Plugin Review: Ultimate Dashboard

Ok, folks- I’m pretty jazzed about a new plugin that I came across just this afternoon that I really think could change the game for #DoOO SPLOT/Site Template Builders and WordPress Multisite Administrators. My research for something like this began from an email I received from Coventry University asking about the extent that we could generate “getting started” language within new sub-sites of a WordPress Multisite. Coventry Admins were looking for ways in which they could guide beginner users, encourage them to build an “About Me” page as part of a larger Portfolio, and simply offer additional resources as users begin to settle into their new site.

The plugin I found is called Ultimate Dashboard and, as the title suggests, it allows you to customize and simplify your WordPress dashboard. There’s a free and a pro version, and quite a bit can be done with the free version. Check it out:

What I first see when installing WordPress-

What I see after playing with Ultimate Dashboard for a few minutes-

^ To Summarize the above, I was able to:

  • Remove the “Screen Options” and “Help” tabs from top right
  • Add a StateU Support admin page to the left dashboard menu bar and order it in the list
  • Completely remove existing WP Dashboard widgets
  • Create my own WP Dashboard widgets and order them
  • Alter the footer language

I’ll explain the steps I took below, but I was shocked with how simple and intuitive it was. Also, its pretty cool that you’re able to do so much with the free version alone.


How to Remove “Screen Options” and “Help” Tabs

Go to Ultimate Dashboard > Settings and check Remove Help Tab and Remove Screen Options Tab. Done. (On this page I also have the option to rename the Dashboard to something else, but I decided to keep it the same since any and all WordPress documentation will refer to it as a Dashboard.


Add a StateU Support admin page

Go to Ultimate Dashboard > Admin Pages and click Add New. Next you can begin adding in your content like any other WordPress post or page. I’m able to embed videos, add in images, headers, etc. I also set this as a Top Level Menu item, but it can be added as a submenu item to any parent menu item as well. Finally, I assigned it the #2 order so it would show up right underneath the Dashboard in the sidebar. I was able to customize the menu icon as well:


Removing Existing WordPress Dashboard Widgets

Go to Ultimate Dashboard > Settings and check All next to Remove All Widgets. The Pro version of this plugin allows you to easily remove third party plugin widgets (things like Elementor, Google Analytics, WooCommerce, etc) as well. However to work around this I quickly reenabled the ‘Screen Options’ tab, unchecked third party widgets there, and disabled the Screen Options tab again. Ha!


Creating my own Dashboard Widgets

Here’s where it really started getting fun. Ultimate Dashboard allows you to create three different types of Dashboard widgets with the free version: Text, Icon, and HTML. I tested all 3 and they’re beautiful!

Text Widget

Go to Ultimate Dashboard > Add New. Give your Widget a title, choose the Text Widget Type, add in your content and click Update. At the bottom you also have the option to set a fixed height, which may be recommended if you’ve got quite a bit of text.

Icon Widget

Go to Ultimate Dashboard > Add New. Give your Widget a title, choose the Icon Widget Type, and select the icon that you want to use. From there you can add in extra text that will fade in when you hover your mouse over the top right-hand question mark. The bottom field allows you to add a clickthrough URL for the widget. In this case I used a relative WordPress URL that points the user back to their individual ‘Add New Page’ section of the dashboard. (So cool!) Finally, click Update.

On my dashboard I also created another Icon Widget with an external link. So for example if you’ve got a class site or suite of resources that live outside of the WordPress instance that you want to point folks to, this works great.

HTML Widget

The final widget type works well if you quickly want to embed something without messing with formatting. Go to Ultimate Dashboard > Add New. Give your Widget a title, choose the HTML Widget Type, and paste in your HTML code:

The Pro version of this plugin has actual Video and Contact form widget types, but doing this through HTML is another great workaround.


Altering the footer language

Lastly, the Ultimate Dashboard plugin allows you to alter footer language in the dashboard from something like this:

…to this:

To do this, all you’ll need to do is go to Ultimate Dashboard > White Label and add in your own content to the Footer and Version Text fields.

