E-Learning and Digital Media
ISSN 2042-7530


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Volume 3 Number 2 2006

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CONTENTS [click on author's name for abstract and full text]

 

SPECIAL ISSUE
Digital Interfaces
Guest Editor: ANGELA THOMAS

Editorial, pages 124‑125
Angela Thomas. ‘MSN was the Next Big Thing after Beanie Babies’: children’s virtual experiences as an interface to their identities and their everyday lives, pages 126‑142
Sally Humphrey. ‘Getting the Reader On Side’: exploring adolescent online political discourse, pages 143‑157
Barbara J. Guzzetti. Cybergirls: negotiating social identities on cybersites, pages 158‑169
Rebecca W. Black. Language, Culture and Identity in Online Fanfiction, pages 170‑184
Kevin Leander & Amy Frank. The Aesthetic Production and Distribution of Image/Subjects among Online Youth, pages 185‑206
Lalitha Vasudevan. Making Known Differently: engaging visual modalities as spaces to author new selves, pages 207‑216
Julia Davies. Affinities and Beyond! Developing Ways of Seeing in Online Spaces, pages 217‑234
Guy Merchant. Identity, Social Networks and Online Communication, pages 235‑244
Jonathan Paul Marshall. Categories, Gender and Online Community, pages 245‑262

BOOK REVIEW
E-Literature for Children: enhancing digital literacy learning (Len Unsworth), reviewed by Angela Thomas, pages 263‑264
DOI: 10.2304/elea.2006.3.2.263 VIEW FULL TEXT


Editorial

DOI: 10.2304/elea.2006.3.2.124

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It is a great honour to have been invited to be a guest editor for this issue of E-Learning. I feel privileged and indebted to both Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel, as well as their colleague editors who entrusted the issue to me, and thank them sincerely. For some time now I have been troubled by the sense that people writing about e-learning have a slightly reductionist approach to what learning through digital and electronic media can mean from a global perspective. I have read numerous articles about, for example, how to set up a discussion board for university students, but little about the wider context of what is actually happening in online spaces and how educators can use what we learn from that. Consequently, this issue is somewhat reactionary; I have not selected articles that locate their research in classroom practices involving computers. Instead, I have moved into the broader contexts of the contemporary worlds of both children and adults, to examine how they are negotiating their lives in and around online spaces. In choosing to do this, I am hoping that the articles provoke thought, discussion and questions about how we approach what we do in the classroom in the name of e-learning.

The focus of this special issue of E-Learning is ‘Digital Interfaces’. The articles examine the issue of identity in and around digital contexts. As our lives become increasingly more technologically inclusive, we face new opportunities to e-xplore, e-xamine, e-xtend, e-xperiment, and e-volve. Technology is changing the ways we think about the world and the ways we position ourselves in the world. Our involvement in and around digital contexts has opened up a place for living within a multiplicity of identities, and through this we can act out our fantasies, become the Other of our desire, and just as importantly, in the words of Tiana, a 15-year-old girl: ‘It’s not becoming your own hero that’s the point – it’s allowing what’s inside of you to show through’.

And yet online our selves can be conveniently edited; we can be kinder and funnier and more intelligent. In a series of posts about her online life, Tiana told me: ‘The person I show to others online is outgoing, different, and not afraid to be herself’. Shadow, a 14-year-old boy, revealed, ‘I am sort of a persona, me but minus the things I don’t like about myself’. Other children revealed to me that rather than edited selves, they become fused selves with their online role-playing characters. The faces shown to others online may be masks of other personae or characters, yet underneath are intimately fused with the self.

What are the consequences and implications of these new faces: the faces of our cyborg self, our edited self, our hybrid self, our self fused and blended into another character, and the Other of our desire? What can we actually learn in this masquerade of fragmentation, which has become a hallmark of post-modern identity? In this issue of E-Learning, our contributors discuss aspects of these matters, drawing on a range of theoretical, sociological and political perspectives. Thoughts about gender, race, youth, politics, power, trust, and authenticity are critically discussed with respect to the many faces and inter-faces of the digital world.

In the first article, I have attempted to establish the theme for the overall issue by pointing out the ways young people are moving seamlessly between their online and offline worlds. In fact, for young people who have grown up ‘wired’, I point out that there is no striking dichotomy between the ‘online’ and the ‘offline’: they face the same sorts of issues, everyday discourses, and struggles for friendship, popularity, and identity formation in their online worlds as they do in their offline worlds.

The second article, by Sally Humphrey, reports how adolescents are using online spaces for political and social activism, which are having a significant impact on policy-making in Australia and very real consequences. The particular political issue she explores with young people is the plight of refugee children in detention centres in Australia. Humphrey uses semiotic analysis to analyse in detail the blog of one young girl, Zahra, to explore both the linguistic and visual features employed by her to develop solidarity with readers and to ultimately realise her political goals.

