Monday, January 21, 2013

To Cyberspace, With Love

Lately my world is consumed by my MOOCs. I love how even in the most mundane activities, like watching a movie, serendipitously, I discover a sudden revelation and relevance to my MOOC experience. This weekend, I finally had the chance to see Woody Allen's To Rome, With Love, the fourth in a series of film tributes to Europe. The movie explores the concept of identity. In typical Woody Allen style, there's plenty of adulterous love affairs, but there's also a deliciously seductive exploration of identity that I found fit perfectly to help me think deeply about my digital identity in a MOOC and online in general.

To Rome, With Love, explores several aspects of identity:
  • the identity society thrusts upon you without your consent
  • the identity brought on by life's circumstances
  • the pseudo-intellectual identity
  • the identity you project to the world versus your true hidden identity
  • a surreal "what if" your present identity could warn your past identity
  • the identity that others recognize in you, but you refuse to acknowledge or develop, and...
  • the identity that only thrives under certain conditions.    
Basically, Woody Allen's To Rome, with Love, was a compilation of vignettes endorsing further study of Johari's Window. So, I began to think about digital identity in terms of Johari's Window and this movie. For example, in what way do our digital profiles invite others to form their own notions, with and without our consent, about who we are as people? Do our names, if we choose our real one, our use of written language, or spoken language, if we post videos or vlogs, in digital spaces, prompt others to form true or false assumptions about our abilities, our personalities, our lifestyles, our beliefs, culture and other aspects of our essence? It's wonderful if the assumptions made are positive, but what if the conclusions are negative, and as in physical society, how does the digital society of a MOOC thrust upon each of us an identity that may or may not be true and is totally without our consent? Is there risk of stereotyping in MOOC society?

In the movie, Roberto Bengini, plays Leopoldo, an ordinary clerk who becomes an instant celebrity because society decides that he's suddenly interesting. Of course, his life could not be more prosaic, but without any justification, suddenly society becomes obsessed with him. Does this sort of thing happen in digital learning spaces too? Do we attach certain expectations to certain digital identities or concepts that gain trending status when there's really much ado about nothing? And, do we as digital citizens risk earning celebrity status and losing it if we don't live up to the expectations of the cyber peers we seek to engage? 
   
Through Penelope Cruz's character, Anna, viewers gain another perspective about identity I find relevant to digital culture. Anna is a witty prostitute who agrees to help out a provincial newlywed earn the respect of his uncles, since she is solely responsible for causing a case of mistaken identity that leads the poor provincial fellow's family to believe his new wife is anything but respectable. The prostitute Anna happily takes on the identity of the pious Milly, the provincial guy's real wife. But, as Anna takes on the new prudish identity of Milly, by adopting only her name, and nothing more, society still perceives her as a prostitute because Anna can't help but portray herself as such. It's who she is. Adopting the name alone does nothing to rehabilitate her image. She remains the uncouth slut. So, how do uncouth sluts relate to digital learning spaces? Well, I thought about a couple of things. In digital spaces, like real life, no matter how one chooses to present oneself, people are going to form perceptions of others the way that makes them feel most comfortable. People were not comfortable with Anna's image, and in digital spaces such as MOOCs or social media, are there certain digital identities that we are just not comfortable engaging with? In the digital world, as in the real physical world, do we tend to interact or promote people that closely resemble our values and beliefs? Do we tend to stick to interacting with people who are having familiar conversations, or even who resemble us in appearance?  Do we truly seek to globalize and expand our networks, or are we more comfortable existing in homogenous spaces? What criteria do we use when we do decide to step outside our safe circles and communities? I'm not suggesting we invite prostitutes to our MOOC, but I think it's interesting to think about who we determine is safe to speak to or not in digital spaces. What makes someone respectable and credible in digital learning spaces? 

