Posts in "Domain of Ones Own"

Summer of Domains Love

I’m just getting to the point of the summer in which I have about two weeks to catch my breath before the bulk of my summer work activities get underway. This break allows me enough time to quickly catch up on some blogging I’ve been wanting to do.

We just wrapped up our fourth academic year our Domain of One’s Own project. In January, I put together a little infographic to show where we stand metrics wise. We end the year just north of 4,500 total domain orders meaning that had roughly 700 orders in the Spring semester (likely our biggest Spring yet). Much of this is due to the fact that we are finishing up a project to transfer users off of the university’s old system (, which gave you a cool 10mb of web space.

We started off with 701 total users from the old system and John Stewart as been slowly chipping away at notifying users, assisting with migration, and setting up redirect URLs from their old space. We’ve heard from roughly 220 of the 700. 130 of them already had OU Create, and 70 have asked for assistance.

Of the remaining users, less than 20 have made any changes since 2015 and over 400 of them have made no changes to their site in the last five years. So I’m feeling pretty confident that we’ll have all of the remaining active users taken care of by June.

To the Creaties and Beyond

We bookend the semester with the second round of the OU Creaties. The Creaties is an event we’ve held twice now to celebrate top work on the open web (not just limited to OU Create). It’s also an opportunity to say thank you to our biggest classroom champions. This year was a complete overhaul on the event side. Last year’s event was a plate award style banquet. We learned that it’s hard for people to come to an event like that so we shifted it to a finger food style reception. More than 50 users attended–a big bump from last year.

We also showcased more work than ever before. John and Keegan had the brilliant idea of setting up monitors at each booth that ran a slideshow of various sites. John also built a new version of the Creaties site ( which now showcases more than 40 student projects.

The site is visual bliss for someone like me to see the work of our community. It’s also a great landing spot for those who want to show people what the end result of open web projects can be so be sure to save that link.

Two main projects I want to point out are both the winner of the student division as well as a special MIS project. There’s rightful criticism that Domain of One’s Own can quickly become WordPress of One’s Own. And as a WordPress superuser, I’ll rightfully defend WP as an incredibly powerful and well-developed tool. But I also think there’s a misconception that WordPress is all that happens, and I think that’s mostly because the two easiest ways to see what’s happening on a campus domains projects is to 1. subscribe to RSS feeds and 2. look at application installs and both of these methods favor WordPress projects.

Two projects that were arguably the biggest hits at the Creaties this year were both non-Wordpress projects. The first was done by an MIS student who took a data of courses at OU and made a calendar visualizer which helps you see when classes are scheduled on a calendar view (a feature that currently doesn’t exist at OU) using MySQL, PHP, Bootstrap, and SASS. Check it out at

What’s neat about this project is that most of OU MIS courses deal with Microsoft databases. This gave the student a look at MySQL and allowed them to build a front end user interface that will now live on at OU past his tenure, which is pretty awesome. This is the second MIS project that I’ve came across on OU Create (I wrote about the other in October 2015 here) and I’ll excited to see if this picks up speed in that department. The Creaties bonus was that I actually got to MEET this student and his faculty member after admiring virtually the work for so long.

The second was a professional landing page project from a graduate student named Shayna Pond in our College of Ed. She has a background in animation and built a couple of BEAUTIFUL animations using Adobe After Effects and Photoshop.

Sticking with building her site on the shoulders of Adobe, her site was built using Adobe Muse, a product that I’ve played around with lightly but want to check out a little more. It’s got a drag-and-drop interface to it that seems to be pretty nice for generating static sites and probably sits somewhere Adobe’s product line in-between Dreamweaver and Adobe Spark.

