[wp-edu] Making the Case for WP in University Setting

Helen Hou-Sandi helen.y.hou at gmail.com
Thu Jul 7 18:03:45 UTC 2011

I think over here at the Eastman School of Music (part of the University of
Rochester), we are fortunate to have some very forward-minded in-house IT
people, our own web server setup, and a very budget-conscious upper
administration. We are a little strange in that web was moved out of
Communications into Computing Services (aka IT) some years ago, before I was
here, and our roles as web people are a little blended. We also had a solid
precedent in that the main campus allowed the Memorial Art Gallery (also a
part of the UR) to move to WP as their CMS. That said, it still took a good
bit of "strategery" and creative explanations to get over those common humps
of "if it's free, it can't be good" and "I've heard that WordPress gets
hacked all the time". Here are the things I think sold our particular case:

- WordPress is free, is under constant development, has a large (and
friendly!) community, and provides a strong base for rapid development
- The use of a web-based CMS would help to start cutting back the number of
Adobe licenses needed and save money (Dreamweaver, Contribute, and even
Photoshop for image resizing)
- The ease of editing and focus on content allows for more editors to be
trained more efficiently and help keep site content current and accurate
- Having a central Eastman theme would promote branding and identity,
allowing us to transition older, individually-designed sites back into the
- Using network sites and role management plugins allow us to easily assign
users to specific sites or pages (or even faculty to their own faculty
custom post type entry) without having to create more web server accounts
- Being able to easily add media helps our cause as a music school,
especially for prospective students looking to hear or see recent
performances of ensembles, faculty members, or students
- Having theme/template files be completely separate from the content helps
prevent non-technical editors from "breaking" pages (no more trailing
- Having the content in a database will allow for a mobile site to be
developed much more readily and thoroughly
- BuddyPress will allow for us to much more easily realize the Dean's dream
of a "student underground" whenever we might get there

We also promoted a couple of specific plugins in terms of saving time and
resources for our very very limited web people: there are just 1.5 of us
here, and our duties include server and software management and training in
addition to content, development, and even things like photography and
social media, all for a school of 900+ collegiate students, 160 music
faculty, and who-knows-how-many staff members, community music students,
concert goers, etc. So for instance, Gravity Forms has already saved us
countless hours of form development. For anybody who's ever had to write a
form and/or validation, you'll appreciate the time it saves, and presenting
on how you can create a form with validation in a few clicks as opposed to a
few hours makes even non-tech types go "ooooo". They also really liked that
you could view entries in the Dashboard and leave internal notes, etc. To
have that kind of tool already available within the framework of WP
definitely helped us promote the project, even internally.

One dean also particularly liked that we were easily able to add homepage
alerts that auto-expire. It sounds like a small thing, but I've found that
administrative-types really, really like it when you address their specific
concerns very quickly. I'd hate to think about how we'd have to create a new
table for entries and set up the logic for it on our old homepage - not
difficult by any means, but it was definitely much faster and more robust to
add a content scheduling plugin and create a new category for announcements
to be displayed in an area on the homepage. I think that might be biggest
point, actually; that really honing in on some features that the bigwigs are
looking for will help ply them and make them receptive to the rest of the

Our ed tech guy is also really interested in how WordPress is working out as
an LMS, and our IT people are all for not paying for/supporting Blackboard;
as a few of you have heard me mention before, we actually have a licensing
agreement with the main UR campus and pay for things like Blackboard. It's
all fair and well enough, but of course the school would like to spend less.
I've been using WP as a course site in teaching summer session courses on
web construction for musicians after spending the academic year slogging
through Bb and it's been wonderful, even just as a site/forums without the
use of BuddyPress or a plugin like Courseware. I imagine it only gets better
and better for those of you who are really heavy on the LMS thing. My guess
is that administration and faculty/staff will love the idea that once
they're trained to use WordPress and maybe a couple specific plugins,
they'll be able to accomplish even more, instead of having to be taught to
use Blackboard as something completely separate. We'll also have more
ownership of our own content, as Blackboard is not hosted on our own servers
and the ed tech guy has to play liaison to get courses copied or users
added, that sort of thing.

I know that since I'm a developer-type more than an educator (though I do
enjoy teaching), this is definitely heavily biased toward the developer
side, but I think it's all part of one very big, very strong case for
WordPress in schools and universities.

Helen Hou-Sandi
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