Reclaiming WordPress for Lynda

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Yesterday Tim blogged about the Lynda course “WordPress in the Classroom” by Chris Mattia that takes faculty through setting up a course using WordPress. Mattia created the site through an example institution on Reclaim Hosting Tim created called State U. What’s cool about that is not only does it serve as a resource for anyone using Reclaim Hosting, but it also demonstrates how slick our hosting environment has become.

Reclaim Hosting's examples institution site: State U

Reclaim Hosting’s examples institution site: State U

What I’m most excited about with this tutorial is the fact that Chris spends some time breaking down how to use FeedWordPress to feed in student sites, as well as how to subscribe to them.  This has been a long time coming, and Chris explains it beautifully.

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The other element I like is that the course setup is broken down into manageable chunks, and I could really imagine setting a faculty member loose on this to try it out, and then following up with pointed questions.

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https://reclaimhosting.com/reclaim-hosting-partners-with-lynda-com/

Reclaim Hosting Partners with Lynda.com

Reclaim Hosting is proud to announce a partnership with Lynda.com, a company that is setting the standard for online video tutorials and training, with the production of WordPress in the Classroom. This video series was produced by Chris Mattia who we’ve worked with previously through California State University at Channel Islands on their institutional platform. When Chris approached us about building a platform to compliment a new Lynda title that would explore getting a domain and building a WordPress site for use in a classroom environment it struck us as the perfect partnership.

Jim has written a bit already about the platform we built, State University, for this title already. Essentially we wanted to create a mock institutional environment that mirrored the same tools and setup we create for schools with our Domain of One’s Own product. When you visit State University all it takes is a single login through your choice of a number of social networking sites and you can be up and running with a subdomain and building in cPanel in minutes! The WordPress in a Classroom title compliments this platform by walking users through the steps not only of getting up and running but also exploring how a hosting platform like this can enhance teaching methods and augment instruction within your courses.

We know that many of the schools we work with already have Lynda subscriptions on their campus and we’re excited to see this title go live not just because it exposes these alternatives of traditional learning management systems to wider audiences, but also because tutorials like these can become building blocks that faculty using Reclaim Hosting can integrate into their courses as resources for their students. If you don’t have a Lynda account you are eligible for a 10 day free trial so do check it out! When your State University trial comes to a close after 30 days we’ve even provided a promotion code of our already deeply discounted hosting plans. And we’re excited to think that this could be the beginning of a whole series of titles on reclaiming one’s digital identity and building spaces for the web.

Take the opportunity today to check out this title as well as test drive the State University platform and experience the power of building in open spaces for the web!

A Domain Admin Dashoard with APIs

In my last post I tried to capture the work Tim and I did at BYU last week figuring out how an API-driven community site might work. The post is heavily narrative and as much notes for us and BYU as it is a peek into our thinking. The issue with that post is there isn’t really anything to help people visualize what this might look like. So, in this quick post I am going to share how we can use API calls to the web hosting interface CPanel and its client management software WHMCS. Peter Sentz, who is running the Domains pilot at BYU like a boss, requested (and I believe many other schools are interested in something similar) a quick dashboard/overview of how many users, accounts, and domains there are across the system. [The difference between users and accounts here is that users include all those who have also expressed interest, but may not have been given an account just yet.] So, on the heels of our work at BYU, Tim setup a page in the BYU Domains WordPress home to pull that information in from CPanel via API calls. It looks like this:

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That is the beauty of the API right there. Taking info from various systems and tying it together in a clean interface where an admin like Peter could use it. Another issue folks were having was finding a specific user’s domain and information. So based on a quick userid search form, Tim was also able to find a specified user’s domain and the date they created it. What’s more, it also includes links to that individual’s CPanel dashboard and their client info in WHMCS. Something like this:

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That’s about as solid an example of how we might start using these various API calls to create context specific interfaces for our Domains community as there could be. This is stuff Kristen Eshleman at Davidson College has been pushing for since the summer, and I think we are about to break it wide open with the work Tim is doing, not to mention the work Ben Werdmuller and Erin Jo Richey of Known fame will be doing to create integrated, personalized domains for these institutional communities. It’s exciting stuff!

Initial Notes on an API-Driven Community Site for BYU

Last week Tim and I travelled to Brigham Young University to continue conversations started in June around how BYU’s University API initiative, Domain of One’s Own, and an emerging vision of personal APIs might converge. We spent the first part of this most excellent trip over dinner. I mention this because it just so happens David Wiley was in town, and Phil Windley was kind enough to invite him out to dinner with all of us. It was a surreal evening because we spent it talking about the parallel work Reclaim Hosting and Lumen Learning are doing, as well as hearing some fascinating stories from Phil about founding iMall, an early creator of e-commerce tools during the mid 1990s. It was one of those dinner conversations that will stick with me for a while, and it energized me thoroughly.

But the following morning it was time to get down to business,  and we spent most of it getting more insight into how BYU is defining their University API project. What is the University API? Phil Windley lays it out much better than I ever could in this post. But in short, it is the intentional  defining, mapping and abstraction of the various relationships of data resources across an entire institution to enable the BYU community to easily access, share, and re-use information on campus and beyond. It draws to mind the Herculean task of building a subway system in an existing, living city like NYC at the turn of the last century. It’s arduous, painstaking work—but essential to modernize infrastructure. We spent a good part of the morning looking at how they defined a variety of resources, but in the end Tim and I are neither linguists, programmers, or information architects so remaining at the level of JSON bracketed abstraction for too long is always dangerous to productivity.

