UMW Freshmen Build Digital Identities Through Innovative Project

This fall, incoming freshmen at the University of Mary Washington will have the opportunity to create their digital identities through the Domain of One’s Own initiative.

The Domain of One's Own initiative allows students and faculty to experiment with domains and web hosting.

The Domain of One’s Own initiative allows students and faculty to experiment with domains and web hosting.

The pioneering project provides free, personal domain names and web hosting to help students take responsibility for their online identities, as well as explore the implications of what it might mean for them to take control of their work and manage their own portfolios.

Domain of One’s Own reinforces UMW as a leader in higher education, according to Director of Teaching and Learning Technologies Jim Groom, since it is evidence that emerging technologies are central to the university’s student and faculty experience, not afterthoughts.

“Domain of One’s Own is an opportunity to build on a tradition we have had for the past 10 years to build the Web into the curriculum,” said Groom, whom the Chronicle of Higher Education named one of a dozen top tech innovators in 2012. “UMW is one of the first [colleges and universities] to think about this in a central way. Mary Washington is suggesting and doing something radically different. We are building the Web into the fabric of how we teach and learn here.”

Domain of One’s Own started as a pilot project in 2012, with more than 400 students and 30 faculty participating. It is the brainchild of Groom and his colleagues in the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies.

The initiative has two main goals, Instructional Technology Specialist Tim Owens explained, with the first focused on the value of archives and portfolios for students’ future professional and academic endeavors.

“The other side of it is that it is valuable for students just to inhabit the Web and understand how the Web works,” he said. “It’s important for us to have those conversations with students about how stuff happens on the Web and how they can control it.”

 

Haley Campbell '13 has used her domain as a portfolio and academic blog.

Haley Campbell ’13 has used her domain as a portfolio and academic blog.

Haley Campbell ’13 has used her http://aetherbunny.com/ domain as everything from a portfolio to an academic blog to a place to experiment with online editing tools.

“A lot of people take the Internet for granted,” Campbell said. “They know they have to use it, but they don’t necessarily think about how they’re using it. [Domain of One’s Own] encourages critical thinking about those tools.”

The initiative has created a buzz on and off campus, including in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Wired, The Web Host Industry Review and The Center for Digital Education.

The idea for the initiative started when the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies’ staff received their own domains and web spaces in 2004.

“Two years later, after we saw how it empowered us in so many ways, we informally banded around this idea of ‘wouldn’t it be cool if we could give this to every student?’” said Martha Burtis, special projects coordinator. “It really evolved over about 10 years to where we are now.”

For Burtis, Domain of One’s Own isn’t just about technology, it’s about transforming students through meaningful interactions.

“That kind of empowerment is huge in terms of what we can do for our students,” she said.

About Brynn Boyer

Brynn Boyer is assistant director of media and public relations and a 2010 graduate of UMW.

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