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3 Reasons Every Grad Student Should Learn WordPress
February 2, 2014 - 9:55pm

graphic of GradHacker robot at desk in front WordPress logoJustin Dunnavant is a PhD student in Anthropology at the University of Florida. You can find him on Twitter @archfieldnotes or at his blog AfricanaArch.

Every semester I try to find new ways to improve the way I write and teach. In previous years I’ve committed to learning Photoshop to create better visuals for presentations, painting to boost my creativity, and sculpting to get a better understanding of pottery production (an important skill for archaeologists). Last semester I devoted the bulk of my attention to WordPress to learn the basics of web design.  WordPress is the internet’s largest blogging platform and is the foundation of nearly 20% of all webpages on the internet. Many popular blogs and websites run on WordPress. Although there is a bit of a learning curve, it’s a worthwhile platform for graduate students to learn. I initially set out to learn WordPress to improve my teaching; I later discovered it’s a great tool for starting a professional career and fostering dialogue around your research. With my basic understanding of WordPress I’ve been able to create a class website, a personal landing page, and a communal research blog.

1. Creating a Class Website

In an hour I created a simple, free WordPress website for my undergraduate course to host readings, links, and other course-related materials for students. While my university runs on Sakai, my peers had warned me about the occasional site maintenance shut downs, and I remembered the hassle of locating documents and class assignments from my undergraduate years. With WordPress, I was able to create a clearly outlined webpage where I could upload my course syllabus, journal articles, and additional links. ProfHacker Amy Cavender has written about some of the benefits associated with publishing your syllabus onlineand I’ve found it works great when I need to include a last minute extra credit opportunity or alter the class outline.

WordPress allowed me to provide access to everyone in the class—including a couple of students who were unofficially enrolled—and gave me the flexibility to quickly upload and change readings. It also gave me the peace of mind of knowing that even if Sakai was down for maintenance, my website would still be up and running. With 3 GB of storage, I had more than enough space to upload articles for the class and any files that were too large, could be uploaded to Dropbox or Google Drive and retrieved via hyperlink.

Keep in mind it’s important to remain ethical when hosting a course website, particularly in regards to the dissemination of students’ work. I made sure to get students’ permission before posting their final PowerPoint presentations online and gave them the option to opt-out.

2. Hosting a Personal Website or Landing Page

As you get closer to graduation and establishing a professional career in your discipline, your web presence becomes increasingly important. In the age of social media, it has become commonplace to define young scholars by their activities on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Therefore, one way to control your online presence is by creating a personal website or landing page.

A landing page is essentially a single web page that showcases who you are and links to your online portfolio. Landing pages are a good way to present your CV/Resume, research interests, and links to your social media sites through a one-page website. Creating a landing page is also a good way to control what people see when they Google your name. There are a number of free website that allow you to host a landing page but WordPress offers a wider breadth of versatility. With a simple WordPress plugin you can display your CV through Google Docs or Dropbox.  Furthermore, you can move beyond the simple landing page and create a full personal website to serve as a digital academic portfolio that hosts your personal blog, course syllabi, and other related materials.

If you’re still not sold, check out the Forbes article for reasons why every job seeker should have a personal website as well as tips for what you should include on your landing page. Just remember that you want to keep your website up-to-date, so don’t create one then ignore it.

3. Building a Communal or Personal Research Blog

Finally, I’d recommend using WordPress as a traditional blog. With a blog you can share articles and tips, host a reading/writing group, and bounce around ideas. Over the summer I used a communal WordPress blog to get feedback and share fieldwork experiences and methods with my colleagues. Keeping a research blog, even if it’s just for yourself, facilitate the process of thinking out loud and is a good way to explore new ideas.

All of these websites can be created with a free WordPress account, which will give you a “username.wordpress.com” web address. Additionally, you can upgrade to a paid account to assign your own domain name and increase your customization options. Keep in mind that there is a difference between wordpress.com and wordpress.org. You will need to set up a wordpress.org account to install plug-ins and use more advanced features.

Using WordPress has helped me stay connected with my students and other professionals in my discipline. At the moment, I’m in the process of creating a website dedicated specifically to African archaeology—my area of specialization—to connect scholars with similar interests and keep updated with the latest research in my field.

If you are interested in learning more about how to use WordPress there are numerous tutorials available on YouTube and lynda.com.

How do you use WordPress?

[Image by Justin Dunnavant and used with permission of the author.]

 

 

 

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