It’s About Digital Identity

Domain of One’s Own (DoOO) is a project at UMW that “provides domain names and Web space to members of the UMW community, encouraging individuals to explore the creation and development of their digital identities.” [x]

“…encouraging individuals to explore the creation and development of their digital identities.” 

Yes, DoOO provides free domains to faculty and students but it’s so much more than that. From I understand and based on what i’ve hear my coworkers say, the intent behind the project was not just give away free domains it was to allow for students to have a space on the web that is entirely their own. This does not appear to translate into the most recent draft (April 2015) of the University’s Strategic plan.

Goal 2: Establish and Promote Areas of Distinction 

Objective 4: Extend Domain of One’s Own to spotlight UMW as a leader in digital pedagogies that prepare students
for engaged citizenship and the 21st century workplace.

  • Strategy 1: Beginning with the fall 2016 entering class, all students will be engaged in this initiative,
    integrated from admissions and orientation through to career development
  • Strategy 2: Ensure financial support and professional development opportunities for faculty and staff to
    create domains and incorporate them into the teaching and learning environment. ” [x]

It’s great that the school wants every student to have a domain, and I think they should, but the timing of when they get their domain in their college career is a significant factor in how they will accept the idea of having this space on the web that is all their own. Right now, the way that the strategic plan is worded makes it sound like we’re going force incoming students to get domains as soon as they light their candle on Ball Circle. Free things should be enjoyed, rather than stressful…

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The concept of having your own domain should foster creativity and be either an anchor or at least another facet of your digital identity, because in today’s world, your digital identity can make or break potential opportunities in your future. Furthermore, creating a digital identity should not be burden, and
college freshmen certainly do not need more on their plate. The transition from high school to college can already be eye-opening enough for freshmen. Living more or less on your own, managing your time, and trying to reconfigure your in-person identity in order to leave their high school selves in the past is a lot to go through. Not to mention on top of all of that, they have to balance classes and their social life, and try to form friendships without the help of any familiar faces. Sticking them with the task of trying to create a digital identity that’s not in the form of preset social media norms is like asking them to have multiple existential crises.

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Now this isn’t to say all freshmen shouldn’t even attempt to think about their digital identity, or set up a domain, but I do think that students will accept the idea of having and maintaining their own domains if they are eased into it a little bit more. UMW can and should still encourage that every student has an updated and functioning domain by the time they graduate, but why the rush to establish those domains? Wouldn’t living and thriving domains reflect upon the school better than a bunch of dead end domains? I think so. In order to maximize the amount of students who actively want to have a domain and take their own digital identities into their own hands, I propose that the DoOO model should like something along the lines of this:

  1. Freshmen Year: introduce the concept of digital identities through freshmen seminars (FSEMs). Students can practice blogging and establishing a mock domain through UMWBlogs, which is a publishing platform for the UMW community that allows students have unique subdomains. In addition, FSEMS can also talk to the students about beginning to take control of their digital identities by either cleaning up or tightening/loosening the security settings on their various social media accounts.
  2. Sophomore Year: Typically students become eligible to declare a major their second year, and so they begin to take prerequisite courses. Some disciplines have a set of required classes, some have a “bootcamp” type course. Either way, it is during these courses that I think getting a domain should strongly be encouraged. That way when students are learning about the fundamental concepts they will need to know for their major, they can also begin to put their work on their domain. Obviously, their domain is their own, so ultimately it is up to them what kind of content they want to display, but a a personal resume/cv/portfolio site is a nice default and recommendation.
  3. Junior Year: Students are adding content to their site, potentially using subdomains for specific courses.
  4. Senior Year: Polishing their domains and preparing them to be useful for graduate applications or job applications or even adding a blog to them for those students who are still exploring their post-grad options, or who have decided to travel. Students are also migrating their domains from DoOO to another web host.
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However, every student is unique. This model I have proposed for how to encourage students to participate in the DoOO project is not something I would ever suggest be written in stone. Any plan to increase student participation in DoOO needs to be flexible, but structured. Digital identities are becoming increasingly important but we shouldn’t force students to make digital identity in the form of a domain. We should show them what they could do with their domains, and we should show them how they could be beneficial to them, but only after they get their footing at the University. Having a domain is a great opportunity and can be a wonderful asset but only if you’re willing to put in the time and effort to make it so.

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Freshmen don’t have the time and may not understand why it could be useful for them. The section of the draft of UMW’s Strategic Plan that mentions DoOO needs to be rewritten and throughly thought out before finalized, otherwise DoOO’s image could start to sour.