Identity Online

This week has seen the last Networked Learning Conference Hotseat for this year – Managing your Online Learner Identity

Having followed the Hotseat discussions, the topic seems to have raised more questions than it has answered. It started with a discussion about what we mean by online learner identity, online identity, learner identity, or simply identity and is this different online to offline, and can we ever not be learning?  It seems that most of the Hotseats have started off by trying to pin down meanings for the terms being used by the Hotseat presenters.

Then came questions relating to whether we have one identity or multiple identities and whether working online fragments or disembodies our identities.

There was of course the discussion about how the internet might alter our identities by making them so publicly visible; we leave indelible traces on the internet. Do we have less control over how others perceive us online, or are we able to manipulate what others think of us?

Do we construct our online identities in association with others? What is the role of avatars in this?

Does the fact that we inhabit different online environments for different purposes mean that we have different identities?

Interestingly and coincidentally, questions about identity have also been raised this week by Alan Levine in a keynote video he gave for the Flat Classroom Project   His questions were:

  • Is there a clear demarcation between who you are online and elsewhere?
  • What parts of you are people missing out on if they do not interact with the online you?
  • Why (or why not) should you manage your own personal cyber infrastructure? What does this mean to you?
  • Who are we in this space where the online world is not something distinctly separate?

And then similarly – almost coincidentally I came across Lou McGill’s blog post about identity and through her Bon Stewarts blog post

There were a lot of references to literature posted in the Hotseat, which I have copied here below – but I was surprised that Etienne Wenger’s work on Learning, Meaning and Identity was not mentioned. A comment like ‘Any serious learning will take you through a dark night of your identity’, would seem to relate to this discussion.

I have signed up for the Academic Betreat  this year as an online participant and am hoping there will be more discussion about ‘identity’ during the week.

References and relevant links from the Hotseat

Koole, M. (2010). The web of identity: Selfhood and belonging in online learning networks. The 7th International Conference on Networked Learning (May 3-4). Aalbourg, Denmark.

Koole, M., & Parchoma, G. (2012). A Model of Digital Identity Formation in Online Learning Networks. In S. Warburton & S. Hatzipanagos (Eds.), Digital identity and social media. London, UK: Information Science Reference, an imprint of IGI Global.,+capability+

Davies, B., & Harré, R. (1990). Positioning: The discursive production of selves. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 20(1), 43-63.

Harré, R. (2010). Social sources of mental content and order. In L. Van Langenhove (Ed.), People and societies: Rom Harré and designing the social sciences (pp. 121-149). New York, NY: Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group).

Latour, B. (2007, April 6). Beware, your imagination leaves digital traces. Times Higher Literary Supplement. Retrieved February 27, 2012 Retrieved from

Ricoeur, P. (1992). Oneself as another. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago.

Rajagopal, K., Verjans, S., Van Bruggen, J., & Sloep, P. B. (2011). Stimulating reflection through engagement in social relationships. In W. Reinhardt, T. D. Ullmann, P. Scott, V. Pammer, O. Conlan, & A. J. Berlanga (Eds.), Proceedings of the 1st European Workshop on Awareness and Reflection in Learning Networks (ARNets11). In conjunction with the 6th European Conference on Technology Enhanced Learning (EC-TEL 2011): Towards Ubiquitous Learning 2011 (pp. 80-89). September, 21, 2011, Palermo, Italy: CEUR Workshop Proceedings. Available at

Madge, C, Meek, J, Wellens, J & Hooley, T 2009, “Facebook, social integration and informal learning at university: ‘It is more for socialising and talking to friends about work than for actually doing work’.” Learning, Media and Technology, vol. 34, no. 2, pp. 141–155.

Selwyn, N 2009, “Faceworking: exploring students’ education-related use of Facebook.” Learning, Media and Technology, vol. 34, no. 2, pp. 157–174.

Perrotta 2009 The construction of a common identity through online discourse

Van Doorn 2009 The ties that bind: the networked performance of gender, sexuality and friendship on MySpace

Online Learner Identity – final NLC Hotseat

Managing your online learner identity

Kamakshi Rajagopal, Adriana Berlanga, and Peter Sloep March 19th – 23rd

This promises to be an interesting final Hotseat before the Networked Learning Conference due to take place in Maastricht next month.

