Posts tagged "Domain of One’s Own"

Reflecting on ET4Online 2015

I got back in town yesterday from the 8th Annual (and what was announced as the last) ET4Online Conference (Emerging Technologies for Online Learning International Symposium) in Dallas, Texas. Usually, I come home from these things exhausted, both physically and mentally, due to travel and what tend to be long days of extroverted activity. But this time I’m coming back with a much different feeling. The conversations were rich and the human interaction was unparalleled to any conference I’ve attended in quite some time.

Which brings me back with a lot to reflect on. I did a session with Chris Mattia from CSU Channel Islands on our local Domain of One’s Own projects, where students are giving top level domains (.com, .net, .us, etc.) and web space to build and shape their digital identities. We bring a couple different perspectives because, while both projects are academic in nature, Channel Islands, or CI Keys, focuses more on the LMS replaceability of domains while we are using it more as a digital portfolio (Gardner, let me know when you’ve came up with a better name. I’m counting on it!)

I did my talk as a personal narrative from the perspective of a dude with a class doing domains and how we were able to scale it to a 1,000 person domain pilot called OU Create. I called it a “tale of three Dallas’s.” The first being the MOOC Research Conference (#MRI13), followed by ET4Online 2014, and now today, where the pilot has only bred more questions for me and certainly no Solutions (with a capital S). I quoted Audrey Watters, who, as Jim Groom has mentioned, has been a guiding light for the ethos of what I’m calling for ease the Reclaim Movement (Reclaim Your Domain, Reclaim Hosting, etc.) The quote:

Too often, education technologies are developed that position students as objects of education, a reflection no doubt of how traditional educational practices also view students. Education technologies do things to students, rather than foster student agency. If we are to challenge what “school” should look like, we must also challenge what “ed-tech” does as well. What sorts of technologies can and should we build to give students more control? – Audrey Watters

I particularly like her choice of pronoun there: “we.” What we should build. We as the edtech practitioners; as campus leaders. What we should build. This is not an interrogation of IT-driven, enterprise-level solutions, but rather it is more an admission that higher ed has too often decided that digital learning is best to take place 100% of the time inside a single tool where the students work is invisible to the rest of the web and inaccessible to the student the day after the semester ends. This is been recently articulated by Amy Collier and Jen Ross with, a very endearing term, “not yetness”:

Not-yetness is not satisfying every condition, not fully understanding something, not check-listing everything, not tidying everything, not trying to solve every problem…but creating space for emergence to take us to new and unpredictable places, to help us better understand the problems we are trying to solve. – Amy Collier

Adding to Amy’s thoughts, the role of ed tech should not always be about the viability/scalability of the product(s) but also about how we sheperd students into building, shaping, curating, and refining their personal learning environment. And this brings deeper questions into what technologies can enter the classroom. Consequently, edtech practitioners should, to some degree, consider redefining what “edtech” is in their own community and that process starts with us asking some hard questions. How important is the open web to us as an institution? How important is data control? What will the future of our learning virtually look like and where do we want it to take place? And, to some degree, how much of that are we putting on the backs of companies whos terms of service we’ve never read?

From this lens, I’ve started to evaluate ET4Online broadly. As much as I’m thankful for the exhibiting companies who spend their time, effort, and cash to set up space at the conference, it was quite clear there was a massive disconnect between attendees and companies desires for what learning tools should look like:

This couldn’t have been made clearer than at a session titled “Teacher Tank.” If I remember correctly from last year, there was a session where some edtech entrepreneurs did some sort of elevator pitch and where George Siemens live tweeted his disappointment. Well, it seems like the conference organizers picked up on it and decided that this year it would be better to just give George a mic rather than relegating him to a back channel. To best sum up how it went, by the time the last company pitch started you could hear a faint quiver in his voice. The sharks were swimming and they didn’t hold back any punches. As theraupetic as a session like this was, I honestly felt bad for these poor folks for having to go through the process. While I’m not sure how to you could make an effective pitch in that situation, I can tell you its in poor taste to make learning claims you can’t back up, use excessive buzzwords, or show a 60 second video of scrolling (really, this exists). Here’s a picture of the judges doing their best not impressed face:

Several attendees also commented to me about the level of uncomfortability of the exhibitor presence.

