Domains of Online Scholarly Presence

Yesterday Michigan State University’s Dean of the College of Arts & Letters, Chris Long, linked to this post on Twitter about MSU’s initiative to provide faculty and graduate students their own domain and web hosting.

Chris Long has been walking the walk of open, online scholarship for a long while now. He started regularly blogging his life and work as Philosophy professor while at Penn State University almost a decade ago, and he has not stopped.* There is added weight to a  dean’s advocacy for an entire college to shape their scholarly presence on the web when that champion has done it throughout their career as a faculty member and administrator.

“We’ve been working with our faculty and graduate students to think strategically about how best to build community around their scholarship by making sure their work is accessible to a broad public,” said Christopher P. Long, Dean of the College of Arts & Letters. “This is really just an extension of the land-grant mission to make knowledge accessible. But it’s also an opportunity to think strategically about how our work is presented and received so that it has the broadest impact possible.

The framing of academic domains as communal and broadly accessible is pitch perfect. Providing these spaces for MSU faculty is a calculated decision to not only help shape individual faculty presence on the web, but opening the door to the broader presence of MSU’s intellectual life online. And Long continues:

“What we realized early on is that students and faculty need a domain of their own, an online space they control to curate and present their work in ways that are consistent with the values and commitments of their research.”

Domains have been protean for the more than 40 schools exploring this as a project on their campus. For some it’s student portfolios, others course sites, others faculty scholarship,  still others straight-up library web hosting, etc. There is no one way at Domains, and the idea that each school molds it to their particular needs is a testament to its flexibility. At the same time domains are trailing edge technology, and they come with a fairly modest claim: simply provide your community a space to publish online. How they publish, what they publish, and for whom becomes is what gives this space a sense of life and personalization. And as the MSU article suggests, they have made providing guidance and support for their community during this process integral. Scott Schopieray, the Assistant Dean of Technology and Innovation, has been leading the effort to help faculty and graduate students get up and running:

“We weren’t providing 21st century web hosting …. all they could use was basic html. They couldn’t use databases, scripting, or install open-source products, none of that …. we will help them learn to build their sites in a way where it makes sense to them so they will remember what they are doing, and they can use any open source platform for content management based on what they are comfortable with.”

Domain projects live and die on the level of advocacy and support, MSU has both in spades in their initiative, which bodes quite well for the domain initiative in the College of Arts and Letters.

Yesterday was the first we at Reclaim heard about MSU’s announcement and their compelling two-minute video framing the project (you can find it at the top of this post). I must say we were pretty excited and humbled that they featured Reclaim Hosting so prominently. We try not to push ourselves on folks and we don’t pretend we are the next great disruptors of anything, we simply provide laser-focused support for student, faculty, and institutions exploring domains in a higher ed context. That’s our thing, and when smart folks like Chris Long and Scott Schopieray include us in their elegant and intelligent framing of what this means for their community, we really appreciate it.

In fact, there has been a series of extremely thoughtful, almost foundational posts, recently from Maha Bali, Audrey Watters, and Kate Bowles that I am now linking to for the second time in as many days/posts. The conversation around what domains are and are not is taking on some real momentum, and I have to say it is nice to see this conversation led by some of the smartest folks in the field. I have much to say on their respective posts, and that blog post has been in the works for a while given the conversation keeps getting richer with every addition, but something Audrey Watters said in her “A Domain of One’s Own in a Post-Ownership Society” beautifully captures how something like a domains project reinforces the ideal of a public Web:

But the Web – and here I mean the Web as an ideal, to be sure, and less the Web in reality – has a stake in public scholarship and public infrastructure. Indeed, I’d contend that many of the educational technologies that schools have chosen to adopt in lieu of the Web, in lieu of projects like Domain of One’s Own, help further this Uber-ification of education, in which everything we do now is trackable, extractable, and monetizable by other platforms, by private, for-profit companies.

This vision of public scholarship and infrastructure is echoed in Chris Long’s notion of the ideals that can and should undergird a public, land grant university that is invested in cultivating and sharing as widely as possible the ideas that inform who we are as a culture. The web is not adjunct to the mission of higher ed, in many ways it has become the mission.


*I became familiar with Chris’s work thanks to Cole Camplese‘s tireless advocacy of so much of the great ed-tech work that came out of Penn State in the last decade.

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2 Responses to Domains of Online Scholarly Presence

  1. Kate Bowles says:

    Jim, I’m closely following your thoughts on this. My reservations about the metaphors and assumptions about domains and ownership aren’t objections at all — I’m really trying to address the things that keep some students especially (although also some Faculty) from walking through an open door. I also want to think a little carefully about the pragmatics of higher education that Chris Long mentions — citations, publications, etc., but I don’t yet have a clear answer to that.

    Reading this I wonder if “one’s own” is really “on one’s own terms”, and what hidden expectations might confine that opportunity for some. I’m partly thinking here about student writers I work with whose first language isn’t English, or for whom writing in public exposes a really painful level of educational disadvantage. (This is a question for pedagogy, not anything that domain provision or support could fix.)

    So I think the creation of a philosophy of open work is something that raises ethical questions we can’t answer while we plan in the image of the student who is already literate, ready to become skilled in technical self-presentation, and for whom the reward will be an amplification of these privileges.


    And your support ethos is beyond effective, especially for less skilled users like me. It’s nice to take the opportunity to thank you out loud. Thank you.

    • Reverend says:


      I think my ongoing limitation in edtech has been (and continues to be) working from and through my own experience. I continue to think my figuring out how web publishing works and my labored attempt to communicate with others changed the way I thought and worked. That said, I know my assumptions always elide and elude many for all kinds of reasons. I guess for me the fact that Domains need not be a singular or all encompassing solution for education gives me some solace. It’s one small way, far from perfect and fraught with its own assumptions. That said, amongst the technical options for literacy out there, I think it is the most open ended and pliable, but like you point out so well it will not fix or replace the desperate need for better pedagogies and a broader focus on equity and access. I try and keep my claims and vision for Domains small these days because I think overselling is killing edtech more generally.

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