Category: Community

Attend The Free WPCampus 2020 Online Conference

Attend The Free WPCampus 2020 Online Conference

by Nathan Smith

Last updated on July 9, 2020

This year’s WPCampus Conference (“a gathering of web professionals, educators, and people dedicated to the confluence of WordPress in higher education”) will be taking place online July 29-30. While we are sad at the idea of not seeing some of the regular attendees face-to-face, we are excited that the conference will continue and the community is still thriving. Now more than ever, the importance of online resources in education is very evident.

We are honored to sponsor the conference, as we have for many years.

WPCAMPUS 2020 - July 29 through 30th.

The CampusPress team will be in attendance, manning our ‘virtual booth’ in Slack where we welcome all existing and potential customers to join us, interact, and say hello.

We also have two sessions on the schedule we invite you to attend.

At 1:30 pm Central Time on July 29th, CampusPress will host a session showcasing our new Flex theme and Accessible Content plugin. Both tools provide the resources needed to quickly create a fully accessible school website with a beautiful design.

At 3:00 pm Central Time on July 30th, our General Manager, Ronnie Burt, will host a session on Digging Into Privacy. The session will cover tools and best practices to meet expectations and legal requirements around security and data privacy.

A full schedule of all of the sessions can be found here on the WPCampus website.

Registration is free and open. We hope to see you there!

Using Your School Website to Communicate with Your Community

Using Your School Website to Communicate with Your Community

by Kathleen Morris

Last updated on December 13, 2019

Your school website is one of your most valuable communication tools. Students, parents and people from your local community will use it to find out more about your school, so it’s important that you make the best possible use of it.

In this post I’ll examine some of the ways in which you can use your website to communicate with all of your stakeholders. I’ll identify some of the content you can include in your site to effectively communicate, and give you some tips to enhance your website and make it a more effective communication tool.

1. Make Your Website Easy To Use

If your site is going to be an effective communication tool, it’s essential that people can find what they need easily. So make sure your site provides a great User Experience, or UX. This means that using your website has to be a pleasant experience and, most importantly, it has to be easy for people to find the information they need or that you want them to access.

Some good practices to improve UX include:

  • Make your site responsive or mobile friendly, so people visiting it on a small screen can use it effectively.
  • Make sure your main navigation menu has a logical structure and works on all devices, including mobile.
  • Add links to useful and/or recent content to your home page to make it easy to find (but not too many links).
  • Structure your content logically – by date, curriculum area, year group or a combination of these. A CampusPress site is powered by a database so it makes this really easy.
  • Think about your design and whether it makes UX better – avoid garish colours, busy patterns and an amateurish design. I’ve seen so many school websites that seem to be going for a ‘designed by the kids’ look when in reality if you did ask the kids to design it, they’d come up with something much, much better.
  • For important content, add nice big buttons linking from the home page.

2. Keep Your Website Updated

A website that’s regularly updated is a much better communications tool. It helps you to show people what’s going on in your school, what the students have been learning, the activities taking place and any changes going on.

Aim to update your site every week, either with a blog post, curriculum information, homework, video or galleries – even better add some of these things every week. And make sure you add letters home, so parents have easy access to them.

Add new posts screen
Add new content such as blog posts every week

With CampusPress you can schedule posts in advance, so you can reserve a chunk of time every week to update your site and then add a few new posts which will be published over the course of the week.

3. Include Information for Prospective Students and Parents

Parents or students considering applying to your school will look at your website first. They’ll need to be able to easily find information that will help them know whether the school is right for them.

Think about creating a special section of your site for prospective parents and students, with all the information they might look for. Include things like:

  • Your school prospectus – if this is a PDF, consider adding a page with the text to make it more accessible.
  • Admissions information including any forms people have to complete and information on deadlines – consider adding a form for online applications.
  • Data and results – people will want to know how successful your school is, and an essential part of this is data. Include a summary of your school’s exam or test results for the last few years. In some countries you’re required to include this by law.
  • Ethos and values – what’s important to your school? Including this will help people decide whether the school is a good fit for them.
  • Staff – especially senior staff. Include a statement from your Headteacher or Principal, welcoming people to the site and saying why you’re proud to lead this school. Photos and information about other staff also help bring the school to life.
  • Media – choosing a school isn’t just about studying and exams, it’s also about finding the right fit. Give prospective students and parents a feel for the life of your school by including lots of images and media. Show extracurricular activities, awards and productions, amongst other things.

