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Using a WordPress Multisite Network for Class Web Pages

In a recent post I discussed my use of the ScholarPress Courseware WordPress plugin to manage my course websites. I listed my current course sites in that post,

which led several folks on Twitter to ask me how I create those course websites: are they each separate WordPress installations? Each course website sits on a subdirectory of my main website, but each has a different theme, different users, and some different plugins.

For my courses, I use the multisite network feature built into WordPress 3. This means that all of my WordPress sites are unified under one administrative interface: I use one login and can navigate between my personal site, my course sites, and a project blog. WordPress provides a detailed explanation of how to enable its multisite features, so I won’t belabor this post repeating their step-by-step instructions. If you already have multiple WordPress installations, they also provide detailed instructions about how to migrate multiple blogs into WordPress multisite.

I like using WordPress’ multisite feature for class websites for a few reasons:

  1. I can install (or delete) plugins and themes for the entire network simultaneously. When you use multisite, add-ons are installed through the “network admin” interface. You can then enable or disable them for individual sites within the network—so your sites needn’t use all the same plugins or themes, but they will all have access to the same plugins and themes. I like this feature because there are plugins I use for every WordPress site I maintain (such as Courseware, which I use for all of my class sites) and it’s much simpler to install them once rather than reinstalling them for each individual site.
  2. Users can be easily added to multiple sites. St. Norbert is a small college, and I have many students who take more than one class with me. Users within a multisite network can be given access to new sites within the network very simply; they don’t need to sign up anew.
  3. Multisite makes it easier to get many course sites into the WordPress mobile app. I often use WordPress’ iOS app to read my students’ new blog posts, approve (or spam) comments, and so forth. When you use multisite, you only have to add one of your networked blogs to the app. The app automatically detects the multisite network and asks you which of your other sites you would also like to access on the mobile device. You can add your other course sites with a tap.

Overall I appreciate the convenience of a unified administrative interface for all of my classes. When I start designing a new course, I simply visit My Sites –> Add New and create a new sub-installation of WordPress. I name these new sites using the first letter of the term + the year + an initialism for the course itself. So, my Spring 2012 “Technologies of Text” course became http://ryan.cordells.us/s12tot while my “Literary Theory and Writing” course became http://ryan.cordells.us/s12ltw. I prefer initialisms because I find them easier to remember than the college-assigned course number, but mulitsite allows users to use whatever naming scheme they prefer. If you use a host that allows wildcard subdomains, you can even setup WordPress Multisite to create sub-installations using subdomains (i.e. s12tot.cordells.us) rather than subdirectories.

If you use WordPress for your classes, do you use multisite, or do you set up your course sites differently? Tell us about your setup in the comments.

[Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user Simon Cockell.]

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