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.