4. Add Curriculum Information and Homework

Using your school website to let students access homework will prevent them from being unable to complete if if they’ve been absent or have lost homework they were given in class – it happens to all kids at some point! It also helps parents to support their kids, by making it easy for them to access homework independently.

Campuspress website - leraning features
CampusPress lets you set homework, communicate with students and provide feedback

CampusPress lets you create a built-in social network to support learning. Users can follow each other, discover content, and leave comments, and teachers can approve posts and comments, send private feedback and run reports.

Homework isn’t just about being able to download work that has been set – if you let your students submit work, discuss it with each other, find resources and research sources and get feedback, then your website will be an even richer resource.

5. Link to Social Media

Linking your site to social media will help you to notify people when you’ve added new content and will encourage them to engage with you online. You can use social media to:

  • Let people share your content via their own social media feeds.
  • Share your own content to twitter, Facebook and other channels where your school has a presence.
  • Distribute new content via RSS feeds.

If you’re not using social media to tell people what’s new on your site, you’re missing out on a lot of traffic. Members of your school community don’t have the time to check your site every day, but if you tweet new content then they’ll know when there’s something new to check out.

And don’t forget the humble email – signing students and parents up to email updates will let you tell them when there’s new content that’s relevant to them. You might want to create different email lists for different year groups so they only get what they need.

CampusPress social media plugins
CampusPress inclides a range of social media plugins

CampusPress and Edublogs include a bunch of social media plugins you can use to link your school website to your social media channels and make your communication even better. These include the JetPack plugin, that lets you automatically push updates to your social media channels as well as letting people share content on their channels.

6. Include Fun Stuff

Communication via your website isn’t just about homework, data and admissions. Make sure you include the fun stuff too. Using media including video, galleries and slideshows give people a better picture of what life in your school is like and is great for parents, who love seeing what their kids have been doing.

Things to include:

  • Awards and presentations. Include photos of students receiving awards, information about school teams and how they’re doing, and add text too to provide context.
  • Productions, concerts etc. If you can video in-school productions or upload images from them, this will act as a permanent record of some really memorable events in your students’ lives. It also shows prospective parents about the life of your school, and means existing parents can see photos of their kids acting, playing instruments and more.
  • In-class activity. If you’ve been doing something visual in class, consider filming it or taking photos and uploading them to your website. For example a school I work with recently hatched chicks in their kindergarten class, and put a live feed of the eggs on their website so the children could see the chicks hatching even if it happened outside school hours.
  • Slideshows. If your students have been preparing slideshows, upload these to a site like SlideShare and embed them in your school website. You can also include slides from parents evenings and other events.
  • Include videos, links and games on other websites that will support learning and link to your curriculum – embed them in your site or link to them.
Slideshare website
Use SlideShare to embed slides in your website

Your Website is a Valuable Communications Tool – Make the Most of It!

School websites are taking over from letters home and printed prospectuses as the most valuable source of information for current and prospective students and parents.

If you keep your site regularly updated and include useful content, then your site will be a valuable tool for communicating with your school community. And if you make sure the site is easy to use, well structured and mobile-friendly, then it will be even more effective.

Take some time to plan how you’ll use your site to communicate and identify what’s best for you and your community – you’ll find that using Edublogs or CampusPress can help.

Our Continued Support Of WPCampus

We’re honored to support the WPCampus community by sponsoring the Annual Conference – with this year’s event taking place July 25-27 in Portland, Oregon.

For those that can’t attend in person, all sessions will be live-streamed, for free, as well!

You can also check out the recordings of previous conference sessions too. There’s a treasure trove of professional development on all areas of WordPress, the web, and higher ed.

In addition to the conference, the WPCampus group hangs out in an active and helpful Slack community that anyone interested in the use of WordPress in Higher Education should join.

And earlier this year, the WPCampus community commissioned a detailed accessibility audit of the new Gutenberg editor. The results have spurred significant improvements by the WordPress core contributors which have greatly impacted the accessibility of WordPress for all users, everywhere.

We are looking forward to this year’s conference, and being a completely volunteer organized event, we want to thank all of those involved. If you happen to be heading to Portland too, please stop by and say hello. Spreading and improving the use of WordPress in education is certainly a cause that we believe in.

