Domains 2017

In an attempt to give an exhaustive account of my experiences at Domains 2017 (June 5-6, 2017), I fear I have very early exhausted myself. The conference was such a remarkable and singular experience for me that I felt the need to honor it with as thorough a documentation and compilation as I could. That effort almost resulted in this post never being completely finished or published, so I have decided to let it go and simply post it.

What follows are an accounting of compiled notes and memories from the presentations, projects, and discussions I experienced in roughly chronological order.

Where possible, I use the heading for each of the following to link to the presentation materials, tool, or topic concerned.

Odds and Ends

Rather than drop these scattered notions to the bottom, I place them here because I want to remember them in particular.

  • A growth and empowerment-focused lesson plan for teaching the web:
    • 1st assignment: highly structured, step-by-step, copy and paste “about me” page.
    • Final assignment: blank slate expressive “about me” page to replace the former.
  • Appeal to students (originally from Seth Godin?): “Google your own name. Are you happy with what you find there?”
  • Pushing course blogs to the front page of a Domains site helps attract more courses. Spotlight students to attract other students. If an institution’s Domains front page just looks weird, clunky, and silent, there won’t be nearly as much realized potential.
  • A particularly good FAQ for a Domains site:
  • Consider partnering with Civic Engagement and Service Learning:


Tim Clarke, Muhlenberg

A little web server on a hyper-local WiFi drive. Some fascinating potential for contexts like:

  • Field schools and other “remote” scholarly work.
  • Threatened communities.
  • Art installations.
  • Work with undocumented persons.
librarybox componants
I believe that I connected to the device on the uppermost left side of the table.
librarybox screencap
My phone connected to Tim Clarke’s LibraryBox.








Adam Croom has done a more recent write-up (The Offline Web) on his thoughts and experiences around LibraryBox/PirateBox.

OU’s Webfest

Keegan Long-Wheeler, OU

Oklahoma U’s faculty development series on the web. Faculty are encouraged to “visualize what you know about the web” right at start and again at the end, and mindfully compare their two views. The facilitators started with the ground-floor, concrete level bits and pieces of the web: files, servers, FTP. The aim seemed to have been pure demystification, letting faculty touch and see the “real stuff” that made up the web.


Martha Burtis, Director of the Digital Knowledge Center at the University of Mary Washington

Emphasis mine: “The building of sites is absolutely the core activity of Domain of One’s Own. When the project first started one of the things I would frequently say when talking to students about the web was that I wanted them to realize that the web was not something that happened to them but they were happening to. And I still believe this is an important message for our students to hear to and understand.”

Please read it. The other specific thought that occurred to me: Breaking something can make you realize you had power over it, and fixing it can show you that you can control that power. The trick is how to shape an environment where folks can come to those two realizations.

Reclaiming the Web as a Democratic Project: Domain of One’s Own as Transformational Resistance

Lora Taub, Associate Dean of Digital Learning at Muhlenberg

We should build a student advisory board for UMass Create! We need student voices, and we need to bring students together. Something like Muhlenberg’s Domains and Donuts (see below): A specific, bounded time for Domains users to get together to work and support each other.

An Annotation-Powered User-Innovation Toolkit For Educational Technologists

Jon Udell of

Much of the important elements of this presentation are covered in the linked post, but I never pass up an opportunity to highlight one of the projects mentioned: the Digital Polarization Initiative.

Just a Community Organizer: Visualizing Community for Domain of One’s Own

Marie Selvanadin (Georgetown), Tom Woodward (VCU), Yianna Vovides (Georgetown)

Georgetown Domains currently hosts ~700 sites, ~65% of which are students. Yianna Vovides‘s take on how the focus of the domains project has changed for them: “We started with faculty and realized our primary audience was students.”

They went to departments already using portfolios or with interest thereof. They got the director of Gen Ed and the dean the College of Liberal Arts on board. They first cohort included four first year experience classes and four 400 level courses. They held workshops for the faculty cohort the semester before and met before the semester started.

They curate and spotlight sites (student site, course sitefaculty blog) on their domains site home page. They noted that they ask permission before they spotlight someone’s domain!

Tom Woodward of VCU also presented some clever and (relatively) simple ways to scrape and display usage across WordPress sites installed on a domains instance, capturing screenshots of the site home pages. He also showed a method for pulling out a timeline of posts. In response to a concern I raised about how that usage data, once collected, could be used against users, the presenters responded (in what I hope is a reasonable paraphrase): The more ways to look at something, the more facets reveal themselves, and the more developed and productive discussion to be had about usage.

We Are Not DoOOMed! Strategies for Centering Assistantship in a Domains of One’s Own Community

(This was a two-part session, and I unfortunately missed most of part 2.)

Jenna Azar (Muhlenberg) & Jarrett Azar (Muhlenberg). Jenna runs the Digital Learning Assistants (DLA) program, an undergraduate student-staffed, student and faculty-serving support service focused on domains. Jarrett is a Class of 2020 student and a DLA (yes, they are parent and child, which is great!).

Dorm and a Domain

The DLA program unofficially started with a  “Learning in the Digital Age” first-year pre-orientation cohort: the option to move in 3 days early, to get a “Dorm and a Domain.” 

The pre-orientation was and exploration of tools and apps, framed by conversations about being a learner and citizen in a digital age. This ranged from using a local Snapchat filter to advertise a dance party to readings of Freire, Vygotsky, & hooks.

While they hoped this pre-orientation cohort would produce Digital Learning Assistants, they didn’t make it a requirement.

