DIGITAL IDENTITY: The promises & perils of existing online


Picture1Digital Identity refers to the persona an individual presents across the Internet. 
More and more people are becoming active users of technology, contributing rather than just consuming online content. This is a powerful opportunity, but if they lack adequate media literacies, managing their online selves may be challenging.

What does it mean to exist online and what opportunities and dangers this may entail? In spring 2015 I gave two relevant talks at IATEFL Manchester and TESOL Greece. Here’s a brief interview to British Council Manchester online and here’s a live-streamed talk by TESOL Greece.


Digital Identity is the sum of all digitally available information about an individual, irrespective of its degree of validity, its form or its accessibility (Williams, 2010). It comprises everything that can be found about us; from the content we create or share to what other people post about us; from the profiles we make to the conversations we have. It is also shaped by what can be inferred about us; our likes and searches, our purchases, our friends lists say a lot about us. And as the bits of data grow and combine, a complete picture of us emerges. A picture that is becoming increasingly accurate and traceable, due to the rapid growth of available data and the big data capacities to process it (Rose et al, 2012).

Does this sound scary? Well, it might but fear has never been a source of security. Instead, understanding what it really means to exist online and what opportunities and dangers it entails, makes it all worthwhile.


Participatory cultures & self-expression

Computer Chip

Existing online gives people more opportunities for self-expression. Rather than passively consuming content, we can create, curate and share; we can experiment with art, photography, poetry; we can adopt different writing styles to express our opinions and concerns. According to Stern (2007) all this gives people the opportunity to “have a voice”, an opportunity that may be rarer offline. Connecting with like-minded people and forming communities of relevance to our niche interests, can also lead to greater knowledge and richer intellectual exchanges. Personally, I would feel isolated without my online knowledge communities. Whether I have met these people face-to-face or not, I learn from and with them on a regular basis and they never stop to inspire me to become a better educator.


Online expression is more conscious and intentional because we have more time to think. I agree with Diane Boyd (2007, 2014) who says that Digital Identities “have to write themselves into being”. We write all the time when blogging, commenting, updating our statuses, tweeting, texting, chatting. Why is this important? James et al (2009:26) suggest that our need to write our digital identities into existence can encourage reflection, which can in turn “nurture greater awareness of one’s roles and responsibilities to oneself, to others, and to one’s community’. All these, of course, are potential opportunities and depend on how seriously we take our online expression. Just posting nonsense, doesn’t make us reflective 😉


Either positive or negative, feedback helps us to develop and grow. In the past, opportunities to get feedback were determined by physical space. Personally, I could only get feedback from those within easy reach such as family, friends or colleagues. Would you agree that getting immediate feedback is now just a tweet or blog away? This is a massive opportunity especially if feedback is constructive  and genuine.

Personal brand
Your personal brand is all about who you are and is in many ways synonymous with your reputation. It refers to the way other people see you as a teacher, blogger, trainer or representative of an idea or organization. What do you wish your online communities to associate you with when they think of your name? Do you know that employers will google you before they even invite you to an interview? Online spaces allow you to build and cultivate your brand BUT establishing a good reputation online is not easy. It involves much more than simply getting your name out there. Watch this space for practical tips on this.


The performative element

digital identity photo
Photo by easegill

People perform roles all the time; we are teachers, colleagues, employees, wives, husbands so our behaviour is essentially shaped by the roles we perform; however, forming digital identities with an eye toward attracting or entertaining a digital audience, may undermine the opportunities mentioned above (James et al, 2009). When people share in order to be liked or appreciated, self-promotion may become more valued or urgent than learning or reflecting, and this can be potentially harmful. In brief, it’s OK when we share happy moments or professional achievements with our connections but where do we draw the line between sharing and showing off?


Tethering & Digital Distractions 

Tethering means connecting one device to another, but Turkle (2008) coined the term to describe the nearly constant sharing of information and connectivity to others online. More and more people are becoming so increasingly attached to their networks that they need to continuously signal their current locations, activities and moods. This may set the stage for an over-reliance on (positive) feedback, which can undercuPicture4t autonomy and create fragmented identities (James et al 2009). And as multitasking is an abiding myth, it may also distract them from what they are doing be it attending a lecture or having an interpersonal, face to face interaction.

