Update: This has now been peer reviewed (see comments section) .

As I mentioned before, I’m taking my PGCert in Higher Education. For those not in the know, this is a qualification that essentially exists to ensure that university lecturers have had some form of training to teach people. The basic idea is that being a university researcher doesn’t automatically make you a good teacher and perhaps people might need some guidance.

One part of that course has the very snappy title “Technology Enhanced Learning”. Which is code for “a lecture but with that thar computery magic box”. As part of that course I need to prepare a VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) which shows off all the exciting things in the course (e.g. Did you know you can embed flash videos now!!).

For my course I was given a list of things that my VLE needs to demonstrate in order to pass. I’ve included the list verbatim below so you can understand why the next ~1000 words of blog post are… errr… presented in the way that they are.

  • Must serve as an alternative to classroom based teaching
  • It must include 3 of the following
    • A video of audio recording
    • A file attachement
    • A discussion board, blog or wiki
    • An e-book
  • Assessment must also be provided using one of the following
    • A survey or quiz
    • A Blackboard assignment
    • A Turnitin assignment
  • Intended learning outcomes must be clear (more on that later)
  • Should provide challenges for those with higher ability
  • Provision of rapid personalised feedback
  • Integral staff student interaction and student student interaction

So with that umm… comprehensive list in mind, here is my VLE for this part of my PGCERT, which is by the way being assessed by both my peers on the course and the course overlord/controller/deity. Hopefully they’ll compare it closely to the list above and see through the sarcasm with which I approached this assignment.


(added after suggestion from peer review)

  1. Introduction
  2. Intended Learning Outcomes
  3. Pre-Reading
  4. Discussion
  5. Getting started  with WordPress
  6. Setting up a module page
  7. Other plugins
  8. Conclusions and ebook
  9. Feedback on the course


Hi all and welcome to this course on “How to ditch Blackboard and use WordPress instead”. This is a completely online course that is only available on this VLE page. I have previously given this course verbally while ranting about how much I hate using Blackboard. However, moving this discussion online is important as I can now share this teaching with a wider audience who may not get to experience my rant in person. Also, this has a video – which is nice, I guess.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILO)

By the end of this blog post / VLE you should have learned:

  • How to set up your own wordpress.com site
  • How to use various tools to make a VLE using wordpress.com
  • That Matthew hates Blackboard so much he wrote an entire guide to doing the same thing using Wordpress.


A guide to the difference between wordpress.com and wordpress.org.  TL;DR – wordpress.com is free but has less customisation; wordpress.org is much more customisable but requires paying for hosting and a little more management.

The entire WordPress.com support page. Okay, you don’t need to read it to be honest, just be aware it exists – and that it has a search function for when you get stuck.


Now apparently a key part of a VLE is giving students a place to talk with each other about their course. On Blackboard this is done by having a separate forum for each page and then a slew of discussion threads. Personally, I think that is over-complicating things a little, so to aid all of you enjoying this VLE, I’ve create a single chat window where you can all discuss the course. This is done via the very simple plugin ‘Chat’ and you can join in by logging in, if the mood takes you or just simply reading though the other conversations.

[chat id=”13″ font=”” moderator_roles=”administrator,editor,author,contributor,subscriber,super_admin” ]
NOTE: DOH this is broken now, there was a charming love story in this chat but it’s now lost forever i broken code. Trust me, it was a real tear jerker of lost love in a chat room.

Now if for some reason you don’t feel comfortable discussing your issues with the course publicly and in front of all your peers, you can of course just e-mail me via the contact page.

Finally, in an effort to promote more student-student interaction can I suggest trying OkCupid. It’s not really part of the course but I couldn’t think of any other way of encouraging interaction and OkCupid seems pretty well set up for that.

Getting started with WordPress

The first step of getting started is to set up an account. In the interests of using “diverse media” to convey my course content, I’ve demonstrated this via an embedded video. This will show you how to set up your own WordPress site, with accompanying needlessly epic music!

