A Place of One’s Own

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UMW’s President Rick Hurley

The University of Mary Washington’s President Hurley published another article in the education section of The Huffington Post the week before last titled “A Place of One’s Own — Online.” This article builds on an earlier post published at the beginning of the month (which I already discussed here on the bava) that is part of a larger series about the “intersection of technology and pedagogy at colleges of the liberal arts and sciences.”

This installment frames how UMW is not approaching instructional technologies as an afterthought, but rather is working to integrate it into the very fabric of the teaching and learning experience. This has been the case with UMW Blogs for more than six years, and the rollout of Domain of One’s Own is building upon that. The article frames Domain of One’s Own in the following ways:

The Domain of One’s Own initiative urges and coaches our students to set up their own individual websites. The initiative was propelled by several related ideas: The first was that students could use their sites to host, show, and promote their scholarship and research. The websites could serve as digital portfolios showcasing the students’ resumes and best academic work for potential employers. And students would carry these URLs with them well beyond graduation. Second, the very act of building a website would be a great learning experience – it would allow students to grapple with how things are created on the web. And it would teach students how to create websites for others, an important and marketable skill. Third, for those whose ideas really take flight, the student domains would be the digital presentation of themselves, a way to explore their digital identities. They would not just be a marketing tool but a way for students and graduates to put their ideas, thoughts, writing, poetry, music, and videos, out there for others to contemplate, to respond to, or just enjoy.

I think all of these are true, and the idea of Domain of One’s Own as an e-portfolio is something Stephen Downes notes as well recently, but I think this is only a small part of what it can be. What makes Domain of One’s Own so remarkable is that it also becomes a user innovation toolkit (as Mike Caulfield contextualizes and builds on brilliantly here) that expands well beyond simply showing off what you’ve done, it can also become the future possible of what you can and will do.

What’s even cooler is this isn’t limited to the students, the same has been true for UMW’s Division of Teaching and learning Technologies. Just take a peek over at Tim Owens’s latest post on the work he and Martha Burtis are doing to re-think how we build a community framework from this distributed cosmos of sites to expose the amazing work happening around campus. These ideas are driven by exploring the myriad possibilities of Domain of One’s Own, not simply settling for a new eportfolio system because that kind of limited thinking is what hamstrings most groups.

What’s more, Martha Burtis eloquently frames this process in her most recent post by explaining how Domain of One’s Own pushes the work our group is doing to new levels by helping us let go a little, understand how the technology can and will be used by our community, and then developing around that. As she notes:

I think we actually plan too much and we try to engineer our projects and systems too tightly. I’m not advocating for a completely irresponsible approach to tech innovation in education, but I am advocating for a more natural and organic approach to the project lifecycle.

This is what we have done for UMW Blogs, ds106, and now Domain of One’s Own. And guess what, unlike all the corporate MOOCs we aren’t simply recreating the LMS, we’re designing a new way to build community around distributed nodes within a campus network both for face-to-face and online.

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