Barbara Guzzetti’s article presents the case studies of two girls, Saundra and Corgan, to examine how adolescents are finding affinity spaces online that support their general interests as well as discuss, promote and explore their identities as political activists.

Following this, Rebecca W. Black’s article provides an in-depth study of one girl, Nanako, and reports how her online fanfiction community assisted her in becoming a proficient and successful writer of English. Of particular interest is Black’s finding that Nanako’s writing in the fanfiction context was not constrained by an ascribed English language learning role and/or specific expectations and requirements for her texts. Instead, Nanako’s process of writing fanfiction enabled her to perform different aspects of her identity in different ways over the years.

In the next article, Kevin Leander & Amy Frank present the everyday digital imaging practices of two young people, Sophia and Brian, and argue for an understanding of these practices to include affective and aesthetic dimensions. Developing a social practice theory of identity, the authors explore how individuals participate and assume agency in the production and distribution of media.

Lalitha Vasudevan presents a case study of Romeo, an African-American adolescent boy. Her article explores how Romeo engaged a range of digital modalities in an out-of-school context in order to (re)make and (re)present himself in ways he could not in his school life, where modes of participation were often limited and predetermined. She shows how Romeo used the representational spaces opened up by these digital modalities to author new selves and present new possibilities of what it meant to be him by intentionally documenting multiple dimensions of his life.

Julia Davies draws upon Bhabha’s ‘Third Space’ theory to situate her research of the use of Flickr (an online photography community) by its members. Of particular interest is the taxonomy of self-presentation, commenting and viewing practices within Flickr sub-groups.

Guy Merchant focuses particularly on issues of authenticity, identity and social networks online. He raises the importance of cataloguing the details of how identities are played out across multiple social networks in both online and offline interactions.

The final article, by Jonathan Paul Marshall, explores issues of authenticity, identity, privacy, power, community and gender as they occur in online spaces. Using the Cybermind mailing list as a case study, Marshall highlights how gender is used as a category in online spaces, and what effect this has had on the community, including in offline, ‘in the flesh’ meetings. He also demonstrates that offline markers of identity cannot help but be significant in the online world.

Angela Thomas
University of Sydney, Australia

‘MSN Was the Next Big Thing after Beanie Babies’: children’s virtual experiences as an interface to their identities and their everyday lives

DOI: 10.2304/elea.2006.3.2.126

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In this article the author explores the seamlessness between children’s online and offline worlds. For children, there is no dichotomy of online and offline, or virtual and real; the digital is so much intertwined into their lives and psyche that the one is entirely enmeshed with the other. Despite early research pointing to the differences that mark the virtual as a space of ‘otherness’, the author suggests that the fabric of children’s everyday lives knows no such distinct demarcation, and that what they do in their virtual worlds significantly affects how they connect to society. Moreover, through the virtual, children are simultaneously engaging in acts of self-reflection, self-fashioning and identity formation. Using data from a longitudinal ethnographic study of children online, the author illuminates a number of case studies which support this argument. She does this by using narrative accounts based on extensive interviews with the children.

 

‘Getting the Reader On Side’: exploring adolescent online political discourse

DOI: 10.2304/elea.2006.3.2.143

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In recent years there has been growing awareness of the need to support primary and secondary students in developing competencies for active and participatory citizenship. Among the essential competencies identified in a recent study of politically active teachers was the ability to expand ideas into arguments. This article reports on the early stages of a study which aims to describe key semiotic resources used by adolescents engaged in political or social activism. The study is first contextualised within current literacy, education and youth studies research. Resources used by one young social activist to argue a case and raise awareness on her weblog are then analysed and the implications for e-learning discussed.

 

Cybergirls: negotiating social identities on cybersites

DOI: 10.2304/elea.2006.3.2.158

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Cyberspace has been regarded as an ideal site for adolescents’ identity exploration since it is socially mediated. Liberal cyberfeminists argue that virtual spaces promote gender equality, fluidity, and unity through body-free interactions. This study investigated the cybersites frequented by two adolescent girls who eschewed typical representations of gender in their online and offline worlds. The purpose of the study was to describe how these young women constructed and consumed dynamic websites in their formations and representations of their identities as ‘Do-It-Yourselfers’ and punk rock fans. In situ observations, online interviews, and screen printouts were collected and analysed to describe how these textual creations in cyberspace facilitated or impeded identity construction. The cases illustrate how these adolescent girls made use of websites for affirmation, reflection, reinforcement, and negotiation in the process of staking claims about their selves, and demonstrate how the online environment may provide safe spaces for girls that are not found offline.

