Key(note) Points

In two weeks, I’m going to be presenting at the University of Cincinnati’s 3T: Teaching, Techniques, and Technology conference. I’m very honored to have been asked to present as a keynote, along with my friend Mikhail Gershovich. Good news: I get to present first, so I don’t have to be in the position of following Mikhail’s tough act. 🙂 Also, it means I’ll be able to fully relax and enjoy the rest of the conference after presenting in the morning. I’m looking forward to seeing what faculty at Cincinnati are working on; the event seems similar in ethos to UMW’s Faculty Academy, and it’s always cool to see all of this through another lens.

The title of my talk is, Technologies of Possibility: Digital Identity, Citizenship, and Personal Domains in the Classroom. 

And, here’s the brief version of my abstract:

At the University of Mary Washington, for the last eight years, we have been exploring the Web in particular as a technology, not of efficiency, but of possibility. Faculty and students have become used to inhabiting the Web as part of the course of academic discovery. In particular, we have built a powerful approach to providing students with spaces of their own on the Web, releasing them from the limitations of course management systems and proprietary software solutions. Our latest project involves providing all incoming students with domains and Web spaces of their own, in which they can enact and explore their academic persona.

I’ll discuss the steps that we took to arrive at this point, and the experiments that are growing out of our investigations into digital identity, citizenship, and personal domains.


Here I am just over two weeks out from the presentation, and I’ve got a lot of things rattling around as I put together what I want to say. I’m at that stage of preparation where I tend to get side-tracked easily. I know my general thesis; I can think of examples I want to talk about; I have a general sense of the overall story I want to tell; but I’m struggling with focus and specifics.

I may tend to over-think my presentations. I always feel like I should back-up, back-up, back-up, and provide as much birds-eye view as I can. I feel this pressure to contextualize, and then contextualize a bit more.

Sometimes, it feels like the first line of every presentation I give should be, “I was born in February 1974 on a small island in the Pacific.” In my desire to frame a whole story that makes sense around my idea, I imagine a narrative that’s far more complex, and epic (not that my life has been that epic — being born on an island in the Pacific was sort of the high point) then it really needs to be.

So, in a series of points, here’s what I want to say in my presentation:

  1. I hate it when our conversation about technology in education focuses exclusively (or almost exclusively) on pragmatic analysis. 
  2. I do understand that we all would like to work better and faster, but I think it’s unfair to technology to presume that it’s sole function is to let us work faster and better.
  3. I’m fascinated by deeper understandings and interpretations of “technology.” (Hey, if anyone has some great readings/resources that I can add to my own list on this topic, send them my way)
  4. I for one, am far more interested in the “technology of the internet and/or Web” than any particular device, apparatus, protocol, or program.
  5. I would like our discussions to focus more on these “technologies of space and possibility” — in which the human network that the technology occupies (or vice versa) is as important as any particular device, apparatus, protocol, or program.
  6. I’d like to be the kind of instructional technologist who helps faculty and students think about how technologies of possibility are changing their lives and their understanding of their roles in the world.
  7. I don’t want to be the kind of instructional technologist who teaches faculty how to use clickers. I’m not saying that to be a anti-clicker snob. I just don’t think that’s particularly interesting or transformative.
  8. I do understand that there is some fuzzy space between points 6 & 7 that need to be further elucidated. Thinking Big Thoughts can quickly turn into Obnoxious, Overwrought Naval-Gazing That Doesn’t Actually Add up to Anything. Sometimes we have to start with clickers and grow into possibilities. That’s fine with me.
  9. Here at UMW, more than an approach to technology that involves some recipe of devices, apparati, protocols, or programs, I think we approach our work as a philosophy. Here are some aspects of that philosophy:
    • Default to Open. An idea that I think we were practicing for a while before James Boyle taught us this wonderful phrase.
    • Focus on Values. Embodied, in particular, in our approach to Online Learning.
    • Practice & Experiment & Play. This is the guiding principle behind what we affectionately call “The Bluehost Experiment,” a project conceived of by Gardner Campbell that really started everything.
    • Invest In People, Not (just) Technologies. We all agree in DTLT that this is a core component of our success. It’s not that we never need money to buy devices, apparati, protocols, or programs, but before we ever need those things, we need people to learn why we need them.
    • Education is Messy. Yeah, I still REALLY believe this one. And I’m damn sick of conversations about learning analytics getting in the way of acknowledging it. When I teach ds106, I get to eat my own dog food on this one, so I’m not being merely provocative.
    • The Web is Us. That one sounds a bit outlandish, but really this is such a core part of what I try to talk to faculty about. The Web (and what we can do in/on it) is not some “other” thing. It is not a space to be merely observed and contemplated. It’s also not a space to merely used. We must learn to live on it and in it because it is more than a device, apparatus, protocol, or program. It is part of the cultural air that we breathe. It is changing everything. It is changing everyone one of our disciplines. It is changing our institutions. It is changing our students. It is changing our classrooms. And it is changing us. We can not afford to take a guarded, academic stance on it. This is why Domain of One’s Own is so important to us at UMW.

