Posts in "Domain of Ones Own"

WordPress Multilingual Multisite

I had a great meeting this afternoon with the good folks at Middlebury (Amy Collier, Sonja Burrows, Evelyn Helminen) to talk about a project they have with their School of Hebrew. They are looking to create a Community of Practice for their faculty where much of the content is in English, but there is also a forum that would allow them to write in Hebrew.

Multi languages can be tricky for a number of reasons, but a good thing about WordPress is that they’ve really focused on internationalizing the platform. This means you can install it in 162 different languages (including Hebrew) as of the date of this post..

There are several plugin solutions that can be helpful. For instance, some allow you to write various languages side-by-side, or tag a post a specific language and allow the end-user to choose between other translation, while others utilize engines to autogenerate translations.

But many of these are focused on end-user and not necessarily authoring. For example, when writing a comment in Hebrew, you want to be considerate of the change in orientation from left > right to right > left. WordPress itself has a very good article that talks about the different options, tools, and complexities ofmultilingual wordpress.

So I’ve been trying to think of how one site can serve multiple languages and will lay out below the approach I recommend: a multisite installation. Multisite will allow you to easily manage a similar look in feel as you share resources such as themes and plugins across the network, but will allow you to customize different aspects of your site(s) depending on their specific needs.

One other neat feature of WordPress is that you can do a multisite installation and each subsite can be a different language. Here’s a quick tutorial on how to setup different sites under a multisite with separate languages:

First, I’m going to use Installatron to make a fresh multisite install. The main thing here is opt-in to multi-site. I’m going to call this Dual Lingo (not to be confused with a similarly titled, massively popular language learning website!)

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For this installation, I’ve kept in English.

Now I’m going to go to Network Sites and check out my sites to add a new site.

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Where my main site is adam.middcreate.net/duallingo, the new site will be adam.middcreate.net/duallingo/hebrew. In this dialogue box, I’ll also select Hebrew as the site language.

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So here’s my new Hebrew site:

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As I mentioned, Middlebury wants to have a Hebrew forum so I’m going to install a few plugins that allow 1.) visitors to generate a user account 2.) the forum itself and 3.) a single sign-on plugin so you can register for the account on the English site but still use those credentials on the Hebrew site. I’m going to install BuddyPress for registration, BBPress for the forum, and WP Multisite SSO for single sign-on. Once you’ve done so, make sure they are activated across the network.

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Now I’m going to navigate into my Network Settings to allow users to be registered.

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BuddyPress is going to tell me I need to setup the pages for registering and activating an account. So I’ll do that next.

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To do this, navigate to from your network settings to your main site settings and publish the pages. I’m going to simple call them “Activate” and “Register.” You want to leave the dialogue boxes blank. As I navigate to “All Pages” you’ll notice that BuddyPress generated a couple pages (activity, members) that you may or may not use.

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Next I’m going to go BACK to network settings and make match these pages to their respective templates.

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Last thing I’ll do on the Registration side is add a link to the Register page on the main sites menu and make its location the Primary Menu.

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Alright, now let’s setup our Hebrew forum. This can be tricky, of course, because we are in a different language. I’m going to generate a simple test forum so then we can test out all of the site functionality.

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The last thing I’m going to do is add on my main English site a link to the forum and then a registration and login links on Hebrew site menu. Since we are doing registration on the main site, I’m going to grab that specific link as I don’t want to duplicate the signup process (http://adam.middcreate.net/duallingo/register). So I’m going to add a custom link to the Menu.

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Since we initially installed the SSO plugin, when a user logins, they will now login to the entire network.

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And we’re taken care of! We can now register across the network and then type in the proper orientation.

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A couple of things I would strongly recommend to further expand this. Consider installing a Google CAPTCHA plugin for any BuddyPress site to thwart spam(In fact, I use one called Google Captcha reCAPTCHA for the regular signup page and another specifically for BuddyPress registration called BuddyPress NoCAPTCHA). Additionally, you can Remove Dashboard Access for non-admins with a plugin as well.

So that’s a super niche use case but it really shows you the flexibility of WordPress multi-site! Let me know below in the comments if you’ve similarly used WordPress multi-site to do something a little out-of-the-box.

Featured image: flickr photo shared by neilfein under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

HowToCollege

In March, I had the opportunity to host the IndieEdTech gathering with Eddie Maloney of Georgetown and Kristen Eschelman at her place at Davidson College. As I wrote then, the gathering was focused on a design sprint in small teams around personal APIs. Led by the nudging of Audrey Watters, my team’s idea focused around how do we focus on a redistribution of power to students by giving them an online community guided and nurtured by students; a space where a student could ask both what seemed like common knowledge to community insiders as well as some of life’s more complex questions. This sparked Erika Bullock, a English junior at Georgetown College, to sketch out an idea of a community platform focused around both giving and receiving.

I think it’s safe to say that we were all proud of the idea and thought it could really add some value to any institutional community. Quite honestly, I think we all also felt relieved to come up with anything after struggling for most of the idea to articulate much of anything.

I left Davidson with an itch to try to flesh out the idea a little further but with no real expectation of having the time or space to do so. Luckily, Kristen and Eddie are both incredibly supportive individuals and Eddie has a very motivated student in Erika.

Eddie opened up both his office and team as resources for working on a prototype that we could start to put in front of students to gather some feedback. That led to this week where Kristen and I came up to DC to work Marie Selvanadin, Bill Garr, and Yong Lee, three of the developers in Georgetown’s Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS). One of the highlights of this week was getting to work with the CNDLS team + Kristen as it’s a real privilege to see how other similar organizations work in action, particularly one like CNDLS which has been built and nurtured over the last fifteen-or-so years and works on a number of projects that are particularly intriguiging. I was thankful for both the developers and the other team members (Yianna Vovides, Brian Boston, Maggie Debelius, Randy Bass) who joined us as well for conversations on both this idea and Domain of One’s Own initiatives.

After spending Tuesday chatting about several different angles of the platform, I spent Wednesday morning in the Georgetown library to work on a landing page mockup in Photoshop. While I still get to teach PS, I actually rarely touch it less and less as my role becomes increasingly administrative. So easing back into Photoshop felt like putting on an old jacket you found packed away.

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No matter what title I stick after my name, I still wear the “artist” moniker quite proudly. At my core, I love getting the opportunity to create art and much of this kind of work fortunately still feels like it. When I was still in high school, I built a website with a guy in my town who was most likely ten years my senior. I remember asking him why he didn’t do web development for living and he gave me the advice of never making my hobby my primary occupation. I am still unsure as to whether that was necessarily good or bad advice, but I certainly respected it enough at the time to spend college and beyond struggling with the tension of professionalizing myself. Inevitably, I studied advertising and journalism as it seemed to offer a little of both.

All of that is to say I enjoy injecting a few creative ventures into my life every once in awhile. As Louis Armstrong said, “Musicians don’t retire; they stop when there’s no more music in them,” and I believe there’s still music in me.

Anyway, so there I am sitting in a suspiciously empty library. I had already decided that I would use Bootstrap as a common framework that we could do both design and development. I remembered that I had been really impressed with the Flat UI kit from Designmodo that I used for OU Create to bring the login box to the landing page.

I grabbed the free version of the UI kit and began to design what had come to my head based of the conversations the team had the last day. Here’s a look at the where that design is as of today:

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Working title “HowToGeorgetown”: the idea is that this page is focused primarily on getting students questions the opportunity to ask questions as quickly as possible. A big question box is calling their name out, as well as a way for them to tag questions, indicate the question’s difficulty (more on that later), ask it anonymous, and a request a “meetup” if they feel there question better suits an “offline” dialogue, which is a large part of the platform; how can we create a space that allows students to ask/answer questions efficiently online as well as encourages one-on-one conversations. A fully filled out home page might look like this:

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I also mocked up a couple other pages including a single question page and a profile page:

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From our initial round of feedback, the difficulty indicator seems to really throw students off so I’m not quite sure how long that will stay. But the purpose it was to decipher what may require a student-to-student meetup with the thought that we would see ultimate success of an application being peer mentorship.

One of the main focuses of this project was to create something small that could run on a Domain of One’s Own server, so I’m hopeful that whatever gets created continues to be openly documented, discussed, and shared. I’ll end with noting that there are the majority of open questions lie beyond the technology:

  • Does the notion of learning the “hacks” of your institution work if the institution hosts the application or is that fundamentally going to detract users?
  • How do you build the appropriate culture (self-governing, self-moderating)?
  • What (if anything) needs to be in place when self governance breaks down?
  • Are we just creating things that already exist (Quora, Reddit) and slapping an edu face on it?
  • Are we doing too much by focusing on a web app instead of a mobile app or texting service?

And these don’t even get into even foundational questions like how something like this would get off the ground or could even be sustainable. These, and several other questions, are certainly worth exploring further in the event that students even want to use it. Luckily, Kristen is going to be contributing by having a class at Davidson run a prototype user testing this fall, and hopefully we’ll be able to learn a lot there.

But before we go too far down the rabbit hole of how something like this becomes a real thing, I should say that I’m not quite sure that’s the most important topic. Currently, I am highly more interested in thought experiments than I am in startups. And, personally speaking, spending a week walking through this process has been highly valuable for me. It’s helped me build empathy to both the needs of users and to developers of technology. Putting clothes on a concept is awfully taxing work. Opening up your concept to potential users is also quite nerve racking.

Publicly publishing about one’s doodles (meaning writing this post) is even moreso nerve racking knowing that there’s a broader opportunity for criticism on which is mostly conceptual but appears real because one can see a physical manifiestions of that concept.

But nonetheless I’d encourage folks that may exist in team frameworks like mine to further explore these design thinking approaches if only to get yourself asking both the smallest details (UI) and broadest questions (For us: What would nurture a healthy community? Is technology even necessary?). You might even ask it on a HowToCollege platform someday. :-)

Recapping the OU Creaties

Yesterday afternoon we held the first OU Creaties award luncheon, which was a ton of fun. As I wrote a couple weeks ago, it’s great to get to celebrate the work of your community. We wanted to simply have a way to acknowledge and showcase the work that has taken place at the OU since we started our domain of one’s own project, OU Create, via Reclaim Hosting, and I think it’s safe to say we accomplished that.

This was a major project for Anoop Bal, our Digital Learning Fellow. Event planning is a massive undertaking and one that easily goes under appreciated. It was great to see the event go off without a hitch. Not that metrics are the only way in which we are evaluating it but here’s some “unofficial” results:

  • 50 nomination submissios
  • 102 nominated sites
  • 31 finalists
  • 842 ballots casted for fan voting
  • 2,683 total fan votes
  • 38 total attendees to the awards luncheon

One of Anoop’s ideas was to ditch the regular ol’ engraved acryllic plaque and go with engraved bamboo. I really think these matched the sort of maker aesthetic of Create and were a really nice touch.

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There will also be digital awards. John Stewart is taking the lead on issues some digital badges via Credly that users can throw on their blog sidebars if they wish. This takes me back to the golden age of the web where it seemed like everyone had received some award that show their community. Or site rings–just give me site rings!

We were able to kick it off with Provost Kyle Harper (who runs the HIGHLY acclaimed kyleharper.net and originsofchristianity.net). I was able to brag a little on him noting that OU Create exists only because of his support. He had an idea for e-portfolios and Mark Morvant and I were able to run with it. It means a lot to me that we have the level of support we do from the Provost level and having him give opening remarks was a very fitting way to start.

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Provost address at the OU Creaties

I, too, was also able to say some words about how I see OU Create. Here’s a couple of graphs from my notes:

OU Create isn’t a system where technology “does things” to the student. Students independently build because of the technology. There’s a fundamental difference. In this space, knowledge isn’t simply being “transmitted” to the student, but students are constructing their own knowledge. And the site is simply the phyiscal manifestation. Of process as much as product.

At the University of Oklahoma, my hope is that students are creators, not merely consumers. As computer scientist and educational theorist Seymour Papert once said that “the role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than to provide ready-made knowledge.”

Last, we’ve launch a new front page for the Creaties which shows and links to all the finalists and winners. Hopefully this can be a resource for other universities who need examples of the various roles domains can play at their institution.

Bragging tends be incredibly self-serving but it’s that time of the year again where I start to feel sentimental so I am totally ok with doing it today. I love the community I’m a part of. It’s one where I can brag on my team members (like Anoop), my administration (like Provost Harper), and, most importantly, the OU Create users who push this technology way beyond how I would ever think of using it. I strongly suggest you browse the work for the finalists and winners. We’ve got it good on the prairie!

Welcome to the Creaties!

Sometime last semester, I was trying to think of different ways to promote work that was taking place on OU Create, our domains project, as well as simply say thank you to folks that have committed time and energy to our first full “non-pilot” year of domains at OU. At some point, I ran across my old friend the Webby Awards and thought it would be neat to think about how something like that could translate to a campus.

I pitched the idea to Anoop Bal, our Digital Learning Fellow, who has really ran with it and birthed what we are calling The Creaties, an award show for the OU Create users, thinkers, and builders.

We’re currently taking nominations for ten of the eleven categories:

  • Best Portfolio Website (Student)
  • Best Portfolio Website (Faculty)
  • Best Course Website
  • Best Short Story
  • Best Photonarrative 
  • Best Narrative of 2015 at OU
  • Best Post Related to Study Abroad
  • Best Review of a Song, Movie, Book, or Video Game
  • Best Wiki
  • Best Community

This doesn’t comprehensively cover everything that we are seeing happen on OU Create, but it does give us a small list that we can work with and manage this go around. After nominations, there will be a brief round of fan voting that will take place as well. Everything culminates with an award luncheon to take place on April 29, 2016 (free meal!). All of this will make for a very busy April, but one that will properly add a period to Year One of domains/subdomains for all.

We’ve had a lot of success simply amplifying work via our Twitter (@OU_Create) and our weekly “Best of” blog, This Week on OU Create (again, thanks to the hard work of Anoop). I was pleased when, a couple weeks back, a student tweeted this:

Prior to the tweet, I received this email:

Hi Adam,

I just discovered the “This Week On” page – what a great idea! I let my students know if their posts had been highlighted, and I’ve already heard how thrilled many of them are. Thanks for all you do to build up this campus.

It appears to me that these simple acts where we, as Amanda Palmer would say, say “I see you,” are pleasantly received by students.

It’s easy for institutions to get comfortable being at odds with students (because that puts the institution in power). This can translate to social media where the department accounts become sounding boards for more noise where we talk at our students instead of with them. I see this abuse mostly by large companies who use social media to quiet tempers of customers who have a bad experience.

Example: Company tweets $69 one-way flights promotion (talking at me). I complain about experience (talking at it). They apologize (via DM), give me a number to call, and send me drink tickets. This commercial approach isn’t bad (hey, I got a free drink) but it doesn’t build community. Again, to get back to Amanda Palmer:

For most of human history, musicians, artists, they’ve been part of the community. Connectors and openers, not untouchable stars.

For me, The Creaties is another way for us to say that we, as administrators of a system, aren’t untouchable stars, but rather connectors and openers. We aren’t adversaries here only to tell you about uptime/downtime and what you can/can’t do. We are also a part of this small community who believe in creating a culture of public sharing in digital spaces. And we want to acknowledge that your work can be more than a grade (if only by giving you a free meal :smile:).

Nominations are now being accepted over on the OU Creaties page!

Creating the GOBLIN

In the Center for Teaching Excellence, we’ve been using OU Create pretty heavily as a distribution method for Faculty Learning Community curriculum. We’ve used it for FLCs about OU Create, about video production, wikis, mobile blogging, etc. You know, it’s interesting… Because what we offer isn’t a formal course, we’re never issued an instance on a learning management system for FLC use. And, yet, we never have this “either-or” discussion about the LMS or open sites. When the only option you have is the open, you tend to welcome it with open arms. And luckily open is open for anything all the time.

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Launching this semester is a brand new offering called Games Offer Bold Learning Insights Nowadays (GOBLIN) which has been cooked up by John Stewart and Keegan Long-Wheeler. Both John and Keegan have written multiple posts explaining their vision as well as what brought the game to life.

GOBLIN aims to synergistically combine professional development, storytelling, and a role-playing game into a memorable, engaging learning experience for instructors. Over the course of GOBLIN, topics ranging from scaffolding and overcoming failure to team learning, game-based learning, and gamification will be discussed and experienced firsthand.

It’s a really cool concept and a learning approach that I really subscribe to. To learn games it’s best to, first, play games. So you become a character, a “guild initiate” and the course site will walk through the game/course towards becoming a member of the guild. Each lesson requires you to perform different tasks. Completing a blog post, for instance, earns you a Crystal for your supplies. They’ve also interweaved a tabletop role playing game which will be a really nice piece as well.

One of the fascinating parts that John just unveiled in his most recent blog post is where the artwork came from. When they first launch the page, I was really impressed with how asthetically pleasing the site was.

As John notes, the artwork is open source content that was released as with a CC0 public domain license when the Glitch the Game got axed in 2012. The developers released both the source code and its artwork.

10,000 individual art assets is a real treasure trove for educators to build websites or for students to use inside of game developer applications such as the MIT Media Lab project Scratch. The mere existence of assets such as what Glitch has offered is another testament to the idea that DIY is a feasible approach in EdTech. As we continue to build our work in the open, I’m excited to see what we can dig up. STILL a believer that the TRUTH is out there!

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Cover image: Created by assets provided by Tiny Speck under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal License.

 

Exploring My Own History via a Class Omeka Project

Monday was the second day held at the University of Oklahoma known as Digital Humanities Day. Both of these experiences have been rich not only getting to meet new faculty who are doing interesting projects but see the tightening of a great community here at OU.

One of the projects mentioned was also one the most exciting projects to see unfold over the Fall semester on OU Create was through one of our dream courses, Making Modern America: Discovering the Great Depression and the New Deal. For whatever reason, I had yet failed to really dive into it so I took some time today to do so.

Several of the projects in which I highlight, including my own, focus on students building and critically examining one’s digital identity through personal domains and webspaces. I’m equally as interested in how other projects can be beneficial from simply having broad access to modern web tools to propel other disciplines. The beauty of domains is that they aren’t just one thing. An address can take you anywhere.

Though I’m no historian, I’ve been told by multiple historians that there are conventionally two ways to teach history: 1) one can tell and recite the stories of the past in efforts to build up an appropriate body of historical knowledge from which we can make informed decisions as a citizenry and 2) doing history. That is, to do as a historian would and gather/interactive with source materials in efforts to uncover new insights into mankind’s history. Of course, I’m not saying one way is better learning than another. In fact, one could easily argue that for anyone to truly do history well, they would naturally have to have enough interaction with previous works of the field, so it makes sense for both of these philosophies to coexist (even online).

Nevertheless, this project falls in the second camp: “doing history.” Two faculty members, David Wrobel from our department of History, and Keith Gaddie from Political Science, came together to teach this course that looked at the events of America’s Great Depression and the influence that the government-led New Deal had on the physical landscape of the United States, notably Oklahoma. They sent students in the archives of the Western History Collection at the University of Oklahoma to examine artifacts from this time period as well as sent students off into Oklahoma to collect new artifacts. Even more excitingly for us, they have curated these artifacts into an online collection. From the website:

Created by students at the University of Oklahoma, this site documents and explores the 1930s and its enduring legacies in Oklahoma. Please explore the digital exhibits and collections of photographs, documents, videos, and maps discovered and created during the research process.

If you were to browse the collection, you would see that OU students gathered a total of 903 items collectively of the semester and entered them into the website using the content management system Omeka.

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Omeka was developed by George Mason University and the Roy Rosenweig Center for History and New Media as a lightweight online digital collection CMS. One interesting use case is that the Missouri School of Journalism uses it to archive 38k+ photographs from the Pictures of the Year International contest. Additionally, Omeka is easily installable on OU Create as we have it included as a one-click install option in Installatron.

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Installing Omeka in Installatron on OU Create

Each “item” in an Omeka site is tagged with all the necessary metadata. So, for instance, I searched for items that pertained to my hometown of Yukon, Oklahoma, and I find a picture of Chisholm Trail Park. Based of the data I can see that this was taken by a student named Autumn on December 13, 2015, in a jpg format.

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An Omeka Item Page

It also looks like I have multiple ways of access both the image as well as the metadata (atom, xml, json).

Items can also be curated into exhibits and exhibit pages which looks nice. One of the projects I thought that looked really fun from the student perspective was state tours. From what I can tell, they were literally assigned to go on a road trip.

So this particular project looks really, really interesting. In 1941, a WPA program in Oklahoma called the Federal Writers Project published a book titled Oklahoma: A Guide to the Sooner State (you can find a beautiful scan on archive.org). The foreword was, in fact, written by William Bennett Bizzell, who was president of OU from 1925-1941 and whom the library bears the name.

The book contains 16 “tours” that the reader can take through Oklahoma. It’s a fairly dense travel companion guide and it appears as if the students used it as a reference for their own little tours of Oklahoma. One particular trip that a group of students went on crossed through my hometown starting from a town just north called Bethany and ended in El Reno; just south of Yukon. From the book scan on archive.org, I grabbed this depicition of Bethany:

BETHANY, 6.9 m. (1,212 alt., 2,590 pop.), is primarily the home of members of the Nazarene religious sect. Under the terms of the town’s charter there are no theaters, billiard halls, or beauty parlors; and the sale of tobacco and intoxicants is forbidden. Even billboards advertising these articles are banned.

How fascinating is that?! What a real drag Bethany must have been… Yukon is described as this:

YUKON, 13.9 m. (1,298 alt., 1,660 pop.), an agricultural and milling center, was laid out in 1891 by the Spencer brothers, who owned the 160-acre site. Frisco, a small town of one thousand population, had been established near by; but when a railroad was built through Yukon, most of Frisco’s people moved there. The large flour mills on the eastern edge of Yukon dominate the town’s commercial life as well as its buildings.

Yep, we are still known for the flour mills although its now just merely symbolic as they haven’t been used to store flour for some time now. The Frisco piece is interesting. My grandmother still lives out close to where (I assume) Frisco used to be located. While she still refers to a specific street as Frisco Rd, it’s no longer labeled that. The only reminent of Frisco is the old Frisco cemetery. But this makes total sense how the railroad drew people farther into the town of Yukon. #RIPFrisco.

Each tour consists of multiple exhibit pages that students have authored, a interactive map, and a video recording of the tour which has been uploaded to YouTube.

The interactive map is an Omeka plugin called Neatline that my colleage John Stewart discovered and recommended the students look at. Neatline allows you to overlay Omeka items onto a map as a means to build a geotemporal visualization and narrative.

Neatline works best when you’re using it to tell a story or create an interpretive lens through which a collection of artifacts, documents, or richly-described concepts could be understood.

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Neatline

There’s also a lot of great OU history built into the site as well as a few different campus buildings, all of which exist to this day, were originally WPA projects.

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Construction of Adam’s Hall

There’s probably a real good metaphor here on facilitating students learning on how to construct archives on the construction of learning facilities.

This reminds me that I need to give a big thanks to Sarah Clayton, the digital scholarship special in OU Libraries, who really put in a lot of effort to get the site working like a well oiled machine. Our library is off the charts!

As a project, I’m completely captivated by what the students have pulled together in one semester both as a proponent of these types of meaningful projects and as an Okie. This site has real, tangible meaning to me, and I wouldn’t have even known this course existed had this artifact not been constructed. Even moreso, this class was a Presidential Dream Course, a course funded by the administration to take place once. Now we all get to benefit from what those generous funds. It only makes sense that courses that turn students into historians disseminate that work on a space that is as accessible and attractive as this one.

I’m excited to dive in and swim deeper into the site. All in all, students uploaded and archived 46 historic photographs, 27 historical documents as well as produced 54 new photographs, 20 videos, and 25 interactive maps. Hop over to newdeal.oucreate.com when you have a chance. It’s a real treat.

Cover Image Citation:

Heffner, Roy E. , “Southeastern View of Construction of Adams Hall,” Making Modern America: , accessed February 3, 2016, http://newdeal.oucreate.com/items/show/478.

A Create Promise

Below is the transcript of an email that I sent my team last night. I’m usually not one to publish private conversation, but this came together as much like a blog post as it did an email (and only includes what I have written). The only changes are some typos as well as several more links for external context.

All,

You may have seen a blog post from Laura Gibbs over the weekend that chronicled her perspective of the history of open web projects at OU; much of which highlighted the rise and fall of previous web publishing services. If you haven’t read it, please find some time soon to do so. Sometimes nothing feels more beneficial to one’s position than a historical narrative of what has came before it.

Since it has recently been requested that OU Create become the primary university-supported publishing platform for the community, I wanted to take the time to articulate the promises we hold to our users and the broader institution. Several of her questions I can’t answer simply because I don’t have the knowledge or scope to do so. Yet as we venture into our second semester as an institutionalized service, I do believe I can speak to what I envision moving forward.

Learning is forever at the center of our project.

OU Create is a platform meant to be explored. Its beauty lies in its vastness. There will always be more applications available on OU Create via the Installatron that we haven’t touched than those we have. To me, this is exciting. This is learning. :-)

Yet the goal isn’t for us (or anyone for that matter) to learn every crevice or know every available feature. If a faculty member approaches us about wanting to be a scholarship-focused web presence, we want to be able to assist them in growing their own digital literacy as well as accomplish their goal. Likewise, we want students to be able to utilize the space to better understand the technology that powers individuals on the web, share in a discpline-based learning experiences, and further understand themselves as they embark on crafting their own digital identity.

Whether its learning the technology, fulfilling a course objective, or simply about learning about ones self, this is the goal.

What you build, you keep.

Your data is forever portable. Several of the points that Laura brought up were an unclearness in how to access files on services that are being decommisioned. I want to emphasize that we have made sure that users had the appropriate tools and methods to leave OU Create at any point in time. We’ve built in ways for users to transfer completely to a commercial hosting company either in one-click to Reclaim Hosting, which is our partner in the intitative. Users can also export their CPanel so they can move to a hosting company that also uses CPanel (many do including Bluehost) or they can do something as simple as export their posts from a WordPress instance and move it to the free WordPress.com. It’s imperative that users know this because we believe that this project exists to allow our community to build identities and bodies of work that have value long after their tenure at OU.

As a follow up, we need to make sure our documentation clearly details the various workflows for how this can be accomplishing. Additionally, we need to make it a priority to communicate with users that this process exists.

We will walk the walk.

I don’t know if this was touched on terribly too much by Laura, but it’s something I’m passionate about. We aren’t just promoting a service that we wouldn’t and don’t use ourselves. I honestly believe that involvement in the project isn’t only a great practical service for our community–the ability to build, maintain, grow, and keep your own domain–it’s also the way I see education being most effective; promoting student agency and knowledge curation. The best way to see the fruits of OU Create is to use it ourselves. Some of us will use it personally, some will use it to create open curriculum either for for-credit courses or faculty development initiatives, and some of us will use it as an opportunity to explore our own curiosities. My ultimate wish is that we continue to be inside of it every day so we can learn where it flourishes and where it breaks down; where it’s superior and where it’s lacking. I’m encouraged to see how Anoop is blogging weekly about the OU Create activity, how John is narrating his passion for Wikipedia, and how Keegan has used it to promote his efforts in mobile blogging and scholarship. I also love our conversations where we discuss what does and doesn’t work. Let’s make sure other people get the benefit of hearing those as well.

We will be a part of a broader domains community.

What I see when I look at the good open sources community is sharing. Frequently, from source code to resources to solutions to assistance, the goal is to better the community as a whole. Similarly, I believe that the goal of the academy should, above anything else, be the creation and dissimentation of knowledge.

I want us to continue to help those inside and outside of the domains community as well as those, like Laura, who also make an effort to prioritize experimentation on the edge. To reiterate what I said above, what we learn should be shared broadly, first and foremost, through our own digital publishing platforms.

If we are going anywhere, you’ll hear from us.

We’ve received a commitment from the Office of the Provost and Senior Vice President to fully fund this project for multiple years. While I don’t expect OU Create to go away anytime soon, we need to make sure we take the appropriate steps to communicate the future of the platform; particularly if it ever goes away. There are too many ways for folks to get their data and its too valuable to simply turn the lights off.

Rolling out a new front page for 2016

Well, we are bit behind on the scheduled launch (I was hoping we would have it ready the first week of class) but we’ve gone ahead and flipped the switch on a new OU Create homepage, the main entrance to the OU domains project.

This is version 3.0 for OU Create. 1.0 was created simply as an informational page for the pilot. 2.0 focused around showcasing the community and honing in on support material. 3.0 mostly asethetic changes–focused around moving beyond educating the community on what OU Create is to enhancing functionality. More than anything, we want our users to get to the CPanel quickly. Create.ou.edu is, after all, a portal more than anything else.

Moving Login to the Front Page

One of the major things that we wanted to add this year was login access from the start page. Our inspiration was Tumblr which has a beautiful landing page focused on getting you to your Dashboard.

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Taking the same approach, I went on a hunt for how to put a WordPress login box on any page. Unfortunately, most of my search came up dry as most plugins UI falls short of 2016 UI design standards.

I finally landed on an article at designmodo called Building a Custom WordPress Login Form with Flat UI. Flat UI is a free Bootstrap theme and I’ve became very fond of the Bootstrap framework over the last six month so gave it a shot.

The plugin and shortcode worked like a charm. I had to change one line of code so that users would be redirected to their CPanel Dashboard. Line 45 became this:

And that’s all she took.

I also found a plugin called Saeid Simple Text Rotator which is based on a jQuery plugin Super Simple Text Rotator by Pete RÀ la how Alan Levine and Brian Lamb tempt you with what SPLOT enigma could possibly be, I wanted to tease out what OU Create could do without bogging down the user with something like icons layed out over columns. The final product was this:

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By the way, isn’t that silhouette of campus just gorgeous? Fun fact: its a CC0 Public Domain picture that was taken by CTE’s own Keegan Long-Wheeler on his iPad of course, because he’s our resident mobile freak ;-). We just used a little bit of Photoshop work to change it from a daytime picture to nice dawn skyline.

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Keegan was nice enough to do several campus pictures and upload them to the CTE Flickr page and put a CC0 license to them. Check them out.

Going Fully Responsive

One thing that I’m a little embarassed about is that we’ve had responsive turned off on the landing page for quite some time. But the fact was that we hadn’t made a lot of design choices that were super effective for mobile as we were assuming that most users would be coming to OU Create via desktops and laptops. While this is true (95% of our traffic is, indeed, desktop) we do classroom visits all the time to get students setup on domains and several of them are only packing a mobile device. It felt time to finally flip that switch.

And, man, how good it feels to have something that reads well on mobile! Over all the changes, I’m probably most proud of how well the websites translates to the phone screen.

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Bringing An Indie Aesthetic

Last month, Jim Groom profiled how Reclaim Hosting is reclaiming an aesthetic to showcase how it is supporting Indie EdTech. I thought it would be nice to drop a little nod to Indie EdTech into the over OU Create look in feel. So you’ll now find this little guy peeking out in the background:

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Developing Locally

Last, the other thing that I’ve been doing a bit differently is actually developing locally and then moving to a live environment. Last month I completed several courses on WordPress development and highly suggest the Local WordPress Development course from Team Treehouse. Honestly, because one-click installs and applications like Installatron make standing up WordPress so easy, I hadn’t thought much about local development. But it’s fairly easy to stand up WordPress on your own computer and develop there with tools like MAMP and Sublime Text. As I get further into WordPress development, my goal is to develop locally but host the files on both my machine as well as a Github repository, so that anyone can follow along as I attempt to development my own custom theme.

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We’re hoping the new landing page is some inspiration for a wonderful year on OU Create (we’re up 100 domains since the turn of the calendar). May this be the most domain-iest year yet.

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Three Flavors of Networked Blogging with WordPress

I’ve been helping with the launch of MiddCreate, a domains project at Middlebury, led by Amy Collier. One of their faculty members was interested in a multisite setup for her class, and while that’s a great approach, I wanted to offer the Middlebury folks a broader look at options for networked blogging with a particular focus on different models that WordPress affords.

Networked, distributed sites

This is the approach that I use for my PR Pubs course, which was popularized by Alan Levine / DS106. Essentially, faculty set up a course site and utilized it’s blog function to syndicate student work. This is arguably the broadest approach and lends itself well to student agency. This is because the model depends on student’s sites to have RSS feeds to process the syndication, so, technically, students are able to use any platform that produces an RSS feed. That said, it is also more arduous to manage at both a student and faculty level (though I would argue this may be a good thing depending on your objectives). If you are taking a portfolio building approach to your class, I highly recommend this model.

The how: If you are at an institution that has a Domain of One’s Own initiative (we have OU Create) and gives students access to tools like CPanel and Installatron, students have multiple applications that they can choose from (such as WordPress and Known). I have setup a WordPress instance to run the course site and installed FeedWordPress which is the real engine of the tool. I won’t go into this method too in-depth because Alan wrote a series in 2014 which is arguably the most comprehensive tutorial of the plugin (HIGHLY recommended). But for those new to the game, FeedWordPress allows you to subscribe to any of the Atom and RSS feeds that a site generates. If the student is using WordPress (as well as Blogger), you will see multiple options for RSS feeds pop up. That’s because there are feeds for the blogs as well as the comments (which can be beneficial if you want to track comments as well).

