Students in my Writing in the Digital Age professional writing course recently completed a web identity program (assignment). I don’t often write about class assignments, but this one went off pretty well so I thought I’d share.
Basically the idea is that most of my students have a fairly limited experience with creating online identities. They are on Facebook or maybe MySpace. That’s about it. They have some awareness of the potential danger of putting things up in Facebook that might come back to haunt them later. But at the same time social networking is an integral part of their lives. It’s not something extra that they can just cut off. They should not be expected to edit their lives to meet some presumed set of standards by which they might someday be judged. At least I don’t think they should.
At the same time, you don’t want to make a complete public idiot out of yourself.
I think one of the ways we will balance this in the future is by developing professional web identities that complement our social web identities. The purpose of this assignment was for students to go out there and see what different types of social media they could find, try them out, and report back. They looked at two per week for four weeks and then had to pick one they thought would be a good place to develop a professional identity.
They looked at the microblogging sites, various social networks, media sharing sites, social bookmarking, and so on. Most of them locked on to sites like Ryze and LinkedIn as places to build professional identities. But we also talked about how one could build a professional identity through blogging or maintain professional relationships through twitter and so on. The students got introduced to a wide range of things about which they had no idea and really gave some thought to the notion of having a professional identity.
I’m not sure if the assignment will spark an immediate change in their behaviors, but that’s not the point. The point was for students to experience some of the variety of social media out there and think about social media as a tool for managing/producing social identity.
Anyway, I’m quite certain I’m not alone in running assignments like this, so let me know what you think.