Friday 25 January 2013

Lost In Translation: Understanding Digital Identity and Connection

One of the great joys of participating in edcmooc and etmooc is reading everyone's blogs. I'm an avid reader, a voracious learner and often lose myself for hours, completely immersed in everyone else's thoughts (usually way past midnight). One of the topical themes this week is digital identity (springing forth from etmooc) and there are no shortage of links on twitter to a range of publications on the peculiar ways our many different personas come to life in this curious space. I'd like to tease out my thoughts on digital identity by thinking about not only the way we write in our blogs, but what we write about and how digital identities might shape the kind of connections we form as students in these courses.

This week, I stumbled on etmoocing colleague Catherine's post on "Enacting Digital Identity" which looked at "digital dualism", the idea that there is a clear separation between the "real" and the "virtual"and the complexity of interaction between student and teacher in those contexts where the enactment of digital identity poses some interesting questions. Catherine writes wearing her educator's hat, and although this post (and other excellent entries in her blog) was written before etmooc, I gather there might be some discussions happening in the mooc where her experience in teaching about this has been harnessed within the learning community. For me, etmooc is so nebulous that I really struggle to find where these conversations occur and I sense them only through the ghostly digital footprints they leave in the twitter and blogospheres. One day I hope to nail one down and join in, but that's another story....

Also this week, fellow student Ary, in her unmistakably intimate style, delved into how others may perceive and judge us through the identities that we project in the digital realm. "To Cyberspace with Love" is a very reflective piece which takes us on a journey from identity in the real world (as seen through the medium of film) to cyberspace where, through the opportunity for self discovery, we might find a comfortable niche in which aspects of self which struggle to thrive in the world of light and air can blossom. (Woah, long sentence)

The other post I really enjoyed was written by Susana. "A general idea" is a philosophical discussion about the way knowledge is constructed and how that relates to the revolution in education of which we are all part. Whilst not about digital identity, Susana is unleashing her inner English speaking self, hoping that her Spanish friend sits quietly in the background. And although a bit of Spanish thinking finds its way onto the page, nothing is lost in translation: the messages in this article come through loud and clear. In fact, I just love reading the thoughts of people for whom English is not their native tongue. They often have the ability to drill straight to the point without the extravagant excesses of verbal profusion. And besides, it is often poetically beautiful in its simplicity and unique expression.

And so to myself, what have I chosen, subconsciously or otherwise, to project through what I write and how I write about it? I have consciously decided to steer clear of my academic persona. It's pretty dry (I have one of those highly focused scientist's brains) and if that was what I chose to present, then nobody would give my blog a second look and I'd be friendless in this community. Besides, it's too boring and requires too much brain grinding for a summer holiday activity.

Much of my life's writing has been as a ghost writer. Now psychotherapists could have a field day with that one, especially since I write for my husband, whose unstructured, humorous and highly unconventional, engaging style I can emulate with such similarity that his editors cannot tell which is his and which is mine. Actually, they have never known it wasn't him, so fortunately I use my own name (not my married title) in my online projections of self. Please keep my secret safe. Actually, that's not entirely true. I use my own name because it is my own name and in cyberspace, I can choose whichever name I want. Period.

Do I write as a teacher? Maybe I identify myself as one, but I write with such lack of discipline here on my blog, that I certainty don't sound like one. Anyhow, I'm not really a teacher, I'm a tutor, a mentor a facilitator. That's the conscious way I choose to tag myself.

So who am I here? I don't actually know, I think it's me. It's a journalling me, thinking aloud in words, thrashing an idea out on a keyboard. I thought there was only one me, but I can see there are many, all those different people in my head! When we hook up on our MOOC journey, which person will it be that others think they are connecting with? And which of their selves will I make friends with?

I'm drawn to Ary's writings because they are personal, vulnerable and inviting.They don't exclude you, they draw you in and inspire you to question. I've talked with her online, and she's actually a lot like her writing self. I'm drawn to Catherine's writings because they are interesting and authoritative. I kind of trust that what she says is well informed and "right". I'm drawn to Susana's blog because I'm intrigued to follow her development through the course, to see how her ideas emerge as she develops fluency of thought and language. I haven't had the opportunity to find out if Catherine and Susana are their moocing writing selves. I guess we are an aggregate of our personas, so that "writing self" will be in there somewhere.

I'm not in this for grades or a job or to use my writings for another course. I'm here for fun, intellectual stimulation and to learn some practical things about eLearning and develop some insight into the humanity of our relationship with technology. So I guess I will be drawn to those who it seems will partner me in that quest, whether just by virtue of their online presence or perhaps by a more connected relationship which may develop in whatever way. It will spring first from what they write and how they write it. If I don't understand what they are talking about, or if I don't identify with the person who emerges from that writing, then we won't connect. I suppose those who will connect with me will do so for reasons I will probably never know, although it will be someone who isn't put off by the rambling self indulgent nature of my blog. 

Either way, it will be because what we write will need no translation, whichever one of our mulitple identities is putting it out there!