Setting up a module page

WPAdminA WordPress site is constructed with two key parts – pages and posts. Posts (like this one) are designed for news-like content. Pages are more static and have links on the front page of your site. For the purposes of a VLE, posts are ideal for news and updates for people following your course but Pages are the best place for your static go-to content that everyone needs to find.

Managing pages in WordPress is simple. Behind your site there is an admin interface called the WP Admin. Only you can see this and it gives you full control over your site and its content. Adding a page is done on the ‘Pages’ section where you can manage all of your existing pages.

When you’ve added a page you’ll be shown a new window that allows you to fill it with your course content. The Editor is similar to Word and has several options for playing with formatting, links and media.

Adding interaction

WordPress allows for the use of quite a few external services within its pages. One of the most useful ones for developing a course is PollDaddy which lets you build quizzes and create surveys. These are great, not only so that students can judge how they are doing so far, but also how engaged they are as a whole.

You can set up a quiz or poll on the PollDaddy website and then paste it directly into your page where ever you need it. PollDaddy provides instructions on how to do this depending on how you want it presented.

In fact, have a quick 4 question quiz to see how much you’ve learned so far. The first question is only required if you would like to be contacted with rapid personalised feedback on how you did in the quiz.

[polldaddy type=”iframe” survey=”469B790F7C5CEC07″ height=”auto” domain=”mceep” id=”vle-progress-quiz”]

Other plugins

PollDaddy isn’t the only snazzy plugin you can add to WordPress pages. There are a whole host of others which I’ve summarised below in a nifty embedded SlideShare. If you want to go further with your VLE page you can try adding some of the these extra embedded components.

[slideshare id=43480534&doc=aguidetowordpressplugins-150113143359-conversion-gate01]

Most plugins are pretty simple to use and are all based on the simple copy and pasting of short code into your blog posts or pages. In most cases this is explained on the sites where you have posted/made your content.

Conclusions and ebook

I hope you can now see how easy it is to do some simple site building with Wordpress. Also, I hope you’ve got a sense of the great power of VLEs for clearly presenting information without crowbarring in too many web 2.0 features needlessly in the name of ‘technology’. *poker face*

If you’ve enjoyed this course, then you might also like to download this free children’s ebook I made which summarises the history of WordPress for anyone 3+.

Download “The Story of WordPress.pdf”

Feedback on the course

Finally, if you’ve enjoyed this course, I would greatly appreciate feedback on what you thought of its design and structure. Any feedback given will be carefully considered and filed in a place so secure that no one will ever access it.

[polldaddy poll=8579715]

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1 Comment

Peer Reviewer · 4 February 2015 at 19:23

I liked the site and enjoyed the alternative to BB! The humour and honesty were all good, and your delicate (!) use of cynicism was particularly useful, given your presumed aim of attitudinal change, which is often more difficult to achieve than simple ILOs. The feedback was very personalised (and I assume personally generated, rather than automatic) which is great.
The site is engaging and amusing; learning is bound to be achieved better in an enjoyable environment, so that was all good.
The site was convincing and you inspired me to consider WordPress! Maybe not for a VLE, but for something!

The fact that the site appears as just one long page makes navigation a bit difficult – for those moments when you want to go back to the bit you’ve forgotten; with WP you have to skim the whole page, rather than click on a link. Also, the links you had opened on the same page, rather than on a new tab (unless you did the right click thing) – better to do new page I find, but just personal preference maybe.
Whilst the feedback to the quiz was fantastic, how would that work if you had 150 students?! Is there a better way on WP?
Finally, I didn’t take the opportunity to “interact with other students” through the medium you provided…… I have a wife who has access to my emails….. but you ticked that box, albeit not quite within the spirit intended!

Any other comments
Your site reads, not surprisingly, like a blog that I think was trying to achieve attitudinal change (as much as achieve a transfer of knowledge) by convincing people to use WordPress rather than BB. It achieves the aims in the ILOs, in an easy to access and well-communicated way. All good!

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