A Few Models of Teaching in Domain of One’s Own

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the current status of UMW’s Domain of One’s Own project and this prompted UMW’s own Mark Snyder to respond on Twitter:

Which was very nice except that I didn’t really think my post did much to describe ways that faculty could use DoOO in their classes — it was more a rundown of our successes and challenges in getting the project up and running over the last six months. So, I told Mark that I would try and do a post that dealt more specifically with how Domain of One’s Own is being used by faculty in actual classes.

This one is for you Mark — never say I never do anything for you!

The first thing worth saying to start off this post is that thinking about how to use Domain of One’s Own in your class can be a little bit daunting. I want to admit that right up front. Usually, when you are considering using a new tool or technology or Web site (etc.) in your class, you’re probably starting with a particular need you’ve addressed and you’ve identified the tool/technology/etc as having some features that could help you address that need.

Domain of One’s Own however isn’t one thing — it’s not merely a piece of software or a particular service — instead it’s a platform upon which many, many different activities can be fostered and enacted. So, really the question you need to ask is, “If my students had access to this amazing, awesome, open, self-determined space on the Web in which they could do, basically, anything, what could/should/would they do with it?” :-) See, that’s easy, right?

The first time you ask that question, it’s likely a tough one to answer, because it’s like trying to imagine how to use a thing before you fully understand what that thing is. My advice is to look at some examples, think about how they do/don’t map to stuff you’re doing in class or are interested in doing in class, trying something out, and then iterate upon your experiment. And, over time, it will become easier to think about what this space could afford you.

So, with no further delay, a few examples of how Domain of One’s Own is being used:

Crafting a Digital Presence (Personal Marketing)

In the College of Business at UMW, students are required to take a course called Principles of Marketing. This fall, we were approached by Lance Gentry who was teaching the course for the first time in two sections. He was interested in how students could use Domain of One’s Own to explore the concept of “personal marketing,” by building a digital presence for themselves.

Every student in his class is getting their own domain name, installing WordPress, and then working through what it means to build out a digital presence for themselves. Since the class deals with questions of marketing, this can be an opportunity for them to think about how they craft a marketing message for a product that they’re pretty invested in: themselves. Students explore the idea of using their blog to share their project and ideas. They can also work on putting their resume online — which is also an opportunity to think about resume writing. Since this class happens fairly early in a students career in the COB, there’s the opportunity to think about this as laying the groundwork for a digital portfolio of their work in the College.

Check out some examples of students in Gentry’s spring class. 

Crafting a Digital Presence (Art Portfolio)

Last fall, I worked with students in Rosemary Jesionowski’s Multiple Imaging class to create a digital presence for themselves as artists. The general idea behind this is similar to Gentry’s marketing class, except that the the expectations for an artists’ digital portfolio are a bit different. In some ways, it’s easier in a case like this to clearly define your expectations for what students should produce (It can still be experimental, but it may be easier to point students to examples since so many artists now build and maintain digital presences for themselves — it’s almost it’s own genre of Web site.)

For the session I did with these students, we actually spent some time looking at other artists’ sites and talking about the elements of these sites. Since these are art students, there’s also an expectation that they will build (and want to build) a site that reflects a particular aesthetic. As a result I chose a different set of themes to but into their WordPress package than I did for Gentry’s students — focussing on themes that were for building image galleries and portfolios.

Check out some examples from Jesionowski’s class last fall.

Crafting a Digital Presence (Other)

We have other examples of students using DoOO to think through the idea of building their digital presence. Students in GIS are being introduced to the project early in their first course in the program, with the hopes that they’ll produce a digital portfolio that can be used for finding internships/employment eventually. We’re also working with students in an early CS course to get them building their presence early in the major.

I would say the key to this approach is thinking carefully about what kind of digital presence someone in your discipline is likely to need/want/value. What kind of digital presence would you/have you built? How can you teach your students to build and develop something similar.

The trickiest part of this is finding a way to get students to see this as integrated in your course. As important as you/we may think it is to get students to build their own online presence, if you introduce it as something they need to do because you say so, and then never really demonstrate to them how it matters, they’ll probably think it’s busy work and eventually abandon it.

Course Blogging

It’s still possible to think of Domain of One’s Own as a general publishing platform in which students are expected to basically keep a blog that they use to respond to course assignments, share ideas, etc. In many ways this is just using DoOO as the next step after a system like UMW Blogs. The difference is that students are getting a chance to establish a more self-determined blogging space — they choose a domain, install WordPress, pick their own themes/plugins, etc.

