There’s a lot that goes into running an educational website that’s secure, accessible, and optimized for various user roles. However, universities or schools often need many sites, perhaps even hundreds or thousands, to cater for all their different departments, staff and students. Managing a large number of sites in separate, isolated environments is inefficient.

WordPress Multisite is a popular choice for educational institutions looking to simplify the management of their online spaces.

Multisite is a type of WordPress installation that lets you create a network of websites and maintain them from a single installation and dashboard. This enables you to easily make changes and keep track of all your websites in one place.

In this article, we’ll explain what WordPress Multisite is and how it works. Then we’ll walk you through three examples of Multisite in education. 

An Introduction to WordPress Multisite

WordPress Multisite is a feature built into the core of the Content Management System (CMS) that lets you create a network of websites from one installation.You can create and run virtually unlimited numbers of individual websites under the umbrella of a single WordPress installation. These ‘sub-sites’ typically use variations of one domain and share a database and file system. 

The two types of sub-sites you can create with WordPress Multisite are ‘subdomains’ and ‘subdirectories’. A URL for the former would look something like subsite.domain.com, whereas the latter would use a backslash, as in domain.com/subdirectory.

It’s possible to manage a very large number of websites this way, all from one WordPress dashboard. Take our own Edublogs.org, for example.This Multisite network hosts content for over four million sites:

Screenshot of Edublogs home page

One ‘Super Admin’ controls the Multisite settings and grants different permissions to other users. Although each individual sub-site in the network will also have its own Admin, this person can only access and make changes to their own website. 

If you want to activate Multisite, you can switch the feature ‘on’ to use it, however, this setting is not readily available from the WordPress dashboard or default settings. To turn enable it, you’ll need to edit your installation’s wp-config.php file. We’ll show you how to do that later on.

WordPress Multisite is beneficial for users who want to have different branches of their main website, each with their own subdomain, settings, and content. This can make it easier to establish consistent branding across sites and streamline maintenance tasks since you can update all plugins, themes, and systems simultaneously.

Finally, a huge benefit of Multisite is that it’s easy to use. It has a similar interface and functionality as a singular WordPress installation, so users familiar with the platform won’t need to deal with a major learning curve.

3 Ways To Use WordPress Multisites in Education

WordPress Multisite has a wide variety of uses. It can be particularly helpful for universities, colleges, schools, and even online learning platforms. Let’s take a look at three applications of WordPress Multisite in education.

1. Build a Network of Sub-Sites With Varying Access Levels

Educational institutions such as colleges and universities need their websites to fulfill a wide range of functions. Faculty, current students, and those going through the admissions process all need access to different information, resources, and tools.

Separate pages usually aren’t extensive enough to cover these needs, while having several sites is difficult for administration to deal with. WordPress Multisite enables you to resolve these issues by creating sub-sites to serve various purposes and provide different levels of access.

Providence College’s website offers an example of this setup in action:

Screenshot of Providence college website homepage with the admissions tab highlighted

From the primary website, visitors can click on the Admissions tab, which then redirects them to a sub-site:

Screenshot of Providence college website homepage with the URL highlighted

Here prospective students can fill out their applications and learn more about the school. You’ll notice there are also sub-sites for Parents and Alumni, which contain information pertinent to those groups.

Multisite makes it easier not only to target multiple audiences, but also to grant varying levels of access and customize controls for users. An example of this can be seen in John Carroll University’s Multisite network.

The administration wanted to limit the number of plugins installed on the network. They also wanted to prevent departments from changing their sites’ styling in order to maintain brand consistency. To accomplish this, users are assigned to Editor roles instead of Admin roles. This prevents them from installing plugins and modifying themes.

Another example of this comes from the University of California, Irvine (UCI). The university started using WordPress Multisite a decade ago and has since added over 300 sites annually. 

The UCI network allows faculty members and graduate students to create their own sub-sites, but limits media uploads and theme and plugin installations to keep the network secure. Undergraduates can’t launch their own sub-sites. However, they can be added as users on existing ones managed by professors.

2. Offer an On-Demand, Self-Service Site Creation Platform

Another popular use of WordPress Multisite in education is to provide an on-demand, self-service platform for site creation. As we mentioned previously, UCI provides this functionality to faculty members and graduate students.

