My time at NCPH 2013 actually started on Wednesday. The majority of my Wednesday activities revolved around networking and talking with new and old colleagues from Western University. Interesting discussions but not really blog post fodder. As such I'm skipping to Thursday in my run down of this year's NCPH experience.
WordPress as a Public History Platform
The first session I attended at the conference was on using WordPress in a public history setting, with an emphasis on using WordPress in a classroom setting. A couple of the presenters were sick and unable to attend the session, but Clarissa Ceglio, Jeffrey McClurken, and Erin Bell did an excellent job of leading an interactive panel which invited audience participation.
All three presenters highlighted some of the public history projects they have worked on recently which used WordPress. Some of my favourite examples included:
-Connecticut History site, using WordPress to re-envision the concept of a state encyclopedia. I particularly liked Ceglio's emphasis on this site having an ongoing publishing effort and the fining tuning of WordPress for usability. Ceglio also spoke about using the WordPress plugin in EditFlow to integrate editorial functions into the WordPress Site.
-UMW Blogs, a great example of a university buying into the WordPress platform and using it for 'official' outreach. This is also a great example of the possibilities of using WordPress as a multi-user platform. The site also has significant customizations and for anyone having the misgiving that a WordPress site can't "look nice" check out the UMW blogs.
-The James Farmer Lectures site, a well done student created site that places the recorded lectures of James Farmer online. The cleanness and effectiveness of this student site is what really won me over. It's a great example of the possibilities of students using WordPress.
The Question Session
The presenters in the WordPress session left ample time for audience questions and discussions. Granted, the session as a whole was cut short because of a fire alarm -- but that was clearly beyond their control.
Some of the interesting questions that arose:
-How do you manage the lifespan of a student driven WordPress site?
McClurken spoke about his experience working with a range of student driven projects. He indicated that in some cases students freely go back and update content on the site following the conclusion of a class. There was also the mention of creating a digital repository to archive student sites or the possibility of partnering with an organization to maintain the site.
-How much training do your students get when working with WordPress?
The general consensus was fairly limited training. Most professors indicated that they only provide about half an hour of instruction before letting the students loose. In this instance McClurken emphasized the importance of students learning by discovering and helping each other -- that they should be "uncomfortable but not paralyzed" when learning"
-How do you handle site promotion and comments?
The panelists acknowledged the potential of comment features being a hassle. However, they also indicated that the experience can be valuable for students. One compromise that was suggested involved turning on the comments feature for the duration of the class and turning it off afterwards.