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Blackboard vs. MySpace: Tracing urban adolescent identities and literacy practices within school and out-of-school online communities

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Blackboard vs. MySpace: Tracing Urban Adolescent Identities and Literacy
Practices within School and Out-of-School Online Communities
submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements
for the degree of
in Educational Administration and Leadership
John C. McGarvey
Dissertation Committee:
Professor Amy Gimino, Chair
Professor Mark Warschauer
Professor Christina Dehler
Professor Rebecca Black
UMI Number: 3426115
All rights reserved
The quality of this reproduction is dependent upon the quality of the copy submitted.
In the unlikely event that the author did not send a complete manuscript
and there are missing pages, these will be noted. Also, if material had to be removed,
a note will indicate the deletion.
UMI 3426115
Copyright 2010 by ProQuest LLC.
All rights reserved. This edition of the work is protected against
unauthorized copying under Title 17, United States Code.
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© 2010 John C. McGarvey
I would like to dedicate this dissertation to some very important people in my life,
without whose support this would not have been possible.
To my wonderful wife, Kelly, thank you for always believing in me.
Your love, support, and personal sacrifices enabled me to complete this journey.
To my incredible children, Mikayla, Dylan, and Grant, you all are my inspiration.
To my father, Fred McGarvey, thank you for your support and encouragement.
To my first teacher, Sandra G. McGarvey, the one who always knew this slow reader
would do well in school, my advocate, and my loving mother.
You are incredibly missed.
I wish you could have seen me finish.
Background to the Problem
The Study
Significance of the Study
Definition of Terms
Contextual Domains
School Size
Adolescents’ Use of Social Network Sites
Adolescents’ Use of Network Learning Environments
Identity Formation in In-School and Out-of-School Online
Literacy Practices in School and Out-of-School Online
Research Site
Data Collection
Participant Observations
Focus Groups
Documents and Material Culture
Data Collection Timeline
Data Analysis
Participant 1: Alex Rivera
Participant 2: Blanca Flores
Participant 3: Reggie Johnson
Participant 4: Liliana Aguilar
Participant 5: Maya Martinez
Participant 6: Jon Nelson
Summary of Context Section
Identity Formation Within School and Out of School
Identity in SNS Profiles
Identity Formation and Experimentation in SNS
Multiple Identifies in SNS Profiles
Future Aspirations in SNS Profiles
Identity in Blackboard (and at School)
Identity Formation and Experimentation in
Blackboard (and at School)
Multiple Identities in Blackboard
Future Aspirations in Blackboard (and at School)
Summary of Identity Section
Literacy Practices In School and Out of School
Literacy Practices Within a SNS
Social Discourses Within a SNS
Friendship Practices on SNS
Communication Practices on SNS
Social Software Practices on SNS
Written Discourse Within a SNS
Status Updates on SNS
Post Blogs on SNS
Portfolio Production with a SNS
Technical Literacies Demonstrated Within a SNS
Literacy Practices Within a LMS
Academic Discourses Within a LMS
Communication Literacies Within a LMS
Critical Thinking Skills Within a LMS
Learning Difficulties Within the LMS Written Discourse Within a LMS Online Worksheets Within a LMS Quick Writes with a LMS Formal Essays Written Offline Technical Literacies Demonstrated at School iv
Computer Literacies Video Production Literacies Image Editing Literacies with Photoshop Frustrations with Technology at School Assessment Within a LMS
Summary of Literacy Section
Connections Within School and Out of School
Summary of Findings
The Context: Urban Adolescents Using SNS and LMS
Choice of Online Environments
SNS could be Reproducing Social Inequalities Online
Any Time, Anywhere Access to their LMS and SNS
Digital Divide and Social Context
Context: The Role of Technology
Online Identities Within School and Out of School
Changing Identities Online
Authenticity in Online Identity
Aspirations, Culture, and Conflicting Identities
Online Identities: The Role of Technology
Adolescent Literacy Practices Within SNS and LMS
Social and Academic Discourse in SNS and LMS
Communication Skills in Online Environments
Critical Thinking Skills in Online Environments
Feedback Loops in the Online Environments
Multiple Literacies and Social Practices in SNS and
Reading Practices in Online Environments
Writing Practices in Online Environments
Technical Practices In and Out of School
Adolescent Literacy Practices: The Role of
Recommendations for Educators
Do Not Co-opt Students’ SNS for Classroom Instruction
Create a PLE (Personal Learning Environment)
Increase Student Accessibility to the Internet Through
Mobile Devices
Limitations of Study and Need for Future Research 255
Appendix A
Classroom Survey to Select Participants by their SNS
Appendix B
Interview Guide
Appendix C
Focus Group Questions
Appendix D
Technology Group Matrix
Appendix E
Concept Map Used for Coding with Two Example Notes
Appendix F
Example Notes
Appendix G
Tinderbox Agents
Figure 1
Conceptual Model of a PLE Developed by Wilson
Figure 2
Soldier’s Heart Drawing on Liliana’s MySpace
Figure 3
Bianca’s Word Map
Figure 4
Liliana’s Word Map
Figure 5
Maya’s Word Map
Table 1
Teen Use of Social Network Sites
Table 2
Profiles on Teen Social Network Sites
Table 3
Data Collection Matrix
Table 4
Data Analysis Matrix 67
A very special thank you to my chair, Dr. Amy Gimino, for her incredible comments and
insight throughout my dissertation. I would not have finished without her support.
I also would like to thank Dr. Mark Warschauer, who helped clarify my topic and whose
expertise on the subject matter was invaluable.
Additional appreciation goes to my other committee members, Dr. Richard Navarro, Dr.
Rebecca Black, Dr. Robert Nideffer and Dr. Christina Dehler for their expertise and
valuable input.
Finally, I would like to thank my amazing participants for opening up their world to me.
John C. McGarvey
B.A. in History/International Studies
Azusa Pacific University, Azusa, California
High School Science Teacher, San Dimas High School
Bonita Unified School District, San Dimas, California
State of California Single Subject Clear Credential: History
State of California Supplementary Credential: Computer
M.Ed. in Educational Technology
Azusa Pacific University, Azusa, California
Adjunct Professor, Masters in Educational Technology Program,
Azusa Pacific University
State of California Regional Occupational Clear Credential:
Lecturer, Graduate Educational Multimedia Program
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
State of California Administrative Authorization
AB 2913 ELD/SDAIE Authorization
High School Computer Teacher, Bonita High School
Bonita Unified School District, La Verne, California
Ed.D. in Educational Administration and Leadership
Specialization in Educational Technology Leadership
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and University
of California, Irvine
Adolescent Identity Formation, Adolescent Literacies, Online Learning Environments
Computer Mediated Communication
Blackboard vs. MySpace: Tracing Urban Adolescent Identities and Literacy
Practices within School and Out-of-School Online Communities
John C. McGarvey
Doctor of Education in Educational Administration and Leadership
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
University of California, Irvine, 2010
Professor Amy Gimino, Chair
At no time in history has the gap between student learning with technology in
school and out of school been more apparent. A great deal of students’ educational use of
the Internet occurs outside the classroom and purview of their teacher, whereas in class,
Internet use is often controlled by policies limiting access to filtered web sites or a
learning management system (LMS). At the same time, adolescents spend significant
amounts of time interacting within global social networking sites (SNS) outside of
school. This research might be of value to educators and researchers interested in the
impact of online social and academic environments on the development of adolescent
identity formations and literacy practices within an urban Latino community.
This connective case study traced the identity formations and literacy practices of
six adolescents from a small urban high school while they interacted within their
Learning Management System (LMS) and Social Network Site (SNS). Blackboard
(LMS) and MySpace (SNS) became an indispensable part of the participants’ social and
academic lives. They used their SNS and LMS to form and experiment with their
identity, practice multiple identities, and to express future aspirations. They also
demonstrated various social and academic literacies including the ability to navigate and
manage complex social relationships and to critically analyze texts by interacting with
others within their academic environment. The adolescents chose to use a SNS that
appeared to reproduce their social and racial divisions online and used mobile devices to
stay constantly connected to MySpace and Blackboard. All of the participants had access
to the Internet outside of school, yet some lacked the academic skills or social capital
necessary to use the technologies for meaningful social and academic practices. The
study concludes by offering three recommendations for educators interested in how to use
online environments to develop adolescent identity formations and literacy practices.
