What would a Domain of One's Own Implementation Cohort Look Like?

About a month and a half ago, I posed a question on the Reclaim Hosting community site.

This post is my effort to extend this question, and share my thinking about what may, and what may not be helpful to schools as they implement Domain of One's Own initiatives. I'm especially interested in teasing out if there is enough commonality among institutions, or enough similarity around this work, or enough fun to be had, to warrant effort to form an implementation cohort.


Muhlenberg College, where I work as an Instructional Technologist, is a small liberal arts, undergraduate college in Allentown, PA. We are early in our Domain of One's Own implementation, but things are beginning to happen quickly. Last academic year, we piloted Domains with about 10 faculty, each with an individual Reclaim account. Based on positive experiences, we worked to obtain a goodly number of (what we're calling) institutional accounts and established 'bergbuilds' - our campus-wide Domain of One's Own initiative. Last month, our IT folks worked with Tim Owens to configure our single sign-on and auto-provisioning. So we're ready, according to the most rudimentary of technical checklists, for a wide adoption.

The Digital Learning Team, led by Dr. Lora Taub-Pervizpour and to which I belong, has also been working dilligently on other fronts. Though I did not contribute directly, for me, our work around Domains has its ideological grounding in Muhlenberg's participation in last year's OLC Solutions Design Summit. The heart of that proposal is the, "creation of an innovative peer education model that empowers students to develop the relationships, skills, and competencies they need to excel as leaders in digital learning contexts". A major part of this work, clearly, concerns our plans for student uses and student peer support of Domain of One's Own.

Just prior to the start of this academic year, we launched a new pre-orientation program centered on digital learning and digital literacies. For a few days prior to the start of the semester, we hosted 9 incoming students and 3 student leaders. We worked together on digital mapping, digital archiving, and digital storytelling projects (and had a bunch of silly fun, too). We also handed out our very first bergbuilds.domains accounts to students. In fact, our tagline for this entire pre-orientation experience was, "A Dorm & A Domain" -- emphasizing that a Muhlenberg experience is as much about staking out an online presence as it is setting up a dorm room or learning your way around campus.

I'm also thrilled that all of our student leaders and many of our pre-orientation attendees have agreed to be among our very first Digital Learning Assistants. We owe Martha Burtis a genuine debt of gratitude for meeting remotely with us, for recounting her great work at UMW, and especially for affirming and influencing our thinking around the ethics of student peer mentorship and peer learning within an EdTech context. Over this coming year, these first DLAs will have an enormous influence upon our Instructional Technology staff. More, our DLAs might not know this yet, but they have an opportunity to forge a culture of helpfulness and empathetic collegiality that will -- fingers crossed -- persist for many, many years to come.

Then most immediately, we have just formed a Faculty Learning Community around Domain of One's Own. It kicked off last week with a visit by Jim Groom and Lauren Brumfield of Reclaim Hosting. Jim delivered a talk on October 13th, and Lauren & Jim met with our FLC and DLA students, too.

Add to the above our local discussions around documentation, support, and training for faculty, staff, and students. To inform these efforts, we reached out for assistance to Adam Croom who kindly shared his afternoon with us fielding far ranging questions. It's difficult to quantify Adam's helpfulness, but it's essetial to try. At the close of our online meeting, Adam encouraged us to continue to reach out, even offering to provide a clone of Create OU Support for us to customize. Adam's efforts to work openly and to share everything from support documentation to learning community reading lists and curriculums will save us at Muhlenberg weeks, perhaps months, of effort. But more important, Adam's, and Martha's, and Tim's, and Jim's, and Lauren's engagement with us will make our efforts better.

My Experience with OCLC's WMS Implementation Cohort

When I first engaged the Reclaim Hosting community site, I was immediately reminded of recent experiences I had working to implement a new Integrated Library System (ILS). Until very recently, and for the last six years, I have worked as the systems librarian at Muhlenberg's Trexler Library. The library's staff and I migrated from an older ILS to OCLC's WorldShare Management Services (WMS). This process spanned two years and impacted every aspect of library operations. It was a big part of my life for a long time, and I've given that work a fair bit of reflection.

