Introduction: This site demonstrates how a college website and Learning Management System (LMS) can be built in WordPress.com. For the most part, everything is contained within a single WordPress.com website to reduce the need to purchase advertisement removal upgrades for multiple sites. This procedure makes for one very large website when used for a real-life college or university, but one large site can be effective if keeping costs to a minimum is important.
Naming Pages: Whether a college decides to use one large website or many smaller sites, it is important to develop a naming protocol. My class pages all begin with the class abbreviation and number (i.e. ENG101), and the student pages all begin with the student’s name (i.e. Student One). This same naming protocol can be used if separate websites are created for students and/or courses.
Course Pages vs. Course Websites: After some experiment, I decided to create course pages within the larger Crystal Fjord University website. I first experimented with making individual private course websites then giving professors author status and students viewer status. I soon changed that to making both groups authors so that students could upload assignments directly to the media section of each course site, thinking that it would be easier on the professors if all of the assignments were collected together. Before I had a chance to experiment to make sure that students could only read their own assignments and not other students’ assignments, I decided to change my format to the less expensive option of having course pages instead of course websites. This option costs less money because, as I found out, removing advertisements is a small fee per site and does not cover additional sites that are created by the same individual or entity. I had originally thought that if an account owner paid for advertisement removal it would be applied to all websites created by that account. I was wrong. Separate course websites, at the current rate of $50/year each to remove advertisements, might become too expensive for the small hypothetical Crystal Fjord University.
Viewing Pages in All Pages List: I set the number of page titles that I see in the administrative list to 999 per screen. This is the largest number that that can be used. While I do not expect the number of pages that I am creating to even approach 100 pages, I went for the largest available number to prevent excessive pages of page links had this been an interface for a real-life college.
Password Protecting Pages and Reducing Costs: In the real world, student pages and course pages would be password-protected. I envision giving each student three pages: a primary page which would include links to commonly needed items such as his or her current courses, a finances page, and a transcript page. The student’s primary page would also include links to his or her finances and transcript pages along with directions on how to access these. My original plan was to have a separate private student website for each student with links to pages that the student needs to access on his or her website and on the Crystal Fjord University website. Students could be viewers or authors of their official Crystal Fjord University individual websites. Similar to the course websites that I deactivated, one of the issues became financial. The syllabus for this Blue Marble University course clearly states “…let me show you what you can do for free, or almost free!!” I am keeping as much as possible under the Crystal Fjord University website to avoid having the university pay to have advertisements removed from multiple sites. As with courses, I did originally plan on having Crystal Fjord University create individual websites for each student that would house content important to them. While separate websites is a very valid method of delivering information to students, it would be an additional expense for Crystal Fjord University (and for me).
Permanent Online Transcripts and Degrees: Password-protected transcript and degree pages would always reside on the college WordPress.com website, not any individual student website, to keep it permanent. Whether individual student websites or pages in the university website are created, I think that there may be a time when the college would want to remove those sites/pages so that the focus could be on current students. The transcripts are safer on the University website. If Crystal Fjord University were to leave WordPress.com in the future, a mass email would have to be sent to all current and previous students ahead of time informing them of the new transcript access procedure and when it will begin. Students would, therefore, be required to keep the university updated whenever their email addresses change.
Student Created WordPress.com Sites: Students are to be given instructions to create their own WordPress.com sites which would become their portfolio sites. I envision that the student-created websites would primarily be used to house assignments until students reach their junior year of college (after completing approximately 120 credits). At that point, and for all graduate school students, the focus of these WordPress.com sites would broaden to become a portfolio of the student’s best work that is worthy of sharing with future employers and other interested people. Since I created Crystal Fjord University to educate students seeking Associate’s, Bachelor’s, and Master’s degrees, I can imagine that some students will want portfolios before they reach 120 credits. This is part of the reason for the university’s WordPress.com Help page under the library menu.
Websites and University’s Growth: I do envision that should Crystal Fjord University’s online program grow, they may want to revisit creating separate websites instead of additional pages within the University website. Although pages may be quicker to make than separate websites, staff will need to be hired, or the work contracted out, to create the pages or websites. It just might become easier to organize multiple websites than to organize a massive number of pages in one website.
University’s Expenses/IT Staff: The idea of any college expanding to online learning for free now seems to me to be an impossibility, but the expense can be well worth the investment if it increases the number of students who receive an education from the college. Even though the syllabus for this Blue Marble University course states “…let me show you what you can do for free, or almost free!!” I have come to believe that a small number of informational technology (IT) staff members will need to be hired or contracted to create and maintain the Web interface needed to deliver online courses to students. While not free, this expense will allow Crystal Fjord University to educate more students than it could on just its campus and will eventually pay for itself in increased registrations.
Sidebar Widgets: Acting on the recommendation from my professor, I removed the sidebar information from some of the pages. This includes all course and student-specific pages. The WordPress.com theme that I chose, Twenty Sixteen, does not have an option for removing the sidebar from pages in the page edit settings, so I delineated a series of visibility settings to choose on which pages the side widgets would be viewed. This will give some of the pages a cleaner look.
Cheating: Cheating is always an issue in colleges and universities. Tests and homework questions change slightly every term to reduce cheating. I have professors posting correct answers on the course website, which can easily be copied by students and shared with friends who will be taking the course in the future. This is no different from professors correcting students’ work in face-to-face courses. The precalculus final exam that I took in college was different from the exam the semester before my course and from the exam the following semester. This is already a common practice and does not give the professors or other staff members who create online content additional work.
Font Colors: I sometimes used a dark blue font for information that is student or course-specific if I wanted to highlight that content. To keep the pages consistent, the same sections are in blue for all related pages. For instance, the course description and professor’s introduction are always in blue on each course’s Information page. The same shade of dark blue is used throughout this website. When I was in high school, I read a report that blue was an easy color for most people to read and therefore the U.S. Department of Transportation was going to use blue for many of its informational signs. With that background in mind, I chose blue as my alternate text color, but I wanted it to be dark enough that it could not be confused with the blue used in hyperlinks.
PayPal/Credit Card Processing: I chose PayPal as the credit card processing agent because it is available in a large number of countries. I thought about charging students extra to compensate for the service fees but decided against it because the university would need to hire less staff needed to process checks if PayPal was made easier. I also thought of having a form with a credit card number that students would submit to the bursar’s office. Unfortunately, we live in an era of credit card fraud; I suspect that many students, especially from foreign countries, would be wary of sending their credit card numbers through the main or via an online form to the bursar’s office. If I am wrong about credit card insecurity, then a payment collection method can be developed by modifying a contact form. In general, PayPal is considered safe.