Identity and the Unintroduction #CLMOOC style

All, CLMOOC, Teaching, Technology

Brace yourself for a whole lot of MOOC (massively open online collaboration) for the next six weeks. I imagine I will sneak in some other blog topics but as I embark on my second #CLMOOC (Connected Learning) journey much of my time, energy, and writing will be focused on MOOC ideas and I’m sure that will be reflected here.

Our first deceptively simple first challenge was to Unmake an Introduction. The idea was to do more than simply introduce ourselves, but to explore and challenge the idea of identity and how context influences the ways we identify ourselves. More than that we were charged to explore how these identities come with built in boundaries that can include or exclude others as well as help us make connections with others (or inhibit those connections).

The questions this Make Cycle raised made my process much more of a struggle than I initially expected – an experience I saw echoed throughout the #CLMOOC community. This surprised me because I have been creating digital introduction for years. They play an important role in my community building process when I teach and for my work with the Morehead Writing Project (see Community Doesn’t Just Happen). Typically I use a mixture of six-word stories and me museums although after last year’s CLMOOC experience I changed the me museums to have more of a “How To Be/Make” flavor. However, as I struggled through my own first “Make’ I realized that the task I give my students – to introduce themselves in an unfamiliar, and perhaps intimidating, setting could actually be pretty challenging. They have to decide just how much of themselves they are willing to reveal and what identity or persona they want to adopt for the class. Sadly, too many of my students don’t have a lot of experience with a classroom community so they tend to go very superficial which is understandable. Perhaps I need to be more open and vulnerable in the way I introduce myself to provide a better model (see How To Make Deanna Mascle). I am still playing these ideas, but I am certain this make cycle will influence the ways that I introduce myself to my students and have my students introduce themselves.

As I said, I really struggled with a creative, playful way to unintroduce myself. I tried a lot of different tools and a lot of different ways. I did some word play using word cloud generators applied to my blog text (creating a digital footprint) as well as a list of titles or descriptions that could be applied to me. I shared an “I Am From” poem inspired by George Ella Lyon. I created an introductory mashup of videos, pictures, and web pages. None of it felt really right so I just put it all together into a Google collection I called the Unmade Intro (a journey) and called it a day. This make cycle taught me that this idea of introducing ourselves, defining ourselves, labeling ourselves is actually a really perilous journey. It is certainly fraught for me and it must be more so for my students who are moving from one world into another and contemplating still a third world. It must be terrifying for the middle school students we work with for our service learning project. I am already imaging the interesting conversations we can have exploring this idea of identity and labels and how it will make me a better teacher.

I love some of the really creative ways that my #CLMOOC playmates introduced themselves. For example, Mindy Early chose to introduce herself by exploring what she is not! That is definitely a great prompt and a great way to explore identity. Jessi Watson made a great short video that introduced her but also raised a lot of questions about the ways we “know” (or not so much) people. Jeffrey Keefer represented himself through poetry. Brian Kelly created the mashup that I wanted to make. Too bad I didn’t discover Thinglink sooner. I want to encourage my students to be more creative with their digital introductions in the future.

But there is also a serious side to all these questions of identity, labels, and representations – especially now in our current political climate. Kevin Hodgson explored some of these questions in his blog post “A Serious Aside on Identity and Representation.” He apologized for interrupting the fun and games with a serious discussion of race, identity, violence, and symbols (ie. Confederate flag), but I think it is important to remember that teachable moments arrive in unexpected places – even when we play – and we can have serious conversations inspired by play.

How do you identify yourself – to your colleagues, to your students, to your playmates? How do you mediate these representations? Do you talk about this mediation with your students? I just realized that these are conversations I need to have in my classroom. What about you?

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