One thing that worked fairly well was OCLC's establishment of an implementation cohort. Our assigned project manager -- who was excellent -- timed our implementation work such that we fell into a cohort of 8 or so other libraries of a similar disposition to ours. We all, for instance, were migrating from the same ILS. Most of us were smallish colleges or universities (so no public or special libraries). Perhaps most importantly to OCLC, we were all organized together because we'd signed our contracts around the same time, and expected to go into production with WMS around the same time.

The implementation cohort is a truly nice insight of OCLC's. I'm not sure how widely it extends to other SaaS platforms, or from whom they may have borrowed the idea, but I appreciate it. Granted, the work around WMS was largely prescriptive. We had common milestones that were carefully protected by our shared OCLC project manager. There was only one pathway to follow through the implementation process -- no riffing, no improv. We couldn't, for instance, decide to work on patron record migration first and our discovery services second. Every library in the cohort marched to the beat of OCLC's drum. The purpose of the cohort was, very likely, as much about efficiency as about collegiality. And that's fine. But I think the overall emphasis on task execution was, in large part, responsible for the limited ways in which cohort participants engaged one another.

But here's the good bit - librarians did reach out to one another and support each other's work. A few ideas and tips were exchanged between staffs. Most important of all, this very, very stressful work (with genuinely high stakes from where our library stood) was humanized and made more tolerable and more fun. It was helpful for my co-workers and me to hear those other voices from North Carolina and Florida and South Dakota and Hawaii on the other end of a WebEx conference. It was motivating and reassuring to know that there were, at each stage of the process, dozens of other folks marching to that drum, too.

But in fairness, I feel there were a lot of missed opportunities. The community portal that OCLC worked very hard to bring about never really took off. Once our WMS implementation was finished and we 'went live' I didn't really keep in touch or follow up on how things went for others, nor did any other cohort member check in with Muhlenberg folks. Perhaps that is totally okay -- we came together around a shared set of interests, and parted as friends when that work was done. I never felt like the cohort was a waste of time, and often as I mentioned, it made the work more fun and certainly seem less duanting.

What Might a Domain of One's Own Cohort Be Like?

So a cohort forming around Domain of One's Own would necessarily be different. The pedagogical foundations, at least as I understand them, would insist upon an implementation more centered on the student, faculty, and staff users of Domains. It would, therefore, be less constrained by the logistical and commercial incentives worn by the company that is Reclaim Hosting. Similarly, the IT offices and/or the IT/ID/DL teams coordinating Domains implementation work would reflect more variety and might not easily be collected into cohorts by any universally shared characteristics except a mutual desire to bring DoOO about. The reason for the long incubation of this post is grounded in this recognition - DoOO institutions are varied, and there is no single way, or even a limited number of ways, to make it happen.

What would a cohort formed around DoOO implementation look like? First, I think it would benefit from some engineered anarchism. I think it should offer opportunities for collective, synchronous engagement but this could not be compulsory. I imagine it more as a set of resources than a project plan, more of an assignment bank than a Gannt chart. Perhaps most important, I imagine a network of past, current, and prospective users customers clients patrons understanding there are degrees of connectedness, and that this network's utility equals or surpasses the usefulness of materials contained within any document store.

Most importantly, for me, is the opportunity to engage in abductive work around DoOO implementation. By that, I mean a chance to collectively consider what might be best in addition to what has been done. Because those who have gone before have worked so honestly and openly, and thanks to a remarkable generosity that characterizes this community, folks at Muhlenberg have benefited so much already. But it was quickly obvious to me that Domains projects never merely replicate the work done elsewhere. So this notion of abductive collaborative work shared by folks going through the process seems not only likely to continuously invigorate open pedagogy, but also offers the best chance at continuous improvement of outcomes. Having a venue to ask the question, "how might we do this?" is very different from, "how is this done?". It is a subtle but important distinction, but I feel it is grounded in some of the most important educational philosophies I hold. It is learner-based, and it's proof of the formula.

A Rough Pass At Grouping Domain of One's Own Implementation Tasks

I have begun to collect and categorize various tasks orbiting around our bergbuilds initiative. I couldn't help it, I'm a librarian. But I would rather pause and learn what others think about this before contributing any further. Please share your thoughts via the Reclaim Hosting thread. You can also get in touch with me here I look foward to learning more, and thanks for your interest!