Not a super hero
Or rather, “my story”. I’m Andrew, and here is the origin of HelloSpace.Me. First of all, I never thought I’d ever be writing my own “origin story”, as if I’m a super hero. I assure you, I cannot fly (without a boarding pass), I cannot see through walls (at least without that technological invention: a window), and I most certainly wear my underwear on the inside. I am an ordinary person, just like you. However, I am a teacher, researcher, blogger, wine aficionado, coffee lover, photographer, traveller, geek, and founder of this company.
Becoming a digital native
I began as a teacher teaching English as a foreign language in South Korea in 2000. Being far away from home, far from my home culture, I had to adapt and use this new thing that allows computers to talk together, “the interweb”. It was amazing. I could send an email to my mum, asking for her to post me my favourite deodorant, and if by chance she was online, I could shockingly get a reply within minutes… in all shouty uppercase, even though we lived tens of thousands of kilometers apart. However, it took my mother many months to figure out the CAPS key, so all her emails wouldn’t sound so urgent.
By 2001, I had discovered Amazon, and had books delivered for the first time. Using ICQ, I met new people online, and even briefly hosted my very first website. Then I moved up in the world and progressed to a shared space on Tripod. In 2002, I had moved to Taipei Taiwan, and in the Chinese New Year of 2003 I had first set up my very own domain: Winjeel.Com. “Winjeel” was my Scout Master name, from back in the day; it is from an Australian Aboriginal language meaning “young eagle”, as I was then.
In those days, I had to build my own websites from scratch. I had to do the coding and designs myself. I don’t think my websites looked very pretty by todays standards, but I think they were far better than what came before.
I didn’t have a clear concept of what to use my website for, for the longest time. I had hoped to attract private students, and I did get some. I renovated it to show off my photography. Then I started to use it as a resource centre for my university classes, when I started working in Nagoya Japan. Eventually I gave up making my own webpages and thought it’d be easier to maintain a WordPress-based site. Wow! How I should have done that years before! Today Winjeel.Com still uses WordPress as the website software, and has expanded.
My professional website, Winjeel.Com, now shows off my research output, my ORCiD number, links to my publications. I considered this important during a job interview in 2009, when the future boss of mine mentioned that he liked my photography, and asked what kit I used. Today, my website also has useful content to support my students, including textbook-like pages, samples of exams and reports, videos that support flipped-classroom instruction, and more. Now, my website is fully geared to supporting my students, and to impress future employers.
However, Japan is slow to adopt technological innovation. No kidding. Most of my first year university writing class need instruction on how to turn on a computer in the computer lab, how to sign in, how to start MS Word, how to save documents, and more (Murray & Blyth, 2011). There is a resistance to use technology in schools in Japan. I’m not exactly sure why, but I guess because teachers worry that students will not learn how to write Chinese characters. That means, most teachers and classes are still paper based. Most teachers do not blog, and perhaps don’t know what they are missing out on.
Helping digitise teachers
As a business person, I saw this as a great opportunity for me. I know that setting up a website is not easy, it’s hard. However, with some ingenuity, I figured that I should set up a system that makes it super easy for busy teachers. There are three main aspects to this. First, is to educate on issues of domain and web space ownership. Second, to provide inspiration to future and new website owners / scholars. Third, create a community of educators, scholars, and academics to inspire each other.
Consequently, March 2017 was when the business plan was detailed, website design work began, and launch was in April. We had two debuts. The first was a banner ad on the Korea TESOL (KOTESOL) website in May 2017. Our first in-person debut was the Japan Association of Language Teachers (JALT) Computer Assisted Language Learners (JALTCALL) special interest group annual conference on mid June 2017. At the JALTCALL conference we signed up new members, provided tech support, and did a presentation: 10 Things (& Reasons) for Teachers to Blog. We look forward to meeting many more teachers, scholars, researchers, and academics in the future.
2017 is an interesting year to begin a web based company. In March 2017, it was already clear that human rights and dignities were being eroded by over zealous governments (Blyth, 2011). These Governments may have had our best interests at heart, but history tells a different story: one of rights degradation and eventual power abuses. That is, we know that privacy, dignity, and respect are paramount in academia, education, and in a democratic society. Consequently, it was considered an imperative to have HelloSpace.Me servers physically located in Switzerland. Switzerland has the best privacy and data protection laws. This means that customer data is protected, and your website visitors information are also protected. The only data that government agencies can access is what you and your website users choose to make public. However, with a legally issued warrant, we may assist proper authorities, if a good reason is provided.
Why worry about website visitor data and protection? Let’s assume one of your students is from a very politically conservative country. Let’s assume this student writes something that is critical about his or her home government, so there may be serious repercussions for him or her. It has happened, where once anonymous journalists from Vietnam had been arrested and abused in detention (Blyth, 2015). Additionally, the famous case of an anti-Beijing book store owner from Hong Kong who was “disappeared”. Your students are students now, but they won’t always be. It is an imperative that you help protect them from potential recriminations from their time studying under your care.
We also support Tree Nation. Web servers use a lot of energy, and we are facing global warming at an unprecedented scale. Consequently, we are committed to carbon-offsetting measures. We contribute to the planting of trees that capture and store carbon, whilst giving benefits to local people.
Teacher and academic support
We are teachers. We know what that means. Teaching has traditionally been a lonely sport. Having to think through problems alone. Having to come up with lesson ideas alone. We’re also researchers, and we know what that is like too. HelloSpace.Me aims to establish a community of educators, researchers, scholars, and academics where it is easier to find and discover new and novel ideas, solutions, and to increase the chances of meaningful collaborations. See our call for articles here.
Murray, A., and Blyth, A. (2011) A survey of Japanese university students’ computer literacy levels. The JALTCALL Journal, 7(3), 307-318 . [link]