How to Have a Professional Blog on the Cheap and Easy

I’m paying for the privilege of keeping up this blog along with others. I don’t even want to talk about what I’m paying. I started out on Blogger in the ancient days of 2005. I flitted around from there mainly because I wanted to make my blogs look and feel like professional sites. I envied people who had unique designs and custom domains. Blogger was somewhat primitive then, just an entry-level approach.

My desire to move beyond entry-level brought me here, to a self-hosted WordPress site, and I love it. If you want to put a little extra time into your blog setup without having to be too terribly tech-proficient, WordPress might also be for you.

If you want something easier, cheaper, and still customizable, take another look at Blogger. It’s come a long way. To set up your own custom site on Blogger, just follow these steps:

(1) Go to and set up an account.
(2) Follow Blogger’s prompts to create your blog.
(3) Go to a site like Blogger Templates to search for and download a template that appeals to you. This will provide far more template choices than the automatic Blogger setup, and your blog will look more unique than 90% of the Blogger blogs because most people just use the built in options.
(4) You’ve probably just downloaded something that comes in zip form. You’ll want to unzip it and find the xml file inside.
(5) Go to Layout and Edit HTML in your blog’s settings. At the upload template prompt, upload the xml file for the template you’ve selected.
(6) Go to Publishing under your blog’s settings. Click on Custom Domain. For $10 a year, you can purchase a unique domain name from Google.
(7) Go to Layout and Page Elements. If you click on Add a Gadget, you’ll see lots of options for sidebar widgets that can be added to your site. You might want to look at some other blogs to decide which ones you want.
(8) Start adding posts. You’re done.

This is very easy and very customizable. You can appear to have installed your own custom site without spending much money at all. If only I’d known before…

Remember, though, it’s about the content in the end. People will come to your blog no matter how it looks if they like what you have to say. Appearances help, but they don’t make up for nothing worth reading.

Twitter as Assignment

David Carr’s New York Times article, “Why Twitter Will Endure,” reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write about classroom uses for Twitter. I found the article by way of Twitter, though by the time I read it and decided to write about it, I could no longer remember who linked to it. This memory lapse in itself brings up issues of how Twitter works, how attribution and documentation work in the digital world–all worthy of discussion in the classroom.

Because I wouldn’t accept “I don’t remember” from a student if attribution were required or even appropriate, I made myself scroll back through several pages of tweets until I found this:

For anyone interested in why Brian Williams is an idiot, here is the link to the Time article in question.

Williams’ dismissal of Twitter aside, Carr makes some great points. I don’t know if I agree that Twitter is really “plumbing” as he asserts. Something new always comes along, after all. I do think it is here for a long stretch, though, and I think Twitter represents a communications style and way of thinking about information flow that will endure for quite some time. That’s why it’s worth bringing to the classroom experience.

Daisy Pignetti, among others, has done quite a bit of research and experimenting with Twitter as a classroom tool. I’ve followed her work along with listserv discussions on the topic for as much as a couple of years. I’ve also seen some really interesting professional uses of Twitter through conference backchatter, article sharing, and real, helpful discussions of academic issues.

Still, I’ve struggled with how to make Twitter work for students. If it is nothing more than a way for me to communicate to them, I can use any of a number of other tools–Blackboard announcements, Facebook, blogs, and so forth. If it is a way for them to communicate with each other, it gets messy, difficult for me to even understand how to track and assess. As a research tool, Twitter is perhaps a little too random. It will lead you to information but not through the most direct path.

That has me thinking about why I use Twitter and why I think it is important. David Carr’s article does resonate with my own experience. Twitter is about who you follow, not about who follows you or even who responds to you. Twitter is a way to receive varied information in one place, to get a sense not only of what’s happening, but of how people are responding to it.

This morning, in addition to David Carr’s article, I read an article about dolphin intelligence (via @courosa), saw some animations of mathematical equations (via @web20classroom), and browsed through lists of iPhone apps (via @mashable) all while doing other things and only casually paying attention to Twitter. This is my equivalent of what my father has done for years in reading the morning paper over a cup of coffee. I don’t know what I’m looking for. I’m just browsing through whatever information is there.

I do know who I am following, though, in the same way my father knew why he subscribed to certain newspapers and news magazines. He prioritized based on the kind of information he most wanted to know–local, conservative, etc.

