Online Identity Class: Week 4

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.

During our fourth week we explored two sets of properties that some scholars have identified as associated with mediated communications. The first set of properties is a set of properties identified by ethnographer danah boyd as associated with networked publics.  The second set of properties are those described by psychologist John Suler as associated with the phenomenon of “online disinhibition.”

On Monday, I employed an active learning technique described by some as a “jigsaw puzzle” activity.  My students prepared before class by reading one of four sets of readings (I assigned the readings, reminding my students both in class and by e-mail).  For each of boyd’s properties of networked publics – Persistence, Searchability, Replicability, and Invisible audiences – there was a different set of readings (specific details are available in the syllabus). Last week, I randomly and evenly distributed the properties among the students so they would know which set of readings to tackle for Monday’s class. In class on Monday, I created four groups of students, ensuring that each group had at least one person “from” each property. I gave each group a separate “case study:” sexting, law enforcement use of SNSes, recent research about the futility of anonymity in SNSes, and the MySpace pirate/teacher. Each group not only had to briefly discuss what they read before class but they then had to read about their “case” and discuss how each property impacted or played a role in that case. Towards the end of class, I gave them an example of what I expected on Wednesday (more below) and then ended a bit early to give them time to meet and plan for Wednesday.

Wednesday’s class was, for me, the easiest class session. When I divided the class into groups for Monday’s readings I also divided them into five groups for Wednesday’s activity. Each group was assigned one of Suler’s online disinhibition properties: dissociative anonymity, invisibility, asynchronicity, solipsistic introjection, dissociative imagination, and minimization of status and authority. On Wednesday, each group was to define their property, explain its significance, and then demonstrate or illustrate the property. I modeled the behavior for them on Monday by taking the property “minimization of status and authority” myself and presenting a few different ways that one could explain and illustrate it. Wednesday’s presentations were excellent and every group used great examples (four groups showed video clips and one showed several photographs).

I also took some time on Wednesday to revisit “replication,” one of the properties we discussed on Monday. I don’t think that collectively we did a good job discussing that property and I think that may have been caused by the fact that the property just didn’t really shine through in any of the cases we examined (which means I need to take a look at and possible change the cases if I teach this class again). I found some good examples of incidents where this particular property played a clear role and I hope that these helped us understand the importance of this property since I didn’t think that we did that on Monday.

On both days, the activities went very well and my students had very positive feedback about the activities. In both instances, however, I look back and believe that I could have done a better job in helping to tie everything together.  Both activities partitioned the material so each individual student was only directly exposed to part of it and I think that it would have been helpful to do something more deliberate and intentional to draw everything back together, especially for the online disinhibition properties. In fact, continuing to tie each individual topic back to the main ideas of the class seems to be something that I need to work on diligently throughout the course.

Next week we only have one class as I’ll be travelling to AERA to present a paper.  But we’ll be reading and discussing some great really great articles as we move on to Social Networking Services (SNSes) and I’m excited, particularly as some of these articles are new for this semester and I believe they’ll be very helpful and informative.

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