I miss my mooc. It was good to feel part of the TOOC14 learning community, in particular from the student point of view. It’s a sign of positivity when you feel sad about an ending but I reached the point where something had to give. In this case it was the mooc. For the tutors at Oxford Brookes on TOOC14, here’s my feedback.
- I always felt my contributions were valued.
- I liked the individual-ness of responses.
- It was helpful to have additional questions built in. I felt tutors were interested in what I had to say. These questions also stretched my thinking and enhanced the learning.
- What I really liked was knowing tutors had experience and expertise in managing online communication. As a consequence I felt it was ok not to know something, ok to get it wrong or even not get it all.
- On TOOC14 I felt a real sense a community of shared practice and inquiry was building up.
It was a mooc but not as you might know it from coursera, udacity or khan academy. Not all but mostly, they can be impersonal. You feel like a grain of sand on a beach.
Online education is never an easy option. It takes time and commitment for staff and for students. Resources need redesigning. Retention is low. Text talk easily misunderstood. The advantages and disadvantages of virtual learning environments are about even. I think the team at Oxford Brookes have got it right. I’d have liked to complete.
I’m using the phrase tutors but am not sure this is the right word. When it comes to online ‘tutoring’ what should we be called? When the pay scale says Lecturer, how does that translate to online environments. I’ve submitted a conference proposal this week suggesting greater attention be paid to the role of e-teacher. The word e-learning has worked its lexographical way into the vocabulary of education but we rarely come across e-tutors or e-lecturers.
Who am I online?
Teacher, Tutor, Trainer? Lecturer? Facilitator? Moderator? Just someone passing through?
The pedagogy of uncertainty which underpins all online courses is also one of invisibility with regard to participants. I wonder if this is indicative of the lower status attached to virtual learning environments. It feels like they remain the second best option. Learning online is what you do if you can’t get on campus. Supplementary. Other. Students are students where ever they are but the identity of those who virtually teach remains much more of a mystery.
Every year I revise my sessions on digital identity. There is always something new to say. Last week two students from Chester misjudged their choice of fancy dress. Without social media this one night in their lives might have gone unnoticed. Now potential employers putting their names into google will see information not included on any CV. The incident has gone viral. All around the world. While some media commentators blamed the DJ for awarding them first prize, thereby increasing the chances of publicity, others have been scathing about the young women themselves. It looks like poor judgement rather than any in depth intention to offend but the damage is done.
Erving Goffman’s 1959 book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life was one of the first to suggest social identity is a performance. Like actors on stage, we wear costumes, have fixed props and adopt roles. Through these roles we present ourselves as having a specific persona which in turn is recognised by others. From here it is a small step towards attribution and stereotyping whereby assumptions are made based on appearance.
Goffman was writing long before personal computers and the internet but I find his work useful for considering the presentation of self online. Digital identity is something we don’t take seriously enough. In an increasingly digital society, turning to the internet is one of the first steps taken to find out more about other people. What turns up can be a surprise. I advise students to google themselves. It isn’t being egocentric or narcissistic. It’s a 21st century necessity!
Problems are caused less by the information we put out there and more by what other people do with it. I take in horror stories from the Daily Mail. Not because I’m a DM fan but because it show students the reality of personal information going viral. The accidental email sent to all rather than one person, inappropriate comments forwarded on, a holiday photograph shared by a Facebook ‘friend’ or simply stupid behaviour which pokes fun at vulnerable people. Whether innocent or cruel, once online it’s permanent. Our digital footprints are impossible to erase. Dressing up as the twin towers might not have been the best career move but will always be a useful reminder of the perils of presenting the digital self online.
Reflecting on the blog below I feel a mixture of professional and social online identities is the ideal. This can offer a prospective employer a holistic view of you as a person. I’ve been engaged in a quest for the holy grail of online identities with which to do this; one that incorporates everything into a single place. The closest I’ve come is over on the top right of this screen; the Social Homes plugin. It’s a shame that all the icons are not working but this is close to the one-stop-shop I’ve been searching for.
As well as saying something about us, this variety of tools demonstrates competence with Web 2.0 type software. It also shows we’re in control of what we chose to put online. That’s not a bad thing. Even if we struggle with Facebook or Twitter we still need to engage if only for the benefits of networking and increasing our virtual profile. This is one side of the digital divide where we clearly need to position ourselves. Apart from demonstrating that this is our forte, there’s also the separate issue that if we don’t take control of our online identity someone else may take it over instead.
