Interview with Jennifer Daly

Jennifer Daly
Jennifer Daly

Jennifer Daly is an art instructor at Shasta College in Redding, CA. She uses WordPress as a content management system for her classes, a way to communicate with her students, and a means to support the art department and school events.

My students love using WordPress. I had a faculty review last semester and the department chair met with my students. They told him about the site and that they all appreciated being able to access the information outside of class.

– Jennifer Daly

When did you decide to start using WordPress and why?

I started using WordPress in 2007. I had been using Blackboard and WebCT to provide students information online for a couple of years. Neither one was really designed for art students. They are very rigid in the layout and format and not very visually appealing. While in grad school, one of my professors, Byron Wolfe, was using Typepad and a blog format for communicating with his students. I really liked the simplicity and elegance of the system, but being in grad school, I couldn’t afford to pay for a Typepad blog, and found WordPress. I have used it every semester since then. I started out with a WordPress.com site and then migrated to a self-hosted site about 4 years ago.

What made you choose WordPress over other options like Blogger or Tumblr, which are also often used by artists to showcase their bodies of work?

In the beginning, it was because it was free. I began using it as a self-hosted site when I switched hosts for my personal website and it was integrated into the hosting platform as well.

What do you like about WordPress as a publishing platform?

It’s very versatile. There are numerous free templates and Plugins that accomplish just about everything I need from the site. I have had students contribute to the sites in the past and they have all been able to use it without much hassle. It’s pretty straightforward to figure out.

I’ve also helped some small business and non-profits in the area set up WordPress sites. I’ve found that just about anyone with a basic knowledge of computers and the internet can learn how to manage a WordPress site.

How has WordPress aided you in your teaching? What are the most/least helpful aspects of this platform to your purposes?

Learning Management Systems like BlackBoard or Moodle are great for integrating student grades and quizzes, but are very structured in the kind of content you can provide and the layout. Also, they are not the most mobile-friendly sites and I know my students often access course information from their phones.

I have my students subscribe to posts at the beginning of the semester. I use posts as my way to communicate with them outside of class. I will post schedule changes, photo news, and other events I want them to know about as soon as possible. Most of my students stay subscribed even after they have completed the class and I’ve taken advantage of having a following to support other classes in our department or school events.

Do you use WordPress for professional endeavors outside of teaching, and if so, in what ways is that a different experience?

Both my personal site and my husband’s business site are WordPress sites. Both of these sites are a little more static. Neither one of these sites are “blogs.”

Do you use Plugins with WordPress, and if so, are there particular ones you like that are helpful to a WordPress site focused on art/photography?

I use a number of Plugins with WordPress – Jetpack’s Subscription feature, Event Organiser, Link Library, Slideshow and User Role Editor. Most of these are beneficial for teaching, I’m not sure that they are focused on art in particular.

Many artistic people like to have control over the way their websites look. Are you very particular about Themes? Are you satisfied with the assortment of Theme options provided based on their looks, organization, and ease of use? Do you have any coding experience and prefer to change things by hand? Or, do you use WordPress mostly for its utility and not so much for the outer appearance?

I am particular about the look of the site and they usually get an update over the summer. (Check back in late August to see what I’ve done.) I do like the availability of themes for WordPress but I often make minor changes to the CSS.

How do your students feel about the use of WordPress in the classroom?

My students love using WordPress. I had a faculty review last semester and the department chair met with my students. They told him about the site and that they all appreciated being able to access the information outside of class. I know some of my students continue to refer to the handouts and one former student who is teaching in grad school asked if she could copy my format.

WordPress is an ever growing and changing publishing platform. Often the changes are good but sometimes there comes an update that gets reviled and panned by the user base because it’s unintuitive, poorly designed, or otherwise makes the user experience more troublesome and complicated than it has to be. In your opinion, what have been the best features added? Which ones did you hate the most?

There have been a few times that WordPress has gotten clunky because of an update, but it’s usually remedied pretty quickly. My biggest complaint would be that “comments on” is the default and for whatever reason, I can never remember where to turn it off.

I happen to have a degree in fine art myself, and I’m interested in using WordPress as a platform to promote my own work and engage in conversation with like-minded individuals. Do you find that there is a vibrant community of artists who use WordPress and would you recommend WordPress to those such as myself?

I would recommend WordPress for its ease of use and cost-effectiveness. As far as a community goes, I’m not sure about that. I don’t do much in the way of promoting my work using social media, though I know many of the templates have great social media settings available. I think you could totally use it for self-promotion.

If you could call the shots and improve anything about WordPress, whether it’s to help you in your career or hobbies, or simply to make it easier and more fun to use or aesthetically pleasing, what would it be?

I think the admin side could be a little more streamlined and some of the menu items renamed and I’d like the option of rearranging the menu so the items I use are more easily accessible.

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