As a teacher, I find managing digital distractions in class increasingly challenging. Whether we embrace new technologies wholeheartedly or not, let’s face it, digital distractions can interfere with the learning experience. This does not mean that technology should or can be banned from the classroom. Mobile devices are here to stay whether they are supported by the teacher or secretly used by the students. The debate, therefore, should not be on whether we allow them but on how we can prevent them from becoming a distraction.  As part of my Digital Citizenship & Literacy research project, I’m currently working on this area and will be presenting around Europe over the next months.

Digital Identity as the currency of the digital market

It is common knowledge (or at least it should be) that all the “free” services that we enjoy online, are not really free. We pay with our own currency aka our personal information. This can be used for good purposes, but it can also ‘be unscrupulously traded and abused’ (Saxby, 2011).

It is beyond the scope of this post to elaborate on the implications of this, but I want to believe that not all implications are negative. Consumers will “spend” their personal data when the deals are right; and as we (the consumers) are becoming increasingly aware of this, stakeholders will inevitably need to face the challenge of establishing a trusted flow of this data.

Though research is still emerging with diverse understandings about the promises and perils of existing online, there are some important questions we should be asking: How can we make the most of online opportunities without harming our reputation and credibility as educators and professionals? More importantly, what are the pedagogical implications of these promises and perils and how should they inform our teaching practices and curricula?


Boyd, D. (2007). Why Youth (Heart) Social Networking Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life. In Youth, Identity and Digital Media, ed. D. Buckingham, 119–142. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Boyd, D. (2014). It’s Complicated. The Social Lives of Networked Teens. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

James, C., Davies, K., Flores, A., Francis, J., Pettingill, L., Rundle, M. Gardner, H. (2009). Young People, Ethics, and New Digital Media. A Synthesis from the GoodPlay Project. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Last accessed 20/3/15

Rose, J., Rober, B., Rehse, O. (2012). The Value of Our Digital Identity. The Boston Consulting Group, Liberty Global Policy Series. Last accessed 20/3/15

Saxby, S. (2011). in Digital Identity: An Emergent Legal Concept. Sullivan, D. South Australia: University of Adelaide Press

Stern, S. (2007). “Producing Sites, Exploring Identities: Youth Online Authorship.” In Youth, Identity and Digital Media, ed. D. Buckingham, 95–117. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Turkle, S. (1995). Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Turkle, S. (2008). “Always-on/Always-on-You: The Tethered Self.” In Handbook of Mobile Communications and Social Change, ed. J. Katz, 121– 138. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Williams, S. A., Fleming, S. C., Lundqvist, K. O. and Parslow, P. N. (2010). Understanding your digital identity. Learning Exchange, 1 (1). Last accessed 20/3/15






Digital Citizenship through past and upcoming presentations


Digital Citizenship has been the main focus of my work over the past few years. I explored it through my MA research thesis and have given talks at various conferences around Europe.  My last talk (“Digital Citizenship & ELT: A match made in heaven” ) took place at Digital ELT 2014, in Dublin; an annual event, organised by IATEFL LTSIG and MEI, and supported by ELT Ireland.

The following interview was originally published on Sylvia Guinan‘s blog after Digital ELT 2014. Sylvia, inspired by the event, revisits collective visions on digital learning and takes a look at predictions and trends on the future of education. Here is the original article featuring Gavin Dudeney, Caroline Moore, John Whipple, John Whipple, Nellie Muller Deutsch, Peter Lahiff, Christine Mullaney and myself. A must read!

And below are my replies to her questions:

Photo taken by Sylvia Guinan at Digital ELT 2014

What did you talk about at the Digital ELT Ireland conference and how can it influence where learning is going?                        

I talked about Digital Citizenship and suggested ways it can be integrated into an ELT curriculum. Digital Citizenship is an educational approach that involves literacies, skills and competences for effective digital participation. It aims at educating people to make informed decisions about the content they consume, create or share and critically reflect on the impact this may have, both on themselves and others. In my presentation, I suggested that technology integration should not be a tool-oriented approach and I challenged the existing paradigms in technology education that merely invest in technology equipment but take its responsible use for granted. Our students might be particularly confident users of technology but this doesn’t mean that they can use it effectively. If we want them to develop these skills, then, it stands to reason that the best way is to simply teach them.

