Like a lot of smaller programs, we here at Lehigh have struggled in the past with how much web development to teach our journalism majors. About three years ago, I was using Weebly to teach visual design concepts for the web and Blogger or WordPress (the dotcom version, not self-hosted) for their blogs. It was easy enough to teach them how to make a website without getting into the HTML side, the latter being important because we weren’t teaching it in classes.
About a year ago I finally took the step up to hosted WordPress. A few things had changed that made this more doable:
- CodeAcademy made teaching basic HTML and CSS easy, and they could learn it on their own time.
- WordPress began to support more customization with front-page mode. A lot of free themes became available for students who wanted to host their own web site with a contained blog rather than just play with blog software.
- Hosting got cheaper
- Our students were ready.
The last one was the result of a slow buildup in my classes where I was able to slowly the raise the bar. The first three were opportunities of technology and economies of scale, and they were quite necessary.
I have just finished my second semester of doing fully hosted WordPress development in my Multimedia Storytelling course. During this academic year, 16 students have designed their own sites using premade themes and their HTML/CSS knowledge. I’ve also directed four more on the side.
There are other benefits that will benefit both them and our program. After getting to actually use their web coding skills, I have found that just giving them this taste often encourages them to try more, to take on other projects. A few have even been inspired to learn other types of code after experiencing what it is like to build something.
Last fall, we used DreamHost. I went with them based on a combination of good reviews and price. They were running a special of $40 for a year of hosting (compared to about $95 they normally charge), and that was pretty inexpensive for students. I use Bluehost for my own hosting, but I found Dreamhost was just as good and reliable. As of this writing, Dreamhost is running $107.40 for a year of hosting compared to $119.88 for a year of Bluehost (although with the latter you can get it for $83.88 per year if you prepay for three years).
There are cheaper options than those two, but service is a big part of the calculus for an educator. You don’t want to have students go to this trouble only to get stuck and have nowhere reliable to turn if the hosting starts to go bad.
Right after we went with Dreamhost last fall, a colleague told me about Reclaim Hosting, a new project that began last fall in an attempt to offer affordable and flexible web hosting for educational uses. The big thing that caught my eye – for $12, the students got a custom domain and a year of hosting. I checked it out by creating a web space for my class and was impressed enough to use it fully in my class this spring – all six of my multimedia students plus a few outside of class set up their space on Reclaim.
The process for setting up on Reclaim is similar to what my students did on Dreamhost. You create an account, pay, and use the cPanel function to autoinstall WordPress. What I like about their setup process is they make it user-friendly at the start, a nod to the fact that not all students will know to set up things like autobackup. There also are some nice small touches you don’t always get on other hosts, such as creating the initial administrator account with a username other than the default “admin” (a huge security issue, as many of us WP long timers know).
Setup took about 10 minutes total, and then we were building. In fact, twice I taught classes how to set up, install, and navigate the basics on front-page setup on WordPress in about an hour. Then I turned them loose. It was that simple. My goal with it is to let them emerge with a web site they use to host their own work, which I am hoping will give them a good face for the job an internship market.
Reclaim’s customer service has been quick and helpful in the two times we had a problem. I don’t feel we lost anything in moving away from more corporate-style hosting, and in fact it had a more personal touch.
The trial price of $12 was intended to be for the first year while they tested out the new service. This fall it appears they’re going to adjust the price with the soft launch coming to a close, and according to their FAQ they expect will be in the $20-$30 range, which is still a great deal.
If you’re an educator teaching web building, I’d definitely recommend Reclaim Hosting a look. The price is a big reason, because many of our students simply don’t have $100 to plunk down on web hosting. I have been pleasantly surprised to find many other educators using Reclaim as well; at Journalism Interactive earlier this month, I had conversations with several faculty members who also have been using and loving Reclaim Hosting.
So, bottom line: building with WordPress is a easier and better for journalism classes and we should jump in. You have a lot of hosting options and thus far Reclaim Hosting has been a great combination of affordability and benefits.