At no time in history has the gap between student learning with technology in
school and out of school been more apparent. Students’ educational use of the Internet
usually occurs outside the classroom and outside the purview of their teacher (Finders &
Lewis, 2002; Levin & Arafeh, 2002; Young, Dillon, & Moje, 2002). When technology is
used in school, it is often controlled by policies that limit student access to filtered web
sites or to set boundaries within a Learning Management System (LMS) (Selwyn, 2006).
Outside of school students are spending a significant amount of time forming virtual
identities and practicing new literacies within online global social networks. These techsavvy students are often frustrated with their text-dominated schools resulting in
disengagement from their learning.
Background to the Problem
Students of today, often referred to as millennials, are the first generation to grow
up with wide spread access to digital technology including computers and the Internet
(Howe & Strauss, 2000; Palfrey & Gasser, 2008; Prensky, 2001; Tapscott, 2009). The use
of this technology for entertainment and communication purposes has become pervasive
among young people. Video games, computers, mp3 players, cell phones, instant
messaging, blogs, and Social Network Sites (SNS) have become a ubiquitous part of their
lives outside of school (Lenhart, Purcell, Smith, & Zickuhr, 2010b; Sefton-Green, 2004).
In an online survey of 9-17 year old students (n=1277), 96% reported having used
communication technologies like text messaging, chatting, blogging, or a SNS like
MySpace or Facebook (de Boor & Halpern, 2007). These young people prefer sending
instant messages rather than email, updating personal web pages, commenting on their
friends’ blogs, and sending text messages on their cell phone, often doing these
simultaneously (Levin & Arafeh, 2002; Palfrey & Gasser, 2008). Texting has become the
primary means by which American teenagers communicate, surpassing face-to-face
contact, with 54% of teens texting daily in September 2009 (Lenhart, Ling, Campbell, &
Purcell, 2010a). A vigorous understanding of how students are interacting with these
digital technologies within their authentic everyday practices is crucial for understanding
how to more effectively engage students within traditional systems of schooling.
Throughout the United States it is not uncommon to see schools refer to
themselves in their mission statements as communities of learning. However, the cultural
context of many large urban schools contradicts the definition of community put forth in
this dissertation and described in the literature. Such schools are unrealized communities
because students are depersonalized and often feel alienated. Apathy and boredom are
high because students do not see the connection between what they are learning in school
with their lives outside of school. The culture of many high schools does not promote
learning or community; instead, competition and intolerance develop out of a culture of
meritocracy and bureaucracy (Gregory & Smith, 1987). External pressures shape current
school culture with expectations to meet set targets for academic improvement (Peterson
& West, 2003). The focus is on teachers teaching a set curriculum and students learning
as assessed by standardized tests. In this kind of climate the roles of the teacher and the
learner rarely change, holding steadfast to very traditional behaviors.
There is often a low fidelity between what is learned in school and the type of
competencies necessary to become a lifelong learner and successful worker in a
networked society. This separation between knowing and doing has been a characteristic
of learning in schools. Resnick (1987) described differences between learning in school
and other types of learning outside of school. In school, students are evaluated on their
individual performances on homework assignments or tests while collaborative problem
solving and learning within a social context is valued outside school. In school, students
are often encouraged to demonstrate their mental capacity through memorization of facts,
while the use of cognitive tools is valued outside school. In school, learning is based on
symbolic reasoning, while outside of school learning is contextualized with direct objects
and situations. Finally, schools develop general knowledge and skills while outside of
school situation-specific competencies are emphasized. Thus learning in school is
de-contextualized where skills and knowledge are taught in an abstract manner making it
difficult for students to apply them in any real world situations (Collins, Brown, &
Newman, 1989).
Students in school are often disengaged from their learning and find their
schoolwork irrelevant to their life out of school. Research suggests up to two-thirds of
high school students are disengaged from their learning in high school (Cothran & Ennis,
2000). There is growing evidence that this disengagement might be one of the causes for
the rising dropout rate among American high school students. For the last several
decades, a third of American 17 year olds have not graduated from high school. Almost
half of poor urban minority students also have not graduated (Barton, 2005; Greene &
Forster, 2003). In a survey of high school dropouts, nearly half stated that the main
reason they dropped out of school was because their classes were not interesting while
seven out of ten of these students were not challenged or motivated to work hard in their
classes (Bridgeland, DiIulio, & Morison, 2006). Many students seem disengaged from a
school system that exhibits a lack of relevance to their life outside of school (Cothran &
Ennis, 2000; Resnick, 1987). This has led at least one group of researchers to argue that
“one of the most fundamental reforms needed in high school education is to make school
into better communities of caring and support for young people” (Hargreaves, Earl, &
Ryan, 1996, p. 77).
It is becoming evident that many of our best students are underprepared for
college and work in a global networked economy. The Manhattan Institute for Policy
Research found that among all high school graduates only 32% qualified to attend a
four-year college (Greene & Forster, 2003). The data on the percentage of freshman
college students who are taking remedial classes are as high as 49% (Barth, Haycock,
Huang, & Richardson, 2000). In a recent survey, 42% of college professors estimated that
their students were not adequately prepared for college from their high school education.
In this same survey, 39% of high school graduates found that they were unprepared for
their employer’s expectations in entry-level jobs (Achieve, Inc., 2005).
Even with the addition of new information technologies in schools such as laptops
and LMS, the structure and purpose of schools has changed very little (Cuban,
Kirkpatrick, & Peck, 2001). Most schools still operate from within a 19th century
industrial mindset, preparing students for a world that no longer exists (Tyack & Cuban,
1995). Most students (65%) report that they still write their assignments by hand at
school (Lenhart, Smith, Macgril, & Arafeh, 2008). Students are often frustrated with their
limited or restricted access to technology at school. There is often limited Internet access
in classrooms. Instead, students usually have to visit a lab or media center to get online.
While online at school, students often experience filters and restrictions that limit their
capabilities to view SNS, access their email, or use instant messaging services (Levin &
Arafeh, 2002; Selwyn, 2006). Even in schools with high access, there is limited evidence
of effective use of technology to support learning (Cuban et al., 2001). Research from the
use of Internet in higher education has found that online access alone will not change
teaching and learning (Zemsky & Massy, 2004). While others suggest that current LMS
have reinforced traditional teacher-centric information delivery models in network
learning and are at odds with social constructivist principles (Marra & Jonassen, 2001;
Wise & Quealy, 2006).
The Study
This study focuses on identity and literacy practices as key elements of
engagement within a small urban high school. Adolescents are engaged when they are
expressing their identity and learning to make meaning with symbols in socially and
culturally relevant ways whether they are in or out of school. These concepts are not
restricted to just an in-school or out-of-school dichotomy; instead, it is recognized that
strong connections exist between how adolescents engage their identities and linguistic
practices through multimodal communication systems in both contexts.
One of the problems facing educational leaders is that little empirical research has
been completed to determine the effectiveness of using a LMS to creating online learning
environments for high schools. Most of the research has instead focused on online
learning environments in higher education (Johnson, 2001; Palloff & Pratt, 2005;
Wallace, 2003), while, at the same time, adolescents are spending significant amounts of
time interacting within global social network sites outside of school (Gross, 2004;
Lenhart & Madden, 2005; Lenhart & Madden, 2007). A better understanding of how
students form their virtual identities, interact, and navigate the complex norms and
structures of these networks can provide insight to the possibilities of these environments
for education. Models are needed so educational leaders can implement online
environments that can provide a rich, engaging, and authentic context for student
In this connective case study (Hine, 2000; Leander & McKim, 2003; Rybas &
Gajjala, 2007; Yin, 2003), the researcher was a participant observer of six students who
were interacting within a LMS and a SNS while attending a small urban high school. The
central focus of the research was to trace adolescent identities and literacy practices
across different contexts both online/offline and in school and out of school. Within these
environments, how do students manifest their identity? How do students’ literacy
practices compare within school and out-of-school online environments?
