What is WordPress?
WordPress is best known as a blogging platform that provides a free and easy way for users to run their own website. But it is far more powerful than that. WordPress is a complete content management system (CMS) that is the platform for 25% of all websites on the web.
Because WordPress is an open source platform, it has an extremely strong and large base of developers who are constantly working to improve the software. It also means that WordPress is highly customizable.
Why should we consider using WordPress at TWU?
TWU needs to create a robust online platform to host our online degree programs for distant adult learners as well as for our campus faculty to harness the affordances of blended learning environments in their classes. This platform can’t simply be one of the dozens of Learning Management Systems (LMS) like Moodle, Canvas, D2L, or Blackboard, because we need to provide much more than a transactional learning experience for our students.
The task of providing a transformational experience for our students requires us to think beyond what many of us know as ‘online learning’.
One of the key characteristics of a TWU education is that students here are immersed in a deeply relational learning community. We go out of our way to ensure that new students are welcomed warmly, that international students are given supports that are unique to their needs, and that commuting students have multiple welcoming gathering places in our collegia. We provide these things to invite students who might otherwise be on the periphery to engage with each other as well as those on campus.
We must do the same for our remote students.
Consequently, a foundation of our Digital Learning Commons must be a platform that enables and promotes relational learning communities.
At the same time, we also provide campus students with the opportunity to personalize their experience. We provide dorms and apartments that serve as ‘home’. We know that it is important for students to feel and practice some independence as they leave home for the first time, but we provide support. Students are encouraged, but not required, to attend chapel, and to get involved with local churches and para-church ministries. We have a wide variety of student-run clubs and activities, drama productions, and athletic teams, to name a few. We do these things because we know that it is important for students to be able to make meaningful decisions about how they engage at TWU.
We must do the same for our remote students.
Our digital learning commons must allow students to make meaningful decisions and to ‘own’ their means of engagement.
Finally, our approved Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) identify a significant list of characteristics of TWU grads. The SLOs require that students be comfortable with cognitive complexity, able to express themselves creatively, understand themselve as members of a spiritual learning community, and be locally and globally engaged leaders.
Each of these categories of characteristics of a TWU education is very difficult to promote in an LMS, and they are natively supported in WordPress.
WordPress as a learning platform.
There are arguably numerous applications that could be used to meet our objective to provide transformational learning in a digital environment, but WordPress stands above the rest.
A typical LMS encourages the all-too-common disposable assignment. A disposable assignment is one where a students puts in a half-hearted (or maybe full-hearted) effort to jump through a hoop on their way to a grade. They are completed for an audience of one person, their instructor, who provides feedback and a grade, which is then filed away because the assignment is done.
WordPress, because it allows for, but doesn’t require, sharing on the open web, encourages renewable assignments that cut to the core of higher education – generating and sharing knowledge for the public good. Instead of an audience of one, a student’s audience is the ‘various marketplaces of life’, with whom we say we want students to engage and lead.
WordPress allows for student agency by giving them their own ‘home’ on the web which they can personalize and customize as they see fit. Further, when a student’s work is completed on their own web space, they tend to take greater care and put more thought into their work because it is a public reflection of themselves.
WordPress allows students to retain their own work because they can take it with them when they leave a particular class or graduate from TWU. Their web space becomes their portfolio which they can use to demonstrate their skills and competencies to potential or current employers.
There are numerous other benefits to including WordPress as a component of our digital learning environment. Among them, in brief, are that WordPress allows students to connect their learning in one class to their learning in other classes with a simple hyperlink; it encourages formative assessments and feedback through less formal writing, drafting, and revising; and it allows students to collaborate with those outside of their class on meaningful inquiry projects and other authentic learning experiences.
Finally, in alignment with our commitment to inquiry-based learning, WordPress allows for the public sharing of new knowledge and the dissemination of the results of student inquiry projects.
If you would like to know more about WordPress, how it can be integrated into your work as a student or faculty member, please feel free to contact me at colin[dot]madland[at]twu[dot]ca.