Future Trends Forum #8, with Jim Groom: full recording, notes, and Storify

On March 30 we had Jim Groom as our Future Trends Forum guest.  Discussion was very rapid, so watch and listen to the recording below, and/or read my notes, with a pile of links therein.  Twitter activity during the hour was also very energetic, so I Storified it.  And Jim blogged about it.

Here’s the full recording, hosted at YouTube, and embedded here:


We began by discussing the Domain of One’s Own movement.  Jim described it as a way to think through technology in order to empower the educational community beyond tech skills and training.  He cited Jon Udell‘s vision of Wikipedia as a place where knowledge is socially constructed.

I asked Groom to describe the Domain of One’s Own movement’s state of the union in 2016.  His response: web hosting has gotten much easier than it used to be.  Data and ownership of one’s web space, being wary of silos, should be discussed now.  Hosting is now about alternatives and independence.

In education self-hosting maybe an alternative to the LMS, or a very basic, fundamental element of literacy.  Hosting is interdisciplinary in nature, although digital humanities projects are leading the charge, since those efforts are often web-native.  DH is also often a very forward-thinking player, giving students their own spaces.  There are now 32 different and varied institutions running Domain of One’s Own initiatives, ranging in type from community colleges to NYU and Oklahoma University’s IT department.  This practice is not necessarily radical,not disruptive, but should be part of the fabric of how we teach and learn now.  In a sense it’s a return to the ideals of blogging.

Bryan Alexander and Jim Groom on stage plus a swarm of participants

Bryan and the Bava

I asked about IT organizations’ attitudes towards the Domain movement.  Will campus IT oppose it, or just let Domain projects go on their own way?  Jim saw both are happening, as some shops fear supporting self-hosting and will oppose it.  But other departments already provide the backbone (internet connectivity, access to hardware, etc) and can afford – even desire – to let Domain projects go on. Indeed, as many IT organizations have been defunded over the past eight years, they could see Domain as a relief.

For Jim Groom self-hosting always comes back to the open education idea, which is in turn a conversation about people (students, staff, faculty)  and their trajectories.  Which led to the second topic…


I asked about how Jim’s company, Reclaim Hosting, is doing. He immediately proclaimed business partner Tim Owens a hosting and support virtuoso.  32 different institutions now use RH.  Why, and what is the firm’s business purpose?

A decade ago, hosting was very hard.  Users had to learn a galaxy of technologies (DNS, FTP, etc).  Then simple, but revolutionary efforts made hosting easier.  Even now there are new developments happening, like Docker.  Jim focused on language for a few minutes, noting that Docker’s hosting metaphor is brilliant: containers on the web.  That recalls how shipping containers changed the global shipping industry.  Pedagogically this is a useful way to get students to think about how hosting (and the web) works.  For more background on containers Jim recommended Marc Levinson’s book  The Box (2006).   He also argued that metaphors of technology are the poetry of our moment.

At this point in the Forum we broke into small group discussions.

Snapshot of a Shindig Mingle session

Just to clarify, Shindig sorts participants into rooms, with up to 40 people apiece.  You can jump between rooms if you like, after clicking on a tab in your room to reveal the others, like so:

Two levels of Shindig Mingling

On my own I asked several folks about their hosting experience.  One mentioned that their institution used to host WordPress locally, but is now exploring externally hosted social media (Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc).  Another responded that their IT shop likes the Domain idea because it frees them up to focus on enterprise work.

The rest of the Forum was devoted to…


One participant observed that self-hosting barriers are actually not their IT department but campus administration, some faculty members, and even some e-learning staff.  Often they haven’t experienced digital teaching, or they were socialized through the LMS and grew used to the locked down experience.

Q: Sam from Amherst asked about the LMS for gathering student data.

A: The self-hosting movement is an act of resistance to the collection of data, in favor of privacy and ownership (Jim cited this David Croom discussion) (thanks toSam Anderson for the link).  The Domain… idea lets people become, in a resonant phrase, hubs and nodes of their own data.  Administrators can get their fair share of data; students should have some say in that.

We need to claim more control over our personal data – health care, utilities, “life bits”.   How much of it do we currently manage and control.  In 2007 Jon Udell made this argument in an Educause podcast, addressing non-educational data (link).

Q: Scott Robison: I would love to hear Jim talk a little bit about personal APIs, personal data, etc.

A: Jim began by expressing difficulties in explaining APIs to new audiences. Mentions If This Then That as an empowering example, offering another metaphor of railroads.  As a movie fanatic Groom referenced the 1974 film The Taking of Pelham One Two Three as an example of a massive control room; imagine that automated.

Taking of Pelham One Two Three control room

We need to use more APIs to get more sources talking with each other.  esSurge mentions their article on APIs and Indie Ed Tech.

Q: Speaking of which, I asked Jim to speak to the nascent Indie Ed-Tech movement.

A: The idea plays off of the indie music metaphor, the history of indie record stores.  It goes against the problem of too many algorithms, too much outside data control.  Jim recommends the notion of The Splot (credit to Brian Lamb, Alan Levine): the smallest possible online learning tool; make something very focused, for one function or project.  Indie ed-tech means making things suited to a specific need and community, not generic or universal in scale, not everything to everyone, a la the LMS or e-portfolios.  Use open and free tools, then share out what you do.

Bryan, Jim, and Autumm Caines

Q:  Autumm Caines asked:”I’m getting ready to teach a 1st year seminar on digital citizenship. Is it too complex for me to ask first years to do domain of one’s own?”

A: Short answer: no, it’s definitely possible.  Jim recommended seeking out Martha Burtis, who did a version of this.  Self-hosting is an interesting beginning tool.  Students can use it to map out a community, linking their various digital spaces, where they inhabit.  Students could do that as a class, making it a frame, then start playing with new tools and discussing digital identity.

(I complimented Autumm and Jim for this exchange, then made in turn the session’s goofiest cinematic allusion)

Q:  I asked if we would see the aforementioned two tiered campus IT response to the indie ed tech idea?

A: Jim hoped so.  He criticized the allure of universal solutions and totalizing narratives (the LMS, the MOOC).  Maybe it’s time to push away from those grand narratives.  We *should* be able to support various faculty doing various things, and do it in a thoughtful way.  If an educational technological practice is truly independent ed tech, it doesn’t have to be totalizing.

Looking ahead, Groom thought we should see a slow disassembling of the LMS, thanks to the API (among other things), with students and faculty having more choices.  There are more places for data and content to go.  Think of this as blending instead of branding, really.

At this point we started running out of time, so we stacked up some additional questions:

Q: Mark Wilson – “What do you see for independent lifetime learners?”

Q: Joe Murphy – “Step One seems like defining what “support” means. Is it building a road, scouting a path, or just walking next to you?”

Q: from Dan Blickensderfer, “How do you assuage fears and cries of ‘O NO FERPA,’ etc.”

Jim responded after the hour was over, very generously.  He spoke to Edupunk and the politics of having, or not having, institutional support. As an independent thinker you surface your networks and thoughts. That’s how you define who you are.  For example: Googling people to learn about them.  That’s independent.

At this point I had to run and wrapped things up.

Bryan and Jim pointing

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One Response to Future Trends Forum #8, with Jim Groom: full recording, notes, and Storify

  1. Pingback: Domain of One’s Own | About My Learning

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