Significance of the Study
Online environments in and out-of-school are a growing but little understood
phenomenon that merits more extensive research. This study provides insight for
researchers interested in the impact of digital technologies and authentic context on
student identity and literacy. It confirms the value of using connective case studies to
trace adolescent literacies across in school and out-of-school contexts and Gee’s (2001)
multiple identities theory as an analytic lens for educational research. Previous research
has focused on middle class suburban adolescents’ use of technology in and out of
school. This dissertation focuses on the identity formation and literacy practices of poor
urban students in online SNS and LMS. In addition, it provides three recommendations
for educators interested in using mobile devices and online environments for educational
The current theory of individual learning, which pervades schools, is no longer an
appropriate way to prepare our students to function in a globally connected world
(Friedman, 2005; Tapscott, 2009). Students need to be given the opportunity to develop
the critical thinking and problem solving skills necessary to navigate complex social
networks. Studying how students interact in SNS outside of school informs us how to
create more authentic learning environments within school.
Definition of Terms
The definitions of key theoretical constructs – identity and literacy and the
environments where they are expressed – are necessary to provide a common language
for this study. The socio-cultural perspective influences the definitions of identity and
literacy used in this research. Identity is seen as a different but related construct to the
concept of self (Brinthaupt & Lipka, 2002). While individuals have one self, they can
have many different identities. Adolescents might express these identities differently
across various contexts, such as the family, school, and peer groups, or in online
environments. Literacy is defined as the "social practices and conceptions of reading and
writing" (Street, 1985). From this perspective, literacy is not limited to a set of discrete
skills; instead, literacy is determined by the cultural, political, and historical contexts of
the community in which it is used (New London Group, 1996). For this study, literacy
includes reading, writing, and the social practices that might be formed through the use of
symbols, (i.e., text, images, sounds, and videos) in culturally and socially relevant ways
within a LMS and a SNS. These social practices can be described as “new literacies” both
in terms of the new technology used and the new “ethos” or participatory culture that
surrounds their use (Jenkins, 2006; Lankshear & Knobel, 2006).
The following definitions refer to the environments used to facilitate the
formation of identity and development of literacy practices in this study. A social
network site (SNS) is a website that enables people to collaborate through computermediated communication (CMC) and to form online communities through an online
profile, “friends” list, and a public commenting system, usually outside of a school
setting (boyd & Ellison, 2007). One of the most popular SNS is MySpace.
A learning management system (LMS) is a website that enables the management
and delivery of learning content to students and facilitates interactions between learners
and their teacher. One of the more popular LMS is Blackboard. Network learning is a
broad term describing the use of the Internet and educational technology, often a LMS, to
create a collaborative environment for learning within a school setting. There are two
types of network learning environments in school: online learning where at least 80% of
instruction is delivered through the LMS and the more common hybrid learning where
the LMS supplements and supports regular face-to-face instruction.
A Personal Learning Environments (PLE) combines many of the attributes of
SNS and LMS. However, there is a lack of consensus on how PLE should be defined. For
the purpose of this research, a PLE is an online environment that allows learners to take
control and manage their own learning separate from the context of an individual course.
There is some debate whether PLE can be supported by an institution or should be strictly
informal. PLE enable learners to control information through syndicated feeds, publish
their own work, and connect to other learners.
This study is framed through the analytic lenses of identity and literacy. These
concepts are grounded within the socio-cultural perspective of situated learning and
analyzed within the context of adolescents attending a small urban high school. Since the
social-cultural perspective on identity and literacy cannot be understood separate from
this context, this review begins with an overview of the research on school size and the
adolescent use of online networks in and out of school. The review concludes with an
analysis of adolescent identity formation and literacy practices in school and
out-of-school online environments.
Over the last 50 years, there has been a shift from behavioral to cognitive to
constructivist learning perspectives within the educational community (Jonassen, 1991).
This shift has resulted in a movement towards more student-centered learning.
Constructivists believe that knowledge is individually constructed by learners through
social interactions and interpretations of experiences in a real world context (Duffy &
Jonassen, 1992; Jonassen, 1999). While constructivists make a distinction between the
learner’s cognitive activities and their environment, the socio-cultural perspective regards
the learner as being an inseparable part of that environment. In this way, learning cannot
be separated from a social context and understood solely as being in the mind of the
learner. Instead, learning is a process of group participation in cultural practices that
result in cognitive activities (Lave & Wenger, 1991).
In situated learning, students are active participants in an authentic context, which
develops relevant, transferable learning much more effectively than the traditional,
abstract, information-centric approaches (Dennen, 2004). Knowledge and learning is
situated through or derived from the learner's own experiences. The learning context, in
and out of school, contains cultural artifacts, forms of discourse, and social relations that
influence learning. An important part of learning is the evolution of identity and the
development of social practices between group members that result in the establishment
of common literacies (Henning, 2004).
Contextual Domains
This research is bound by three contextual domains: (a) urban school size,
(b) adolescent participation in learning management systems (LMS) within school, and
(c) social network sites (SNS) outside of school. Over the last 20 years, a trend in urban
educational reform has been to break up large high schools into smaller learning
communities or to establish new smaller high schools. The Bill and Melinda Gates
Foundation has spent over $250 million spearheading this reform movement. While the
research on the effectiveness of breaking up larger schools has been mixed at best, some
new smaller schools in urban areas appear to be developing effective learning
communities in spite of low socio-economic status (Shear et al., 2008).
Educational technologists see the possibility for network learning within a LMS
to facilitate the types of discourses necessary to increase student engagement and sense of
belonging in school. Students are more engaged when they are given the opportunity to
express their identity in an academic context. They imagine networked learning
expanding student discourses beyond a set time and place and allowing them to
experiment with their identities in an environment that will become increasingly more
common in our rapidly changing global society (Friedman, 2005). However, there are
many challenges in implementing networked learning into schools (Cuban et al., 2001),
and there is a debate among researchers whether the types of student discourses necessary
to foster knowledge building and inquiry are not better served in face-to-face interactions
between students and their teacher within their classrooms (Feldman, Konold, & Coulter,
While educational leaders continue to struggle with the most effective ways to
integrate LMS technology within school, there has been a rapid adoption of SNS by
adolescents outside of school. In a survey of students (9-17 years old) with Internet
access (n=1277), 71% stated that they used SNS weekly (de Boor & Halpern, 2007).
Adolescents appear to be spending significant amounts of time forming virtual identities
and practicing new literacies within these SNS.
School Size
Trends in school size research have shifted in recent years, going from the earlier
support of schools with large enrollments to the more recent support of smaller schools.
The first school size research occurred in the 1920s and 1930s where, in 1930, over
130,000 one-room schoolhouses still existed (Tyack & Cuban, 1995). Many educators
were calling for consolidation of rural schools into larger comprehensive schools. In a
landmark study in 1959, James Conant called for the consolidation of small-town schools
and the creation of comprehensive high schools. Conant (1959) concluded that a school
needed at least 100 students per class to offer a broad enough curriculum to prepare
students for college. While this number is low by today’s standards, the research has
often been used by advocates of comprehensive high schools and has been given the
credit for the major increases in school size in the ensuing decades. A study for the Ford
Foundation reviewed earlier research on school size and recommended that high schools,
primarily in growing urban areas, should strive for an enrollment of 2,600 students
(Meeker & Weiler, 1970). While this was one of the last studies advocating for larger
comprehensive high schools, schools continued to grow in size, especially in urban areas.
In the early 1960s, a classic study of school size began to question the efficacy of
large high schools. In this study, Barker and Grump (1964) found that the percentage of
students participating in extra-curricular activities was three to 20 times greater in smaller
schools (under 150 students) than in the largest (2,300 students) high school. Some have
suggested that there is a link between low participation in school activities and the
dropout rate. Research has shown that the larger the school, the higher the drop out rate.
