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Domain, Paper, Scissors: a new tool for the CU Domain of One’s Own iniative

Author: Lauren Heywood   7th June 2017

Originally posted here June 7th 2017

On designing a new paper-based tool for Coventry University’s Domain of One’s Own initiative at the Disruptive Media Learning Lab.

I’ve designed a new paper-based tool to guide students and staff through the initial steps of considering the potentials for building their own website using WordPress. The tool has the comically long name ‘Design Your Own Domain: Plan your WordPress site with paper’, and is licensed under the Creative Commons CC-BY-NC 4.0 license. This resource includes a hands-on activity to help participants visualise the content and structure of their potential website, paired with key WordPress specific terms and explanations to help participants link their website concept with the process of how this can be built and structured using this specific application. In this post I will give an overview of how this resource was developed and the trialling of the tool so far.

The Coventry University Domain of One’s Own initiative, led by Daniel Villar-Onrubia (DMLL Principal Project Lead), went live at the beginning of this academic year. Coventry.Domains offers students and staff hosted space and a subdomain to create their own website. Since October 2016, the DoOO team have supported staff and students across campus to realise the potentials of creating their own website as a way to claim and build their online presence.

It became clear through out this year that many people, until engaging with the DoOO initiative, have not had opportunity or otherwise had reason to reflect on the online spaces that they inhabit, their online presence, and how websites can be designed to fit an audience type or discipline. This meant that after signing up for a Coventry.Domains account, often the steepest learning curve people experienced was the process of conceptualising and articulating what they wanted to create with their newly hosted space.

Community Support

Between October 2016 and March 2017, Ashley Armstrong (DMLL Student Activator) and I ran a series of Domain of One’s Own support sessions to help staff at Coventry University sign up to Coventry.Domains and explore the potential of building their own domain. These support sessions were informal in structure, a regular two hour drop-in surgery where staff could come by to ask for 1–2–1 support with their site. These sessions also offered academics opportunity to meet with colleagues from across Coventry University campus and discuss the intended purpose of their sites and plans for implementation in teaching.

Early on, these sessions highlighted a number of issues relating to staff access to equipment, disparity in digital literacy levels, and availability and regularity in people’s time to invest in the CU DoOO initiative and the building of their own domain. In these sessions we provided laptops to allow all members of staff access to build their own website with Coventry.Domains, and programmed the sessions around the availability of staff members who registered interest in the CU DoOO initiative. As a way to address the steep learning curve faced by many wanting to build their own site, we wanted to find a way to explain the more abstract process of conceptualising what the potential for an online space could be, how this could be designed and structured, and deciding what content is appropriate to be display in each individuals’ context.

Ashley, Daniel and I discussed that perhaps as part of an upcoming session we should provide a way for participants to draw what they would like their website to look like as a step in the process of planning their website. This way participants could develop a concrete image of what they wanted their online space to be, rather than get caught out by the abstract and (sometimes) intimidating process of navigating dashboards as an introduction to exploring the possibilities of building your own website.

Ashley ran with this idea and developed an initial prototype of a jigsaw-like paper-based activity that suggested areas of a website that could be included in a participants’ site build. This activity consisted of cut out blocks that had suggestions for potential spaces on a landing page such as navigation bars and blog post thumbnails. We then used this as a tool in a support session to explain how information can be displayed and structured, and how these spaces can be moved, swapped and interchanged depending on the purpose of a website.

This activity proved very useful, facilitating staff members who were less confident in their knowledge of online spaces to interact with planning and discussing their potential site through physical, visual means.

Making a Tool

In the second semester of 2016–2017, this introductory activity became less necessary within the weekly staff support sessions as academics began to concentrate on the implementation of DoOO in their teaching. The now more established community group had moved on to developing their sites and/or supporting their students to do so. However, it became clear that this type of activity would be useful as a learning tool to be delivered to students as part of their introduction to the DoOO initiative and building their own online space. Staff wishing to implement DoOO in their teaching could then use and adapt this tool to support their students.

WordPress is currently by far the most common CMS application used by the CU DoOO community. Because of this I wanted to pair a hands-on paper-based activity with basic WordPress information and key terms to create a new learning resource. The aim of this tool was to provide DoOO participants with an activity to help them conceptualise their potential website alongside information that offered an initial context and foundation from which software-specific knowledge could be developed. Teaching staff could deliver this during introductory sessions showing learners how to sign up to and navigate Coventry.Domains. From this, participants could then go on to develop their technical knowledge of WordPress and content for their website.

I made an initial draft of this tool ready for the CU Faculty of Engineering, Environment and Computing Innovation Day in April 2017 to get feedback from staff and students, and as a talking point to discuss practical ways to introduce learners to the premise of creating a Domain of One’s Own.

The final version of this tool now includes:

  1. A cut-and-stick “design your own domain” activity
  2. A glossary of basic terms and elements of a WordPress site
  3. An introduction to WordPress as a content management system
  4. An introduction to WordPress themes and how to choose the right one
  5. An explanation of the difference between “pages” and “posts”
  6. An explanation of the difference between “tags” and “categories”

I ran this new version by colleagues willing to be guinea-pigs and offer honest feedback. Thanks in particular to my visual design coach Alex Masters, and to Sam Price for being the first person to plan their DoOO site with the activity.

This week Daniel and I ran a two hour workshop with languages staff from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. We used this tool as an introductory practical activity to get staff to think through how they could design their own website whilst discussing the implementation of the DoOO initiative in their teaching in a language learning context. The general feedback from staff was that they found the activity and information useful in creating their own website within the session and that they would plan to use the tool in the introductory delivery of Coventry.Domains to their students.

I’m excited to see how this is utilised and adapted by staff and students. The tool and delivery guide are licensed under CC-BY-NC 4.0 so feel free to use and remix this resource. If you have any feedback or would like to see other resources developed please get in contact with myself, the DMLL, or the CU DoOO team!

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