I could write all day about identity in To Rome, With Love, but I'll spare you another lengthy post. I do have one more observation I must make: the idea that one has an identity that thrives only under certain conditions because this type of identity resonates in my own life and is completely relevant to e-learning.  In the movie, Woody Allen plays his typical neurotic self, a soon to be father-in-law of an Italian hunk, who insists that his future son in law's father has the perfect operatic voice worthy of singing Puccini in sold out opera halls. The catch is that Allen's future son in law's father can sing, and sing beautifully, but only when he's in the shower. So, Allen cleverly arranges to create the perfect singing conditions for his future in-law by always including some sort of shower context to enable his in-law to flourish. In much the same way that Allen made it his mission to ensure his in-law developed his natural born talent, digital spaces can help people flourish in ways they cannot in the physical world. Digital spaces provide learning conditions so all types of learners can thrive when they may struggle in the physical world. Much like Allen did for his in-law, how do we as teachers design learning experiences with ideal conditions to ensure all learners develop their talents?  

Personally, as an introvert, digital learning spaces offer ideal conditions where I can grow. I find it much easier to express myself in writing than I would verbally among a crowd of people. In both of my MOOCs, I am cognizant there are thousands of people, but I would be physically ill at the thought of speaking publicly in front of such a vast audience. Somehow my disembodiment helps me express my "self". I can let my voice be heard through a blog, tweet, even a song without the crippling fear of public speaking. Digital learning spaces offer ripe learning conditions for self discovery which did not exist before. Varying physical conditions often inhibited or intimidated learners preventing an exploration of different aspects of "self", but today, there is less personal risk in digital learning spaces because of the opportunity for anonymity, role-playing, and physical separation from others. However, I believe that digital spaces like MOOCs and social media should be catalysts to enable learners to work on those aspects of "self" that a learner struggles with, in my case, my fear of public speaking. We need to always be able to reconcile our digital with our physical identity because there will always be a demand for both our physical and mental presence, e.g.,  a Google Hangout, a Meet-up or other platform requiring both mind and body. The goal should be to foster a healthy digital identity where a learner exhibits a high functioning identity in both virtual and physical worlds. Digital learning spaces like MOOCs and social media enable all learners to experiment and hone their various identities. To cyberspace with love, I give you thanks for helping me find ways to improve and learn more about my "self" and others.    

        
         

25 comments:

  1. I don't believe for a second you are an introvert.

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    1. Angela, you know what's funny, people tell me this all the time. But I am...I really, really am...lol. I'll speak in public if I have to, but I hate every minute of it. Thanks for reading!

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    2. In my experience, an introvert can share of themself publically.
      Yet an introvert is also someone who gets their energy internally, and not from engaging in person with others...
      and the digital world allows that space between you and the public. Its almost a nice comparison, allowing you to share your views, without the pressure (and external noise) of sharing in person.
      Either way Ary, the little I have read of your blog posts, you raise some thought provoking concepts and ideas with considering.
      Inspiring blogger.

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  2. Thanks for share your reflections, Ary! I'm exploring my digital identity participating in my first MOOC experience and it's being exciting

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    1. Thanks for reading Gemma. This is my first MOOC as well. Which MOOC are you enrolled in? I'm blogging for both EDC MOOC and ETMOOC. I hope you have fun discovering and shaping your digital identity.

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    2. Hi Ary! I'm enrolled in ETMOOC :)

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  3. really enjoyed reading this post Ary, thanks!

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    1. Thanks Emily for reading. I'm looking forward to the course start so we can have more conversations.

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  4. I liked the connections you made with the film "To Rome, With Love", Johari's window and the variety of the identity issues in this film and digital space. So do you think that our digital identity could be similar to our "true hidden identity"?

    Thanks for sharing your reflection.