The dropout rate of a high school increases by about 1% for every 400 students added to
its enrollment (Pittman & Haughwout, 1987).
Smaller schools are generally safer schools. Large schools often foster student
anonymity, isolation, and exclusionary cliques, which can encourage bullying and racial
conflict. Toby (1993) argues that regular school violence stems from the policies and
procedures of schools and how they are implemented. Using data from the National
Center for Educational Statistics, Klonsky (2002) found that large schools are eight times
more likely to report serious violent incidences than schools with fewer than 300
Growing evidence supports the idea that smaller schools can result in increased
academic achievement for all students but especially for those students with low socioeconomic status (SES). Lee and Smith (1997) analyzed data on the reading and
mathematics scores of 9,812 students from 789 high schools and found that students in
schools smaller than 600 and larger than 900 experienced lower scores. The study
demonstrated that school size has a greater affect on learning at schools with lower SES
students and schools with a high concentration of minority students.
Within the research literature, there is no consensus on the number of students
that constitute a small school. Most researchers suggest that the optimum size for a small
school is between 400 and 800 students. Those researchers who emphasize the
development of a community of learners (Cotton, 1996) support the lower number, while
researchers who emphasize the impact of school size on higher test scores support the
larger number (Lee & Smith, 1997; Raywid, 1998). Barker and Gump (1964), defined
maximum school size in terms of student participation:
What size should a school be? The data of this research and our own
educational values tell us that a school should be sufficiently small that all
of its students are needed for its enterprises. A school should be small
enough that students are not redundant. (p. 202)
In the article “Breaking Ranks,” National Association of Secondary School Principals,
called for student groupings of no more than 600 students (NASSP, 1996). The federal
Small Learning Community Program defines a large high school as one with enrollment
of at least 1,000 students encompassing ninth through twelfth grades.
It is important to note that school size alone does not directly affect student
achievement. In fact, a study of three small rural schools in Canada found that if small
schools are operating as comprehensive high schools, it might be just as difficult to
overcome barriers to school effectiveness as in larger schools (Leonard, Leonard, &
Sackney, 2001). These small comprehensive high schools shared two characteristics with
the larger schools: a school culture and structure that tends to separate people instead of
bringing them together and a lack of common goal or joint enterprise (Gregory & Smith,
1987). In these small comprehensive schools, not only are people separated, but also
knowledge is fragmented into specialized subjects. These schools are concerned that they
might offer a limited curriculum compared to larger schools so they strive to offer more
highly specialized classes, all of which is unnecessary since many states and even more
universities offer classes online to high school students (Marcel, 2003). The individual
learning needs of students could be met in this way, while at the same time preserving the
unique cultural attributes and benefits a small school has to offer.
School size appears to be important as it enables an environment to create more
meaningful reform. Leonard et al. (2001) summarized this by stating, “while small size
may provide the context, there is still the need for a concerted commitment by those
involved to cultivate those purported inherent small-school characteristics considered to
have the capacity to create vibrant learning communities” (p. 94). When small-school
characteristics are cultivated adolescents are more apt to feel safe and valued and are
likely to feel comfortable expressing their identities at school. It seems that school size,
as Lee and Smith (1997) concluded, either assists or impedes those necessary conditions,
which can result in practices that encourage students to express their identities and
practice multiple literacies.
Adolescents Use of Social Network Sites
There has been much debate on the role of new media on people’s sense of
community in American society. Almost 40 years ago, Licklider and Taylor (1968)
envisioned a virtual community where people could communicate more effectively
through machines than face-to-face. Rheinigold (1993) popularized the concept of virtual
communities in the early 1990s through his descriptive though speculative discussion of
The Well, an early online community, while Neil Postman (1992) argued that network
communities lack any common sense of obligation that members should be together. In
his view, using the metaphor of community for groups interacting online compromised
the concept. Others decry the lack of civic engagement in a post-modern society where
members become increasing disconnected from one another (Putnam, 2000). The
detractors believe that virtual communities alienate people from richer more authentic
relationships. A 1998 survey of 39,211 visitors to an online community found that
people’s interaction online supplemented but did not increase or decrease face-to-face
communication. Actually, the heaviest users of the Internet were the least committed to
the online community (Wellman, Haase, Witte, & Hampton, 2001).
There is growing evidence that the Internet is being used to increase social capital
and expand social relationships. A national survey indicated that 84% of all Internet users
contacted an online community while 79% had regular interactions with an online group
(Rainie & Packel, 2001). A more recent study reports that 65% of users state the Internet
has helped them strengthen their relationships with friends while 55% say it has helped
their relationships with family members (Rainie, 2005). The same study reported that 36
million Americans have joined an online support group. Similar evidence has led one
researcher to state that, “for the ordinary citizen, social interaction is the ‘killer
application’ of the Internet” (Arnold, 2003, p. 83).
A transformation is occurring where community is no longer limited to a single
geographic place but instead is orientated towards global social networks. The Internet
seems to strengthen ties to local community and increase dispersed social contacts
(Wellman, 2002). These SNS made popular via services such as “YouTube”
(, “Facebook” (, and “MySpace”
( are becoming increasingly important social spaces for
students, young people, and adults. MySpace surpassed Google and Yahoo mail as the
website that received the most page views (4.46% of all Internet sites) in July 2006
according to Hitwise, a top Internet tracker (Prescott, 2007). Technology trends change
quickly as Facebook within two years passed MySpace as the world’s most popular SNS.
There are four key characteristics to social network sites (SNS): (a) profiles,
(b) “friends” lists, (c) commenting systems, and (d) a news feed (boyd & Ellison, 2007).
Participants of social network sites create an online profile that represents themselves
digitally through self-descriptive text, blog articles, images, video, audio, links, and polls.
When viewed as a whole, these digital artifacts create a virtual identity for the
participants. Participants then invite and accept other members of the SNS to join their
“friends” list. If each member accepts the relationship, then their image and links appear
on each other’s profile. Once participants become “friends” they are free to post
comments on the profile’s public message board. These comments then become available
to anyone who has access to the profile. The fourth characteristic is the news feed or
status update. The status update is a form of micro-blogging that has a 160-character limit
to each post. These updates are often sent to the SNS by cell phones through a text
message. The news feed provides a reverse chronological feed of all the status updates in
a friend’s social network.
According to a telephone survey conducted by Pew Internet (n=935), more than
half (55%) of American adolescents between the ages of 12-17 use online SNS (Lenhart
& Madden, 2005). This number could be lower because the researchers first asked to
speak with the parent and then the child. The mere presence of parents who
overwhelmingly disapprove of SNS might have influenced a teen’s response to the
survey. The Pew survey found that 91% of respondents used social network sites to
maintain their current friendships while nearly half used the site to make new friends (see
Table 1) (Lenhart & Madden, 2005). The survey also revealed gender differences in how
these sites were used. Boys used the sites for flirting (29%) and making new friends
(60%) while girls largely used the site to maintain pre-existing friendships (90%).
Table 1
Teens Use of Social Network Sites
Teens & Friends on Social Network Sites
What are the different ways you use social network sites? Do you ever use
those sites to . . .?
Stay in touch with friends you see a lot
Stay in touch with friends you rarely see in person
Make plans with your friends
Make new friends
Flirt with someone
Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project Parents & Teens Survey,
October-November 2006. Based on teens that use social network sites
[n=493] margin of error is +- 5%.
In a phone survey of parents with online teenagers (n=790), 49% of the
respondents identified their child as having a personal profile on a SNS (Macgill, 2007).
There are two main types of profiles on SNS: viewable and non-viewable (see Table 2).
Viewable profiles can be set as public (31%), making them visible to anyone on the
Internet, or set to private (45%), visible only to the participant’s accepted “friends.” A
third group of users have created non-viewable profiles (21%) and use their SNS account
to privately view other people’s profiles (Lenhart & Madden, 2005).
Table 2
Profiles on Teen Social Network Sites
How Teens set their social network profiles
The percentage of teens with an online profile visible to anyone or visible only
to their friends.