  • I received 10-15 meeting requests from exhibitors (one guy emailed me three times!)
  • My badge was scanned as I entered every room (interested on who wants this data and what they plan to do with it)
  • I showed up to chocolates on my bed when I got home one evening. One attendee mentioned to me that he assumed since his room was clean that he could feel comfortable that no one would enter his room after it was cleaned. Someone had mentioned to him that they were in a towel when they were handed their chocolates.
  • Another person felt cheated when they thought they were going to a conference session only to find out it was a sponsor pitch. It seemed unclear to some how to tell the difference between a company pitch and a non-company pitch as it seemed indistinguishable on the mobile app.

Maybe this is the M.O. at most conferences, but it felt a little heavy handed this time around.

Again, the effect this had on my overall evaluation of the conference was little. The session lineup was heavy hitting and the discussions were deeply rich. Maybe it’s that I am beginning to raise my own questions and am starting to notice it’s presence more. I’m always willing to admit a slight bit of craziness on my end :grinning:. And I can’t say enough about the caliber of people I got the opportunity to spend some valuable time with this week. It will be hard to ever beat my favorite post-midnight session: #moocmoocelele

The end of my talk discussed how we as institutions need to consider adopting some guiding principles. Two that I’m a fan of are the Indie Web Camp principles and what Alec Couros asks his students (“How are you making learning visible and how you are contributing to the learning of others?”). I’m still coming down from the good vibes of Dallas, so I might be a little closer to the edge than is necessary, but I’m starting to think I will round up some folks to build some IWC like tools and widgets with their frame: Build for yourself. Own your own data. Make it machine readable. Document your work. Open source your work. Build platform agnostic platforms. This means Jim Groom, Tim Owens, Alan Levine, Chris Mattia, and others who can help me flesh out my idea… I’m coming for you… Watch out!

Update: Here’s a link to my talk!

Piloting Domains via OU Create

I’ve been involved in only a few number of projects that get me as excited as one that we are piloting this Fall. Roughly 18 months ago, inspired by projects such as Clemson’s ePortfolio project, we wanted to do something similar at OU. Hoping to find something equally as exciting, Mark Morvant, myself, and others across OU started looking at initiatives at other institutions.

Last Fall I saw a presentation at a conference by Jim Groom from University of Mary Washington about their initiative called “Domain of One’s Own” where UMW was exploring how what it would look like to simply give the student’s their own domain and webspace in which they could install open source applications, such as WordPress and MediaWiki. Since the initiative started, 700+ members of the UMW community have created these .com’s, which you can explore further on their community page, The work their university’s community has done was nothing short of inspiring and even led me to restructure the course I taught last Spring in the College of Journalism to a similar model. We followed the UMW project closely and couldn’t help but wonder, “What if we could do something similar at OU?”

I got to know Jim and his co-founder, Tim Owens, more over the following months and was excited to hear that they were thinking many of the same questions from the opposite direction—how can we make it easy for other institutions to replicate the Domains project? In June, they envisioned Reclaim Hosting, a hosting service they built to make webspace cost effective, with a new pricing model specifically for… wait for it…. universities. Music was played, songs were sung, dances took place on the rooftops, and a perfect union was made between Reclaim Hosting and Oklahoma, America.

