This past week, CNDLS welcomed Kristen Eshleman, Director of Digital Learning Research & Design and Director of Academic Technology at Davidson College, and Adam Croom, Director of Digital Learning at the University of Oklahoma.

Both Kristen and Adam have been heading Domain of One’s Own at their respective campuses (we call it Georgetown Domains here). Both Davidson Domains and OU Create have been serving their schools since Fall 2014, and we learned much from the paths each program has taken.

Along with Kristen and Adam, we were joined by Erika Bullock, a rising senior here at Georgetown and Senior Fellow in the Designing the Future(s) Fellowship Program. Erika co-presented with us during our Domains sessions at TLISI, and her student insight was invaluable during the week’s activities and conversations.

In addition to sharing our experiences with Domain of One’s Own, we had a weeklong design sprint where the goal was to build something that will help students navigate the university experience, from being aware of resources like the library, to being able to find advice on how to manage workload and even mentorship from other students. The original idea for a mentoring platform was proposed by Erika at a conference that was held at Davidson.

It was a holiday-shortened week; here’s a recap:

DAY 1: Ideas

During this first day, we did a lot of brainstorming. As ideas started to take shape, we focused on the challenges students face when first arriving on campus. One point of influence on this discussion came from Brandon Busteed’s lunch plenary on Day 2 of TLISI 2016. His emphasis on measuring students’ well being and engagement resonated with us, and we tried to take those measures into account by targeting the formation of mentorship relationships as an outcome of using the app. It’s a tricky thing—facilitating mentorship relationships—as the development of these relationships are so circumstantial, but we thought about ways to remove/reduce possible points of social friction. A popular idea was to make it easy to ask someone to have a cup of coffee. It’s often assumed that incoming students will possess certain cultural competencies (a term introduced to us by Kristen), so creating entry points to these competencies was key.

As with any CNDLS brainstorm, we did some whiteboarding:

List of Goals
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DAY 2: User Testing and mockup feedback

At this point, we thought it would be a good idea to talk to more students to see if we were on the right track. CNDLS has an amazing staff of GAs, and we were lucky to have Jonathan, Evee, Lindsey, and Lindley join our conversation to share their perspectives. Many of the challenges we heard about involved adjusting to new surroundings, and navigating the university system. Mentorship wasn’t specifically sought after, but advice from senior classmates and some (not all) advisors were also important factors in their success as undergraduates. One interesting point we hadn’t considered was the formality of a mentorship program. The title and expectations of such a relationship can be weighty, so we subdued that particular outcome but still focused on ways for students to receive advisement, albeit with a more informal approach.

Even without the traditional mentorship context, we felt that we should privilege interpersonal communication, recognizing that there would be difficult questions that aren’t served well through text on-screen.

Adam had converted our sketches into several mockups to show what it might look like for students to ask questions, log in, and what some possible responses would look like. Some things to note on the mockups:

  • The simplicity of asking a question similar to popular platforms like Quora and Stackoverflow. We all wanted students to feel a low barrier to asking a question, so we agreed that that screen had to remain simple and clean.
  • The use of channels (eg, /academic) to divide conversation topics, and to tag your question so that you can send it to a group that will likely be able to answer
  • User can decide to pose the question anonymously
  • There is a difficulty rating. At its highest level, the question is framed as one that would be best served in a person-to-person communication.
Mockup of landing page
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Day 3: Prototyping and lunching with Randy, Maggie and Lee

On our third day, we developed more prototypes. Using a UI library called Flat UI which is basically a bootstrap theme, we put together a combination of Photoshop mockups and HTML pages to demonstrate what the app would look like with the intention of putting it in front of users (students) for feedback. More on that later.

At lunch, we were joined by Georgetown Vice Provost of Education and former CNDLS Executive Director, Randy Bass, and Lee Skallerup Bessette, Instructional Technology Specialist at the University of Mary Washington. This group had a conversation on how how our different schools are using Domain of One’s Own—here are a few interesting points from that conversation:

  • UMW is focusing this summer on their institution’s digital strategy, and UMW Domains will play an important role in this strategy.
  • At Davidson, staff are also re-thinking their digital strategy. Their rollout of Davidson Domains will include students and faculty, with perhaps the entire campus being included in the future.
  • At the University of Oklahoma, students are given an option in domains. They can register a subdomain (eg, for free, or they can pay $12 annually for their own domain (just as they would with any domain registrar) and the university pays for hosting.
  • Following UMW’s lead, The University of Oklahoma also run faculty learning communities which include workshops on specific tools and mobile-specific topics.
  • Randy mentioned using the hierarchy of digital literacy (lowest), fluency, and agency (highest) to describe higher level goals for students, whereas Davidson is keying in on the idea of digital dexterity. These ideas drive much of the philosophy behind Domains and it was especially interesting to listen to how different campuses are describing these ideas to their users.
  • At UMW, all incoming students are introduced to UMW Domains. What would it look like if Georgetown did the same?
  • At Davidson, when students graduate, they have the option of continuing to use Davidson Domains (ie, Reclaim Hosting), or to move their content to another hosting solution. About 87% of graduating students there opt to continue with Reclaim.

While the conversation was interesting, we were still there to build prototypes. This page shows what a user’s profile will look like. We imagine that along with typical profile info (user’s name, class information, links to social media), there would be a brief bio (for Jenna, we can see she loves burgers at The Tombs) and a link to a more extensive profile (the My Story link) which provides users a chance to really expand on their personal reflection story.

You may also notice the categories of Haves and Wants, a way for users to make connections by viewing where they can lend advice, and in which areas they are looking for info. We felt that it was important to create the possibility of reciprocity.

Recent connections is a way to convey a recent social graph, displaying who this user has been in contact with to show possible shared connections.


Day 4: Student review

On Friday, we invited a few CNDLS GAs to preview the user interface screens we had mocked up in the course of the week. The responses we got were very positive, and there was a strong sense that this would be a useful app for students new to campus.