WPCampus Conference, Livestream, and Podcast

We’re excited to be headed to St. Louis next week for the 3rd annual WPCampus conference!

For those not able to attend, we invite you to join in on the live stream for free, which we’re happy to be a sponsor.

You can see the schedule and learn more here at 2018.wpcampus.org/watch.

Sessions will be archived and made available for viewing after the conference as well.

And to get you geared up, the hosts of the WPCampus podcast invited me on to discuss CampusPress and WordPress Multisite in higher education. It was a fun chat, and we’d love for you to have a listen here.

Hope to see many of you in St. Louis soon!

How The Top 50 Universities In The World Are All Using WordPress

There are many organizations out there that rank schools in many ways – and we know that these rankings should be taken with a grain of salt. But for a bit of fun, we took the latest ‘Best Global Universities Rankings‘ from the US News and World Report, to see if we could find ways that each one is using WordPress.

What we have listed is just one example WordPress site from each school – in all cases, there are significantly many more.

This job was made easier because we host sites for or provide plugins to most on the list! 🙂

#1 – Harvard University – Harvard Law School Student Orgs  Sites

#2 – Massachusetts Institute of Technology – MIT Libraries

#3 – Stanford University – Stanford Main Website

#4 – University of California – Berkeley – Cal Parents

#5 – University of Oxford – University of Oxford IT Services Blogs

#6 – California Institute of Technology – Engineering and Science Magazine

#7 – University of Cambridge – Clinical School Computing Service

#8 – Columbia University – EdBlogs Course Blogs *Hosted by CampusPress

#9 – Princeton University – Sites for Departments and Groups

#t10 – Johns Hopkins University – Krieger School of Arts and Sciences

#t10 – University of Washington – UW Sites *Hosted by CampusPress and Main Website

#t10 – Yale University – Yale CampusPress *Hosted by CampusPress

#13 – University of California – Los Angeles – UCLA Branded WordPress Theme

#14 – University of Chicago – UChicago Voices *Hosted by CampusPress

#15 – University of California – San Francisco – UCSF Prevention Research Center

#16 – University of California – San Diego – KSDT Student Radio Station

#t17 – Imperial College London – ICL Main Website

#t17 – University of Michigan – Ann Arbor – LSA Sites

#19 – University of Pennsylvania – Penn EnerFront *Hosted by CampusPress

#20 – University of Toronto – Life at U of T

#21 – Duke University – Interdisciplinary Studies

#22 – University College London – City Blogs *Hosted by CampusPress

#23 – Cornell University – Emergency Site *Hosted by CampusPress

#24 – Northwestern University – NUsites *Hosted by CampusPress

#25 – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich – Department of Humanities and Social Sciences

#26 – University of Melbourne – 3010 Unimelb Alumni Magazine *Hosted by CampusPress

#27 – University of British Columbia – Teaching With WordPress

#t28 – New York University – NYU Web Publishing Platform

#t28 – University of California – Santa Barbara – UCSB Sustainability

#30 – University of Edinburgh – Centre for Language Evolution

#31 – University of Wisconsin – Madison – Branded Themes

#t32 – University of Texas – Austin – Texas MBA Insider *Hosted by CampusPress

#t32 – Washington University in St. Louis – Human Resources *Hosted by CampusPress

#t34 – University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill – Main Website

#t34 – University of Sydney – Environment Institute 

#36 – École Polytechnique Federale of Lausanne – EPFL Innovation Park

#37 – University of Copenhagen – Andersson Lab

#38 – Pierre and Marie Curie University – Sciences of the Universe, Ecology, and Environment

#39 – Boston University – BU Study Abroad

#40 – University of Munich – Behaviour and Speciation

#41 – King’s College London – King’s Blogs

#42 – University of Minnesota – Twin Cities – College of Design Sites *Hosted by CampusPress

#43 – National University of Singapore – Blog.nus *Hosted by CampusPress

#44 – University of Colorado – Boulder – Bursar’s Office

#45 – University of Queensland Australia – Emmanuel College Home Page

#46 – Ohio State University – Columbus – The Lantern Student News *Hosted by CampusPress

#47 – University of California – Santa Cruz – WordPress For Faculty *Hosted by CampusPress

#48 – University of Pittsburgh – Be Fit Pitt

#49 – McGill University – Students’ Society of McGill University

#50 – University of Maryland – Deep Brain Neurotechnologies *Hosted by CampusPress

It was interesting searching each of these university websites. For starters, we were surprised that only 4 on the list use WordPress for their main top-level website. In a few cases, the only implementations we could find were one-off sites by a faculty or staff member and not part of the institutions’ systems. And quite a few use WordPress Multisite for faculty, department, student, course, and other sites.

