Creating Digital Citizens: The Static and Evolving Web

As some of you may know, I work with DoOO (Domain of One’s Own) here at Plymouth State. I’ve recently been doing an inventory and looking through every DoOO site to find the gem sites hidden amongst over 1,000 accounts. What I’ve seen is interesting. Some of the sites set up on our platform were set up for courses – students chose their URLs based on for example assignments creating branded sites (for business ideas for example – I’ve seen a hotel, a fishing charter company, and an outdoor adventure company). Some of the sites have not been touched in quite some time. Some students use as portfolios, and some were created and remain dormant; essentially an empty parking spot on the web, reserved for you for four years. Which of course is okay, this project, after all, is focused on the individual and choice.

But how as staff can we support a more robust web presence and encourage students to do the same and remind them that web presence is important in creating your life, your existence, and showing a side of yourself – for better or for worse – online. One way is of course by sharing our own web stories especially with students. Through the arc of time, what tools did we use, and how did we identify online? This helps describe how we came to where we are now and the decisions we make today on the web.

This is a question I ask as I’ve delved down into the depths of DoOO. Students are likely to have some presence on social media: Instagram notably is popular, just search for the location tag Plymouth State and you’ll see evidence of that. Whereas students are happy to add images of themselves, might we consider what an evolving website or domain looks like? Perhaps visual stories are a better way to encourage students of the value of their independent web presence, and keeping the domain active while at Plymouth State? What is of value to keep long-term on the web in our fast-moving culture for students?

I haven’t seen much evidence on DoOO of embracing popular culture’s and gen Z’s culture draws to the web. We could also look at the tone and delivery of popular content visited by students. What sites are we visiting and why? Forbes has a list of websites visited by the audience and demographic numbers, looking at this data might give us all a bit more context to where we and our students go on the web and what they might build to keep them coming back.

I think of my own digital history and the ebbs and flows of technology within the context of the web. I went digging for my web history to see what tools I had used at what times. I started off with an Angelfire site in my teens, which sadly no longer exists, but what does still exist is my LiveJournal, which is like a time machine and a journal of my web-life all in one go. Looking at my last post I noted how many cupcake shops there were in New York City, clearly marking time in my life through the trends surrounding me. My username on Livejournal comes from a Death Cab for Cutie song, so it shows you a. what generation I belong to, and b. what kind of young person I was. It’s embarrassing in part because I was honest, and was not thinking about my web presence and the arc of life online and offline. Thinking back would I have made my DoOO Yes. My sense of humor and thoughts about not taking life too seriously impact my personal URL and profile choices, so the irreverence of my domain name choice would have been reflected in that in my younger self because nothing is forever on the web right? Until you find your Livejournal years later…..and share it……

Will Instagram be this for students of today in 10 years – still present and embarrassing? Or at the very least a place of memory holding, reminding you of who you are now and how you might have been sculpted by yourself then and the evolution of who you are in person and online. DoOO could be a place of growth, development and ideation of who one is becoming.

In addition to my inactive Livejournal account, I have Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram keeping record of my evolving personhood on the internet. Twitter is a record of myself in 140 characters or less for a time, and now more characters, but I’ve been using it on and off since 2008. I haven’t removed my old tweets, as they are a digital journal to myself, reminding me of who I was and what I would say for better or for worse.

I think Domains could be a place of value to students, a place of unique content and care, that students may choose to carry forward into their future, or not. It’s important that they have that choice, because we don’t think about that as much on other places on the web – our sites and social media logins might become inactive, a pillar to who we were at one time, which is okay, but we must understand that these places might still be findable years later. This kind of digital longevity conversation is the one I want to have with students.

DoOO can be a place to share content beliefs and context through visual or other means. A place of their own, which Livejournal was to me back in the early aughts, but they also have more control than I have, because the site is theirs and theirs to decide what inevitably to do with it once they leave our institution.

If they create a site, remain active in using it, and also develop meaningful content this is a success. We should encourage them to be creative, use and post their thoughts and feelings, and remind them this is an opportunity to create a space they’re proud to carry into the future, or at least that someone might be able to find it at least until they graduate. DoOO is a record in time that is evolving that they, the students, have control over changing or removing if they so choose – an important part to identity and who they might be or become.