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Adding ‘Digital Identity’ to your Student ‘Development’ Syllabus

It is the start of spring semester here at Louisiana State University.  I am fortunate, blessed, and honored to once again be co-teaching our Master’s Level Student Development Theory course, alongside Dr. Danielle Alsandor and Kristin Satterlee (pedagogically, team-teaching is an incredible opportunity to add diverse perspectives to a classroom).

We have decided to add discussions of ‘digital identity’ to our syllabus.  This is an ethical responsibility, necessary and important for future leaders in our profession.  If you are teaching student development theory this spring, or in the near future, consider adding this important new component to your syllabus.

Many synoptic texts do not currently have chapters dedicated to this topic, so here is a list and brief overview of some readings we are including this spring.

Becoming and Belonging

This chapter, by Rob Cover (2014), is part of an excellent edited text from the University of Wisconsin Press entitled Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online.  Rather than viewing identity construction online as static, Cover asks us to consider “social networking sites. . . as a space for the continued, ongoing construction of subjectivity” (p. 55).  Drawing on Judith Butler’s notion of performativity, as well as discourse analysis, Cover situates online digital identity construction as an ongoing conversation between individual users, the affordances of various social media platforms, and larger discursive understandings of ‘identity’ within cultural contexts.

Virtually Me

Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson’s (2014) chapter builds on Cover’s (2014) discussion of social media sites as spaces disrupting notions of fixed identity, focusing again on issues of human subjectivity. However, what is really important about this chapter are the many issues raised by Smith and Watson that I believe should be considered by student affairs educators in our work with students and issues of online self presentation/digital identity.  These include: social media sites as identity archive; audiences; authenticity; automediality; avatars; branding; the online disinhibition effect; ethics; global connections; memory; paratexts; self as computational/quantifiable object; user vs. protocol driven construction; and rethinking time (in this context, I would also point readers to Duncheon & Tierney’s 2013 article in Review of Educational Research).  

Junco on Student Development and Digital Social Media

Reynol Junco’s (2014) chapter, entitled “Social Media and Student Identity Development” engages traditional psychosocial student development theory, including Chickering’s seven vectors, racial identity development, and sexual identity development, in the light of the digital online social media reality of today.  The strength of this chapter lies in Junco’s discussion of adult versus youth normative perspectives, as well as issues of ‘real’ identity, anonymity, and pseudonymity in social media spaces.

Online Resources

We are talking about online identity here – so be sure to include some online resources.  We have selected a few blogs and online pieces from my fellow researcher Josie Ahlquist (2014a; 2014b) as well as Eric Stoller (2012).  These pieces touch on many similar themes: issues of online self-presentation, application of well-researched student development theory in light of the digital social media revolution, and how student affairs educators, specifically, might think through these issues in their work with students.

Digital Persona

In this article, Derrick de Kerckhove and Cristina Miranda de Almeida (2013) add important perspectives regarding legal, ethical, and civic issues in online self-presentation. I am particularly taken by these authors redefinition of digital identity to digital persona, as well as their analysis of issues we need to consider that extend beyond the ‘individual user,’ including the legal and ethical issues that we often have a difficult time discussing in relation to student development theory.  Further, I believe that adding insights from researchers beyond on the United States is important in creating ethical practitioners (more on our attempts to develop international perspectives on identity development in a future post).

Digital Divide

Finally, Joanna Goode’s (2010) article discusses issues beyond social media – technological literacy and it’s impact on college students.  While there is quite a robust and rigorous debate in the literature about the realities and parameters of a ‘digital divide,’ I think this article will be important in helping our students think beyond social media, to issues of how technology access impact students. Further, in an age where we all assume that students have the same technological literacy, this will again open a discussion with our students about ethical commitments to harnessing technology in their professional work, and thinking through the ramifications of digital divide issues in terms of access and digital literacies.

What are you using? 

If you are teaching student development theory and implementing discussions of technology and digital identity, or teaching a course on technology issues in higher education and student affairs, add your resources in the comments below.

SocialMedia Background 2


Ahlquist, J. (2014a, January 9). Chickering’s status update: Student development theory remixed for social media [Weblog Post]. Retrieved from: http://www.josieahlquist.com/2014/01/09/studentdevelopmenttheoryremix/ 

Ahlquist, J. (2014b, January 13). Following college student digital identity development [Weblog Post]. Retrieved from http://www.josieahlquist.com/2014/01/13/studentdigitalidentity/ 

Cover, R. (2014). Becoming and belonging: Performativity, subjectivity, and the cultural purposes of social networking. In A. Poletti & J. Rak (Eds.), Identity technologies: Constructing the self online (pp. 55-69). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

de Kerckhove, D. & de Almeida, C. M. (2013). What is a digital persona? Technoetic Arts: A Journal of Speculative Research, 11(3), 277-286.

Duncheon, J. C. & Tierney, W. G. (2013). Changing conceptions of time: Implications for educational research and practice. Review of Educational Research83(2), 236-272.

Goode, J. (2010). The digital identity divide: How technology knowledge impacts college students. New Media & Society, 12(3), 497-513.

Junco, R. (2014). Social media and student identity development. In R. Junco (2014), Engaging students through social media: Evidence-based practices for use in student affairs (pp. 95-128). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Smith, S. & Watson, J. (2014). Virtually me: A toolbox about online self-presentation. In A. Poletti & J. Rak (Eds.), Identity technologies: Constructing the self online (pp. 70-98). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

Stoller, E. (2012, September 12). Digital identity development. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/student-affairs-and-technology/digital-identity-development


  1. Reblogged this on @PaulGordonBrown and commented:
    Totally reblogging this!

  2. Kolrick G. says:

    What a thorough collection of resources! Thank you!

  3. Kolrick G. says:

    Reblogged this on kolgreat and commented:
    For anyone looking for language and resources regarding the intersection of Social Media and Student Development.

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