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Establishing Your Digital Identity

Advocating Your Identity

A constant argument you will hear in the world of education at any level is how to grade or assess students. Should we measure a student’s intellect from a standardized test produced from a major corporation or from a project that allows more creativity? While these arguments seem to center around a disagreement on what captures intellect, I think it touches on something different and more fundamental wrong with our education system: we do not care about a student’s identity. Schools and institutions struggle to separate from standardized testing because we operate on the fundamental belief that students should be defined in graphs and charts, not their own growth. 

This is why I think that programs like “Domain of One’s Own” are essential but face huge structural obstacles. The creators of “Domain of One’s Own” wished to allow students to create their own digital space and truly express their own identity and creativity for free. Domains like Facebook essentially control the digital identities of their customers, so if Facebook dies, so does their digital identity. However, with “Domain of One’s Own”, students can control and define their digital identity after a class is done or once they have finished their education. This is an exciting development, but I think this program will face many of the same problems that other developments in education have faced: “well, that doesn’t really count to show capability.” 

New and emerging historians can relate to this problem. We feel discouraged to invest our time and energy into projects that express our interests and ideas through different platforms because our tenured peers do not recognize them as actual pieces of work. I am not sure how to combat this in an effective manner besides actively working to promote our identities and present how this can aid our fields. Kathleen Fitzpatrick stated in her article “Voices: Twitter at Conferences” that platforms like Twitter “have the potential to demonstrate what it is that we as scholars do, and why the broader culture should care about it.” Engaging online with Twitter, creating new domains, and advocating for ourselves as our own historians is the best way we can maintain our digital identity in the face of academic oppression. 

In the face of social distancing and the mandate to work from home during a pandemic, I think the older faculty in our field will realize that digital platforms do matter, and not just for our work, but for our own mental health. There are many reasons to be scared right now, but the thing that disorients me the most is my daily routine of engaging with peers on academic discussion is gone. My intellectual productivity is about to look very different in the face of COVID-19. Therefore, I think it is valuable for all teachers, professors, and administrators to take into account how we express our academic identities, rather than limiting our success to a previous model that no longer applies. We are all trying to do our best during this time, and I hope this shows how our system needs to move towards one based on identity and success rather than meeting goals. 

4 replies on “Advocating Your Identity”

I definitely agree with your argument about the obstacles “Domain of One’s Own” will face from the education system. For so long, as you said, students have been evaluated based on standardized criteria that does not take their identity into account. Tasks they might be able to do in place of standardized tests and other universal assessment practices, that could show their intellectual capabilities while allowing them to feel like their own person (and not a number on a graph), should be explored as assessment options. “Domain of One’s Own” is important in this aspect because it allows students to take back their identity (at least online), and show intellectual ability through expressing themselves instead of through a rigid test. Plus, as you mentioned, this tool can help students with their future goals, because they can learn to establish an online identity correctly, and avoid pitfalls like “wild” pictures, inappropriate comments, etc. that they could be judged for by employers.

Students having an online identity in their control, and being able to express their individuality through it, relates well to historians who need the same thing. Many historians are afraid to establish an online presence for fear of peer judgement for not doing “real” research/work/teaching. In much the same way as students, historians are evaluated on capability based on the amount of books and articles they publish, and not on the quality of any digital projects they might create, that could have taken as long as a book to create! This needs to change, as you said, in order for all forms of work and ability to be fully recognized, and in order for historians to grow in their field without feeling like their identity and talent is being stifled by an older system.

I’m glad a fellow education major understood my analogy – thanks Elizabeth! We need to take steps to ensure students, in public K-12 schools and higher ed alike, can create in a safe space but still be recognized for their work.

I am not sure that the current COVID-19 epidemic will convince those academics against technology and new kinds of scholarship that a new form of scholarship is needed. It may be necessary, in the future, to help ease these academics to this new way of thinking using a method similar to grief counseling. We can validate the way they have been creating scholarship while stressing the importance of new forms of scholarship. Also, historians did not make traditional forms of scholarship for general public consumption. If historians are not sharing their findings with the general population for them to learn from, then why do we study history? I believe the information itself is not important; it is what we do with it that matters. Historians work has the potential to change the way the world runs and functions, and to create a better future by learning from the successes and mistakes of the past. However, this will not happen if the research performed by historians is left to sit on a shelf, never read except by other scholars making new and different arguments about how and why events happened.

A major obstacle is reaching and engaging with the public. I agree that this should be a major point of focus rather than changing the material. I find that people are interested more in someone’s personal story rather than a broad narrative. I wonder if sites like “Domain of One’s Own” is the key to reaching out to the general public?

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