It’s back to school season, and for me that means helping students and faculty set up websites.

The Office of Digital Learning at the University of Oklahoma provides a service called OU Create which provides a web domain and server space for students, staff, and faculty to build websites. Working in partnership with Reclaim Hosting, we provide a LAMP environment and 5GB of storage where users can install WordPress or any other PHP-based web app (Drupal, Omeka, Joomla, etc.) or upload their own HTML site.

For most of our users, exposure to OU Create starts with me entering their classroom and talking to them about WordPress and how they’ll use it for their course. Faculty in Journalism, History of Science, Geography, Composition, and a host of other  departments are asking their students to write online to share what they’re learning with a broader, more authentic audience.

To get started in WordPress, students take the following steps

  1. Sign up for an account in OU Create
  2. Install WordPress—about 90% of our users have at least one WordPress site. The classes that are using custom HTML or SQL generally are starting with more coding experience.
  3. Write a post and a page to get familiar with the editor(s)
  4. Setup their website’s menu
  5. Play with themes
  6. Share a link to their site or a post

OU Create

To sign up for an OU Create account, users go to create.ou.edu and click on the big blue “Get started” button

screen shot of the OU Create landing page
OU Create landing page

From there, they enter the same credentials they use to access their email or any other OU system. If this is the first time a student has logged in, she will be prompted to pick a domain. Most users choose the free .oucreate.com subdomains. Most people register something with their name in it so that they can use it as a portfolio type website. Something like http://johnstewart.oucreate.com would be common. Alternatively, users can choose a top-level domain (johnastewart.org) but this costs $12/year for domain registration.

Once they’ve registered a domain and gone through the payment and terms of service screens, the users is pushed into a control panel. This is usually where we loose people.

Screenshot of the AddOn Domain function in the cPanel for Reclaim Hosting
OU Create Control Panel (cPanel)

There are lots of options represented by different icons. Users can register further domains and subdomains, add email accounts related to their domain, manage their files and security settings, and all sorts of other things. 

However, to keep it simple, we generally encourage students to click on the WordPress icon to start installing that app for their site.

Installing WordPress

Once a user has clicked on the WordPress App, they get a bit of information about WordPress as an App. There are screenshots of WordPress menus, some information about the file size of WordPress and its configurations, and also a “Install this App” button. Once the user clicks on the “Install this App” button, they are taken to a form to configure the settings for WordPress.

WordPress settings configuration

Users need to make sure they are installing WordPress in the desired domain. The default settings will take care of code updates and backups for them, so the only other things they need to change are the administrative username and password and the site title. If a user forgets to change these settings, they can always access them again by clicking on ‘My Apps’ from their control panel and then editing the settings of this or any other app.

Posts and Pages

The key to WordPress is deciding what type of site you are going to run. Most of our students will be using it as a blog, while most faculty tend to prefer a more static ‘About me’ type website. For blogging, students will want to create Posts. We also generally encourage them to update their ‘About’ page.

Setting up WordPress takes a while, but creating a post is super easy. This YouTube video provides an excellent walkthrough:

YouTube video walkthrough on creating posts in WordPress

Posts are great for course assignments. They are meant to be timely, news-item type submissions and can include video, images, audio, text, links etc.

One of the keys to getting WordPress to look good is including ‘Featured Images’ in your posts and pages. You can add a featured image in the post settings on the right side of the screen as you’re adding a new post. These are the big images that would show up at the top of a post and might represent the post in social media. In this theme, called Garfunkel by Anders Noren, the featured image shows up in the home page preview for each post. Most themes are built around the featured images. 

Garfunkel WP theme by Anders Noren

The other thing we talk about is the page. WordPress Pages are meant for more static information that’s pertinent for visitors to a website. The ‘About’ page is the default and most common page. You might also imagine a resume and maybe links to other work for a student. A faculty member might create a publications page or a teaching statement. 

Menus

Menus are particularly important for helping users get around a site that has several pages or categories of posts. By default, a WordPress site does not have any menus, but they are very easy to set up. There are a number of YouTube tutorials for menus, and this one is pretty succinct:

Themes

Once you’ve got a blog post and a page, you’ve set up your menus, and you’re comfortable moving around in WordPress, it’s time to decide how you want your site to look. A lot of users will start playing with themes before they write a post or page, but this can be problematic. Themes are sets of style sheets that will be applied to content. If you try to style content, before there is any content, you are basically multiplying by zero.

Once you’re ready to play with themes, you can click on Appearance>Themes to see the 4-6 themes that come preinstalled in OU Create’s WordPress installations. If none of those are particularly appealing, you can click on Add New to jump into the sea of 20,000+ WP themes that are available. Here again is a YouTube tutorial for making sense of this superabundance of style:

YouTube video on setting up WordPress

In this video about themes, the host, Tyler Moore, mentions a plugin called Elementor. This plugin is used by a lot of themes to create a visual, drag-and-drop interface that feels a bit like SquareSpace. Elementor is a freemium plugin with good functionality in the free tool. There are pieces that are great in the premium tool, but I don’t think they’re necessary for 99% of users. You can learn more about installing and using Elementor in the video.

Links

The last step for most of our users is making some sense of the links for their website. For most students, they’ll be interested in three kinds of links:

  • The homepage for the website is just the domain that you registered with OU Create; this is probably yourname.oucreate.com
  • To login to your site, you add “/wp-admin” to the end of your domain: yourname.oucreate.com/wp-admin
  • To share a post that you wrote with your professor or a friend, you’d can copy the url when you’re viewing your post. However, you want to be careful you don’t share the link that you use to edit your post when you’re logged in. You want to share the link that allows visitors to view your post. Usually this will have the format domain/category/post. If you haven’t set up categories for your posts, then the category will be “uncategorized.” So the link for a post will probably look like:
    yourname.oucreate.com/uncategorized/the-name-of your post