Online Identity Class: Spring 2009

Graphic syllabusAs I did last semester, I am currently teaching an undergraduate course focusing on online identity. Lest anyone be misled by that phrase, the primary focus of the course is in understanding how we construct our identities offline and how that has not changed very much with the introduction of the Internet and other electronic tools.  In other words, we begin with classic sociological ideas about identity from Mead and Goffman and we don’t stray too far from those ideas even as we explore mediated communication and specific tools like Facebook and MySpace.  The class only lasts for a half-semester (8 weeks) so we touch on a lot of topics without having the time to explore them in any real depth and that sucks.  I hope my students leave with the big ideas and maybe a few of them will have discovered some new ideas to continue exploring in the future.

The syllabus for this semester’s course is here.  I haven’t changed the course dramatically from last semester but I have added two assignments, changed some readings (with more changes to come as new materials are released or discovered), and rearranged some things.  The graphic at the end of the syllabus (the thumbnail at the right) should help explain the general layout of the course and its interdisciplinary nature.

For those who are interested, the formal course goals are for students to be able to:

  1. Recognize, understand, and describe some reasons and motivations, particularly those related to self-identity, useful for understanding behavior common in online environments, particularly social network services.
  2. Evaluate media reports, writings, and discussions of online communication for rudimentary levels of accuracy, bias, and overall quality.

The general landscape surrounding the topics in the class hasn’t changed much since last semester. I still don’t know of any book that would be appropriate as a text and I’m happy to crib together the reading materials.  If I had to select one book, it would definitely be Palfrey and Gasser’s Born Digital as it gets the closest to having the right mix of breadth, depth, and pragmatism; we read two chapters out of the book but that’s all we can do right now.  I will be very interested in reading Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out: Living and Learning with New Media when it’s published to see how it might fit in to a class like this one.

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