A personal web domain, paid for by the university until graduation, is now part of the package for first-year students at one Virginia liberal arts school.
Since this past fall, incoming freshmen at the 5,000-student University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg have been offered their own domain to create a personal website where they can showcase academic work, share instructors’ feedback and link to social media, among other digital activities.
The tools provided by the “Domain of One’s Own” initiative make it easier for students to carve out their own space on the web, and control and customize it, says Tim Owens, an instructional technology specialist at University of Mary Washington.
“Students want to make something their own—to personalize it and say this is my space, this is who I am, in a way to personify themselves on the web,” Owens says.
Users have complete control over the content and the design of the page. Mary Washington students can install a variety of open source software, such as the blogging platform Wordpress, to help them design their sites.
After graduation, the university will no longer pay for the domains. But students will be able to move their websites to a web hosting service, allowing them to use their domains as e-portfolios when interviewing for jobs. This has an advantage over e-portfolios that are part of an LMS, which can be more difficult for students to access or make public after graduating, Owens says.
Faculty members also are taking advantage of the domains. Librarian Jack Bales uses his site, Wrigley Ivy, to post research on the Chicago Cubs—which is not a very crowded academic field. “Having his own domain, he’s gotten interviews and he’s been published,” Owens says. “People are finding his work on the web and finding him to be an authoritative resource on the Chicago Cubs.”
Students’ domains, much like Wikipedia entries, also can become sources of knowledge for web users. And creating and improving the sites gives students, regardless of their majors, valuable experience in web development, Owens says.
“The way we see Mary Washington moving forward is this framing of the digital liberal arts—you can have a liberal arts experience that’s also grounded in the tech experience,” Owens says.
Other institutions following Mary Washington’s lead include Davidson College in North Carolina, which has received a grant to fund domains for its students, and Emory University in Georgia, which will pilot a similar program in its writing program. University of Mary Washington’s domains can be viewed at http://umwdomains.com/directory.