Can you describe one major highlight from 2014 that makes a difference to you as an educator and/or has wider significance for ELT in general?

I think that the way we connect as educators is evolving. I’ve always been a proponent of Personal Learning Networks (PLNs), and on a personal level my own network has been a source of inspiration, support and learning for me. However, at times, I felt that ELT PLNs were becoming ‘mutual admiration societies’ where no criticism or debate could be encouraged or tolerated. Also, lack of netiquette or filter by some, self-promotion or cliques by others, made me wonder whether the whole idea was soon going to decline. Networks are ecosystems; to be sustainable all the elements should be healthy. I am happy to see we are gradually taking PLNs to the next level and becoming more conscious and mature about the way we connect and share.

What are your professional plans for 2015 and are there any important trends in digital learning that we should watch out for in 2015?

I plan to write a book on Digital Citizenship drawing on my thesis and ongoing research. Hopefully, this will start in 2015. As for important trends, I think there will be less focus on ‘cool tools’ and more focus on pedagogically-sound, well-researched ways these can be used. Learning (and teaching) is not about mastering 100 tools, it’s not about bells and whistles; it is about making informed and wise choices. It’s high time we moved beyond the hype and invest in what really matters.

A big thanks to Sylvia for the interview and for giving me permission to re-post it here.


logoThis weekend (14/03/2015) I I am giving a keynote at the 2nd Educational Technology Summit in Istanbul. The summit will bring together educators, technology companies, entrepreneurs, managers and other stakeholders who will raise new questions and share best practices “in an age shaped by the widespread use of new technologies in education” (ETZ 2015). My speech – “Digital Citizenship: A Burning Issue in EdTech” – will stress the importance of integrating digital literacies and competences into the curriculum and suggest ways educators can be involved. Big congrats to Işıl Boy, the executive committee, and everyone else involved on organising #ETZ15. We need more events like this one.


We need pedagogy, not just cool tools


Rubik Apps
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: César Poyatos via Compfight

Whether we have fully integrated technology or not, few of us can deny that learning technologies can revolutionise language learning and teaching; we can find information at the click of a button, create content and share it with the world, communicate and collaborate beyond the boundaries of our classrooms, have a Personal Learning Network and be inspired to become lifelong learners.

There are plenty of options available; various blogging platforms, voice recording tools, LMS software (Learning Management System), social media, you name it; and there is also a lot of information about them. Colleagues who have tried a tool might write a blog post; educational technologists might give reviews on new tools. All this is valuable and I have personally learned a lot out of it. However, what happens when this information comes out in the form of lists such as “100 must-have digital tools for teachers” or “50 tools every teacher should master this summer”? What about blogs whose only purpose is to present “cool tools” day after day? Isn’t all this a bit overwhelming?

Kozzi-panic-emoticon-1888 X 1112

Through discussions with colleagues and trainees, I can only say that such information can hardly help teachers decide what to choose and what to reject. Some of their comments include the following:

  • “There are too many tools but too little time”.

  • “I’m not trained, I can’t decide”.

  • “They all look the same to me”.

  • “New technologies seem to appear everyday. I just can’t keep up”.

Does this ring any bells?

I don’t think that what those teachers need is a reminder that they should soon master 50 or more tools. Education has never been a matter of quantity. I guess what they really need is training and clear criteria against which to evaluate and choose technologies; they need to be able to make informed decisions about whether or not to integrate them into their classrooms. They also need to be reassured that if their goal for students is language learning then technology is just a means to an end, not an end in itself.

I feel that just presenting tool after tool is a rather narrow perspective about the potential of Educational Technology.

The hype to use the latest and greatest digital tools – rather than the meaningful use of technology – is like driving a cool car without any vision for where we want to go.

Let’s take the focus off the tool; Instead, let’s focus on:

  • the pedagogy behind the tool and use it because it addresses our students’ cognitive needs, not because it is available or exciting.

