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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.

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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. 

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Fellowship of the SPLOT

We are big fans of the SPLOT at Reclaim Hosting, and Alan Levine has been doing a ton of work developing and managing these tools o er the last couple of years. Not so much because folks are paying him too, but because that’s who he is. He follows his interests and over-sized heart from fun project to funner project, living the life of a nomad edtech. Not so much “The Man Without a Name” as “The Man without an Institution”—but damn that creep can blog! I guess if you have a good enough blog you don’t need an institution 🙂

Anyway, Alan’s tireless work around SPLOTs is something we have wanted to build on top of at Reclaim for a while now. Specifically, we want to be able to package up SPLOTs as individual apps that someone can install with one click. Alan has been maintaining a number of SPLOTs on our demo server StateU that are available as variables on top of WordPress:

StateU SPLOTs

But when Alan joined us in Fredericksburg for our Workshop of One’s Own to talk SPLOTs in March, we made some headway on making each tool a stand-alone app that can be showcased in cPanel alongside WordPress, Omeka, etc.

Big Picture Calling Card SPLOT as its own application

And the idea is to try and get a series of these SPLOTs in cPanel dashboards across our shared hosting and institutional servers, not only get give folks access to these tools—although definitely that—but also in hopes people will see what’s possible and make their own SPLOTs that can in turn be shared back for others to use. In this way Reclaim could help provide a hub to distribute these “tiny teaching tools” (to misquote Tom Woodward). So, that’s the plan, and to buttress Alan’s efforts and hopefully make it more widely available to others we have started a year-long fellowship at Reclaim in order to support Alan’s work with SPLOTs for the next 12 months. And, as it will be no surprise to anyone who follows his blog, Alan has been bobbing and weaving all kinds of SPLOT goodness.

 

The House that 106 Built

A post shared by Jim Groom (@jim.groom) on


Being able to support the efforts of independent edtechs like Alan Levine is exactly what Reclaim Hosting was born to do—it is, after all, the house that 106 built! And, hopefully, we can do more of just this kind of thing in the future.

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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:

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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.

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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

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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:  Read more