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Research Q&A: the fragmented educator

April 9, 2014
George Veletsianos

Social media blunders make headlines. This is especially true for educators. Poor judgement or misuse of sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and LinkedIn can have major consequences for educators’ careers and professional standing. Associate Prof. George Veletsianos, Canada Research Chair in Innovative Learning and Technology, from Royal Roads’ School of Education and Technology, says little research has been done to understand educators’ and academics’ participation in social networking sites. Here he shares insights from a new paper co-authored with Royce Kimmons, called The Fragmented Educator 2.0: Social Networking Sites. Acceptable Identity Fragments, and the Identity Constellation.

Tell us about your latest study.

This study arose out of Dr. Kimmons’ dissertation. In the study, we explain how a group of teacher education students viewed their developing identities within social networking sites as they began the life transition to becoming educators. We wanted to understand how teacher education students use social networking sites and how their use and beliefs change as they go through the process of becoming teachers.

What did your research find about teacher education students on social media?

We found that these individuals use social media to share authentic beliefs and activities with others, but that sharing changes over time as individuals go through different life phases. Activities and events are snapshots in time and looking at a past event may not be an accurate representation of that person, even though Facebook gives us a sense of historical accuracy. This is important for teachers (and academics) to keep in mind when participating in social media. Really, what it comes down to is mindful participation, and recognizing that even though social media are ephemeral, digital data is archivable, and retrievable.

Your research uncovered the idea of identity fragments. Can you explain what those are?

We frequently hear that virtual life is different than real life, or that individuals are different online and offline. Kimmons and I found that the individuals we interviewed were not acting online, but were presenting their true selves, albeit in a guarded and mindful way. We found that educator identity consists of a constellation of interconnected acceptable identity fragments. Study participants saw social media as a direct expression of identity of their sense of self, but they felt this expression represented small fragments of their complete identities. We called these fragments because they are aspects of peoples’ selves, and acceptable because they represent those aspects that participants deem to be acceptable to the different groups of people they interact with online (e.g., family, high school friends, pastors, work colleagues).

What role does technology play in shaping identities?

Technology shapes and is shaped by practice. Allow me to describe here how technology shapes our participation. Technology is not neutral. Technology comes pre-built with values and by using certain technologies in our classrooms, we are introducing those values in our classrooms. For example, the people who coded and built Facebook have created a tool that represents their beliefs about how the world is or ought to be. If one is using Facebook in a classroom, then one is also imposing Facebook’s perspective of the world on students. But Facebook’s perspective of the world is just one perspective and may not align with the types of education systems that we want to create. For instance, students should have control over their online identities, their privacy settings, their online data, their images/videos, and that control is simply not available through Facebook.

Read more about George Veletsianos’ research on his blog.