2 November 2013

Digital Presence? Digital Identity? Digital Citizenship?

Introducing, facilitating, training and talking about ePortfolios inveriably leads to consider digital identity, digital competencies and digital citizenship. These are the concepts bandied in educational circles. Increased use of tools purposefully to support learning and framed targeted use of tools to make sense of and create own understanding of the information we have access are redefining how we learn.
Developing an ePortfolio is one way to build sound digital competencies, alongside leaving a purposeful digital footprint.
I read an article this week that prompted me to think about Digital Identity, Digital Presence and Digital Citizenship.
In "What digital presence?" Louise Merzeau describes and explains how we build a digital presence from managing our Digital Identity and exercising our freedom to act or think online.
Her view point has resonated with me: while the technology as it stands to date only allows us to take limited steps to fully control our digital identity,  we as individuals can apply consciousness to our actions when using online services, and develop a managed digital presence. And collectively as users we can establish good practice.
Louise's analysis starts with the traces left behind as we use the internet.
She describes some traces as deliberate: we fill in a form when shopping online.
Some others are created when communicating and sharing: we "like" a Facebook friend's status, we leave a comment on a blogpost.
In both cases these traces are left voluntarily.
Our online activity, using a browser or being connected on LinkedIn, also and mainly generates quantities of traces that we leave behind unintentionally. As a result we in fact have very little control over the activity that shapes our digital identity.
Given the current technology, networks and economic strategies, we leave traces that we do not manage and thus we can not manage our digital identity if we reduce it to the traces we leave. While personal data, traces, privacy... are the object of necessary, current political, ethical and technical debates, they take time to concretise.
What to do in the meantime? We can be proactive and build a digital presence, with applying  deliberate behaviors associated with its management. Louise is not talking about an online presence from a marketing perspective though. While having a digital presence, reputation, clout are legitimate quests that relies on the traces left, she talks rather of being digitally present.
She proposes to include elements of temporality, just like in real life: our digital life is not made of traces that accumulate and that can be used in any order. Introducing the concept of time into our digital activity allows to evaluate and give context to the traces that are left behind for ever. And developing a coherent, rich presence in networks is the surest way to leave traces that are managed.
 Gmail and Facebook, amongst others, are free but we actually pay for them with our personal data: it is the currency, it has economical value for these businesses. Rather than being paranoid and buy in the media frenzy around the topic, best is to get informed, investigate options and negotiate what we are prepared to concede.
Developing sound digital competencies, expressing oneself in the right place in the right tone is also empowering beyond protection per se. Digital competence involves moving from being a consumer of services to being a content producer. Digital competence also involves using the tools to serve our purpose, for information gathering, collaboration, etc.  Just as we do in real life, we need to experience different settings, learn about them, adjust our behaviours, develop our memory of what we did, what we chose to forget, what we develop, what we can share when online.
Information on the web has also become highly personalized, we go and get the information we want and often we go to information that has been validated by someone on our networks, Twitter for instance. Information across the board is no longer top down. Louise argues that beyond the public/private debate, it is the high degree of personalization of the information that is influencing behaviors: we are not reading any article, we are reading an article that has been recommended.
The lines between our private (family, friends…) and public (work, community…) lines feel they are blurring since we are using similar platforms to live our digital life. But Louise also argues that not all conversations on networks are to be considered as public, just like the conversation at a nearby table in a café. It is how we use the information we have about others that matters: can we exploit any information we may come across? Is it because it is technically accessible that we can drop our ethical considerations and use the image of a drunken 16 year old to refuse him a job when five years on he presents an otherwise good CV?

All these behaviors are fairly new still and we all are learning together, while big corporate online services companies are moving at a very fast pace with their offerings so that we have little time to pause and think about what we are actually doing!
Schools and universities have a big role to play in framing theses competencies as they have no choice but to work with the tools.
Careful choice around sustainable online practices, scaffolded by teachers who themselves are proactive about their digital presence is attainable for learners from an early age, it is about instilling valuable behaviours that grow and evolve with the different life cycle we go through. Which could be captured, thought about and shared meaningfully and purposefully in an ePortfolio! I know you knew this was coming!


  1. Indeed, indeed. You are preaching to the converted. I wonder what's the most effective way of getting institutions and individuals to embrace the idea? I'm also thinking about the obstacles to the wholesale adoption of such an obviously valuable tool. Having had this year back in the classroom has, I think, given me a bit of an insight into the attitudes towards and use of technology in a school context. I am now convinced that there are several vital ingredients of which perhaps the most important is not only the full support of the management but a critical mass of teachers who are open to change - in other words enough teachers who are invested in inquiry learning and are prepared to try new things in order to refine their practice and help students to become more engaged, effective learners. It was evident while I was at ULearn that I was surrounded by like-minded souls who are collaborative and interested in ways to transform teaching and learning. Then, as soon as the holidays are over, one is confronted by the relentless, day-to-day mousewheel, and thoughts of innovation take a back seat again. I salute the teachers who manage to rise above that and forge ahead in the face of so many obstacles (of which time is probably the most evident). Guy Claxton would be heartened by their resolve. My response has been to make minor changes where I can, given that the students have laptops. I'm pleased to see how much they enjoy using Google Docs and that they find it helps their learning. A student said to me the other day that only two of her teachers used technology in this way. Others have taken to the IWB in a big way as it helps to maintain the teacher control which they adhere to. I don't think I've ever seen one used in a transformative way. I'd venture to say that it's impeded rather than encouraged inquiry (on the A rung of the SAMR ladder). I'm still reflecting on Ulearn. There were several thought-provoking sessions among a generally interesting selection. Trevor Bond's 'Competencies: Getting real outside of literacy and numeracy' has been the one that my thoughts have returned to most. It articulated a lot of what I believe already, in a convincing and coherent way. I'll elaborate once I get portfolios (not e-portfolios!) out of my hair. Vivement jeudi soir a Auckland.

    1. Ahah, let's not start talking about IWB! Same thing for BYOD though, it is why you use it that needs to evolve. And why you use it is a bigger question to ask oneself than what you use it for... Right you must tell me more about this conference, I remember listening to T. Bond and being well... elevated!
      I also read some research recently around the implementation of technology in an Australian university. It brought to the fore the role of the Middle Person, the person at the intersection of the users and decision makers. Not a champion for technology who is a troops member, but rather an independent emotionally detached service provider who listens and suggests and evaluates needs and wants of both parties to deliver a tailored range of tech and actionable project structure to get started with and accompany change over a period of time to ensure sustainable behaviours and practice are embedded.
      Change in schools is generally happening, I wished I had diarised more systematically my visits and training with myportfolio as it would really proved it rather than just my observation, but it is not happening at the highly visible level that is aspired to.
      And surely when all these planets align then portfolio evaluations will be the breaze of their promise! A très vite!


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