Students build online identities with BYU Domains

BYU senior Michela Hunter overlooks her sketches for her website The Snuffler. Hunter learned how to design a website as part of a digital humanities course. (Natalie Stoker)

Students and professors are discovering that the best way to control their online presence may be through building a personal website. A new service at BYU is giving them the power to do just that.

BYU Domains is a free web hosting service open to students and professors. Users can register their own domain names (a .com, .org or similar web address) and build websites after opening an account.

Peter Sentz is the product manager of BYU Domains. The service launched last year with a pilot program, focusing on courses where students could benefit from learning about web development.

“We thought it was highly successful,” Sentz said. “We ended up having a lot more users on the system through the pilot than we had imagined.”

There are now 2,600 users on the system, and the goal is to reach 10,000 by the end of this year, according to Sentz. He said BYU is one of several universities that has launched similar programs and explained the goal is for every student on campus to have their own domain.

“The most important reason for a domain is to allow every student to create their own online personal identity,” Sentz said. “We want them to be able to have their own domain that means something to them, where they’re able to control all of their data, works and intellectual knowledge to syndicate that out and collaborate with whoever they want to.”

Assistant professor of English education Jon Ostenson is taking advantage of the new service. He has set up a number of blogs for the classes he teaches, collecting resources for his students and writing blog posts that relate to topics they’re studying. He said he also uses his site as an online resume and portfolio for his current projects.

“It’s been a really positive experience,” Ostenson said. “I can go in and add content to the front page that’s of interest to students. It’s easier to keep it all there and not have to transfer it over each semester from Learning Suite; it gives me a lot more control.”

Ostenson agreed that BYU Domains is a powerful opportunity for students to take control of their information online. He said he assigns teaching majors to create accounts with BYU Domains as part of a capstone course. He believes it’s important for students to learn responsibility when posting things online, especially while preparing for a professional career.

“One of the first things we do is we talk about what it means to have a presence on the internet,” Ostenson said. “Potential employers are going to look for students online. It’s been really good to talk about how you want to create a professional identity.”

He said students in his capstone methods course build sites showcasing who they are, their projects, resumes and portfolios.

The Snuffler is one of the many student sites hosted by BYU Domains. Other sites include online portfolios, blogs and businesses. (Michela Hunter)

BYU senior and English major Michela Hunter was required to use BYU Domains in her web publishing class as part of the digital humanities program. She took the opportunity to launch a website called The Snuffler with her three sisters. They use the site to share short comics.

“We’ll just put up things that happen to us,” Hunter said. “It’s been fun figuring out color schemes, designing a logo and then seeing it all come together. It’s just a lot of fun to have something and say, ‘Look, I designed this.'”

Hunter learned how to build her website from scratch as part of her class as opposed to using a content management system like WordPress. She said learning how to become a developer was the hardest part of her experience.

“It’s something that I’m still building my knowledge of,” Hunter said. “It’s kind of like playing a video game for me because it’s like a challenge every time I want to add a new feature.”

She and her sisters hope to eventually expand their presence online by sharing more of their creative works like stories and other comics.

Students are also encouraged to build sites outside of class. Sentz said students can do whatever they want with their domains as long as they follow the Honor Code. Some are using BYU Domains to build portfolios, blogs and even start online businesses.

The experience has been a good opportunity to prepare for a professional life, according to Hunter. She plans to be a novelist and said building an online presence today could help promote her future books and projects.

“It’s a digital age and it’s important to be creative and have an online presence,” Hunter said. “Something you’ve created, designed and put out there into the world says a lot because you took the initiative to create your own website, even if it’s a little comic website like ours.”

Ostenson said he shares the same goal for students who go through his class.

“In our culture today it’s important that we understand the different identities that we project to the world,” Ostenson said. “Who we are on Instagram and the web — those are identities that have to be managed. I’m grateful for the opportunity that BYU Domains gives us to help students with that.”

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