Community Highlight: SUNY Oneonta’s Pandemic Diary Project

I had to stop what I was doing today to write this post. I had just been in touch with Ed Beck, Teaching, Learning & Technology Center (TLTC) Instructional Designer at SUNY Oneonta, about this coming contract term for their Domain of One’s Own instance. Ed shared a super cool project that has come to fruition over the last few months, and I am in awe. Before jumping into that, I wanted to quickly share a little bit about SUNY Oneonta’s Domain of One’s Own setup:

It is unique in that the server’s Single Sign On integration is actually managed at the state level so that all interested SUNY campuses can participate. Ed has been spearheading this project, SUNY Create, from SUNY Oneonta, and last year I held a workshop on their campus where educators from SUNY Geneseo and SUNY Oswego joined as well. We spent two days thinking about what this joint initiative will mean as a community, the ways in which campus admins would need to communicate through policies and support, how it could scale, and how admins might lean on each other along the way. They’ve been growing steadily over the last year, and I’m so excited to see how it builds.

Enter one of SUNY Oneonta’s latest projects: The Semester of Living Dangerously: A Pandemic Diary Project for Housebound Students, Faculty and Staff of SUNY Oneonta. As the title suggests, this is a pandemic diary project for the SUNY Oneonta community to share their stories, experiences, perspectives and reflections about living through the Coronavirus pandemic. The post contributions that I’ve read through are so genuine, raw, and descriptive.

Here is a small collection of favorites:

I’ll admit that I found myself getting a bit emotional reading through so many different posts. I recognized my internal struggles in some of this writing, while some voices shared experiences that hadn’t even occurred to me. This project does a beautiful job in making an isolated community (both inside and outside of Oneonta) feel just a little less alone and a little more understanding, courageous, and educated. I also love that the authors can stay anonymous if they choose.

In addition to the powerful content on the front end, Ed was kind enough to share how he brilliantly set up the backend. He began by pimping out a WordPress install with a miniOrange SAML 2.0 SSO plugin. While the free version of the SSO plugin doesn’t allow for a custom login page, Ed created a cool workaround by setting up a separate contribute button on the homepage. He reconstructed the SSO clickthrough URL to allow folks to authenticate with their campus Single Sign On and then be redirected back to a new post page in the WordPress dashboard. All logged in users are given a WordPress user account and granted a Contributor WordPress role. So. Good. (And very similar to some of the DoOO user role workflows!) I hope Ed writes more about this in the future blog post he’s promised me. :)

Ed is also using the free PublishPress Plugin to give users more editing power (i.e. uploading images). The Better Notifications for WP plugin has allowed Ed to customize the types of emails that are being sent out to users when they first register, create a post, and have their post approved. He also added the SMTP Plugin for WordPress, which makes the emails look like their coming from a address as opposed to a address, which keeps the emails out of spam folders. Finally, Ed has the User Switching plugin running which allows WP admins to switch into the dashboard of a contributor and see what the end user sees (– another similarity to the DoOO dashboard, and super helpful for troubleshooting).

The collaborative efforts from the SUNY Oneonta History Department, Milne Library, and the TLTC are so inspiring. The archive of stories they have built will undoubtedly become only more invaluable with time. At the time of writing this, the Pandemic Diaries site has just over 100 entries from Oneonta students, faculty and staff.


  1. I really appreciate you documenting this project, I just finally had some time to go through it and it is really brilliant. What an amazing archive of a moment. The power of the web at its finest. I also love how this is in many ways a home-made SPLOT, so many elements of using the tool for a specific purpose to make things easier and better.

    • I did another “homemade SPLOT” as Jim called it for another project. The biggest thing holding me back with the first implementation was not understanding the SSO enough. I don’t have the skills to set up a Shibboleth SP and use the same plugins that Reclaim does for the homepage, setting up keypairs and the metadata from the command line and then linking it to WordPress Shibboleth.

      I found OneLogin SAML SSO for WordPress to be a better fit. It gave me a GUI where I could manually enter different pieces of the metadata from my IdP team, and create my metadata through a series of checkboxes and dropdown menus. I’m excited for this, because it opens up a lot of doors, and I don’t have to Maguiver sign-on links because I’m too cheap to pay for the full version of the Mini-Orange SSO plugin that I used on my first attempt.

      Fail once, fail better. :-)

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