Reflections on Domains 19

Domains19 wrapped yesterday, and it was great. Lauren and the whole Reclaim Hosting team did a great job putting the conference together. As with any good conference, my favorite part was getting to catch up with friends and meet people who’s work I’ve been following for a while (I was particularly excited to meet Martin Hawksey and experience Bryan Ollendyke’s bombastic manifesto of a talk).

For Domains 17, Lauren and Adam Croom chose the 21C Hotel in Oklahoma City as the venue, at least in part because of the hotel’s distinctive indie art vibe. At this year’s conference in Durham, we met at another 21C Hotel, and the organizers brought even more attention to the ways in which art informs our understandings of media and technology. In addition to a gallery of mixed media art created by conference participants, we had screenings of three short films by producer sava saheli singh and writer Tim Maughan. Martin Hawksey presented a keynote talk about the technical realities of the facial recognition and social surveillance anticipated in movies like Minority Report. We were also treated to a brilliant closing keynote from Amy Collier that connected Tropicália music, the pedagogy of Paulo Freire, and the ongoing challenge to make sure that our work in ed tech does more to liberate our students than control them.

My main takeaway from the conference was a feeling that we are approaching the end of act one in the Domain of Ones Own narrative. Seven years after Jim Groom, Martha Burtis, and Tim Owens launched DoOO at UMW, a robust community of institutional actors and individuals have joined the journey. In our two conferences, we have shared a set of resources and information that support our ongoing day-to-day work and provide the foundation for schools now answering the call to action. In the coming weeks, I hope we will put together a centralized repository of tools, documentation, and tacit knowledge that will make these first steps even easier.

As the curtain drops on act one, I’m starting to look ahead to the trials that usually follow in act two. Several possible challenges were discussed at the conference. UMW’s Zach Whalen talked about the decline of readership and interest in blogging and asked us to consider what the domains project looks like with a reduced role for blogging. Jennifer Hill pointed to the challenges in getting students’ to care about data privacy and data ownership, when posting to social media is so easy and so culturally ubiquitous. We were constantly discussing, in the keynotes, artwork, and most of the presentations, the potential for our efforts in ed tech to harm rather than help the students and faculty. As I was leaving the conference, I read the tweet thread by Greg McVerry discussing how hard it is to get student buy-in on un-grading, anti-LMS open web usage, self-directed learning, and many of the other concepts that are incorporated into the pedagogies and practices we discussed at the conference.

If act one was the development of the technical, financial, and human resource models for building Domain of Ones Own projects, act two will I think focus on answering the existential challenge of integrating Domains into “normal” pedagogical practices. At OU, and I think across the Domains community, we have had success in promoting Domains as a tool for teaching multi-modal composition courses in English, Journalism, and other comms fields. Thousands of users across the community have built portfolio websites, though there is still work to be done in integrating these projects with departmental and college level curricula. We have seen success in supporting digital humanities projects and OER production. But I think we still have a long way to go in advocating for what Lee Skallerup Bessette and Zach Whalen were calling Digitally Intensive courses across the higher ed curriculum.

One answer to the existential question “Why Domains” is the promotion of digital fluency. Lee has been working on this for at least the last few years, and after the conference ended I got to talk to her a bit about how some of her work continues at UMW even while she has moved on to Georgetown. I love the parallel that she has drawn between writing intensive classes, which have been promoted at many of our schools for years as an effort to improve students communications skills even as they take non-comp focused courses, with digitally intensive courses. I do not think Domains can thrive or that digital literacy more broadly can thrive, if we are only teaching digital literacy skills in DS type courses. The idea of consciously constructed digitally intensive courses that slowly contribute to the students’ digital literacies throughout their matriculation, seems more realistic. Just as no student is likely to become a great writer after their comp101 course, no student is going to grok the problems with social media, the difficulties of web sec, the affordances and production of multi-modal communication, the promise of new media, and the challenges of surveillance capitalism after a single digital studies course.

I don’t think we can or should push for even the digitally intensive courses to be digitally exhaustive. We need to continue to respect the limited time, energy, and cognitive capacity of our students and limit tech integration to achieve intentional goals (both ours and more importantly the students’ goals). With that said, if there were digitally intensive courses throughout humanities, STEM, and professional curricula, we could address topics in appropriate course settings. Rather than trying to fit in a screed against FaceBook in my course on the Enlightenment, I could talk about the early days of rationalism and science and their rhetorical uses in bolstering laissez faire, “meritocratic” business models to the benefit of those with power and the exclusion of those without (I accidentally stumbled back into a screed against Silicon Valley, but you get the point). 

I think the Domains community is well positioned to answer this challenge. The participants at the conference represented a wide range from ed tech types to instructional designers to faculty and high level administration. We are each already doing what we can to design the best learning experiences we can for the classes we touch. I hope at Domains21 (consider this a public call to commit to putting it on Jim), I’d love to see more panels on how the integration of domains into curricula from activation as a freshman to graduation and beyond. I’d like to hear more about Lee’s projects at Georgetown that teach Domains as an elective to first year grad students and encourage them to use their domains as capstone projects when they complete their masters. I’d like to hear about BYU’s efforts to create a personal API and give students greater control of their educational data. I hope that Sundi and Daniel will continue to have great things to share form Davidson, an early leader in administrative buy-in for digital literacy across the campus. I think we will all face challenges in act two to justify our work and our costs, and we’ll still be working on those challenges at Domains21, but it will be a great opportunity to check in again with friends and hear about their journeys. 


  1. Terry Greene

    Using words like screed and grok, as well as the fabulous run down on what Domains 19 was all about, are what make me proud to be your friend.

    1. John Stewart

      I was most proud of bombastic, though in rereading I discovered a bunch of typos.

  2. Bryan

    Great meeting you and thanks for sitting through my yelling 😉

    RE BYU —

    Unconf and very technical / philosophy of design for things like that. Might be a good event to hang out with them and get people to show how / why they’re doing it. A heavy BYU presence but I’ve been going the last 3 years and walk away with some insight every time.

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