Community Highlight: SUNY Oneonta’s Pandemic Diary Project

I had to stop what I was doing today to write this post. I had just been in touch with Ed Beck, Teaching, Learning & Technology Center (TLTC) Instructional Designer at SUNY Oneonta, about this coming contract term for their Domain of One’s Own instance. Ed shared a super cool project that has come to fruition over the last few months, and I am in awe. Before jumping into that, I wanted to quickly share a little bit about SUNY Oneonta’s Domain of One’s Own setup:

It is unique in that the server’s Single Sign On integration is actually managed at the state level so that all interested SUNY campuses can participate. Ed has been spearheading this project, SUNY Create, from SUNY Oneonta, and last year I held a workshop on their campus where educators from SUNY Geneseo and SUNY Oswego joined as well. We spent two days thinking about what this joint initiative will mean as a community, the ways in which campus admins would need to communicate through policies and support, how it could scale, and how admins might lean on each other along the way. They’ve been growing steadily over the last year, and I’m so excited to see how it builds.

Enter one of SUNY Oneonta’s latest projects: The Semester of Living Dangerously: A Pandemic Diary Project for Housebound Students, Faculty and Staff of SUNY Oneonta. As the title suggests, this is a pandemic diary project for the SUNY Oneonta community to share their stories, experiences, perspectives and reflections about living through the Coronavirus pandemic. The post contributions that I’ve read through are so genuine, raw, and descriptive.

Here is a small collection of favorites:

I’ll admit that I found myself getting a bit emotional reading through so many different posts. I recognized my internal struggles in some of this writing, while some voices shared experiences that hadn’t even occurred to me. This project does a beautiful job in making an isolated community (both inside and outside of Oneonta) feel just a little less alone and a little more understanding, courageous, and educated. I also love that the authors can stay anonymous if they choose.

In addition to the powerful content on the front end, Ed was kind enough to share how he brilliantly set up the backend. He began by pimping out a WordPress install with a miniOrange SAML 2.0 SSO plugin. While the free version of the SSO plugin doesn’t allow for a custom login page, Ed created a cool workaround by setting up a separate contribute button on the homepage. He reconstructed the SSO clickthrough URL to allow folks to authenticate with their campus Single Sign On and then be redirected back to a new post page in the WordPress dashboard. All logged in users are given a WordPress user account and granted a Contributor WordPress role. So. Good. (And very similar to some of the DoOO user role workflows!) I hope Ed writes more about this in the future blog post he’s promised me. :)

Ed is also using the free PublishPress Plugin to give users more editing power (i.e. uploading images). The Better Notifications for WP plugin has allowed Ed to customize the types of emails that are being sent out to users when they first register, create a post, and have their post approved. He also added the SMTP Plugin for WordPress, which makes the emails look like their coming from a @oneonta.edu address as opposed to a @wordpress.com address, which keeps the emails out of spam folders. Finally, Ed has the User Switching plugin running which allows WP admins to switch into the dashboard of a contributor and see what the end user sees (– another similarity to the DoOO dashboard, and super helpful for troubleshooting).

The collaborative efforts from the SUNY Oneonta History Department, Milne Library, and the TLTC are so inspiring. The archive of stories they have built will undoubtedly become only more invaluable with time. At the time of writing this, the Pandemic Diaries site has just over 100 entries from Oneonta students, faculty and staff.

Community Highlight – coventry.domains

I can’t believe that my last blog post was roughly a month ago! There’s so much that I need to share in this little space and the work at Reclaim is far from slowing down any time soon. But what better way to jump back into blogging than to start a new series of posts showcasing work done in the Reclaim Community? This sort of thing is long overdue, frankly, but there’s no time like the present. On a semi-regular basis, I want to start featuring more work from the DoOO community on my website under the community category because 1) cool sh*t deserves recognition and 2) being able to point to this space for schools that are considering similar projects would be awesome. So, without further ado, everyone check out the new website for coventry.domains!

The coventry.domains team, Daniel Villar-Onrubia, Lauren Heywood, and Noah Mitchell, did a wonderful job in making the homepage both inviting and informative. They tailored sections for both students and educators, followed by easy step-by-step instructions for getting set up in a web hosting environment. Web Hosting can quickly feel intimidating, so ‘getting started’ steps are immediately followed by links to the coventry.domains knowledge base.

Sitting at coventry.domains/learn, the knowledge base is arguably my favorite part of the project. The icons feel like literal stepping stones to navigate the waters of a new web space. More than just documentation with screenshots, this page thoughtfully answers questions like: Why is this important? How do I design a space that’s accessible for everyone? How should I be sourcing images I find on the web? How do I create a privacy policy? How should I structure and organize my various projects? This knowledge base takes on more than just the ‘what-to-do’s’– it tackles the ‘why’s’ and ‘how-should-I’s’, which is equally just as important in a space of newfound digital literacy.