  • developing critical thinkers with the ability to find, reflect on, curate and synthesise information.

  • developing lifelong learners who will be able to create and use their Personal Learning Networks to self-educate and grow.

  • educating digital citizens, that is, responsible members of an increasingly global and interconnected world who know their rights and responsibilities; people who can make informed decisions about the content they create or share and its impact on themselves and on the other members of a digital community.

Cool tools might still be welcome to our classrooms but this won’t make them more appropriate for learning.

If you are interested in the topic and you are around Thessaloniki, Greece, on the 15th of December, come along and join us at the TESOL Macedonia – Thrace Christmas event where I will be talking about “Evaluating and Choosing Educational Digital Tools and Apps ”.


All things in eModeration: Moderating Class Blogs and Facebook Student Groups

Once in a Blue Moon
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: saebaryo via Compfight

This post is a response to the TESOL Greece blog challenge on eModeration. It is primarily aimed at EFL teachers of young learners, teens and young adults but I hope teachers of other disciplines and age groups will find some areas of interest. It will try to answer the following questions:

  • What is moderation and why is it important?
  • What should we moderate in class blogs and Facebook student groups? 
  • What are the challenges involved and how can we deal effectively with them?

What is moderation?

In general terms, moderation is the process of eliminating or lessening extremes. It is used to ensure normality throughout the medium on which it is being conducted.

In computing terms, a moderator needs to:

  • monitor and often censor inappropriate comments and posts that are left for public display
  • keep users on topic
  • keep the discussion thread free of personal insults and derogatory comments.

Why moderating?

Merely creating an online community such as a class blog or a Facebook group does not necessarily lead to productive discussions or learning. Additionally, we should not assume that students, regardless of their age, are aware of concepts such as responsible online conduct and digital citizenship. What if their posts are not always appropriate? What about spam and flaming?

Consequently, the teacher’s role in moderating and facilitating purposeful discussions and contributions is vital. As a moderator you will have to take informed decisions about:

  • when a post or comment should be approved.
  • how to organise online discussions and motivate students to participate in them.
  • how to help students feel part of a learning community.
  • how to develop their digital literacy skills’ so that moderation can gradually become less frequent.

 Class Blogs


Dream classroom
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Charles Wiriawan via Compfight

The degree and criteria against which to evaluate what should or shouldn’t be moderated might depend on various factors such as the age of your students or whether they have been introduced to eSafety and Digital Citizenship skills. In the early stages, while students should be given freedom over the ideas they express, they should also be aware that you are the administrator of the blog and thus posts and comments should be first approved by you. This is to ensure that only appropriate content is posted on your blog and that a high degree of etiquette is maintained. And as your blog will probably be public, you should know that practically anyone on the web can visit and leave a comment. Would you like your students to read inappropriate comments or be exposed to potentially suspicious links contained in them? To my experience, this rarely happens but I strongly believe moderation is of vital importance to protect your online community from the potential risk.

For class blogs I would suggest the following:

  • Make sure your students are aware of the rules and guidelines of the blog so that they know what is or isn’t appropriate. If possible, involve them in the decision making. It will encourage greater ownership and motivation to respect the rules.
  • Consistency is important. Decide in advance whether posts or comments that contain accuracy mistakes will be accepted or not. I personally think that rejecting such content can be extremely discouraging for students but it clearly depends on the primary aims of your blog. I publish comments even if they contain mistakes to reinforce students’ communication skills and sense of community. As far as posts are concerned, I adopt a process writing approach where students submit their first draft and then revise their work according to my feedback. You need to make your own decisions as a class and stick to them.
  • Decide in advance whether or not you are going to moderate YLs & teens’ personal pictures. While there is not a consensus decision on this, you should know that according to Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) for example, you need the parents’ consent to post a picture of an under 13 year-old-child. My piece of advice? Students of all ages love posting their pictures on class blogs and might feel disappointed to see them turned down. I generally advise students to attach creative commons licensed pictures but when someone attaches a picture of themselves, I use skitch to blur the face even when the parents don’t mind their kid’s picture posted online.  
  • Be aware of the links students might share on posts or comments. I think that not allowing students to share links would not reflect reality since we all do on a regular basis. Instead, teach them that not all links are innocent and that they should check before they share with their classmates. In any case, moderate before you post. Quite recently, a student of mine left the following comment on our blog:
A comment from our class blog
A comment on our class blog


Although the student is a responsible internet user, I thought it was essential that I first ensure the link was a safe one and that it did not direct students to illegal game downloads. 


