If you’ve been looking for a simple, affordable, and organized way to provide your students with their very own WordPress blog, look no further. While there’s certainly no shortage of free website platforms out there today, none of them tout as many features as the ever popular WordPress. If you’ve looked into using WordPress in the past, you’ve probably run up against the prohibitive costs and technical hurdles associated with finding a suitable web host.
In less than an hour and for right around $30, you can host your students’ WordPress on your very own VPS (Virtual Private Server.) This guide will walk you through the steps associated with:
- Purchasing a domain name.
- Purchasing and configuring a VPS.
- Configuring DNS on your domain. (don’t worry, it’s not as scary as it sounds.)
- Creating a new WordPress site for each of your students using ServerPilot.
Some Assembly Required
Purchase a Domain
Assuming you don’t already have one, you’ll need to purchase a domain name at which your students’ blogs will be accessible. For the purposes of this tutorial, we’ll create a subdomain for each student. So, if you purchase artclassblog.com (which is available as of 4/10/2017) then John Smith’s blog would be accessible at something like http://johns.artclassblog.com, Jane Doe’s would be at http://janed.artclassblog.com, etc. If you are feeling generous, you could purchase a domain for each student. Maybe John prefers johnathansuperawesomeartclassblog.com. You can make this happen, but it will cost exponentially more and management would quickly become a headache. In keeping with the title of this post, we’ll give them subdomains for now.
While you can purchase your domain from any ICANN-Acreddited Registrar of your choosing, I highly recommend using namecheap. While I feel their name says it all, I’ll share a few reasons why I recommend them:
- Cheap domains (as low as $0.88 /year.)
- Free, easy to use basic DNS services (configure subdomains on one screen.)
- The directions down below show you exaclty where to click (but only if you register your domain with namecheap.)
To get the ball rolling, why not surf over to namecheap.com and begin your search for the perfect domain name for you and your students. After you’ve made the purchase, head back to this guide. We’ll configure your domain a bit later. The next step is for you to buy a server.
Purchase a VPS
TL;DR: You need to purchase server space for your students’ sites. VirMach has a couple of great deals on packages that will work for our purposes. I’d recommend this one if you’ll be creating blogs for 20 students or fewer. For just a few dollars more per year, go with this one if you want to host sites for 30 or more students.
I’ve got time to read a bit more: Feel free to shop around for a server, but bear in mind it must meet these requirements in order to work with ServerPilot, the easy to use control panel we’ll be using for the students’ sites. It’s worth mentioning that ServerPilot will not run on temptingly more affordable OpenVZ servers as that virtualization environment does now allow you to run a new enough version of the Linux kernel.
I’ve already purchased this exact VPS package (SPEC-1. below.) and can tell you it works great with ServerPilot. So great, in fact, that it inspired me to write this blog post. If you want to shop around for another server, I’d recommend looking on lowendbox.com. There you’ll find a strong community and pages full of resellers’ best deals.
When purchasing your VPS, you should be prompted for which operating system to install. ServerPilot requires an LTS version of Ubuntu. You should be fine with either version 14.04 or 16.04. For our purposes, the only other items you’ll need are your server’s IP address and the root password. These should be fairly easy to find inside the sever’s dashboard once you’ve made the purchase. If you’re having trouble finding this info. please leave a comment below and/or seek out assistance from the company you purchased your VPS from.
You’re almost there! This next step assumes that you’ve registered your domain with namecheap.com. Other registrars likely offer their own free DNS management tools, so you should be able to follow along even if the screens look a bit different.
The first thing you’ll need to do is establish a naming convention for your students’ blogs. Let’s assume you’ve purchased artclassblog.com. You can create any number of subdomains and those subdomains can be whatever you want them to be. If you wanted to allow your students the freedom to choose what they would like their subdomain to be, you could explain the concept of subdomains to them and then ask them to fill in a Google Sheet with their own ideas. For this example, let’s assume you want each student’s blog to be their first name followed by the first letter of their last name followed by .artclassblog.com. So, John Smith’s blog would be accessible at http://johns.artclassblog.com. Let’s begin:
- Login to namecheap.com.
- Click Manage next to the proper domain.
- Click the Advanced DNS tab.
- Click the ADD NEW RECORD button, select A Record, enter the desired subdomain, and the IP address of your VPS, then click the green check mark to save the record.
- Click the ADD NEW RECORD button, select A Record, enter www. followed by the subdomain you entered in step four, and the IP address of your VPS, then click the green check mark to save the record.
- Repeat steps 4 & 5 for each of your students’ subdomains.
If you’ve made it this far, don’t worry. The end is in sight. The last thing you’ll need to is create an account with ServerPilot. From there, simply follow the steps below to connect your server and create sites for your students.
Connect Your Server
- After you’ve created an account, login and click Connect a Server.
- Enter your server’s information and click Connect to ServerPilot.
- ServerPilot will run it’s installation script on your VPS and should allow you to create “apps” in just a few short minutes.
ServerPilot uses the term “app” to describe the combination of files and databases that your students’ blogs will be composed of. Anytime you see the word “app,” just think “website.” One thing you’ll need to decide ahead of time is whether you want to have admin rights to your students’ blogs or if you trust them enough to have their very own space on the internet. If you opt for the latter and things go south, you can always delete the site with just a few clicks.
To create an app for each of your students:
- Login to ServerPilot
- Select your server. (It should be the only option listed.)
- Click + Create App.
- Fill in the relevant information. Be sure to click the WordPress checkbox. You’ll need to decide whether you want to be the admin for your students’ sites or if you are ok with giving them free reign. The user you are creating in this step will be the administrator of the site you’re creating. So, if you’d like that person to be you, you may want to provide the same username and password for each app you create. This way, after creating each blog, you can login and create a second user account for said blog which the student could use. If you’d like your students to administer their own blogs, you will probably want to supply unique credentials for each app in this step. You’ll also want to write these down somewhere else so your students can login. You can read more about WordPress user roles here.When everything looks copacetic, hit the Create App button.
- Repeat steps 3 & 4 for each student.
Congratulations! Each of your students now has a WordPress blog to call their own. To login, you/they will need to supply the credentials you created in step 4. The login page can be found at /wp-admin. So, John Smith would login at http://johns.artclassblog.com/wp-admin.
Remind your students that with great power comes great responsibility. If they should abuse the privilege you’ve given them to post content online, you can always delete their blog by clicking on the name of their app, then Delete.
Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions. Happy blogging!