DTLT Today: Episode 104, UMW’s Domain of One’s Own

Note: At two points in the above video (roughly at 12 minutes and 22 minutes) there’s cacophonous feedback when we go to the shot of the laptop. Andy picks it up and fixes it soon after the 22 minute mark. I’ll be editing this out sometime soon, apologies in the meantime. Those clips with heavy feedback loop have been edited out.

After a year and a half hiatus DTLT Today is finally back in action with episode 104. Even better, we had the whole old gold crew together (i.e. Martha Burtis, Andy Rush, Tim Owens, and myself) to talk about the Domain of One’s Own project we’re kicking off this Fall for 1000 freshman.

I pushed for this episode because I was blown away by how streamlined Tim Owens and Martha Burtis had engineered the sign-up using the client management software WHMCS. It’s extremely slick; a two step process that gives students and faculty alike their own domain and web hosting immediately. What’s more, the domain propagates in less than 10 minutes. It’s amazing to see how cleanly and professionally this project has come along. Martha and Tim talk a bit about their setup process in the above episode, which I find nothing short of fascinating, particularly the bafflement of the WHMCS community forums when they were inquiring how to give domains away for free and prevent anyone from buying anything else. A new kind of client software! :)

Given all our success we got a little cocky (royal we, it’s all TIM OWENS!) and decided to open a parallel project up to any interested teachers and faculty over at Reclaim Hosting. Over the next two weeks we are going to be knee deep in support documentation and videos for Domain of One’s Own, and what struck me today is that we can easily run this project in terms of support with an eye to the open web. Not unlike ds106, we can focus and build the project for our immediate community, but at the same time open it up to a larger community for anyone interested. Fact is, we aren’t duplicating efforts, we would be doing this stuff anyway. After Tim figured out how to make the process so smooth to clone such a model was simple, we just needed some money to float the server and software cost for an academic year, and thanks to the Shuttleworth Foundation flash grant I received (thanks to David Wiley) we could do it.

Another thing that struck me as we were doing DTLT Today yesterday was that we could also plan every Monday afternoon throughout the Fall semester on doing an episode of DTLT Today focused on getting people familiar with CPanel, installing open source applications, setting up aggregator blogs, etc. Seems to me we would be killing two birds with one stone, supporting the local students, staff and faculty at UMW as well as any interested teachers/faculty from any interested school, college, and/or university (hell, you don’t even have to be part of any of them). Initially this was the same reason we opened up ds106, because folks wanted to know how to manage their own web host, access their databases, setup subdomains, customize open source applications, and much more.

Even cooler, we can make it so that any interested faculty can control and manage their students accounts. They can set them up with domains, access their CPanels, and generally work with them if they are having issues. It gives the students their own space and gets them familiar with the possibilities of open source web-based applications while at the same time giving the faculty the ability to help them as they get started. I love this idea!

At lunch yesterday Tim referred to this model as “distributed ed tech” that we can all do if we simply point our work a bit more towards a community beyond our campus. What’s more, you have to provide a shared object of attention and invite people in so you can have a wider community. But not at the expense of the local, but rather to augment what’s happening locally, which has been proven to be the case with ds106.

I know firsthand there are a lot awesome people who not only could use some focused help with managing web hosting for themselves, as well as a community, but also would bring a mojo to community engagement that is remarkable. I am referring particularly to Todd Conaway’s post “Owning and Sharing: Like Buying a Coke” wherein he illustrates the various cultural issues that are wide spread across higher ed (anything from financial woes to limited human resources to despotic IT departments to a general institution bureaucracy and malaise) that such a community of distributed edtech might help a lot of people overcome for a real, compelling change in their local cultures. We’re all doing what we are doing anyway, it’s now time to just point it outwards a bit so that we can start sharing resources, working smarter, and build the cross-campus, inter-institutional connections our schools, colleges and universities seem to do everything in their power to prevent.