Why go this route instead of using UMW Blogs? It kind of depends on your goals. Using DoOO gives you a chance to talk to students about the Web more deeply as a space they should understand and can control. You’re also giving them an opportunity to develop deeper skills through working directly with their own slice of the Web server. Potentially, you’re also setting them up to use the site/domain they create for other courses/projects down the road.

UMW Blogs still serves a purpose, though! And I, personally, don’t think we’re at the point of suggesting that all of the activity that’s been fostered on UMW Blogs should automatically be migrated off to DoOO. Rather, I think faculty need to consider their goals for having students work in an open, online space and figure out which system make the most sense.

In Jackie Gallagher’s spring Freshman Seminar, Water Resources, she’s having her students set up WordPress and blog about the work of the course.  She also sees it as an opportunity to get her students to think, more generally, about beginning to build a digital identity for themselves. You can see examples of sites Gallagher’s students have set up here.

Digital Projects

We do a lot of work with students in WordPress on DoOO because it’s a system we know well, it’s very powerful and flexible, and it’s easy to learn. That said, it’s important to remember that DoOO, as a platform, can allow students to do all kinds of things that don’t involve WordPress. If you have a class in which you’re interested in having students learn how to build something on the Web, DoOO is somewhat unparalleled as a space for them to explore and build.

In Jeff McClurken’s Adventures in Digital History, students are using Domain of One’s Own to build their digital projects. In this case, we’re using single departmental domain, and students are building their (group) projects in subdomains of that space. In addition to WordPress, students are also using Omeka in DoOO for these projects

This spring, Ryan and I are also working with Melina Patterson’s Revanchist City/Rebel City course. In this class, each student is doing a research project and they must build a digital representation of their work. This has been an incredibly fun class to work on because it’s forced us to move beyond WordPress. Last week, I did a session with the students in which I introduced them to a number of digital tools for representing their projects, including Omeka,  Neatline, Simile Timeplots, and a set of ESRI storymapping applications. Most of these must be installed and hosted on a Web server, and students are using their own DoOO accounts/space to work with them. You can check out the tutorial/resource I put together for the class here.

(Both McClurken’s and Patterson’s students are still building their project sites, so I’ll come back later to add links to these.)

Other Ideas

We don’t talk about it often, but I love the feature of Domain of One’s Own that allows students to “map” their domain (or a subdomain of their domain) onto other services. Sure, there are times when we want them to be mucking around on the server, installing applications, and learning how this stuff works under the hood. But maybe a good entry point is to teach them how to map their domain/subdomain onto their existing Tumblr? Or a site on UMW Blogs, even? Even something as simple as this afford the opportunity to think about what it means to claim your own domain and then determine what can be found their.

I also want to encourage faculty to think about just having DTLT come in and to an introduction to DoOO, even if they’re not requiring it or using it. Particularly in FSEMS, it would be great to get in front of our students and just let them know that DoOO is here and they have access to it. Lots of students won’t use it immediately, a few will, and some will remember it and come back to it when they need it or want it.

And Finally

Finally, I think we’ll have really arrived when we get to the point where we regularly have students thinking about building a presence for themselves that goes beyond a course blog, a particular project, or even a “portfolio.” Our ultimate goal, perhaps, should be to get our students to a place where they can build a presence for themselves that is multi-faceted and integrated. In preparation for a class demo I did last week, I spent some time finally building out my main domain at www.marthaburtis.net. For years, it’s lain fallow, simply pointing to this blog, so I spent a few hours building something that is related to my blog (and shows my latest content from my blog), but that also shows other aspects of who I am and what I’m doing online. It’s not fancy, and I expect I’ll continue to develop it, but it allowed me to illustrate some of what’s possible.

I want to demonstrate for students that what they build can encompass many aspects of who they are and what they need. They can easily pull in content from other services they use (like Twitter or Tumblr). They can install multiple kinds of applications (like Tiny Tiny RSS and OwnCloud), and they can link those apps together to share and expose different parts of their online activities. They can build something that is professional that lives side-by-side with something that is more playful and personal. And, most importantly, they can continue to grow, expand, contract, and change this space as their lives and their needs change and develop.

In my mind’s eye, I imagine DoOO developing to the point where building this kind of multi-faceted and personally imagined space becomes part and parcel of being a student at UMW. The building of it, however, doesn’t occur through any one, single course. It grows incrementally and organically as they move through the incremental and organic process of learning.