awarm.spacenewsletter | fast | slow v1 Retro

This is a retro of the first version of Inspired by the Domain of One's Own 1 project (and by the domain itself), the idea was to try and create the most minimal "school" we could. Instead of building complex digital infrastructure, what if we used just a single element, the link, and pushed everything else to websites all over the internet.

Learners could "enroll" by linking their personal homepages, and anyone could run a course by just putting it online somewhere. It could be in the form of a a blogchain, or on top of social networks, or through video calls.

The project was driven in part by a dissatisfaction with the existing narratives around education technology. In some ways it's regressive, going back to simple static websites, but the hope was that it would be a space to experiment with new ways of learning online.

In the end we ran three different "courses" on, Personal Websites, Planetary Thought, and Blogging Futures. Each was conceived of and ran independently, and was aiming for pretty different learning environments.

The original vision was to coordinate these courses into a "semester", and even issue some kind of degree but these elements were quickly revealed to be superfluous 2.

The courses

Removing them let us focus on just the courses themselves, which were a huge success. Each course not only brought people together to learn, and to build communities around important ideas, but produced artifacts.

CJ's Blogging Futures blogchain pulls together 20+ blog posts covering all sorts of ideas on the future of the medium.

The Planetary Thought channel collected a ton of links on things like More than human agency and Rituals, Games, and Meditation, as well as a kick-ass reading list.

My own contribution, the blog tours, produced a Youtube playlist full of people getting to talk about their lovingly crafted personal websites.

All these artifacts will keep existing out there on the internet, regardless of the future of, which is a great validation of the core idea here.

What went wrong?

Beyond that, what were ways things didn't work out?

The largest failing was a lack of structure. The open-ended nature meant folks could do anything but that meant they wouldn't know what to do. Combine that with the effort required to build your own website, and running a course had a pretty high cost. Courses had the loose constraint of being related to the internet, but it was never explained what that really meant. This didn't effect the courses that did become reality of course, but I would guess it limited the amount that could.

Both this issues were exacerbated by limited ways people could participate. Basically the only two actions you could take were:

Both took a lot of effort. Also, both were pretty poorly explained. So people could come to the site, be excited about the premise, but leave not knowing how they could contribute.

One of the things I was hoping was that each course that people did contribute to could serve as an example to future ones. While the courses produced some fantastic artifacts, they didn't really publicly document their process or structure. I think this is partially because the central didn't really have a place for it.

Ultimately these failures are okay. It was a tiny project made to explore these kinds of issues. In fact, the small scope worked extremely well. Because it was so concise it was easy to explain to people in a way that was tangible. And, it was really quick to build.

For the next version, that quickness is something important to maintain.

What can we do to improve?

The most obvious one is having an explicit social space. It would be an environment to develop course ideas, discuss what's working or not, and participate in the community without necessarily joining (or creating) a course. The FNS forum emerged as this ad-hoc space, but it was loosely connected, and not even linked to directly from the website. The forum and the website should even share accounts. This would let it be used as a space for courses as well!

Accounts, would actually be another new feature for They're important to enable things like I just mentioned, and in general making the structure of the site more explicit. They let people join courses and pay for them. Why I think courses should be paid is a longer piece, but essentially it let's us do more ambitious courses and ensures people participate.

The mean problem that remains is the difficulty of creating a course this is offset a bit by the financial incentive, but it's still just a lot of work. We can reduce it by separating course designing from course facilitation. You can imagine multiple instances of the same course running in parallel, and then feeding back to improving their shared structure. Course creation becomes a collaborative, community driven,process, and course facilitation provides a simple way to participate in it.

It also means this thing can scale. The original was small and meant to remain so, but this time, we want to get more people involved. The more experiments we run, the more we can learn.

  1. The Domain of Ones own project supported members of a university community in registering their own domains and hosting websites. The question it raised in my mind was, what if all an institution's websites were managed this way? And if so couldn't those website just be the school?
  2. There were actually a bunch of things that needed to be removed to get, to arrive at it's most minimal state. I think it's telling that even with the most concise project I've undertaken to date I had to scope down from the initial idea.