When we first set out to build the Commons, it was with the inspiration of other projects like the CUNY Academic Commons, and the Domain of One’s Own project headed up by Jim Groom among others, which at the time was a small project happening at Mary Washington University. The ideals behind that project has emerged across a number of different institutions, and can now boast their own conference. You can see some of the tweets below, to get a flavour for the event:
Standing on the shoulders of those giants, we initially adopted a policy in which all students would be provisioned only one blog. That site would play host to their academic output across multiple grades, and act as a digital portfolio of their time at HWDSB. Because WordPress, the idea was that students could also export that content upon graduating, and host it elsewhere. Part of the plan — that due to funding constraints never came to light — was the idea that each student, once in Secondary school, would be provisioned their own domain, which we could then use to embark on conversations about ownership, authorship, internet freedoms, and democratized publishing.
As an elementary teacher, having only one blog worked in my classroom, and in the classrooms of many of my colleagues. Many of our subjects are taught in interdisciplinary ways, and so the idea of having a separate Math blog, and English blog, and Social Studies blog, was an acceptable limitation. It may also have been that those looking to use blogs in the classroom were rare, and students weren’t being asked by too many others to spin up a separate site. What we are finding now is that this idea doesn’t scale well, perhaps particularly in Secondary, where students are being tasked with creating a blog for French, then another site for Media Studies, and another site for Business Studies.
One would think that seeing this explosion of additional blog requests would be a source of joy, and yet instead I’m plagued with the anxiety that the vision of one student:one blog is now crumbling.
The sites these students are creating for these classes are brilliant. The French blogs are fully translated, immersing the reader in another language. Those looking to complete the transformation can even switch the language on their site to French, to translate the blog dashboard as well as the front end.
There are Business blogs that provide opportunities for students to Explore WordPress as a site builder for fictitious companies, and Media Arts sites where students are creating digital photography portfolios.
We can’t stifle that. We need to get out of the way and allow the Commons to support that work; but building a website is a different idea than owning a small corner of the internet (one that we will fund for you while you are a student at HWDSB, without fear of advertising, or data mining, or changing terms of service). Is there still room for the initial vision? If we open up the floodgates to allow students to request multiple blogs, how do we eliminate having thousands of sites with only one or two posts, when categories in a menu could have been a strategy to centralize those posts in one diverse portfolio? How do we differentiate between website creation and the larger ideals of the #DoOO project? How do we preserve the dream, while continuing to be relevant to emerging needs?