Launching Instructional Tech

Last week, Reclaim Hosting reached a big milestone: launching a new Instructional Technology service. Our team has been working on this for months, and you can read my some of my thoughts on what it has meant to embed Instructional Tech into the fabric of Reclaim here. For today’s post, and for the next few weeks, I think it is important that we sit with the “what” and “why” before jumping into the “how.” Don’t get me wrong, “how” we’re delivering Instructional Tech is an essential discussion and one that deserves a moment in the sun, but reserving time to honor “why” we’re doing this, and “what” it is we’re actually doing? That comes first!

This was my thought process when designing out the initial website. I wanted it to feel like an introduction… to break down the “why” and then dive a little deeper into what’s possible.

In One Sentence

The header section makes the overview plain as day: Simply put, this is professional development and intentional community support built specifically with Educational Technologists in mind.

The mission section that comes next may be helpful for our community, but it was equally helpful for our team to write. This practice got us on the same page internally, and allowed us to sit with questions like, Why do we want to do this? What are we committing to? Who is this for? What are the goals?

The Larger Mission

We are committed to helping educational technologists do what they do best.

Reclaim Hosting has been providing edtech infrastructure for higher ed for almost 10 years. Now we want to work more directly with the people on the ground and build a broader professional development community for instructional technologists. These platforms are only as interesting as the people behind them, and it’s our goal to create a structure to help edtechs explore, question, learn, and build the future of teaching and learning together. We want to be a niche support hub and learning community for curious minds and creative tinkerers, whether you have a background in Instructional Design, advanced IT Support, or sit somewhere in between like most Instructional Technologists. Join as we explore what’s possible.

What’s Included

I had a lot of fun during the brainstorming phase while we were putting together the actual service plan. In short, Instructional Tech encompasses a lot of the work that Reclaim Hosting has already been doing (the Reclaim Roadshow, for example) except now at a larger scale: more structure, more consistent events, a wider breadth of learning topics, and a lively community space everywhere in between. Breaking that down, Instructional Tech at Reclaim includes:

  1. Consistent, repeating workshops for Domain of One’s Own and WordPress Multisite projects that you can count on for onboarding and refreshers.
  2. Flex Courses, usually spanning the length of a month, on a varying range of topics like docker containers, open source tools, gravity forms, and more.
  3. “Domains Pen Pals” – you’ll be introduced to folks from other schools with similar goals & interests to strategize and learn alongside each other.

Event Calendar

In the next section I broke down the calendar of events a little further by just barely getting into the “how” territory in order to help new viewers begin to conceptualize what’s possible. Instructional Tech is exciting for us because we’ll have the opportunity to work with key players in the community to help lead workshops and flex courses. Tom Woodward will be leading our Flex Course on Gravity Forms, which I’m particularly stoked about, as well as helping run our workshops on WordPress Multisite throughout the year. My hope is that, over time, we will have a new person headlining the flex courses each month so that we can highlight a diverse group of individuals doing cool stuff.

This section of the site also allowed me to really frame out a space for Reclaim Hosting Events (reclaimhosting.com/events) in general, and even play with a new plugin called The Events Calendar. The plugin is super slick and incredibly easy to work with. We have the Pro version so we can embed the calendar elsewhere, add in recurring events for newsletter publications, highlight hybrid events, and more. There’s still a lot of customizing that can be done here, and I’ll be excited to see this space grow over time.

Community

I’m quite excited for the Instructional Tech Discord server, which is being rolled out as a part of this larger service to help build intentional community support. When running workshops, conferences, and in-person training events, I can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard things like, “If only there was a way to get all DoOO Libraries together to talk about X” or “I’d love to see how other schools are working with SPLOTs” or “How are other WPMS schools using plugins?” In the past we’ve tried to point folks to our community forums as a place for these conversations, but ultimately that space has felt bulky, inflexible, and in some ways too open for strategic, sensitive conversations. Oppositely, the Discord environment has been amazing in past virtual events and has allowed folks to speak more frankly and with more personality. So much so, that as events are ending, we have been have asked to keep Discord up and running for future conversations. Managing a Discord server does require some overhead, so it was never something Reclaim could agree to long term for a past event.

Now, by having a single Discord server for all events and Domains PenPals, as well as a steady stream of blog posts, tweets, and links to various resources, we’re excited to keep this one around for the long haul to use during and between events throughout the year. Anyone will be able to get access to the Discord server to introduce themselves, share ideas & resources, and hangout in future community chats. Folks that are a part of the larger Instructional Tech professional development subscription will then have full access to event & domains penpal channels as well. :) Looking forward to sharing more on this in future posts.

Call to Action & Coming Soon

In the final section of the page, I’ve highlighted our next event (and first in the larger ProfDev subscription) as well as a link to share interest in learning more about what’s possible.

I think this webpage gives a great overview about Instructional Tech at Reclaim Hosting, as well as a look into what’s coming soon. I like that there’s room to grow, and we’ve built in flexibility on the front end to add in more events, training opportunities, and room for community engagement as this grows. Additionally, I also have to take a moment to shout out Bryan Mathers, who has once again nailed it in the art department. The art alone deserves a separate post. :)

Custom Application Installers at Reclaim Hosting

I’m excited to announce that starting this month, we will be allowing Web Developers to share their custom, 1-click application installers with the Reclaim Hosting Community. This means that if you have an application in mind that you’d like to make widely accessible to 200+ institutions, you may do so by building out a custom, 1-click installer and submitting it to Reclaim Hosting for review. We’ll still be watching our Feature Requests for improvements and additions, of course, but now anyone who wants to share their application and build alongside the Reclaim team will be able to do so.

