Thoughts, writing & snippets

Marguerite Koole, PhD

Identity Accelerators for Online Teaching and Learning

mkoole, · Categories: Educational technology, Identity, Teaching

As higher education embraces educational technologies to greater extents, it is not uncommon for faculty to find themselves suddenly facilitating online classes. They might be asked to lead online discussions through synchronous tools such as Adobe Connect, Blackboard Collaborate, and Big Blue Button to name a few of the tools available. Asynchronous, text-based discussions remain common likely due to temporal and spatial flexibility.

Those new to online facilitation might feel that the online environment is one of disembodiment offering few contextual or physical cues that instructors traditionally rely upon in face-to-face classrooms in order to determine comprehension, prior knowledge, and attentiveness. Some instructors might feel a sense of isolation because they cannot see and, therefore, feel they cannot get to know their students well enough to anticipate their needs.

Some scholars suggest that online learning offers a more egalitarian environment where learners can interact unimpeded by issues of race, nationality, gender, and social status; others suggest that the online environment is simply another modality. I take the position that online modalities offer an array of social cues. Walther (1996) proposes that participants in mediated environments form impressions of one another much as they would in face-to-face environments, but that it takes longer to generate and collect observations. He argued that online interaction can even become hyperpersonal?leading to greater intimacy as individuals employ additional techniques to plan, contemplate, edit, and project identities of self and others (Chayko, 2008, Henderson & Gilding, 2004; Merchant, 2006, Walther, 1996). Furthermore, anticipation of future interaction has been found in some longitudinal studies to prompt “communicators to seek more information about one another, to act more friendly, and to cooperate in negotiations” (Walther, 1996, p. 12).

Beyond the notion of the hyperpersonal, we might also see students actively shaping their identities based on what they would like to project. Walther et. al. (2006) propose that, in the absence of visual cues in online interactions, people will actively select aspects to present, taking more time to compose their messages. In return, those who receive these messages will develop “idealized attributions of their online partners” (p. 637).

And, humans are never disembodied. In any given online class, students and facilitators are tapping on keyboards, speaking into microphones, snapping pictures, and sharing videos. They are using their fingers, voices, ears, eyes and minds to manipulate the technologies that surround them. They are situated within physical contexts; they have been socialized in physical contexts. And, they bring their situatedness, their prior knowledge, with them into their online interactions. As online facilitators, we need to harness the tools at our disposal in order to get to know our students. We need to learn how to read online cues. Our students also need opportunities to share their prior knowledge and express who they are outside of andin relation to their instructors and fellow online classmates.

To this end, I am going to start sharing and collecting what I am calling “identity accelerators”. These are activities that can be used in a variety of online contexts. I would like to invite anyone out there in the world to share ideas on how to increase engagement and identity development in online teaching and learning environments.

And, I am always looking for ideas and collaborators.


References & related materials:

Chayko, M. (2008). Portable communities: The dynamics of online and mobile connectedness. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Henderson, S., & Gilding, M. (2004). “I”ve never clicked this much with anyone in my life’: Trust, and hyperpersonal communication in online friendship. New Media & Society, 6(4), 487–506.

Koole, M. (2014). Identity and the itinerant online learner. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 15(6), 1–19. Retrieved from

Koole, M. (2010). The Web of Identity: Selfhood and Belonging in Online Learning Networks. In The 7th International Conference on Networked Learning (Vol. Aalborg, D). Retrieved from

Koole, M., & Parchoma, G. (2013). The web of Identity: A model of digital identity formation in networked learning environments. In S. Warburton & S. Hatzipanagos (Eds.), Digital identity and social media (1st ed., pp. 14–28). Hershey, PA: IGI Global. doi:10.4018/978-1-4666-1915-9.ch002

Merchant, G. (2006). Identity, Social Networks and Online Communication. E-Learning, 3(2), 235–244. Retrieved from

Walther, J. B. (1996). Computer-mediated communication: Impersonal, interpersonal, and hyperpersonal interaction. Communication Research, 32(1), 3–43.

Walther , J. B., Loh, T., Granka, L. (2005). Let me count the ways: The interchange or verbal and nonverbal cues in computer-mediated and face-to-face affinity. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 24 (2005), pp. 36–65. Retrieved from:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *