Building with Howard: Creating a Learning Environment with Open Source Tools Pt 1

Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure to sit down with Howard Rheingold—at least virtually—and go through the process of setting up a course hub using WordPress. The above video is the first part of a series in which we will work through building a learning environment using open source tools on a LAMP environment. This video focused on creating the central hub for Howard’s course Social Media Issues that he’ll be teaching this fall.  O ver the course of the conversation Howard and I covered how to 1) install WordPress using on your web server, 2) post content, 3) search, add, and activate plugins (in this case FeedWordPress), 4) add widgets, and 5) change the theme.

Howard’s interested in creating a dynamic course environment wherein students can establish and control their own online presence and have their work syndicated into a central course hub (not unlike the environments Alan Levine has been building recently for universities like Harvard ). By installing and activating the FeedWordPress plugin, we effectively enable the ability to add the URL of students’ sites (assuming they have an RSS feed) so that their posts can be fed into a central aggregation point for the class to view and comment upon each others work.

What’s more, this WordPress hub will have a series of pages that contain various information about the class, such as an about page, a  syllabus page, an FAQ, etc. It can include or link to social media conversations happening on the open web. For examples, you can embed a conversation from Twitter happening around a hashtag into the sidebar link out to class Tumblr, etc.

At the same time, the WordPress blog hub is just one facet of the course. We’ll be doing another episode tomorrow afternoon in which we plan on covering a few more of the affordances of  the hub and then moving on to integrating a wiki into the course environment. We’ll be demonstrating the open source application MediaWiki (which powers Wikipedia), and I imagine we’ll have a full session given it can be a lot more painstaking that WordPress.

I’m excited about this video series because it really brings me back to instructional technology work I was doing  in earnest at UMW back in 2006 and 2007. We were experimenting wildly with open source tools to see what kind of environments we could create for the campus community. This experimentation ultimately led to UMW Blogs and then ds106, and while these examples forced UMW to starting wrestling with questions of scale, the fact remains just about anyone can access and start experimenting with a wide array of web applications for the price of lunch.

I love that Howard is ready and willing to sit down and think through his course with me over the next couple of weeks.  This is distributed edtech at its very best, and hopefully sharing the process of building this course site will both inspire and help others to experiment as well.

We’re Live!

Over the past few weeks we've seen an outpouring of support and interest in Reclaim Hosting. We're excited to finally launch and announce that signups are open. If you are running a course that would benefit from having your students get a domain of their own and web hosting, point them to https://reclaimhosting.com to sign up. If you wish to cover the fee for students you register for an account here and submit a support ticket to us with the number of domains you will need and we'll be happy to generate an invoice for you. 

In addition to launching Reclaim Hosting we want to focus the next few months not only on building a great system to provide educators and students with web hosting, but also on building a community of people in the field who are doing this. We can all learn from each other and support each other in this exciting adventure. To that end we have build the Reclaim Hosting community, a forum where you can get advice and help, offer tips and tricks, and post about pretty much anything you're doing with Reclaim Hosting. Be sure to also follow the hashtag #reclaim on Twitter, and we'll be publishing weekly videos and screencasts to help the community further. We're also continually building out the Knowledgebase and if you're written a tutorial for your class feel free to share it with the community and we'll add it there! 

This is by far the most exciting thing we've ever done and we're stoked you want to be a part of it. Let's make the myths together.

Jim Groom and Tim Owens