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    1. Hi Eleni, I appreciate you reading my post. I do believe that in cyberspace we are able to express that "true hidden identity". Our anonymity, if we choose that route, helps us be less inhibited to try on different personas we may suppress in real life. Like I said, I would not even dream of public speaking in front of a vast audience, but in a MOOC, my true hidden identity comes out. I do love to talk and socialize and meet new people. The physical world doesn't always provide the most ideal conditions for people to nurture their true hidden identities. Others' expectations, lack of opportunity...these are just a few things off the top of my head that I think may hinder people from expressing their true selves. Under the right conditions, people sometimes show sides of themselves, others don't even think existed. I've seen this happen with my students. So, to answer your question I think that our digital identities are more often than not our true hidden identity. Thanks for reading and commenting Eleni! Which MOOC are you in? EDCMOOC or ETMOOC?

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  5. Interesting observations and a good tip to watch this Woody Allen Movie. "do we tend to interact or promote people that closely resemble our values and beliefs?" - I'd say, opposites attract. But that might not be the case in teh digital world.

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    1. Thanks for reading Dick, and I agree with the idea that opposites attract. My husband is definitely the extrovert, and his outgoing personality is what attracted me to him. However, is that always the case in learning environments? Do we tend to seek out people whose values are closer to our own? I'm not sure myself, and it's why I pose this question. I just wonder how, or if. the digital world changes who we strive to connect with. Anyway, thanks again for commenting. Are you in ETMOOC or EDCMOOC?

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  6. Bringing it all back to the purpose of Instructional Design. Well done Ary!

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    1. That's what it's all about, isn't it? Instructional Design. Finding ways to reflect on our practice to ensure our students are experiencing the most ideal learning conditions. I thank you for reading and commenting.

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  7. Hi Ary

    Great reflection on digital identity and loved how you discussed it in context with the film.

    Digital identity is something I reflect upon a lot for numerous reasons.

    Firstly, and it is sort of tied to digital identity, but more related to digital footprint, we're now getting a lot of students, parents, and some educator contacting us to delete blogs or comments they created years ago. Often it's a case the educators not thinking about digital footprints and including students full names. It's good practise not to use student's last names so they have control of when they develop their digital footprint and identity.

    Secondly, while it would be really lovely for your online identity to be more closer aligned to how you are face to face; it's no different than presenting face to face in front of an audience of 1,000 people. How you interact with a few people face to face is very different from what you are like in front of a 1,000 people. My approach is I have a line in my mind as to what I will or won't say online. I'm as friendly and helpful, face to face (I hope), but my online identity is nice, while f2f I'm more human.

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    1. Hi Sue, Thanks for commenting. I agree as much as we can try to blend our digital and our physical personas, there will always be differences. In face to face interactions, there's body language to contend with, and other external factors beyond our control. The goal, I think, is finding ways to be personable and human online so we can engage our students as if we were in a f2f environment. How do we convey that enthusiasm, charisma and teacher with-it-ness in an online environment to build rapport with students? How do you build those human connections when there's no face to face opportunity for them to see your human side? I think videos, Google Hangouts, Skype are must have platforms for any teacher-learner environment. You bring up this interesting point, are we less human in our interactions in the virtual world? When I enrolled in ETMOOC and EDCMOO, I thought how ironic that as more people joined in, the more impersonal the environment became. Finding ways to overcome that so learners feel connected is important. Thanks again Sue; I appreciate your comments.

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    2. I really enjoyed this thought provoking post, Ary. Will definitely have to see To Rome with Love now!


      However, at the moment I am considering why that is important to me. I have just finished a module in my masters course which looked at online communities and was conducted in an online environment (Yammer). Many of my colleagues on that course did not want to post a profile picture, or change their 'name' from their student number to their real name, even though we knew each other f2f. I was quite surprised by that, but it is clear that a lot of people really are wary of revealing themselves online, or maybe they are not sure how to. Really enjoyed your post, Ary. Will definitely have to see To Rome with Love now!

