7 User-Friendly Tools & Environments For Busy Edubloggers

Education & Technology

This article is for new and experienced bloggers who want to enhance their blogs without wasting too much time investigating plugins and multi-media tools. Most bloggers are teachers who want to make a difference. The right tools and technology can help you to do this quickly and painlessly.



Image credit: The value Web



I’m not a wordpress expert. I’m just a teacher who loves blogging. In that sense I’m sharing my opinions and experiences with other teachers. In a way, designing a blog is like designing a home, and choosing plugins is like deciding on the plumbing system in your house. On one hand, it’s all a matter of taste and personality, but on the other hand, it’s a matter of easy functionality and time-saving too. I’m going to focus on user-friendly solutions so that other bloggers may be saved a little frustration in their blog design endeavours and emerging functionality. I’m also focusing on ‘shareability’ and ‘enhancement’ as opposed to the brick work of blog-building.

Technology, plugins and social sharing tools.

I’m going to share some of my favourite tools for creating a user-friendly blog. This means that you won’t waste time searching amongst the endless piles of plugins, testing them out and wondering how they work. I’m a blogger who doesn’t use code, so all of my choices are easy to use and enhance the blog considerably.

Some of the tools are plugins for your blog, some are external ‘must-haves’ for your online presence and some are embeddable multi-media tools that can transform the look of your articles and blogs.

1) Your cyber signature and professional identity.

If you are recognised wherever you go online your influence will certainly be maximised, social proof easily validated, and professional trust established. The number one thing you must do as a blogger or online professional is to set up a Gravator account.

With Gravator you can visit other blogs and comment, knowing that your identity will be shown to anyone who hovers over your avator to find out who you are. It looks like this.

All you have to do is register on Gravator, upload your image, fill in some professional information and it’s done.

“Your Gravatar is an image that follows you from site to site appearing beside your name when you do things like comment or post on a blog. Avatars help identify your posts on blogs and web forums, so why not on any site?”

Gravator site

2) Community building throughout the blogosphere

Now that your professional identity is water-tight, it’s time to look at community-building. Nowadays it’s hard to lure people away from the social networks and get them to read something more substantial than bite-sized micro-blogs. But if you’ve got substance in your articles, then you’ve got to flaunt the wisdom. The best way to do this is to be one with your community and give readers some power to make a difference through your blog.

With the right community-building tools you can create an inspiring haven away from cyber noise right on your website.

Disqus is apparently the most powerful tool for community-building from your home page.


3) Comment Luv



Another social plugin that attracts readers is comment luv. This is more of a short-term strategy for new blogs, while Disqus is for community-building in the longer term and is preferred by well-established blogs.

It’s a very attractive tool indeed. It looks great on your blog and the nice thing about it is that when anyone comments on your blog Comment Luv features their website URL and last article they wrote. This provides a generous, welcoming message to visitors and I think it’s great for the early days of building up a network.The downside is that when your network is huge, the best features of Comment Luv can become the worst by attracting too many comments from spammers.

4) Social Media Buttons




Image credit: Deviant art

It’s amazing how powerful these little buttons are, and very frustrating trying to find the best ones to suit your needs. I have experimented a lot with different types of plugins.

My criteria:

a) Easy to install

b) Doesn’t interfere with other plugins

c) Doesn’t slow down the site.

d) Don’t look to flashy or ‘spammy’.

e) Gets the job done.

Being able to share our posts is very important so we need excellent social sharing tools. I used  Shareaholic for two years and loved it for it’s attractive and user-friendly design. However, I found out recently that Shareaholic may be guilty of embedding pop-up adds onto websites that use adwords.

I was alerted to this fact by one of the participants on our ‘Build your Teaching Business Online’ Course. We had this discussion in our Linked Teacher Support Group. My site is ad free but I didn’t like the insinuations so I have switched over to Social Media Feather by WordPress.

Why I like it Social Media Feather:

a) It’s very light and user-friendly to install.

b) The basic version includes the most important social media platforms – facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, Google + and Reddit.

c) The buttons are attractive, but not too attractive.

One disadavantage:

The buttons are share buttons as opposed to ‘like’ buttons. This is great for the viral implications, of course, but you may want to know how many ‘likes’ or hits you got exactly. I upgraded a bit to get the extra hover feature which lets you ‘like’ and ‘share’ as well as see your exact hits.

Okay, I got a bit carried away and also upgraded to the fade out and light up feature too. When you click on the grey icons they light up, so to speak. No, it’s not like Las Vegas, check it on my blog and help me to test the shares;)

To make it worth your while I’ll link it to a golden oldie – 18 ideas for teaching with technology from the 40th ELT blog carnival – 18 ideas from 18 members of the ELT blogosphere.

Completely free alternatives:

The Social Media Examiner recommends Digg Digg. This is an easily customised floating share bar, and you can decide where it should be placed on your blog.

Here is a great article with a mixture of free and cheap plugins.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s better to buy a cheap plugin than to waste time messing around with free ones, unless you like some universal floating designs like Digg Digg. . As I mentioned earlier,  Shareaholic is free but under suspicion, so I’m happy that I chose a plugin that needed a little upgrade but suits me very well.

5) The easy way to customise landing pages

This is one of my happiest discoveries to date. It’s not free but for the price of a book you can customise every page on your website through intuitive drag & drop features. Normally you would have to spend months learning how to code for this or you’d have to pay a web designer to do it for you. Teachers need these landing pages to sell courses, books, or elearning packages. I’m going to add landing pages for my books and my professional development work history, for example. It’s visual, professional and classy.

This magic tool is called Visual Composer.

6) All-in-one communities

Google Plus is like the mother of all ‘spiders & webworks‘. Every platform that exists is built upon Google and Google Plus communities can hold your core community in easy-to -organise social hubs. This is perfect for leveraging different aspects of your community, building stronger networks, evolving in social media, getting your blog out there, and setting up your headquarters for plotting  social media campaigns.

The power of google plus lies in it’s circles – check out this image for example.

7) Embeddable multi-media

I like to embed infographics, mindmaps, posters, flyers, storyboards, comics and collaborative curation tools into my blogs. The key is to do it only when it enhances your content , and not to over do it.

8) You can check out these features for enhancing your blog from my recent slideshow for BTB Online where I discussed both the psychology & technology of leveraging your blog.

This is just a short list of tools but they make a big difference to how I function and feel about my work. Please share your own favourite blog or content tools in the comment section below.


Featured Image: CC Flickr picture by JD Hancock, reused and remade according to the CC license.

Sylvia Guinan

is an online English teacher, writer and blogger who facilitates professional development online. She uses brain-friendly techniques to help students and teachers around the world. She designs educational materials, develops courses, writes resource papers and publishes ebooks. Her work is the result of much research into the psychology of learning, as well as hands-on experience with multi-media technology.

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