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Using a Blog to Run Your Courses? Why You Might Consider WPMU.

If you like what you see in the WordPress platform and you only maintain one blog, a standard WordPress installation will probably work just fine for you. But if you’re thinking of using blogs in conjunction with your courses, you’d do well to consider installing WordPress Mu (Multi-User) instead.

Why?

Here I can best speak from my own recent decision to move to WordPress Mu. I’d had some minor issues in the past with hosting course blogs at free sites, and had decided I wanted more direct control over my blogs in any case–including the ability to make use of a wide range of plugins and themes. So, late last spring, I bit the bullet and decided to pay for hosting. I started installing course blogs on my own domain just before the fall semester began.

It’s gone well; I have a lot more control over my blogging setup than I did before. I also like the idea that, since the blogs are on my own domain, I can keep them there for as long as I like; they can serve as a record of some of my teaching activities (all I need to do is point interested colleagues to my domain).

I realized a few weeks ago, though, that I was quickly going to run into a serious problem: my hosting package allows for a maximum of 25 MySQL databases. We teach seven courses per year at my institution, so one WordPress installation per course wasn’t a sustainable long-term option.

I’d heard a bit about WPMu, but didn’t know much about it. So I started doing a little reading, and came across two very helpful sites: WPMu.org and WPMu Tutorials. It didn’t take much to sell me on the idea. I can have all my course blogs running from just one database? I only have to run the installation once, instead of doing it for every blog? Sign me up!

Installing WPMU was almost as easy as a standard WordPress install (though I did have to use this hack because I was installing into a subfolder; I didn’t want to move my primary blog, which was already installed on the root). Both WPMu.org and WPMu Tutorials have easy-to-follow setup guides. And I do mean easy. If you can follow your host’s instructions for setting up a MySQL database (usually just a matter of point-and-click), you know how to FTP, and you can (if needed) edit a .php file*, you can set yourself up with little difficulty.

I’m currently in the process of setting up blogs for my spring courses on my WPMu installation. As soon as finals are over, I’ll migrate this semester’s blogs to the new installation, and I’ll be able to get rid of three databases. An added advantage is that, if I sign in as the administrator of the main WPMu blog, I can then edit any of the blogs on the site without having to sign in again.

What’s not to like?

I’ve focused here on the benefits of WPMu for individual instructors, but it’s also suitable for much bigger things. Those interested in an institution-wide installation might want to read this and this. It’s also worth a visit to UMW Blogs or the CUNY Academic Commons to see it in action. (The Academic Commons actually runs mostly on BuddyPress, which runs on top of WPMu–thanks to @boonebgorges for the clarification.)

*You don’t have to be familiar with PHP to edit the file correctly. All you need to do is follow the examples you’re given in whatever tutorial you’re looking at. I have approximately zero understanding of PHP and I had no problem.

The image above is @jimgroom’s Twitter avatar. There’s a good backstory for the image, too.

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