Developing students’ digital identities

My university teaching is underpinned by the ways my colleagues and I work with our Master of Education coursework students to create and share digital artefacts such as blogs, websites, portfolios, infographics, images, presentations, curated content, video and audio as evidence of their learning. The rationale behind this approach is that students should be comfortable and fluent creators of web content rather than consumers/users of content. They need to understand the affordances of social media tools, the ways that online participatory communities operate, and benefits and risks of using social media ‘in the wild’ so that they can empower their own students to do the same. As such we require students to use ubiquitous open and free Web 2.0/social media tools to create and share their content, rather than the tools provided inside the ‘walled garden’ of the University’s learning management system.

Our approach has another aim: to develop students’ professional and disciplinary digital identities. We hope that in openly engaging with the genres used in their professional and disciplinary contexts that our students are able to see themselves as creators of knowledge and contributing to professional and disciplinary practices rather than simply completing assignments. We encourage students to proudly use the products and evidence of their learning in applying for jobs and promotion. We allow students to use a pseudonym if they’re not comfortable with using their name on the open web.

Digital identity

 A ‘digital identity’ is a collection of digital information that contains a set of attributes, which may or may not reflect the attributes of a real person. (Commonwealth of Australia 2013 p. 1)

We have a range of digital identities:

  • The traces, trail, or ‘footprints’ that we leave as we visit sites on the web, the likes, shares, comments, uploads etc as represented in Big Data – as seen by the algorithms that identify us, track us and personalise our use of the web
  • Our construction of particular identities for particular purposes – our Facebook identity, Twitter identity, Instagram identity, Linkedin identity, blog identity – as represented by the ‘self’ we project
  • Our comfort, confidence and engagement in using social media, web-based technologies as represented by our fluency and understanding of how social technologies and communities operate

Our digital identities are relational:

Our identity is something we uniquely possess: it is what distinguishes us from other people. Yet on the other hand, identity also implies a relationship with a broader collective or social group of some kind (Buckingham 2008 p. 1)

Creating and sharing digital artefacts

The are a number of benefits and risks in having students create and share digital artefacts as evidence of their learning. These are outlined in the images below.



We plan to study the development of university students’ professional and disciplinary digital identities through creating and sharing digital artefacts as part of their formal assessment. If you take this approach in your teaching and would like your students to be part of this research, please contact me.

5 responses to “Developing students’ digital identities

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