Playing Host to Higher Ed’s Long Overdue Web Party

My last post got me thinking about some pretty basic ideas when it comes to  some of the approaches for edtech I’ve been going on about recently.

Cheap commodity web hosting has been around for roughly fifteen years. There’s nothing radical about it other than higher ed’s inability to fathom a vision of the web that empowers faculty, staff, and students alike to become a node on the open web.

Nothing we are proposing in Domain of One’s Own is at all radical save, perhaps, the idea of including a domain with the web hosting. Schools like the University of Washington have been offering their community shared hosting for a while, they just place no real emphasis on a narrative of empowerment and potentiality. Seems to me they aren’t effectively communicating what their community has at its disposal.

The fact web hosting seems radical to so many reinforces just how all consuming the learning management system (LMS) has become in any and all discussions about educational technology.

After my recent talk at Sloan-C’s Emerging Technologies Conference I was floored by how many of the questions were centered around the impossibility of teaching and learning outside the LMS. There was a quiet sense of desperation at the suggestion of a more reasonable and relevant approach to the web in higher ed that, by the way, doesn’t replace the LMS, but simply provides a more sophisticated environment for the teaching and learning online. Matt Crosslin covers all this far better than me in his “LMSification of the Educational Narrative” post, it comes strongly recommended.

So, I’m hoping the ice is starting crack a bit. Bluehost was a Platinum sponsor at Sloan-C, a company that can actually scale hosting for any size university in the country. What’s more,  if you don’t want to buy a domain for everyone at your university or college, then don’t. Get a single domain and run shared hosting for the community from there. Get something like umw.domains (.domains is a cool new extensions offered by ICANN, Tim Owens picked up this one) or stonybrook.domains or wsuv.domains or cuny.domains or tru.domains or oklahoma.domains or yale.domains, etc. and run hosting for the entire campus through Bluehost. You can have jgroom.umw.domains, etc.

What’s nice about this approach is faculty, staff and students who really see the need for their own domain can buy it themselves, and point it to their hosting space and create an addon or parked domain. At the very least we could start bringing back the basic, powerful possibilities of hosting for campus communities in order to start updating the original vision of tilde spaces (umw.edu/~jgroom) back in the day. This is fairly basic stuff, and there are companies like Bluehost that can easily scale this for educational institutions.

What I found strange at Sloan-C is that Bluehost couldn’t seem to sell this basic idea effectively. Their focus session was centered around creating “Faculty Assessment Portfolios.” An exploration into the territory of creating portfolios for faculty promotion, tenure and the like. I couldn’t think of a more fraught space for them to try and break into higher ed through. Seems to me their Spoke project is exactly what they need to focus on, selling hosting as the web-friendly platform higher ed has forsaken. A rally cry to bring back experimentation and innovation to campuses on the back of Bluehost’s servers. But, alas, they seem to want to fix faculty portfolios for promotion and tenure. Fail.

The problem there is that while Bluehost has the salespeople and the developers, they don’t seem to have faculty and educational technologists working closely with them on this. This is why Canvas was so smart hiring folks like Jared Stein; he knows how  university culture works, he’s developed courses for faculty and students. Jared is someone who can guide you to what’s needed from such an experience. From what I understand, Bluehost’s Spoke has a slick dashboard that shares all sorts of details of folks at your school. They even suggested they were working on a “Reclaim Your Domain” piece that will pull in your Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. accounts—they were vague, but it piqued my interest. And while I’m sure all of this is proprietary, designed specifically for their customized control panel (none of it’s gonna be freely shared) I can live with that if they could actually sell the remarkable potential for universities they’re sitting on.

But they can’t articulate it. What a shame. It comes down to a failure of communication. This is what we all need to push on, I think this is an important project for higher ed more generally, not so much that it’s the cutting edge, but precisely because its not. It’s the open web and it returns us to a sense of the wonder at the heart of that model for teaching and learning. It also pushes us to redefine how we manage data, identities, and sharing. It’s still the key to  a fundamental shift in how we think about the university as a series of open and connected nodes that will start tearing us free from the broadcast infrastructure that everywhere imprisons us.

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6 Responses to Playing Host to Higher Ed’s Long Overdue Web Party

  1. Pat says:

    I don’t think with bluehost it is a lack of ed-tech, just the LMS / VLE as a single product to tick the boxes. Give people an alternative and for uni admin it is basically “have to pay for two systems” as a problem.

    Unis / Colleges / A bloke teaching his dog to count are all convinced they need an LMS, because they do what they think everyone else is doing, and then that creates the market for you. To paraphrase the great line from Traffic

    “if you’re a black kid (salesperson) in the projects (ed tech sales), and every addict (uni) asks you where they can buy drugs (LMS), what are you going to sell?”

    • Reverend says:

      I really, really like this one, I am stealing it for my next presentation. Goes perfectly with my ghettoization and The Wire analogies I am busting out sometime son 😉

  2. Isn’t it interesting how after all of these years we still have a hard time envisioning students as being actual legitimate nodes on the open web? We still have a tough time seeing students (at any level) as people who might have legitimate thoughts to communicate to the world and who might create something that would be worthwhile sharing with the world. Most people still want them to be locked down in an LMS safely away from the world. We can’t let them talk to the world in elementary – safety! We can’t let them talk to the world in middle school or high school – establishing a safe digital footprint. We can’t let them talk to the world in post – secondary environments – concerns about their establishing a footprint that may hinder their getting a job. When do they get to actually help build the web?

    • Reverend says:

      I know, the fact that we are still sheltering them throughout the college career and push them througn a resume building process towards the end of their senior year is insulting. As Mike notes below, the LMS solution is not necessarily bad, it just became higher ed’s everything technology. That superseded considering the student as a node, which is also a far more complciated cultural relationship that the LMS buries.

  3. I’d agree that while part of it might be that the salespeople are not up to par, part of it is a higher education system where anything over $1,000 has to go through a very rigorous & set buying process. I *know* it hurts to think of BlueHost as just an ePortfolio provider, but that’s what the current RFPs are out for. So you pretend to be ePortfolio.

    The LMS came in as a Trojan horse and took over the world; years later, I think it’s still a decent strategy. Today you got to shape that Trojan horse in the shape of an ePortfolio system and leave it outside the gates.

    But I also can see your point as well. It hurts….

    • Reverend says:

      Mike,
      You know I stole the idea of Portfolios from you this Fall, and grabbed the Trojan Horse analogy from Luke Waltzer I woer everything to you all. That said, I would lvoe to be a salesman for Bluehost, cause I could sell this, inf act, I WILL!!!! 🙂

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