A Domain of Her Own

As a kid in the ’90s and ’00s, Haley Campbell ’13 grew up with the Internet. She played computer games, learned to type from an educational software program, and experimented with blogs and fan fiction. In middle school, she tinkered with HTML coding and creating a website.

As moms and dads do, Campbell’s parents urged her to be safe on the Web. But they didn’t discourage her interest, even if they didn’t see the attraction.

As Campbell puts it, “Every generation comes up with something that the previous generation shakes their head and says, ‘Really guys? Is that what you’re going to do?’ ”

But it wasn’t until she got to the University of Mary Washington and enrolled in classes on new media that Campbell started thinking analytically about the Internet’s potential to educate on a macro scale, and to swiftly shape and change consensus.

“It’s so obvious that this was where a ton of extremely important communication was taking place,” she said.

In addition to taking classes such as digital storytelling – called ds106 – Campbell is among about 400 people piloting Mary Washington’s Domain of One’s Own initiative, which started last fall. The program, offered in collaboration with the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies (DTLT) and the office of Information Technology Services, provides domains and Web hosting for students and faculty.

While Domain of One’s Own is intentionally unstructured – the idea is for users to define for themselves what they will present on the Web – it encourages students to own and control their online presence. Some may use their domains strictly as e-portfolios. Others, including Campbell, take a broader approach.

Campbell’s aetherbunny.com domain is constantly evolving. She’s used it for her digital storytelling projects; as an academic blog; as a creative outlet for short stories and poetry; and as a forum for experimenting with online editing tools.

Exploring the possibilities of the Web just makes sense to Campbell. “A lot of people take the Internet for granted. They know they have to use it, but they don’t necessarily think about how they’re using it,” she said. Domain of One’s Own, a nod to Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, encourages “critical thinking about those tools.”

The Web can be used badly, of course, in prefab, uninspired ways. But it also can be, she said, “a brilliant, beautiful smorgasbord of creativity.”

And it’s important not to think of the Internet as a monolithic entity, she said. “It’s a massive collection of networked tools we can use and take control of if we’re willing to put in the time and energy.”

One example of that is what Campbell calls curating, the constant re-evaluating and editing of one’s online presence. That can involve removing content, but it may more effectively entail updating existing content. For example, a college senior entering the professional world might use her personal domain to acknowledge an essay she posted as a teenager, but add a note reflecting how her views have changed.

Taking that thoughtful approach through the college years can reduce seniors’ anxiety that graduate schools or potential employers will turn up embarrassing teenage blogs, photos, or tweets. “The more aggressively you prune and update your personal Web presence,” she said, “the more recent stuff people will find.”

Tim Owens, instruction technology specialist and co-creator of Domain of One’s Own, applauds Campbell’s resourcefulness.

“Haley’s experience of exploring and controlling her digital identity is what we want for all students at Mary Washington,” Owens said. “Some students may choose to continue using spaces like Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, but the important part is that we are handing control of those choices to the students and providing them the opportunity to explore what’s out there and how they can define themselves online.”

Campbell gets why participating in Domain of One’s Own is not required of students, and she respects that some people just aren’t all that interested in crafting an online presence. But she leapt on it.

“It’s like being handed this massive box of toys and being told you can play with it if you want to, but you don’t have to,” she said with a laugh.

An English major with a concentration in creative writing, Campbell sees her UMW classes and Domain of One’s Own opening professional opportunities. She’s exploring educational technology and methods of open education such as massive open online courses, or MOOCs. She’s learning “the pedagogical aspects of it – how teachers are teaching, and what they’re teaching about.”

And as an accomplished poet – and 2013 winner of the UMW Barbara Thomas Phillips Creative Writing Scholarship – she’s evaluating the many tools writers use to find readership beyond traditional publications.

She’s also finding creative inspiration online, exploring new ways to use words, art, music, and online immediacy to shape narratives. But while she’s part of the generation that will expand what’s possible online, she hasn’t lost sight of what drew her to the Web in the first place.

“Really,” Campbell said, “I’ve been telling stories on the Internet for most of my life.”

Story by Laura Moyer
–Photo by Kimmie Barkley ’14