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The New (and Improved!) OU Create

For the past year and a half, we’ve been running OU Create on one server that is shared amongst all users. As usage as increased, particularly with OU Create being open to anyone at OU-Norman, it was inevitable that this one server was not going to be sufficient for too long. While downtime was never incredibly frequent (usually limited to late night backups which run daily), we were noticing it more often than we would like.

For the last month or so we’ve worked behind the scenes alongside with Tim and Jim from Reclaim Hosting to best optimize the user experience. While users aren’t going to necessarily see any new features, we’re promising an improved experience. It’s tough on one little ol’ guy to be serving nearly 2,000 different users sites!

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One of the first moves was breaking apart the OU Create homepage from the massive community section. The community section is available for everyone as a way to get a water faucet view of all content. The site scans available OU Create RSS feeds and has aggregated 11,000+ blog posts across 1,800+ sites since August 2014 . Needless to say, this scanning can be taxing on the site resources so we now have two sites: the OU Create homepage (create.ou.edu) and the OU Create Community page (create.ou.edu/community). Although they look nearly identical, they serve very different functions. Now, when someone comes to login to the CPanel, they aren’t also calling the resource intensive community page. This gets folks to their domains much faster.

The second thing that we have done is beef up security on OU Create. Like any public server, the OU Create server is not been immune to such brute-force attacks. Joe McMahon and Tim Owens have both recently wrote posts (here and here) on the good work they’ve been doing at Reclaim to improve monitoring server usage. We’ve similarly looked into ways we could control things a little bit more on our end with WP plugins like Heartbeat Control and Wordfence Security while Tim has put us on Cloud Linux. Finally, we have the proper tools that keep us safe from ourselves and the rest of the world so we’ll embarass ourselves less.

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I’m excited to be constantly improving the domains experience at OU and am particularly interested in the fact that many of our strategies are entirely scalable to users as well who want beefier security. Because the domain infrastructure allows you to install multiple applications in various locations, it’s particularly easy to break up these applications to save on resources (which is what we needed) or to archive past semesters. One of my favorite tools on OU Create is the clone tool inside Installatron which allows you to easily make a copy.

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Installatron Clone Tool

I’m also a big fan of the Wordfence Security plugin which has been great. I’ve installed it on my PR Pubs course site for an extra layer of security there as well.

And while security, firewalls, and the like were a good start, it was inevitable that we were going to need a second server to both increase performance as well as give enough growth space for our current users. All new accounts now move over to the server so first gen OU Creators get our battle-tested, eldest child to themselves. In a way, the second server marks a new phase for OU Create. We have moved out of the “So you think this is really going to work?” to the “We promise you’ll love us and we guarantee satisfaction!”

Speaking of community, mainly with assistance from Anoop Bal, our Digital Learning Fellow, we’ve started to shine more light on the blogging activity that takes place across OU Create. As I mentioned, anyone currently has the ability to digest the stream of posts that through the mega OU Create RSS feed. This week alone we have an average 56 posts/day which isn’t incredibly manageable to everyone who comes to OU Create. Anoop has been taken on the job of reading every post as a daily task and then curating his favorite in a weekly blog called This Week on OU Create. Please subscribe if you are at all interested in following our communities work.

Finally, just this week we started an OU Create Twitter account. This gives us yet another channel to promote the great work folks are doing. And we’ve already seen positive reactions from students who’s work has been shared.

How cool is it that we have ways of promoting students thoughts and ideas outside of the formal institutional reward mechanisms? Or that we are at all able to provide students with a public outlet to engage in discourse? Daily, I personally benefit from experiencing these moments of realization and it still feels kind of bizarre. As the semester begins nears end, I’m reminded that there’s really not a better feeling than getting to serve a community.