16 SES 09 B, Collaboration and Identity Construction in Digital Environments
There is a lack of consensus in terms of what a virtual learning environment entails and it is often assumed to offer a poor substitute for an analog learning environment (Hilli, 2016). Informal virtual learning environments, such as social media and video games, offer tools for participants to explore and co-construct identities in digitally mediated interactional environments (Boyd, 2014; Taylor, 2009; Gee, 2007). These virtual environments appear to provide participants with digitally mediated tools for identity construction in a way that may not be possible in face-to-face interaction. This provides for interesting arenas regarding both learning and identity construction. However, these arenas still remain largely unexplored. Especially, the issue of how identity construction within the informal virtual learning environments might affect the learning process has not been extensively studied. Identity in itself is a complex term, with different possible uses and interpretations (Buckingham, 2008). However, this study employs a participant’s perspective on identity.
The overarching aim of this study is to explore the possibilities for constructing and co-constructing identity in the intersection of informal and formal learning environments and the possible effect this might have on the student’s learning experience. The first research question is: what possible tools or arenas for constructing and co-constructing identity does the intersection between informal and formal learning environments offer? And the second research question is: how does the identity construction in the intersection of formal and informal learning environments affect the student’s learning experience?
We intend to answer these research questions through analyzing ethnographic video material of four teenagers, aged 16-18, in the intersection of formal and informal learning environments. The study consists of two sets of data that capture different informal virtual learning environments. However, there is an overlap with their formal learning environments when a student is simultaneously in a formal and informal learning environment or as the students engage with an informal learning environment as a requirement for course credits in their formal learning environment. The informal learning environments in this study are forms of social media, Tumblr and Snapchat, as well as multiplayer video games, Counter Strike: Global Offensive and Overwatch.
In order for communication to work, each individual interprets the information that co-participants provide about themselves when communicating. At the same time, the individual tries to manage the information that s/he provides in order to create a more favorable image of him-/herself (Goffman, 1959). This basis for communication is made more complex in the current society where people can communicate without necessarily seeing each other and with new tools for managing the information given away.
Communication in-and-through video games can be seen in form of speaking or chatting with other players, but also through trusting other players, for example by the reputation a certain player has. The contacts a player has within a game can be a complex network of online and offline life and with a shifting focus in and out of the game. The player is socialized into the complex social hierarchy of multiplayer games and the different social norms that affect the game experience. Some of the interactions between players are facilitated by the game mechanics. However, there are also situations where the players use the tools provided by the game to communicate in other ways than the game developers initially intended. Different groups within a multiplayer game can have different agendas, depending on their ambition. Being part of a group can be seen as a marker for social status within the game context and in that sense, the grouptag can be an important part of the player’s identity. (Taylor, 2009).
This article approaches identity construction from a participant's perspective; the construction of an identity in diverse virtual environments is understood as a situated interactional process. The process affords individuals space to articulate their identities in their interactions through active negotiation (Hall & Du Gay, 1996). To understand these negotiations and processes, they need to be recorded as they are being done. The data used in this study were collected within two different ethnographic research projects with students aged 16-18. The first set of data focused on the usage of mobile phones in the classroom in two upper secondary schools in Finland during 2015-2016. (Ståhl & Kaihovirta, n.d.) The data involves seven focus students, out of which two are focused in the current paper. A student controlled mirroring application was used to document the mobile screens of the focus students during lessons as well as breaks during a total of 18 days at school. The second set of data was collected in collaboration with a vocational school in Finland. At the starting point of the collaboration, the spring of 2017, it was the first Swedish-speaking vocational school to offer their students to study eSport. A total of three teams have on a regular basis done video recordings of their games to share with the researchers, with a current total of eight games. In this paper, two out of nine focus students are analyzed in more detail. All four focus students find themselves in the intersection between informal and formal learning environments of their own choice. They have themselves decided what kind of education they want and within this context to engage with a specific informal learning environment. In the first study, the data is collected within a school context at lessons, as well as breaks. The students are simultaneously present in a formal and informal learning environment. In the second study, the data is collected at the students’ spare time. However, they are involved in games with their school team and the games are part of their education. The students do not play any video games together in school during lessons. They are, instead, required to practice playing together as a team in their spare time in order to get course credits. The teammates and the game, in particular, would not necessarily be their primary choice otherwise.
Part of becoming an adult is finding one's identity, a complex task in the current society with a number of possibilities available in the media landscape that youth today are surrounded with. Not only do they have they their own interests to take into account, but also expectations from parents and society as well. (Illeris, 2013). The intention of this digital ethnographic study is to capture and analyze the variety of potential digital tools and arenas for identity construction within the data. Social media and multiplayer games connect the students with people they have met offline as well as people they have not. This, and the available digital tools, have consequences for the way they express their identities and communicate in the intersection between formal and informal learning environments. The preliminary results show that there is a variation in the possible ways to express identity in social media and video games. Further, the four focus students choose to explore their identities in individual ways in terms of visual expression, use of language, and the social groups they wish to be part of.
Buckingham, D. (2008). Introducing Identity. In Buckingham, D. (ed) (2008). Youth, Identity, and Digital Media. The MIT Press. Gee, J. P. (2007) What Video Games have to Teach us about Learning and Literacy. Palgrave Macmillan. Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. Penguin books. Hall, S. du Gay, P. (1996). Questions of Cultural Identity. SAGE Publications Ltd. Hilli, C. (2016). Virtuellt lärande på distans. En intervjustudie med finländska gymnasiestuderande. Doctoral thesis, Åbo Akademi University. Illeris, K. (2013). Transformativ learing & identitet. Samfundslitteratur. Ståhl, M. Kaihovirta, H. (n.d.) Exploring Visual Communication and Competencies through Interaction with Images in Social Media. Manuscript, to be submitted. Taylor, T. L. (2009). Play Between Worlds. Exploring Online Game Culture. The MIT Press.
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