#EL30 Week 4 – Identity

The world changes. Some people don’t.
You learned things that were true back then, but now they’re false.
You got successful doing things one way, but now that way is moot.
You still consider yourself an expert, but that expertise has expired.
You dug so deep into something that you lost perspective, and didn’t realize the landscape had changed.
Sometimes it’s just a change in situation. The strategy that got you to where you are is different from the strategy that will get you to where you want to be next.


In #EL30 this week the focus was Identity.

This post contains more questions than answers, more randomly assorted out-loud thoughts than anything else. I’m prepared to be ‘not quite there’ in my interpretations of much of this. It’s all a work in progress, ironically.

Identity is a deep and complex topic and one that could be discussed in a variety of different ways. It is both a personal (internal) and social (external) construct. It isn’t solely what we think of or communicate about ourselves, our self-image, but what others think of and communicate about us also. Consideration of identity from a psychological perspective through the work of Carl Rogers can incorporate both aspirational and fantasy elements. We see this more often nowadays with people on social media portraying a projected sense of self or a more ideal version of themselves through their publicly broadcasted social media, and other people providing their impressions about that through liking, sharing, following, friending, etc

For me, identity is more a perpetual interplay of elements within different contexts rather than a finished product; it’s also more the plural than the singular. Our self-concepts about our identity are likely to change as the world around us changes and our role changes within it. Identity is never complete, it is ever in-process. Who we are and what we do is multi faceted, changeable, and imperfect. And my understanding of it is much the same.

The essence of identity might refer to the type of person we are recognised as being, both internally and externally, at a certain point in time. The term being is inclusive of the type of person we were in the past and the one we might become in the future also. 

Over on Jenny Mackness’ blog, she wrote the following piece,
quoting renowned social learning theorist, Etienne Wenger, which really resonated with me.

It is not just what we say about ourselves or what others say about us. It is not about self-image, but rather a way of being in the world – the way we live day by day – He [Etienne] expands on this on p.151 of his book, writing:

An identity, then, is a layering of events of participation and reification by which our experience and its social interpretation inform each other. As we encounter our effects on the world and develop our relations with others, these layers build upon each other to produce our identity as a very complex interweaving of participative experience and reificative projections. Bringing the two together through the negotiation of meaning, we construct who we are. In the same way that meaning exists in its negotiation, identity exists – not as an object in and of itself – but in the constant work of negotiating the self. It is in this cascading interplay of participation and reification that our experience of life becomes one of identity, and indeed of human existence and consciousness. (p.151)

Blog Source and Book Source

Conversation with Maha Bali

#EL30 Week 4 Identity – conversation between Stephen Downes and Maha Bali

In this week’s conversation, Stephen explored the topic further with Maha Bali. I was already aware of some of Maha’s work through the work of Dr Catherine Cronin. Stephen and Maha spoke about the composition of identity, whether elements are internal or external, how our activities and our identity relate, and about a number of Maha’s activities, including Virtually Connecting and the ongoing Equity Unbound course.

Maha described identity in a blog post she wrote prior to the conversation as evolving, dynamic, and contextual. In it, Maha spoke about recognition of who and what we are as a fluid concept dependant upon a range of factors – our perception of self, others perceptions, comparative perspectives, the particular time in our life that it is, etc. Personal identity is something that is constantly negotiated. As Maha Bali said in that blog post, her Virtually Connecting co-creation felt like an extension of herself. What she helped to create felt like a part of who she was. The conversation finished on a very interesting note with both agreeing that identity was qualitatively different than the sum of its parts.

Another key takeaway from the conversation was the discussion about choice. We choose to actively take up an identity or choose to identify with something, like being ‘resilient’, and choose not to identify with other things, like being ‘a quitter’. Each of us are selective with knowing what we are, and knowing what we are not. 

“Identity requires some element of choice.”

“Identity is marked by similarity, that is of the people like us, and by difference, of those who are not.”


