Defining our institutional approach to Domain of One’s Own

I’ve started this post a few times, several months apart. This morning, the reason I think I will finally get to publish is a push from the folks at Reclaim Hosting, specifically a blog post by Lauren Hanks. In her post this week, she details visiting Vanderbilt and supporting the Domains initiative of that institution. I read her post and immediately sent it to my closest collaborator in SUNY, Amanda Schmidt.

Earlier in the week we had talked to a group of interested Librarians and Technologists at SUNY Albany. We had talked about our visions for Domains at our institutions, trotted out some of our favorite examples, and gave our pitch as to why empower our campuses to create Digital Humanities Projects, OER, and portfolios to showcase their work. The trouble is, sometimes it is hard for us not to get bogged down in specifics. How do we get the mission of Domains across without spending too much time talking about the tools? The simple list really helped me and I decided to try to make my own.

Here’s Lauren’s list from her post:

2. Thinking of Reclaim Hosting products and services as tiered or layered based on experience and needs. We’ve always believed that WordPress Multisite Hosting and cPanel Hosting were not at odds; that they could live alongside each other as parallel services to meet the needs of different users. This became all the more apparent when introducing Reclaim Cloud to the folks at Vanderbilt. By acknowledging that no single service will fill the gaps for all users, but that each service will fit the needs for most users, we can then begin to narrow in on who might best be served where. For instance:

Layer/Tier 1: WordPress Multisite – for the users that are scratching the surface of building out webspace
Layer/Tier 2: Domain of One’s Own – for the users that need a bit more freedom, storage space, and app flexibility
Layer/Tier 3: Reclaim Cloud – for the users with more niche requirements or ideas outside of the LAMP stack

Here’s my list:

SUNY Create offers multiple ways to publish websites, repositories, or use web tools. The experience from users of SUNY Create might be extremely different depending on the project and the purpose for building on the open web.

Layer/Tier 1: Access to Web Tools:

These users may not yet be interested in building out a webspace of their own yet, but have heard about a variety of web tools used in educational settings. They might say something like: “I want my students to create videos and post them on YouTube… I heard about this tool called H5P where I could create online interactives… I went to a conference on Digital Humanities and saw these cool student projects built in something called KnightLab.”

This simplistic projects are the gateway drug to larger collaborations. Asking the simple question, “Do you want a webspace to display all these projects together?” can turn a Tier 1 project into a Tier 2 project.

Layer/Tier 2: Commons in a Box OpenLab / Pressbook:

Both Pressbooks and Commons in a Box Openlab are plugins that transform a WordPress Multisite into something designed more for education. In the case of Commons in a Box Openlab, the additional features include classifying the websites into Portfolios, Projects, Organizations, and Classes, and adding important features in like the ability to create sites for the world, just for the community or shared between a small number of people. Pressbooks adds features specifically for the publishing, sharing, and licensing OER.

What defines this tier is that someone else is managing the backend of the website, handling major upgrades, choosing and vetting plugins. The end users are focused on creating content, not managing the pieces of what makes a website work. My Tier 2 is most similar to Lauren’s Tier 1.

Layer/Tier 3: Full Domain of One’s Own:

cPanel, access to 100s of web applications and tools to manage them. Here users are given access to industy standard web mangement software, and we teach them how to install applications. As they build their content, they are learning basic digital literacies about how the internet works.

WordPress, Omeka, Pressbooks, Drupal, Open Journal System, Moodle. Most application that run on a traditional LAMP stack will run well on our SUNY Create Server. We default to OpenLab or Pressbooks unless there are compelling reasons to try a different application. It could be as simple as “We want plugins or flexibility that you don’t want on the OpenLab or Pressbooks” or it could be that this project is better suited to different applications. As an example, Omeka is designed for museums and libraries to store and manipulate metadata on collections. If that is part of the goals of the project, we need to install and use that application. One of the things that defines Tier 3 is that the creator also has complete control of the installation, upgrading, and choosing plugins, tools and themes. We might sit next to them and help them install and get started, but as time goes own, they need to commit to learning more and really managing the project. This requires having open and frank conversations with our collaborators. Living in this zone we have to set boundaries, talk about what support will look like, and talk about where this creator can go for support. Is there a community of users for the application they want to use? Is there good documentation? My Tier 3 is most similar to Lauren’s Tier 2.

There is no Tier 4 (yet!) Reclaim Cloud:

Reclaim Cloud allows users to install modern web application that scale according to usage. These virtual machines can “burst” according to usage when the sites are busy or using a lot of processing power, and scale down when not in use. On Reclaim Cloud, your bill will vary depending on how much computing power and space you are taking up. In this area, you can also use frameworks and tools that don’t mix well with our Domains of One’s Own shared hosting.

There are web applications that we can’t run, but we still haven’t expanded to Reclaim Cloud yet. There are major hurdles for us to do so, including how to budget applications that are run on demand, how to upgrade applications after installation, and the professional development and expertise needed to support even more applications. The first projects that may go into Reclaim Cloud may actually be more like what I have defined as Tier 2, where the backend of Reclaim Cloud is managed by me and the users are only interacting with the User Interface of the website.

Our philosophy will continue to evolve over time, but taking a moment for reflection was a positive thing this morning.

3 responses to “Defining our institutional approach to Domain of One’s Own”

  1. Lauren Hanks Avatar

    Ed, thanks so much for the shout out, and loved reading your thoughts about how these services are framed for SUNY Create. And I agree about supporting the advanced stuff in the Cloud- it’s a hard balance between wanting to offer it and say “yes” as often as possible, but also challenging to make sure you have the proper expertise to support those offerings. We are currently navigating this at Reclaim Hosting internally, and it is always a work in progress. We’re all sort of building the ship as we sail it. 🙂

  2. […] for support. In my mind, I think of SUNY Oneonta’s Domain of One’s Own initiative as a series of four tiers, and Reclaim Cloud is the fourth and highest tier where there are still (solvable) problems to […]

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