Thursday, December 20, 2018

eLearning and Identity

A week or so ago...well...maybe two weeks by now♣, the topic of eLearning 3.0 was identity, and the video guest of the week was Maha Bali.  I finally managed to view all of it, even though it was in 10 minute increments. My Pocket's save-for-later is getting rather lengthy now that I am saving articles on the daily to read at some other future time. This time of the semester is rather busy, so I guess that's my disclaimer for this post: I am only commenting on the video and points that were brought up.

In looking at the notes I took during the vConnecting session during week 4 (mid-way through the MOOC!) there are a few organizing factors that sort of came to me, so I've organized the post in this manner.

What's in a name?
At the beginning of the conversation Stephen had a bit of a hard time getting the native pronunciation of Maha's name. It's interesting to kick off a discussion about identity in such a mundane way, but I think that the concept of a name is quite powerful, on many levels.  Often times names are given to us and we have no control over them. My name for example was given to me by my parents and godparents. There is a particular nickname given to me in grade 4 that I really only use in the company a certain close-knit group of friends from that time in my life.  Other times we choose our names, case in point the username that you chose for your email address, that forum you joined, or your xbox gamertag. Those names we choose for ourselves usually have a story behind them. I would venture to say that stories are associated with names, and (my hypothesis is that) no two names share the same origin story. The multiple names that identify us - legal names, user names, nicknames - are to some fashion a pointer device for some aspect of our multifaceted identity.

Seeing as most languages are spoken, how one says someone else's name is also important. When I moved back to the states only my language teachers (French, ESL, and English) could correctly pronounce my given name without correction. No surprise there, I suspect that they (being language teachers) had a sense of how different languages have different rhythms and cadences.  Early on I adopted "AK" (there's a story there), as well as the English pronunciation of "Apostolos"† (minor eye roll, but whatever) as synonyms for Απόστολος. Many Greek Americans (second or third generation usually) also attempted to call me Paul, which didn't really carry much favor with me. Paul is another name entirely. I suspect that someone, at some point, probably at Ellis Island decided that an Apostolos would be a Paul in English, and newly arriving immigrants just adopted for a variety of reasons. Paul is an identity marker that I rejected right off the bat simply because Paul ain't my name, and Greek Americans should be able to say Απόστολος, no? 😛


What about the things we studied?
Stephen asked if there is an identification with the institutional affiliation, and how important that was as part of one's own identity. And, in relation to that the discussion flowed toward our identities as learners and how those are connected to the institutions that were part of our learning experiences‡. This gave me pause to ponder.  As far as my educational experiences (in higher education) go I have two institutions: UMass Boston, and Athabasca University.  While I've made many connections at both of these institutions; connections to people, places, knowledge, and experiences, I don't really think of myself as a "Beacon" (the UMB mascot).  I am wondering if part of this is cultural.  I do see a lot of people with academic paraphernalia (mugs, hats, cups, sweaters, flags) from their alma matters,  but this isn't something that appears to be of importance to me.  Now, granted I have (over the years) had mugs, hats, and sweaters from UMB...and a coffee mug from AU that I've used so much that it's falling apart, but I really don't know if those things were gone if I'd miss them, and hence seek out a replacement.  The institutions that have played a role in our education have certainly helped to shape us into who we are, but as far as identity goes, what do those various physical objects that we keep say about us in the end? Is it about the institution itself? Or about the individual who gifted the item to us?♠ 

Relating to the institution is what we studied. In one of the past vConnecting sessions I was part of, when we were socializing before starting the recording, Maha had made an observation that a number of us (me included) had started off as computer scientists for our undergraduate degrees, but have moved on from that field. My own learning journey has taken me into many twisting, turning, and branching areas of knowledge; and while I ultimately chose Education as the field for my doctoral work, the previous fields I've studied are still elements of curiosity for me, and I would say inform my day-to-day work.  Over the past number of years I've wanted to get back into coding, partly because I thought that this is what computer scientists do. I was thinking to myself: well, how can I call myself a computer scientist if I don't code.  Maybe I am a "lapsed" computer scientist? Nah, that sounds too negative, after all I still use a lot of the knowledge gained through that course of study to understand the world now, so how can I be lapsed? Then came the aha moment:  Maha said something interesting - she said that she was a "Computer scientist who left the code behind".  This was a good definition of where I am.  I still consider myself a computer scientist, but I have no interest in coding at the moment (at least not for money or for my 9-to-5). What we study/ied has helped frame how we see the world, and how we interact with it, whether we like it or not; and we get to see connections between one domain of knowledge and another♦.


