Digital Media and Learner Identity: The New Curatorship (Digital Education and Learning)

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The students were invited to reflect in a more reflexive and theoretical manner than is commonly used in a standard course evaluation about their experiences of engaging with social media as both the medium and the subject of the course. The article discusses the student experience as it unfolded in the context of an assessed piece of project work. In discussing the findings the authors locate the arguments in the context of debates about new literacies, pedagogy and social media as well as in an emergent theory of self-curatorship as a metaphorical frame for understanding the production and representation of identity in digital media.

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Social media, identity, pedagogy, literacy, blogging, innovative, assessment, masters level, curatorship. The rise of social networks such as Facebook and of social media activities such as blogging, photo and video sharing have been widely explored in literature which seeks to position them variously as socio-technical phenomena Katz, as instances of youth media production Barker, ; Boyd, and as liberating and groundbreaking communicative activities worldwide, especially in the affluent networked societies of the developed world.

For the most part, they use traditional methodologies drawn from socio-cultural theory, including the use of audience studies adapted to incorporate the notion of audience as producer , large-scale surveys and smaller scale interviews. The studies also draw from an educational theory base. According to some scholars, this is not an unproblematic endeavour, enmeshed as it is with an over celebration of technology of and for itself Buckingham, In an attempt to map out future directions for teaching and research in the field, this article attempts to explore the celebratory claims about the integration of new technology tools in educational environments.

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On one level, it is concerned with reporting the experiences of a small group of students on a Masters degree in Media, Culture and Communication. On another level, the analysis of the student experiences and activities presents an opportunity to theorize and present potential research questions to guide further empirical research in social media and learning. As Merchant forthcoming, points out, the benefits of exploring those themes within formal educational settings too often end up being described rather than actually theorised.

Thus, many studies report that young people are engaging with informally organised networks in ways which simply must have a means of mapping onto educational settings and systems, if only the systems were permeable and permissive and allowed for the simple integration of technological tools to think and interact with.

This is a major gap in thinking for at least two reasons.

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Second, educational experience is bound up in learner identity theory and is not always accounted for in discussions about the open and performative spaces of social media in informal spaces such as peer networks. Two theoretical frames show promise as a way to bridge this gap. First, scholars have explored the way that social capital is obtained through the uses of social media by individuals and groups in much of the same way that that social capital is obtained in other social spaces Hargitai, Second, theories of identity which are concerned with building on conceptions of performance Goffman, and notions of ontological in security Giddens, can be framed in the context of new literacies.

Thus, the usable and useful frameworks in this study are drawn from meta-level discussions of identity theory in combination with social capital and learning theory.

Digital Media and Learner Identity : The New Curatorship

In thinking about how learners represent themselves in digital media we also need to think more about how aspects of identity are played out in the context of educational systems, particularly assessment systems. Internet Cultures, the module, on which students aged were working in this study, was one option on a masters programme concerned with media, culture and communication.

It was devised to join other production and critical theory modules in order to move the whole programme, and its students, forward into a more productive engagement with new social media forms. One of the key theoretical frames in the module, as noted above, was provided by Lievrouw and Livingstone This enabled the students to approach the subject from three different perspectives. First, they could consider the artefacts or devices used to communicate or convey information and how these were changing.

Second, they could look further at the practices in which people engage to share information. In particular, they could examine both the enthusiastic claims for the uses of social media tools in education Downes, and the more measured, reasoned and even sceptical accounts Buckingham, ; Selwyn, All students were expected to create and maintain a blog during the course, thus becoming the agents in the study and also the self-reflexive objects of the study.

Students were asked to keep the blog at least during the 10 weeks of the module, with the aim, not of studying blogging as a form, so much as using the blog as a vehicle with which to engage with the wider aspects of online social media, pedagogy and identity formation. At the end of that time, they were expected in written work to reflect on the process in the light of their experience, their posts and their exchanges with fellow students, tutors and comments from the wider Internet.

The module design encompassed a mixed mode delivery. An all day face to face session at the start of the summer term set out the parameters for exploration, provided some initial theoretical input, and allowed students to start blogging. A similar day two thirds of the way through the module gathered thoughts developed so far from amongst all of the blogs, reviewed the main issues and set out how these were to be turned into assignments and critical, reflective accounts of experience.


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WordPress was used as the main vehicle for the blog creation, allowing students to make connections and to write in the simplest form possible. It was used in partnership with a Virtual Learning Environment to raise issues of troubleshooting to do with the course more generally as well as to present resources and activities week by week Potter, The subject matter for the blogs, which was self-chosen, ranged from political analysis in a specific sphere such as civic participation or critical pedagogy, personal diaries, hobbies and pastimes, through cultural experiences in diary form of living in London a frequent subject for students from different countries and academic treatises.

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The student body on the Internet Cultures module fell into two distinct groups: teachers and non-teachers. As a result of this breadth of experience, expectations were differentiated. For students who were working as teachers and who wished to create a blog based on their professional life, the blog existed as a separate entity from their own written exchanges and reflections during the course which were located inside the course Virtual Learning Environment. For the rest of the students who were not teaching but working in media settings or studying, the blog itself was the main vehicle for both the practical task and the critical reflection.

The following diagram represents the balance between practice and theory in the course:. The case study approach suggested itself for two reasons. The first was to help develop an understanding of the setting at a sufficiently deep level to frame a meaningful interpretation of the texts produced by the bloggers in this instance. The second was to generate a small amount of rich data which give sufficient detail and depth to the close textual analysis of blog posts.

Interview questions were grouped to address the areas bounded by the research questions. We began with questions on the nature of identity and connectedness Merchant, We moved on to ask in more detail about the self-revelatory aspects of the blog Bauman, ; Giddens, ; Goffman, We then asked about the balance between critical theory and practice on the module before moving into issues of sustainability beyond the course itself into the lives of the learners.

The work took place under the research guidelines of the British Educational Research Association, under informed consent and with guarantees of anonymity. Written consent to publish quotations was obtained from the six subjects who chose to volunteer for the study and all their names and their Wordpress IDs were anonymised. The six participants produced writing in the blogs with a range of topics and interests. Student A wrote a highly personal, mainly text-based blog reflecting on her decision-making process around entering the teaching profession.

Student B wrote a blog which moved between the cultural differences she experienced as a foreign student in London and the wider UK.

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London: Penguin, pp. Giddens, Anthony Modernity and Self-Identity.


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    Digital media and learner identity : The new curatorship

    References Bourdieu, P. Embodied memory and curatorship in children's digital video production J Potter The Journal of English Teaching Practice and Critique, 9 1 , , Curating the self: Media literacy and identity in digital video production by young learners J Potter University of London , Learner voice and lived culture in digital media production by younger learners: implications for pedagogy and future research.

    J Potter Learning the virtual life: public pedagogy in a digital world, ,



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