Posts tagged "Domains 17"

Small is Beautiful. Metaphors and Other Musings from #Domains17

I’m recovering from the week that was #Domains17 and want to thank everyone from near and far that took the time to come to Oklahoma City and be a part of this conversation, particularly Jim, Tim, and Lauren from Reclaim Hosting who suggested OKC.

It’s likely that part of being an Oklahoman is wanting to be overly welcoming, inviting, and hospitable, given that there are few reasons most would find themselves in Oklahoma, a relatively small state in the middle of the country. There are a lot of events and conversations floating around in my head at the moment and I don’t plan to be able to remember all of them. Maybe it’s best to start with one of the first which was Tim, Lauren, Jim, and I were having a couple days before the conference started where Jim referenced the quote, “Small is beautiful.” I found multiple places to reference it across the conference.

Being a small conference (I believe we clocked in around 85 physical attendees and many more through Virtual Connecting and Twitter) gives you a lot of flexibility. You don’t need an incredibly large space, attendees feel approachable, and it’s easier to organize social outings. I certainly wanted to take advantage of the intimacy given that I was heavily motivated by the opportunity to introduce some wonderful people I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know  to each other. I tried to make three suggestions for the event which were 1.) be friendly 2.) shared widely and enthusiastically and 3.) inhabit the space. All were a futile attempt to appeal to both the extroverted and introverted natures that I equally possess myself. In essence, meet new people but also don’t be afraid to remove yourself from the programmed schedule in the event you need to recharge. I tried to give people permission to both choose to attend events from those they don’t know (in order to avoid simply building echo chambers) and to skip a session and do something else if they so chose.

IMG_8510.jpg flickr photo by bionicteaching shared under a CC (BY-SA) license

Because my own way of reflecting on events runs through my blog, I’ve been both hesitant to immediately write and publish my own version and anxious to see others. Alan Levine called it a gathering and offered the hashtag #notaconference. Tim Klapdor refused to label it and instead called it “something new” where he felt “invigorated.” Brian Lamb called it a “thrill ride.”

Many people have commented that they don’t quite have the words to describe it and, personally, I like that. There’s something to be said about not quite being able to define something in the most perfect and concise words and learning to be okay with that. I was thankful that Martha Burtis in her DENSE keynote (listen to it here thanks to Grant Potter) gave people permission to embrace metaphor while also understanding the limitations of all metaphors.

Im struck more and more that in order to dive into these deeper waters of Domain of One’s Own we need to find language that lets us do so, and for me that’s the language of symbolism and metaphor and even poetry. (blog)

And not all of the metaphors have to be perfect (see: Jim Groom’s house) to be meaningful.

While I poke fun at Jim’s house analogy, I’ve come to realize more and more that these analogies, metaphors, and symbols are the way that we can come to teach the Web so that our students know it in the sense of recognizing it — distinguishing it, perceiving it in relation to those things already known. (blog)

IMG_8628.jpg flickr photo by bionicteaching shared under a CC (BY-SA) license

Commenting on the event, Amy Collier wrote about belonging, saying that it “felt like I was at someone else’s party.” I had joked early on that inviting this many people to your hometown kind of feels like planning your wedding, but her perspective makes me rethink that analogy. It actually felt more like being the host and venue for someone else’s wedding. While it was rather hard to do, I felt the urge both before and during the conference to slip out of the limelight as much as possible and not present myself or draw too much attention away from such the opportunity to highlight the work of newer domains institutions.

Where do we go from here?

I was really thankful Jon Udell brought his perspective to Domains. As I’ve said before, he is on the short list of people whose passion can cut through some of the hairier technical sides of the web. The way he articulated annotation as not just an annotation service but a toolkit really spoke to me. His notes from his talk are definitely worth a read.

IMG_8666.jpg flickr photo by bionicteaching shared under a CC (BY-SA) license

But, anyways, after lunch on day 2 he sat down with myself and Keegan Long-Wheeler and had a story and question. He said he had just talked to Heather Castillo, a dance professor from CSU-Channel Islands. She had told him she wasn’t a “tech-y” but wanted to show him her site. And Jon was so impressed with how she had culled together multiple tools like VoiceThread, Padlet, Populr, and Google Docs to meet her pedagogical needs. He was so impressed that he recommended that she speak at a future conference (agreed!) and then asked an excellent question: How do we teach people to do that?

It got at the heart of the question I was hoping to serve with the entirety of the conference. While DoOO certainly does rely heavily (almost too heavily) on a specific set of architecture, it’s always spoken more to me as a space to understand the networked web. Learning basic digital literacy like file structure, web servers, HTML, applications, content organization, (oh wait I realize I’m just reiterating one of Martha’s points so I’ll paste her words too)

What do students really learn when they learn how to fix the things they’ve broken on their domain? They learn a bit about how their site actually works. About the interplay perhaps between script files and databases. About how DNS functions (hopefully once they learn this they will teach it to me, because dammit if I know). Perhaps they will learn something about how a hacker can gain access to Web sites and why there is a burden on those of us who create on the Web to also secure what we create.

