Guest post – DigiLearn Sector: The value of digital identity in an online community

Published by Caroline Carlin on

Author: Daniel Scott – Digital Curriculum Support and Developer, Nottingham Trent University

When you join an online community of practice, it is often a daunting process to get acquainted with the people and a sense of the culture that resides within it. Depending on the rationale and nature of the community, social interaction of its members is often optional but encouraged. To me, a true community of practice is one that acknowledges and nurtures people’s individual value; enabling expression of who you are and articulating what you bring to it – amongst many other reasons and benefits.

Visible digital identity is crucial to establishing presence, connection and communication with others in an online community of practice. Otherwise, this can discourage the exchange of knowledge and practice which the communities are intended for. Whilst platforms may vary on functionality for creating a suitable digital identity or profile, the bare minimum should include: a clear name (not acronyms), profile picture (preferably a current photograph), a strap line or key words of interest, and/or current role title and organisation. Enough for community members to get a feel of your professional role, expertise and background. If you are limited by this, introducing yourself is a much better way of bringing your identity to life. As illustrated through Jisc’s ‘Digital capability framework’, digital identity envelops the subsequent digital elements, therefore making it an essential digital skill and opportunity. However, in the context of a social online community, digital identity requires much more than a visual representation, but social interaction to articulate your identity to become visible and known to others.

With this in mind, I will walk through the value of digital identity in an exemplar community of practice; the University of Central Lancashire’s DigiLearn Sector community, and how it supported production of the mini case studies featured in my new book ‘Digital Learning, Teaching and Assessment for HE and FE Practitioners’. An accessible, practical yet theory-based educational guide for early-career practitioners, and those in learning technologist roles.

Digital Learning, Teaching and Assessment for HE and FE Practitioners (book)
Book – ‘Digital Learning, Teaching and Assessment for HE and FE Practitioners’ by Daniel Scott

In early 2019 I joined the DigiLearn Sector community due to its accessible, practical and highly responsive nature – to discuss and share all things digital learning, teaching and working. I didn’t know anyone in the community upon joining, and although some names were familiar, I was completely new. Whilst not mandatory, you are encouraged to introduce yourself and post any questions that you have or support you are looking to find – establishing digital identity and presence. I later participated in the Certified Membership scheme having already met a few criteria, such as posting a community introduction video, actively sharing and supporting other members, delivering a webinar, and writing a post for the UCLan Centre for Collaborative Learning Blog. By being active and eventually participating in this scheme and completing the required tasks, it enabled me to understand and apply to the community’s values: connect and communicate; participate and innovate; develop and support; share and collaborate; celebrate and promote. But most importantly, it allowed me to develop and deepen my professional relationship with other Certified Membership candidates, and for us to later peer review each other’s ePortfolios. To learn more about my reflections on the Certified Membership experience, you can access my blog post ‘Certified DigiLearn Sector Community Membership’.

Throughout the continuous typical community engagement and Certified Membership scheme collaborations (synchronous and asynchronous), member’s expertise and practice became more visible. It allowed me to observe people’s interests, specialist areas and strengths, as well as cross-sector approaches in higher education, further education and schools. As an author, I had already planned the inclusion of mini case studies as part of the evolved version of the new book. Therefore, I approached a number of academics and learning technologists from the Certified Membership scheme to see if they would like to contribute a mini case study. Four of these individuals were UCLan colleagues: Kelly Stewart, Chris Melia, Debi Spencer and Sam Pywell – who exemplified what I was looking to include. I set a theme and steer on a topic relevant to the chapter I had assigned them to, and they each responded with what they wanted to talk about. What is published, is who valued and committed to the project, which is a testament to some of those relationships that had been strengthened throughout my participation in the DigiLearn Sector community.

Both the community and Certified Membership scheme have proven to be excellent initiatives in enabling and establishing active online presence, connection and collaboration amongst its members. The community’s role in developing the mini case studies for my book is further discussed in the conversation I had with Debi Spencer in our recent episode of the UCLan Centre for Collaborative Learning podcast.

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