Shifting Student Identities in Online Spaces

online offline identity
(Taken from the CommonSense Media handout: Offline/Online Me)

We spent our second day in our Digital Lives unit talking about identity. For my 11 and 12 year old students, this can be a pretty complex concept, particularly when we are thinking about how we make shifts in our personality and the way we want to the world to perceive us based on where we are. Once again, the CommonSense Media site curriculum around digital citizenship has been a rich trove to pull from, including an interesting video about how kids represent themselves (and not always for the good) and a useful handout that breaks down how one student represents themselves online and offline.

The video and the handout led to interesting conversations in my classroom throughout the day, leading to an activity around the creation of avatars for their Glogster accounts. Their mission: create a visual representation of themselves so that if I, or anyone else, were to ask why an avatar was chosen or created, they could make a clear connection to some interest or hobby or facet of themselves. It can’t be that the avatar is cool. It has to be there for a reason.

But back to our discussions for a minute. Here are some vignettes that stayed with me.

  • Many students who are gamers talked about the choices they make around usernames in gaming communities, like World of Warcraft and the like. They mentioned how they try to choose a name that represents the qualities of a hero or an adventurer. They like that part of a creation of an account, it turns out, probably because they can slip outside of their own name and identity.
  • One student noted that he plays an app game on the family iPod, but that his father first created the account. For a while, both son and dad were playing, and sharing the account, but now dad doesn’t play nearly as much. The son, of course, still does. The gaming community for that app, however, must assume (and why wouldn’t they?) that it is just one player — the dad. So sometimes, messages come from other players directed at dad, but received by the son. Nothing inappropriate, but my student noted how “strange” it was to be perceived as someone other than himself, and as an adult, too. A real adult — his dad.
  • A small number of girls are passionate about horses, and apparently there is a pretty popular equine social networking site that many of them are part of. They noted how they enjoyed how everything there is all about horses, and one student made the comment that in the network, she feels like an expert about horses and admitted to a certain confidence she doesn’t always feel outside of her equine community.
  • I asked how many students have ever not given their real ages when signing up for an online site, and many raised their hands. Most choose older, not younger. Some have done this with Facebook in order to skirt the 13 year old age regulation. When I asked why they would create an identity that was older, most could not really explain. But one student did note that if felt that they could seem cooler if they were older.

Peace (in the shift),

PS — Here is a good resource collection from National Writing Project’s Digital Is about identity.



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