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Once you have subscribed to the RSS, you can look under the “Feeds & Updates” menu item and you can decide whether you want the course site to manually check for updates (known as a cron job) or automatically check for updates. I have mine set to check for updates automatically once an hour. One other feature that you might want to take a look at is where the permalinks point. You can either have it point to your local copy or to the students website. I prefer to point to the students site to really promote the idea of these networked, distributed sites, but occasionally a student site disappears and I appreciate the ability to point to the local copy.

There is also an Feedwordpress Advanced Filters plugin that can be handy. I use it to locally store the images that syndicate. That way, in the event that the student site goes down, I have a local copy cached.

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When you’ve finally subscribed to all of the student sites, your FeedWordPress dashboard will look something like this, showing the feeds, their address, and the last time the site was scanned for new posts:

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WordPress Multi-Site

So this is a new approach that I’m playing with. Tim Owens wrote a great series on WordPress multi-site and the advantages it brings. Multi-site is pretty self explanatory: One WordPress user is a super admin to multi sites. Most campus-wide blog solutions are, indeed, simply one installation of a WordPress multi-site. Users can sign up to create a WordPress website but do not manage the installation or its features. This means that all updates to WordPress, themes, and plugins happen at a Super Admin level.

What I wanted to look at was can you use WordPress Multi-Site to replicate the same functionality as distributed site syndication, but lowering the bar to entry for creating and maintaining the site itself. For some, becoming a full sysadmin of their own domain might not be desired and they are looking for an approach that mirrors a hosted solution (such as WordPress.com or Blogger). What would this look like?

I setup http:/prpubs.us/sites and installed WordPress Multi-Site. The next thing you need to do is go to your Network settings and enable registration for both sites and user accounts.

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Then install both FeedWordPress and Inpsyde Multisite Feed (make sure to Network Activate FWP). Multisite Feed is a great little plugin that I found which allows you to create one RSS feed for posts across the entire the network, which means you are no longer managing the RSS feed of all students, but, rather, one MEGA feed.

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Next you’ll leave the Network admin site and go into the Dashboard of whichever site you want to use as your course hub and then add the feed to FeedWordPress. The feed is simply %siteurl%/multifeed (this URL is also customizable in the Multisite Feed settings).

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And, voila, I now have a syndication hub where students can just signup for a WordPress instance and will automatically be syndicating. I can even add a link to “Create a Site” by adding %site-url%/wp-signup.php to the menu.

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Now to just sit back and relax:

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As students signup for an individual site, you’ll receive email notifications as well as find them on your Network Admin Dashboard under Sites:

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So when is this model appropriate? If students are producing a lot of course-specific work but is not necessarily towards a portfolio, you might take this approach. For example, say I’m teaching a U.S. Media History course, and I make an assignment that requires students to build sites in groups. My class has 24 students and I break them up into groups six groups of four. I then assign them decades (1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s) and tell them that I want them to build a resource site for each decade. And suppose I want a consistent look and feel. And let’s make one last assumption that future classes will either do past or future decades OR revise previous students work. Rather than having to manage several installation instances, you can allow students to fire it up themselves, and then you can manage all the updating and maintenance and you’ll still have a syndication hub of all student work.

It’s important to note that students are still technically admins meaning they can export content and then import it into their specific portfolio website if they want.

Group Blog

So the last model I want to look at is the good ol’, tried and true group blog. I have to admit, group blog has never been my bag. I’ve always found it a little suppressing when there’s not a huge barrier to having students create their own site. But this semester I actually had a use case where it came in really handy so I wanted to show how I set it up. We have a faculty member who liked the idea of blogging but teaches a large lecture class called “Architecture for Non-Majors” which is a general education course generally taken during freshman year and hovers around 100 students. He didn’t want to (or felt capable of) teaching domains at that scale. That said, he wanted a public facing space where students could write about and comment on various posts about architecture.

Enter the group blog.

The challenge for this was 1.) making it easy for students to sign up and 2.) making it easy for the faculty member to manage. This gave me an opportunity to play with BuddyPress for the first time in-depth. After installing WordPress, you want to install the BuddyPress plugin, one of the most popular WP plugins out there, which focuses on creating a social network on your site. BuddyPress has several popular features that you can enable including Activity Streams and Notifications:

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Additionally, it generates several custom pages which you can activate very quickly such as Register. This makes it very easy for students to register for the site’s main page.

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You’ll also want to make sure you’ve enabled registration within your WordPress settings under Settings > General. You’ll also want to make sure you’ve set new users to be “Authors.”

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One thing I really appreciate about BuddyPress is user management. You can easily see how many users you have as well as who has not completed signup, and by that I mean they haven’t clicked the verification link from their email. This can happen for a number of reasons including Spam filters. But, anyways, it allows you at an administrator level to resend the verification email (even in bulk!).

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So which model is right for you? Well, of course, that really depends on what you are trying to do and I’d suggest looking at several factors: your objective, disk space capacity, class literacy, personal vs collaborative, etc. While one could argue the merit or purity of a specific method, it’s hard to deny the flexibility of the mighty little WordPress.

 

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.