Six months into Domain of One’s Own

It’s been months since I did my first status report on Domain of One’s Own, and it’s definitely time to revisit the topic. As it turns out, a few weeks ago I completed a interim report about the project to share with our University’s Board of Visitors. So, I actually have spent a fair amount of time over the last month or so considering the first semester of Domain of One’s Own as well as thinking about the next year or so of the project.

Numbers

First, let’s talk about numbers. Numbers definitely don’t tell the whole story, but they’re worth looking at.

The report I worked on was focussed specifically on the first semester of the project, so these numbers reflect where we stood around mid-December. At that point, we had 364 active users in Domain of One’s Own with 389 registered domains (some users have more than one domain which accounts for the discrepancy). Of this number, 290 were students and 74 were faculty or staff. It’s important to note, that these numbers represent both new sign-ups in the fall as well as “roll-over” domains/accounts from the pilot. At the close of the pilot (June-July 2013), we reached out to all our student users and offered to renew their domains for them. However, they had to opt-in to this opportunity. 73 of our student users from the fall were roll-over accounts, and 46 of our faculty were roll-overs.

Thanks to some hard work on the part of our IT group, I also now have a reporting tool that allows me to query our DoOO accounts against our student information system, so I can also break down these accounts by current academic year:

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The first thing that jumps out is that almost 75% of the students are upperclassmen. Some of this is a natural result of the rollover accounts — the majority of these students are currently upperclassmen.

The other thing this represents in an overall rethinking of the rollout of Domain of One’s Own based on our observations early in the fall semester. Funding for the project was premised upon the idea that we would provide domains/hosting for all incoming freshmen, and we would add a new freshmen class each year for four years. This would then result in having the funds to provide all students with domains in four years.

We did a fair amount of outreach to freshmen when they arrived on campus in August, most notably a large presentation to which all new freshmen were invited (we probably had 300-400 students attend). We also advertised the project in all freshmen dorms and worked with our freshmen advising staff and Student Affairs to spread the word.

Getting freshmen to signup in this “grassroots” kind of way proved hard. We had some signups from students as a result of this outreach, but not a ton. There are a couple of reasons why I think this is:

  • Freshmen are inundated with information when they arrive on campus. And while Domain of One’s Own is a unique and important project, for many students it may just be one more pice of information in flood that they are expected to consume.
  • Without some situating of the project in a meaningful context it seems hard for many students to wrap their heads around what the project can be used for.
  • Our work in DTLT involves lots of time spent working with students, but almost always through the context of a course. That’s what we’re good at. We have very few natural organization conduits for direct contact with students — that’s really the domain of other University units: student affairs, academic services, etc. We’re working to build partnerships with those organizations, but this is new territory for us, and it takes time.

We did go ahead and reach out to faculty in the fall to unearth good curricular partnerships that we could also try to support, and we had a number of great projects emerge from that effort. At this point, we’ve determined that we need to refocus our efforts on curricular integration of the project while continuing to double-down on our efforts to reach students directly. To that end, we’re hopeful that next year we can open the project up much more broadly. We’re confident that in doing so we can expand our outreach into courses, while still supporting the “grassroots” interest among our incoming freshmen.

We’re also exploring some interesting support mechanisms which could result in a peer support model for projects like Domain of One’s Own. I hope to be able to share some details about that in the near future.

In terms of curricular integration, we had nine courses (11 sections) take advantage of the project in the fall. Considering that we hadn’t even been able to reach out to faculty until after the semester started since we were working right up until the start of classes to get all of the technical, support, and policy pieces of the project ready, I think this is great. With more courses being taught this semester, we’ll have 20 courses (26 sections) having used the project by the end of this year.

Next year, we hope to grow the  number of courses using the project substantially. In the end, I also anticipate having approximately 700 accounts/domains registered at the close of this year, and we hope to continue that growth next year.  As of right now (we’re a week away from spring break), we have 603 domains registered, so we’re continuing to grown.

Community

While numbers are an important and useful lens through which to consider the project, it’s important not to let the story end there. What’s truly important is understanding how the project is being used.

I blogged last fall about the fact that at a certain point last fall the server that houses Domain of One’s Own began to feel like a bit of a black box.  For various reasons, it was difficult to monitor and expose the activity of our users. At that time, Tim and I began a project to aggregate and share activity. Since then, that project has evolved tremendously, and it has resulted in a new site: community.umwdomains.com.

This site is a single destination where you can see the activity of the DoOO. In addition to grabbing, tagging, and sharing every new application install as well as any new content (as long as the application has an RSS feed), we’re also beginning to feature sites as a way of showing the best of the project (check out the sites linked in the slideshow at the top of the page to see some of these). We’ve also built a directory which allows you to filter all of the sites on the server based on instructor, semester, course, etc.

Tim has blogged about how this site was built — basically it took the two of us having a cancelled trip which freed up two whole days with no meetings, class visits, or other duties. It’s amazing what you can get done which you give yourself permission to just work on one thing, nonstop, for two days straight.

Faculty

Finally, it’s worth noting that another piece of the Domain of One’s Own puzzle that we continue to work on is introducing more and more faculty to the possibilities of the project. This spring, we started our second cohort of the Faculty Initiative with another 18 faculty involved. We’re meeting with those faculty in small groups for six weeks, working through various readings/resources while also teaching them more about the technologies that underpin DoOO.

Once again, we’re sharing the work of the Faculty Initiative at fi.umwdomains.com. You can follow along there with the adventure.

And Finally, Finally

Domain of One’s Own is the most complex project I’ve ever worked on in terms of the moving part of technology, the complexity of support, and the need to help users conceptualize the space in very deep (and often challenging) ways. The fact that we have *any* students, faculty, and staff registering their own domains, organizing and managing their own Web space, installing and configuring applications, and publishing and sharing content is remarkable. The fact that we have upwards of 550 of them doing it right now is astounding. I have no doubt that as Domain of One’s Own grows and matures, our understanding of it will continue to evolve. We are, in effect, creating a platform for deep cultural transformation at the University. Such transformation is not easy or neat, and we must remain mindful of this.