With a topic like identity, it’s very tempting to wax philosophical, but hopefully, I’ll be able to, if not avoid that, at least rein it in a bit and focus on the subject of the creation, maintenance and curation of digital identity. I also intend to link this to the issue of what all this might mean in for learning.
What is ‘identity’?
The primer material on eLearning 3.0 this week signposted participants to a couple of useful articles exploring perspectives on what constitutes ‘Identity’ – “What is Identity? A Sociological Perspective” by Mary Jane Kehily and “What is Identity” (Open University, Open Learn). The latter provided a fairly good summary of the issue:
“If identity provides us with the means of answering the question ‘who am I?’ it might appear to be about personality; the sort of person I am. That is only part of the story. Identity is different from personality in important respects. … an identity suggests some active engagement on our part. We choose to identify with a particular identity or group. … [the] importance of structures, the forces beyond our control which shape our identities, and agency, the degree of control which we ourselves can exert over who we are. (source)
In my opinion, ‘identity’ is a fairly fluid concept. Our ‘identity’ evolves and changes over time. It can provide snapshots of who we’ve been, who we are today, and who we might become in future. But, I also think it’s context or role specific: who we are depends on our context – at home, at work, as a parent, in different social groups etc. It reflects our beliefs and affiliations (at a given time), our hobbies and interests etc and, finally, there is an ‘identity’ which is ascribed to us, defined by others’ perceptions of us and which we have little direct control over.
“identity can be seen as the meeting place between the subjective processes inscribed in the way we live our lives and the discourses that position us” (source)
I’d encourage you to read the articles detailed above and draw your own conclusions about what ‘identity’ means to you – after all, what we are (to us) is a very subjective thing.
The main task for participants on eL3.0 this week was to graph their digital identity. So, building on the thoughts above, here is my example graph (click to enlarge):
As you can see, my graph attempts to show the contextual nature of identity as described previously (although it is not an exhaustive/complete picture – just the edited highlights) and there are aspects to online life which either fall in to the professional context, or the personal/social context. As a reflection of conscious decision, there is almost no cross over between these two domains, the exception being education/knowledge/skills as shown by the green icon in the graph. This links to my professional life and has informed my role as a parent.
Within the professional context, I think there is scope to break things down further as I believe there are aspects of professional digital identity which relate employment in a specific organisation, and aspects which relate to profession and personal professional development. The graph attempts to depict that distinction. As you’d expect, there aren’t always clear boundaries around each of these aspects of the professional context.
The connections drawn on the graph are an attempt to depict the conversations and discourses described in the Open Learn piece on identity but again, this graph shows only part of the picture as detailing all of the connections would make the graph almost unreadable.
In such a complex network, the question arises of how to manage all of this? The articles from Robert Heaton (“Identity Graphs: how online trackers follow you across devices” and “How does online tracking actually work?“) provide some useful and sobering insights into how 3rd parties create and manage digital identities from our online activities and connections, and how to circumvent some of this (editor’s note: the post is being written on a computer whose internet connection is routed via a VPN and in a browser which prevents tracking and device fingerprinting). But, how do we manage our identities?
There are some suggestions in the Heaton articles and referenced in the previous paragraph. In addition, the following video from Stephen illustrates emerging tools to help us manage our digital identities.
But it’s also about basic online behaviours, being aware/alert and making use of the tools already available. As part of my day job, we created a resource to help non-tech minded staff develop digital capabilities and we include material on digital footprint and digital security (see http://23digital.sssc.uk.com). The advice contained there is based on the web we have now – web 2.0. We can only hope that the tools referenced in the video above (and projects like SOLID) help us proactively manage the next iteration of the Web – Web 3.0.
Digital Identity and Learning
So, how does all of this relate to digital learning? There is the potential for technologies like Keybase and Yubikeys to provide a robust learner owned and controlled means of verifying identity for accreditation purposes. So, mediated by technologies like those, our digital identity can become the keystone for us to manage our records of learning in future – our transcripts, certifications and qualifications.
But, as has become something of a recurring theme in these posts, it all comes down to the accessibility of the technology. The tools need to be accessible to those of us who are not ‘tech’ minded. A ‘Digital Identity for Dummies’ approach would be great!
If the tools don’t move out of the techie niche, I’m afraid they’ll never reach the potential for mass adoption. The majority of the success stories in the digital world have the common theme of providing user experience which makes engaging with the product/service etc. as straightforward as possible and we need to learn from those examples.