This is not necessarily the place to go into the ins and outs of signing up for a WordPress account; it is really very straightforward and there is lots of advice and guidance online to assist with that.However, there are a few things to take into consideration if you intend to use blogs as pieces of formal assessed student coursework.
It is vitally important that you can identify which blog belongs to which student because, outside of the Virtual Learning Environment, there is nothing intrinsically to link the blog to the student as there would be with other forms of coursework. Also, if you intend to include ‘commenting on other people’s posts’ as part of the grading criteria for the blog then it is equally important that you can identify who is commenting.
When signing up for a WordPress.com account, users are asked to provide a username and an e-mail address and one way of ensuring that you can identify which of your students the blog belongs to is to ask them to use their university IT username that they would normally use to log into the VLE. This will be information which is unique to them but also something which usually forms part of their university e-mail address or which is listed in their student record so if there is any doubt as to who they are it can be checked and verified. Likewise, asking your students use their university e-mail address when signing up to WordPress ensures that their account stays linked to their student identity. The username that the student chooses will then form part of the URL for their WordPress blog and it is then very easy to identify, from the URL, which blog belongs to which student.
It may be that some of your students are already blogging and may already have a WordPress.com account under a different name or an account with another provider which they ask if they can use for the assignment. If this is the case, I would recommend that you still ask them to set up the new account with the university credentials as this keeps everything linked together and prevents any mistakes or misunderstandings about whose blog is whose or the correct address to access it. Also, keeping everyone using the same platform means that you only need to create and circulate one set of instructions on how to use the platform rather than different sets for different platforms and it is easier for people to follow each other’s blogs if they are on the same platform.
A further benefit of asking all your students to sign up to WordPress individually using an account which is linked to their university ID is that they can then have multiple blogs under that account, so if other modules or courses or departments in the university are also employing blogs as a form of assessment, the student can use their standard username and simply add the module code or similar to create a new blog for a new module.
So, for example, my student may be called John Smith and their university IT username might be ‘jsmit001’. They set up their WordPress account using this as their username and that ties the account to their university identity and gives them a blog URL of jsmit001.wordpress.com which they use for my module. Then, perhaps in the following term, they take a different module which also includes a blog as a form of assessment in which case they simply create a new blog in the same account and, for example, add the initials of the module title to the URL for the new blog, which might be something like jsmith001LB.wordpress.com.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t entirely matter exactly what ID you stipulate that your students use when setting up their accounts and different institutions use different formats as unique identifiers for students. What is vital, though, is that before you devise the assignment and ask students to set up their WordPress accounts, you give some thought to what you want them to use as a username so as to ensure that it is unique to the student so you can keep track of who is who throughout the process.
What I would also recommend is that once students have set up their blog you ask them to e-mail you the URL so you can check that it is correct and working ok. It is also important to stress to them that they will need to accurately provide the URL when submitting their work or else the marker (and second marker/moderator and the external examiner) won’t be able to access it to grade it.
So, now you have all your students set up with a blog account through which you can readily identify them; but what different types of assignments can you set them to do?