Total whose profile is currently visible
Visible to anyone
Visible only to friends
Don’t know to whom it’s visible
Total whose profile is not currently visible
Don’t know / Refused to answer
Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project Parents & Teens Survey,
October-November 2006. Based on teens that use social network sites margin
of error is [n=487]. +- 5%.
A researcher (boyd, 2008) involved in a two-year qualitative study of adolescent
use of SNS discovered two types of non-participants: disenfranchised teens and
conscientious objectors. Disenfranchised teens either do not have Internet access or their
parents do not allow them to use SNS. Conscientious objectors either refuse to use SNS
because of the increased use of personal data for commercial purposes by marketers
(especially Murdoch’s News Corps that owns MySpace) or are marginalized teens that
choose not to use the site. Another issue is that some of these non-participants either have
secret private profiles or they have friends who have created fake profiles to increase
their social capital by having desirable nonusers appear on their “friend” list.
While members of a SNS can visit any public profile, it appears that participants
primarily use the site to communicate with pre-existing friends. Groups of friends join the
site together, create their public identity through their profile, and then use the
communication tools to hang out, message one another, create cultural artifacts, and build
a sense of community (boyd, 2007a). The most popular way to communicate within a
SNS is by posting public comments on a friend’s profile (84%). Girls (89%) were slightly
more likely than boys (79%) to post these types of public comments (Lenhart & Madden,
Before discussing mediated communication within social network sites, it is
important to recognize the public nature of the site. The choice users make in determining
whether to set their profile as public or private articulates who will be in their virtual
audience. Users with a private profile have a limited audience of known friends. Other
users who image themselves communicating with their broader peer group might have a
public profile with hundreds of “friends” who share similar interests in music, fashion,
and hobbies. In fact, some SNS facilitate this process by creating automatic links to
groups that have used similar key words to describe themselves in their profiles. In this
way, members of SNS are expressing themselves through their profiles using a hybrid
form of communication that combines aspects of both public broadcasting and the more
private expression one might find in a personal diary (Buckingham, 2002).
Because of the public nature of these sites, some researchers refer to SNS sites as
networked publics (boyd, 2008). Boyd describes five properties of networked publics:
(a) persistence, (b) searchability, (c) replicability, (d) scalability, and (e) [de]locatability.
Content on SNS is by its very nature asynchronous and persistent. What adolescents write
on their SNS can be searched and replicated not only by their friends but also by future
employers and college admissions counselors. This can cause SNS to scale in surprising
ways; a private conversation or an embarrassing incident can spread rapidly through the
network. Adolescents will need to develop sophisticated mechanisms for dealing with the
social consequences of the blurring of these private and public spaces and their impact on
their lives at school, at home, and in other future contexts. Since many SNS are accessed
through mobile phones, networked publics are detached from any one location. However,
there is a paradox because global positioning systems (GPS) in phones, allow new mobile
SNS applications that tell a user which friends are nearby, making location even more
The five properties of networked publics are inter-related and have implications
for the ways they can alter the social dynamics between users of the SNS. Boyd (2008)
describes three dynamics, (a) invisible audiences, (b) collapsed contexts, and (c) the
blurring of public and private, that frame her thinking about network publics. When
adolescents are posting on their SNS or commenting on their friend’s profile, they are
often unaware of the invisible audiences. In the real world, people are accustomed to
adjusting comments to make them appropriate for their audience. On a SNS there are
lurkers and future audiences who might read SNS postings in a totally different context.
This results in a collapsing of context. Boyd (2008) writes “the lack of spatial, social, and
temporal boundaries makes it difficult to maintain distinct social contexts” (p.34). Since
adolescents no longer have control over the context of their SNS, the public and private
boundaries have become meaningless and are often difficult to maintain. The new
privacy policies of several SNS that make profiles publicly available to everyone as a
default – often without their users even understanding the change – make this especially
While these issues are continuing to emerge, the long term social consequences of
adolescents’ SNS use are not fully understood. What is clear is adolescents continue to
adopt information and communication technologies (ICT) out of school to form virtual
identities and practice new literacies within their SNS. However, in school there continue
to be debates among educators on how best to use LMS and PLE to develop networklearning environments.
Adolescents’ Use of Network Learning Environments
Network learning is a rapidly growing field in K-12 education that has
experienced explosive growth over the last decade. Network learning is the use of
educational technology, especially the Internet and computer-mediated communication,
to foster community, collaboration, and learning. The emergence of network learning is
the result of the convergence of several factors: the development of the Internet,
increased access to network and communication technology in schools, and the training
of instructional leaders on how to integrate computers in instruction. Nearly all public
schools in the United States have access to the Internet, compared with 35% in 1994
(Parsad, Jones, & Greene, 2005). K-12 public schools have made consistent progress in
expanding Internet access in instructional rooms. In 2003, 93% of public school
instructional rooms had Internet access, compared with 3% in 1994 (2005).
Network learning is created when computer-mediated communication (CMC) is
used to create community knowledge in an authentic collaborative learning environment.
All three elements are interrelated and critical for the community to develop. The
authentic environment becomes the joint enterprise, the collaboration within the
community through CMC provides mutual engagement, and the building of the
community knowledge through CMC becomes the shared repertoire (Wenger, 1998). A
survey of current research on online communities of practices found that these
environments have different levels of expertise present and a fluid movement from the
peripheral to the center that demonstrates the progression from being a novice to an
expert (Johnson, 2001). This process referred to as legitimate peripheral participation
(LPP) explains the relationship between new/old or novice/expert members of a
community and the interactions between activities, identities, artifacts, and communities
of knowledge. In this model, learning is not seen as the individual acquisition of
knowledge but as a process of social participation (Lave & Wenger, 1991).
Network learning emphasizes the development of collective knowledge and
increased collaborations and connections among students. Several researchers (Pea, 1993;
Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1994; Shell, 1996) have studied the use of technology to
facilitate the creation of knowledge-building communities and have found that
knowledge-building communities affect students’ approaches to learning along the
following domains: (a) knowledge-building, (b) question-asking, (c) self-regulation, and
(d) lack of initiative (Shell, 1996). Shell’s research supports the idea that the infusion of
technology supports knowledge-building, intentional learning, and collaboration in high
school classrooms.
Scardamalia and Bereiter (1994) created a computer-supported intentional
learning environment (CSILE, now known as Knowledge Forum) in which school
children were involved in knowledge-building by actively contributing to and accessing a
communal database of knowledge. Knowledge Forum is one of the most well researched
and documented examples of using technology in a collaborative learning environment.
The researchers (Ryser, Beeler, & McKenzie, 1995; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1994;
Scardamalia, Bereiter, & Lamon, 1994) believe schools should be restructured as
knowledge construction communities where the nature of discourse is changed from a
knowledge dissemination model to one where the construction of knowledge is supported
as a collective goal. Hundreds of students have been tested across several nations in
longitudinal studies documenting the benefits of this type of collaborative learning
environment. These benefits include increased textual and graphical literacy, improved
theory development, increased reading comprehension on difficult texts, and significantly
higher verbal standardized tests scores when compared to students in a control group
(Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1994; Scardamalia et al., 1994).
Intentional learning, the process of expertise, and the need to restructure schools
have formed the foundation of the research on Knowledge Forum. There are parallels in
this research to the studies on authentic learning environments, the role of novices and
experts in legitimate peripheral participation (LPP), and community of practice (COP). A
rich authentic subject matter that allows key principles or ideas to be explored is critical
so the community can understand a broad range of topics. In LPP, the collective
knowledge grows in a synergistic manner. The discussion of mentors at the center to the
novices at the periphery results in all community members furthering their own
knowledge (Bielaczyc & Collins, 2002; Lave & Wenger, 1991). There is a strong
relationship between the growth of individual expertise and the community’s collective
knowledge. The key is that each member of the community, expert and novice, interacts
and comes to a shared understanding through actual practice. In Knowledge Forum, the
researcher is likely to learn just as much from the students’ understanding of a concept
(or misunderstanding) as the students will from the expert.