I find people to follow who are likely to tweet things I feel I need to know. Sometimes I follow people because I think they are clever, but mostly I follow for information.

This is the kind of Twitter use the classroom needs. Thus, I think the best use I could get out of Twitter in my particular classroom situation would be to assign Twitter journals. Students would find people to follow on topics of interest to them and keep a journal of the most interesting bits of news and ideas found.

The best way I think would be to do this through blogs. Then it becomes a circulatory process just as it is for many professional writers. Find information within the stream. Write about that information. Feed what you’ve written back into the stream. Watch for reactions. And so forth.

I can see teaching an entire composition class as a Twitter to blog to Twitter to blog to Twitter process. I think that would make for a truly vibrant learning experience for all. Even as just one aspect of the class or one project, though, it would be well worth doing.

Cool Tech Tool: Tumblr

Tumblr is possibly the coolest of cool.  It’s for blogging, micro-blogging, audio-blogging, video and photo sharing, pushing content to social networking sites, and possibly things I haven’t figured out yet given I’ve only just now joined.  It seems to be a wonderful option for keeping an audio journal.  It allows you to upload one mp3 of up to 10 mb per day.  Given that this is a free site and that’s the only restriction, this is a fantastic answer to audio blogging.  Most free blogs don’t allow enough file storage space to keep going all that terribly long at the rate of 10 mb per day.  And if you need life to be even simpler than an upload, you can phone in your voice recording.  Nice.

Tumblr doesn’t host videos, but it does provide an easy way to link to them in YouTube.  It does allow for uploading photos into posts.  With themes that show one post at a time with clickable arrows to scroll through to subsequent posts, it looks like a very promising place for gallery style photo-blogs.

The built-in Facebook and Twitter connections mean Tumblr could be used simply as a way to manage content being pushed out to other systems, but it might also serve as a space for a full blog.  Like I said…nice.

See me on Tumblr.

Featured Blog(s): Parts-n-Pieces + Composing with Images



Composing with Images


Billie Hara writes about teaching, academic and social issues, and photography (among other things) at Parts-n-Pieces.  She’s also kept a photo blog called Project 365 for several years.  She’s done stunning work with both her writing and her photography.  Visit her blog when you have plenty of time to browse.

Now Billie has started a new photo project along with Bill Wolff who has his own great blog at Composing Spaces. Each week at Composing with Images Billie and Bill post side-by-side images related to a central theme.  The photography is fantastic, and the concept is a truly innovative approach to photo-blogging.

Featured Blog: 2 Board Alley

Another blog of interest to two-year college teachers, Joanna Howard writes about teaching, community college issues, yoga, family, cats, academic life, technology and creativity at 2 Board Alley.   You’ll find teaching materials and tips on this blog, but it’s also a great example of a successful blending of the personal and the professional in a public journal.

Featured Blog(s): The Blogs of T.R. Hummer



Mad Aggregator


Conscience Continuum


T.R. Hummer is a poet from Mississippi, now teaching at Arizona State University.  He keeps these three blogs, each devoted to a different purpose.  On one he writes artful writing, on another he writes about artful writing, artfulness in general, and cultural issues, and on the third he links to and responds to articles on politics, culture, science, human rights, and other consciousness raising issues.  All are fascinating and well worth repeat visits.  Having felt his poetic wake in my years at the University of Southern Mississippi and then again at Oklahoma State University, my favorite of the three is The Mad Aggregator.   Go read it to see why.

Featured Blog: Daisy Pignetti

Daisy Pignetti writes a blog I feel a special connection to because she and I blogged our way through Katrina together from different places and different perspectives.  A New Orleans native, she continues to write about Katrina and recovery issues.  She’s also very interested in social media and provides some great ideas for using Twitter and other social sites in the classroom.  She uses WordPress and has a gorgeous and aptly chosen WordPress theme.

Featured Blog: Confessions of a Community College Dean


I don’t know his real name or the name of his school, but Dean Dad of Confessions of a Community College Dean is one of the most popular academic bloggers in this country and one I’ve followed since my own earliest days of blogging.  Community College issues are close to my heart, and this blog discusses campus politics with style.  It’s worth reading for any academic, but it’s a must read for two-year college people.

Featured Blog: ProfHacker

ProfHacker is a new blog and one with a whole lot of energy.  A group academic blog that features articles on everything from pedagogy to tech tools to academic life, this is one of the most seamless and beautiful configurations of a group WordPress site I’ve ever seen.  It’s updated daily, and at a time when I so often catch people on Twitter or Facebook instead of visiting their blogs as much as I might like, I’ve found myself checking ProfHacker daily.  The articles seem to be uniformly upbeat and motivating.  It’s just the blog I’ve been looking for all these years.

My Life in Blogs: Part I, This Blog

I love blogs, and I can’t think of an easier way to explain to others what they might get out of blogging than to talk about my own experiences. I’ll start with where we are: Teacherly Tech. I set up this blog last spring while I was in the middle of an arts integration project on my campus. I took a few months off for summer vacation and other indulgences. Now I’m back and just really getting warmed up.

I started this blog on a whim, which is the way all of my blogs have been born, but I think I’m going to really like it because it gives me a dedicated place to think about, write about, explore, and share with others one of my favorite topics. Teaching with technology is something of a necessary interest considering all of my classes are online at the moment. It’s more than that, though. I love tinkering with new technologies. This is a perfect place to do that and explain the technologies to myself and others along the way.

The blog is run by WordPress and hosted at Siteground, where I have a paid account. It isn’t a beginner blog, but it isn’t really an expert blog either. I’m using the blog to learn more about blogging, even though I have been blogging for several years, and I’ve used multiple platforms. There’s still much to learn.

That’s one of the beautiful things about blogging. You can start out knowing nothing at all and still produce a great looking blog with great content. You can also work at blogging for years and still find plenty of challenges in it. Like the varying levels of yoga, from beginner to advanced, you can operate a blog at many levels.

It’s taken me some time to get to this one, and I want to talk about what I’ve done that I had to teach myself as I went along.

(1) This is an installed blog on a hosted site, not one generated by a free online service. Admittedly, I installed WordPress using Fantastico, which makes it all fairly simple, but still I installed it myself.
(2) The theme (or the basic design) on Teacherly Tech is called Panorama. I found it by going to Appearance and Themes and Add New to search for new themes. WordPress makes this all very simple with search and click options for installing new themes. You just have to know where to look for them. That took me some time. On the first blogs where I installed new themes, I had to do it from the host site’s control panel rather than from the administrative dashboard in WordPress. This was much more complicated. People new to hosted WordPress sites can set up really slick custom sites without ever having to understand what’s happening on the server, though.
(3) After I installed the theme, I customized it by adding my own banner image and logo image. This was easy to do in this particular theme because it allows custom changes without having to edit any css. In fact, when I looked for a theme, I searched “customizable banner.”
(4) The banner image, by the way, is just a cropped version of the logo image. I purchased this photo at
(5) I copied a script from Google Analytics into the footer of my theme so that Google would track my site visitors, and I could find out whether anyone was reading what I wrote.
(6) I added plugins to provide features like the links to share on social media sites and the link of the top of the blog to go to my Twitter account.
(7) I set up an Akismet spam filter by activating a plugin that came packaged with my WordPress installation.

That’s basically it. I may have tweaked a little more here and there, but but by going through these steps I satisfied my own desire to have a blog with what I considered to be a custom, professional appearance.

There are more steps yet to take. I want to add gravatars, and I want to add something like Feedburner for podcasting. That’s just a matter of finding the plugins that work for me (and the time to tinker with them).

I share this information to say that you don’t have to have coding-level skills to create your own custom site. I’m just clicking around and copying and pasting a little script here and there to make this site do what I want it to do. I’ve gone this route, not because I was an expert, but because I had an insatiable curiosity to find out how it is done. That’s all you need.

If all you want to do is type in your thoughts, there’s no reason to go to a custom hosted site. You can just use a free blogging service like Blogger or I wanted more creative control, and I wanted a place that gave me more chances to learn new skills. That’s why I chose a WordPress installation on a paid site. This version of WordPress does offer much more customization than the version at That customization requires more steps in the setup process, but none of them are difficult steps. Thus, you don’t have to be a techie expert to have a blog site like this one, but it helps if you are a techie enthusiast.