Kamakshi Rajagopal has started the discussion off with these questions:

  • Is our online learner identity really important for learning?
  • Can we learn something about ourselves from the digital traces we are leaving on the Web? Can it tell something about how we are learning?
  • Do we put only true information on the Web? Do we have double, triple, etc. identities? Is that ok or not?
  • How does our online learner identity relate to our offline learner identity?
  • What are the options we have to manage our online learner identity?
  • Is the management of a learner identity an issue of technology, an issue of awareness, an issue of learner skills, or all of them?
  • How can we deal with privacy, maximising the benefit to the learner and minimising the risk of information misuse?

I’m looking forward to following the discussion.

Learning Analytics: Dream, Nightmare or Fairydust?

This is the title of the new Networked Learning Hotseat – where Simon Buckingham Shum is in the Hotseat. Simon is also working in the Learning Analytics and Knowledge MOOC – LAK12

This is his introduction in the Hotseat:

Pervasive digital technology is weaving a fabric around our lives which makes it increasingly hard not to leave digital traces. We are experiencing an unprecedented explosion in the quantity and quality of data available not only to us, but about us. While some people find this blanket suffocating and threatening, for others, it marks an exciting new turn in our cultural evolution. The question for us is: what are the implications for learning?

One answer is it’s time to upgrade our computing kit. The learning platform and business intelligence vendors are rolling out analytics dashboards aggregating data into summary views, and will be a source of innovation as they seek to respond to customer needs — but what will institutions be asking for? It is conceivable that government education departments might see potential for league tables based on them.

Another answer is that, at last, we will have an evidence base previous generations of educators and academics could only dream of: real-time data streaming in from our students, even more from data shared by countless others who are happy to reveal their social networks, geo-location, and recommended books. Previously siloed scholarly datasets are now released into the wild, where they can be harvested and mined in a vibrant ecosystem of connected ideas, learners and educators.

Then there are those of a more cautious nature. So what if we have shedloads of data? Now we can drown faster. Learning, enquiry, argumentation, sensemaking, scholarship, insight — these skills are of an entirely different order, the highest forms of meaning-making, uniquely human. And what have analytics to say about the less tangible 21stCentury skills that we need to nurture if the next generation is to manage the unprecedented complexity and uncertainty that they will inherit from us? Surely data analytics have nothing to say about intrinsic disposition to learn, emotional resilience in the face of adversity, the ability to moderate a discussion, resolve conflict, or ask critical questions? Finally, who is in control of analytics: are they tools to study learners, or tools to place in their hands, to create reflective, more agile individuals and collectives?

Analytics may in time come to be used to judge you — as a learner, an educator, or your institution. The challenge for us is to debate what it means for this new breed of performance indicators to have pedagogical and ethical integrity. What can and should we do, and what are the limits? Do they advance what we consider to be important in learning, teaching, and what it means to be a higher education institution in the 21stCentury?

Are you thinking Dream, Nightmare, or Fairydust?

Another Networked Learning Hotseat is just starting

This week’s Networked Learning Conference Hot Seat with Tara Fenwick and Judi Marshall has just opened with these discussion topics:

  1. Working on and learning for sustainability through networked learning
  2. Working with a Sociomaterial Approach to consider sustainability and networked learning
  3. Working with an action research and systemic thinking approach to considering sustainability and networked learning

You can access The Networked Learning Conference 2012 Hot Seats at:

Ontology, epistemology and pedagogy of networked learning

This was the subject of one of the threads in the 4th Networked Learning Hot Seat  last week.

Teresa’s request in a comment on my last post –   that I write something about this has prompted this attempt – but I am writing this as notes to myself and therefore am only including here the aspects of discussion that were of interest to me and from my own interpretation. To get a full picture of the discussion you will need to go to the Hot seat link.

I had difficulties relating to some of the ways in which networked learning was being discussed.  In the first Hot seat it was defined by Peter Goodyear as:

learning and teaching carried out largely via the Internet/Web which emphasises dialogical learning, collaborative and cooperative learning, group work, interaction with on-line materials, and knowledge production.

And then in this Hot seat it was defined by David McConnell as:

the use of Internet-based information and communication technologies to promote collaborative and co-operative connections: between one learner and other learners; between learners and tutors; between a learning community and its learning resources, so that participants can extend and develop their understanding and capabilities in ways that are important to them, and over which they have significant control.

