Each year since 2011, the University System of New Hampshire (USNH) has sponsored an Academic Technology Institute (ATI) in which 10 faculty from each of the 4 institutions in the system come together to learn about infusing their teaching with technology. This year’s ATI was held at Plymouth State University (my home institution) last week and focused entirely on “open” education–open educational resources, open pedagogy, open access, etc. I was one of the 40 faculty attendees and found a lot to think about and be inspired by over the course of 2 and a half days. There were several conversations that I want to continue to think about.
The first of those conversations began during the “test kitchen” session in which participants could visit several stations to learn about technology tools that they might use to foster openness in their classrooms. Two of the tools discussed in separate parts of the test kitchen were WordPress and Domain of One’s Own (DoOO). One participant asked the interesting question of why would we might think about using DoOO instead of WordPress in our teaching. So here’s my explanation to that excellent question.
For those who don’t know, WordPress.com is a site for creating a (free) blog. You create a domain name (like cathieleblancblog.wordpress.com–this site!), configure what you want the blog to look like, and start writing. If you want more than the basic features, you can pay a small bit of money ($2.99 a month for a personal account). For example, I have a personal account at WordPress.com because I want to be able to use the URL cathieleblancblog.com (without “wordpress” in the middle). When you set up your blog on WordPress.com, it lives on the WordPress servers so they take care of making sure that everything is set up correctly and that updates are installed and so on. The convenience of this setup is of prime importance to a lot of people. There are other people, however, who want more control over their blog. For those people, the WordPress organization has a site called WordPress.org which is where you can find the free download of the WordPress software. If you download the software, you can then install it anywhere that you like and create your blog there. In other words, the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org is who hosts and maintains the server that the blog is on. With WordPress.com, WordPress hosts while with WordPress.org, YOU have to host. For most of us, this means that we will pay a hosting company to store the files that make up our blog. We will then install our own version of the WordPress software, configure it in whatever way we want, and then create our blog on it. This is what I’ve done with my photography blog, cathieleblanc.com/blog. I have purchased the domain cathieleblanc.com (which I haven’t been maintaining, by the way). I then pay Register.com to host it. I installed WordPress into a folder called “blog” and that’s where my photography blog is located. I have to keep that installation of WordPress up to date but I have many more options for customization of the blog than I do with my WordPress.com site because I control ALL of the options.
A Domain of One’s Own is an initiative whose goal is to provide students with their own web site to use however they see fit. When a student gets a domain through the initiative, their site will be hosted by Reclaim Hosting. They can then install their own WordPress installation if they want. In other words, Reclaim Hosting is performing the same service for students that Register performs for me with my photography blog. But a student doesn’t have to use the WordPress software if they don’t want to. There are many blogging applications that a student could choose from, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. For example, a student who wants to create a blog might choose to use b2evolution or GeekLog or LifeType or … . DoOO makes it really easy to install applications into a web site. There are 7 blogging applications listed but a student could find yet another tool and install it even though it isn’t one of the “easy” ones to install. In addition, DoOO users can install portals, content management systems, e-commerce tools, customer relationship managers, survey tools, and a whole of other tools. In other words, the student who use DoOO has complete control over their web site and can decide how they want it to look and which functionality they want to install.
And yet, many of our students will install WordPress and nothing else. That’s ok. Setting up the domain and installing WordPress is easy (see Robin DeRosa’s great set of instructions). For them, working on their blog will not be a whole lot different than if they created a blog on WordPress.com. But some students will want to customize their sites further. They’ll want to install other blogging applications and maybe even other tools. Using DoOO means that their sites can grow with them. What better way for students to begin to own their educational experience than to own the place where they’re making their educational experience visible to the world?