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Mapping Online Identity
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This post is part of a series that ask students to examine how digital technology shapes literacy and the ways that people interact with others, inspired by Virginia Tech Libraries’ digital literacy initiative. Previous posts have covered definitions of digital native and digital literacy, the relationship between digital literacy and online identity, and researching a public figure’s online identity.
I used a digital identity mapping activity several years ago with mixed results. I think it was a relatively good idea, but the Digital Identity Mapping grid, from Fred Cavazza (blog linked is in French), which I used used for the activity, did not work well for students. The image was not designed for accessibility, which limited its usefulness. Even if the image had been accessible, however, there were other issues that would have still caused issues for students.
While students eventually worked through the mapping activity, they got stuck on basic comprehension and never got to the deeper analysis that I set as the activity objective. In particular, they didn’t understand that they could have more than one online identity even though they were quite adept with code switching in their face-to-face worlds. As the activity was originally set up, there was no way to reconcile the different ways that they identified in online communities and spaces.
The redesigned version of the activity that I am sharing here focuses more on connections to prior knowledge about identity and also reconfigures the mapping grid to better fit their experiences. Students will complete this activity to gather information on their online identities before working several composing projects related to online identity.
- Review the terms digital native, digital literacy, and online identity, which the class has discussed during previous sessions. You might begin by asking students to consider how the terms relate to college students in general and then how they relate to students at their college in particular. Students may also share how the terms relate to themselves individually; however, asking students to reveal these details to the whole class is not the goal.
- Ask students to think about the personas they have developed online (either consciously or unconsciously).
- To help students understand the relationships among online and face-to-face experiences, talk about your own different identities (e.g., teacher, family member, friend, sports fan).
- Discuss how we have different identities online as well. Some are identical or very similar to our face-to-face identities, and some are different. For instance, you can talk about your identity face-to-face and online as a teacher. Obviously, do not reveal anything about your identities that you do not want students to know.
- Ask students to brainstorm lists of face-to-face identities that students at their college may have, listing the information on the board or typing it into a projected, shared document. If students need examples to get started, you can suggest their identities on Facebook with friends, on LinkedIn with potential colleagues and employers, and on gaming sites with other gamers.
- Emphasize that students need not have the identities that they suggest. You are building a list for the class to draw on. You may also ask students to name only identities that are appropriate for the classroom community.
- Once students begin running out of suggestions, review the list and make any additions or changes.
- Have students brainstorm online identities that are not already represented in the class list. As an example, you can mention identities that exist only online, like Facebook friends or gaming friends, identities that may only be known to others in a particular online community or subcommunity.
- Add a star or asterisk to items on the first list that come up as students think about online-only identities. Students can consider whether these similar identities differ.
- As discussion dies down, review the two lists and again make any additions or changes.
- Share the Digital Identity Worksheet with the class, asking students to follow the instructions to obtain a copy that they can work with. Alternately, you can provide photocopies of the worksheet.
- Demonstrate for the class how to use the worksheet by filling in a row, using your online identity as a teacher (or whatever personal identity you used earlier in the session).
- Working as a whole class, fill in another line on the worksheet, using an identity that all students can relate to, such as a student in the course you are teaching or more generally, a member of the class community (to include students and teacher in the identity). Take advantage of the opportunity to discuss how identities on the brainstormed lists can be broken into more specific categories if desired (for instance, students can be broken out into different majors, class levels, courses, and so forth).
- Once students understand how to fill in the worksheet, ask them to complete the form for homework:
- Explain that they will use the information on the worksheet in future writing activities, which they will begin during the next class session.
- Reinforce the instruction that students should not reveal any online identity or any component of an online identity that they are not comfortable talking about in class.
This redesigned version of the activity is less visual. All the icons and the grid from Cavazza’s original version are gone. This change clarifies the analysis and self-reflection that students need to do. Further, it puts more emphasis on writing by serving as a heuristic for projects students will explore in future sessions. They will return to their worksheets several times as they work.
This activity could easily be adapted as an extension or addition to the previous activity on researching a public figure’s online identity. Students could use their research to fill in the worksheet for the figures they considered to organize their ideas before working on their class presentations.
Come back next week, when I will share a writing assignment that focuses on online identity and digital literacy, connecting this recent series to the first activity students completed. In the meantime, if you have any questions or have a great activity or assignment to share, let me know by leaving a comment below. I look forward to hearing from you.
Image credit: Unknown user by Traci Gardner, used under a CC-BY-SA 4.0 license.
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