Reclaim your own domain

To own a domain can be a basic starting point to have a voice of one’s own. Such a space can afford reflection, showcase and dialogue. How can we connect without it? How can we actually exist?
Students that own a domain can play with tools, build portfolios and personal blogs that they control.  This allows real digital literacy practices. As teachers, we should think about how to integrate this in our educational praxis.

University Mary Washington started “A Domain of one’s own” initiative (DoOO) which consists in giving each student an Internet domain (plus subdomains) and server space during their studies. And as owners, they can keep it at a very reasonable price after their studies have finished.

The name DoOO is directly inspired from Virgina Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” (1929). In this essay the author  elicits the conditions that women need to write literature: privacy, time and monetary independence: ‘A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’. This is what was needed to have a voice, a true challenge for women in the first half of the 20th Century.

Virginia Woolf
Woolf’s portrait by Roger Fry, 1917

But going back to the DoOO initiative, why is it important to have a domain of one’s own? What bring to education? According to Audrey Watters (@audreywatters) it is a radical change. From not having voice nor control of what we do in the Net, to have an identity of one’s own.

Someone said that in Web 2.0, if you don’t pay for a product you become the product. Internet offers us a vast pool of free apps and environments: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google and its apps, etcetera. When we use them, they are using us back through the analysis of our likes and tastes, our reading behaviour, our connections and web searches. Afterwards, we get ads tailored according to our browsing blueprint. It is not the end though. But, truth be told, our data and digital identity is shared with these big companies.

Tim Berners-Lee’s idea of what the web should be -an open net where people can freely share and collaborate-  is and has been a business of these companies that guide our activity.  The services they offer are nice, but the loss of our autonomy and identity is the price we pay. Data we upload is no longer OUR data.

DoOO is inspired from Berners-Lee’s idea of the Internet. The student has a name and a place to experience, test and express ideas and thoughts. He/she can install a wordpress blog, a wiki (MediaWiki), a Content Management System (Joomla, Drupal), an LMS (Chamilo, Moodle), upload pictures, create a forum, set up a folder structure to build a cloud space of one’s own, start a digital portfolio and so on. Possibilities are limitless. It is the cloud of  one’s own and self-governed and self-determined.

To rule this individual space, one can use the available documents that serve as a guide to the user in order to make the most of its possibilities. There is a dashboard -cPanel- to control everything. In order to master it, many skills have to be used and new knowledge is acquired. What is FTP? A hosting? A server? For instance, if you want to customize your blog, you can gain new knowledge about HTML or CSS styles, depending on  each one’s needs  (some will dig in more than others). But surely, it is more than being solely a consumer of supposedly free tools (social media).

All of it applies to both students and faculty. Without a room of one’s own (even if it is just rented), how can we have a voice and independence? Such a space can afford reflection, showcase and dialogue. Without it, how can we connect? How can we actually exist?

I think that such an initiative could succeed in our public university (in Spain, or in Europe an in the world). Why can’t we invest in domains and  servers to give our students and faculty? I’d rather do that than paying Microsoft Windows and Office 365 licenses, as some are doing now.

Owning a domain of one’s own, students can play with tools, build portfolios and personal blogs that only they can control.  This allows real digital literacy practices. Faculty should start thinking about how to integrate this in the educational praxis and how subject programs can benefit from it.  This would mean a more active and social participation of our students.

tools and affordances
tools to amplify and reorganise our activity

This critical view of reclaiming our voice is behind this blog which is registered and hosted at Reclaim Hosting, a DoOO spin-off managed by Jim Groom (@jimgroom), the one that coined the edupunk term/concept/movement. I personally recommend it because, since I started experimenting with its affordances and tools, I could cultivate a bit my wordpress skills. I installed a wordpress.org site in my server given space, I added widgets and extensions, I customised it, and I am already acquiring some SEO basics, among other things.

Apart from this instrumental/technical  literacy, I am building my own voice, my own room in Woolf’s words, and a dialogue that I can have with myself and with the rest of the world. It is really worth it!

Background music: Ella Fitzgerald “It don’t mean a thing” (1974)

Digital literacy in favour of truth and freedom

Digital literacy should focus not only on the instrumental domain of digital technologies but also on knowing what to do with them in order to facilitate fully participation in the digital society.
Given the large amount of false information circulating through information channels, it is very important to promote critical thinking skills as a form of digital literacy.

One of the topics that I find most relevant in education is digital literacy to foster critical thinking and to distinguish between truth and lies. If we were part of a society where its citizens swallowed lies as if they were truths, life would be really painful. Maybe we are heading to such scenario.

