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Getting Personal: Pilot Gives Students, Faculty Own Domains

Davidson DomainsDavidson is providing students and faculty a unique tool to allow them to be creative in the digital age, in the form of dedicated web space all their own called Davidson Domains.

Launched in late 2014 as the result of an $800,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Davidson Domains pilot is a partnership between the Digital Studies program, Center for Teaching and Learning and Davidson's instructional technology team.

At their most basic level, said Anelise Hanson Shrout, Mellon postdoctoral fellow in digital studies, the domains provide users a dedicated web space to be used however they need, whether for personal websites, projects or even webstores.

"The domain is the server space that can host a variety of things-from Twitter bots to more conventional blogs. We've seen students use them for everything from photography portfolios to mockups of political campaign sites, to advocacy and activism sites, to hosting student-designed applications," said Shrout.

Digital Identity

The domain serves as a foundation for students' online presence and while at Davidson. Ideally, students will be able to keep the domain and content after leaving Davidson, allowing them to continue to build their digital identity.

Users name their domain and maintain control of it, and have access to an entire application directory to customize as deeply as they wish. Users can host their own email servers, run an online business and even code their own apps.

"It's essentially the difference between hosting a single website and hosting your own web server," said Kristen Eshleman, director of digital learning, research and design.

Educational Impact

More than just server space, added Eshleman, Davidson Domains is an idea about how the liberal arts might evolve.

"Domains are essentially an investment in the kinds of ed tech we think truly add value to residential education. It's not about content or efficiency in the delivery of domain competencies. At its core, this initiative is about agency," said Eshleman. "Students and faculty can build their own domains to explore and develop what are increasingly critical and foundational new literacies. Through domains, they can forge a digital identity and reclaim ownership over their data and ideas."

There are currently more than 600 domains, with 15 to 20 percent belonging to faculty or staff educators.

For faculty, said Eshleman, domains offer the space to build the same foundational literacies needed to connect teaching and domain expertise to an increasingly interconnected world.

Davidson is one of the early adopters of this technology in the liberal arts. Staff began researching the concepts in 2004, in the early days of Movable Type and WordPress, eventually looking at hosting solutions.

"Nothing offered what we needed within these two goals: provide agency through individual domains, and build a virtual community that complements the residential one," said Eshleman. The Mellon grant provided funding to launch the pilot in the right way, she added.

Learning Community

When staff members began to launch the pilot, they agreed they didn't just want a group of users, but a community of practice around the domains, so they formed the Davidson Domains Learning Community.

Users meet each month to discuss broad topics like the rewards and challenges of domains, and smaller groups meet to talk about specific issues, such as using the technology in the classroom and exploring new tools.

"These groups provide support for those who are integrating domains into work and research, but also prevent us from individually reinventing wheels when we could be sharing solutions with one another," said Shrout.

The current funding limits access to students within courses making use of the tool, said Eshleman, but staff members hope to offer the program to all students and faculty in the near future.