What about what we do?
Another strand of being and identity came from what we do (I assume this is professional or from our pastimes).  The question is do the things we do define us?  And if we stopped doing them would they still define us?  I think that what we do defines us to some extend, but not others.  For example, from a professional perspective, I've had a variety of job titles over the past 20 years at my institution (hard to believe it's been that long). While I am no longer performing the duties of a media services worker, or a library worker, or even an IT worker on a day to day basis, many of my colleagues who've known me  over the last two decades (who are still here) do reach out to me for Tech-y, IT-y, Instructional Design-y things that concern my department, even though many of those things are not in my formal job description.  The institution, by means of the people involved, remembers me and my skillset, and it's just natural for them to reach out to the person that they know to get things done.  Do I miss certain aspects of old jobs?  Sure.  Do I miss the old jobs? not really.  Would I miss my current job if I moved elsewhere?  Probably not.  I enjoy what I do, but it doesn't define me.  The relationships between people (faculty, staff, and students of my department) are what define my time here, and who I am (in relation to them) more than being the person who manages the various processes that need to happen for a department to run successfully.


Identity is like a tree
I am not sure if the heading is something I thought of while watching the video chat between Stephen and Maha, or if it's something they said.  Either way, I see identity as a tree. It's a complex organism. It has roots that are nurtured by what surrounds it.  It is impacted by the environment it's in, and it grows leaves and branches. Periodically it gets pruned as conditions change.



Miscellaneous Observations
academic identity
There was an interesting point that Maha brought up.  She indicated isn't all that up to speed with reading literature in her field in arabic.  Her academic identity is English (or in English? it's been a while since I took these notes). This was interesting in that I identify the same way.  My academic competence was developed in English (college and graduate school) and the last time I was in an academic environment where Greek was the language of instruction was in 8th grade. While I can read just fine (and I would like to expand my repertoire to read academic literature in my field in Greek), I do no consider myself fully bilingual when it comes to academic materials.  I can read and comprehend just fine, but writing academic materials in Greek isn't as easy as it is in English.

Despite the bumpy road with academic Greek, I've wanted to write in Greek, partly because it would potentially open the access to non-English speakers. However, when considering the fine time one has, the cost of such a transaction (time and effort spent), and the fact that it doesn't necessarily advance your academic career, you do have to pause and wonder whether your resources are spent well.  If translating your work to another language is a hobby - great.  Another thing that I consider, even for someone like me (who is on the fence about such a career), you want to be 'future proof' your career in a sense, so English makes the most sense as the primary language to publish in.

Finally, a big question that has come up♥  is who gets to call themselves an academic? While I do teach from time to time, that's not my day-job (I am a manager by title, administrator by function).  When I teach I am a lecturer even though I don't lecture, and I am never a professor even though some of my students address me with that title.  I do research and publish from time to time, but that's neither required nor rewarded from neither my part-time teaching gig, nor my day-job. While I do perform tasks in the three categories that many consider key categories in the work of an academic in the US∋, I am not generally considered an academic (and feel rather weird calling myself that).  I think Frances Bell and Jenny Mackness call themselves an Itinerant Scholar which sounds more appealing to me. While I do work in higher education, the noun academic doesn't feel welcoming as a title/descriptor.  At least in the US there seems to be a sharp distinction between faculty and staff (everyone not faculty). Faculty being more prestigious and at a higher tier than us lowly staff. Academic many times feels like a synonym for faculty, hence the oppression of the system I work in somehow makes claiming that title feel wrong - like you're an impostor. At the end of the day who gets to call themselves an academic?  Is it an endonym? or an exonym? What should it be?


personal brand
As much as I want this term to die out already, watching this interview I was left wondering where identity fits in with the concept of personal brand. Not sure what the answer is - maybe an entire discussion of its own.


On one of these days I need to do that identity graph 'assignment' :-)



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Marginalia:
♣ OK, fine, it's been quite a while ago - been busy with other things ;-)
† emphasis to note where people mistakenly put the accent
‡ OK! OK! This is my extrapolation of the discussion in order to make this category. The discussion seemed much more interweaved with institutions and what we do in the discussion. Bear with me.
♠ In thinking about both the AU and UMB stuff I have, most have been gifts from mentors and colleagues. I have yet to buy something with my own money with the university logo on it.
♦ The lack of interconnection is something I actually see when I peer review journal submissions.  Many people tend to publish in their disciplinary journals, and only do their literature reviews in those domains of knowledge, even when they are writing about teaching and learning (e.g., a chemist, or management PhD writing about teaching online).  This leads to a lot of poor research writing because the lack of cross-disciplinary connections means that the people writing don't have a good understanding of the field they are writing about, and if they attempt to have an understanding it's often surface level. Just a random thought.
♥ as I re-read this blog post several weeks after I started it...
∋ Research, Teaching, and Service being those three categories. 
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