Course Sites and Digital Publication

Workshop Details

Tuesday, June 9, 10:00am-12:30pm

Learn about the potential for creating dynamic course sites and creating public writing projects for your classes. The content below includes materials from the workshop, but also other resources to help you get started building a course site.


  • Faculty & facilitator introductions (15 min)
  • Introduction to course sites (10 min)
  • Faculty showcase (30 min)
  • Hands-on exploration of WordPress (30 min)
  • Break (15 min)
  • How did they make that? (30 min: 20 min exploration + 10 min debrief )
  • Other resources and next steps (20 min)

Links & Handouts

Instructors & Moderators

  • Emily Sherwood, Director, Digital Scholarship Lab,
  • Sarah Pugachev, Director, Research Initiatives,
  • Meaghan Moody, Immerive Technologies Librarian,
  • Lisa Wright, Digitization Specialist,
  • Stephanie Barrett, Outreach Librarian, Social Sciences (Interdisciplinary),

Showcase Presenters

  • Rachel Lee, Professor of Instruction, Writing, Speaking, and Argument Program
  • Stu Jordan, Associate Professor, Political Science and Faculty Director, CETL
  • Justina Elmore, Outreach Librarian, Social Sciences

Introduction and Faculty Showcase

Building a Site

Digital Scholar

Digital Scholar is a hosted web platform powered by Reclaim Hosting–and supported by the Digital Scholarship Lab–that that facilitates quick and easy deployment of digital scholarship projects. There are over 100 applications available in Digital Scholar, include WordPress, Scalar, Omeka, mediawiki, Drupal, and MySQL. For more information, see the FAQ.

WordPress Basics

  • WordPress Roles & Capabilities: Generally, Professors, TAs, and Staff working with the course will be Administrators, that means they have the ability to see all content on the site and can alter the look and structure of the site. Students are usually set as Authors, which means they can only create and edit their own posts and see published content on the site. If you’re building a website project (rather than a course site), you will need to make the students Editors, so that they can add and edit pages, as well as posts.
  • How to Create a Post: This page is useful to include under Resources in a course site so that students can refer to it when they have questions about creating, editing, and publishing a post, as well as adding different kinds of content to a post.


Plugins are small programs that you can add to your site to help WordPress do more. Some useful plugins for course sites include:

  • My Private Site: Keeps your site private; you must be logged-in to view any of the content.
  • Authors List: Creates an Author’s list in a sidebar widget that makes it easy to view an archive page with all of the work by an individual person. Useful when grading, or wanting to check to see that a student is keeping up with the assignments.
  • WP Grade Comments: Allows you, as the Administrator, to write private comments on posts, so that only you and the Author of the post can see it. The Author can then respond to you, privately, as well. Very useful when giving feedback that you don’t want other students in the class to see.
  • PublishPress Capabilities: Provides more fine-grain control over the normal WordPress Roles. This is important if you want students to be able to embed iFrames or more complex content that requires html, but you don’t want to make them Administrators for the site.
  • Co-Authors Plus: This plugin allows you to assign more than one author to any post or page. This plugin is good for group projects, when multiple students might be editing a post or page together.
  • Page Builder Gutenberg Blocks – CoBlocks: Adds functionality to creating posts and pages, including creating grids of posts based on categories, which is helpful for building a dynamic homepage for your course site.
  • Import and Export Users and Customers: This plugin allows you to import a group of Users to your site through a CSV. It’s useful when adding students to a site, particularly for a large class.


Widgets are content spaces on your site beyond the main post or page spaces. For example, a footer or a sidebar are common widget spaces. Widgets are useful for content or functions you want to access quickly from any page or post. Common widgets for course sites include:

  • Social Media: Link to Twitter, Instagram, etc.
  • Authors Widget: A list of authors on the site.
  • Tag Cloud: This of this as a collection of Hashtags that have been added to post. A tag cloud is useful for seeing what topics arise in students’ writing.
  • Creative Commons License: Sometimes included in the footer of a project site, Creative Commons offers difference licenses and can help prompt a discussion about access and reuse in online content. You can see the footer of this site, for an example of a Creative Commons License.