  1. Hi, Angela -
    I really enjoyed reading your post and appreciate the links to others' blog reflections. The concept of "digital dualism" is intriguing and, I think, an undeniable reality. But it's not an entirely new phenomena - to some extent, we all carefully choose which persona to use in different contexts of our daily lives. The digital aspect simply increases those distinctions to an extreme...

    Definite food for thought. Thanks again for posting - I look forward to hearing more about your experience with #etmooc.

    1. HI David thanks for the comment. One never really knows what people think unless they leave you a message.

      I am not sure what I think about digital dualism, I tend to think cyberspace is just another space we inhabit no different to the other spaces in our lives. Although perhaps because of the wide net we cast online,(and the insidious nature of google and co) we might be more likely to bump into people in places we may not expect to find them.

      Until edcmooc, I had deactivated my fb and prior to that limited my conversations, mainly interacting with a friend who is a very active environmentalist. I bumped into one of my fb contacts at a party who remarked that I had "gone all environmental" which is not a bother, however, it was because that conversation had been amplified or accentuated through those online discussions. So I guess to my other fb friends, I must appear as a born again environmental activist. Or if they are party to my MOOC discussions they will be wondering what the heck I am talking about now! Kind of projects a rather one dimensional image of self doesn't it.

  2. Enjoyed reading your post. I am one of those who has to think twice before writing. My mind thinks in spanish and I try to go straight to the point to reduce the amount of spanglish when I write.

    Most of the time I find more and better resources in english and I´am trying to learn and help my fellows who can´t follow up in this language.

    I read Susana´s post but I couldn´t comment because something happened with antispam??? Thanks for connecting us!

    1. Hi VerĂ³nica! I'm trying to fix the problem with the comments in my blog.

      I just wanted to say that I would put my maximum effort to make me more understanding. Because of I don't use to write too much in English until this course.

      It just about that I don't feel really confident yet, but I try my best.

      Definitely I'm with you when you said that there are better resources in english. And I'm very happy to improve it here.

  3. I tried to comment on Susana's post as well and it wouldn't accept the comment, it sent me round in circles signing up for the platform etc. I wonder how we let her know that. I looked on twitter, but would have to make a guess at her name. Maybe I will post on facebook. Ary also speaks Spanish, but I don't think it is her mother tongue (but I could be wrong).

  4. Angela, One thing I really like about your blogging style is that you are willing to be vulnerable. I have a friend who is trying a blog a day for a year and after about 50 posts considers herself a blogger. Yet most of the recent blogs are tutorials. They are valuable to someone who may be looking to learn "how to" on that topic, but they are very safe in that we don't see the real person behind the blog. I think you have a very real talent to be both vulnerable and yet inspire us to walk down an uncertain (possibly risky) learning path with you.

    1. That is very thoughtful feedback Kelcy, thankyou. I have never blogged before,and I can't imagine why I might continue after the course. I don't know what I would write about that would be of value. However, in the context of our mooc, it is a great experience, made all the more relevant by quadblogging. Just knowing there are 3 of you who will pop in and read what is written, reminds me that we are writing for people, not just sending words into the ether. Which might explain why our writings are quite personal.

      I'm sure the path is not too risky, although if I look back on my posts there is confusion, addiction, anxiety and now mulitple personalities. Maybe best if you don't follow to closely in my footsteps!

  5. Angela. I can totally relate to your digitial duality (read multiple selves). In fact, I realize that in each realm (FaceBook, Twitter, G+, etc. I even use different pictures. I was actually going to just use only my WeeMee self for this course, and then I realized that I used a different style of writing in each arena. Perhaps through the evolution of this MOOC, I will synthesize my multiple personalities into one voice and feel comfortable with that. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I have different pictures too, but I think that comes from using whatever I can find on which ever device I am using when I sign up for a new platform. I'm not so sure it is a bad thing to express a different side of oneself depending on the circumstances. I think the trick is to make sure it works for you. In my first online education experience, I was pretty serious about things, put a lot of effort into writing my forum posts, complete with references, solid arguments and meaningful conclusions. But they never generated much discussion. It took me awhile to realise that I didn't let people in, there was nothing left to say, it was intimidatingly proper and too sewn up to be engaging. So I let another voice come through where I could still present my carefully researched ideas, but didn't shut others out of the conversation. Much better. My thoughts after reading you comment Cathleen, is that maybe keep your other personalities close at hand in case you need them!

  7. Hi Angela! I'm very glad about your comment and is great your thought about enjoy my way to write and don't get confused :)

  8. Your blogspot looks great Susana, just write one or two posts a week and your English writing will improve very quickly. The quadblog groups are fantastic to encourage us write often. And in a couple of days, we will have to write for the course, so there will be plenty to write about!

    1. Thanks Angela! Definitely you are very hepful. I hope to improve it ;)
      There is one of the reason for what I love it. And people are great keeping us posting.