And as I mentioned in my last post about this, David McConnell wrote:

Networked Learning is based on:

  • Dialogue
  • Collaboration and cooperation in the learning process
  • Group work
  • Interaction with online materials
  • Knowledge production

It was the emphasis on collaboration and cooperation that made me feel a bit as if I was on a different planet, but because I arrived late in the Hot seat I had missed David McConnell’s explanation….

I think the definition is narrow in the sense that it reflects an interest in NL within formal educational settings which are defined by students taking courses, being assessed and gaining credit, where they are learning in groups and communities of a well defined nature where members know each other (intimately, intellectually, socially etc) and are working towards collective goals.

Once you move beyond these confines into “networks”, the meaning of networked learning changes I think. I am aware that in the discussions here there are differences in the way members are conceptualising networked learning, and I think some have in mind “networks” (of learners) rather than networked learning in the way we have conceptualised it.

….which exactly describes where I am coming from and why I initially felt at sea with what was being discussed. Having accepted that the definition that was being used as the foundation for discussion in the Hot Seat was narrower than one I would use in relation to my own work, I was able to turn my turn my attention to the aspects of ontology, epistemology and pedagogy that were being discussed, which were not confined to that discussion thread and which were not kept in discrete discussion areas either.

These are the ideas which I found most interesting:

Relational dialogue for me is an integral part of a social constructionist view of learning where what we know and who we are gets constructed in the interactional and relational dialogue, or some prefer to say, learning conversations that we engage in, in general as well as online.

We can look at this in the very conversations we are having in this hot seat – in terms of what we are coming to know through these exchanges/conversations and how we are each being ‘constructed’ in terms of our online and also offline identities. Something worth considering and reflecting on as we proceed I think.  (Vivien Hodgson)

It’s the process of dialogue that helps them (students) reflect on their learning, be open to asking and responding to questions about their learning. It’s that reflective process that can help learners go beyond just sharing views and beliefs, to digging into them and trying to work with them. (David McConnell)

Networked learners will be “critically reflective and seek to take an ethical and responsible perspective to what they learn and how they act in the world (Vivien Hodgson)

Important to us is the nature of meaning and understanding of knowledge and of the world that is constructed and how it contributes to the wellbeing of society and the world in which we live. (Vivien Hodgson)

There were also interesting discussions related to assessment and whether or not participation in online discussion/networks should be assessed. For example:

David provided further information in an excerpt from Chapter 4 of his book

McConnell, D. (2006) E-Learning Groups and Communities. P. 209) Maidenhead, SRHE/OU Press      Onlineassessment_DMcC-1

And Vivien provided a link to her interesting paper on the tyranny of participation.

Ferreday, D. & Hodgson, V. (2010) Heterotopia in Networked Learning: Beyond the Shadow Side of Participation in Learning Communities. Lancaster University Management School Working Paper.

It was acknowledged that a course based on principles of participation and collaboration will fail if participants do not interact, ‘listen’ and ‘take care of the community, but the potential for marginalizing students who do not, for one reason or another, embrace this culture, was also recognized. This led to a brief discussion on power relations in networks.

The constraints of assessment on learner autonomy were also recognized, hence the emphasis on self-assessment, peer-assessment and negotiated assessment.

But the Hot Seat ended with a recognition that:

Each context is different, and each context has conditions framed by the teachers and the learners. So, as you say, we do have to be aware of who the learners are and what they are there for.

I think we can design courses and learning events that are built on socio-constructionist principles and which reflect many of the networked learning attributes that we outline in our introduction. But their implementation then requires negotiation with learners, and the final learning and teaching processes may then take on their own particular ‘shape’ depending on those negotiation processes. (David McConnell)

So plenty  here to think about in terms of pedagogy, ontology and epistemology (in that order?)

4th Networked Learning Hot Seat is underway

This year’s fourth Hot Seat discussion in the area of networked learning (in preparation for the 2012 conference) runs from January 9-13. Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld, Vivien Hodgson, and David McConnell are facilitating a week-long asynchronous discussion, Exploring the Theory, Pedagogy and Practice of Networked Learning.

