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:
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.