The Pro version of the plugin way more customization options to allow you to brand the dashboard even further, which may be worth it for a large WordPress Multisite. But for admins that are looking to simplify the WordPress dashboard or offer guidance to new users in a Site Template, the free version may be all you need.


If anyone ends up using this plugin, please let me know! I’d be curious to see how you adopt it for your community.

Trying to Contain my Excitement (and workload) for OWLTEH

via GIPHY

In just under three weeks the free, one-day event Learning on/with the Open Web (OWLTEH) will be happening in Coventry. It should prove a lot of fun, and you can get a sense of some of the talks happening here (that site nicely highlighting the value of the TRU Writer SPLOT). I am planning on doing a workshop with Lauren Heywood and Daniel Villar-Rubio on SPLOTs as well as convening a presentation/panel with Anne-Marie Scott and Tony Hirst in which we talk a bit about the open web for teaching and learning at the level of the infrastructure. I pushed out an abstract here, but this is still a work in progress:

The emergence of an abstracted, containerized infrastructure for the open web poses all sorts of questions about the future. Focusing on everything from the shift from RSS to APIs, the rise of containers, and the talk of “serverless” stack, this panel will attempt to explain these developments and make sense of what open web infrastructure could look for higher education in the near future.

Probably needs some work, but that’s the least of my worries. I am in the middle of trying to get a Windows 95 boot emulated on a mid-90s computer and even creating a local area network to reproduce sites from circa 1995. We’ll see how that goes, and also I am in need of some 90s websites if you have an idea or two submit them here for the Teaching and Learning on the 90s Web Exhibit, submissions here please ?

I’m gonna have a busy weekend, I am in over my head! 

App Release: Big Picture Calling Card

App Release: Big Picture Calling Card

Reclaim Hosting has long been a big fan of the work that Alan Levine is doing with SPLOTs (Smallest Possible learning...object...tools? Who knows what it actually stands for). The idea, born out of the work Alan was doing with Brian Lamb's group at TRU, was to make simple tools built on top of WordPress that solved simple problems. For users in Canada it was especially important that no logins be required. A suite of tools were developed and Alan has gone on to continue maintaining them and even developed additional ones like "Calling Card" themes for personal sites and packaging up the DS106 Assignment Bank and Daily Create into standalone packages.

As Jim wrote about earlier, we had visions of bringing Alan on in a fellowship role to work with us on developing many of these tools into standalone installers in our Reclaim Hosting environment. I'm happy to announce that the first of many goes live today, the Big Picture Calling Card.

Big Picture is a theme developed by Alan and based off of an HTML5UP theme of the same name. It's a single page landing site that works well for personal sites as well as small projects where you may want all the information on a single page. Now, installing a theme isn't necessarily hard, and Alan has done a lot of work documenting both in his Github repository as well as on his blog how to get up and running. But for users brand new to WordPress even the act of installing themes, activating plugins, and configuring settings in Customizer can be a hell of a learning curve (a great learning opportunity in my opinion, but a curve nonetheless). In the same way that creating an installer for Omeka has opened the doors for many more folks to work with that software we have seen time and again how building applications for our environment can simply the amount of onboarding necessary to build out amazing stuff.

Big Picture Calling Card is rolling out to servers over the next 24 hours for all Reclaim Hosting users and available directly in Installatron. And the great news is that this is the first of many SPLOT-based applications that we will be making available including additional calling card themes as well functional applications like the TRU Writer and TRU Collector.

App Release: Big Picture Calling Card

App Release: Big Picture Calling Card

Reclaim Hosting has long been a big fan of the work that Alan Levine is doing with SPLOTs (Smallest Possible learning...object...tools? Who knows what it actually stands for). The idea, born out of the work Alan was doing with Brian Lamb's group at TRU, was to make simple tools built on top of WordPress that solved simple problems. For users in Canada it was especially important that no logins be required. A suite of tools were developed and Alan has gone on to continue maintaining them and even developed additional ones like "Calling Card" themes for personal sites and packaging up the DS106 Assignment Bank and Daily Create into standalone packages.