The Summer of Domains Love

We’ve got a couple of big ticket items on the docket for the summer. One is that John and Keegan are putting together an event called WebFest next week. I’ll let Keegan write the full take on this once it’s finished, because I know it’s his baby and he’s thought really long and hard about it, but I’ll say that it’s one way we’ve evolved in approaching domains not just as a CMS hosting solution but also a way to broaden the understanding of the ins and outs of the web through web literacy. As we get more mature into our OU Create project and we’ve seen changes in the web climate over the past four years, we’ve become even more passionate about not just giving out websites but also educating folks on the web. This summer project is pure experimentation, but I know Keegan’s work and it’s nothing if not rich learning experience. Registration is still open by the way.

Last, but no means least, we are hosting the first Domains conference, Domains 17, in a couple of weeks on June 5 and 6. More than anything, I’m honored that Reclaim Hosting felt it was fitting to do this event here first. I’ll admit I’m a bit nervous hosting 75 people I deeply admire in my backyard, which means this event probably feels more like a wedding to me than anything else. Jim Groom and Lauren Brumfield have both done excellent write ups (see our full RSS aggregation of blog posts re: domains 17 here) on what to expect so I will spare rehashing the details. But I will say that what I’ve tried to inject into the conference is a sense of community building and not just information dissemination, which the Reclaim folks have been really receptive too. I’ve curated some activities that will give people a glimpse at the best that my community has to offer and I guarantee it will be a TON of fun (think arcade bar and rooftop party fun hint hint). For those coming, thanks for believing in the little city on the prairie and I look forward to seeing you soon!

Featured Image by Lauren Brumfield.

Building a Student’s Technology Palate

Jim Groom had a great idea to have a pre-conference conversation with Domains 17 keynote speaker Martha Burtis, which you can listen to here:

Much of the conversation was around (what I’m assuming) is a central point of Martha’s upcoming talk is/was that the web has been infiltrated by monetized centralized apps which run counter to the both the openness and decentralization that the web was built on and higher ed could have done something to stop it if it wanted to do so (and maybe we still can).

This is supposed to be what we do: educate the the next group of citizens about how knowledge is shared and created and what values are enacted in knowledge. Instead of engaging that and building that and informing our communities about that using the voices, platforms, and institutions that we have; instead of doing any of that we bought LMSs. – Martha Burtis

Tim Owens brought up a point (18:20) about people wanting a “fast food” approach to creating a domain that streamlined the process of getting up and running, which I think is arguably one of the most unfortunate products of this new web we live on. Companies are so focused on converting a person to a user as fast as possible that they strip all work out of the equation and instead provide people with a menu of options. “Do you want the light theme or the dark theme?” “Here. We’ve suggested you follow these people based off ‘your interests.'”

I’ve thought recently about how I can expose to my students how this is now happening. I’ve seen graphic design software also move towards a templated approach to design rather than building from the ground up, and I’ve come to conclusion that there are use cases for both approaches, but you don’t know that unless you’ve lived in both worlds. It is through these exposures that I think students have the ability to build a critical palate for the technology they use.

I’ve always taught Adobe products, not necessarily because I think they are the best value, but because they are the industry standard (and are supported by the College). If I say the term “Photoshop,” the majority of the public can at least recognize it. I feel that a large part of my job is to prepare students to work within the advertising and public relations industry, so I try to teach the tools they use such as Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, and Premiere. It also doesn’t hurt that these are all packaged together and can be purchased together which brings an added benefit to learning the suite.

I also feel it’s my job to teach far beyond the tools. I teach a lot of communication strategy, copywriting, and criticism. Beyond being critics of their own work, I also want my students to have enough experience with a tool to know its affordances. This means that after every tool I have them compare and contrast it with a previous tool we’ve used.

I’ve started introducing Canva as a graphic design tool. Canva is a very user-friendly web-based design platform. Unlike Photoshop/InDesign/Illustrator which are a massive tools with nearly unlimited possibilities and can take years to master, Canva is inituitive enough to learn through a small set of tutorials. You can upload your own graphics, place text, and draw shapes. The biggest advantage of Canva is that it has several preset sizes (brochures, posters, social media assets such as posts and cover photos, etc.) as well as templated designs for each of these sizes and assets. It’s monetization model is that they sell stock photography and graphics inside the platform. In a lot of ways, Adobe tools are even LMS-like in the sense that they have built and iterated on over a long time and can feel bloated. Canva feels very light weight. It’s also worth mentioning that Adobe has rolled out, as Adobe tends to do, it’s own Canva-like tool Adobe Spark.

