Taking Control of Your Digital Identity

A friend told me I was “going rogue” when I leased a slice of off-campus server to host The Social Media Classroom for my UC Berkeley and Stanford courses. The social affordances for the learning management systems at both institutions did not fulfill my needs for sophisticated forum, blog, wiki, and chat tools in courses about social media that used social media intensively as part of the curriculum. It cost me $50/year for a server that enabled me to install the SMC, MediaWiki, WordPress, and other online publishing platforms.

When I taught Digital Journalism at Stanford, I soon learned to ask other instructors about particularly tech-savvy students before I started the course each year. I invited these students to lunch and invited them to educate me about what might have happened in information technology over the summer that a digital journalism instructor should know about. One of those students insisted, quite correctly, that every journalist ought to know how to manage a server and install and configure WordPress, so I invited him to teach me. In that case, I learned how to do it — and constructed an illustrated how-to for my students — a week before class.

For journalists, it’s clear that some knowledge of how to manage your own online publishing platform has become an essential professional skill. It didn’t become clear to me that all students ought to know how to claim a domain name, lease a server, and install and configure WordPress until I encountered the now-legendary ds106 and its charismatically enthusiastic founder Jim Groom. As Groom put it, because students are now telling the stories of their lives online, they need to take active control of the process to understand: “what it means to shape their digital identity, what it means to shape who they are online.” So, I started asking students in all my courses to claim a domain name (which normally costs $10-$35), lease a server (normally $50/year), install, configure, and start posting on their own WordPress blog before the first class meeting. That requirement signaled that the course required active participation, and filtered out anyone who thought a course about tweeting and Facebooking would be a breeze.

Fortunately, Groom pointed me to Reclaim Hosting, which offered domain name, server, and support services for educational uses at a cost of $25/year. I was as baffled as most of my students about how to go about configuring WordPress as a course hub, syndicating the feeds from my students’ blogs. Fortunately, Groom walked me through the process, discussing both the pedagogy and the technical how-tos, in a series of Hangouts on Air, which are available to educators and anyone else who wants to delve into the why as well as the how of a WordPress-based course syllabus and class hub. I soon learned that if Groom didn’t reply almost immediately to one of my numerous email pleas for help, I would hear from his Reclaim Hosting partner, instructional technology specialist Tim Owens — often before Groom could reply. When Groom announced that he was leaving University of Mary Washington to join Reclaim Hosting full-time, I had to talk with him and Owens. The accompanying video is 18 minutes long, a little more than usual for these interviews because, as you will see, talking with Groom and Owens is that much fun.

Banner image: Gideon Burton