Why WordPress has great potential for delivering Open Content

Why do we like WordPress for open content? Because it just works. A core part of our Triton work is looking at how we can increase the visibility of Open Educational Resources (OER) related to the politics subject area. We decided on using WordPress from the start because we felt it was the easiest most reliable publishing platform that we’ve come across. A few months in and http://politicsinspires.org is operational and contributors from both Oxford and Cambridge are submitting posts relating to politics. Content is particularly focused on current political issues, e.g. the Tunisian uprising and the demonstrations in Egypt, and this focus on timeliness, as well as people, networks, and open-access learning objects will be what makes the blog unique for the target audience.

Early work has involved finding a suitable display layout for WordPress. It was important to choose a WordPress Theme framework for the project that maximises the space available for display of OER dynamic information but still allowed a reasonable space for the blog entries. After various tests it was decided to choose the popular Thesis theme because of the three column design; we used two columns for the right-hand side dynamic sidebar area and one wider column for the blog posts. The two-column sidebar allowed potentially eight different OER display spaces or ‘OER adverts‘ that could be triggered through dragging and dropping widgets in the WordPress admin dashboard without using any HTML skills. The key here is moving away from having to use HTML to code a site’s design and layout. WordPress has a pretty good built in choice of themes and it is almost one click to use an attractive third-party layout theme. So, Themes really helps take the pain out of the design and HTML coding.

How can we use the built-in publishing elements to help with the metadata and cataloguing elements of the open content publishing? Well, we decided to build upon two of WordPress’s underused attributes – Categories for defining what subject area a post belongs to and Tags for free form tagging of a post. The project’s future  dynamic OER collections and learning paths will rely heavily categories and tags to trigger automatically selections.  Politics In Spires uses a fixed set of subject categories chosen by the department and subject librarian to duplicate the module structures in the 3-year degree course. A typical category is “Diplomacy” or “Political Theory”. Every post lives within one category. Although categories are a fixed set and cannot be modified by a non-admin user, the blogger has a free choice to add labels such as names and places to their post by adding one or more “Tags”. Again all of this comes free out of the box with WordPress.

Themes, categories and tagging come free with WordPress.  Two other key areas we’ll blog about later also are built-in – RSS and Widgets – but for now I’ll just add a category of ‘Triton’ to this post, tag it “WordPress” and submit it to the system.

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