But if nothing else, it is clear that the use of WordPress in higher education is strong and pervasive!

Video: How We Review And Approve Plugins And Themes

Last month, we had the honor of sponsoring and speaking at the second annual WPCampus conference on WordPress in Higher Ed. The event in Buffalo, NY was fantastic and we are already looking forward to what 2018 will bring.

For those not able to attend, the good news is that you can watch videos from the past two conferences (and the online event held earlier this year) for free here: wpcampus.org/videos

There is a wealth of information for anyone developing for or working with WordPress in all of the different presentations available.

For our part, we shared information on our process for vetting, reviewing, and approving new plugins and themes. We also announced our new and improved Code Check Plugin, which does automated checks of both plugins and themes. Here’s the video of the entire presentation!

Useful Links

Many thanks to all of the volunteers that organized the WPCampus conference! And contact us if we can be of any help with any questions you may have on our code review process.

Here We Come, ISTE 2017!

We’re excited to be heading to ISTE – the largest edtech conference in the world and what is always one of our favorite events of the year!

Look for our team at booth #2356 and be sure to say hello.

Want to be kept in the loop on our activities during the week, follow us at @campuspresswp on twitter.

Or even better, contact us to let us know that you’ll be there, and we’d be happy to find a time to chat!

See you soon!

PS:

We have a few Texans on our team, including native San Antonians. Come by for our recommendations on avoiding crowds, the best BBQ, and any other inside information you may want to know!

How to do an Accessibility Audit on Your School Website

All websites should be accessible: that’s obvious. If your site isn’t accessible to the widest possible number of people, then you’re missing out on a sizeable chunk of your potential audience.

But for schools, colleges, and universities, this is even more important. Schools are educational institutions, part of the community they sit in and providing an essential public service. Most if not all schools will have a proportion of their own community with disabilities, sensory impairments or other conditions or challenges that make it harder for them to access the Internet. And schools have an important message to send to their students about inclusivity and diversity in a world where it’s harder for some people to fully participate. Not to mention, in most places around the world, accessibility is part of laws and regulations, which can result in steep penalties for those that don’t comply.

But of course, you don’t need me to tell you this. As someone with responsibility for or involvement with a school website, I’m confident that you understand the importance of ensuring your site is accessible and are fully committed to it.

None of which means it’s easy. Making a site accessible isn’t as simple as clicking some buttons or putting it through a simple, one size fits all test, and then proclaiming it accessible. There are a few aspects of accessibility that you need to consider when checking how compliant your school website is, and you need to be aware of all of them.

In this post I’m going to outline what those considerations are, and highlight the key things your school website has to do if it’s going to be accessible, and then I’ll give you some tips as to how you can check if your school website meets those criteria – in other words, how to do an accessibility audit.

What Makes a Website Accessible?

The W3C, which is the body responsible for deciding how websites should be coded, publishes a comprehensive set of accessibility guidelines on its website.

The things that will  make your website accessible are:

  • Your site should be coded in a way that makes it possible for screen readers to access it and read its contents to users with visual impairments. This includes the way you code media such as images as well as the structure of the markup, headings etc.
  • Audio and video should be captioned or have a transcript available for users who aren’t able to access them.
  • Your content should be adaptable so that if it’s presented in different ways (e.g. on different devices) it doesn’t lose its meaning. This means using standards-compliant code and not making meaning dependent on the visual structure of the page.
  • Content should be distinguishable, which means it should be easy to see, read or hear. This means ensuring fonts are clear and sufficiently large, and that contrasting colours are used for text and backgrounds. You should also make links visually obvious.
  • All functionality in your site should be available via a keyboard as well as a mouse.
  • It should be possible to consume content at the user’s own pace, which means (for example) that video should have pause and rewind buttons and text shouldn’t disappear after a period of time.
  • Pages shouldn’t contain anything that flashes more than three times in any one second, to reduce the risk of seizures. I’d advise against any flashing images anyway as it makes your site look very dated.
  • Navigation should be accessible, with the option to skip repeated blocks of content (such as the navigation menu) and any links or navigation coded in the same structure as they’re presented.
  • Your content should be easy to read, with language appropriate for a wide audience.
  • Your site should behave in a way that’s predictable, with no sudden changes.
  • Any forms should include help text to help people fill them out correctly.
  • Your code and content should be robust so that a wide range of devices can access it.