      As far as the question- how do we find ways to be human online, I think the introduction task in etmooc, where we were asked to produce a multimedia representation of ourselves was inspired. It tackled the challenges of each of us establishing a digital presence in this community, authenticity, and trust. I find myself going back to a person's introduction to see who the person is behind the words.

      However, at the moment I am considering why that is important to me. I have just finished a module in my masters course which looked at online communities and was conducted in an online environment (Yammer). Many of my colleagues on that course did not want to post a profile picture, or change their 'name' from their student number to their real name, even though we knew each other f2f. I was quite surprised by that, but it is clear that a lot of people really are wary of revealing themselves online, or maybe are not sure how to.

      I have slightly different 'voices' for different social networks, eg Facebook (friends and family); Twitter (professional with a personality (I hope!); and Linkedin (purely professional). Then again, I would have different voices with these groups f2f. I'm still working on my blog voice though, perhaps because I don't know who I'm talking to, and for me that's important.

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    3. cut and paste went a bit awry there, sorry!

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    4. @Ary pretty much the same advice I give to bloggers. Text only allows others to build a mental picture of who you are by interpreting the way you say what you say. Text is easily to misinterprete - especially if there are cultural differences. Adding an image of what you look like helps them connect it with the mental picture they are building. Using voice helps them picture the ways you say what you say. Video and/or video conferencing helps them pull all your mannerisms together.

      By incorporating all you help develop a more human online identity.

      I wouldn't say I'm less human; I would say I'm a more sanitised version of me. Online I can't be grumpy, or vent when I'm frustrated by something, because if I was people wouldn't feel comfortable asking for help.

      @Deb most people aren't comfortable and are wary about revealing themselves online. Probably as a result of traditional media portraying the negative aspects of social media as opposed to its value. I call it the Facebook era - comfortable connecting with f2f friends online via Facebook but uncomfortable to be in the open, or to appreciate why you would connect or share with people you don't know.

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  8. This is quite a deep issue isn't it? I wonder what psychologists say on this? As Eleni says, maybe our digital identities are closer to our true "hidden identity". Or maybe that's just a wish fulfilment in itself! Interesting thought though, thanks for raising Ary. Spotted this blog earlier which touches on some of the issues you raised too: http://patthomson.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/a-blogging-identity/#comment-5209

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    1. Thanks Chris...a familiar face. I still only have that mental audio of you...looking forward to meeting you and possibly hearing you this time on Google. I will definitely check out the article. I love thinking about all these issues as you can see. Not sure if I'd be as articulate in a Google Chat, which supports how I do think our digital selves are more like our true hidden selves. The conditions for expression are completely different when one is alone with the keyboard versus thinking on one's feet and speaking before a crowd. Thanks for reading Chris!

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  9. Your blog has generated such rich dialogue and so much to think about. Thanks. I'm going to pick one quote out of the mix here, from debseed, when referring to the self intro exercise: "establishing a digital presence in this community, authenticity, and trust". I have been thinking a lot about trust this week, ever since I blogged about the emotion/cognition connection. Feelings of trust play a significant part in learning and student engagement,as does authenticity. I think this is true for f2f as well as online environments; building trust online however is much more challenging. I tend to trust people more if they are willing to share something about themselves and even better if they do so with a bit of humour...totally loved your self intro, and the singing. followed by the text about your mission and dedication to ed reform..very inspiring. Now I want to hear more from you.

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  10. Lovely thought provoking piece Ary.
    I really identify with questions on identity, especially being South African and the history of our people and country has had a major impact on the average person's sense of identity. To the extent that it often creeps into our digital spaces and we do find polarization taking place, whether we like it or not.
    And yet, we also do rise above it, and find ourselves engaging with others who are liked minded, and across shared interests, even with opposing views. And therefore growing ourselves.
    To cyberspace with love indeed.

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  11. Thanks again Ary - very thoughtful and provocative piece on our different identities - and I'm with you on the potential to play with identity in a productive way in virtual spaces.
    (But who are you calling respectable!?)

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