I think that’s it. Does this look anything like a useful outline? To me it sort of does, but I’m still a bit unsteady about the focus. My audience for this talk is most faculty, I think. I presume there will be some staff/administrators, but I’m still trying to figure out how to take topics that I usually talk about to other instructional technology people and frame it so that faculty feel like I’m really speaking to where they are at.

Advice, of course, is always welcome. This presentation is billed as a “keynote” so that’s a bit daunting for me. In the past, whenever I’ve spoken at a conference there’s been somewhere else for people to go if they didn’t want to hear me. 🙂 So, it’s important to me that this be accessible and meaningful to as many people as possible.



10 thoughts on “Key(note) Points”

  1. Congrats on the keynote slot, and yes getting it over early means you get to enjoy what follows. Huzzah.

    Yes, stay away from obnoxious naval gazing theory and blah blah. Hit them with what you do and what you make happen.

    What you and your co-conspirators do at UMW and in particular DTLT is nothing short of amazing, and you need to make sure your audience knows that you practice what you preach, you break things, that you face your fears with a sense of wonder and that you are constantly learning. Trust me. No one wants to be talked AT in these things, they want to learn and be amazed how you don’t just observe and contemplate… you guys dig in, blow stuff up, and make learning happen.

  2. Thank you, Barbara. This helps me enormously. I feel like I fall into the trap of thinking I need to give people the talk that someone else would give — not the presentation that’s in me. I am so proud of the work we’ve all done at UMW, and there are few things I love more than to talk about it. 🙂 So, hopefully, that will work in my favor. And thanks for reminding me of another core value: Facing Fear.

  3. Bring them all your Martha-ness. I’ll let you play out your line of self-deprecation, but I’ve seen you many times articulate insightful ideas in meetings, I’ve seen your creativity in teaching and technology up close, you are keynote stuff.

    People want to know the UMW story and stories within those. You could fill the time with just those, but I would wrap my points around the experiences you have seen and been a part of. I’d lead and punctuate with examples of what UMW students and faculty are doing. It’s not like its a recipe that wil work everywhere, but many of the ingredients and utensils are worth highlighting.

    What I was struck with n my time there was an awe for how well you and the team knew the faculty, you were not just some techies waving some gadgets, you were embedded into their topics, you were in their classrooms, you knew about their interests, and you earned their trust. I’ve not seen too many places with that rich and genuine a rapport.

    Judging by the prowess of the students in my section of ds106 now. the technology capabilities and awareness how to use them have become for many students, part of the fabric of their UWM experience, not some bolted-on one class gizmo.

    And I would use that line about clickers 😉

    Don’t hold back, Martha.

    1. Thanks, Alan. I’m trying to figure out how to channel that Martha-ness and not get bogged down in the idea of the talk I think I *should* be giving. It’s tough. 🙂

    1. Cindy — thanks for this article! I’m very taken with the authors’ notion of “boxes” as a way to rethink our research practices. I find myself struggling a lot when I’m doing my own research with the notion that I have to fit my practice into what I learned as a student decades ago. That (very pragmatic, linear) model no longer feels natural or effective for me. This has got me thinking a lot about my own practices.

  4. The conference organizers know what they are doing. This is the outline of a fantastic keynote, a welcome dose of reality and human-level innovation. The philosophy you outline in point 9 is especially valuable.

  5. Martha,
    I think this is a wonderful approach. Not only does it get at so many of the powerful aspects of DTLT and UMW’s approach to technology, it reads a bit already like the “This I Believe” segments that NPR revived in recent years. As such, it already takes on a resonant tone that might serve you well in the keynote.

  6. Thanks Brian and Jeff. I had finished my draft of the presentation and was still feeling very ambivalent about it. Then I came back and read this post and the comments, and I think I know what I need to do.

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