These are all the types of learning activities most edtech tools don’t care to serve. They are also the learning activities that are more difficult to teach. Which is likely why it’s easy to shy away from doing so. It’s much easier to hand out prepackaged applications prepopulated with sample content. I know this stuff is hard because we’ve struggled with “where to start” in our own shop and because I’ve talked to several institutions who also struggle with this. How do you teach people to “domains” (it’s a verb now) in the way Heather did? Not just the ability to find and discover tools, but understand how to build and weave together the various number of tools that will serve your need. You know it’s a tough question if is Jon was struggling with it as well.

A lot of the hope was that this conference could begin to build conversations for how we support each other in thinking through these issues. Some of the people I admire (Tom Woodward hijacks gravity forms to build full fledged web apps or how Alan Levine architects full learning environments) know how to do this really well in environments they are comfortable with (For Tom: Google Spreadsheets, For Alan: RSS). How great would it be if students where able to through this same learning environment (I’m starting to almost refuse to refer to it merely as technology) and engage with (insert your term here…problem solving/ computational thinking/digital citizenship) in a way in which they do work of equal or greater feats?

No conference/#notaconference/gathering can serve everybody’s needs perfectly on the first go around, and I look forward to the possibility of future opportunities to sink into this and many more hard questions. Hopefully this event laid the groundwork for a community of practice of institutions that equally want to engage in these questions and the environment wasn’t sensory overload to the point at which the event felt like slight of hand.

I’ll end by adding my own way of describing Domains17: it was the beginning of a conversation. As always, I’m always willing to chat with anyone about what we’re doing at OU so don’t be afraid to contact me.


Featured image: tiny penguin flickr photo by bookgrl shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

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.

An Annotation-Oriented Browser

I’m trying to catch up on a couple of blog posts that I’ve put off over the last couple of weeks. This one is primarily on a conversation I had with Jon Udell and the Reclaim Hosting crew (Jim Groom, Tim Owens, and Lauren Brumfield) which you can (and SHOULD) listen to below.

We’ve been doing these weekly interviews as we get ready for Domains 17 and this one was a real treat. I commented during the conversation that talking to Jon Udell about structured data on the web is like talking to Kin Lane about APIs. The smartest people I know make the most difficult concepts appear incredibly approachable and I’m deeply indebted to those who can help me understand complex systems. And the Digital Polarization work that Jon’s doing with Mike Caulfield with bringing fact-checking and annotation to the classroom is truly inspiring from a teacher perspective., the annotation tool Jon works on, has been one of the more innovative true-web projects I’ve seen in a number of years. As I’ve mentioned, I met Jeremy Dean of fame at OpenEd16 last November. His session on (actually I’m pretty sure he was just an audience member now that I think about it) was highly contentious: the notion that anything you write can be annotated on raises a wide array of comments and concerns. The point is that it truly feels like the game changes when the entire web can be challenged via annotation.

One thing Jon brought up was about how recently the W3C, the standards body for the web, standardized annotation. I actually saw the blog post about it and even tweeted it, but I don’t think I had truly internalized the possibilities until Jon explained it (again…highly recommend just listening to it).

One way I am newly interpreting the possibilities of standardization is a browser that is solely oriented towards annotation. For example, you may have heard of the browser Brave. The idea for Brave is that it works a lot faster by focused on speed measures such as blocking tracking tools and stripping out browser ads (and subsequently replacing some with their own).


Brave Browser

Brave has built a community of users who are similarly interested in privacy to use the tool. It’s a browser (sort of) oriented towards privacy. I’m curious as to what a browser oriented towards annotation would look like and how that could possibily re-orient the user to move from a total consumption mode over to a more critical consumption mode. Seriously–what if a little annotation tray was always open and we never read the article and then annotations but rather we read everything concurrently?


Illustration adapted from Hailey Papworth on the @NounProject.

Is it much different than a browser plugin? Functionally I’m not so sure it is. But I do think a closer integration of browser and annotation-ware would create a more positive user experience and likely open up some new possibilities (customization of UI for instance–varying fonts, serif vs sans serif, etc)

One last thing that I mentioned in the podcast is that I will be curious to see what it looks like if/when the major browser players (Google, Apple, Microsoft) start to bake annotation into their browsers. Can annotation continue as a tool that works across platforms or will annotation become simply another place for silo’d conversations to take place?

Whatever happens, I can say that Jon has continue my excitement for web annotation as well as my excitement for the conversations that will take place at Domains 17.

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.