A Create Promise

Below is the transcript of an email that I sent my team last night. I’m usually not one to publish private conversation, but this came together as much like a blog post as it did an email (and only includes what I have written). The only changes are some typos as well as several more links for external context.


You may have seen a blog post from Laura Gibbs over the weekend that chronicled her perspective of the history of open web projects at OU; much of which highlighted the rise and fall of previous web publishing services. If you haven’t read it, please find some time soon to do so. Sometimes nothing feels more beneficial to one’s position than a historical narrative of what has came before it.

Since it has recently been requested that OU Create become the primary university-supported publishing platform for the community, I wanted to take the time to articulate the promises we hold to our users and the broader institution. Several of her questions I can’t answer simply because I don’t have the knowledge or scope to do so. Yet as we venture into our second semester as an institutionalized service, I do believe I can speak to what I envision moving forward.

Learning is forever at the center of our project.

OU Create is a platform meant to be explored. Its beauty lies in its vastness. There will always be more applications available on OU Create via the Installatron that we haven’t touched than those we have. To me, this is exciting. This is learning. :-)

Yet the goal isn’t for us (or anyone for that matter) to learn every crevice or know every available feature. If a faculty member approaches us about wanting to be a scholarship-focused web presence, we want to be able to assist them in growing their own digital literacy as well as accomplish their goal. Likewise, we want students to be able to utilize the space to better understand the technology that powers individuals on the web, share in a discpline-based learning experiences, and further understand themselves as they embark on crafting their own digital identity.

Whether its learning the technology, fulfilling a course objective, or simply about learning about ones self, this is the goal.

What you build, you keep.

Your data is forever portable. Several of the points that Laura brought up were an unclearness in how to access files on services that are being decommisioned. I want to emphasize that we have made sure that users had the appropriate tools and methods to leave OU Create at any point in time. We’ve built in ways for users to transfer completely to a commercial hosting company either in one-click to Reclaim Hosting, which is our partner in the intitative. Users can also export their CPanel so they can move to a hosting company that also uses CPanel (many do including Bluehost) or they can do something as simple as export their posts from a WordPress instance and move it to the free WordPress.com. It’s imperative that users know this because we believe that this project exists to allow our community to build identities and bodies of work that have value long after their tenure at OU.

As a follow up, we need to make sure our documentation clearly details the various workflows for how this can be accomplishing. Additionally, we need to make it a priority to communicate with users that this process exists.

We will walk the walk.

I don’t know if this was touched on terribly too much by Laura, but it’s something I’m passionate about. We aren’t just promoting a service that we wouldn’t and don’t use ourselves. I honestly believe that involvement in the project isn’t only a great practical service for our community–the ability to build, maintain, grow, and keep your own domain–it’s also the way I see education being most effective; promoting student agency and knowledge curation. The best way to see the fruits of OU Create is to use it ourselves. Some of us will use it personally, some will use it to create open curriculum either for for-credit courses or faculty development initiatives, and some of us will use it as an opportunity to explore our own curiosities. My ultimate wish is that we continue to be inside of it every day so we can learn where it flourishes and where it breaks down; where it’s superior and where it’s lacking. I’m encouraged to see how Anoop is blogging weekly about the OU Create activity, how John is narrating his passion for Wikipedia, and how Keegan has used it to promote his efforts in mobile blogging and scholarship. I also love our conversations where we discuss what does and doesn’t work. Let’s make sure other people get the benefit of hearing those as well.

We will be a part of a broader domains community.

What I see when I look at the good open sources community is sharing. Frequently, from source code to resources to solutions to assistance, the goal is to better the community as a whole. Similarly, I believe that the goal of the academy should, above anything else, be the creation and dissimentation of knowledge.

I want us to continue to help those inside and outside of the domains community as well as those, like Laura, who also make an effort to prioritize experimentation on the edge. To reiterate what I said above, what we learn should be shared broadly, first and foremost, through our own digital publishing platforms.

If we are going anywhere, you’ll hear from us.

