Theoretical Concepts

The post-modern, constructivist theoretical frameworks surrounding the notions of learning, space and identity have informed the research design, methodology and methods which will be used to carry out this research. The following three subsections attempt to clarify any assumptions made.

Learning

A ‘collaborative constructivist’ view of learning and teaching is adopted in this research in recognition of the relationship between personal meaning making and the social nature of educational transactions (Garrison and Archer, 2000 cited in Garrison and Anderson, 2003, p. 12) . Through interaction ideas are communicated, knowledge is constructed and substantiated (Dewey, 1938 cited in Garrison and Anderson, 2003, p. 12). This distinction between private and shared meaning making is a useful one as it ties in with the notion of multiple, private and public identities.

Identity

Patterns of actions and behavioural intention are related to how individuals self-identify and the importance they ascribe to things around them (ref?). Informed by symbolic interactionism and positionality theory, this research project deals with identity a non-fixed and unstable entity; the creation and re-creation of the way in which one positions themselves is dependent on the shifting context in which individuals find themselves. As such, there is no single identity but each individual possesses multiple identities, public or private, created or imposed, which are perceived and experienced in relation to the context in which they manifest themselves.

The notion of self online allows for multiple, yet integrated, identities to co-exist in the virtual world. It is not uncommon for one person to have multiple identities, whether they are numerous email accounts or whether they are virtual representations of themselves in Second Life, and ‘cycle’ between them (Turkle, 1995) as and when they wish; the transition between individual positionalities is often quicker than in real life as multiple contexts exist and can be presented to computer users simultaneously in a number of windows on their desktops.

Space

The focus of education until recently has been on the notion of pulling students into a physical building where expertise can be found. Students needed to go to a physical location to get education, a context in which their identities as learners where moulded. E-learning now challenges this practice. Previously, the student experience necessarily involved both mind and body however, the internet has the potential to facilitate relatively disembodied experiences (Paechter et al., 2001) which in turn facilitates the formation of multiple identities. The patterns of the information flow to and from places have changed which in turn have changed the relative power and status of those occupying these spaces and the physical space we occupy no longer needs to determine our social identity (Meyrowitz, 1985).