One common misconception is that web accessibility is only for those with visual impairments. But as you see in the list, it also covers hearing difficulties (subtitles of videos), cognitive disabilities (ensuring the site is easy to use), and much more. One important piece of advice is that accessible design will improve your site for all visitors, not just those with disabilities, so it is always a win-win and worthwhile.

But as a website manager, how can you know whether your site meets these standards? This is where your accessibility audit comes in.

Carrying Out an Accessibility Audit

There are a number of tools you can use to test your site’s compliance with accessibility guidelines, as well as best practices you can adopt.

1. Validate Your Site

Running your site through the W3C’s validation tool will tell you if there are any common accessibility issues. This will also help you identify any issues with the code that could be causing performance or security issues.

W3C validation website

This will answer some key technical questions about the way your site is coded, and tell you if it’s structured correctly and if (for example) images have all the required information to be accessible.

Note that the validation tool will only check the url you give it – so you’ll need to test multiple pages to do a thorough check. Identify different content types and sections of your site and run examples of them through the validation tool.

2. Run Your Site Through the WAVE Tool

The WAVE accessibility checker goes a step further than the validation tool. When I ran my site’s home page through the validation tool it came up with three minor errors, but when I run it through WAVE, I’m unpleasantly surprised!

The WAVE validation tool shows multiple issues with Rachel McCollin's website

This tool does a thorough check of your page’s code and identifies any issues, categorizing them by type. Again you’ll have to run multiple pages through it to do a full check. I would suggest that you only use this tool if you’re familiar with HTML – some of the issues it throws up for my site are things that are in there deliberately for usability which means I can understand why they’re there and what I can do to make them more accessible without compromising usability.

There are other automated checkers out there, but WAVE is one that has been around for a long time and is universally well-known. At CampusPress, we’ve also recently started using (and loving!) the Site Improve Accessibility Checker Chrome browser extension.

3. Run Your Site Through a Screen Reader Emulator

The best way to understand how your site might sound through a screen reader is to simulate one. You can do this by using the free Fangs extension to the Firefox browser.

Once you’ve installed it, load your site and right-click anywhere on the page. Then select View Fangs. This will give you a textual representation of your site. Here’s mine:

Fangs rendering of a website as text

This doesn’t read the text out but it does show you exactly what would be read out by a screen reader. Try reading it out yourself, or have someone read it to you.

Similarly, there is also the ChromeVox extension for Chrome, which is actually a full screen reader for the web and will speak it out to you. But if you aren’t used to using a screen reader, it can be overwhelming and less useful to finding obvious errors.

4. Test Your Site’s Readability

There are a number of measures of the readability of text that you can check your site against. Running your site through a readability test tool will let you measure exactly how readable your content is and what level of education a visitor would need to read it.

My website shows a score that means it’s readable to a 15-16 year old, which is fine for my adult audience but won’t be for a school website if you want your students to interact with the site.

The readability test tool shows that my text is suitable for a 15-16 year old and above

If your site’s readability score indicates that people need a higher level of education than the youngest grade that will be using your site (and preferably a bit younger), then you need to edit the text. This doesn’t mean dumbing down: it just means making the language clearer.

5. Carry Out User Testing

User testing will help you spot any issues with your site that aren’t picked up by the validation tool. These will include things like the language used and whether the site behaves in the way you expect it to.

Set up user tests with as wide a cross-section of your audience as possible, including students with disabilities or challenges accessing online content as well as other students, staff and other stakeholders. Identify some key tasks you would expect users to carry out on your site, and some key pieces of information people would need to retrieve, and ask them to do this. Then ask them how easy it was and what obstacles there were. Watch as they do it – is it as easy for them as it is for you?

Ask questions about accessibility too – about the media used on the site and how easy they were to access, and about the language and how clear it is.