So how do students anecdotally react to a week in Canva? Anecdotally, I’d say that the 2/3 of the students, first and foremost, like the break from Adobe products, but they also love the simplicity of it.

Wow, I love Canva. I don’t know if I have ever found anything so user-friendly and professional. Using it, I was able to create several different types of social media graphics for my internship at Trifecta Communications. (source)

In my opinion, this gives the best argument for how to use Canva: emphemeral social media graphics that can be completed by anybody at any level of knowledge.

But students who have become used to the flexibility of Adobe platforms also note the downsides. 1.) You’re relying on platform uptime and 2.) limited options can limit your output and templates can stifle your creative process:

Oh Canva – so easy yet so fidgety. I was crossing my fingers the whole time hoping it wasn’t going to crash on me. Canva was sooooo slow on my laptop and on most of the Gaylord desktops. It is NOT a reliable source. InDesign and Photoshop won’t crash on you. This will. BUT Canva is easy. If you are looking for something fast and effective Canva is for you. Canva is limited though. There are ENDLESS possibilities with InDesign and Photoshop but Canva has its own layouts, texts, frames etc. and thats it. So you can only be as creative as Canva allows but for a PR practitioner who doesn’t know how to work InDesign and Photoshop this tool can be really helpful. I think, for me, I would like to use Canva in the future maybe for inspiration but then create my own thing in Photoshop or InDesign. (source)

This reminds me of a conversation I once had with Dan Blickensderfer and Laura Gibbs via Twitter about Seth Prince‘s Feature Writing course and WordPress versus Medium.

As I mentioned in the tweet, Medium does allow the student to (sort of) “own” their space (“owning” here meaning it wasn’t provisioned by the institution) and it does allow for, albiet limited approach, syndication. And, as Laura mentioned, it can help tap into an already existing community which might be very beneficial for Seth’s course which is doing feature writing as opposed to personal blogging.

Am I saying use Medium instead of a Domain of One’s Own approach full stop? Of course not. But all of us are able to have this informed conversation about the platforms because we all have enough experience to recognize the affordances of the platform.

So what’s the point that I’m trying to make with my students? Once you’ve spent enough time in platform, you have the platform literacy to be critical of other platforms that exist in the world. Students can’t gain that knowledge if the instructor prescribes one platform.

One thing I’ve come to learn intimately through OU Create is that students will likely have a difficult time seeing the value of the domain if they aren’t contrasting it against another tool. I loved the recent way in which Erika Bullock framed domains NOT as the place for her to develop her digital identity but as a way for her to develop her understanding of the web:

Now, I am in my Senior spring. I have 7 sub-domains, all of them incomplete, all of them spaces for me to try out new WordPress themes, widgets, fonts, and layouts. I use sub-domains to model web projects for work, to try out new layouts for my personal website, or just to see if I can create a project that I’m envisioning in my head. I have benefited from thinking of Domains as my digital sandbox.

Through prescribing multiple graphic design platforms throughout the semester, I am hopeful that my students are building a palette towards which tools work in various scenarios. I also hope that we’ll continue to see ways to diversify experimentation in web spaces with the increasing interest in light weight, non-database CMSs and static site generators. And, last, hopefully we’ll stop searching for the perfect tool but rather search for an increase in web literacy across all platforms.

Jim also wrote a blog post about this conversation too, as he mentioned, we’re going to attempt to continue to have these pre-conference conversations. We’ve got Jon Udell talking and web interopability. If you have an idea for a pre-conference conference or if you want to join one of our conversation, comment or reach out.

To continue the palate analogy, I feel like I’m getting just a taste of what Domains 17 will be like and I’m liking it. Be sure to register as soon as possible.

