Teaching WordPress with Bitnami Local Installs

Last weekend I taught one of my favorite workshops, Intro to WordPress, for Girl Develop It – Detroit. My now-business-partner Laura Eagin & I developed the curriculum about a year ago and it’s been steadily improving each time we’ve taught it, not to mention when it’s been adapted by other chapters!

Since our class focuses on self-hosted WordPress sites (not WordPress.com blogs), we always run into the challenge of getting students set up with a WordPress environment in which they can experiment. We’ve tried a number of less-than-ideal solutions to this:

  • Everyone in one install is just as messy as it sounds. It’s also kind of fun, because we get to see everyone’s pages and posts as they’re published, but that’s about all we can let the students do. When it comes to widgets, plugins, and themes, they can basically only watch as we demonstrate.
  • Setting up a bunch of online installs is a better choice, but it requires a lot of tedious set-up time on the instructors’ part. We’ve crashed hosting accounts by doing this, and if the classroom wifi isn’t strong we’re left asking if anyone knows any jokes while waiting for the router to reset.
  • Requiring everyone to come with a hosting account and WordPress already installed is a dream come true, and feasible for some audiences. Unfortunately, though, it presents a barrier to students who are, for any reason, not ready to make that commitment. At Girl Develop It we are committed to remaining as accessible as possible, so we’ve only made this a requirement in private classes.

We’ve always talked about doing local installs, but after watching huge amounts of class time get lost to setting up MAMP/WAMP in PHP workshops, we were very wary of that approach.

Luckily, last year our friend Chloe Madison Parfitt taught Concrete5 for GDI and introduced me to a whole new world: Bitnami stack installers. They’re basically the one-click installs of local development. Students get to follow basic software installation prompts instead of having to download MAMP or similar, start the virtual servers, find PHPMyAdmin, make a MySQL database, download WordPress, and manually install it. That saves valuable class time and lets us focus on actually using WordPress (which most of our students are only ever going to install via the one-click method, anyway).

I used the Bitnami method for the first time last weekend and would say it was a success, and my favorite way to teach WordPress so far! Students received the link and instructions to install WordPress on their laptops in advance of class, and the vast majority of them came to class with WordPress ready to go. A few more got set up in class with some TA assistance, a couple chose to use existing WordPress sites or local installs, and a handful (4 out of 20) had hardware issues that made the installation impossible. For those folks, I planned to set up a few clean online installs, and luckily my amazing TA TJ Miller was able to do that on his server with a quick script – thanks, TJ!

I’m excited to keep using this approach to teach WordPress in the future, though I’ll be sure to have some clean online installations waiting for the students who are unable to work with Bitnami. I’d love to hear about your solutions to teaching WordPress, too!