Keynote: Neither Locked out Nor Locked In, Finding a Path Through Domain of One’s Own

Keynote: Neither Locked out Nor Locked In, Finding a Path Through Domain of One’s Own

* Featured Photo courtesy of Lee Skallerup (@readywriting on Twitter)


A woman named Martha Burtis (Twitter: @mburtis | Website:, accompanied by at least 10 purple penguins, gave the opening keynote at Domains.

She is the Director of the Digital Knowledge Center at the University of Mary Washington, and one of the original ideators of Domain of One’s Own (DoOO), according to this “Brief History of Domain of One’s Own.” (See the homepage for UMW Domains here:

I found Martha’s talk to be very smart, polished, easy to follow, and thought-provoking. You can read it in its entirety here, if you’d like to form your own opinions: “Neither Locked out Nor Locked In: Finding a Path Through Domain of One’s Own.” Additionally, you can listen to the audio, which was recorded by DS106 Radio.

It’s a little silly, but I found myself wanting to be able to read the speech and listen to the presentation at the same time. So I spent considerable time trying to figure out how to make it happen here on this post. The speech starts at about 5:41 in the audio.

(Keep reading for an explanation and my reflections. But first, feel free to enjoy Martha’s talk.)

The reading + audio reminds me of old-school read-along books on tape. Anyone else remember this? “You can read along with me in your book. You will know it is time to turn the page when you hear the chimes ring like this: Riiing!” (click to play)

* Note: One of my big take-aways from the conference in general (spoiler alert!) was that I wanted to become better at coding. I wanted to learn more about CSS and PHP, as well as begin to dabble in things like JavaScript, JSON, APIs, GitHub, and more.

So when I got this bee in my bonnet about the simultaneous speech-reading and speech-listening, I thought it would be a good opportunity to learn…something. Problem was, I didn’t know what it was I needed to learn. After much searching and experimenting with auto-scroll, images, and more, I came up with what you see above.

This practice—of wanting to do something interesting on my domain, not knowing how to do it, taking the time to figure it out, and displaying the result—is exactly what I want students, faculty, and staff to embrace with Domains. So I’m glad I took the opportunity to do it myself.



When Martha opened her talk, she mentioned that the images on her slides didn’t necessarily go with her words, and to not let that be distracting. But she also encouraged us to jot down what they made us think of, and then look back at the list afterwards to see if anything came out of the jottings.

I decided to give it a try.

The images were beautiful, and contrary to her admission, I thought they went very well with what she was saying. Some of my words were the following:

maze, meditation, nature, neat, crumbling, ancient, ideas, abstract, underground, subversive, deserted, industrial, old, relics, information overload, academic, structure, confusing, old-fashioned, what is it? city, civilization, twisted, different, overwhelming, scary, impending doom, young, men, childish, simplified, forgotten, sensory overload, unlit, sharing, interconnected, barrier, destruction, demolition, broken, mirrored, matching, gray, criss-cross, shifting, loose, unstable, expansive, rich, unshaped, unkempt, simple, off-kilter, down, perspective, blocks

Seems like a rich explanation of what Domains is, justification for the initiative, and description of how it can make people feel. (Feel free to use the above paragraph to justify your Domains work at your school.)

Naming {Shudder}

There were four main topic areas of the speech, Naming, Building, Breaking, and Knowing. The shortest one, Naming, resonated the most with me.

I think this is because I suck at naming things. I don’t like doing it, and I avoid it when I can. I have never named my vehicle, for instance.

My car of no name
My car of no name

I co-named an animal once, our cat Mocha, but that was when I was about 7 years old. I didn’t even know what “mocha” was, and it wasn’t my idea. I also voted for “Darlene” instead of “Pauline,” in a family meeting when my 9th sibling was born. But other than that, I fear for any children I ever have, because their mommy doesn’t want to be responsible for their names. It’s hard enough naming the characters in the novel I’m writing—I requested help from a friend and took every one of her suggestions.

