I spent last weekend at the MIT Media Lab, thanks to an invitation from P2PU’s Philipp Schmidt, for an “open learning hackathon.”

When I think of “open learning,” I think about the “open Web.” And for me, it isn’t simply a matter of what’s becoming a rather tired cliché that “you can learn anything you want online.” (You can’t. Lots of great stuff isn’t available there, or it's behind a paywall.) Rather, the open Web has allowed me to write and share and learn and collaborate with others — in public, in open and informal spaces, with openly licensed content, with open-ended and unscripted inquiry.

But there’s a sense for many of us, I think, that while one of the most talked about trends in online learning, the MOOC, contains the word “open,” that that use of the adjective — to borrow from Gardner Campbell’s keynote at last year’s OpenEd — “is not what I meant at all; That is not it, at all.”

Add to some of the uneasiness about an “open” education that was or could be but isn’t, the notion that there’s also a “Web We Lost.” As Anil Dash writes,

”In the early days of the social web, there was a broad expectation that regular people might own their own identities by having their own websites, instead of being dependent on a few big sites to host their online identity. In this vision, you would own your own domain name and have complete control over its contents, rather than having a handle tacked on to the end of a huge company’s site. This was a sensible reaction to the realization that big sites rise and fall in popularity, but that regular people need an identity that persists longer than those sites do.”

I believe this is something we should reclaim -- particularly when it comes to learning.

I’ve been incredibly inspired lately by what I think is among the most important projects in education technology — the Domain of One’s Own initiative at the University of Mary Washington. This gives students and faculty, as the name suggests, their own domain name and Web space, along with the open source tools and skills to run it: their own blog, storage, and so on. When the students graduate and/or faculty leave, all that content and data is theirs to keep. They control it. They own it.

Indeed, I’ve been asking the question a lot lately — “who owns your education data?” — because far too often, the answer isn’t the learner herself.

So knowing that the UMW’s Jim Groom would be at the Open Learning Hackathon, I was pretty sure that anything I worked on over the weekend would be in the service of the “Domain of One’s Own” vision.

I didn’t do much, truth be told, but thanks to my boyfriend “the API EvangelistKin Lane who worked with Groom over the weekend, we've got a wireframe and an early beta build of the “Reclaim Your Domain” site.

This isn’t simply about an easy button to launch a Wordpress blog on your own domain (although it’ll do that eventually). It’s a recognition and hopefully a first stab at building a simpler way for folks to be able to take control more of their digital identity and digital footprint. A place for your videos. A place for your photos. A place for your writing. A place for your feeds. A place for you to experiment. A place you control.

The Reclaim Your Domain site will offer a wizard, but will also have explanations along the way. What is a domain? What is a subdomain? What is DNS? Where can you host your resources? What’s the difference between a local server and Amazon Web Services? What are your options for a blogging tool and what considerations should you make when choosing one? The costs? The benefits? What are the Terms of Service?

And hopefully — hopefully — once more folks have the know-how to answer these questions and to make more informed decisions as they live and learn online, we can reclaim the open Web for us.

More thoughts from Jim Groom here. And, of course, a big shout out to Boone Gorges and D'Arcy Norman and Martin Hawksey and Anil Dash (and others who I've forgotten as I type this up on the plane ride home) for the inspiration.

Audrey Watters


Hack Education

The History of the Future of Education Technology

Back to Archives