  • As I have already written on a previous post, teaching commenting skills is necessary if we are to transform our blog from a static space to an interactive community. According to Morris (2011) quality comments are:

1      Relevant to the post.

2      Complementing the writer, asking a question or adding further information to the post.

3      Proofread by the students for correct spelling, grammar and punctuation.

As a moderator, you might also need to provide timely intervention when a discussion goes off topic or when an argument should be resolved. Sometimes students might transfer an argument that started in class to the blog especially when they feel active parts of this online community. Your role as a moderator and facilitator can be vital in such cases.

Facebook student groups

Facebook Expert
Photo Credit: mkhmarketing via Compfight

Unlike blogs, Facebook groups do not allow administrators to approve comments before they are published. All you can do is delete posts and comments or even remove members in case things get out of hand. For this reason, I would suggest that teachers create a Facebook group only when they have introduced their students to concepts such as appropriate online behaviour and responsible digital citizenship. Having said that, I do believe Facebook can be a great learning platform if used effectively. Our students are there anyway so why not make learning more approachable to them? I totally appreciate protected platforms such as Edmodo or Schoology which might be essential in certain cases. However, adopting a constant risk-averse approach can be counterproductive and unrealistic. Students need to be given the opportunity to take risks in real contexts otherwise they won’t be able to manage risk effectively.

Most of what I mentioned about blogging applies to Facebook as well but below are some tips special to student Facebook groups:

  • Create a closed group for your students so that you can ensure only accepted members can access and post there.
  • Promote students who are willing and involved to administrators. It will take the burden off you and they will be given a great learning opportunity. You will also encourage a sense of ownership and belonging to the group.
  • Do not become Facebook friends with your students unless of course you do not post personal stuff on your account. Posting a family picture, teasing a friend online or checking in at a club might be things you wouldn’t like your students to know. it can be hard to decline requests but it will make your life so much easier. There are a few tips I can share on that so I intend to write a follow up post 🙂
  • Do not delete posts or comments just because you or other students don’t agree with some opinions expressed. On the contrary, encourage debate and use it as an opportunity to show students that freedom of speech is vital as long as people justify their opinions politely. 
  • If students spam or make inappropriate contributions I think you have every right to delete their posts or comments. After all, you are there to ensure students’ security and learning. Talk to the student in private and try to understand the reasons behind their actions. Sometimes teenagers or young adults just like to break the rules. I also think that, without identifying the student, you should use the incident as a topic for a class discussion. Instead of giving tedious lectures on inappropriate online behaviour, encourage students to comment on the incident and see for themselves why spamming or flaming is inappropriate.
  • As already mentioned, use this online community to promote responsible and wise social media use; turn mistakes into learning opportunities. I remember I once asked students to post a picture from their summer holiday and write something about it. We had already talked about privacy and digital footprint so I was surprised to see a picture of my 20-year-old student posing rather suggestively in her bikini. She was a nice girl and I’m sure she didn’t mean to provoke her classmates. After all, it is difficult to define the norms when young people are exposed to nude or semi-nude TV images all the time. The good thing about the incident was that it proved to be a great topic for a class discussion on digital identities which encouraged the girl to remove the picture herself.

A final piece of advice

Like - Thumb Up
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Moderation involves students’ participation to online communities and this is something that only you can encourage no matter how powerful a tool is. If participation is optional not all students are likely to contribute. On the other hand, if it is mandatory or marked it might feel like another task that needs to be done. It would be better to integrate it into your course so that students perceive it as an essential part of their learning. For example, you might start a discussion in class that could be continued online; or instead of asking them to write an essay, you could post a relevant video, ask them to discuss it with classmates online and then write something on this.




How do you moderate your students’ class blogs or Facebook groups? Would you add or remove anything from the above tips? I would be very interested to read your views 🙂