Documenting a Domain of One’s Own

Over the last month or so we’ve been piecing together the Domain of One’s Own pilot, and it really is a thing of beauty. I already talked about how we’re using it to archive a ton of work we’ve done over the past seven years, as well as how it represents an architecture of empowerment for faculty and students alike. In this post I want to talk a bit about how we’re running and supporting this pilot to give folks a sense of  the practical day-to-day of getting something like this off the ground.

First off, We’re running both the commodity web hosting and domains through Media Temple. More than seven years ago in UMW’s Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies (DTLT) we started a similar pilot that gave all the instructional technology staff their own domain and web hosting through Bluehost in order to experiment with what’s possible. Seven years later we’re doing that same experiment with at least 400 faculty and staff, but this time DTLT is acting like Bluehost. We’re managing the signup for the hosting and domains for all pilot members, and we’re taking the lead on supporting it around campus.

The Sign-Up Process
Streamlining the process through which faculty and students get domains and web hosting is part of what we’re trying to perfect over the course of this year’s pilot. As of now participants are asked to sign-up through a form designed by Martha Burtis that automatically checks if the domain they want is available and runs them through the web hosting signup.

The sign-up form is slick because it helps us reduce the possibilities of typos when it comes to domain sign-ups as well automatically associating sign-ups with specific classes so that we can start to play with syndicating and aggregating the work from around the pilot (more on that as it develops!).

The web hosting sign-up is automated so that once they click the “Buy Now” button (we are trying to get rid of the “buy” verbiage given this is all free for students and faculty) they’re taken right to the forms on Media Temple and can have their account in minutes. The domain sign-up, however, is manual. As of now all the requested domains go to a spreadsheet that we regularly to submit as a ticket to Media Temple so that they can add the domains (we have an open account with a few thousand dollars set aside just for domains—but with the current $4 domain sale this will go a long way 🙂 ) after they add the domain we (which is royal for Tim Owens 😉 ) have to manually point the nameservers for each one. This is labor intensive but not impossible for 300-400 domains, but it will be impossible for the 1000-1500 roll-out for every Freshman next September if all goes well this year–which it will. Automating this process should not be too hard and Tim Owens, the mastermind behind the Domain of One’s Own setup, has already been working on the details.

Supporting the Pilot
Supporting the pilot is pretty much a three-pronged approach of documentation, class visitis, and follow-up.

Documentation: Up front we try and document as much of the technical details for using the web hosting account as we can. This includes tutorials for creating a subdomain, installing applications like WordPress, using FIle Manager, setting up FTP, mapping a subdomain, etc. We’re building this documentation in a MediaWiki install here and then using UBC’s amazing WikiEmbed plugin to dynamically populate the entire wiki documentation site as pages in WordPress here. (As an aside, the WikiEmbed plugin developed by Enej at UBC is absolutely brilliant, and special thanks to Alan Levine for bringing this back to UMW so we could fully understand the brilliance behind such a publishing approach.)

Classroom visits: Another thing we’ll be doing these next couple of weeks is visiting courses that are piloting the Domain of One’s Own and talking to students about the vision, ethos, and practicalities of the project (save our ds106 sections which already have the Domain of One’s Own project as part of their DNA). Documentation is a great backup, but nothing beats a sense of immediacy and presence in the classroom as this all starts moving along. In the beginning UMW Blogs was built on quick and quality support from DTLT, and classroom visits played a huge role in that early on.

Follow-up: Pretty simple, follow-up with faculty and students on a regular basis to make sure they aren’t having issues. This includes reading and commenting on their blogs, contacting individuals throughout the semester, and setting up workshops for faculty and students to build portfolio sites, image sites, map domains, etc.  Finding ways to creatively follow-up with this semester’s pilot cohort as a means to encourage faculty and students to experiment with the tools they now have is crucial, and I would love more recommendations in this area.

And that’s where we’re at so far with the Domain of One’s Own pilot. It’s really happening, which I still can’t believe! What’s more, it’s quite manageable thus far, and I think as we understand the process and issues over the next few months we should have no problem streamlining the sign-up process and campus-wide support to go campus-wide by Fall 2013.

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4 Responses to Documenting a Domain of One’s Own

  1. Jessica Reingold says:

    Hi, I’m a student here at UMW and this is sounds like a great idea! Can students sign up for it now? If not, because it’s still a work in progress, how can I access my webspace via the Secure File Transfer application? I was to do so at GMU over the summer and I was hoping I could here too, just to start working a site that I’d use primarily to showcase my history future history research projects

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