Who Am I? A Question of Online Identity

This past Thursday night’s #tiegrad class was all about Online Identity. Bonnie Stewart was our guest speaker and honestly I think there were more questions than answers about what our online identities should look like. In a place where your audience is the entire world, I loved Bonnie’s quote that “the internet is the world’s biggest ‘small town'”, and we need to figure out how and where we fit. This post is a bit rambling, but we addressed so many different issues in that one hour video conference, it will be hard to touch on everything…the ideas are still bouncing around in my head, but I had to write them down before I lost track of them completely.

Being online is all about creating an identity.  Digital Footprint is extremely important when our physical presence cannot be seen or heard, but interpreted, instead, by outsiders in an online environment. Bonnie said, “It’s not about the tools, but the literacies.”  This resonates with me, as I begin my project for this term that will hopefully help teachers to influence how their students begin to create their own digital footprints and be competent digital citizens.  I’m sure there will be other social media and online communities as years go by, but the literacy of knowing how to create an online identity will not change.  We all need to know how to present ourselves effectively.

Even choosing my own online identity, @MauiMickey, hasn’t come without some questioning.  I chose that name carefully and thoughtfully, and if you read my reasoning here, you will understand why I chose the name to represent me in the online world. My name has great meaning to me, and although some may question if it is professional enough, my response is that it represents ME.  I am proud of my name, and I am confident in the reputation that I am building as an online citizen.

Part of forming our online identities comes in sharing your work with others.  I have written previously how important my Personal Learning Network, #kinderchat, is to me, and I think that the impact of #kinderchat has affected me most due to my willingness to step out and share, both questions and answers. By beginning to blog both in my classroom and in my personal/professional voice here on this blog, I have been able to share my experiences and expertise with a large audience.  That opportunity would not have come had I not created an online identity. Honestly, it is more difficult to share what I am doing within the walls of my school than it is to share with a global audience.  That fact has always left me speechless.  I don’t know why it’s harder to share in my own school and district, it just is.  Obviously that leaves much to think about.

By becoming a connected educator with an online identity, I have hopefully started to build a reputation that adds to my “network authority” (Bonnie’s words).  Within my community of #kinderchat, I have been developing a basis from which people can connect with me and we can share ideas.  I appreciate their expertise and hopefully they respect my contributions as well.  There is no hierarchy in a network, unlike the traditional institution model of the education system.  Each person in my network brings knowledge and experiences that I gladly read and digest to add to my own bank of knowledge. It doesn’t matter if they are a teacher, an administrator, a parent, or a global citizen.  I realize that I can learn from many different sources.

The concept of “network authority” is fascinating as the online world is so different from the traditional real world we live in.  Not too long ago I would never have thought to give my opinion to the upper administration in my school district. Through being connected on twitter, I am finding that I have much to share and am becoming braver with letting others know of the wonderful things my PLN is teaching me.  My assistant superintendent even encouraged me to Be The Bulb and light the way for our district.  I so appreciate that acknowledgement and I feel that the online reputation I have been developing is transferring over to my real world connections, too.

Bonnie asked if being in a network leads to total agreement.  Definitely not! Certainly people join certain networks because of similar ideas or viewpoints, but by no means does that indicate that everyone sees eye to eye. I appreciate any of my PLN who give me pushback on my thinking, as it makes me think harder about what I am doing.  Always starting with WHY has led to many changes in my teaching, many of those questions coming from my #kinderchat PLN.  Challenge is a good thing if done in a healthy, constructive way and it can lead to wonderful changes that benefit our students.

A big portion of our discussion spent time on the collapse of our professional and personal identities into one…portraying exactly who you are online, not having a personal persona and a professional persona.  I think it is important that I  am a whole person online.  I don’t only follow educators on twitter, but combine all of my passions, interests and hobbies. In my twitter feed are tweets from people all over the world: tweets about education, travel, food, and the Vancouver Canucks.  Those are my interests outside of the twitter world, so why should it be any different inside of twitter?  You will notice that the tagline on my blog is “@MauiMickey’s Thoughts on Teaching, Family, Travel, Food And Everything Else”…I chose that very carefully.  The tagline addresses me as a whole person.  Yes, this blog is now primarily my means of communicating my #tiegrad studies, but that is not all of me.  Every once in a while there will be posts about other things, and I hope my readers understand that they are witnessing what I choose to share in the different facets of my life.

I know that friends, family, colleagues and administrators read my blog.  I am ok with that.  I wouldn’t post anything that I wouldn’t want anyone to read…my rule #1 to determine if I should post something online. I feel that to truly be ME, I must present myself in the most genuine way I know how.  This blog is evidence of that.  I have created an online identity that I am happy with.  And isn’t that our goal in life…to be happy with who we are?

6 thoughts on “Who Am I? A Question of Online Identity

  1. Thanks, Michelle, for the great discussion Thursday…these conversations and reflections are really helpful to me in terms of gaining a deeper understanding of how educators practice and understand identities.

    Really enjoyed reading your MauiMickey explanation…love being able to get a few layers deeper in terms of understanding where a person is speaking from.

    • Thank you for the feedback! I think our identity, whether online or in real life, is something that we all must struggle with throughout our lives. I think that we are most fulfilled as a person if we can be truly who we are as a whole instead of only pieces of our personality.

  2. Michelle, I love this post. It is so genuine with how you feel about your online identity. I agree that Bonnie shared a great quote “the internet is the world’s biggest ‘small town’” because it truly is. I once connected a Rotarian with educational professionals I knew through Twitter, and what do you know… The teacher I told him to contact was one of the Rotarian’s students about 30 years ago.

    I think sometimes it is easier to share things online because we sometimes see it as this place our thoughts/opinions go but disappear amongst the endless amounts of competing thoughts and opinions. We send it in hopes that someone will see it and connect to it, but with so many people out there sharing their own it most likely will be skipped over. Face-to-face interactions seem to have a stronger power to them, and sometimes are hard to find when life it self seems to always be getting in the way.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • That is a great connection you made, Natasha!

      I find your theory about sharing online really interesting. For me I find that there is more validation from my online connections than I get from people in my own district. Through the encouragement of my online connections I have tried more new and innovative things in my teaching in the past year than I have in my entire career. For me it is difficult to break free of the expectations of our district and find the courage to try something new and different. With #kinderchat behind me, though, they have made me question everything I do and spread my wings. When you have affirmation, it’s easy to share and encourage others!

      • That can be very true! I think it also depends on how active your PLN tends to be, and how vocal they are. As Valerie mentioned last class most of the people on Twitter/Social Media are the type to watch but not say much.

        Right now in my own inquiry efforts that others expectations to be a reoccurring trend. In test situations, personal choices, and risk taking expectations from other people really can impact our desire to try those new things we’ve been longing to try. I’m glad you have found a great encouraging group of people for your PLN.

        I’m hoping to do my practicum this year in kindergarten. I might be more excited then they were when they started school. When I know for sure I’ll try to check in on #kinderchat a little more!

      • Natasha, I would encourage you to try and connect with one new person this week. Ask a question or make a comment in twitter and see if you can get a conversation going.

        No one else should be discouraging you to try new things. If they are, they don’t belong in your PLN. Find someone who will encourage you! Having pushback is ok, but not all the time. You need to be built up, not torn down.That’s what #kinderchat does for me.

        Even if you don’t get a practicum in kindergarten, #kinderchat is worth checking out. Tweet me any questions you have and I will introduce you to my PLN. They are a very friendly bunch!

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