When I first started the class, with only 4 computers, we could only run some standard software, and it soon became clear that this would not be enough. Over a couple of years, more computers were added, and networked together, to enable sharing between them, but it was still not enough. There was no Internet connection available, but I wanted to give the students more than just a ‘feel’ of what the Internet was like. There was no other option but to simulate it.
So, with one computer running Apache, I set to it. I made regular forays to the local Internet cafe to get news items to bring back for the system. It was soon running fairly well, and the students had progressed far enough to get their own experience directly at the Internet cafe. Unfortunately, they too brought items back with them – including viruses – which for a short time wreaked havoc in the system.
Once I had that sorted out, and had laid down a few rules for the control of virus, we were stable again.
I had great fun! I added a search facility, simulated different websites – one complete with ‘Ticker’, added email, and that was nearly a mistake. One or two students had a penchant for attaching pictures to their mails, and the limit of storage capacity of various computers was swiftly being reached as a result. A swift clean-up, and a couple of new rules, and we were back to normal again.
But there was still something missing.
I wanted to take them a stage further on our in-house system, which had by now grown to a network of some 18 computers with a central server.
I wanted a weblog.
I looked around, and at the time there were not so many options available; but WordPress seemed to be very popular, and had the great advantage that it could be downloaded and run on our own system. That was for me!
After a couple of days, and a little trial and plenty of error, it was up and running. I did have a problem with the Theme I had chosen, but solved that – see Themes – The Hard Way! – and started to blog in earnest. It was easy enough to set it up with an account for each student too, so they all got hands-on experience – which I consider to be essential.
WordPress is a dream on your own system – you are in complete control! Tweak the style sheets a little, add HTML into your text without it getting removed by the system – its all possible. On the actual Internet, if you don’t pay for extra access, there are many restrictions in operation. On this blog, for example. I would really like to increase the font size a little to make it easier for people to read, but am unable to do so. On the teaching setup, however, there are no holds barred, and I can make the font whatever size I like. In fact, if you are really into programming, you could redesign your WordPress installation completely.
Now, of course, there are many more weblog programs to choose from on the Internet, but curiously enough, few of them are available for download. And I have seen nothing that would persuade me to part with my old friend.
I don’t remember a student ever being late for computer class!