Your user testing will give you more qualitative information about the experience of using the site and is just as important as checking that your code is accessible. After all, accessibility is also about the experience of interacting with your site.

Taking Action Following Your Audit

Of course carrying out an accessibility audit isn’t the end of the process. You then need to make changes to your site to address any issues. Some of these will be things you can do yourself, while others may involve hiring a web developer or switching your content management system (or CMS).

What You Can Do Yourself

Your user testing may well have thrown up issues that can easily be remedied by staff responsible for the website and its content, and some of the code issues may be easy to deal with too.

  • If your site uses video that isn’t accessible, switch to using a more accessible way of streaming video such as YouTube.
  • If your text is hard for people to understand, rewrite it (or ask your students to).
  • If navigation is unclear, review the way your site is structured and how your menus work.
  • If your images don’t have alt attributes to tell screen readers what they are images of, add them. If you’re using a CMS like WordPress, you can do this yourself when uploading media.
  • If your theme is introducing accessibility issues, consider switching to a new theme. For example, CampusPress offers these ‘accessibility ready’ themes out of the box.

What You’ll Need to Hire Someone For

If the accessibility problems are more fundamental, then you’ll need to change your CMS or hire a web developer to fix things. This will address issues like:

  • the structure of the markup in your pages
  • the use of headings
  • ensuring your site is using up to date code
  • the use of specific accessibility tags in the code.

Switching to a CMS like CampusPress will help you make your site more accessible because it’s based on WordPress, which has an accessibility team constantly working to ensure WordPress meets accessibility guidelines. It will never be perfect as these things are always evolving, but using a robust, modern CMS like CampusPress will put you a long way ahead when it comes to making your school website accessible.

Accessibility is Essential For School Websites

You can no longer get away with having a school website that’s not accessible. It will affect your site’s performance, its search engine rankings, and (most importantly) its effectiveness at engaging with the community you serve. Take the time to carry out an accessibility audit on your site and make any changes identified, and you’ll have a more effective, inclusive site.

Getting Your School Website Ready for the Summer

If you’ve been following this blog closely, you’ll have seen my posts on keeping your class blog and your school website up to date and relevant for your visitors.

Creating a plan for content production, involving students in this and scheduling posts in advance are just some of the ways you can ensure your site stays relevant and up to date throughout the year. But what do you do during the long summer vacation?

Depending on which country or state you’re in, your school could be closed for anything from six weeks to three months, during which time staff and students won’t be around to create content and manage the site. So what should you be adding to your site over the summer vacation and how can you set it up to stay fresh while you’re taking a break? And importantly, how do you ensure it’s monitored for any security breaches or crashes while you’re away?

I’m going to take this topic in two parts. First I’ll look at maintaining the infrastructure of your site while you’re away – making sure the software stays up to date, that it’s protected against attack and that if there are any problems, they can be fixed. And then I’ll look at content, and identify the kinds of content that are relevant during the long vacation and when you should be scheduling them.

So, let’s start with your site’s infrastructure.

Keeping Your Site’s Infrastructure Updated and Secure

With staff away from their desks and fewer people accessing the site on a regular basis, it’s more of a challenge to keep the site secure and up to date.

Short of nominating someone to do this, the best solution is to automate everything you can. This includes backups, security scans, downtime and software updates.

Keeping Your Site Backed Up

Your routine for keeping your site backed up should be the same over the summer as it as for the rest of the year – it should run automatically at regular intervals. If you haven’t already set up automatic backups, now’s the time to do it.

If you’re running your site on CampusPress, then you don’t need to worry – your site is stored on our servers which we keep regularly backed up. But if you have your own standalone WordPress site or are using another system, then you’ll need to configure backups yourself.

edublogs website
edublogs features include automatic backups

For a self-hosted WordPress site, use our Snapshot Pro plugin, which not only automates backups for you at whatever intervals you like, but also makes it incredibly easy to restore your data with the click of a button – something not all backup plugins offers.

Whatever you do, make sure you’ve got it set up already, so you don’t need to worry about backups during the summer or during term time.

Updating Software

As you won’t be around to keep your site’s software updated during the vacation, you need to make sure that this, too, is automated.

Again if you’re running your site or blog on CampusPress, there’s good news – we do this for you. All of your plugins and themes, as well as WordPress itself, will be kept up to date.

