The Web of Identity: A Model of Digital Identity Formation in Networked Learning Environments

The Web of Identity: A Model of Digital Identity Formation in Networked Learning Environments

Marguerite L. Koole, Gale Parchoma
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1915-9.ch002
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This chapter examines how learners develop a sense of self and belonging in networked learning environments. The authors propose that individuals create and negotiate their identities through an iterative process of dialogic and symbolic exchange with other individuals. The process is always in flux as individuals constantly readjust their understanding and actions within a given context. Individuals strive to reach comfortable levels of cognitive resonance in which they integrate experiences and beliefs of the external world into their personal narratives. To explain this process, the authors provide the Web of Identity (WoI) model. Based on the work of Goffman (1959) and Foucault (1988), this model is composed of five dramaturgical strategies: technology, power, social structure, cultural, and personal agency. These strategies both guide and enable the enactment of behaviour. For researchers, exploring identity and affiliation through the WoI lens raises a series of thought-provoking questions worthy of further investigation.
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Networked learning, technology enhanced learning, and e-learning researchers have all grappled with theories of identity formation, but to-date none have adequately identified the processes involved at the level of the individual. Both Identity Theory and Social Identity Theory focus on the relationship between already-established roles or groups on identity (Desrochers, Andreassi, & Thompson, 2002). Similarly, Burke’s Differentiated Model of Role Identity Acquisition focuses on the alignment of behaviour to roles within a given reference group, but fails to explain how “standard” reference groups or communities initially form (Collier, 2001). Wenger, McDermott, and Snyder (2002) outline seven elements necessary for cultivating communities of practice (CoPs): (1) allowance for evolution, (2) dialogue of perspectives, (3) varying levels of participation, (4) public and private community spaces, (5) value added, (6) familiarity and excitement, and (7) rhythm of interaction. This and many other studies of online community mention personal identity only in passing, focussing instead on community identity or social presence in general (Handley, Sturdy, & Fincham, 2006; Rovai, 2002; Schwier, 2007; Schwier & Daniel, 2007). But, how do individuals come to identify with and distinguish themselves from their communities? And, how does online technology affect these processes?

Networked learning researchers suggest that individuals socially create and negotiate an understanding of who they are with relation to shared knowledge, beliefs, and behaviours (Ferreday, Jones, & Hodgson, 2006). Macfayden (2008) posits “establishment of learner identities allows the development of a learning community” (p. 560). Goodyear and Zenios (2007) highlight the significance of self and community in the learning process:

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