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Making my class website more useful

faviconMy students have always liked my class website, iseroma.com. It has pictures, a couple videos, and class agendas and assignments.

But my posts are mostly informative and general, and so the site doesn’t encourage students to come back often. There’s a lot of work to do.

This year, I’m hoping to do a number of things to make my class website more useful. One project is to include personal, high-interest content specific to individual students.

Our school has a community service requirement. One of the most popular questions I get from students and parents is, “How many hours do I have so far?” Because this is personal information, I have to go look it up on my Google spreadsheet and personally tell the student or parent.

This, of course, is not efficient. Students and parents should be able to look up important student information whenever they like.

There were many possible solutions to this problem. I decided the best idea would be to put the information up on my class website using a dynamic Google gadget linked from my Google spreadsheet. All I would have to do is to create a password-protected page on my WordPress site so students and parents could safely access the information. Easy, right?

Password Protecting a Page: Much Harder Than It Needed to Be
It all sounds easy enough. Just create a page, edit its visibility to “password protected,” type in a password, and it should work.

Except it didn’t. When I logged out and tried to access the protected page, the password didn’t work.

So I checked out the forums at www.wordpress.org, and in between the mean replies (“you don’t know what you’re talking about”), I found some good advice: the problem was with my plug-ins. I deleted all of the plug-ins I wasn’t using and tried again. Success! It looked like this (sorry, no longer available).

But it turned out I wasn’t done. A couple days later, I wanted to work on the page, and this time, no login page came up. I got access to the password protected page without a password. Now I had the opposite problem. If I didn’t fix this, a student could have access to another student’s private information, which would be bad, bad, bad.

Setting a Password’s Expiration Time
Some more research on www.wordpress.org revealed that WordPress keeps passwords as cookies for a standard 10 days. That’s a long time for someone else to log in to see your information.

Some of the suggestions to fix this problem were ridiculous. One person said, Just eliminate your cookies when you close out of your browser. That’s clearly not what a student or parent is going to do.

But finally, I figured it out. You can change the amount of time your site remembers its cookies. If you go to your FTP client (mine is FileZilla), you can edit your wp-pass.php file to set your cookie expiration. The time is in seconds, so the default is 864000. I changed mine to 1800, or 30 minutes.

I was nervous to go to my FTP program; a long time ago, I deleted my entire site. But I was careful, found the file, saw the line of code, and made my edits.

I was thinking of setting it lower — and I still might — but 30 minutes seems like a reasonable amount of time. I want to guard against other students getting access, but I also don’t want to make a student type in his or her password in the same session. I’ll see how it works.

I’m pretty happy with the results. Now I just have to repeat this process for my 16 other advisees. I’m pretty sure they’ll appreciate the work, and so will their parents, who will no longer feel like they’re bothering me with questions about their child’s community service. favicon

Please share your brilliant insights!