This semester roughly 500 students will be piloting the project for us by creating their own domains as part of a course’s curricular activity to be utilize as blogs, wiki, and creative portfolios, and OU will pilot its own version of “Domain of One’s Own” which we are simply calling “OU Create” or I’m already excited about how a few conversations have led to an excellent lineup of courses utilizing OU Create: Art students are going to utilize OU Create to build portfolios of their semester work, Global Engagement Fellows are going to use OU Create to document their first semester journey into understanding global citizenship as well as their future study abroad experiences, Religious Studies students will use to reflect on lectures and interact with fellow students, Journalism students will use it to wrestle with some of the toughest questions of in the industry, and it will be utilized in one course to crowdsource an interactive timeline on the history of Christianity powered by a tool called timeline.js and Google Spreadsheets. Some the initial ideas are so compelling and we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface on use cases.

A few reasons on what I hope a project like this can accomplish:

1. Advance Student Success

Recent research at multiple institutions suggests that blog and e-portfolio usage correlates with higher levels of student success as measured by pass rates, GPA, and retention particularly when combined with high-impact practices such as first-year experience programs, learning communities, and capstone courses. Student success has to be our numero uno in what we do. While these specific metrics aren’t necessarily always the end-all-be-all, it’s encouraging to see that other institutions have been successful.

 2. Make Student Learning Visible

The public-ness of a project like this instantly changes coursework from an exercise into a creative experience that the student owns. There’s a excellent quote from Bret Eynon in the Peer Review:

E-Portfolio Initiatives Support Reflection, Social Pedagogy, and Deep Learning 
Helping students reflect on and connect their learning across academic and cocurricular learning experiences, sophisticated e-portfolio practices transform the student learning experience. Advancing higher order thinking and integrative learning, the connective e-portfolio helps students construct purposeful identities as learners.

The end of that last line is what really resonates with me: “construct purposeful identifies as learners.” Students have digital identities which are often rarely reflect them as learners. Your lifebits, a term from John Udell, are out there and form a collective you. What pieces of you can people find that identify you as a learner? I believe its (at minimum) an opportunity and (at most) the highest responsibility for the institution to guide students in shaping identities as learners.

3. Give Students Blank Canvas

OU Create gives students access to a suite of technologies which can simply elevate digital literacy campus wide.  Not only will students be able to highlight their creativity in their courses, they will be able to be creative in how it is presented by choosing the application that matches their goals for the sites. If they want something extremely user-friendly like WordPress, which focuses on blogging, we have that. Want to create your own Wiki? Use DokuWiki or MediaWiki (which runs Wikipedia). Want to create your own cloud storage solution and get off tools like Dropbox? Install OwnCloud. Want to display collections and research? Install Omeka. Want to use all of them? You can totally do that too! Jim wrote an excellent piece (if I do say say myself!) using the domain as an analogy for a house with subdomains as different rooms. You can use one or all of the applications as you wish.

4. Build a Hub For the Distributed Community

One of the biggest takeaways from seeing what’s happened for Domain of One’s Own is simply the website. While it’s the student’s portal into accessing and controlling their own domain, it’s actually also very community focused through directories, aggregated posts, and community statistics. We are modeling much of that at As activity grows, we’ll add more ways of interacting with community blog posts such as the ability to search by topics, courses, departments, etc. We will also be building in ways in which you can syndicate your existing blogs to the community site whether they are housed at OU Create or not. Essentially, we don’t want the community to even be limited by our applications as many people are already using hosted solutions such as, Tumblr, Medium, and Blogger.

While there is a lot to be excited about, this is still very much in a pilot phase and we have several questions, technical and non-technical that we have to answer. How scalable is this beyond this semester’s 500 domains? What support will the OU community ultimately need? Do we have a culture that can sustain and support it? Can we show similar results that student success was advanced? Do the students recognize the ownership aspect of a .com vs. gets a folder of an OU subdomain and do they deem that an important aspect?

I’ve got my own opinions to all of those questions and I’ll be sure to write about them as we make our way through this academic year, but I could definitely use your assistance in answering these as well. If you are a student, faculty, or staff member interested in what OU Create can offer, go logon to and fill out a form to request access to register a domain.