Projects Roundup: Create A Social Network For Your Class Using Buddypress

This project was one that proved to be very rewarding for me and I would encourage any of you that have the resources to set this up to do so. I have been using WordPress for a long time, and I am not ashamed to admit that I have a big old nerd crush on it. I have always found the platform to be feature rich and the community to be very friendly and helpful. I have been looking for a way to get students to want to blog, beyond it being required for a grade Buddypress seemed to be the perfect fit.

What you will need:

  1. A webhost. There are many webhosts available out there with reasonable rates. The benefits of purchasing your own web space are great, including total freedom in terms of customization and ownership of your own data.
  2. Once you have gotten yourself a web host, download and install WPMU. If you are familiar with self-hosted WordPress installations the process is exactly the same. If you have never done it here is a tutorial I made. With the last few WordPress installations the installation process has gotten even easier given that you no longer need to alter any files. You just upload the directory and go. By the way, if you are serious about using Buddypress with your class and think the installation process might be too difficult for you I will set it up for you via Skype, no sweat. I recently helped Silvia Tolisano set up this site using this process and it worked very well.

So you’ve got Buddypress up and running, now what? Well, Buddypress is essentially WordPress with a social networking layer added on top of it. You can do all of the great things that teachers have been doing with student blogs for years. The added benefits of using Buddypress with your students are these:

  • The default theme looks like Facebook. Ok, this is a little superficial I know but I have noticed that students at least seem a little more interested merely because it looks like something else they use, that they enjoy.
  • The activity stream. This is a great feature that looks and behaves very much like the activity streams in Facebook or Twitter. Everything that is happening on the site ends up in the stream in the order it happens. The stream also has its own RSS feed which makes it extremely handy to see what is happening on the site all in one place. With the addition of a plugin you can add a thumbs up or down feature so that users can rate events in the stream. Users can also comment on any entry that appears within the stream without leaving the page. All of these things enhance the interactivity of the site, hopefully sparking student interest.
  • Students have as much control over their blogging experience as you want them too. WPMU and Buddypress both have pretty robust control panels allowing you to tweak the experience to your liking. I allow students to select their own themes (that I install for them) and set up their own widgets so that there blogging space really becomes their own.
  • Users can create and maintain their own groups. Once groups are created users can be invited to and join the groups, these groups are then allocated their own space and members of the group can post content to that space.

So, who do I recommend this setup for? Anyone who is familiar with WordPress can use this system without much difficulty. You will need to find a webhost, so if this is something that is not doable financially for your district I would research a free web-based alternative. I ended up paying for my own hosting. If you are feeling super brave, I can envision this system being set up for an entire district with students, teachers, parents and everyone involved.

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