You can view our full list of existing 1-click application installers (both in cPanel/Installatron and in Reclaim Cloud), and you can also learn more about our existing custom 1-click installers (and how they differ from Site Templates) by reading this article.

Overview

This has been an internal topic of conversation at Reclaim Hosting since roughly October of last year. The idea of allowing others to contribute to applications available to the Reclaim Hosting community is exciting for me, but the process is quickly muddied when thinking about all the different types of applications out there. Installatron vs. Reclaim Cloud installers… what are the steps? How can developers test the installers in our environment? What if the applications aren’t kept up to date over time? How do we support installers we haven’t built? How do we make sure that what we’re offering is sustainable for the community? All of these questions were considered as I put together the following webpages:

Landing Page

Given there would be different instructions for Installatron and Reclaim Cloud, as well as potential questions about how to submit an application for review and what developers are agreeing to in the process, it was super clear that we needed a landing page that we could point folks to that had all resources available. I needed this page to offer an overview, include stepping stones for resources, highlight our commitment to sustainability, and take submissions. I used an Elementor template for the design, so it was ultimately quite simple to get up and running once it was properly formatted and we had the correct content to fill in.

Hovering over each block shows “Learn more” buttons.

I also like that this page gives me the flexibility to layer in additional “stepping stones” or resources as this project ebbs and flows. One of the first things I’m looking to expand upon will be a Case Study with Learnful Labs, but I will save those details for another post. :)

For the Submission form at the end of the page, I’m actually using a generic Elementor form here. I tested a Gravity Forms embed, and there was nothing particularly wrong with it, but I ultimately liked the look and feel of Elementor’s. The submission form is made up of three parts: Contact Info, Application Info, and Agreement. To help with the Contact & Application info sections, I created a Submission Checklist page. As for the Agreement step, I added in a checkbox with an embedded link to Reclaim Hosting’s new Software Developer Agreement, so anyone who submits an installer must first acknowledge these terms. Here’s what was used:

By checking this box, you are agreeing to the terms outlined in the Reclaim Hosting <u><a href="https://reclaimhosting.com/applications/software-developer-agreement/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Software Developer Agreement</a></u>. 
<br>
If you have any questions, please <u><a href="https://support.reclaimhosting.com/hc/en-us/articles/1500007028041-How-to-Contact-Reclaim-Hosting-Support" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">contact Reclaim Hosting</a></u> before proceeding. 

As a small aside, while doing this^, I ended up learning about something called Tabnabbing. Essentially this an exploit that uses the browser’s default behavior with target="_blank" to gain partial access to your page through the window.object API. So basically this just means that when you’re creating hyperlinks that open up in a new tab, you should add rel="noopener noreferrer" to prevent that. The more you know!

Installer Instructions

For each set of installer instructions, I worked with Tim to make sure we were providing an outline of requirements, packaging instructions, and testing information for each environment. Given every application and their required environment(s) will look different, the instructions are fairly open-ended, though pointed towards existing documentation from our providers. For example, this is the quickest way to create a Reclaim Cloud installer, as described from our upstream provider, Jelastic. In terms of testing, Reclaim Hosting is happy to provide access to a Demo cPanel/Installatron server or extended Free Trial access in Reclaim Cloud as necessary.

I chose to use a Tab layout for both sets of instructions in order to simplify the look of each section. Each step is inconsistent in that some have screenshots and they vary in lengths, so placing things in a list format, for instance, would ultimately look choppy and incomplete. Similar to the landing page “stepping stones” I also like that this allows me to add new steps or information with minimal disruption to the page design.

Software Developer Agreement

Incorporating a Software Developer Agreement was a less glamorous, but no less important step for us. In order for protect our community and guarantee that what we’re offering is sustainable long-term, it is crucial that Web Developers are taking ownership of the application installers that they are building. Big shoutout to Chris & Justin Webb for their insight & help with this. Here are the cliff notes:

  1. You (Web Developer) acknowledge that software updates are a continued requirement within an ecosystem that relies upon other products and services. As such, it is expected that you will update and maintain your product on a recurring basis and no less than annually.
  2. Reclaim Hosting reserves the right to periodically review all applications and custom products. Upon review, if vulnerabilities or impacting issues are found that affect (or involve) your application, Reclaim Hosting will notify you of the issue with the expectation you will patch or update your product and submit for review within a timely fashion. Issues are evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and in circumstances where vulnerabilities are severe or present risk to the customer or other systems, Reclaim Hosting reserves the right to temporarily remove your product until such time as it has been updated successfully.
  3. Reclaim Hosting works to provide support to all of its customers and to conduct basic triage, troubleshooting and assistance. However, for in-depth (“2nd tier or 3rd tier”) support related to your application, Reclaim Hosting reserves the right to redirect customers directly to you for investigation or remediation of issues.

Next Steps: Submissions & Review

Those interested in building out a custom application installer may reference the Submission Checklist, which provides a full list of what’s needed for a complete submission. Custom Installers that are submitted to Reclaim Hosting will undergo internal review with our Support and Infrastructure Teams, and we’ll be in touch throughout that process to work through any areas of improvement. This will allow us to make sure that what we’re releasing to the community at large will be solid and around for the long haul.

This is an exciting step for Reclaim Hosting, and I can’t wait for what’s to come.

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