One of the most popular examples of network learning is the use of
telecollaborative projects in schools. These types of projects, which date back to the
1980s, use the Internet to foster intercultural collaborations and can usually be organized
as interpersonal exchanges, information collections, or problem solving projects (Harris,
1995). Using online collaborations, classrooms can develop knowledge building through
structured activities and knowledge repositories. Students and teachers are involved in
collaborative instructional activities and have access to the online tools that encourage
group interaction. Network learning provides real-life problems and authentic contexts
that connect classroom learning with the outside world. Teachers share classroom
resources and professional knowledge, fostering increased accountability to students,
other teachers, and the greater community (Carroll et al., 2003).
One of the more ambitious examples of telecollaborative projects is network
science, which involved teams of students sharing data from classrooms all over the
world. Common characteristics of these types of projects include the development of
questions, sharing of data, collection and analysis of these data, and exchanging of
information with students, teachers, and online experts. In this project, data are collected
locally, like the local tracking of bird migrations or measuring the acidity level of rainfall,
and then the gathered information is exchanged over the Internet with other classrooms
for analysis. International project leaders often provide project websites that contain
instructions, supplemental curriculum, and online databases used to organize the data and
provide communication tools like chat rooms and message boards to facilitate
interactions (Burniske & Monke, 2001; Warschauer, 2003).
A five-year study of network science found that most classrooms were not using
the telecollaborative projects to foster the type of scientific discourse or data analysis as
expected by the project leaders (Feldman et al., 2000). In the normal practices of network
science, classes often uploaded their data but never bothered to download the data of
other participants. The classes that did download the data often did not have the skills or
strategies necessary to effectively analyze the data sets. Additionally, much of the
discourse and interactions between classrooms was personal and did not represent true
reflective discourse.
The researchers argued that in network science the students need the mentoring of
an expert teacher to carry on reflective discourse and these complex skills are often best
learned within the subtle interactions and norms of a face-to-face classroom. This
contradicts the research on Knowledge Forum that found that the written discourse of
online discussions complimented the oral discourse in classrooms (Scardamalia &
Bereiter, 1996). Students using Knowledge Forum commented on “the blessing of having
time to think rather than needing to respond under the pressures of oral discourse”
(p. 263), while the researchers of network science argued that in classroom-based
discussions, a teacher’s silent intentional pause is a powerful tool that encourages student
reflection and gives time for differing points of view to emerge. In their opinion, “given
the timing, monitoring, nuanced voice, eye contact, and on-the-spot decision making
required to engage students in reflective discussions, online discussions are a poor
substitute by comparison” (Feldman et al., 2000). In addition, there is no guarantee that
the increased time afforded by computer mediated communication resulted in deeper
reflection. However, those classrooms that have already learned to create the norms of
reflective discourse within their classroom are the ones most likely to carry on these types
of exchanges online.
Many factors can influence the failed communication common in
telecollaborative projects, ranging from the organization and structures of the exchange to
the socio-cultural context of the students environment (O’Dowd & Ritter, 2006). In a
study of exchanges between university level foreign language students from Germany
and the United States, the lower level of fluency in German by the Americans resulted in
shorter emails. This was misinterpreted by the German students as a lack of interest by
the Americans and resulted in failed exchanges (Belz, 2001). In another international
exchange between adolescents from several continents, the project coordinator worried
about classrooms from Hawaii and Botswana that dropped out of the project, wondering
if he offended them, if they were dissatisfied, or if maybe he was too demanding.
However, the precarious Internet connection in Botswana limited their exchanges, and
the Hawaii school only wanted the limited exposure afforded them with the first round of
email exchanges (Burniske & Monke, 2001). These examples demonstrate the
importance of discussing the norms for the exchanges between the participants and their
roles and expectations for each other before the telecollaborative projects begin.
In summary, the research on network science by Feldman and his colleagues
(2000) led them to doubt the effectiveness of using virtual environments for K to 12
students as a replacement for classroom based communities. They believe that just
because participating classes can exchange resources and expertise with other classrooms
and develop databases of authentic information does not guarantee that the data will be
used to ask probing questions, encourage high-level analysis, or stimulate creative
interpretation. In their experience, participants in network science typically do not
achieve high-level collaboration. The problem seems to lie in the emphasis on the online
collaboration in contrast to developing the reflective questioning and discourse that can
naturally arise in a community of learners within a classroom.
There are many challenges with implementing network learning in schools. One
of the difficulties with network learning programs like Knowledge Forum is representing
and assessing distributed knowledge within a school community. Can information in a
database truly represent the community’s knowledge? Replicating the success of
researchers advocating various technological innovations has often been difficult. Cuban
(1986) found that claims about the effectiveness of a new technology when implemented
with the curricular and technical support of a researcher could often not be replicated in a
more typical classroom setting. These types of innovations have not become a standard
part of teaching in schools because they do not fit into the accepted culture of the
classroom (Tyack & Cuban, 1995).
Schools often lack the social infrastructure necessary for network learning
communities to flourish. Bielaczyz (2006) suggests that there are three levels of social
infrastructure that need to be developed: the cultural level, the activity level, and the tool
level. The philosophy, purpose, and norms of the community are important issues at the
cultural level. At the activity level, community structure, level of participation, roles, and
culminating events are central. The use and capability of the online tools are important at
the tool level. The most important factor influencing the success of an online community
is the members themselves. Researchers (Bielaczyc, 2006; Feldman et al., 2000) have
found that the role of the teacher was an important determinate in the success of network
learning. Teacher and students need to learn to create a fail-safe environment based on
trust. Members of the community should feel comfortable taking risks and moving from
the periphery to the center of the community, taking on different roles and
Most schools do not articulate their knowledge-sharing goals but instead have
cultures that reinforce knowledge-hoarding, resulting in teachers who work in isolation
from each other. In a seven-month case study of two Silicon Valley high schools with
high access to technology, researchers found little evidence that increased access to
technology resulted in widespread transformation of teaching practices (Cuban et al.,
2001). While some have argued that the use of technology would result in fewer
teacher-centered practices, this study found little evidence of more student-centered
instruction. The researchers found that computer and software training was not effective
in meeting the needs of teachers. Only incremental changes in teaching style occurred as
a result of computer access, and there were only a few examples of teachers who
experienced fundamental changes in their instructional strategies. The authors explain
this anomaly through an analysis of the contextual factors affecting the organization of
the schools. The historical legacy of how high schools are organized, including the
departmental structures that encouraged teacher isolation and lack of time for planning,
discouraged the sharing of best practices between teachers (Tyack & Cuban, 1995).
Many of these issues on how to best implement network-learning solutions in
schools are not being determined by policy makers, educators, or students but instead by
software vendors that are providing the learning management system (Siemens, 2004).
As the learning management system market has matured, the options for many
institutions have become limited. The market leader, Blackboard, in 2005 purchased the
second most popular LMS, WebCT. In July 2006 the federal government granted
Blackboard a patent for “Internet based educational support system and methods”
(Carvin, 2006). Blackboard then sued a rival LMS, Desire2Learn, for infringing on its
copyright. Blackboard purchased another LMS competitor, Angel Learning, whose
strength was in K-12 Schools in 2009. There is much concern that this could limit
innovation in the market.
The fundamental assumption in a LMS is that learning will be achieved if
students are exposed to content in a structured way. The result is that the LMS begins to
define the pedagogical options and the nature of the interactions within the network
learning experience. Others have voiced concerns that the current diffusion of LMS stems
not from a genuine desire of learner empowerment and individualization of learning but
rather from cost-saving measures that have as a hidden objective the goal of replacing
human interaction in the classroom with mediated, individualized content (Rose, 2004).
In many instances, the integration of LMS into classrooms has not resulted in changes of
teaching and learning but instead has reinforced traditional teacher centric information
delivery models of instruction (Cuban et al., 2001; Zemsky & Massy, 2004).
There seems to be a growing dichotomy in how adolescents are using information
and communication technologies (ICT) in school and out of school. While students are in
school, they are often frustrated with their limited or restricted access to technology.
