Event Capsules | December 17, 2018

ACERT Event Capsule – A Domain of One’s Own

This blog post was written by Philip Bloom (Political Science)

On October 25, the ACERT lunchtime seminar welcomed visitors from colleges within and beyond the CUNY network, for a discussion around the topic of “A Domain of One’s Own.”

A Domain of One’s Own (DoOO) is a project and pedagogical approach that originated at the University of Mary Washington. At UMW the project allowed students, staff and faculty to register a domain name and associate that with a hosted web site, free of charge. The motivating philosophy for the project was to create an online space in which members of UMW could develop a digital identity, while retaining more control over this domain than is often possible on larger social media platforms and hosting services.

To discuss their experiences working with personal domains in the classroom and on the campus, ACERT invited in Alicia Peaker (Bryn Mawr College), Beth Seltzer (Bryn Mawr College), Lisa Brundage (Macauley Honors College), and Jonathan Bohm (Hunter College, NBCUniversal).

Bryn Mawr College has created an initiative that borrows the pedagogy and name of DoOO. At the same time, the college has introduced a Digital Competencies framework and program. By doing so, the college combines the online infrastructure of the domain and web hosting, with the digital literacy needed to effectively and safely utilize this resource.

From its inception, Macauley Honors College planned to incorporate technology into its programming. This was particularly important for a college that drew students from across CUNY and the city. Brundage presented the college’s eportfolio system. If in other contexts DoOO is an option for students, this eportfolio system is quite fundamental to the Macauley curriculum.

In contrast to these presentations, Bohm talked about domains within the classroom. His workshop at Hunter required all students to create their own domain, replacing the costs of textbooks with the fee to register a domain. The students used their domains in different ways – some minimally, other embracing the online personal space – but throughout the workshop used the domains as a way to explore and understand Google Analytics.

A theme across the talks was that much of the real work of a DoOO-inspired pedagogy involves providing ongoing support to students and other users. It is one thing to make a domain and web site available, but it is quite another to aid people in understanding how to start up, maintain, and explore the potential of the service. Beyond this more technical help, an important part of support involves helping users understand and negotiate the issues related to their privacy and online rights.

During the Q&A, the discussion shifted to the difficult issues of online safety and ethics. The platform offered by Bryn Mawr, for example, allows users to set their own privacy settings for all material, and furthermore ensures that intellectual property rights remain with the individual, not with the platform. Beyond these concerns, however, are other considerations not easily built into an online interface or user agreement.

One line of questioning asked about the small but serious risk for some students in publishing personal information in the first place; undocumented students, or international students obliged to return to countries that maintain strict online surveillance of their citizens are important examples. Less extreme but nonetheless significant risks include doxing and identity theft.

Another line of questioning asked about confidentiality risks not for students, but for people they interview, research, or write about. IRB policies are eternally playing catch-up with non-traditional forms of research and publication, and thus can provide only limited assistance in this area. There are probably no hard and fast solutions to these issues, but the Peaker and Seltzer emphasized the need for ongoing discussion with students, as well as training in legal, ethical and security matters when navigating the online world.

A PowerPoint presentation from the event can be found here.

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