The Hot Seat discussion has 3 parts:

  1. History of Networked Learning in the UK and underpinning values (this thread has, so far, attracted the most discussion)
  2. The history of networked learning in a Danish context and its relationship to problem based learning (pbl), the role of technology and web 2.0, and the net generation and digital literacy
  3. Ontology, epistemology and pedagogy of networked learning, and relevance to mainstream higher education in the 21st century.

I arrived late for the discussion and it has been difficult to catch up with such a wealth of posting – but so far I have taken away two key ideas.

First, the definition of networked learning used for these Hot Seat discussions is quite narrow and only relates to networked learning in higher education courses. As such David McConnell introduces Part 1 of the Hot Seat by saying that

Networked Learning is based on:
Collaboration and cooperation in the learning process
Group work
Interaction with online materials
Knowledge production

With such a heavy emphasis on interaction, collaboration and group work, this raises the ever difficult question of whether or not participation should be assessed and if so how. In the Hot Seat David McConnell shares his model for assessment which is based on peer and self review. He writes:

The model is discussed, with examples of the process, in CHAPTER FOUR, “Assessing Learning in E-Groups and Communities”in the book: MCCONNELL, D. (2006) E-Learning Groups and Communities. Maidenhead, SRHE/OU Press (pp 209)

With respect to learner autonomy, the premise is the same as that expressed by Erik Duval in his presentation to ChangeMooc (Week 10) – i.e. that if a learner chooses to take a particular course, then s/he must expect to abide by the conditions (such as collaboration, interaction, online participation) stipulated by that course and be assessed in line with these. This was discussed in a previous blog post –

However, it is clear from the Hot Seat that a lot of thought has gone into and continues to go into, how assessment can be best designed to fit with principles such as learner autonomy, peer-to-peer learning and negotiation.

3rd Networked Learning Hotseat: Dec 12-16

Prior to the Networked Learning 2012 conference on April 2nd, 3rd and 4th in Maastricht, The Netherlands we are offering an exciting series of online hot seats hosted here by some of the leading thinkers in the field. From October 2011 we will have a Hot Seat each month till the conference starts.

This year’s third Hot Seat discussion in the area of networked learning runs from December 12-16. Ann Lieberman & Diane Wood will facilitate a week-long asynchronous discussion on Understanding Networks that Grow and Last.

2nd Networked Learning Hotseat – Nov 20-25

The Ist Hotseat was well worth attending – so I’m looking forward to this one.

Value of Nets, Sets and Groups

This year’s second Hot Seat discussion in the area of networked learning runs from November 20-25. Terry Anderson & Jon Dron will facilitate a discussion on Nets, sets and groups.

They start the week on Sunday 20th with an elluminate synchronous session at 1:00pm MDT. Check out your time zone here:

You can enter the elluminate room here:

The rest of the week the discussion will continue here: Nets, sets and groups: Different tools for different contexts

This week-long online discussion is freely open to everybody who wishes to participate, so come and join us as we begin the countdown to #nlc2012!

Conference InformationThe main conference information site is at:

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Is a Virtual Choir a Learning Network or even a Choir?

This is an interesting question which has been discussed in the first Networked Learning Conference 2011 Hotseat.  –


Peter Goodyear wanted us to stretch the boundaries of what might be considered to be a learning network by looking at The Virtual Choir and at some of the reflections the VC participants posted on Facebook, about their experience.

He asked us to think about (a) who is learning what, in the Virtual Choir (b) what features of the VC setup are essential to its success.

This question makes two assumptions. First that there is a learning network to consider and second that there is a choir in the traditionally accepted sense.

As far as I understand it from this video – the ‘choir’ members sing in isolation, connected only to the one resource (the music) and to the one person (the conductor/organiser – Eric Whitacre). These voices are ‘collected’ together and then manipulated/aggregated to form a virtual choir.  The learners are not involved in this process of aggregation. The outcome gives the appearance of a choir performance, but the process doesn’t have some of the critical elements of the experience of singing in a F2F choir, which seem to me to be about listening to each other in real time and making on the spot adjustments in the light of that listening. As Roy Williams  wrote in the forum

the virtual choir seems to almost undermine the sense in which music (in ensembles, whether vocal or instrumental) is, in many genres, about creating harmonies and chords, rather than individual notes.

And – as one participant wrote in Facebook –the really hard part of the process was:

missing the sensual experience of blending your voice with others and having the music in the air all around you and making fine adjustments according the real time feedback from the conductor.