  9. Angela, thanks for this post. It got me thinking about why I enjoy different people's blogs. I like your blogs because they are welcoming,humorous,knowledgeable and thoughtful.Just like you are, I imagine.I find the idea of digital duality intriguing.I'm wondering which identity I assume when I write my blog post. Unfortunately, pondering that question would be too time consuming right now. I need my brain to be rested and ready for Monday the 28th.I do want to emphasize though, that the folks that I have connected with so far have been helpful and encouraging. Something that I appreciate so much. I work at a rather large elementary school. Everyone is so busy that I hesitate to approach anyone with a new idea or question. Here in cyberspace, however,I do not hesitate. My "peeps" are there, ready to listen, offer help and give useful suggestions. I feel safe and hope that my authentic self, the real ME is projected to my online friends. Because of these connections,I'm more confident in my ability to meet the challenges of "E-Learning and Digital Cultures".
    "Onward and Upward", "To Infinity and Beyond", "Keep on Keeping On" Hmmmmm. I think these must be the musings of my other identity bursting forth ;) Who knows?

    1. Gee Willa, you are too kind. You are so right about the helpfulness here. It is a shame people aren't like that everywhere. Although there are a lot of people enrolled and perhaps the unhelpful ones are not a part of the group you have made connections with. Birds of a feather... How wonderful that you have been able to achieve as much as you have so far in this group.

      I think all our selves are authentic in some may. One of my horrible personas is the one that moans and whines and nags and belches when my nearly 19yo son won't get of bed or take the garbage out. It's a pretty damned authentic me, although nobody, especially not myself, likes that version of Angela!

      So perhaps we could think about not whether it is authentic self that we project here, but perhaps the person we'd like to be. Perhaps we can be more altruistic, more confident or more creative. Or perhaps more assertive, ruthless or even vengeful (as in trolls). All that stuff about the shadow side, the one we all have.

      I'm glad you made me think of that. A very interesting discussion!

  10. Hi Angela -- many thanks for linking back to my blog post on Digital Identity (I only saw the pingback now). One of the post powerful things about MOOCs for me is the connection with other educators and thinkers, and the ability to continue conversations like these. PLNs and all that ;) So what are the roots of our connection? I suppose it was your tweet to your blog post last week, my comment to your post, your reading my blog, then writing this post -- Connected Learning, indeed!

    As for digital identity, I am continuing to explore these ideas. I've encountered such a range of reactions from students (and fellow educators & academics) to using social media and publishing openly as part of our coursework in 2nd year BScIT course. I've come to think that it is ideas and beliefs about digital identity -- and thus privacy, power and other powerful beliefs -- that drives our reaction to online participation and sharing. In addition to discussing with students, I'm planning to survey students and staff this term to try to understand this more deeply. In the meantime, discussing digital identity and privacy with students is a great place to start :)

  11. I'm glad you are able to keep track of the pathways to our connections Catherine, because I'm on brain overload! I think I need to start using some sort of social media management tool just to hold it all together

    I am a great believer that in Connected Learning, we need to honour those from whom we learn. Following, liking, +1ing etc is one way, but I think it is equally important to connect through sharing and acknowledging thought, expertise and creativity and doing that through our blogs is a meaningful way to do it.

    Digital identity is quite fascinating whichever way you look at it. I've noticed it is a confronting topic for many who insist they are very honest in presenting their one and only truly authentic identity. In fact I talked about this with my eldest daughter on a long car trip today and was surprised how disparagingly she talked of people whose online personas were more animated than she perceived them to be in the flesh. I wonder why we chose to set limits for what we accept from others in this regard, and sometimes for ourselves as well.

    Your survey should be interesting. Perhaps we can create a survey for etmooc participants, as most of them lead a double life as both teacher and student and might have some fascinating perspectives to share (identity crises perhaps??!!)

  12. Hi Angela -- read your comment with interest but only just now getting an opportunity to reply. Like you, life is busy with work, family & multiple MOOCs :) As you point out, authenticity and digital identities is a rich area to explore. Who is to say which identity is the "more authentic", the online or IRL? Many people find it easier to interact online, for various reasons, and may feel they are more authentic in online spaces. Still others will choose to experiment with or "try on" different identities online. danah boyd has done fascinating research on this, particularly with teens. My interest in digital identity is primarily on the role of educators. I like the idea of asking for feedback from etmooc participants, most of whom are learner/educators, as you say. I'll DM you my email address and perhaps we could continue the discussion there...!

  13. I made a small survey for the edcmchat we had. It was a student led activity so I presumed nobody would mind. Ary and I put together a silly animation with the key ideas that came through the survey. Here it is if you want a laugh!
    I'll blog about it a bit more seriously when I get on top of things.

    I wonder if you are doing an artefact in this course, perhaps you might do a questionnaire as part of it, and feed it somehow into that end product. Just a thought and I'm sure the educators in the group would be happy to participate and you will get enough responses for it to be useful, especially as it is so relevant to the second half of the (very short) course. The etmooc community is quite different, I'm sure they'll give feedback too.

    I should put a contact page on this blog, but yes, would love to explore this further with you. It is a complex issue at many levels. Angela

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