New Platform, New Beginning

I have decided to make the switch from Google’s Blogger, after nearly five years (2009-13), to its most significant rival, WordPress.   There are many reasons for the making the platform switch which I have outlined below.    For some time, I have regretted going with Blogger and keeping a ‘white-on-black’ text display.  Hyperlinks, for example, do not show up particularly well and I have always been envious of those with cleaner, less cluttered, ‘black-on-white’ text displays.  Although I could have fiddled with this on Blogger, past posts would have been affected badly. It would have been a formatting headache. Anyway, I have been looking for a decent excuse to make a clean break for a while now. New year, new platform, new beginning.  This also coincides with having purchased a new laptop, a Lenovo Z500 IdeaPad, and having to configure Windows 8 for the first time. 👿

At times I have wondered whether keeping a blog was worth it.  It can get lost amongst the online ‘noise’ out there. The ELT community hardly needs another blog crying for attention. Readership and engagement depends much upon the quality of what is written and its relevance to others, as well as the willingness to promote yourself at seemingly every opportunity. But a very recent series of posts – ‘how does blogging help you be a better teacher?’, on the British Council – Teach English site, reminded me that it is worth it.  One of the four bloggers featured, Lizzie Pinard, suggested that the question should be reworded as ‘How does blogging help you to BECOME a better teacher?’ It is not a static thing, after all.  She argues that sharing ideas and experiences, both positive and negative, can be hugely motivating. It can stop a teacher from getting stuck in a rut and losing enthusiasm, she says.   The need for reflection, also mentioned by the other contributors, is also shared by me, even if it is a fairly ubiquitous title or byline for a teacher blog.  I am also a highly reflective person.  Not in the sense that I can go out on a push bike at night and be seen by oncoming traffic, but in the sense that I will weigh up my experiences and aim to learn from them.   This has to take place in order to move forward, in order to become a better teacher.  Like anyone else really, I have had a few bad experiences as a teacher, but I like to think that I have learned something from them.  Looking back, I’ve also had some great experiences and I do not regret for one second going into this line of work.

In the future, I aim to post relevant thoughts, actions and reflections of my TEFL experiences on this very space.  But what can you expect to find here in the future?  As I state in the ‘About Me’ page it would be fundamentally these areas:

  • Classroom Practice
  • Discussion of ELT methodology
  • ICT use in ELT
  • #ELTchat summaries
  • Online Teaching Resources
  • Reviews of Face to Face (e.g. IATEFL) and Online (eg Virtual Round Table) Conferences and Webinars (e.g. those held by IATEFL Special Interest Groups, Cambridge English Teacher).

A Very Brief History of Blogging

Blogging for me started off as very personal. It was a way of sending a virtual postcard back to my family. Originally, I blogged about my trip to Tanzania – calling it ‘Phil’s Adventure’  – here is my very first post from Dar Es Salaam way back in October 2006. It was in Tanzania where I was first called ‘Teacher Phili’ by the kids at the Hisani orphanage near Mwanza.  It continued with my first teaching job in South Korea using a site hosted by STA Travel (2006-9) with whom I bought my insurance, and continued up until my first summer job for Bell Educational Trust.  Then I switched to Blogger, for TP’s TEFL Travels – note the plural now – as I headed off to China, once I realised I could get round the great firewall using a proxy. I continued to use Blogger, or ‘Blogspot’ as it is also known, during my time in Saudi Arabia. The blog became more ‘professional’ during my MA at the University of Warwick (2011-12).  In the sense that I started writing more for a general (ELT professionals) audience rather than a specific one (my family). I started using Twitter properly and even Facebook for posting more teaching related content than ever before.  I met with ‘the great and the good’ in the ELT world, most notably at the IATEFL conference in Glasgow, 2012.  I ran a parallel blog, Teacher Phili’s ICT in ELT during that year, which was a marked assignment for my MA. I also found out about #ELTchat and began writing summaries in 2012.  #ELTchat uses WordPress and the links have now been placed on a separate page on this new blog – see top of page.  I hope to continue to do some more of these in the future as they are a great way of connecting with my personal learning network (PLN) and useful for professional development.  My summaries feature amongst the highest read of all my previous posts because they appeal to a wider audience and get promoted in several ways.

