I put the cart before the horse today.
While I’ve constantly preached and believed in the fact that learning need and pedagogy come before selecting tools – I set up a new website today for my classroom and I’m not sure how it will be used.
As ning went through its changes this spring and re-emerged as something different, I still saw the need for a social network that could be used in the classroom. While I had only used ning for one project in my classroom, it had been a powerful experience and I felt I needed another space like this.
Going with the Idea Hive theme that I have branded all of my sites with, I registered Hive Thinking for a mere $10. I have in the past chosen Bluehost for my data and so with only several several mouse clicks, I installed WordPress. Once this was up and running, I installed the Buddypress plugin and searched for a theme. A bit of image editing for the header image and I was up and running.
If you haven’t heard of it, Buddypress is a free open source plugin for WordPress that allows you to run a full social network, similar to what you would get with Ning, on your own. Members can sign up, they can post questions in forums, make groups and connect with others. Two great things about Buddypress for schools: it is open source and free so not only is it simple to set up, you can edit it’s code to do what you want; and second, you have complete control over who can join your network and in the content that is posted.
Once you have Buddypress installed, you will have to sort through the settings, making certain that you have it set up in ways that will keep your students safe, and you operating within your school district’s policies.
For example, under the general settings menu of wordpress, you may want to uncheck the box that allows anyone to join your site. This means you will have to add your students manually, but it will most likely satisfy safety requirements.
As well, under the Buddypress menu, there are settings for the different components of the software. Some of these allow private messaging between users, allow users to create groups and become friends with others on the site. Again, depending on your situation you will have to make your own decisions about appropriate settings. The only one I shut off was private messaging between users.
The one problem that I had with getting all of this set up was with the forums. When I installed Buddypress and got the site running, I kept getting an error message about problems with the files that were installed behind the scenes. Luckily, Bluehost has a live chat function for support. I posted my question and had my answer in under 2 minutes. I needed to edit the php.ini files but following their advice I was quickly done this and the site now runs with no problems.
The simple reason that I did this today was that I had the time. I am certain that the need for a tool such as this will emerge early in the school year, but September’s don’t generally allow for a lot of free time. While I still have work to do before this is a fully functioning site ready for students, today has been a good day.