Schools need to put their content out there. It improves PR, involves the community and forces a kind of accountability that improves the school as a whole. It shouldn’t be an option.
- Community and Monitoring – Sitewide feeds for posts and comments simplify things.- You’ve got the ability to keep track of a huge number of blogs and all their comments with just two RSS feeds. On the positive side that allows increased ability to generate community and help build energy and excitement. It makes all the difference in the world that teachers can easily find and see what other teachers are doing. The fact that these people are as similar as possible to those you’re seeking to influence is of paramount importance. The more similar they are the more powerful they will be as motivators2.
The very thing that helps build community also allows you to monitor content easily3. With individual blogs and having to subscribe to each blog twice (comments and posts) things can easily get messy and hard to manage. If your world is anything like mine, then one publicized mistake can cause your whole experiment to get axed. You can help prevent that by monitoring the feeds for issues and acting quickly.
Ease of Use/Cheapness4 – Most K12 places are low on cash, low on IT expertise, don’t have servers5 and are lacking in time to teach people how to use software6. So for, at the most, $100 a year I can take care of an entire school with no problem. Users can learn the basics on their own or within a few minutes. I’m no tech guy and I can take care of things. Now I’ve got one installation to worry about as opposed to 40 or 100.
And it’s getting easier. I can now update from within, install plugins from within and backup from within. No FTP. I just click a button. That blows my mind.
My advice, start slowly. Build capacity and provide great examples of how to use the blogs effectively in a variety of ways. Then expand. I’d continue to monitor, more to keep the pulse of the community and help group like minded teachers together and look for great examples than to sensor or anything like that. If you read with that intent it’ll seem much more pleasant and you can still keep catch any issues early.
Time’s running out. Get out there and do something. Make it impressive. Make it invaluable. Make it so they can’t take it away from you and replace it with some inflexible content coffin that will pacify only those in power7, only those who don’t use it, while un-empowering students and teachers. It’s going to happen sooner or later. Do it now and do it on your own terms.
1 I was starting to help UR’s students get this rolling right before I left but they’ve run with it entirely on their own and it’s amazing.
2 Can you tell I’m reading books on how to convince people? I can recommend – Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive. This book has lots of really quick, actionable concepts that increase your ability to influence people. I figure it’s a must for teacher and especially for anyone in a leadership position in a school.
3 I know, I know, it seems almost antithetical to me as well but the reality of k12 education today requires some checks like this. The media has been busy creating Internet bogeymen after all. Remember there’s a pedophile behind every URL, no matter what the facts say.
4 No use having one without the other after all.
5 or have servers they can’t use
6 Notice I didn’t say train.
7 It’s web 2.0, it’s ajaxy, it’s a magical CMS that almost reaches mediocrity while leaving you stuck in another frustrating box cut to fit John Doe, leaving you no room to breathe