Domains Do Disney

I’ve been fortunate enough to spend the last few days at Educause ELI conference. I also was given the opportunity to be a part of panel discussion with some higher ed folks that I deeply respect (Mikhail Gershovich, Jim Groom, Jaimie Hoffman, David Morgen, and Chris Mattia) called Adventures in Personal Cyberinfrastructure. Our format was to briefly explain the Domains projects which we are doing at our respective institutions as a panel. Below is an annotated version of the slides that I presented.


This is a picture of my classroom and I want to frame this story in the narrative first from my own classroom. I teach PR Publications, which is a course that could be identified as the digital literacy course of the Public Relations sequence. It’s a very standard design course in which students are required to design a number of print pieces throughout the semester. When I originally taught this course, the last assignment was for them to create an online portfolio of their work. From the beginning, domains have been an integral part of the course curriculum. Students purchased a domain and webspace on the cheapest provider I could find (at the time it was which I would not recommend). I saw Jim Groom speak at the MOOC Research Conference that took place in Dallas, TX and was turned on to what was taking place with DS106 and, more broadly, the Domain of One’s Own project that was happening at the University of Mary Washington.


This is a view of the next iteration of the course and this is the original incarnation of the course site, which you can still view at, a subdomain of my main domain. It didn’t have a lot to it beyond being a course syndication hub of student blogs. Whereas in the first iteration, the domain was the last thing a student would complete for the course, it now was the FIRST thing student’s did. It’s powered by a plugin called FeedWordPress which pulls in the posts from the student’s site.


This is the latest incarnation of PRPubs, which is available at Now all my course exists on its own domain. Yet it’s not really a space where content is consumed. I like to call it “home base.”  It’s a roadmap and it provides structure for the student as well as some reference material. But student work happens beyond the domain on the web through several different tools. Students then add their work to their own domains.


You see, these are my students. And, in fact, I created this slide on Week 1 of the class, but you can already see how each student has taken the liberty of expressing themselves very differently because, after all, they do it own it. Similar to the PR Pubs 2.0, the students’ posts are syndicated back into the course site.


And it doesn’t take a lot more than seeing these sites out in the wild to get you excited about the possibilities of more students having these spaces. We had been tasked with finding an e-portfolio solution in which we could run a pilot on for the 2014-2015 academic year. A system like this made sense because it afforded students not only the opportunity to build a very professional looking portfolio, but gave faculty many pedagogical options that could be leveraged in the classroom. Thus,, was born in August, which allows OU students, faculty, and staff to register the domain name of their choice, and become their own sysadmin through CPanel.



Now, my wife and I came to Anaheim early and took a couple personal days at Disneyland. And though I’m sure that I’m not the first person to ever make a Disneyland analogy at a conference Anaheim, I want to attempt it because its simple and I’m fairly simple-minded despite my mothers opinion. When you spend time at Disneyland, you realize quickly that theme parks are not built to be consumed linearly, but rather to be consumed to your liking. Disneyland does a great job of giving you a small taste, or entry point, of what it’s like to explore the world as it is its own microcosm. In fact, there are many different “worlds” in Disneyland: Fantasyland, Frontierland, Adventureland, and Tomorrowland. Similarly, CPanel and CPanel-like environments are an entry point into exploring the open web. You could easily replace the names of the lands with applications like WordPress, MediaWiki, OwnCloud, or Known (or more broadly you can just say blogs, wikis, sites, etc.). And you can think of your course as like one small curated experience, like a ride. For instance my course is tightly integrated within the WordPress application.


In fact, you can say that you course isn’t a tightly integrated ride that simply exists in one space. Maybe your course is the monorail which picks up and drops off students at various parts of the web in which you want them to explore. That’s a completely valid structure as well.


In some ways, OU Create for us is our own user-curated theme park which is defined by its inhabiters. And, if we do our job right, on a smaller scale students are being given the opportunity to create their own theme parks, which they are the main curator. Students become owners of their learning experience, which is what I believde is one of the most important missions we have as instructors.

That’s the majority of my portion. I also gave some quick facts in figures that we pulled especially for this conference. Our pilot was limited to 1000 users and we are right over 960 with 40 of those are faculty members.  Users have installed 30 different applications (though I self admit I don’t see a ton of usage outside of a handful). Beyond that, we’ve been fortunate to have Jim Groom come to campus twice now and we’ve ran three faculty domain sessions to get them up and running and I’ve done close to 20 class demos over the two semester. Jim was also asked to keynote the Academic Tech Expo which gave great exposure to the campus. Last, the the OneU store was kind enough to promote OU Create through their display window. I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve received at 2am because of that display.

Last, I’ve been asked to run a faculty learning community with first year faculty members on domains, which I’ll be writing about more this semester. I plan to run it very similar to my own course so expect to see more on that (as well as an invitation to participate).

Where everything will shake out on the pilot is still unclear, but I can tell you we are having a heckuva time with it. This semester, 14 of my 15 students ALREADY had domains before they stepped in the door. Simply having this foundational knowledge by other classes like Intro to Mass Comm, PR Writing, Contemporary Ad Problems, and more has been big for getting the semester up and running. I’m proud of the faculty who have also jumped on board with us. Some of my favorite examples are:

Colin Rhinesmith: and
Zev Trachtenberg: and

Julie Ward: and
Nazmul Rony:
aura Gibbs:
Kyle Harper: and
David Vishanoff: and
David Tarpenning:
Katherine Pandora:

There are others as well, such as Ralph Beliveau, who haven’t create their own sites but are willing to get their students connected to OU Create. I cringe publishing this knowing I’m probably missing some others who have also jumped on board…

Michael Berman from CSU Channel Islands had some great comments today on doing these types of projects:

If universities don’t support experimentation and steps into the unknown, we will lose our leadership and miss opportunities. – A. Michael Berman

I appreciate that comment from an institution’s CIO and am grateful to had similar leadership that’s allowed us to take risks and explore. My hope is that this is just the tip of the iceberg for OU Create.

Header image is creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-ND ) flickr photo shared by chris.alcoran