It was recently announced by Mary Washington’s new president that the next academic year (2009/2010) will be “The Year of the Digital Campus” at UMW. While I think we are uniquely positioned to make the most of this idea, I also wonder what it means exactly. But, in all fairness, I don’t think anyone is entirely sure what it means just yet. Nonetheless, the Division of Teaching and Learning—never short on ideas!—recently sat down with UMW’s new CIO to talk a bit about what it is we do, and during this discussion some possibilities were floated about next year’s “digital campus” theme.
What we talked about was the idea of drawing attention to the importance of framing one’s online identity in the 21st century. What could be more important for our moment than devoting a year to think about how we integrate the importance of a digital identity into the raison d’être of a university? Not only to engage what it means for individuals within an academic community to both create and cultivate their online identity, but also how we might be able to actually help 4,000+ community members actually do it with relative ease?
Well, as you might have guessed, this is where UMW Blogs comes in 🙂 And while this is all thinking out loud at the moment, the idea of a campus wide campaign to think about the importance of a digital identity has me intrigued. Let’s think about the question of digital identity on campuses presently, they are often associated with a campus email address or maybe a shared network space with some room for storing files and perhaps a meager webspace, the URL of which might look something like this:
And while the idea behind the above web space for its community members might have been marginally useful for a while, I would argue that such space is completely useless for thinking about digital identities for our moment. How does this space enable easy authoring and integrating the various identities so many of us have around the web? Well, given the limitations of such a space, it can’t provide much more than a hand-written HTML page with a few links and a flashing mail box 😉
Moreover, the above URL is premised upon an individual’s enrollment in a university or college, and when they leave that school this space will often disappear. A digital identity should be an online address one can have no matter where they are, a space where you can track that person as they move not only from being a freshman to a sophomore, but from an undergraduate to a graduate and beyond. An online home where they consciously integrate their professional profile through a streaming set of resources and spaces they inhabit online. To steal a concept from a recent comment by Gardner Campbell (who was quoting Doug Engelbart), an “integrated domain” flowing with traces of the work one does and the ideas they are exploring.
Now, in the case of UMW, we are in a situation where many of our students and faculty are using tools like blogs and wikis to trace the work they are doing, both as part of a course as well as independent thinkers. But, the URLs can often be dependent on a students fancy and remain couched within the domain umwblogs.org (such as jimgroom.umwblogs.org) which raises many of the same questions about persistence as the web space I maligned in the previous paragraphs 🙂
So, how might all this change if we actually purchased everyone* on campus a domain for one year (at the tune of roughly $36,000) and framed the experience in such a way that all students, staff, and professors were able to easily setup and control their online identity through their own domain (something like jimgroom.net). One which they could take ownership of, maintain, and perhaps continue on with in some kind of perpetuity. I think UMW Blogs would be key to such an experiment because mapping a domain onto a blog is trivial (everyone could do it for themselves) and WordPress is an application that is ideally suited for syndicating fragmented resources from various spaces into a more comprehensive whole. Not to mention that this is a platform many within our community are already familiar with, which would allow us to bypass many of the technical and training concerns and enable us to focus on the conceptual importance of framing one’s digital identity. As Brad Kozlek suggested recently in this post, “[the] blog is a tool for students to craft their digital identity with intention.” The key here is the crafting of an identity with a purpose, the conscious consideration and creation of one’s professional/academic identity online: a domain of one’s own!
Jeff McClurken brought up some excellent concerns at our meeting last week, namely that if we are going to pursue such an all-encompassing enterprise, we had better be sure we have something to work towards academically so that it isn’t interesting in idea alone, but actually is carried out in relationship to the work students are doing at UMW. I couldn’t agree with him more in this, and I think that is where the planning and thinking comes into play, and the way I figure it we only have three or four months to make this a reality before the window of opportunity passes, so my thinking aloud here is to raise the questions and concerns so a model might present itself so that we can actually try what I think would be a pretty fascinating experiment.
*If giving the entire campus a domain is too unwieldy, which I don’t think it is given the omnipresence of UMW Blogs 🙂 , how about we focus on the incoming Freshman, and using this as a space where first year student’s frame their academic lives at the university which I imagine would be centered around their research in the required freshman seminar.