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A Domain of One’s Own

When I first read and reflected on “A Domain of One’s Own” last year, I was just starting the ONID program.  Even that early in the program, I recognized the web as a learning space, “designed for the purpose of sharing information and collaborating on knowledge-building endeavors” (Watters, A., 2017).  In my original reflection, I used the analogy of food production.  In its history, humankind knew exactly where their food originated at one time.  They understood the factors necessary to gather and produce enough food to survive.  There was an ownership over their means of sustenance.  As society shifted from rural-agrarian to urban-industrial culture, it was easier and less labor-intensive to acquire food, but what was sacrificed in return?  Ownership of the process. 

The ease of accessibility and availability of food in the modern age is the equivalent of the “digital facelift” in education according to Gardner Campbell in his essay, “A Personal Cyberinfrastructure.”  The “progress” that higher education achieved with massive turnkey online systems, especially with the LMS, actually moved in the opposite direction. The “digital facelift” helped higher education deny both the needs and the opportunities emerging with this new medium.  What was lost with adoption of LMS systems was student ownership of their own scholarly and creative work. 

In my second reading of Watters’ work, I see now how a domain of one’s own reflects ownership of the student’s work.  In this personal “garden,” students are free to create, grow and reap their scholarly endeavors.  “Fascinating and important innovations would emerge as students are able to shape their own cognition, learning, expression, and reflection in a digital age, in a digital medium. Students would frame, curate, share, and direct their own “engagement streams” throughout the learning environment.”

“Giving students their own digital domain is a radical act. It gives them the ability to work on the Web and with the Web, to have their scholarship be meaningful and accessible by others. It allows them to demonstrate their learning to others beyond the classroom walls. To own one’s domain gives students an understanding of how Web technologies work. It puts them in a much better position to control their work, their data, their identity online.” The Web We Need to Give Students.

In Campbell’s video, “A Personal Cyberinfrastructure Revisited,” he refers to the “network as an artifact” (01:54-02:03).  The artifact, the network reflects a student’s attitude and understanding in her scholarly work.  It reveals how she made meaning of knowledge in her world.  How the student laid out the path in her garden, chose what to plant and grow, and displayed the fruits of her labor is the artifact. 

In the domain of our own, we are free to decide how our garden grows.  We retain ownership of our work.  We fulfill the original purpose of the world-wide web:  contributing to a “system that was – ideally at least – openly available and accessible to everyone, designed for the purpose of sharing information and collaborating on knowledge-building endeavors.”


  1. Chris Lott Chris Lott June 13, 2019

    Good observations, particularly about how your own thinking has evolved and changed since you first heard of the concept. Ownership is indeed an important component of all of this…and ownership in the context of the web extends to also being accessible, which a domain practically facilitates by allowing you to move around to different hosts without your work becoming lost through link changes.

    The domain part is also important because this isn’t about “blogs for all” or even “publishing platform X for all.” Implicit in owning a domain—and central to Gardner’s thesis—is that the domain allows for potentially implementing many apps, services, sites and programs for both creating and consuming. That’s why, though one can have a domain name and use hosting, that is insufficient because: what if you want to create a wiki, or use a feed reader, or set up a longform document publishing system, or a custom link shortener, etc.

    Tell us more about the garden and stream metaphors, particularly: how do you see the two models working together and/or conflicting with each other? And how does this practically influence what we do online?

  2. dmwaters dmwaters June 13, 2019

    To expand on the garden and stream metaphors. Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms are like public parks. Anyone can enjoy looking at the flowers and discussing what they see. You can meet others and play together. But they are simply visitors and cannot decide which flower will be planted where or what playground equipment is going to be installed. In one’s own garden, you are the author and creator of the flora and fauna. You decide where the roses go, whether or not to let poison oak continue to grow and what herbicides (if any) are going to be used. Both your garden and the public garden are places to connect, inspire and share. But you have ultimate ownership of your domain. I see the stream as being the world-wide web. It is a dynamic, constantly changing force in the garden. It can be “good” by bringing water and nutrients (new knowledge, skillful and respectful users) to the public or private garden. It can be “bad” by flooding or bringing contaminants (profiteering, hacking, bullying, misuse) to the gardens.

    As far as our interactions online within each type of garden, users can share and communicate with others in both. Depending on your privacy settings, you may be able to select who is approved see your content in social media. It’s easier to jump on bandwagons and follow or contribute to viral trends. In your own domain, you have the responsibility to be a good steward what you create. You have ownership of the content therefore you have the responsibility of what is published and how your contributions add value to the knowledge in the digi-verse.

  3. Abdulallah Arbabzadah Abdulallah Arbabzadah June 17, 2019

    Do you think that with more schools adopting course-interfaces like Blackboard will college students ever own their own domain? Or do you think that learning will continue to be through things more like blackboard?

    • dmwaters dmwaters June 20, 2019

      Hi Abdulallah,
      I think that depends on several things: Will institutional/department policies allow for this? Are instructors comfortable with requiring individual student domains? Is there adequate support for students and faculty to create and maintain student domains?

      For my own program, I would like to eventually require students to have some kind of digital portfolio–I’m not sure if it would be their own site or something like an Evernote or OneNote binder. I see the value in being able to assess student growth through the curriculum. Using a portfolio would also make evaluating program and course student learning outcomes easier. And it give the student a ready-made source of writing samples and example work to show a potential employer.

      • Chris Lott Chris Lott June 24, 2019

        You’re probably aware of this, but just to be sure: there is a lot of existing research into portfolios in education, some of which might help with your choices. I use Evernote a lot, but not for sharing, and haven’t used OneNote in a long time. The biggest considerations in choosing portfolio technology, in my experience: ease of use (as always ;), reasonable sharing options for both public and semi-private sharing, and access/cost after one completes their program.

        • dmwaters dmwaters June 24, 2019

          ePortfolios is on my to-do list. After I finish ONID. After tenure…then I should find the time to institute this. Evernote is one of my top contenders for a portfolio-type platform.

          • Chris Lott Chris Lott June 25, 2019

            It never ends, does it? I have a huge Evernote archive—I’ve been using it since it first came out, though it’s been a long time since I’ve checked into its newer features and capabilities. It works well for me so far. I look forward to seeing your future, tenured efforts 😉

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