A false dilemma?

A false dilemma?

10 Reasons for making the switch to WordPress  

It is just over ten years since WordPress first launched, in 2003, so I thought I would list ten reasons for making the switch from Google’s Blogger to the new format.

1. The primary reason for making the switch is that Google already ‘owns’ me to some degree.  I switched from Yahoo! to Gmail in 2012.  I tend to use Chrome more than Firefox to surf the internet these days, simply because of the cross-platform (laptop, iPad, Android mobile) ease to maintain bookmarks.  Furthermore, Google’s new Terms of service  is pretty questionable as it relates to claiming ownership to what you write.  It was annoying having two separate Google log-ins, using Google’s messy multiple-account management, meaning that with Chrome open, I needed to sign out of one and into the other – defeating the mantra of ‘one account – all of Google’.  I rarely use Google+ and am reluctant to have everything, including my blog and You Tube uploads all tied up in one place.

2. WordPress is a complete content management system (CMS) running on a web hosting service, currently on version 3.8 – ‘Parker’ – WP releases are all named after famous jazz musicians. If I was to ever go freelance, then it would serve as a more than adequate website to advertise my wares. The blog can be turned into a full-on static or hybrid website. It is frequently voted as the best system of its kind out there and apparently “powers 18.9% of the web” according to Automattic founder, Matt Mullenweg – in The Next Web. See his ‘state of the word’ address here, recorded 27 July 2013.

3. WordPress seems more sophisticated, with its numerous templates, plug-in architecture, numerous add-ins, layout and flexibility in the stand alone open-source release. There are more ways to customise the appearance and settings.  It also feels quite intuitive to learn these, without needing to constantly ask yourself, ‘where’s that button?’ Having previous experience of maintaining a blog, however, helps to know what to look for.  HTML embed code also appears to be a lot shorter in WordPress.  Admittedly, Blogger probably offers more for free, as many of WP’s attractive features have to be paid for.  Unlike WP, however, Blogger cannot be installed in a web server. One has to use DNS facilities to redirect a blogspot domain to a custom URL.

4. Stamping your own online identity is important.  This is even more so if you are the kind of educator that has published or presented widely and want to use the platform to share articles, presentation slides, links etc.  I am fortunate in a way to have a unique name – yes, there is no-one else in the world with my name – believe me, I’ve done the research – and no-one that has the ‘teacherphili’ moniker.   Choosing a theme is one thing, but customising it to make it individual to your needs and tastes is another. In terms of appearance, I have only ever come across one WordPress blog that looked like another one. This was an (unnamed) blog using the streamlined ‘Freshy’ theme which seemed to be very close to the look and feel of The A-Z of ELT (Scott Thornbury) .   I have, however, seen quite a number of similarly-looking Blogspot pages, with similar default backgrounds. Two WP blogs I follow – see reason 9 – have the same ‘Spectrum’ theme but otherwise they look and behave quite differently.  I confess now, that after originally choosing ‘Twenty Thirteen’, then ‘Suits’, I have gone with the ‘Misty Lake’ theme.  It is the same one that Lizzie chose, although I am not intending to mimic her or anyone else, really.  Short of paying for a more exclusive theme – something I am reluctant to do at this stage.

5. For the reader, ease-of-access and the ease with which to leave a comment is highly important for your blog to be interactive.  It is no use being one-directional.  A visitor stat count does little to show that readers have engaged with the content.  Most of the quality blogs I have seen over the years have a wide circulation and the most impressive are those which generate a lengthy discussion.  I have always been envious of that.  WordPress, by all accounts, beats Blogger in terms of ease of engagement.

6. WordPress needs to make money, of course.  There are many features which are for sale, such as premium themes and custom domains.  Conversely, Blogger is not a commercial service. It became part of Google in 2003 who have kept it going, but its appearance is somewhat outmoded now, with only the occasional redesign. The rather ancient Blogger features page (it explicitly mentions uploading to Google Video and easily accessing iGoogle, both dead projects) promises users access to all features. 