I often get questions from prospective DoOO institutions about how other schools handle Terms of Service and Code of Conducts in this digital space. Having examples is a critical part of that answer, and I really love Coventry’s take on this. They’ve linked to their Terms & Conditions and Code of Conduct right on the footer of their home page, as most institutions end up doing, but Coventry has taken it a step further. They’ve added a Sign Up Notice, written in plain English, in an effort to be completely transparent about how user data is being processed and how it can later be removed. Users have to agree to this before even authenticating with Single Sign On to begin signing up.

If you’re interested in chatting further with Coventry’s Domain of One’s Own team, they can be reached at dooo@coventry.ac.uk. And as always, feel free to check out other DoOO projects at reclaimhosting.com/institutions.

Investing in Community

Investing in Community

I recently received a support ticket, not so much asking for support, but rather wondering about the status of https://community.reclaimhosting.com/ and why it wasn't promoted more. The person pointed out that it wasn't really linked anywhere or mentioned as far as they could tell, which was absolutely true. When Jim and I first started Reclaim Hosting the idea of building community was very much at the forefront of our minds. I fired up an instance of Vanilla Forums at the time probably only a month after Reclaim Hosting got off the ground. But I never visited there myself. I let it stagnate almost from day one. When Howard Rheingold started experimenting with Discourse I thought "now here's an interesting piece of software for conversing on the web!" and switched up the community site to run on that. I even used a WordPress plugin to make all comments from our blog get driven there as larger discussions. The result: well....nothing. As it not so surprisingly turns out, people don't just flock to new spaces because you hope they will.

The community site has been dormant for a long time now and often I've wondered if it was better to just nuke it into orbit. I had high dreams of folks sharing with each other there, asking questions about how they might approach a given topic, or even user-driven documentation on how to do a particular task on Reclaim. But building community takes so much more than just sitting back and hoping for something to develop. It takes real effort to draw people in, stoke conversations, and it takes a huge amount of good will in the early days. We've had no shortage of good will in building Reclaim Hosting from the community that has embraced us, and if a space to cultivate that is something that I want, something we want, then it's going to take work.

And so last week I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. There were some boring technical details I wanted to accomplish like getting the site to run on SSL thanks to Let's Encrypt support. For the first time I added a link within our client area. I grabbed the RSS feed and started showing the latest posts on our documentation site. And most importantly, I started seeding conversation and inviting folks to the party. You see, Discourse has this great feature that allows you to invite someone to a thread and when they click that link they can immediately start responding without having to go through the process of creating an account. It's a very powerful feature that I have been using a lot this past week to bring folks into the fold and cultivate....well...discourse. Discussions, ideas, tutorials, announcements.

We have a long way to go and it will often require me to get outside of my comfort zone and ask people to participate, be intentional in my actions to seed the space with new ideas and conversation. It's not something I'm used to doing, but it's incredibly important. There is no shortage of amazing people doing incredible work on Reclaim Hosting. And if our support system is any indicator then there are plenty of folks who could use a helping hand as well. We're always there for them, but I would love for that same generosity to extend to the broader circle of people who have trusted us to assist in helping them build their digital identity on the web.

Consider this post me breaking the ice and welcoming you in. I would love for you to come over and chat with us there. As time goes on we'll continue to figure out ways to generate new topics there but I ask that you not be shy and participate in what's happening there. After just one week of investing the time to cultivate the space I've already seen the rewards and it has renewed my efforts to see that space grow. And I now realize this is the investment that we (Reclaim) needs to make in each and every one of you to foster a sense of communal support, the idea that you don't rely on me, or Jim, or anyone else, but that we all can call on each other and have a space to openly share our thoughts. It's more important than ever to me now and I would love for you to join us in that effort!

Investing in Community

Investing in Community

I recently received a support ticket, not so much asking for support, but rather wondering about the status of https://community.reclaimhosting.com/ and why it wasn’t promoted more. The person pointed out that it wasn’t really linked anywhere or mentioned as far as they could tell, which was absolutely true. When Jim and I first started Reclaim Hosting the idea of building community was very much at the forefront of our minds. I fired up an instance of Vanilla Forums at the time probably only a month after Reclaim Hosting got off the ground. But I never visited there myself. I let it stagnate almost from day one. When Howard Rheingold started experimenting with Discourse I thought “now here’s an interesting piece of software for conversing on the web!” and switched up the community site to run on that. I even used a WordPress plugin to make all comments from our blog get driven there as larger discussions. The result: well….nothing. As it not so surprisingly turns out, people don’t just flock to new spaces because you hope they will.

Continue reading “Investing in Community”