Home on the Web: Building a Domain of One’s Own

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We all use the world wide web, to one degree or another, as a platform for learning and for connecting to information, resources, and fellow learners. The Web is arguably the most powerful space we’ve ever had for pursuing and augmenting our education. But do you really know how the web works? I don’t just mean the physical infrastructure (the servers and routers, the cables and wires, etc.). And I don’t specifically mean the software and code that runs the web (HTML, CSS, PHP, JavaScript, etc.), though having some understanding of these things is very beneficial. When I say “how the web works,” I am primarily referring to the set of practices, ideas, and values that enable us to fully exploit the potential of the web as a open, connected, participatory network for publishing and learning. I am, for example, calling to mind Jon Udell’s idea of learning to “think like the web,” the call articulated by Gardner Campbell to build “a personal cyberinfrastructure,” and the challenge laid down by Audrey Watters in “The Web We Need to Give Students.”

Our October series of conversations  and workshops for digital pedagogy will begin to unpack some of these themes. For our first workshop of the month, we’ll talk and walk through the why and how of setting up your own web domain. Fortunately, the process has been facilitated by the awesome folks at Reclaim Hosting, who specialize in providing web hosting and web application management. Reclaim was founded by Tim Owens and Jim Groom, who with others developed the framework for Domain of One’s Own at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia. Please join us on Tuesday, October 4, at 4:30 pm, or Friday, October 7, at 1:30 pm, in Abell 102. If you can’t make it, but are interested in exploring these ideas, leave us a comment or get in touch with Mo. In the meantime, I encourage you to check out the keynote address, “Making and Breaking Domain of One’s Own: Rethinking the Web in Higher Ed,” given by Martha Burtis of UMW at the recent Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute (and beginning at 12:45 in the video below; really, though, watch the whole thing, with both Martha and Sean).

Briefly then, a “domain” is a home base on the web, with a unique URL, that you own, design, and manage. Dozens of colleges and universities are providing their faculty and students with an institutionally subsidized and themed version of a domain. We had hoped to do so at Austin College, but financial constraints have made that unfeasible at this point. Still, individual faculty and students can move forward on their own and, frankly, that may be a preferable approach after all. That way, people fully assume the agency of their professional online identity and portfolio and are not bound by institutional concerns of branding and control. When students graduate or if faculty leave the college, their domain goes with them without any friction. The monetary cost of individual domain registration and web hosting is minimal–$25.00 per year for 2GB of server storage, or $45.00 per year for 10GB. That’s a small sum for such a critical investment in your professional career.

Thus far, then, we’ve been trying to plant seeds by encouraging individual faculty members and students to consider creating their own domains. The idea is that, if just a few folks build domains, we’ll develop some compelling demonstrations and use cases, and colleagues and peers might be persuaded to move in a similar direction. In terms of faculty, our prime example so far here at Austin College is psychology professor Ian MacFarlane. You can check out his site, where he aggregates a growing articulation of content, teaching material, and professional associations. From his domain,  where he is running a WordPress installation, Ian is able to create a subdomain to function as a hub for student blogging in PSY 101. I think we have a few other folks considering their own domains, so hopefully we’ll have more of those to showcase soon.

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Finally, for further background, consult “Assembling Resources on Domain of One’s Own” by UMW’s Lee Skallerup Bessette, including a comprehensive knowledge base of articles and resources on DoOO.

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