So when Martha mentioned that “Naming” a domain is an extremely important step that shouldn’t be rushed through, I grew fearful. “Rushing” is exactly what I do when people come to me at school to set up their sites. I say, “You need to pick your domain name. Are you ready? Okay, go ahead, pick it.”

But, according to Martha,

“We should not rush through this conversation, suggesting that it is merely about the practical necessity of choosing an address for our Web site. Consider the heft of choosing a name in so many of our cultures and traditions. Certain religions believe that a name is an alternate representation of a living breathing person, or that names can be used to summon gods and to cast out spirits. In modern times, consider the weight new parents give to the choosing of a child’s name. Heck, I know people who have spent months picking out their vanity plates, which is a kind of naming in and of itself.”

“Heft,” indeed. So hefty that I could spend my lifetime wondering what to name something. Anyway, I’d appreciate any additional guidance someone can offer on Naming. I don’t think I’m good at guiding people through this part of the process yet.

Broken Things Must Be Fixed

Another major talking point was around the “breaking” of things.

As Martha described,

Last summer someone posed this question to me at the Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute: “What do you tell my administrators when they ask what happens if something goes wrong?” And I rather flippantly replied, “You tell them, good. It broke.”

My answer was flippant, but the truth is for those of us who live within Domains, we know that the breaking and fixing of things is where the most learning can occur.

I agree with that, but I also think that an important point here is that broken things must be fixed. I am totally on board with the thinking behind Domains, but I believe there’s some room to grow in terms of the support we offer to people.

I’m thinking of my car again as an example. Frustrating as it can be, if I get a flat tire, it would be a “great opportunity” to learn how to fix it! {knocks on wood} However, if my car breaks down completely, I am glad that there are certified car mechanics who know how to fix it for me. It’s beyond my scope and also beyond my desire to learn everything there is to know about cars.

The analogy also works with cars in terms of literal classroom learning.

If you take a class on auto mechanics in school, you are given real world cars with real world problems to solve in the shop with your teacher. It’s good when the car has a problem because it offers a great learning opportunity. But there’s an experienced guide to help you work through it and solve the problem. And at the end of the day, that car needs to be drivable—whether the teacher or the students fix it.

At the end of the day, this Cameroon bush taxi may not look great, but it's still drivable—it performs its intended function.
At the end of the day, this Cameroon bush taxi may not look great, but it’s still drivable—it performs its intended function.

My concern is that we are not yet fully able to support Domains in the way that is most helpful to our community. I don’t know the answers to give administrators or technologists or faculty when they ask, “What about when things go wrong? What will I do? What will our students do?” How do I educate myself? How can we offer innovative solutions when we don’t know the possibilities ourselves? I feel that we are limited by what we know and that limits our students and faculty as well.

Where are our experienced web developers? Where is our support staff who knows all about coding and trouble-shooting and security and privacy on the web? I don’t know about other schools, but for us, those people already have full-time jobs maintaining other systems and processes for the institution. We don’t have them on the digital learning/digital pedagogy/instructional designer side, but it would be amazing if we did.

“If the web were a concrete space, what would it be?”

The speech ended with a fun video that wrapped up the complexity of Domains and the Web from different perspectives.

I love asking people questions on video that make them think. This video was amusing to watch. It’s a compilation of clips of people answering the question, “If the web were a concrete space, what would it be?” What’s your answer?

My answer would be “The Winchester Mystery House.” You have an idea of what’s there, because you know it’s a house and you know the basic structures of a house. But there are always new and unexpected parts to it, you don’t understand a lot of it, and it is never done being built.

That’s the beauty and frustration of the Domains project as well. You can help people get started, but they’re going to have different ideas and opinions about what they want to happen next, and you may or may not be able to support them in that.

Martha’s talk was a thought-provoking way to start off the conference and get the juices flowing for many more lively sessions.