As Jim wrote about earlier, we had visions of bringing Alan on in a fellowship role to work with us on developing many of these tools into standalone installers in our Reclaim Hosting environment. I'm happy to announce that the first of many goes live today, the Big Picture Calling Card.

Big Picture is a theme developed by Alan and based off of an HTML5UP theme of the same name. It's a single page landing site that works well for personal sites as well as small projects where you may want all the information on a single page. Now, installing a theme isn't necessarily hard, and Alan has done a lot of work documenting both in his Github repository as well as on his blog how to get up and running. But for users brand new to WordPress even the act of installing themes, activating plugins, and configuring settings in Customizer can be a hell of a learning curve (a great learning opportunity in my opinion, but a curve nonetheless). In the same way that creating an installer for Omeka has opened the doors for many more folks to work with that software we have seen time and again how building applications for our environment can simply the amount of onboarding necessary to build out amazing stuff.

Big Picture Calling Card is rolling out to servers over the next 24 hours for all Reclaim Hosting users and available directly in Installatron. And the great news is that this is the first of many SPLOT-based applications that we will be making available including additional calling card themes as well functional applications like the TRU Writer and TRU Collector.

App Release: Big Picture Calling Card

App Release: Big Picture Calling Card

Reclaim Hosting has long been a big fan of the work that Alan Levine is doing with SPLOTs (Smallest Possible learning...object...tools? Who knows what it actually stands for). The idea, born out of the work Alan was doing with Brian Lamb's group at TRU, was to make simple tools built on top of WordPress that solved simple problems. For users in Canada it was especially important that no logins be required. A suite of tools were developed and Alan has gone on to continue maintaining them and even developed additional ones like "Calling Card" themes for personal sites and packaging up the DS106 Assignment Bank and Daily Create into standalone packages.

As Jim wrote about earlier, we had visions of bringing Alan on in a fellowship role to work with us on developing many of these tools into standalone installers in our Reclaim Hosting environment. I'm happy to announce that the first of many goes live today, the Big Picture Calling Card.

Big Picture is a theme developed by Alan and based off of an HTML5UP theme of the same name. It's a single page landing site that works well for personal sites as well as small projects where you may want all the information on a single page. Now, installing a theme isn't necessarily hard, and Alan has done a lot of work documenting both in his Github repository as well as on his blog how to get up and running. But for users brand new to WordPress even the act of installing themes, activating plugins, and configuring settings in Customizer can be a hell of a learning curve (a great learning opportunity in my opinion, but a curve nonetheless). In the same way that creating an installer for Omeka has opened the doors for many more folks to work with that software we have seen time and again how building applications for our environment can simply the amount of onboarding necessary to build out amazing stuff.

Big Picture Calling Card is rolling out to servers over the next 24 hours for all Reclaim Hosting users and available directly in Installatron. And the great news is that this is the first of many SPLOT-based applications that we will be making available including additional calling card themes as well functional applications like the TRU Writer and TRU Collector.

SPLOTting a Path to Coventry

I spent most of last week working from the UK. Coming off vacation I was back on the road, and a couple of days in London was a nice transition back. In fact, I even got to see Phantom Thread in 70 MM at the BFI IMAX theater.

And the next day I was able to catch part of a retrospective of Italian filmmaker Marco Bellocchio’s work—most of which was new to me. I got to see his very first film, Fists in the Pocket (I pugni in tasca), and I was really impressed. The whole film was funded by his family and I believe shot on location at a relatives home, and it’s quite gorgeous—an impressive debut. The story focuses on a young man who is losing his mind, and the ways in which he rationalizes his increasingly psychopathic behavior for the “good of the family.” It reads as a full-frontal attack on middle-class, catholic values of Italy in the 60s, and uses a dysfunctional family as the vehicle. I must say the decaying mountain villa they live in felt oddly familiar ? I like Criterion’s encapsulation of the film:

Fists in the Pocket was a gleaming ice pick in the eye of bourgeois family values and Catholic morality, a truly unique work that continues to rank as one of the great achievements of Italian cinema.

