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Navigating Multiple Identities of Learners?

Written by Janelle Bence
January 21, 2012

I am most intrigued by James Paul Gee’s notion of gamers having an arsenal of identities to choose from when playing video games. Isn’t that the case for most of us in this participatory culture of ours? We all have various identities that we carry with us. Be it mother, student, teacher, consultant, blogger, wife, daughter, etc. These are the many hats we wear, and like it or not, we cannot or should not try to be all of these identities at once. There is a time and a place, a context specific for each identity. Some may overlap, but it takes experimentation, practice to figure this out.

How do we help students with this skill? How do we encourage them to adopt a certain persona in our classrooms? How can we create an ecology that fosters positive learning relationships where certain roles should be adopted for optimum learning? How do we generate conditions that challenge students to drop whatever identity may hinder learning at the door? 

In a video game, various characters are adopted and even created depending on the skill, strength, and intellect required to vanquish a boss on that particular level. Savvy gamers continue to progress to fine tune their multiple characters, all in hopes to increase their chances of progressing in the game. “How can I find an additional weapon to be used at a later time? How can I find more money to purchase a potion to use in the future?” This type of forethought often motivates gamers. They know that in order to succeed, they must be more than the character they were at the beginning of the game. If not, they will surely perish.

So what about learners? How can we get this same sort of survival of the fittest mentality across to them? Instead of weapons or magic, how can we urge them to seek habits that will better equip them in the quest for learning? How can we promote such reverance for learning that our students feel invested enough to craft a new identity that will better serve the purpose? How do we even invite them to this type of inquiry, this sort of self-reflection?

Maybe a bigger question is do students realize the need for this? Are they willing to do this? Why or why not? 

Once again, more questions than answers, but a thought is forming. A kernal of insight is developing. Let’s see what happens.

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