Start Your Engines.

This post is the first in a series I’ll be writing as part of UMW Domain of One’s Own Faculty Initiative


Last week, a few of us here at UMW kicked off a new program: The Domain of One’s Own Faculty Initiative. This program, sponsored by UMW’s Center for Teaching Excellence & Innovation, brings together a group of almost 30 faculty work with and discuss the implications of the Domain of One’s Own (DooO) project.

Start your (DooO FI) Engines

DooO (an admittedly awkward acronym, but a kick-ass name), is a pilot project that debuted at UMW last fall and which we’ll be taking into full production this fall. It provides all incoming freshman, as well as faculty at UMW, with the opportunity to get a free domain name and associated Web hosting space. This year, we’ve been working with a handful of select faculty to experiment with the possibilities of this space: what happens when, within the context of a course, students are given the ability to build and manage their own, personal Web space — beyond institutional systems?

DooO has grown out of eight years of experimentation at UMW that began when Gardner Campbell had every member of DTLT acquire their own domain name and Web space. That seed that was planted by Gardner has grown into many, many fruitful flowers, in the shape of free and open learning environments housed in open-source applications. By providing us with a sandbox in which we could experiment with the Web as a space of possibilities, Gardner unleashed our imaginations. And, I believe, we were then able to help many faculty and students unleash theirs.

UMW Blogs is one powerful space that has grown out of that work, but, for years, we’ve also talked about how cool it would be if we could just give students and faculty their OWN space, untethered even from the bindings of our WordPress installation. This isn’t to say that there isn’t a place and time for using systems like UMW Blogs. But, we’re beginning to think that creating personally-controlled spaces on the Web is a vital opportunity for us to give to our faculty and students. So, that’s why we’ve got DooO. And, really, we have it almost entirely due to the determination of my colleague in DTLT Tim Owens. We may have talked about the possibilities of DooO for years, but Tim is the one who, about 12 months ago, said, “What would it take to do it?” And then he figured it out.

Realizing that there was an actual, strong possibility that the University might decide to fund this project beyond the pilot (and it looks like they definitely are!), last fall Jim and our new director of the Teaching Center, Mary Kayler, brainstormed the Faculty Initiative. The purpose of this program is mainly to give a group of faculty the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of what DooO is, what it could be, and how they can use it.

We started the formal program last week, with the first meeting of our cohorts. (There are five cohorts, each managed by Jim, Tim, Mary, Andy, and me.) The “curriculum” for the program consists of readings and technology investigations. Last week, we read a short post by danah boyd from 2007 about controlling your digital identity, and we began to talk a bit about the technical underpinnings of domains and how to organize and imagine your online space.

It was fantastic, from my perspective, to be having a deep conversation with faculty about not only why we’re doing this initiative but also how all of this stuff works. I’m a firm believer that we all need to develop a deeper literacy about the technology of the Web. I hate when people say to me, “But I don’t need to know how phone exchanges work in order to use a phone!” It’s. Not. The. Same. If not knowing how a phone exchange worked (and was programmed to work) prevented you from being able to actually use the phone in useful ways, there would be a reasonable comparison. Phones are technology. The Internet is also technology. That doesn’t mean that we should think about them the same way.