When students do have high access to technology, they are often restricted by acceptable
use policies (AUP), school filters, and firewalls from accessing the tools (email, instant
messaging services, and social network sites) necessary for them to stay connected with
their online social networks (Levin & Arafeh, 2002; Selwyn, 2006). The feelings of these
students are expressed by this quote from a British adolescent,
The Internet at school really pisses me off. We are only allowed to
use the Internet, out of lessons, for half an hour during lunch. And
even then we have to sign a form saying that we’ll use it for
homework, nothing else, then the bloody IT administrator checks
our computers to make sure it’s homework related. If it ain’t then
we get detention. Hotmail is blocked as are various other useful
sites. It is so pointless. (Selwyn, 2006, p. 5)
Those students who are provided access to these tools within a structured network
learning curriculum often experience failed communication between participants – unable
to achieve effective discourse or the successful negotiation of new meaning (Feldman et
al., 2000; Harris, 2000; O’Dowd & Ritter, 2006).
While innovative technologies like blogs, wikis, mobile phones, and social
software have been marginalized and banned in school, they have been widely adopted
by adolescents out of school. Some researchers (Attwell, 2007; Severancea, Hardina, &
Whyteb, 2008; Van Harmelen, 2006) have suggested the establishment of Personal
Learning Environments (PLE) that use these innovative technologies to organize and
document student learning in an academic context. Van Harmelen (2006) identified three
major reasons why PLE should be developed. First, lifelong learners need a system that
offers a standard interface between different LMS, allowing them to maintain portfolios
between institutions. Second, PLE provide a response to pedagogical approaches that
postulate that the LMS should be under the control of the learners. Finally, a PLE should
meet the needs of learners who prefer to work offline and at the same time allow access
to learners and teachers who use other PLE and LMS.
There has been a lack of agreement on how best to define PLE. Lubensky (2006)
defined it as “a facility for an individual to access, aggregate, configure and manipulate
digital artifacts of their ongoing learning experiences” (p. 5), while Wilson (2008) states
that a “PLE is not a single piece of software, but instead the collection of tools used by a
user to meet their needs as part of their personal working and learning routine” (p. 9).
Attwell and Costa (2008) argue that the most important aspect of PLE is not the
applications or services but the concept that both individual and group learning should be
supported in a variety of contexts and allow more control and autonomy for the learner.
For the purpose of this research, a PLE is defined as an online environment that
allows learners to take control and manage their own learning separate from the context
of an individual course. PLE enable learners to control information through syndicated
feeds, publish their own work like a portfolio, and connect to other learners like a SNS.
They are usually contrasted with LMS where learning is managed and controlled by an
institution. Within a PLE the learning interactions and artifacts are not constrained to a
single class like a LMS but instead represent all of a user’s learning as a whole.
PLE were first conceived through the discussion of educational technologists in
early 2005 and were further articulated by the model published by Wilson (2007) who
described PLE as a LMS of the future (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. Conceptual model of a PLE developed by Wilson (2007)
In the above model, Wilson advocated sharing information between freely
available Web 2.0 social software like blogs, wikis, Flickr (a photo sharing site), and (a bookmark sharing site) and formal LMS though open standards and
application programming interfaces (API). These tools enable users to both create and
share information in contrast to the first wave of Internet technology where information
and services were just broadcast to a large audience. In this view, a PLE is not a single
application or system but all the tools online and offline that a learner uses to organize his
or her everyday learning.
There are some practical problems with this approach for adolescents in high
school. Only the most tech-savvy and advanced users would be capable of integrating
their learning within various online services. Most adolescents do not feel comfortable
enough with using these tools to create a PLE on their own and would find it difficult to
manage the various technologies to create a single unified learning context. In addition, it
is not likely that commercial vendors of LMS will open the necessary secure gateways to
make their systems interoperate with free open source services, instead preferring to keep
their users’ data within their proprietary systems.
A second type of PLE is a more formal environment that is either integrated
within an institution’s LMS or a separate piece of social software installed on a school’s
Intranet. Certain open source applications could be adopted, which use frameworks and
tools that aggregate different online services (Attwell, 2007). Two examples would be the
Flock web browser and ELGG (, a social networking platform. Both of these
applications use open standards and APIs to allow users to integrate various online tools
and services from other applications. With ELGG, a student can have a profile, gather
information dynamically by subscribing to syndicated news feeds, publish best examples
of their academic work, and collaborate with members of the PLE using features similar
to a SNS.
While adolescents continue to adopt SNS, schools struggle to find the most
appropriate ways to integrate LMS or PLE to support student learning. Adolescents are
using their profiles on SNS and their work within LMS to experiment with their identities
and to represent themselves to their friends in and out-of-school.
Identity Formation in In-School and Out-of-School Online Environments
In general, identity can be viewed as either a unitary (Erickson, 1968) or a social
(Calvert, 2002) construct. In the unitary view a person has a single self-expression of
identity that explains who one is. This is often formed during adolescence and is
influenced by family, gender, personality traits, values, and beliefs. In the socio-cultural
view, identity is a social construction that forms through interactions with others within a
community (Gee, 2001; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998). Identity becomes a
transactive process between an individual and his or her context resulting in the
expression of multiple selves (Calvert, 2002).
Instead of looking at school through the lens of class, race, or gender, Gee (2001)
argues that researchers should analyze schools from the perspective of identity. Gee
believes that there are four ways to view identity: (a) as a force of nature
(Nature-Identity), (b) as a position endorsed by an institution (Institutional-Identity),
(c) as an individual trait accepted within the discourse of others (Discourse-Identity), and
(d) as the experiences shared in an affinity group (Affinity-Identity). A person’s NatureIdentity is a fixed biological natural unchanging state. For example, gender and race are
attributes of one’s Nature-Identity. Institutional-Identity can have a powerful influence on
identity development by authorizing a variety of social roles through family, school, and
the government. Discourse-Identity is an individual trait that is developed through
interactions with other people, while the Affinity-Identity perspective develops from
being a member of an affinity group that is organized around a common interest. The key
focus is not on institutional affiliation, natural characteristics, or the discourse among the
members but on the distinctive social practices and common interests found within the
community. This researcher can be understood as a certain type of person who takes on
different roles based on his different identities. He is a middle child (Nature-Identity), a
teacher (Institutional-Identity), an introvert (Discourse-Identity), and a musician
When adolescents interact with each other at school, their peers might recognize
them as acting like a certain “kind of person.” However, in an out-of-school context or in
an online environment, these same adolescents might take on different identities. In this
sense, everyone has multiple identities, which are often formed and influenced by the
context or norms of a community. Identity is viewed not only as an internal state but also
as an interpretive system that is influenced by institutions, discourse between individuals,
and the workings of affinity groups (Gee, 2001).
Schools are institutions that can have a powerful impact on how students shape
their identity. At school, students might be recognized as academically gifted, an
“at-risk” student, an athlete, a “geek,” or any number of labels. These types of
institutional identities might be accepted or even pursued by the students, resulting in
their taking ownership or identifying themselves as an accepted member of the school. In
other instances, students might reject the institutional identity and perceive it as being
imposed on them. These students will likely feel like outcasts and become disengaged
from the school.
From the socio-cultural perspective, identity is fluid and closely linked to
participation and learning in a community. Wenger (1998) argues that there is a
connection between identity and practice that can only be understood through lived
experiences within a community. Identity is formed through negotiated experiences. In
other words, the construction of identity is a central aspect of learning within a
collaborative community. Since learning is an ongoing process, understanding and
experience are in constant interaction as members of a community negotiate and
renegotiate meaning in their world (Lave & Wenger, 1991).
A student’s perception of himself or herself, his or her identity, plays an important
role in all learning, including network learning. All active and critical learning requires
that the learner commit considerable time and energy to the endeavor. The learner must
see himself or herself in terms of this new identity (Gee, 2003). Is the student the kind of
person who can learn with technology in a network-learning environment? Will he or she
be valued and accepted by others in this environment? As the environment and task
changes, a student’s perception of himself or herself might change, from an expert to a
novice and back again, moving along the path of legitimate peripheral participation (LPP)
(Lave & Wenger, 1991).
