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, umw.domains. 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 create.ou.edu. 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.
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 umw.domains 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 create.ou.edu. 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 WordPress.com, 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 http://create.ou.edu and fill out a form to request access to register a domain.