Teaching a Domain of One’s Own with Reclaim Hosting

Astronaut Eugene Cernan salutes deployed U.S. flag on lunar surface

One of the many things I’m excited about this semester is a new seminar called Hacking, Remixing, and Design. I’m trying a bunch of new ideas, including students registering their own web domains, which they’ll use as home bases for the various digital projects we work on throughout the semester. The idea of a domain of one’s own is nothing new—the University of Mary Washington has had a domain program for students for several years now. What’s new is the service I’m using: Reclaim Hosting.

Reclaim Hosting is a web hosting service for educators and students, providing simple one-click installation of a variety of web apps, including WordPress, Omeka, MediaWiki, and many others. Launched this summer by Jim Groom and Tim Owens—the same folks behind the University of Mary Washington’s domain program—Reclaim Hosting is virtually free. The only cost to students is a $12 domain name registration fee. Reclaim Hosting’s other expenses are, for now, covered by a grant from the Shuttleworth Foundation.

As Jim Groom explained to the Wired Campus blog when Reclaim Hosting was first announced,

We’re providing a space and platform where people can learn how to code. Understanding conceptually how Web hosting works is an important skill in the 21st century.

And indeed, the one-click installation of popular web applications is only part of what Reclaim Hosting offers its users. Each domain includes secure FTP access, an email account, the ability to run Cron jobs (which execute scripts and programs at regular intervals), and SSH/Shell Access, meaning students can work on the command line, programming in Perl and Python. In short, students get all the benefits of a typical shared server hosting service (say, Dreamhost) for the cost of several slices of pizza.

As both Jim and Tim will admit, Reclaim Hosting is an experiment. It may not be around forever. But then again, neither will many of the other online services we use. (Ahem, Google Wave, Google Reader, Google Video, Catch, Tungle, etc. & etc.) What’s different with Reclaim Hosting is that it’s incredibly easy to backup your entire site and take it with you to any other hosting service that uses cPanel as its admin interface (and that’s a lot of them).

But enough about the tech side of things. What about the pedagogical value of a domain of one’s own? I’ll share some of my own ideas in a future ProfHacker post, but I’m interested in hearing about—and maybe borrowing—your ideas!

Astronaut on the Moon photograph courtesy of NASA


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