But it wasn’t all films and culture, I was working most of the time in preparation for a two-day workshop at Coventry University wherein I would be both exploring the Coventry Domains platform with technologists that support different schools/departments from around the university, as well as a deep-dive into the administration of Domains with the three-person crew at the Disruptive Media Learning Lab (DMLL), namely Daniel Villar-Onrubio, Lauren Heywood, and Charlie Legge. As often happens with workshops like this, I often get more out of it than I give. As we were talking through cPanel, various application, and more, the conversation turned to SPLOTs given Daniel and Lauren have been doing an unbelievable job of promoting these small, focused teaching tools. What’s more, Coventry is the first school that has made SPLOTs available as part of their general Domain of One’s Own offering.

Daniel shared a couple of examples with me on how they’re using both the Image Collector and the Media Collector SPLOTs on one of their projects which provide excellent examples of how powerful these tools can be. The Open Web for Learning and Teaching Expertise Hub (OWLTEH) is a resource they are building for teaching and learning with the open web, and they are using both the Image Collector and the Media Collector as part of this site. The Image Collector in this case takes on the role of a catalogue of open tools faculty and students can use, it’s a resource that not only anyone can use-but also anyone can add to:

The other tool is the Media Collector, which is a similar, but in this instance it aggregates videos from a variety of sources (YouTube, Vimeo, Internet Archive, etc.) all in one place:

A slick tool that can not only collect and display, but also allow for communities to create and submit from anywhere—a quick and easy video aggregator for a course if you will.
And then there are the portfolio-based SPLOTs that are being used extensively to get graduate students up and running with a quick professional profile. There was continued interest in the various flavors of SPLOTs for this (Big Picture Calling Card, Dimension Calling Card (pictured above), and Highlights Calling Card) and one of the first of these will most definitely be Reclaim’s initial offering of a stand-alone SPLOT with it’s very own application installer independent of WordPress—though still built on it. 

But I want to return to the Image Collector SPLOT for a moment, just to highlight how these “tiny teaching tools” can really serve some interesting use cases. The above example for OpenMed is a straight up image collector that allows folks from the OpenMed project (which is project focused on creating open resources for various Mediterranean universities) to share photos, which comes in useful given there are numerous schools from across the Middle East and North Africa that are participating. Yet, Lauren showed another example of this same tool being used by an art professor for a project called WordBox.


What is WordBox? Well, it…

… is an activity to support participants to practice searching for discipline specific key terms, definitions and associated words. Submissions to the glossary space include commentary on how the definition was sourced and any benefits or negatives of using particular online spaces to source information. The idea is to learn from one another’s search practices and share experience.

So, a tool to define various key terms in the field highlighting process and sharing results in the form of a glossary. It’s a single assignment that becomes a long-standing resource, and it underscores brilliantly a focused application of SPLOTs, with added bonus of students not needing to login, leave personal data, or learn WordPress to simply share an image, some text, and a link.

Continued excitement around SPLOTs is timely given the day before heading to Coventry, Tim and I spoke with Alan Levine about starting to roll SPLOTs out as stand-alone application installers. Big Picture Calling Card will be the first, but hopefully more will follow given Tim is on an Installatron application installation roll. One of the big benefits of stand-alone apps is all updates Alan makes to the SPLOTs will get rolled out to users, through the current WordPress installation of SPLOTs there is no way to incorporate updates. Another thing we are working on is more documentation and examples, which hopefully this post will provide some fodder for ?

But when it comes to SPLOTs right now, nobody does it better than Coventry, they are an inspiration and everyone participating in the workshop could see the immediate value of having such tools in your back pocket as an educational technologist. 

Creating a WordPress Template

I’ve written a little about SPLOTs in the past, but I’m looking forward to the opportunity over the next few days during Workshop of One’s Own to dive into their possibilities. Alan Levine will be joining us for the workshop as well to spearhead the SPLOTs session. He’ll be taking folks through their origins, potential for the future, examples of ones he’s already created, etc. I’m excited to share the floor with him to chat about how SPLOTs can be used within Domain of One’s Own environments, and how simple it is to set up a SPLOT on your DoOO server.

