Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Is that really me? Turning on student pictures in blackboard

This post is about this uses surrounding the process of making personal images available via blackboard VLE.

It is now possible for personal images that represent you in online spaces (avatars) to accompany any postings made in blackboard. This has great benefits but also carries concerns, and highlights the wider issue of representation on line or virtual presence.

The process could work in 2 ways, the start-from-blank way, users (staff and students) could be allowed to upload their own image, starting with a blank, or here-i-am way, users could have their university image uploaded for them, and could then change it.

Here-I-am, solves a major problem that has been discussed by lecturers many times.
It takes them a long time to remember and identify students names with faces. Seeing recognisable faces online will all help this process. And in a similar way students will benefit from seeing each other. So far, so good for overall student community.

Would the Here-I-am stiffly the emergence of online identity? Would this impact of student engagement in online activities.

Online presence embodied in avatars
No avatar image in neutral, they all say something personal about you. Other participants are hungry for information about you to help them analyse your text. Even having no image can be interpreted in a particular way. Having an egg as an avatar in twitter can say, I'm new, I'm shy, I'm not committed or I can't find how to upload an image. This is part of the process of becoming a tweeter, you commit a little bit more of yourself when you finally upload that image. This all connects with you immersing online identity. So would having an image of yourself already there make a difference to that process?

For students . . .Possibly yes and no.
Having an image already there, I would say, helps with making a positive break in the creation on an online identity. It says, here I am, both to the audience and to the student. Who will I be at university, becomes a more explicit process. However, when making that first posting in the VLE with not only text but also an image, may increase procrastination, as they battle with how to commit to expressing this identity. Now, anyone can possibly put a name and a face to those tenter time first postings.

What does research say
Strano (2008) sees the avatar image as a central mechanism to expression of identity in Facebook. In the study, younger uses change the image more regularly that older. This may be because younger users are less certain of their self image or identity. What's interesting is younger remains change their image more than any other group, and are more including to include others in their image, eg boyfriend. While older uses are much more included to be alone in their image. Zhou et al (2008) sees users upload more of a true representation of themselves in closed networks, which blackboard would be categorised as.

So Not much convincing evidence from research yet to say students may be more or less inclined to engage. However, the important point here is that students maybe more inclined to but an image up that will be of themselves. Being an internal network, where the pressure to preform in a more open social space such as Facebook maybe reduced. This change in demands to present yourself in a particular way may lead to the creation of new academic identities as the space offered is free of this pressure. Although, it may carry new pressures as yet unsurfaced by the literature. This might be interesting to research next year.

Staff and images
The reseach might indicate that the images will be less problematic. profile images are changed the lesast by older age groups. This also carries a very different dynamic. On the surface, getting staff to involve themselves in creation of profiles seems positive. However, I can image staff will be troubled by the pressure to perform in a particular way. We will have to wait and see on this one.


Strano, M. M. (2008). User Descriptions and Interpretations of Self-Presentation through Facebook Profile Images. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 2(2), article 5.
Shanyang Zhao, Sherri Grasmuck, Jason Martin, Identity construction on Facebook: Digital empowerment in anchored relationships, Computers in Human Behavior, Volume 24, Issue 5, September 2008, Pages 1816-1836, ISSN 0747-5632, 10.1016/j.chb.2008.02.012. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563208000204) Keywords: Anonymity; Facebook; Identity; Internet; Self-presentation; Social networking sites

1 comment:

  1. Jim,
    Thanks for this thoughtful post. We are looking at this issue too at Durham. I have to say I am in favour of turning them on. There are issues about potential identity fraud - as there are few checks on the data people put in their profile - but I think this can be managed by treating our learners as adults, pointing out the fact that this is NOT facebook and encouraging self policing of the system.

    I think that it helps bring the person into online discussions and provides another way of analysing the debate. Seeing one photo again and again in a discussion quickly alerts you to the fact that the conversation is one-sided, without having to consciously scan the email address of each response. As an aside, I wonder how prominent the avatars are to people using screen readers?

    I think it will also help students identify and connect with the staff who teach the course. I like the fact that their contributions to discussions and other collaborative content will be 'badged'. It will be interesting to see if these receive more weighting because of the extra visual clues!