Reclaim Hosting is Live

appboxLast October Tim Owens and I were coming back from a presentation about Domain of One’s Own at a symposium on digital publication, research, and writing at Emory University when we realized the work we’re framing out for Domain of One’s Own might have broader applications well beyond UMW. Yesterday Reclaim Hosting went live, and it’s exactly what Tim and I were talking about on that train ride back to Fredericksburg ten months ago. Reclaim Hosting affords teachers, faculty, students, and institutions all over the world the ability to quickly setup a domain and web hosting account within the context of a larger educational community. In fact, I think Audrey Watter’s reference to Domain of One’s Own as one of the edtech start-ups of 2012 was somewhat prescient and generative, because she helped us see that the work we’re doing has a broader field of influence then we first realized.

I’m really excited by the idea that a community of educators and students can start collaborating the possibilities of  managing and experimenting with an open source toolbox. In many ways, the series I am working on with Howard Rheingold right now is a sign of some of the larger possibilities for doing open, distributed edtech. That said, this could not have been done without the help of a number of people in the community who stepped up and loaned us the money to cover the domain costs as we get started. The number of people that expressed interest in Reclaim Hosting was daunting, and we needed to be sure we could cover the demand.

In particular, Mike Caulfield loaned us the lion’s share of the money so far to cover the upfront costs of domains as we get started, without him we couldn’t open this as quickly as we have. But Mike was not alone in his faith in this project, we’ve raised over $12,000 thanks to Paul Bond,  Boone Gorges, Brian Lamb, Jeff McCLurkenMariana Funes, John Maxwell, Grant Potter, Jess Rigelhaupt, Jonathan Worth, and Christina Hendricks. You all rule! If this craziness works you get free hosting #4life :) Also, if you are reading this and can spare to loan us a few bucks sometime over the next week or two we would be much obliged. Now, let’s get this learning party started!


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.

Reclaim Hosting needs your money!

A dapper Charles Ponzi :)

Ok, here’s the situation, my parents went away on a week’s vacation Reclaim Hosting is pretty much rocking and rolling. We have an insane amount of interest, conservative estimates put us at about 3000 faculty and students already. What’s more, the infrastructure has been tested with some early lab rats, and it’s good to go. But there’s one small problem, we need money to front the cost of as many as 3000 domains.

What about the Shuttleworth Foundation grant, you ask? A portion of that grant was used to setup the server, buy  WHMCS and Installatron, and provide a year’s worth of free hosting to participants in Reclaim Hosting. The remaining grant money won’t even begin to cover what we need for domains. Additionally, the plan was to use that money to develop the ds106 assignment bank as a WordPress plugin as well as to frame out the architecture of the Reclaim Your Domain project. As of now, if 3000 people were to sign-up on, or soon after, August 15th (which is when we open sign-ups) we’d have to immediately front upwards of $30,000 in domain costs before that money could be reimbursed to us.

Fact is, Tim and I might be smart, attractive, and bad ass instructional technologists, but we’re far from rich. So, that’s why we are asking you. We are trying to borrow (this is a short-term loan, not a hand-out—though we aren’t against that either :) ) up to $30,000 so we can cover the demand we’re expecting in the first month. We have set up a campaign site for anyone interested in helping us get started, and we’ll track our progress there.

I’ve gone to the community well with this kind of thing before, so I wouldn’t be surprised if folks can’t or won’t do it again—no hard feelings. That said, this is a short-term loan for Reclaim Hosting so it can get up on its feet, and we have no interest pursuing funding that might compromise this project’s community focus. What’s more, you’ll get your money back no later than October 31st, 2013. If you interested, go here and give us a loan, hippies!

Reclaim Hosting: Battling Digital Somnabulism One Domain at a Time

occupywebA week after launching Reclaim Hosting it seems like the project has hit a broader, international nerve. By a conservative count Tim Owens and I did this morning , it looks like we’re going to need a bigger boat  based on the overwhelming interest that, by a conservative estimate, would result in more than 2000 accounts come August 15ht when we open up sign-ups.  What’s more exciting that the crazy amount of people interested, is the realization that a lot of people want a communal approach to an open source toolkit for their teaching and learning.

As it turns out we can deal with the issue of scale when it comes to servers, just get another one (or three!), right Tim? However, the idea of trying to create a community wherein students and faculty can share what they are doing in this space in order to model different approaches, help one another out, and feedback what they’ve learned is the real nut to crack. Tim and I are working on how we might build an environment that harnesses a community of support (which itself will be evolving depending on the community), and I imagine our work with ds106 will help us in that regard. The fact that we can so easily open up the possibility for something like Domain of One’s Own to students, instructors,  academic departments, and institutions around the world (and this is truly a global project) using a small flash grant from the Shuttleworth Foundation is remarkable.

That said, I have to acknowledge that Tim Owens deserves the lion’s share of the credit. He cloned the work he and Martha Burtis are doing with UMW Domains in no time flat, and it will come as no surprise that Reclaim Hosting  is inspired by the Domain of One’s Own project happening at UMW this Fall. What’s more, it follows in a long line of projects coming out of UMW’s DTLT like the Bluehost Experiment, ds106 and UMW Blogs. DTLT has made it a habit over the last ten years of pointing its initiatives towards the web in order to share the work we’re doing, as well as allow others to piggyback on them if their environment is less than conducive to innovation.

The secret is that we’re not the one’s  ”sacrificing” our limited resources for the good of the cause by sharing out work. Rather, the process pays back to UMW 1000 fold. We get access to a wide range of approaches all over the world from different education levels (K12, undergraduate, graduate, etc.) that help us better understand how to approach Domain of One’s Own locally. We also hook into a community of students and instructors that want to experiment, exposing us to some of the most innovative approaches going and forcing us to stay sharp at home. What’s more, it often brings attention to your work. When you open your work up, you’re usually the one that benefits as a result. In fact, I would argue that the community as a whole does.

On that note, I was excited to see Chronicle intern reporter Sara Grossman’s article on Reclaim Hosting. She took the time to follow-up on her interview with us several times, and I think her article does justice to the project:

The goal [of Reclaim Hosting] is to provide instructors and administrators with a simple way to give students personal domains and Web hosting they can own and control.

That’s right, and while the pedants will argue how much can you truly own or control a domain or hosting (“it’s leasing!”), the idea behind this project is to move beyond a simple consumer attitude towards the web. In order to truly engage this participatory medium on your own terms, you need to understand how it works. This means experimenting with installing applications, browsing database tables, experimenting with DNS, mapping domains, etc. Whats more, it’s about avoiding our culture’s tendency of “falling into a state of digital somnambulism,” to quote Cathy Derecki’s must read post on the topic titled “Time to Fight the Digital Nanny State.”  In fact, I get excited when I think an entire community college system like VCCS is considering the implications of such an approach.

In the following video Tim and I frame this project in more detail. We work through some of the details of how we are trying to share resources, develop a distributed community site, and create an ongoing video series wherein we explore the possibilities of various open source applications. I imagine it will cover approaches to building distributed course sites, managing your students cPanel accounts, as well as cover a series of various technical details behind web hosting. But all this analyzing is paralyzing, it’s time to play this dang thing!