There have always been truth and lies in traditional media (press, radio, TV). Internet has lots of information streams and channels where we consume information, react to it, make comments, share, and make it viral. It also seems necessary to know what is true and what is not.

We can find recent examples of this. From simple and innocent hoaxes, spamming, clickbaiting, to “news” that foster unhealthy habits, and the change of political views that can make one political party win and influence the way a country takes (start a war, increase/decrease taxes, etcetera).

Sketch of  Monty Pyhton’s Flying Circus, 1970.

There are funny hoaxes such as the one of the rejection of Albert Einstein’s application as an associate professor at the”University of Bern”. This letter was identified as a forgery by the same university. There are many clues that indicate it is a fabrication. But this is just a funny little white lie.

alfabetización literacy hoax einstein

Unfortunately, there are a lot of evil examples that have negatively influenced elections at different levels. The list is too long. ¿what would have happened if citizens had more critical thinking skills? ¿Did we we have these skills yet? We will never find out, but what we do know is that everything would have been more fair. These lies are now called post-truth, alternative facts and fake news. The first concept was the word of year 2016 according to Oxford dictionaries, and it is defined not as a noun (although used as such) but as an adjective (i.e: post-truth politics). It has to do with emotional aspects and personal beliefs, to make us more gullible.

Sometimes lies are orchestrated by governments or media, directly or not. According to Carey (2007), sociologists of the School of Chicago (Mead, Cooley, Park, Goffman, etc), desdendants of Dewey, first, there is a truth with objects, events and processes that can be observed. Second, there is a language or symbols that name them and create descriptions of the real world. On the one hand, there is reality and, on the other, our communication of it. Thus, reality is not independent of communication of reality itself. It is produced by communication and by language. And if lies do exist, then there is a ground for intoxication and mirage.

alfabetización literacy
Contradiction between the two communication modes. ¿what should we think it is?

René Magritte’s painting (1898-1967), La trahison des images, 1929. source: University of Alabama site, “Approaches to Modernism”: [1], Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=555365

Another related problem are filter bubbles that select the information we receive through networks,  filtered according to our priorities and political preference. Different algorithms supply us with information that is lacking pluralism and is clearly biased. This issue appeared on Obama’s farewell speech: the promotion of groups and communities trapped inside their molded ideologies based on opinions and not facts. Facebook tried to stop these fake news. We also have fact checking sites such as factcheck.org or Snopes.com but these are of no use outside North-America. What about the rest of the world? We are late!

Apart from AI solutions that help us get reliable information, the best available filter are critical thinking skills. Vint Cerf, one of the fathers of the Internet, said that “his biggest concern is to equip the online netizen with tools to protect himself or herself, to detect attempts to attack or otherwise harm someone”. Digital literacy should not focus exclusively on software skills but promote critical thinking skills to know what is truth and what is lie.

Bryan Alexander said in one of his blogposts that “There is a shared understanding that digital literacy involves a mixture of technical, social, and personal capacities.  And there is a rising awareness that digital literacy means learners are social, participatory makers. (…)”. We (and our learners) are not just consumers of information anymore but actors that contribute to the increasing flow of (fake or not) information and knowledge. Our relationship with information has changed.

Howard Rheingold wrote in 2009 the post “Crap Detection 101”. He proposed methods to assess credibility in what we find on the web though triangulation processes (that many credible sources can certify what is being claimed). Also, by asking questions such as: Who is the author? Which is the domain? How is the web designed? Does it have ads? Are the sources known and traceable? etcetera. Here we could add information contrasting skills that use boolean and advanced search options in web browsers.  Google’s reverse image search can be very useful to unmask  lies. These basic actions should be learnt for the sake of truth.

We are facing an issue that we have to seriously address as educators. This means it should be included it in the curriculum (in primary education, initiatives like this can help students increase their awareness of fake news and fake messages such as this one perpetrated by a minister of a democratic state of the European Union). And we have to adress this in secondary education, higher education, adult education, in formal, non-formal and informal education.

Fully participatory citizens must not be gullible and unwary. In Rheingold’s words, “the issue of information literacy could be even more important than the health or education of some individuals. Fundamental aspects of democracy, economic production, the discovery and use of knowledge might be at stake.

Reference:

Carey, J. W. (2007). A Cultural Approach to Communication. In R. T. Craig & H. Müller (Eds.) Theorizing Communication. Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore: SAGE Publications.

Background music: Some Humans ain’t Human, John Prine (2005)