In fact, it sounds a lot like UMass Amherst’s Innovate@ Symposia, except for incoming undergrads rather than instructors. That said, here’s Muhlenberg’s Domain of One’s Own Faculty Learning Community

Digital Learning Assistants

Each DLA can choose to focus on 1 of 4 areas (based on my imperfect notes): mapping, publishing, storytelling, archives. There were 8 DLAs in the first year of the program, offering open hours in Spring 2017 after more focused spin-up in Fall 2016. These open hours operate a lot like UMass Amherst’s Instructional Media Lab, in that they are helping students and faculty teach themselves, not going in and solving problems themselves.

Domains and Donuts

Every other Friday, the DLAs came together to do domains work, with a healthy supply of donuts on hand. This was open to faculty doing domains work, too. It wasn’t exactly a drop-in support and service space, more of a drop-in community support space. In other words: “I’m going to install this thing on my domain and I’m pretty sure I’m going to break it, so I came here to have folks to talk about it with.” I like a lot of things about this model. It emphasizes peer support, it’s a specific community time and destination rather than a nebulous office, and it has donuts! We’re doing some similar stuff at UMass IT Instructional Innovation with our Techspresso Retreats, but I think we could consider the benefits of the specific topical focus and the peer/community support concept of Domains and Donuts.

Finally, a quote to remember from Jarrett: “You learn who you are by what you decide to share.”

Small Steps Go a Long Way: Designing Learning Tools with WordPress

Tanya Dorey-Elias, Alan Levine. Thompson Rivers U

“All these tools have got to be about giving people back control.”

Tanya Dorey-Elias started by noting that we were on unceded native (or aboriginal, in .ca terms) land. I’ve increasingly seen this practice in conference panels and other framing of North American spaces, and I appreciate it every time. My own lack of confidence in bringing that up in similar contexts just indicates a lack of research on my part about the land I’m on at any given time.

Tanya started with an amazing exercise and framing metaphor about boots, the context in which they are used, and how this connects to other technologies. Happily, she wrote this up and frames this much more powerfully than I could.

Alan Levine highlighted some SPLOTs: “SPLOTs are the demented spawn of a shotgun marriage, between the drive to simplify open web expression and the refusal to require participant data.” He specifically showed off Tru Writer

For this online writing tool, no account or name needed. Just go in and use it. The default “ID” is Anonymous. Part of the purpose of tools like this is due to (as I understand it) much more restrictive/protective Canadian laws around how personal information can be collected and stored, but also to challenge the narrative that trackable online identities are always appropriate. For example, making a space for sharing stories not usually told about experiences with abuse:

‘Just Make it Work!’ Workflows & Tools to Make You Look (Mostly) Competent When You’re One Person Supporting 22,000 WordPress Sites

Tom Woodward, Virginia Commonwealth University

This presentation was about the trevails of running a huge multisite WordPress site similar to Tom’s excellent presentation is linked in the title, so I’ll pull out my big takeaway: The multisite and UMass Create web domains should be mutually-supporting tools for our population. We shouldn’t ignore one for the other, but should highlight the difference in affordances and constraints.

Automating Analytics for Your Domains Project

Peter Senz,  Brigham Young University

BYU Domains has 5800 users, which is the largest current DoOO instance with Reclaim Hosting.  BYU started their pilot in 2015. By end of the year they had 1000+ sies. Started with “techie” groups. They went “live” as a full service in Jan 2016. Peter shared that his CIO is a little disappointed in the “5800 sites” figure; he wants 10,000! The majority of use is from students (about 65%).

The usage isn’t as centered around classes, but mostly around individual users. For example, at least 30 of the sites are students selling their photography.

How do they de-provision accounts?
  1. Check for Active User (“eligible to register” student or employed faculty/staff) in the general IT information system.
  2. If they aren’t active, show a notice on the site dashboard (cPanel).  warning with a link to their site migrations page, as well as the RH individual hosting purchase form. Side note: RH is getting a burst of BYU folks transferring out of BYU to Individual Accounts.
  3. Send a monthly email for 6 months.
  4. After 6 months disable the account, 1 month later delete account.
How do they auto-provision accounts?

When a new user logs into the BYU domains page:

  1. The system checks if they’re an Active User (see above).
  2. If so, a WHMCS (domain) account and a WordPress account are auto-created.
  3. A welcome message is sent to them with an invitation to log in and choose a domain name (including support info).

No IT staff have to take action throughout this process, though they contracted an outside developer to build the above two processes.

Why so many users?

He mentioned a few potential factors:

  • The IT staff does lots of presenting to classes about digital identity and sovereignty every semester. Presentations aren’t focused on the technical, but more values-driven.
  • They publicly kick out the faculty member from the class when they present to students; make it clear that it’s “about students.” They make sure a given class presentation aligns with the syllabus, too.
  • Students are used to jumping between multiple online spaces for their scholarly work. Specifically, the Center for Teaching built and runs an LMS, and IT also supports Canvas and Moodle.
  • Finally, almost everyone uses their personal email rather than their BYU email to register or access services at BYU. The sense of the “one-stop-shop” or “walled garden” just isn’t there for most of the BYU population.

Beyond the LMS

Tim Klapdor, Charles Sturt University

TIm’s talk was more strategic and aspirational, framing the original purposes of the LMS, what it has become, and how a more distributed system, with individual learner domains as the nodes, could actually promote a more useful and enriching environment, especially for the kinds of “distributed, life-long learners” that make up an increasing amount of students.

A collection of other fine folks’ takes on Domains 2017:

Domains 2017 #notaconference

Gleanings from the Fields of #Domains17

Inspiring More DoOO Power Users – A #Domains17 Perspective

#domains17 – MBFWL

..and finally, from Oklahoma U’s Adam Croom: Small is Beautiful. Metaphors and Other Musings from #Domains17

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