Digital Identity

Identity and digital identity are not one and the same. Someone without access to the internet still has an identity. In a presentation I’ve given previously entitled ‘Who Am I Online?’, I portrayed digital identity (in particular) using the concept of an identity box. Inside the box is what you think of yourself, your perceptions of all that you identify with – the personal. The outside of the box represents external thoughts about your identity, what you are socially seen to identify with or the parts of your identity that you may not have as much control over shaping, such as the digital footprint created about you from the traces of data you leave behind yourself online by ‘forces beyond our control’.

Identity Box idea. Vinyl Cube by Carson Ting on Flickr.

“If identity provides us with the means of answering the question ‘who am I?’ it might appear to be about personality; the sort of person I am. That is only part of the story. Identity is different from personality in important respects. … an identity suggests some active engagement on our part. We choose to identify with a particular identity or group. … [the] importance of structures, the forces beyond our control which shape our identities, and agency, the degree of control which we ourselves can exert over who we are.


I was attempting to get people to comprehend identity as something that we have control over certain elements of, but our agency with regard to complete control over it is limited.

As part of the session I delivered, I used the Lightbeam plugin for Firefox, linked to below. I explained to the audience that I was starting the plugin at the beginning and that over the course of my 40 minute presentation my browsing behaviour would be captured by the plugin. At the end of the session I displayed the graph visualisation and displayed the kind of identity profile that was being built about me behind the scenes while I had been giving the session. The visualisation listed the sites that I browsed to during the session and also listed the trackers that had been following me from site to site across the web as I browsed, generating an identity profile of me.

Sample screenshot of Mozilla’s Lightbeam from Wikipedia

Further reading and resources

Identity, Keys and Authentication

To view an insightful perspective into the future of identity and online authentication, this video from Stephen Downes explains the concepts of public and private key cryptography and introduces Yubi keys.

At this link, Bonnie Stewart speaks about Digital Identities: Six Key Selves of Networked Publics.

Here are some further resources to inform yourself about the digital traces we all leave behind in online environments and how to begin to counteract:

Featured image by Ben Sweet on Unsplash

#EL30 Week 1 – Data


Week 1 of #EL30 addressed the topic of Data. Within that, two core conceptual challenges relating to eLearning were explored, “first, the shift in our understanding of content from documents to data; and second, the shift in our understanding of data from centralized to decentralized.”

All of this exists within the backdrop of “what is now being called web3, the central role played by platforms is diminished in favour of direct interactions between peers, that is, a distributed web”. The topic of data is relatively new to me and I am figuring much of it out as I go.

Our data exists online across multiple distributed nodes and each of us embodies the unique identifier that links all of this data together. In Stephen’s week 1 data summary article he highlights how digital data is beginning to permeate many aspects of our lives – “We are beginning to see how we generate geographic data as we travel, economic data as we shop, and political data as we browse videos on YouTube and Tumbler. A piece of media isn’t just a piece of media any more: it’s what we did with it, who we shared it with, and what we created by accessing it.” The traces of data we leave behind of where we’ve been online creates a depiction of us for those that can see it, an online identity, from breadcrumbs in the digital woods.

Activity – Conversation with Shelly Blake-Plock

Week 1 conversation with Shelly Blake-Plock, Co-Founder, President and CEO of Yet Analytics

The week 1 conversation with Shelly Blake-Plock, Co-Founder, President and CEO of Yet Analytics covered a range of interesting topics. Discussion ebbed and flowed and touched upon concepts such as

  • using data in actionable ways to understand learners, to improve instruction and content and to manage data systems that support learning,
  • the Experience API (xAPI) specification,
  • the xAPI enterprise learning ecosystem,
  • Learning Record Store (LRS),
  • data ownership and management,
  • identity management applications,
  • the privacy trade-off of these systems.