I’m intrigued by LibraryThing – are there also facilities for virtual collections of cds and dvds or even vinyls? I use Delicious for creating lists of websites I want to go back to – but spending time creating digital collections of my non-digital life – should I be excited or just plain scared? Or is it just an extension of putting my photographs online – which I already do.
The site promotes the idea of community – for example
LibraryThing connects you to people who read what you do
Find people with eerily similar tastes.
Many social connections thrive at the site
How much does this emphasis on finding other people who share your interests tap into real-world isolation and loneliness? Participation in the construction of online identity does involve a fairly intensive relationship between you and your laptop. This I know – the laptop bit not the loneliness I hasten to add. This made me think of Second Life. I can’t remember when I last logged on and both the media and the education sector seem to have gone quiet on the subject and I wonder if Internet addicts are migrating back to the construction of text and image based avatars rather than 3D virtual worlds?
Back to LibraryThing and with my gender head on I note that of the 22 profile images on offer only six are female. Ignoring the obvious US–centricism, I found the preference for Jane Austen over the Brontes, George Eliot or Virginia Woolfe says much about the representation of women writers in the western world. Instead there is Emily Dickinson (clever with words but not a poet) and Helena Blavatsky (wasn’t all her text channelled anyway?) Soujourner Truth (activist rather than writer) and Sappho (most of whose poetry is lost). I’m guessing you need to be dead to be on this list which may excuse the omission of Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, and not by your own hand, which leaves out Sylvia Plath or Anne Sexton. We are left with Edith Wharton – no lack of respect intended but and how many of her books are you familiar with?
Personally I’m reaching the point where I think one may be enough. In the same way that I use Netvibes to pull together all my rss feeds into one place, I’m starting to want a single point of reference for my digital self. It’s difficult to find the time to keep up with my Netvibes and even harder to maintain multiple instances of myself online.
The Internet is like a black hole; it sucks you in. Before you know it an hour has passed, then two or three and the day is gone. I think I want more of a non-digital life. I can’t break completely free because my work revolves around virtual learning and assistive technology and don’t get me wrong – I believe internet literacy is important; it shows you have competence with ICT and that is very much a feature of 21st century life. In terms of employability and communication it’s essential criteria. But there are other things I would rather be doing instead of being hooked up to my laptop.
The impetus for this is revisiting the idea of e-portfolios as electronic CVs and liking the thought of having just one digital area to maintain. Although if I’m going to look for the most appropriate software with which to create my single online identity then I’ll have to stay hooked up for just a little bit longer…
Blogs are fast moving and transient worlds. I didn’t agree with Martin Weller’s post about online academic identity – but by the time I’d reflected on a response he had also agreed it was too simplistic a definition – although for different reasons to mine. “Rather than suggesting your online and academic identities were one and the same” Martin writes, (here) “Your online academic identity will be a subset of your online identities.” Now the ways in which virtual environments allow us to play with and explore alternative identities have fascinated me since the days of MUDS and MOOS. If I were on Mastermind my specialist subject would be gender – a fundamental identity characteristic yet possibly the one we think about the least. So multiple online identities – along with awareness of danger and good management of risk – is where I’m at and I wondered if the risk of linking academic and online identity is that it both privileges and marginalises. Also when related to education it comes close to Fischer’s suggestion that the technologically illiterate teacher should be equated with a failure to read and write. Technology is only that simple to the technologists themselves.
The danger with conflating academic and digital identities is the assumption that one size fits all. We are currently awash with reports that promote digital environments; Digital Britain , the Edgeless University, The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age and assumptions that connection is the way forward. None acknowledge the difficulties of digital universalism. Sometimes I feel that in 10 years time I will still be saying ‘don’t forget diversity!’ I support virtual environments for the opportunities to widen participation across all aspects of life but many people need additional time, inclination, resources and assistance in access. In conclusion:
* I’m less concerned about the kudos attached to having an online presence.
* I’m slightly more concerned about negativity being attached to those who chose not to have one.
* I’m concerned most of all about those who are unable to participate in the first place.