Luckily, we came with a specific plan, and BYU’s Chief Information Officer Kelly Flanagan is one of those rare gems that can take that abstraction and immediately refine it into a simple problem to solve, “how to we use our APIs to give students the ability to control the personal data in their own domain.”  That’s where we come in (the we is kinda royal here, I’m just the blogger). Over lunch the discussion continued, and Phil, Kelly, and Troy Martin basically told us how excited they were about working with us to try and marry the abstract University API to the specific and personal domain. What’s more, they encouraged us. It’s amazing how generative some genuine interest and encouragement can be. After lunch I prepared for a talk I was giving to the campus community about “Digital Genealogies and Sovereign Source Identity” (more on that in a forthcoming post) and Tim caught some major inspiration.

Over the course of that afternoon and into the early evening Tim and I talked through, worked on, and even began to prototype an API-driven community site. Things fell into place for us. The UMW community site at UMW Domains is more than a year old, and Tim and Martha Burtis put that together in a couple of days with duct tape, FeedWordPress, and three Hail Marys. As we were showing it off to the BYU folks that morning several of the pages and many of the links just didn’t work. Even more of a reason for us to make sense of how we can start to bridge the data we collect and visualize for the community site using API calls. The community site prototype that Martha and Tim built accomplished everything it needed to: it recast web hosting as a fish tank rather than a black box. What we realized that afternoon was that our job now was to re-architect the community site for BYU so that it can provide all the data we get in the UMW Domains site now (recent posts, term, course, department, instructor, status, software, etc.) through API calls.

Tim started playing with the CPanel API immediately, and once he gets going it is a thing of beauty to behold. Upon creation of any new web hosting account on BYU Domains an api subdomain is created, such as api.timelovesapis.com. This will be the place where we start writing to the personal API.  What’s more, Tim also figured out how to get Known installed by default in the root of every new account for BYU Domains using CPanel’s APIs (not live for everyone just yet). So, when creating a domain on BYU Domains, the first thing a student will see is not CPanel, but a customized interface of Known that will be their personal API of sorts. They can integrate their various social media using Known’s Convoy, quickly post files, but also make some basic calls to CPanel to create subdomains, install applications, etc.

Known becomes the interface for their initial domain experience, with the option of accessing CPanel at anytime. And when they install WordPress in Installatron it will automatically write course, term, software, status, etc. to their personal API file. What’s more, if they are installing WordPress (which a majority will) the JSON-API plugin will automatically activate (at least until it is core) and write information like their recent posts, tags, etc. to their personal API file. So, the student has an API that lists all posts, subdomains, software installed, term(s), instructor(s), department(s), etc. Structured data they can now use to organize their career as a student, and the community can call to frame the experience in aggregate.

The next morning we did a demo for Troy, and I think we realized that Known provides a crucial bridge for the personal API vision here. If Known is the default interface for BYU Domains, it already has an API baked in, and it integrates students’ various social media sites from around the web. Known is the layer we build the API calls to CPanel through a simplified dashboard, as well as double down on integrating a contextualized reader into Known that enables the community to start following other people’s work based on structured relationships. Think a Tumblr like interface for all posts for a certain course that can be organized into columns á la Tweetdeck. Or all posts across a department, faculty member, Twitter, Facebook, etc. The community site as imagined through Known with a contextualized reader that enables you to personalize the way you experience the flow of data.

How can we do this? Well, by partnering with Ben Werdmuller and Erin Jo Richey of Known who will be working with us to design the interface and API hooks for BYU’s community portal. I am hopeful that this will be the groundwork for establishing an entirely new interface for personal web hosting across all the institutional sites using Reclaim Hosting (as well as a long-term relationship between Known and Reclaim!). It is really exciting stuff, and if it pans out the way we’re imagining, it marks a pretty dramatic shift in making web hosting, managing your personal data, and structuring your online existence that much more integrated. I can’t even begin to tell you how lucky we are to have the good folks at BYU’s Office of Information Technology pushing us to innovate wildly. They are remarkably open and willing to help us experiment along these lines, without ever shutting down the conversation in regards to what could go wrong, or what might or might not be kosher. They are in fully exploratory mode right alongside of us, and they have swung the doors wide open for us to see what’s possible. It’s like a whole new level of access for making web hosting and personal name spaces part of the “integrated domain” of higher ed in all the augmented-human-intellect-beauty such an Engelbartian turn of phrase draws to mind!

DML’s Reclaim Hosting Interview or, why I love Howard Rheingold

Image credit: Alan Levine’s “Howard Rheingold is #ds106 #4life”

Since the very beginning when Tim Owens and I were getting Reclaim Hosting up and running two years ago, Howard Rheingold was right their experimenting with the platform for his classes at Stanford as well as providing broader support for our efforts through his vast network. I’ve come to understand over the last few years why Howard’s work is ground zero when it comes to imagining the web as a humanized construct for bringing people together. I could point to his pioneering work with online communities viz-a-viz  The Well, his numerous books on all things social web, innumerable blog posts, etc. That’s all part of an extensive archive of its own that will stand testament to his brilliant career thinking about the web as the social fabric of the future. But more than anything it’s him—the person who online (and off) supports your work enthusiastically, champions ideas he believes in, and honestly and openly shares his excitement with others. There is no bullshit with Howard. He is who he is, and he shares what he likes. He didn’t have to do his previous feature of ds106 (though I’m glad he did because it enabled us to work together on Connected Courses), nor did he have to conduct this recent interview with Tim and I about Reclaim Hosting, but he did. And I really appreciate it, but more than anything I have come to appreciate him. Few people have been bigger advocates for this work over the last few years, and I’m personally honored he’s taken an interest in what we’re doing. It’s buoyed me more than a few times when I’ve had to ride the surf of uncertainty as I left the belly of higher ed–so thanks for ruling Howard, and thanks for yet another fun discussion.