Reading the Facebook comments I was struck by the fact that most participants already had experience of singing in a choir and for some reason were no longer able to participate in choirs that required them to physically attend. The Virtual Choir enabled them to continue singing without this requirement. Many were also quite emotional about their experience of singing for the Virtual Choir, for example, they were singing in memory of someone they loved. But no-one in the first three pages of the Facebook comments I read, questioned that they were singing in a choir.

I could not believe how “close” I felt to the piece, down to the intimacy of singing alone I guess, as well as having my own personal conductor on screen! Once I got over the “am I in time?” “what about the other voices?” – needing a witness in some way, it was such a great experience.

So it seems that a Virtual Choir redefines the process of what it means to be a choir member.

In terms of learning, there was clearly lots of learning on an individual level and lots of evidence of this from the Facebook comments – but was this networked learning? There was minimal evidence in the Facebook comments that people had collaborated in this venture, or met each other; even on Facebook, participants posted their comments and observations without responding to each other. It seems to me that the choir was an aggregated set of individual learning experiences and as was discussed in the Hotseat any networked learning that occurred was unintentional.

However views in the Hotseat discussions about whether the Virtual Choir is an example of networked learning were divided. There were those who felt that the fact that participants were working towards a ‘shared goal’, even though they were doing this by singing alone, enabled them to have an imagined community and imagined outcome and who is to say that this is not ‘real’ for the Virtual Choir participants. As one Facebook commenter put it

….‘it means that my voice can be heard around the world in harmony with other voices. We are connected through the emotions expressed by Eric’s composure. The energy created cannot be measured and will never die.’

In the Hotseat Roy Williams  wrote

  ‘Co-constructing meaning is, I think, an essential element of ‘networked learning’.  In this case, as in the case of a film production the question is:

1. Do the participants have ‘in mind’ a common understanding of what they are trying to construct?  If not, its a simple aggregation of bits and pieces of a resource, not networking. They have to know what it is they are trying to construct in order for there to be any chance of ‘co-creation’.

2. Do the participants have any part in the actual ‘construction’? – either in making decisions about what goes in, and how, &/or in terms of actually taking part in the construction/ editing/ etc.

He then acknowledged that there are no straightforward answers to these questions – but instead we need to think about where on the continuum of more or less networked learning does the Virtual Choir lie.

For me the Virtual Choir was successful because it tapped in to a need for a lot of people to sing and be part of a choir performance without having to be part of a physical group or even to hear other people singing alongside them as they made their contributions. It turned the idea of choir as we know it on its head. And there was lots of individual learning, but was there networked learning? Difficult to answer this as from the Hotseat discussions it is clear that we can’t agree on what networked learning is.

Networked learning, CoPs and connectivism

The first Networked Learning Conference Hotseat with Peter Goodyear has attracted a lot of interesting discussion. Most of the discussion has centred on what is meant by networked learning and there seem to be as many definitions as there are people in the forum. Most agree that networked learning is about connecting people and ideas, but beyond that people’s ideas seem to be positioned somewhere along the following continuums

Virtual  >>>>>> Non-virtual

At a distance >>>>>> Predominantly F2F

Collective >>>>>>Individual

Open environment (e.g. a MOOC) >>>>>> Closed environment (e.g. a HE course)

Cooperative >>>>>> Collaborative

Questions have been raised around:

  • why people join particular networked events/venues,
  • understanding the norms/language of a network,
  • whether collaboration and cooperation is necessary for learning in a network,
  • what keeps people committed to the network,
  • the role of weak ties in a network ,
  • creating and maintaining social relationships in a network

……. all of which to me seem to imply that there is some confusion about the difference between a community of practice and a network.

The question was also raised about where/what is the overlap between connectivism and networked learning – and there is also confusion there.

So an interesting discussion – with lots of references being posted (great for those doing a PhD or other research) – but not a lot of clarity about what networked learning is. I think it would help to say what it is not – and that might help to distinguish it from communities of practice (although Wenger et al have already published about this) and connectivism. I think Stephen Downes and George Siemens are clearer about what connectivism is and is not.

From the discussion thus far – Networked Learning seems to incorporate anything from constructionist to constructivist approaches to learning – but the discussion isn’t over yet – so there is still time for it all to become a bit clearer 🙂