There was good discussion around Experience API, commonly abbreviated to xAPI, a modern specification for learning technology that helps to turn learning activities, experiences and performance into data. Shelly was the Managing Editor of the IEEE Learning Technology Standards Committee Technical Advisory Group on xAPI (TAGxAPI) who created a technical implementation guide for xAPI.

Essentially, xAPI was created as a way of tracking learning experiences and performance that extends beyond the bounds of our traditional Learning Management Systems (LMS) and the content and activities that learners launch from within them. It facilitates an individual’s learning to be recorded and moved more freely from siloes such as the LMS, as long as it in xAPI format or can be converted to it. The notion is that learning occurs everywhere, it’s not simply confined to the LMS or to the classroom, and now it’s possible for the data generated from learners’ experience and performance (online and offline) to be tracked and sent via x API statements (signals) from a range of different origins such as mobile apps, simulations and games, and the physical world through wearable technology, sensors and online games.

With this data it becomes possible to analyse and understand how learners are learning and potentially improve the content and activities that they receive. xAPI statements about learning experiences can then be hooked up via a number of launch mechanisms to a Learning Record Store (LRS) to collect reams of data about how the learner interacts with their learning environments. Analysis of this data can be automated through machine learning algorithms depending on what type of information is being sought.

How xAPI works with the LRS


Most of us have likely become familiar with the term ‘surveillance capitalism’ as the purported business model employed by many web2 corporations and platforms. Online data generated by each of us (our digital footprint) is already bought and sold to online advertising and marketing agencies. We unwittingly and nonchalantly give our ‘consent’ to it by clicking agree to the terms and conditions of the seemingly ‘free’ online platforms and services we sign up to.

The ‘business model’ is explained early in this presentation by Laura Kalbag of Ind.ie:

Laura Kalbag speaks about indie design at WordCamp, London

When viewing all of this through a critical lens, talk about tracking and gathering learner data for analysis immediately brings with it the need to talk of a range of considerations around ownership, ethical use, privacy, security, and data governance. I’ve noted similar sentiments from many of my fellow #EL30 participants.

The use of learning analytics to support the student experience could afford valuable insights, but there are ethical implications associated with collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners.

According to Rebecca Ferguson (2012), “Learning analytics is “the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimising learning and the environments in which it occurs.”

JISC UK’s Code of practice for learning analytics, authored by Niall Sclater and Paul Bailey, provides very helpful guidance in this regard beneath 8 key headings identified to help institutions (and possibly other organisations) understand and carry out responsible, appropriate and effective analysis of the data that they gather:

  1. Responsibility
  2. Transparency and consent
  3. Privacy
  4. Validity
  5. Access
  6. Enabling positive interventions
  7. Minimising adverse impacts
  8. Stewardship of data

Niall Sclater also compiled a literature review of the ethical and legal issues for this code of practice, in which he collates some critical ethical questions from a diverse literature authorship in relation to many of the areas identified in the code of practice. Here’s a snapshot of some of the thought-provoking questions posed in that review:

Ethical questionsCode of Practice area
1Does the administration let the students/staff know their academic behaviours are being tracked? (Hoel et al., 2014)Responsibility
2Does an individual need to provide formal consent before data can be collected and/or analysed? (Campbell et al., 2010)Transparency and Consent
3How transparent are the algorithms that transform the data into analytics? (Reilly, 2013)Validity
4Who can mine our data for other purposes? (Slade & Galpin, 2012)Stewardship of data
5Who is responsible when a predictive analytic is incorrect? (Willis, Campbell & Pistilli, 2013)Privacy
6Does [a student profile] bias people’s expectation and behaviour? (Campbell et al., 2010)Minimising adverse impacts

On the #EL30 course I’ve read a bit about IndieWeb, a community based on the principles of owning your own domain and owning your own data. IndieWeb attempts to make it easy for everyone to take ownership of their online identity and believes that people should own what they create. https://opencollective.com/indieweb#about I definitely want to explore this further in light of the next generation of learning technologies.