Digital Identity and Virtual Communities
MA.LET course (graduate level).
We are increasingly engaged as actors within digital spaces governing critical aspects of our “physical” lives: our learning, labor, finances, legal transactions, confidential health records, social spheres and the locus of our participation in civil society. We interact within virtual communities, both local and global, many of which are regulated by private corporations rather than through democratic processes. These phenomena raise questions of agency, autonomy, ethical considerations, privacy, security and data protection. Students will examine what constitutes digital identity and virtual communities, and how they blur boundaries between private, public, and personal spheres. They will analyze issues related to digital identity management, such as engaging multiple representations of the self, the ethics and implications of being active in digital social media, and the establishment of telepresence. Readings and research for the course will include historical and current developments in regulatory environments, legislation and policies related to digital identity and virtual communities. Learning activities will include a phenomenological analysis of identity development in virtual worlds, immersive role play, a comparative analysis of two personal digital identities, participant/observation in a virtual community, “live” roundtable discussions in virtual worlds, and final project that may be creative, a case study, analytical, or research focused. Students will be expected to meet in real-time in virtual worlds such as Second Life.
Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:
- discuss theories and methods in the study of digital identity and virtual communities, related issues, and ethical considerations
- explore different virtual worlds with diverse avatar embodiment
- ethically conduct human subject research in virtual environments.
- undertake phenomenological analyses of digital identities in virtual settings.
- apply ethnographic participant observation research methods to the study of virtual communities and environments.
- write descriptive ethnographic field notes, and analyze and interpret their research findings.