The university adopted this practice after realizing there was an increased demand among professors and students for the ability to create their own full-fledged websites, not just simple blogs. They found users preferred the sites.uci.edu domain structure over blogs.uci.edu:

Screenshot of UCI Sites homepage

The platform uses a custom plugin to verify users’ university login credentials. They can then create as many sites as they want, choosing between a blog template and a simple website template (both with campus branding). This has minimized UCI’s support calls for common requests, too.

Another example of an educational institution using WordPress Multisite to enable student site creation is Ohio State University (OSU):

Screenshot of U.OSU homepage

U.OSU, which is hosted by CampusPress, lets faculty, staff, and students share work, host course assignments, and showcase projects and portfolios. These self-created sites can incorporate both static pages and chronological blog posts:

Directory of blog posts from U.OSU

Sites at Dartmouth also provides a self-service website creation system:

Screenshot of Dartmouth home page

This platform lets professors and students request sites for research groups, faculty labs, or extra curricular organizations. The university has a separate platform, Journeys at Dartmouth, for teaching and learning initiatives:

Journeys at Dartmouth homepage screenshot

This self-service sub-site is for creating websites related to learning and academic work specifically. Users can launch a blog, portfolio, online journal, and more.

Sharing work online is a valuable opportunity for students and faculty alike. This use of Multisite can help your school’s attendees prepare for their careers or further education, while also creating free exposure for your institution.

3. Create a Blog for Each Department or Course

A third popular way Multisite is used in education is to create a blog or general website for individual departments or courses. With a dedicated sub-site for each class, it becomes easier for teachers to share materials and content relevant to their students.

Similarly, department blogs facilitate an organized method of sharing key information and resources for students and staff. Each sub-site can use its blog to establish an online hub for starting engaging discussions and creating a sense of community.

Columbia University’s EdBlogs, hosted by CampusPress, is a prime example of this:

Edblogs homepage screenshot

Each course at CU has its own blog, and any course instructor can request one. Students can then access it by registering with their University Network ID (UNI).

Instructors can use their course blog to offer students writing opportunities, as well as to share news and updates. In some cases, such as with EdBlogs, course-related content can be made public to those outside the Learning Management System (LMS).

Department and course blogs can also be used as part of self-service creation platforms, as we discussed earlier. For example, instructors can use sub-sites to let students publish portfolio work and assignments.

This could even be applied to online education platforms. If you offer virtual courses, you may want to think about converting to a Multisite network. This would enable you to set up sub-sites where students could discuss class material with one another, replicating an in-person learning experience.

How to Get Started With WordPress Multisite

To enable a Multisite network in WordPress, you’ll need to edit your wp-config.php file via your hosting account’s file manager, or with a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) client such as FileZilla. Before the line that reads “That’s all, stop editing! Happy publishing.” add the following code:

/*Multisite*/

define( ‘WP_ALLOW_MULTISITE’, true );

Save the file and reupload it to your server, then log in to your WordPress dashboard. Navigate to Tools > Network Setup in your sidebar: 

WordPress dashboard screenshot showing Tools > Network Setup in your sidebar

From this screen, you’ll need to decide whether you want your sub-sites to be subdomains or subdirectories. Each option has a specific set of instructions to follow. It’s important to note that, if you’re turning an existing installation into a network, you’ll have to use subdomains:

Screenshot demonstrating how to create a network of WordPress sites as described in the post

Click on the Install button to finish setting up WordPress Multisite. You can then start adding sub-sites and Admins to your network.

Multisite can be more complicated than single WordPress sites. If you need help managing your educational institution’s Multisite network, you may want to consider checking out our CampusPress hosting and support services.

Screenshot of CampusPress homepage

We have helped universities, colleges, and K–12 schools power their WordPress Multisite networks since 2005. Our solutions support a wide range of educational sites, including U.OSU and the Cornell University Blogs. Contact us for a quote or more information. 

Conclusion

The digital ecosystem of many educational websites is incredibly complex. Managing multiple sites can be complicated, tedious, and time-consuming. A more effective method is to use WordPress Multisite to control your entire network from one dashboard.

As we discussed in this article, there are many use cases of WordPress Multisite in education, including:

  1. Building a network of sub-sites with varying access levels.
  2. Offering an on-demand, self-service platform for website creation.
  3. Creating a site or blog for each department or course.

Remember, if you have questions about WordPress Multisite, get in touch! We’d be happy to help.