Online Identity Class: Week 2

Graphic syllabusNote: As part of a College Teaching and Learning class in which I am enrolled, I will be reflecting weekly on the course I am teaching. I will likely withhold some details and information from these public blog posts to respect the confidentiality and sanctity of my classroom but I hope to be frank about my own actions and emotions as I teach this course for the second time.

The primary topic of discussion and examination during the second week of class was Erving Goffman and his ideas related to identity, particularly his idea of dramaturgy as expressed in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. As much as I would like to be able to read the entire book, we were only able to read the introduction and part of the conclusion of The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.  To supplement that material, we also read the Goffman chapter from Allan’s sociology text Contemporary social and sociological theory: Visualizing social worlds.

Since these are sociological ideas, we should see them play out in our observable lives.  So instead of just reading about these ideas and discussing them (although we definitely did that, too), we watched some videos to see what ideas related to dramaturgy we could spot in the videos. On Monday we watched the first 15 minutes of the pilot episode of Scrubs. As this is the episode in which all of the characters are initially introduced to the audience, it’s rich in obvious interactions and symbols and easy to analyze. On Tuesday, we first watched a video related to Megan Meier. In addition to the obvious questions raised by the incident itself (hint: How was Megan able to be fooled into believing that a fictional person existed?  How was the reality of that character established and how does that differ from how we establish our own realities in mediated environments?), the video itself is rich in symbolism.  Moreover, it was a deliberate movement towards the online space, a movement we will be making in earnest during the third week.  We also watched two brief Monty Python skits – Army Protection Racket and Hell’s Grannies, both to continue our discussion of identity and to end the class on an up beat after watching and discussing the Meier video. In particular, I expressed my opinion that the reason why the skits worked as comedy pieces because they presented contradictory social and personal identities of the main characters, contradictions that are unexpected and so extreme as to be absurd.

Continuing on the idea that these ideas can be observed by each of us in everyday situations, the second assignment is due today as we begin the third week. I asked my students to observe people and their everyday behavior in a public place for one hour and write a description of what they see using Goffman’s ideas as a framework. This assignment is new this semester and it was introduced based on feedback and ideas generated during peer review of my class in Joan Middendorf’s College Teaching and Learning class taught earlier this semester. As it’s a new assignment, I don’t have any examples to share with my students and that’s a shortcoming. But I am excited to get these papers and discuss them in class later today as I am very hopeful that the assignment will have proven worthwhile and interesting.  I certainly believe that we’ve ramped up to it well with our readings, discussions, and videos.

The feedback I solicit continues to be very positive but I am still struggling to fully engage everyone in discussion.  I hope that will be easier as (a) we all get to know one another more and become more comfortable and (b) the material becomes more familiar. The nature of the class is that the hardest material comes up front and that has the disadvantage of making for a bumpy beginning with many students.  But it also has the advantage of us being able to continually revisit that material as we build on it throughout the semester and reinforce it.

This week we’ll finally move into the online domain and we’ll do so with readings from Born Digital, one of my favorite books focusing on these ideas. I still feel like I struggle to effectively engage the students and the material each day in class (I never use all of the class time and sometimes I feel guilty about that) but I am very excited about this week’s material even though I’m not yet sure how best to tackle it in class.

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