Keep scrolling to learn how to save your own WordPress install as a SPLOT for others to use.

Step One:

Build out your WordPress install exactly how you want it to be pushed out server-wide.

^Note that if you make changes to the install after it has been templated, those changes will not be reflected on the SPLOT. Installatron essentially takes a snapshot of what the install looks like at the time it’s saved. If you need to update your SPLOT, you’ll need to remove & replace.

Step Two:

Log into WHM. Search ‘install’ in the top, left-hand search bar. Navigate to Installatron Applications Installer & then click Installed Applications.

Step Three:

Now you should see a list of all installs (through Installatron) on the server. Search your install in the top, right-hand corner. Click the star next to the install that you’d like to turn into a SPLOT.

Step Four:

On the following page, give a title and description for your Template. These will be public. After you’ve finished, click Template in the bottom right.

Step Five:

Test it out! If I go back to my individual dashboard and install a new instance of WordPress, I now have the option to install templated package of the WordPress I’ve just created.

Removing a Template

Search ‘Install’, click Installatron Applications Installer, & click Templates.

Scroll down, select the template you’d like to remove and click the X. You’ll be asked to confirm the action, and then you’re good to go!

Now when I go to install WordPress, the template has been removed:

Colgate University Training

How is it already the end of November..? I wanted to set aside time this morning to write about my experience at Colgate University a few weeks back before I turn around and it’s suddenly 2018! After the Reclaim trip to NYC, Jim and I traveled to Hamilton, NY for a two-day training session with members of the Learning and Applied Innovation Team and IT Department. But before getting into the content summary– you can’t talk about Colgate without first mentioning the campus. There’s a reason it makes the list of most beautiful college campuses in the states; it really is stunning. My photos throughout this post will hardly do it justice, but I’m including them anyway. 🙂

On day one, Jim and I met early with folks over coffee & bagels. Jim then began the first block by speaking on how DoOO came to be and how it has transformed over the last few years. I’ve heard this talk a handful of times now, so I was able to see past the initial content and focus on how I would approach a similar talk with my own twist. I’ve been shadowing Jim over the last year or so with the idea that I’ll eventually be able to give these talks & trainings on my own, so it felt good to find the headspace to think through some of that.

Next, Jim and I moved into an overview of the Domain of One’s Own platform, bringing everyone up to speed on how WHM, WHMCS, and WordPress work together. Jim gave an introduction to the system, separating out the ‘need to know’ items from the ‘you’ll never really use this’ functions. From there I gave a more detailed outline of WHMCS & WHM and began to walk through the platforms in depth before lunch. We picked up where we left off after grabbing a bite to eat with more hands-on practice in WHM/WHMCS. Similar to one of my sessions during Workshop of One’s Own, we worked through common support troubleshooting fixes, user FAQ’s, and approaching support tickets. We also talked through setting up site syndication, domain transfers and even touched briefly on SPLOTs. And just like that, day one had come and gone.

We spent the bulk of day two feeling out the needs and curiosities of those in the room, focusing heavily that morning on relevant ways to use WordPress, Omeka, Scalar & Drupal. It was cool to watch the team brainstorm and think through ways that their community could take advantage of these tools. I love using slavery.georgetown.edu as an example of an integrated domain for this sort of discussion. Georgetown takes a controversial topic and faces it head-on using WordPress for the main domain and Omeka for the archive. They also embed a historical timeline using Timeline JS, so that’s always a great piece to show as well. We also used Keys to Directing as a great Scalar example, Making Modern America for an Omeka Archival site, and Andréa Levi Smith’s course website for showing how DoOO can be used in the classroom.