We’ve received a commitment from the Office of the Provost and Senior Vice President to fully fund this project for multiple years. While I don’t expect OU Create to go away anytime soon, we need to make sure we take the appropriate steps to communicate the future of the platform; particularly if it ever goes away. There are too many ways for folks to get their data and its too valuable to simply turn the lights off.

Rolling out a new front page for 2016

Well, we are bit behind on the scheduled launch (I was hoping we would have it ready the first week of class) but we’ve gone ahead and flipped the switch on a new OU Create homepage, the main entrance to the OU domains project.

This is version 3.0 for OU Create. 1.0 was created simply as an informational page for the pilot. 2.0 focused around showcasing the community and honing in on support material. 3.0 mostly asethetic changes–focused around moving beyond educating the community on what OU Create is to enhancing functionality. More than anything, we want our users to get to the CPanel quickly. Create.ou.edu is, after all, a portal more than anything else.

Moving Login to the Front Page

One of the major things that we wanted to add this year was login access from the start page. Our inspiration was Tumblr which has a beautiful landing page focused on getting you to your Dashboard.

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 4.14.32 PM.png

Taking the same approach, I went on a hunt for how to put a WordPress login box on any page. Unfortunately, most of my search came up dry as most plugins UI falls short of 2016 UI design standards.

I finally landed on an article at designmodo called Building a Custom WordPress Login Form with Flat UI. Flat UI is a free Bootstrap theme and I’ve became very fond of the Bootstrap framework over the last six month so gave it a shot.

The plugin and shortcode worked like a charm. I had to change one line of code so that users would be redirected to their CPanel Dashboard. Line 45 became this:


And that’s all she took.

I also found a plugin called Saeid Simple Text Rotator which is based on a jQuery plugin Super Simple Text Rotator by Pete RÀ la how Alan Levine and Brian Lamb tempt you with what SPLOT enigma could possibly be, I wanted to tease out what OU Create could do without bogging down the user with something like icons layed out over columns. The final product was this:


By the way, isn’t that silhouette of campus just gorgeous? Fun fact: its a CC0 Public Domain picture that was taken by CTE’s own Keegan Long-Wheeler on his iPad of course, because he’s our resident mobile freak ;-). We just used a little bit of Photoshop work to change it from a daytime picture to nice dawn skyline.


Keegan was nice enough to do several campus pictures and upload them to the CTE Flickr page and put a CC0 license to them. Check them out.

Going Fully Responsive

One thing that I’m a little embarassed about is that we’ve had responsive turned off on the landing page for quite some time. But the fact was that we hadn’t made a lot of design choices that were super effective for mobile as we were assuming that most users would be coming to OU Create via desktops and laptops. While this is true (95% of our traffic is, indeed, desktop) we do classroom visits all the time to get students setup on domains and several of them are only packing a mobile device. It felt time to finally flip that switch.

And, man, how good it feels to have something that reads well on mobile! Over all the changes, I’m probably most proud of how well the websites translates to the phone screen.


Bringing An Indie Aesthetic

Last month, Jim Groom profiled how Reclaim Hosting is reclaiming an aesthetic to showcase how it is supporting Indie EdTech. I thought it would be nice to drop a little nod to Indie EdTech into the over OU Create look in feel. So you’ll now find this little guy peeking out in the background:


Developing Locally

Last, the other thing that I’ve been doing a bit differently is actually developing locally and then moving to a live environment. Last month I completed several courses on WordPress development and highly suggest the Local WordPress Development course from Team Treehouse. Honestly, because one-click installs and applications like Installatron make standing up WordPress so easy, I hadn’t thought much about local development. But it’s fairly easy to stand up WordPress on your own computer and develop there with tools like MAMP and Sublime Text. As I get further into WordPress development, my goal is to develop locally but host the files on both my machine as well as a Github repository, so that anyone can follow along as I attempt to development my own custom theme.


We’re hoping the new landing page is some inspiration for a wonderful year on OU Create (we’re up 100 domains since the turn of the calendar). May this be the most domain-iest year yet.