Open Source FTW or, a Small Anecdote of a WPMS LTI Integration Plugin

Back at Domains 2019 Andy Millington came all the way from the University of Edinburgh to Durham, North Carolina to share the work of his team to create an LTI  that integrates WordPress Multisite with Moodle. This is a project Anne-Marie Scott wrote about extensively, and I can think of few more eloquent and ardent supporters of open source in higher ed, so in many ways this post is for her–big fan!

I’ll be honest, LTI is not necessarily the sexiest edtech acronym I’ve used on this blog. In fact, for many it’s a more restrictive API that is designated for the worst of teaching tools: the LMS, or VLE, or what have you.* That said, Jon Udell made a pretty compelling argument in defense of the LTI (although I will not forgive him his LMS love) which is very much inline with his thinking through light-weight system integrations for decades now. What’s more, companies like Hypothesis and Lumen Learning have listened to the Dead Moocmen, and they know the LMS is here to stay, and it will never die. So LTI integrations into learning management systems of all kinds is a key part of their success, and while I find the continued dependence on the LMS sad and pathetic, I do understand the need for them. Such are the compromises of an aging edtech.

But if I can pull myself out of the depression this line of thought plunges me into, one silver lining is open source code that makes these LTI integrations more broadly applicable and freely re-usable. And here begins my quick anecdote that I hope Andy and Anne-Marie can appreciate. In early December I was on a call with a university that has a legacy WordPress Multisite that has been around since 2009 and has 17,000+ sites.† What’s more, it’s integrated with their LMS, which in this case is not Moodle but Sakai, and in order for them to offload the hosting they need to re-work that integration. They asked us if we do development work, which is a hard no. We have folks we can recommend, but we realized early on that development is not our game; it’s a totally different skillset and long-term maintenance is always more work than one could ever imagine. That said, during the meeting I believe Tim recommended they take a look at the code on Github for the LTI plugin developed at Edinburgh before going the often expensive and time-consuming custom development route.

When we met again right before the holidays one of the agenda items was regarding custom development for LTI integration for their WPMS into Sakai, which Lauren and I were sure was going to be a deal breaker. So as we got to that bullet point the developer said this was no longer a concern, they looked at the LTI plugin from Edinburgh on Github and with some slight customizations for Sakai reported it worked brilliantly. In fact, it was even better than what they had been using previously. YEAH!

I’ll be sure to follow-up and see if that  modification can be shared somewhere for other folks using Sakai and wanting WordPress LTI integration. But in the interim it just seemed important to tell the story because those universities like University of Edinburgh that are leading by giving back, and putting the talent they have locally to work for a much broader global community is a facet of the power of open that made me fall in love with that whole concept way back in 2004 or 2005. Avanti!

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*I still hate the LMS as much as I ever did, and dealing with it tangentially last semester as Antonella started teaching again re-surfaced all the old wounds and that deep-seated loathing of a true tool of teaching oppression.

†As it turns out, this WordPress Multisite instance was a result of a visit and consultation I made in that same year. It has been amazing to me how many sites I helped folks get up and running a decade ago are now are hosted with Reclaim, it’s truly a long game/con I have been running all these years 🙂

Reclaiming WordPress Multisite

Lauren Brumfield already announced that we’re officially rolling out WordPress Multisite (WPMS) hosting at Reclaim. What’s more, she created an online calculator that provides transparent pricing going forward, which is a big part of why we’re finally announcing something we have done for years. While we’ve been pretty laser-focused on shared hosting and Domain of One’s Own for the last four years, we’ve still picked up more than a few WPMS instances. In fact, we jumped in at the deep-end of the pool when we started hosting the colossus that is VCU’s Rampages. As a result Tim was able to really fine-tune high demand WPMS environments like Rampages, and we’re in a situation where we can comfortably manage just about anything out there in higher ed.

It’s fun for me because I cut my teeth on WordPress Multiuser (even before it was multisite), and when Tim came onboard at UMW the first thing we asked him was how he felt about managing UMW Blogs. The rest is Reclaim history, he proved an insanely quick study and went from UMW Blogs to Hippie Hosting to Domain of One’s Own to Reclaim Hosting in two short years. That’s a resume!

back to the future, we really weren’t comfortable with announcing WPMS at Reclaim too early because we were experimenting with different setups across various data centers like AWS, Linode, and Digital Ocean, so things were always custom based on several factors which meant the pricing varied. But when Digital Ocean recently announced their new plans and pricing model, we were sure we had a solid setup through Digital Ocean that would allow us to stabilize our WPMS offerings as well as making them extremely competitive when it comes to pricing.

Before we could announce anything we had to reach out to all existing customers we and let them know of the new setup, for many of them this meant a significant savings. Once took care of that, we figured it was high time to officially announce that we are in the WPMS hosting business. So if you have a WPMS site you want to offload to external hosting, let’s talk. Pricing is simple: server, backups, and software licensing (Bitninja, cPanel, etc) at cost, whereas our monthly maintenance and management fees starts at $250 per month. This model finally allows us to decouple server and software costs from management demands, and establishes a baseline for what our time is worth to ensure you get the service we’re known for. It also makes clear that what you pay us for is not the hardware or software, but the peace of mind that tried and true experts are on the job. I mean let’s be honest here, this isn’t some hack outfit working from a ramshackle UMW office in duPont Hall trying to duct tape together some kind of chitty-chitty-bang-bang syndication solution, we’re professionals—and for that you must pay!