When creating a course website, it is important to not inadvertently create barriers for users that have physical or situational disabilities, or poor internet access. Below are some tips and tools that can help to make your site inclusive to as many users as possible.

  • Include alt-text for images. This is a description of what is contained within an image for screen readers and other adaptive software so that all are able to understand the content regardless of visual ability.
  • Avoid visually challenging color combinations such as red and green, or white font on black background.
  • Underline things that are hyperlinked rather than relying on colored font to indicate the link.
  • Do not “open tab in a new window” as it can be disorientating for those with visual impairments.
  • Stay away from text or images that flash or blink
  • WordPress has resource page found here that has useful info on making your site more accessible.
  • WordPress also has themes that are designed with accessibility in mind. They can be found here.


When creating a course site or public digital project, it is important to talk to your students about privacy. Below are some topics and options for consideration.

  • Keep the Site Private: Many students feel uncomfortable having their writing–particularly writing that is informal or in draft form–made public. Keeping the site private for the duration of the course can help. If you want some of the content public at the end of the semester, give students the option to revise and select a few items to make public. See plugin list above for options for tips on making your site private.
  • Display Names: Allow students the option of using a pseudonym or only using their first names. This can help alleviate privacy concerns.
  • Private Posts: Students can opt to make their posts private when publishing. This makes it so only the site Administrator and the student can see the content of the post. Other students or visitors to the site will not even see that the post is there.
  • Password Protected Posts: Students can select their own password for a post when publishing. Then they control with whom they share the password. This is useful when the students wants the post kept private, but perhaps needs to let a classmate see the post for peer-review purposes or a group project.
  • WP Grade Comments: As noted under plugins, this allows the Administrator to provide private comments to the post Author without others seeing the conversation.
  • FERPA: It’s important to remember UofR’s FERPA Guidelines when asking students to produce coursework that may be public. While FERPA primarily applies to grades and “any personally identifiable information in the student’s education records,” it’s good practice to discuss any academic work that you want to make public and be sure students are comfortable and consent to doing so.

Course Site Tips

Getting Students Engaged

Switching to a course site, does not automatically mean that students will actively read and respond to their peers’ writing. The ideas below are just some ways to get students to increase student engagement on your course site.

  • Create a schedule for posts and comments. Ideally, split the class so that some students are posting one week, while others are commenting on those post.
  • Annotated bibliography or related links. Take advantage of the ease of linking to other content and assign students to find videos, podcasts, articles, or other links that might align with the topics covered that week. Again, set-up a schedule or have each student post a few entries (with deadlines) over the course of the semester.
  • Show posts in-class. One way to increase the likelihood that students will post and engage on the site is to show them you’re reading their content. Select one or two post–whether formal assignments or fun links–and highlight them in class. Maybe reference a point a student made in a post, pull-up a posts to discuss as a group, or show the link or outside resource that they student shared and ask them to talk about it.

Further Reading

Examples and Other Platforms

WordPress is just one platform that is useful for creating course sites and projects. It isn’t the only way to engage students in online reading and writing. The samples and links below are intended to provide other ideas, but the list is by no means definitive.

Tools and Platforms

  • Manifold Scholarship: An open publishing platform created by University of Minnesota Press and the City University of New York. Easy to create beautiful, device compatible, publications that accept a range of media and have integrated highlighting and commenting features.
  • Hypothesis: Allows you to collaborative annotate any website or OCRd PDF
  • Omkea: An open-source web publishing platforms for sharing digital collections and creating media-rich online exhibits. We will cover Omeka in the Cultural Heritage Exhibits and Objects workshop.

Course Sites

Course Projects

Digital Collections

Need Help?

This is just a start. We’re happy to help you discuss your site, find resources, and facilitate training. Feel free to reach out to the Digital Scholarship Lab or contact your Outreach Librarian.