If you want to see what this involves, try visiting our change log, which details all of the updates and changes being made to CampusPress on a daily basis.

campuspress change log

But if your site is on your own self-shorted WordPress installation, you’ll need to set something up. You can install a plugin to automatically run updates when WordPress is updated or a theme or plugin gets an update.

  • If you’re running a WordPress site with WPMU DEV plugins (such as the ones I’m recommending in this post), the WPMU DEV Dashboard plugin lets you automatically keep all of our plugins on your site updated.
  • If you’re running a WordPress site with other plugins, then the Easy Updates Manager plugin lets you automatically keep your plugins and theme up to date.

WPMU DEV Dashboard plugin website
The WPMU DEV dDashboard plugin lets you keep all WPMU DEV plugins updated

Note: If you do automate software updates, then you must also run security scans. If a plugin or theme update should result in problems, then the scan will alert you. Once you’re back at school in the fall, I’d recommend returning to manual updates, so that you can test your site each time you do an update.

This enhances your site’s performance and ensures that any security updates are installed immediately, helping to keep your site secure.

Which leads me on to…

Running Security Scans

While you’re away enjoying a well-deserved break, you won’t have the time (or the inclination, I imagine) to run security scans on your site. So this is something else you have to automate.

If your site runs on CampusPress you can relax, as this is taken care of for you – we’re constantly scanning the network for security vulnerabilities or breaches and will fix them as necessary. But if your site is on a standalone WordPress installation, then you’ll need to set up automated scans yourself.

Make sure that you use a tool that scans your site regularly and sends you an alert if it finds a problem. This alert shouldn’t be sent just to the admin email address for the site, as chances are this is your school email address which you won’t be checking while you’re sunning yourself on the beach. The ability to alert multiple staff and/or to send text alerts is a bonus.

For a self-hosted WordPress site, our Defender plugin will not only run security scans for you, it will also help you make your site more secure in the first place. It’ll identify any vulnerabilities and let you know exactly what you need to do to fix them. It’ll help you not only during the long vacation but in term time too.

Security scans will also check for downtime, so if your site goes down you’ll be alerted – meaning you can use your automated backup to restore it with one click (you did set up backups already, didn’t you?).

Managing Content During the Vacation

So, now you know your site’s infrastructure is ready for the long break, you need to consider content.

The question is: what content do you need to add during the summer, and who’s going to be reading it?

The answer is that your visitor numbers will fall drastically during the vacation, as you’ll know if you’ve been monitoring your site statistics. For the school sites I manage, I find that traffic always dips on weekends and holidays and that it plummets during the long summer break. However, as term time approaches again it starts to pick up, and there are certain pages that are always popular at this time of year.

It’s a good idea to get ready for this before you sign off for the summer, by preparing the content that people will need before the new school year starts. Content that people will be looking for includes:

  • Information for new students and their parents – school uniform, induction and enrolment arrangements, information on staff for the youngest year group etc.
  • The school calendar – there will be a mad rush to double check the start date at the beginning of the new school year, as when it approaches, parents and students suddenly lose their confidence that they remembered it correctly.
  • Information on events taking place over the summer, including any summer schools, camps etc. Make sure this is up on the site before the beginning of the vacation and that it’s easy to find.

This is the routine I have for the school websites I manage:

Before Breaking up for Summer

Before the long vacation begins, there’s key information I update on the site. This includes:

  • Staffing. On the day school closes, I edit the staffing pages so that they’re accurate for the new school year. This includes removing any staff who’ve left, adding new staff and updating staff’s positions or the classes they teach. This means making sure I have this information from the school office and faculty heads in advance.
  • Summer events. I make sure any events taking place during the vacation are on the site with all enrollment, location and timing details, and there are links to this from the home page.
  • The school calendar. I update the calendar with all dates for the summer break and beyond, including dates in the new school year.
  • Year group information. I move all outstanding letters, notices, homework and other information up a year where relevant so that students can still access it from the page for their new year group. So for example, if year 6 are going on a residential trip in September and received a letter about it in July, it will have been stored on the Year 5 page of the site. I move it to Year 6. Anything that doesn’t need to be carried over will be archived at the beginning of the new school year and I won’t worry about moving that up.