Andréa’s site was a great segway into where we spent the majority of our time that afternoon: SPLOTs! Her site was built off a template created by Alan Levine called SPLOTPoint. I wrote more about the excitement of the Colgate Team + SPLOTs here, but it was fun to feed off their ideas and play around with these templates in real time. And as Jim discusses here, we found that one of our most valuable moments of the workshop was narrating our thought process of familiarizing ourselves with these templates on the spot. I had never worked directly with the templates that Alan had created, so I was the perfect guinea pig. 🙂

left: SPLOTPoint template; right: Big Picture Calling Card template

I installed the SPLOTPoint template on the big screen (on this example domain) while everyone followed along on their own computers. After tweaking settings and customizing that for a few minutes, we moved onto another SPLOT created by Alan called Big Picture Calling Card (on this example domain). I was asked to narrate my thought process for finding settings/making customizations on the theme & template which led to an hour-long discussion on the future and potential of Domains at Colgate.

This trip was valuable to me personally for many reasons. I felt more confident during the technical training portions of the workshop, compared to scenarios where I’ve shadowed Jim in the past. I also felt capable of carrying my own weight and truly tag-teaming the workshop with Jim, as opposed to interjecting every now and again. Jim also offered his critiques, strategies, and advice for talking at great lengths about Domain of One’s Own (a skill he, no doubt, naturally found) so that was immensely helpful as well. And lastly, I discovered a passion for SPLOTs. I was able to see the true potential of installatron templates during the discussions over those two days, and am very much looking forward to their future in Domain of One’s Own and beyond.

Reclaiming SPLOTs

 

I already blogged this summer about my growing excitement about the possibilities for SPLOTs (which is an acronym for simple teaching tools) for Reclaim Hosting. But after a recent trip to Colgate University, I’m ever more bully on these tiny teaching tools. SPLOTs piqued a lot of interest during a workshop and presentation I gave at Deakins University and Charles Sturt University in July, so Lauren Brumfield and I decided to integrate them into the two-day workshop we were running at Colgate University around their Domain of One’s Own setup to see if we got a similar response. We did.

The response to SPLOTs amongst the small group gathered to administer and introduce the campus community to Colgate Domains was quite enthusiastic. We spent day one providing a system overview of Domains, with a deep-dive into managing cPanel, WHMCS, etc. Day two was focused on using Domains for teaching and learning, and showcasing some of the possible applications both within and beyond WordPress. It was during that second day where we decided to dig into SPLOTs—although we did introduce them briefly the day before when talking about syndication sites. Rather than having a pre-defined script around SPLOTs, we decided to wing that part of the workshop and have everyone in the room try and build a portfolio using the SPLOTs Alan Levine designed on StateU. In fact, this month it has been Alan’s turn to play the SPLOT Warrior, and I have no doubt he’s already got the revolution Down Under in full effect.

Image credit: Alan Levine

Continue reading “Reclaiming SPLOTs”

Sharing SPLOTs Between Servers

During a recent trip to Colgate University (another post on that coming soon), Jim and I had a chance to meet with folks on the ground floor and discuss their visions for Domain of One’s Own at their campus. By the afternoon of Day 2, we were focusing pretty heavily on SPLOTs, a concept developed largely by Alan Levine and Brian Lamb. (He talks about them in depth here.) Though this is hardly a new topic of discussion, its brand new for this little web space so I’ll go ahead and explain: A SPLOT, or Smallest Possible Learning Online Tool, is essentially a template that can be added to a fresh WordPress installation. Think of it like importing demo content with a new WP theme, but it’s done automatically when you install WordPress. So for folks that have never used WordPress before, splots are a helpful starting point. They allow users to see the potential of their WordPress site before even beginning.

Here are a few examples of splots that Alan created, taken from our Demo server, StateU.org:

^Each splot is actually an individual install of WordPress aimed towards different uses: portfolios, course sites, class collaborations, archives of writing, etc. He configured each WordPress install with different sets of themes, plugins, images & dummy text, setting customizations, and pages & posts. Once complete, we were able to ‘save’ the install as a template that other users can see at the point of install. Below is a screenshot of a WordPress installation page where the user could install a number of templates or continue with a clean WordPress dash:  Continue reading “Sharing SPLOTs Between Servers”