For music teachers, especially remote teachers, one of the issues they often face is how to deliver the lesson material to students. You can email it over, send it via Skype during a lesson, share it via Drive or upload it to WeTransfer. All of those can get quite cumbersome after just a few lessons. There’s also no easy way for the student to reply back and ask questions about a given lesson. This is why I went down the student portal route.
A student portal gives teachers and students a single place to access lesson material. I’ve given my guitar students access to a student portal since May 2018 and I’m going to show you how I built it for free.
- WP Customer Area – WP Customer Area is a free WordPress plugin to manage private content with WordPress. It will be the backbone of your entire student portal.
- Colorlib Login Customizer – This just makes the login page look nice.
- Protect Uploads – All this plugin does is hides your uploaded files from the public by adding an index.php file on the root of your uploads folder. I use this because I like the WordPress uploader vs the WP Customer Area one.
- Download Monitor – I had to add this plugin because I could only attach photos to the lessons. Sometimes you need to add mp3s and PDFs and this plugin let me do that.
Adding Your First Lesson
Once you’ve installed WP Customer Area, you’ll find a new tab on your admin bar. Before we create our first page we’re going to create our first student. This is easy to do on WordPress. Just hover over Users on the left hand side and click Add New. Fill in the details for your student and set them as a subscriber. This gives them just enough rights to be able to login to the student portal but nothing else.
Now it’s time to show you how to add your first page. You could do this before or after a lesson, depending on how you want to run things. If you’re doing remote lessons, it could be useful to create this page beforehand to add all the lesson material. If you’re teaching locally and printing things out, you could take snapshots or marked up PDFs and upload these to the page.
To create a new page, hover over WP Customer Area in your admin bar, hover over Pages then click on New Page. Enter a title for your new page. I like to use the format of [student name + lesson number]. You could make your titles more descriptive if you like. Next, I split my page up into 2 sections of lesson notes and practice material. This gives the student a summary of what we learned and also what they should practice ready for next week.
Now we want to add the lesson material, sheet music, etc. If you’re just adding pictures, click Add Media and upload your photos. These will appear on the page and you can resize them to fit. If you want to add any other sort of media, we can use the Insert Download button that appears when the Download Monitor plugin is installed. Click the Quick-add download tab and upload whatever file you need. You can then choose it from the list and insert the shortcode on the page. The student will see the file name and be able to download it when they click on it.
Finally, you can choose whether to allow your students to comment on the lesson. I find this a very useful way for them to ask questions and have it documented in one place rather than emailing or texting. Make sure you assign this page to the correct user before you save. You could also add page categories to your lessons so that students can find them easier later on.
Creating The Login Page
WordPress comes with its own login page but it’s a bit boring. We’re going to spruce it up using the Colorlib Login Customizer plugin. Clicking the plugins menu on the left hand side of your dashboard brings up a visual editor. There are some very nice templates in here which you can customise with your own images and colours. Mine has a photo of a lovely Gretsch guitar in the background. I think it just gives your student portal a more professional look.
Protecting Your Uploads
This isn’t something you really have to do but it is good practice. You don’t want another student or the public stumbling on a photo you’ve uploaded with lesson notes on it. Using the Protect Uploads plugin, you can prevent other users and the public from browsing your uploads directory. On your WordPress dashboard, under Media, click on Protect Uploads. I prefer to choose the “prevent directory listing..” option. When someone tries to look at your photos, they’ll get a 403 error.
That’s everything you need to setup your student portal. All the plugins we used were free but there are add-ons for WP Customer Area if you want to use those. Some useful ones for teachers might be the advanced private search add-on and the invoicing add-on. I hope you found this tutorial useful. Have fun building your own student portal and happy teaching!