Student Media and Domains

I want to tell a quick story as an example to show how we are starting to see how investing in a simple project like Domain of One’s Own is creating a better web student ran web outside of the project itself.

Back in October, I had the pleasure of meeting with the editorial board of the OU Daily, our on-campus newspaper, to demo something I had been cooking up for some time.

I met Dana Branham, OU Daily editor-in-chief, for the first time in February 2016. At the time, she was online editor and had recently written a post on her personal domain on OU Create, our Domain of One’s Own initiative, that walked through how they had recently used CartoDB for one of their stories on earthquakes in Oklahoma. I was deeply impressed with the blog work she was doing both at the Daily and as a Global Engagement Fellow. Her domain is RICH.

So I cold-called her hoping that she would be willing to meet me for coffee. I wanted to pick her brain about how 1. we could be helpful either to reaching more students or 2. with Student Media. She mentioned that she was really interested in trying to do some feature stories in the same fashion as the famous NYTimes Snowfall project and that got my mind spinning.

While the idea stayed in the back of my head, things didn’t come back around until after I met with Seth Prince, the Student Media Design Adviser. We connected over Twitter where I posted about enjoying how his Feature Writing class was using Medium as it’s course platform.

We would physically connect at an adjunct orientation for the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication, where we both teach, and would eventually setup a coffee meeting at the same Starbucks where I had met Dana six months prior.

Eventually, we got smart and all connected around a table. Seth and Dana decided they wanted to move forward with experimenting with some of the same technology we were using with OU Create for some of their feature work. The idea was take an exposé they did on how the football rallied around the SAE incident to bring the team closer together. The story is called How SAE Fueled an Oklahoma Turnaround. It’s a really good story and has some embedded media such as pictures and videos, but the team at the Daily had done so much reporting on SAE that we wanted to bring in other pieces like some Timeline.JS work, embedded tweets, and links to other OU Daily stories. So I offered to redesign the story domains style and get back with them.

Dana was kind enough to send me a Google Doc with the story and she commented out some ideas of pieces that could be connected through the new site. As the designer, I wanted to come to really understand the tone. I would read a sentence or two, close my eyes and try to visualize the story. And then I would highlight certain words and annotate some ideas. I would also try to break the story up into what I thought would make good sections.

I started to piece together in my mind this story of dark. The focus on race; a wet night and following morning; the football players wearing all black. So I wanted it to be black and white with muted tones and I wanted to accentuate the weather as best as I could.

What I showed to the editorial board is below (on the real version the video isn’t as shaky though).

I made a clone of the site so they could peak at the code a little bit if they wanted to. While I was doing that, they were able to get a subdomain setup on and install WordPress.

Let’s stop and spend some time there. OU Daily moved to their latest news-oriented content management system ~10 years ago. It’s a CMS that’s used by a lot of news organizations and it’s best known for being very stable software and ad friendly. While they use different CMSs for other Student Media sites, this really is a big first for OU Daily. And in my opinion a big deal because they now have a ton of flexibility when it comes to story presentation.

But back to the matter at hand… Yesterday, the OU Daily dropped their first story with the new look. It’s a story that focuses on the difficulties students are having in accessing mental health care on campus and it’s absolutely gorgeous. I’ve made the screenshot below scrollable but I highly suggest that you check it out in full technicolor as well.

So let’s tie this back to OU Create and the Domain of One’s Own project. This started because a student was given a domain to experiment with in class. She then took that knowledge and brought it to her job. And through cross-department collaboration, we’ve now brought that technology to their web presence.

This kind of outcome is not quantifiable. You can’t find the impact of this student on OU Create simply by counting registrations and blog posts and other forms of analysis. It’s a larger narrative–a story–about building one student’s web literacy and being willing to collaborate across department lines. These sites are on completely different servers and don’t count towards “our numbers”, but I couldn’t care less. We’ve made the university web a better experience for everyone and given students the opportunity to do more than put content on a standardized news CMS. They aren’t just writing and publishing journalism–they’re building it as well. Point blank and the period.