Wading Through the cPanel

When I started this class and bought some additional commodity web-hosting one of my projects was to redirect the content from a previous now-defunct mp3 blog/podcast — gentletyrants.com.  That site was an experiment for my 26 year old self who was obsessed with indie-music and hipsterdom and at the time mp3 blogging seemed to be where it was at.  Anyway, when I bought robnyland.com I wanted to move my hosting from GoDaddy over here to Bluehost so I enlisted the help of my friend Bryant, who happens to be a web developer over at Amazon.

In the course of that set up, Bryant took me through a lot of things, many of which I knew before.  Changing nameservers seemed easy enough, and creating new SQL databases wasn’t too bad, but then he started getting into blogging redirects and pulling out some crazy coding language that I didn’t even know existed.  We spent the next few days over trying to fix various problems on my blog via email — and for most of those days — I had no idea what was going on!  And I consider myself to be pretty savvy with media and such.

After listening to Gardner’s talk “No more digital facelifts”, I kept thinking about my own students and whether or not they would be able to navigate the world of commodity web hosting.  Sure the cpanel makes it easy for me to install my own blog and automatically set up a SQL database, but what happens when something goes wrong?  What happens when a student wants to create a redirect?  I don’t think that my students would be able to wade through all of that information.

My student population tends to take the easiest path given — and maybe that is true of all students these day (or maybe I am just a pessimist).  But if I gave this same requirement to my students, I am afraid that there wouldn’t be a lot of exploration.  There would be a simplescript installation of a wordpress blog and my students would be content with that.  In the past I have given students an assignment to keep a blog through tumblr during the quarter, and while I want to think that this is an opportunity for my students to explore their digital identity most of the time I find my students simply content to leave their blog with the default blue tumblr theme — with the blog title of “Untitled”, and once the class ends they no longer update those blogs and the blogs drift off into the blog graveyard, filled with ambitious grandmothers and viagra spam blogs.

So I guess my question is, how can we change this attitude?  Do we need to start earlier?  Do we need to begin teaching our students css and html and other scripting languages earlier on.  Or is it something that I need to do?  Do I need to have more faith in my students abilities to explore and construct their own digital identity?  Thoughts?  Suggestions?

  • http://www.timmmmyboy.com Tim Owens

    I think the real beauty of self-hosting is not just the nitty-gritty of the cpanel but also the flexibility of your own blog installation gives you. The exploration happens more with finding plugins that suit your lifestyle, exploring the vast array of themes. I don’t see any problem with SimpleScript for the initial process, and hopefully these processes continue to get easier to where even redirects become a few small clicks. It’s an odd balance between finding something user-friendly enough to engage students, but also flexible enough to challenge them to “become their own sysadmins” instead of simply leaning on whatever hot startup has a quick fix for them.

  • http://bavatuesdays.com Jim

    I think you are gonna have a sense of some students getting into and some not, it seems to me the case across classes and despite technology. Some will push the limits of their thinking and some won;t. And I don’t mean that disparaginingly, some might not because they have other things going on—like a great romantic relationship, work, other classes they are more into, family issues, you name it—I recognize all that—and I also don;t fight it. But I continue to believe, and experience hasn’t proven me wrong yet, that there are a enough (and enough can be just 1) students that try and push those limits that make this investment worth it. Some students do sit on their hands after setting up their blog, and I push them throughout the semester to experiment more and break their site so they will learn (nemaley through hacking PHP templates, plugins, databases, subdomains, html, css, etc.) It’s part of the expectation of the class—at the same time I recognize not everyone will get excited about it, but I still think it is important, I still think it is valuable, and I still think that just a few who realize how much you can do with so little is a powerful thing we seem to take for granted, and the less investment you have in something the sooner you are likely to simply let it go to pot.

    So, I still have faith, and I still think it is a teacher’s responsibility to point out how much we take fro granted and how much wonder their is still left in the world of tinkering, what’s more, once they realize they can do it, it doesn’t take long until they want a little more. Now I may be an optimist in this, but I think students realize this landscape is defining them, and they do want to know more, we just have to figure out how to get at that desire without becoming a prescriptive, lackluster force of busy work. It has to mean something.

    • http://robnyland.com/blog robnyland

      The question I come up with a lot of time is that this is fine for classes that are dealing specifically with media (such as ds106), in those classes you can take the detours through css and php and maybe make it out alive. But what happens in when we are trying to introduce these ideas in academic core classes — when we are trying to integrate some of these sysadmin tools into our english and sociology classes. Is the idea that we will be able to integrate these assignments in the same way? Or is the hope that our students will become sysadmins earlier in their educational career and those skills will carry over into the academic core?

      I get what you are saying about doing this for the one student who will push the boundaries. I guess that is the way that I approach many of my classes. I know that a lot of students will phone in their assignments — Creating something that will simply satisfy the requirements of the assignment. But there are students that can look beyond the assignment and instead look at ways that the assignment asks them to push the boundaries. The question remains if there are ways that we can help all of our students push the bounds of the assignment.