 

Language, Culture, and Identity in Online Fanfiction

DOI: 10.2304/elea.2006.3.2.170

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This article draws on constructs in second-language acquisition, literacy, cultural, and media studies as theoretical bases for examining how networked technologies and fan culture provide a young English language learner (ELL) with a site for developing her English language and writing skills. During this process, she also develops an online identity as a popular, multiliterate writer. To understand how this happens, the notion of identity is explored as a fluid construct that shifts over time with this ELL’s long-term participation in a fan community. Popular and fan culture are also examined as points of affiliation and as dialogic resources that she appropriates, both in her writing and in her interactions with other fans. In so doing, the article demonstrates how popular culture and technology converge to provide a context in which this adolescent ELL is able to develop a powerful, transcultural identity, discursively constructed through the different cultural perspectives and literacies that she and other fans from across the globe bring to this space.

 

The Aesthetic Production and Distribution of Image/Subjects among Online Youth

DOI: 10.2304/elea.2006.3.2.185

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In this article the authors consider how youth engage in social practices of identity through their online practices with images. Although they build on social practice perspectives, informed by the new literacy studies, they question the extent to which such perspectives have created new autonomies and separations, including the separation of texts from sensation and from the body. An essential part of interpreting imaging identity practice, they argue, involves understanding how people relate to images aesthetically. Through affect, desire, and sensory immersion, we might begin to understand how images become both intensely personalized and broadly distributed. Data in the article are drawn from a larger ethnographic study of the offline and online literacies of youth across school and home contexts. Analyses focus on two cases: Sophia, who remixes, modifies, and trades images to build a website for a punk rock band, and Brian, who modifies and constructs images for online game-play. Analyses of these data are informed by social practice perspectives on identity, by the domains or ‘strada’ of media practices, and by postmodern perspectives on figural signification.

 

Making Known Differently: engaging visual modalities as spaces to author new selves

DOI: 10.2304/elea.2006.3.2.207

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In the increasingly digital and multimodal landscape of adolescents’ literacies, it is particularly interesting to explore how young people are making and remaking their identities in online and offline spaces. These self-authoring practices are especially significant when the authors are African American adolescent boys, whose lives are often storied by others. This article brings the lenses of counterstorytelling and multimodality together to explore one boy’s re-presentation of his multiple selves through his engagement with various technologies and the production of visual texts.

 

Affinities and Beyond! Developing Ways of Seeing in Online Spaces

DOI: 10.2304/elea.2006.3.2.217

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This article presents an insider view of an online community of adults involved in sharing digital photography through a host website, Flickr. It describes how reciprocal teaching and learning partnerships in a dynamic multimodal environment are achieved through the creation of a ‘Third Space’ or ‘Affinity Space’, where ‘Funds of Knowledge’ are shared and processed in such a way that new meanings and discourses are generated. It is argued that this process is evidence of valuable learning and of the deepening of global understandings within the local space of Flickr. The new understandings are at least partly identifiable on the Flickr space, through the co-constructed ‘folksonomy’ or ‘online taxonomy’ of ways of looking at the world. Further, the article provides evidence for broadening existing definitions of literacy, at a time when the visual mode increasingly works interactively with verbal cues and explanations.

 

Identity, Social Networks and Online Communication

DOI: 10.2304/elea.2006.3.2.235

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Arguments about whether or not the Internet is creating new people or simply helping us to see ourselves in new ways are threaded through the literature on digital culture. People make new technology and exploit it for their own purposes and so it is reasonable to suggest that any changes in our social identities are wider in their reach than the digital media through which they may be expressed. By taking a perspective that is informed by the social theory of Giddens, this article explores the relationship between identity performance and social network theory, and in so doing, aims to set an agenda for future research that enables us to capture how identities are played out across social networks in both online and offline interactions.

 

Categories, Gender and Online Community

DOI: 10.2304/elea.2006.3.2.245

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This article presents a sketch for a theory of the rhetorics involved in categorisation and the creation of culture in online communities. Persuasion, or shaping perceptions of the world, is never incidental to social life, but living online necessarily involves persuasion as it is difficult to bring force to bear, although people can be temporarily excluded from different groups to different degrees, and the modality of persuasion may be influenced by the structures of communication in play. Communication almost always involves an attempted act of power aiming to produce a response in another. It is argued that linguistic categories, especially self-identity categories, are to some extent flexible, and that they exist in connection and contrast with other categories. The meaning of categories depends upon the ways they are framed (frames can also be categories), and framing and category content can be the subject of argument. Among the most important ways of framing online by Westerners are by space, public/private, authenticity, gender and community. The rest of the article explores the nature of online communication and power; how gender is used as a category; the kinds of effects that this categorisation has had; and how this category becomes salient within the framework of people making a ‘community’ on the Cybermind mailing list.

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