If you’re running one or more active blogs on your site, you might also decide to add some posts for publication over the summer and schedule these in advance. I wouldn’t add many of these, as your readership is much lower at this time of year, but adding a small number will keep your site active and may help with your search engine rankings.

CampusPress post scheduling metabox
Scheduling posts lets you publish content for the summer in advance

During the Summer

I try to keep the workload during the summer break to a minimum. As the new school year approaches (about two weeks before school returns), I update the front page of the site with a message reminding students and parents of key dates for the new school year. This will include:

  • The date that school returns from vacation.
  • Any different dates for specific year groups such as new starters.
  • A welcome message.
  • Links to enrolment and induction information.

That takes me five minutes to add. If you’re smart, you can schedule this in advance as a post on your site, which will be listed on your home page if that’s how your home page works. Meaning you don’t have to do any work at all over the summer. Bonus.

When School Returns

As soon as school returns, I archive last year’s content, including:

  • Year Group information. I archive anything that doesn’t need to be carried over when students move up a year. This stays on the site but in an archive section.
  • Letters, newsletters etc. I add all of these to an archive for the previous year, starting the new school year off with a blank slate. This includes image galleries, achievement announcements and more. You might decide not to archive everything – it depends on what you publish to your site.

This can sound like a huge pain but if your site is run on CampusPress it can be made easy. Ask us how you can use custom taxonomies for your year groups and school years, meaning that content can easily be moved from one to another in bulk.

Preparing For the Summer Will make Your Vacation Easier

If you take the time now to get your site ready for the summer break, then it will save you work and hassle when you’re supposed to be taking time off to relax. Make sure your site’s infrastructure is ready, with everything automated, and that you’ve published or scheduled any content people will need to access during the vacation.

If you’re not sure how to set all this up, then I can recommend switching your site to CampusPress. This will make managing your infrastructure easy and help you to schedule and manage content over the summer.

Enjoy the vacation!

New Plugins, Upcoming Events, And A Sneak Preview

First up, many thanks to all of you that completed our annual Super Admin survey a few weeks ago. We read every single response carefully and have already worked to implement changes as a result of the feedback. We greatly appreciate it!

And on that note, I wanted to highlight a few recent entries from our change log in case you may have missed it.

New Plugins!

These plugins have recently been added, and a Super Administrator will need to enable them to make them available to all users.

Upcoming Events

Our team is looking forward to two of the biggest events of the year coming up soon!

ISTE – San Antonio, TX – June 25 – 28

Look for us at booth #2356. We’ll post soon on recommended presentations and more about our plans for the largest EdTech annual conference in the world.

WPCampus – Buffalo, NY – July 14 – 15

We’re proud to be the lead ‘President’ sponsor of the only conference dedicated to WordPress in Higher Education. We will be speaking on choosing plugins and themes too 🙂

We hope to see many of you at one of these two events!

Do You Use Canvas?

Thanks to the ideas and beta testing by the good folks at edblogs.columbia.edu and voices.uchicago.edu, we are excited to make a new and improved LTI integration with Canvas available to all of our customers.

This new tool makes it simple for course instructors to add a link in their Canvas courses that will help auto-provision and assign students to course blogs and sites within your WordPress Multisite network.If this sounds like something you’d like to learn more about, please get in touch and we’ll get it going for you.

Behind The Scenes Preview

We have quite a few big projects and improvements that we are currently working on, but there are two in particular that I wanted to share. Both of these should be available in the coming months, and we think that these will be worth the wait…

An Overhaul To Help & Support

We’re putting the finishing touches on moving all of our end-user and Super Admin support materials right inside the WordPress dashboard. This will mean a fully white-label and unbranded experience. And if you look closely, there is also an improved ticketing system and even live chat built in for our Super Admins.

 

Finally, A Calendar Plugin To Be Proud Of

We’ve known for a long time, and it was confirmed in the recent surveys, but a polished Calendar plugin has been one of the areas where we’ve been lacking for far too long. We actually have 3 existing plugins available, one of which we created, but none have quite met the needs of what many customers have been looking for. We’re beta testing a completely re-worked version of the plugin currently with our friends at sites.wustl.edu. It looks good, is mobile friendly, is easy to setup, integrates with Google Calendar, and more. The current ETA is late July 🙂

 

As always, please let us know if you have any questions or if there is anything we can help with!