Domain of One’s Own: Notes from the Trailing Edge

Image credit: Giulia Forsythe’s “Domain of One’s Own by @jimgroom #TEDxUSagrado #viznotes”

This morning I was fortunate enough to present at the first university sponsored TEDX event in Puerto Rico hosted at the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón and organized by Antonio Vantaggiato and Doribel Rodriguez. It was a remarkable event, and bit of a UMW/ds106 homecoming given I was joined by the likes of Gardner Campbell, Alan Levine, and Giulia Forsythe over the last few days.

My presentation was based on the idea of “trailing edge” technologies and the open web that Jon Udell blogged about last week. The basic idea is that the innovations Udell’s become known for weren’t necessarily cutting edge technologies, but rather a series of old gold web-based technolgoies and  open formats that have been around for a while (just like Grant Potter did with the technology behind ds106radio). In fact, there’s a lot about what Udell is saying about the trailing edge approach that is enabled by the open web that is true about ds106: blogs, wikis, GIFs, ds106radio, etc. But, alas, this 18 minute presentation didn’t touch on ds106 given it couldn’t begin to do it justice.

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As far as how I thought the talk went, I think the energy and excitement were there, and I refused to go by a script, as usual, but I had written this one out in advance—something I rarely do—and I think the written version was better than what I presented. I tried to rehearse it enough times before I went so that what I wrote would become natural, but given this was a brand new presentation, and I hadn’t presented it before, I omitted quite a bit of what I wrote down. I also think it was significantly less than 18 minutes, but I’m not certain of that.

Presenting to a crowd like this is both a rush and a bit alienating because you can’t really see anyone. I tend to work off visual cues and body language in the audience to get a sense if what I’m doing is connecting, that was impossible for me this morning. I have to beleive by presentation suffers as a result because my energy feeds off the response either way. What’s more, I aim my talks to entertain first and foremost, but this one was a bit more serious and not nearly as playful as my last TEDx in NYC. I might rethink that in the future if I ever do a more performative presentation with this kind of format. Anyway, below are my slides as well as the original script I came up with.

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I’m not sure if anyone got the oblique allusion, but It’s a nod to Virginia Woolf, in particular the argument in her extended essay “A Room of One’s Own,” wherein she argues that women writers need both a literal and figural space within a literary tradition dominated by men.

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The group I work with at University of Mary Washington (the division of Teaching and Learning Technologies) has both borrowed and modified this idea, with all apologies to Virginia Woolf, to refer to an online space that is both virtual and real.

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And that’s exactly what UMW is doing, we are offering every student and faculty member their own domain and web hosting. Now let me be clear about what I mean by a domain?

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A domain is both a quotidian and metaphysical at once. Quotidian in that it acts as an address and metaphysical in that it’s the act of naming something. The prospect of bringing new knowledge into being on the web.

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What do I mean by web hosting?

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And while the possibilities have grown exponentially with open source applications, I’m not here today to share a particularly novel idea or to “blow your mind” with thing you could never have imagined otherwise. We’ve had some version of personal publishing for a long while now…

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And even the amazing affordances of commodity web hosting are not all that new—it’s been around for more than a decade even though it still seems radical to most universities. In fact, I imagine many of you not only recognize the value of having these spaces, but already have them yourselves.

And before before we started DoOO our students and faculty did as well.

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So what I am here to communicate this morning is that our various educational institutions (K12, secondary, post-secondary, etc.) have no real way of engaging its community in those spaces, no less helping them understand the rich possibilities there.

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Fact is, often times the IT infrastructure at institutions of learning and beyond are far too monolithic and inflexible to embrace what the web is, no less who we are on it.

Which is truly a shame because rather than being thought of as a threat to what’s possible.

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A forward thinking IT infrastructure (which would be fairly loose, fast, and cheap using open standards of syndication) would work to connect these various individuals into a network, creating serendipitous connections that taken together reflect the rich tapestry of who the people are that make up any institution.

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Mention of rainbows and unicorns goes over flat, I think, it was even animated 😉

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As a technologist and long-time advocate for the open web Jon Udell noted in a recent blog post titled “MOOCs need to be user innovation toolkits” many of the ideas and innovations he’s best known for happened on the “trailing edge” of the web, rather than the leading edge.

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He notes that his early work with screencasting in 2004 and 2005 was using tools that had long been available to capture video of software in action. What he demonstrated is how it could be powerful for communicating with others, and that’s when it took off.

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The work he is doing now to aggregate iCal feeds (not the Apple product but a file format that enables internet users to send other users calendar requests) is yeoman’s work that is trying to get institutions and individuals to think more closely about how they can better share what’s happening through accessible calendar feeds that have open standards.

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He notes the reason he keeps finding novel uses for these trailing-edge technologies, because they are not closed, disposable products or services, but rather they are “User Innovation Toolkits” which is a phrase he borrows from Eric von Hippel’s book “Democratizing Innovation.”

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And which gets at the idea that the web is not the sum total of the next monolithic innovation from Silicon Valley, but rather a series of small, distributed revolutions that occur as we, the people, adapt and extend these products and services as a result of open standards the web is premised on.

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This is exactly what UMW’s Domain of One’s Own is philosophically grounded in. Giving every student, staff, and faculty their own User Innovation Toolkit so that they can fully understand the principles of the web. Interrogate its limits, and extend its possibilities.

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In many ways Domain of One’s Own is also on the trailing edge, for more than 15 years universities and colleges have given faculty, staff and students a place to understand the web—even if in a relatively limited capacity.

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Remember when universities had “Tilda Spaces”—those arcane webpages that no one would update for six years? Few universities even maintain these spaces any more, and have have done little or nothing to update them so that they reflect the possibilities of the web today, no less thinking about how they might be crucial for teaching and learning.

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It’s a lost opportunity!

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For me that is what Domain of One’s Own is, an effort to update these spaces, rethink them in light of today’s open web. Give people more than just HTML editing privileges, let them install a wide array of applications, understand how web servers work, and struggle with DNS in addition to HTML.

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Let them explore the innovation toolkit, let them build things we could only imagine, let them dream in electric sheep. To quote Gardner Campbell’s “Personal Cyberinfrastructure,” isn’t it time we let students, faculty, and staff alike become “sysadmins of their own education?”

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3 Responses to Domain of One’s Own: Notes from the Trailing Edge

  1. Pingback: Domain of One’s Own presentation at TEDxUSagradoCorazon | bavatuesdays

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