Domain of One’s Own: When the Planets Align

cloud_city

A LOT has been going on around these parts — and given all the things that have to happen between now and the start of classes next week it feels a bit indulgent to take time to write a blog post right now. But, quite frankly, I need a break from mentally scanning the lists of tasks I need to complete so that I can reflect for a moment upon what all those tasks actually add up to.

First, on the more mundane, practical front, about two months ago I officially went full-time again here at UMW. I’ve been part-time since fall of 2008 when my son was born. This fall he starts kindergarten and that happened to coincide with receiving some funding in DTLT to cover part-time help for Domain of One’s Own. The timing seemed too perfect to pass up, so I bit the bullet. My job is still Special Projects Coordinator for DTLT, and one of those projects is now Domain of One’s Own.

It’s hard to reflect upon what Domain of One’s Own represents for us here in DTLT because it’s just such an enormous thing. In so many ways, it feels like a symbol of everything we’ve been working on, dreaming about, and advocating for over the last nine years. The fact that it is actually happening seems a bit unreal.

If you haven’t heard of Domain of One’s Own (or read one of the great posts from my colleagues about the initiative), it is a project that provides free domains and (LAMP) Web hosting to all incoming freshman, starting this fall. We piloted it last year with a group of 400 faculty and students, and the success of that pilot is a large part of the reason we received funding to do this on a larger scale.

Domain of One’s Own began, in many ways, in 2004 when Gardner Campbell (who was then directing DTLT) provided each member of the division with a domain and LAMP Web space of his/her own. That experiment grew bit by bit, eventually growing into UMW Blogs and inspiring ds106 (both thanks to the leadership and imagination of Jim Groom). I think it was around 2006 or 2007 when we began to informally talk about how awesome it would be if we could give students and faculty the same kind of space to experiment in. I remember a call between the president of Bluehost, Cathy Derecki, and me in spring of 2007(?) discussing how we could technically make this project happen. At the time, there were just too many obstacles to surmount, but the idea kept brewing in the background of DTLT.

It was the arrival of my colleague Tim Owens, in 2011, that truly created the environment in which Domain of One’s Own could be born. Tim decided to figure out how to make it happen and, in part through his experimentation with Hippie Hosting, he succeeded. Tim was the mastermind behind making this happen and running the pilot — and I hope that I can manage the Domain of One’s Own project moving forward in a way that does credit to all of his effort and imagination. (He also wrangled the purchasing process for this project, and this was no small task.)

The project has gotten a fair amount of attention and press, and that is gratifying. In telling the story of how we got to where we are, I think we’re all pretty careful to emphasize how much of this has been a process — a NINE YEAR process. That’s a long time in terms of technology, and, trust me, it’s feels like a long time from where I stand. But it’s difficult to convey the nuance of that process in an interview.

During a Twitter conversation with a friend and former colleague (from another institution) I began to think a bit more about how we’ve gotten to where we are. The person I was tweeting with was congratulating us on this success and lamenting the fact that it is difficult to achieve this kind of innovation at other institutions. In one of my responses I mentioned that it’s been a long, long journey for us and that I can actually relate to that feeling that innovation seems just beyond reach.

I don’t regret any of what we’ve gone through over the last nine years, but, without getting into unnecessary specifics, let me just say that the road has not always been smooth. There have been opportunities lost, projects abandoned, and valuable colleagues who have left. At each of those junctures, I indulged in various amounts of complaining, lamenting, and, generally, feeling discouraged about where we were going.

In reflecting upon that narrative, the lesson, for me, is NOT that all of our institutions are broken, to greater or lesser degrees, or even that shit happens. Those things are both true – at ALL institutions. The real lesson is that the work we do IS a process, and there is no process that unfolds without bumps and bruises. In another reality, one of those bumps or bruises could have derailed this project. And that wouldn’t make any of what we do less important or vital, to me. If it had happened, we would have kept moving forward, we would have tried something else, and we would have lived to fight another day.

In the end, for us, the planets aligned and we’ve been given the opportunity to launch something that seems important and real — that’s so gratifying. But even if they hadn’t, I’m glad that I’ve been given the opportunity to live this process. (And if you’re someone out there fighting the good fight and working for something that seems vital and right, I hope the planets align for you, too. )