7. I will be able to access and edit my WordPress blog from mobile apps for my iPad and Sony Xperia Android phone.  I used to view my blog on my Blackberry and the mobile version was OK, but I never once edited it.  Since that particular mobile died, I’ve gone with Android, which is Google owned. There is a decent app  from Google Play, while there is an similar app for iOS 7.  I know some will argue that the same is true for Blogger, but I never felt like writing an entry from my mobile and I never tried the Blogger app.  I had some display issues anyway when trying to write an entry using the iPad.  I’ve set up the WP app on both devices and I will see how that goes.

8. When you write a post in Blogger there is only a back arrow for undoing the latest action, as with any Word processor software, which takes you back to the previously saved draft.  In WordPress, a whole bank of revisions (sessions) can be accessed, compared and reverted to if necessary.  I have found the ‘kitchen sink’ range of editing tools quite quickly, although I note that a text (font) tool seems to be absent.

9. There are many ELT professionals who already use WordPress.  That does not mean that all those using Blogger are in any way less professional. Far from it. Continuing on from reason 4, however, I just find that Blogger can look unattractive, even ugly at times.  I prefer the more refined appearance of nearly all the WordPress blogs I have seen so far compared with their Blogger equivalents.  A quick check on the 74 blogs I’ve currently got bookmarked reveals roughly an equal number using each, plus a small handful using alternative platforms, such as Edublogs, and a few who self-host. Amongst those in my PLN, aside from those I’ve already mentioned, who already use WordPress or a WP-based platform are the following:

#ELTchat (Shaun Wilden, Marisa Constantinedes, TheTeacherJames), #EAPchat (Tyson Seburn, Sharon Turner, Adam Simpson), Sandy Millin, Ken WilsonNathan Hall, Hugh Dellar, Rachael RobertsMichael Griffin, Vicky LorasIan James, David Petrie, Willy Cardoso, Chia Suan Chong,  Teaching Village (Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto, Sue Lyon Jones et al), Russell Stannard, Adrian UnderhillMike J Harrison, Alex Walsh and Paul Walsh. 😀

It is by no means an exhaustive list.  There are more listed in my rapidly expanding ‘blogroll’ (above right ↑→).  If you are in the ELT business and have not got a mention yet, especially if you have a great WordPress site, then please comment below I’ll take a look.

10.  Change can be good for the soul.

I expect that the theme and general appearance will change a lot over the next few months as I adjust to the new home for my more professional thoughts.  My less professional thoughts will remain on Facebook, of course.  I will continue to use Twitter to highlight new posts on here and posts from my ever-expanding personal learning network.  I hope to meet up with several of them again at the IATEFL conference in April.

You can follow me on Twitter here: @teacherphili, or by clicking the link in the Twitter news feed (also above right ↑→).  I will let you know when I’ve got something interesting to say. 💡

correct as of 21 January 2014

correct as of 21 January 2014

*** Do you use WordPress?  I would be interested to hear comments about your own experiences of using the platform and any tips that you might have as a ‘WordPressers’ – is that the correct term?  If you think I have done Blogger a disservice and want to argue in favour of it, I would also be interested to hear.  ↓ PLEASE SCROLL DOWN to leave a REPLY/COMMENT. ↓ You might need to click on ‘leave a comment’.

If you want to make the switch yourself to WordPress yourself or to start your own blog but don’t want to learn by trial and error and need a guiding hand to getting going then you could do worse than check out Russell Stannard’s step-by-step guide: Teacher Training Video for WordPress. My own screencast, incidentally on using the COCA corpus is now hosted on the TTV site – here.

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My previous blogs:

Phil’s Adventure (2006-9)

TP’s TEFL Travels (2009-13)

Teacher Phili’s ICT in ELT (2011-13)

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Additional Information:

Brookes, T., 2013. ‘Blogger vs WordPress.com: A Complete Comparison’. 25 April. Available at: http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/blogger-vs-wordpress-comparision/. Accessed 14 January 2014.

Russell, J., 2013. ‘The 15 best blogging and publishing platforms on the Internet today: Which one is for you?’ http://thenextweb.com/apps/2013/08/16/best-blogging-services/#!sLFS4. Accessed 14 January 2014.

Header photo – taken by me – shows the bay at El Nido, Palawan, in The Philippines, February 2010.

Desktop (12)

El Nido, The Philippines.