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Reclaim Your Domain


This past weekend was the 2nd Annual Reclaim Your Domain Hackathon. Or at least that’s what we’re calling it, even though we're already talking about holding another one this fall, to coincide with OpenEd. The event was a follow-up to some of the plotting that Jim Groom, Kin and I started at a “Reclaim Open" event at the MIT Media Lab last year, as well as to conversations we had earlier this year at Emory University’s Domain Incubator. In attendance this time around: Groom, Kin, Mike Caulfield, Ben Werdmuller, Michael Berman, Brian Lamb, Tim Owens, Mikhail Gershovich, Amy Collier, Erin Richey, Chris Mattia, Rolin Moe, Adam Croom, Mark Morvant, Linda Polin, and me.

We called this a “hackathon” but unlike the popular (and arguably, problematic) mandate for code-infused events, it was definitely more "yack" than "hack." We spent much of Saturday talking about various projects and philosophies that are connected to efforts like the University of Mary Washington Domain of One’s Own (and its expansion to other universities, including the University of Oklahoma and CSU Channel Islands) and IndieWebCamp — endeavors that support the creation and control one’s digital identity and the "re-decentralization of the Web."

Some of the projects that we discussed: Kin’s “reclaim” efforts, Smallest Federated Wiki, Terms of Service; Didn’t Read, Domain of One’s Own, Github, Reclaim Hosting, and Known. The latter seemed to elicit a lot of excitement, and folks spent much of Day 2 playing around with it. (Known is a self-publishing platform of sorts that follows the POSSE model: publish on your own site, syndicate everywhere. Known enables you to post your own photos, status updates, blog posts, and sound clips on your own site, and then push them out to Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, etc.)

Many of the attendees at the hackathon have long been making the arguments for reclaiming our domains and our data, and more broadly reclaiming ed-tech: “The Future of Ed-Tech is a Reclamation Project.”  “Reclaiming Innovation.”  “Has the Time Arrived for Hosted Life Bits?” Many have been hacking on the various technologies that could get us there. I think we’re getting better at explaining why “Reclaim” matters, and we’re getting better too at building personal tech that gestures in that direction.

So here are some less than well-formulated ideas:

Ed-Tech and the “Templated Self


"I think about ‘reclaim’ as a personal endeavor,” said Kin as he detailed the steps he’s taken to inventory the tech products and services he uses (personally and professionally). “What tech do I use? Why? Can I get my data out? What do the Terms of Service say about my rights?”

Much of the framing of “Reclaim Your Domain” works this way: it’s becoming a bridge between the “owning your own domain” as forwarded by the UMW Domains initiative — something that is frequently talked about in terms of “content” (education-related or otherwise) and “digital identity” — and larger questions and concerns about “who owns your data.”

I want to tease out the connections here a bit more between ed-tech, identity, and data. That is, I want to talk about ed-tech as a “personal endeavor,” one that enables student agency, and not simply an “institutional endeavor,” one that sees students as the object of education.

Many folks ask already: what happens to student data and student content when students are compelled to use certain products (such as the LMS)? Again, how do the institutional demands conflict with students’ needs. But I’m curious too: what happens to student identity? Their professional and personal identity formation; their professional and personal identity performance. And I’d add, more broadly: what is the relationship between privacy and identity formation / performance?

I recently stumbled across Amber Case’s (@caseorganic) idea of the “templated self." I think it’s an incredibly useful concept:

A self or identity that is produced through various participation architectures, the act of producing a virtual or digital representation of self by filling out a user interface with personal information.

Facebook and Twitter are examples of the templated self. The shape of a space affects how one can move, what one does and how one interacts with someone else. It also defines how influential and what constraints there are to that identity. A more flexible, but still templated space is WordPress. A hand-built site is much less templated, as one is free to fully create their digital self in any way possible. Those in Second Life play with and modify templated selves into increasingly unique online identities. MySpace pages are templates, but the lack of constraints can lead to spaces that are considered irritating to others. [emphasis mine]

While Amber’s examples here point to mostly “social" technologies, education technologies are also “participation architectures.” How do these technologies produce (and circumscribe) a digital representation of the learner-self?

Of course, you could argue that the education system is already incredibly interested in “templating” students as well as “templating” knowledge. We see this in graduation requirements, course requirements, essay requirements, disciplinary requirements, tenure requirements, and so on. Many education technologies loyally reinscribe these templates into the digital world. The LMS is perhaps the perfect example. The call for more adaptive technologies (often connected to textbook, assessment, and LMS technologies), reliant on they are on data models and algorithms, represents the next wave of tools that produce — yes, produce — the “templated learner.” (A "templated learner" that is shaped by and relies on corporate infrastructure, not on public infrastructure, mind you.)

As such, “reclaiming your domain” and "owning your domain" could be acts of resistance, just we see as tech and ed-tech becoming increasingly wielded as surveillance tools. And just as these initiatives give students the "technology skills" that seem to be so highly valued right now, they are also anti-disciplinary practices that empower students (educators, all of us really) to create their digital selves more freely and open-endedly.

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Audrey Watters


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