In a post-modern society, identity construction is not restricted to just family,
friends, or school communities. Social networks sites (SNS) and computer-mediated
communication can serve as a “social space” where adolescents can experiment with the
construction and reconstruction of their identity (Slater, 2002; Turkle, 1995). Adolescents
can use these communication tools to take on an identity as a temporary expression of
themselves within their discursive practices (Hall, 1996). Finally, Gee’s (2003)
explanation of virtual, real, and projective identities in video games can be applied to our
understanding of adolescent identity expression online.
For most adolescents, family and school communities form prominent spaces in
their identity development, but they also have a need to interact in less formal
environments. Researchers refer to these public spaces as “third places” that allow
adolescents to experiment with their identities beyond the strict structure of school or the
expectations placed by family (Oldenburg, 1991). The strong sense of community in
many online environments allows them to become important “third places” for
adolescents to make new friendships that could not be established in the more formal
communities of their lives.
Turkle (1995) explored online identity in her examination of interactive
text-based virtual environments called Multi-User Domains (MUD). She saw an eroding
boundary between the virtual and real as participants developed their identity in a
“culture of simulation.” The anonymous social interactions within the MUD gave the
participants the freedom to take on many different identities. Sometimes participants
acted out these different identities simultaneously as seen in this excerpt from a male
I can see myself as being two or three or more [virtual identities]. And I
just turn on one part of my mind and then another when I go from
window to window [on his computer screen]. I’m in some kind of
argument in one window and trying to come on to a girl in another, and
another I might be running a spreadsheet program for school . . . and then
I’ll get a real-time message, and I guess that’s real life. It’s just one more
window (p. 13).
Many adolescents use the Internet to experiment with their identities (Calvert,
2002; Lenhart, Rainie, & Lewis, 2001). One study found that among adolescents who use
email, chat, or Instant Messaging (IM) almost one quarter assumed a fake identity
(Lenhart et al., 2001). While no doubt many adolescents take part in identity
experimentation in online games, chat rooms, and communities, for many adolescents
there is a strong connection between their virtual and real identities. This is expressed by
Skyler, an 18 year old in the following comment to her mom, “If you’re not on MySpace,
you don’t exist” (boyd, 2008, p. 119).
An international study explored the extent that adolescents engaged in and their
motivation for experimenting with their online identity (Valkenburg, Schouten, & Peter,
2005). In the study, 600 students between nine and 18 years old (M = 13.37, SD = 1.98)
completed a questionnaire about their online behavior. A little more than half of the
sample (52.8%) was boys. Of the adolescents surveyed, 82% indicated that they used chat
or instant messaging while 50% (n = 246) of these respondents reported experimenting
with their identity. Early adolescents experimented with their identity significantly more
than older adolescents.
A multivariate analysis was performed on 10 items designed to measure students’
motivation for identity experimentation yielding three orthogonal factors, which
explained 63% of the variance. Of the three factors, the most important motive for
engaging in online-based identity experiments was self-exploration (to see how would
others react), followed by social compensation (to overcome shyness), and then social
facilitation (to develop relationships). Girls experimented with their identity more often
than boys for self-exploration and to discover how others would perceive them. This
study demonstrates that adolescent’s use of the Internet can have an important impact on
the development of their identities.
A paradox noted by Palfrey and Gasser (2008) is that while adolescents have
more freedom to experiment with their identities in online social networks, these same
technologies have bound them to a unitary identity in the real world. The capability to
trace user information online from place to place has become more powerful. By adding a
web address into the Google TouchGraph application (, a
visual graph appears revealing the network of connections between websites, friends,
pictures, and videos. In previous generations, a young person moving to a new school
would have the opportunity for a fresh start with a new identity; however, today it is
much easier for people to learn about past identities online.
Gee’s (2003) analysis of identity within video games can provide insight into
describing the changing boundaries identity provides actors within social network sites.
In the context of role-playing video games, Gee explains the difference between
“virtual,” “real,” and “projective” identities. While a user plays the game, his or her
virtual identity is formed and expressed by the action of the character. A second identity
being played out in the game is the real, non-virtual person who is making the decisions
for the virtual character in the game. The real world identities the game player brings to
the game, being male and a student, can affect how the game is being played. The final
identity is the one that is being projected by the real identity onto the virtual character in
the game. For example, as the player of the game, this researcher may project his own
values and desires onto his virtual character so the projective identity is both his
character’s and his.
Video games provide an interesting context for experimenting with identity. This
type of “identity play” contains a context, allows for creativity and reflection, and has
accountability. The player of the game can experiment and try out a virtual identity and
then see the consequence of his or her choices played out in the game. Adolescents can
use this type of “identity training” to become proficient on taking on new identities. Gee
(2004) recognizes the value in this when he states “ . . . people who are adept at taking on
identities, adept at using and interacting within affinity spaces, and are well connected in
networks will flourish” (p.97).
A social phenomenon occurred in July 2006 when a video blogger using the
username LonelyGirl15 posted her first video to a YouTube, a video hosting SNS. In
these early videos, the YouTube audience learns of the identity of Bree, a sheltered but
highly intelligent home-schooled 16-year-old girl who lives with strict religious parents.
Within a few weeks, LonelyGirl15 became one of the most popular video bloggers on
YouTube with a half million views an episode. Almost immediately viewers began to
question the high production value of the videos and wonder if Bree was an imposter.
Users begin to cross post on both her YouTube video site and her MySpace page. By the
end of summer, a group of enterprising viewers traced the IP address of Bree’s MySpace
page to a Los Angeles advertising agency, proving she was in fact an actress for a
production company that was creating YouTube videos as a new medium for interactive
story telling.
There are some interesting structural similarities for our analysis of identity
between the LonelyGirl15 episode and Gee’s role-playing scenario. LonelyGirl15 was
the virtual identity of Bree, the character in her video blogs. In each episode more of her
identity was revealed to her audience. We later find out that Bree was not “real” but
instead a character played by a 19 year old actress name Jessica Rose whose own identity
was discovered by viewers of Bree’s videos. Throughout much of the summer of 2006,
Bree, the virtual identity, influenced Jessica Rose’s real identity, that of a struggling
actress. The producers of the YouTube videos were so afraid that Jessica would be
discovered that they pleaded with her not to take a job at a local restaurant and requested
that she wear sun glasses and hats when she went out in public. The producers even hired
another women to impersonate Bree’s identity by answering her emails and responding to
her fans on MySpace. The LonelyGirl15 episode is an excellent demonstration of identity
as a temporary expression within new discursive literacy practices where text, images,
videos, and user interactions intercept (Hall, 1996).
Literacy practices in School and Out-of-School Online Environments
The definition of literacy and what it means to be literate in a global society has
evolved over the last several decades. The traditional definition of literacy, the ability to
read and write, developed out of the cognitive perspective of educational psychology. In
this view, literacy is a set of discrete skills that must be mastered by the individual mind.
One becomes “literate” through learning the alphabet, developing phonic awareness,
recognizing word formation, and developing comprehension skills. The skills of encoding
and decoding text enable the learner to access new learning through studying different
subjects in school or accessing other text-mediated material out-of-school. This is most
likely taught within a skills-based curriculum that is devoid of any social or political
context. While there is debate among educators on how to best teach students to become
literate (whole language vs. phonics), the fundamental assumption that literacy is an
individual cognitive ability is rarely challenged in school (Lankshear, Green, & Snyder,
From the socio-cultural perspective, literacy is more than just reading and writing
but is reconceptualized as social practice. There is a distinction in the literature between
literacy events and literacy practices (Street, 2001). A literacy event is an observable
event that involves reading and/or writing and the characteristics surrounding the event.
The problem is that a literacy event remains descriptive and does not tell us how the
learner constructs meaning. A non-participant observing the event would have difficulty
“figuring out” what is going on or describing the text in any meaningful way. In contrast,
literacy practices describe both the event and the patterns surrounding the event. In
literacy practices, “what can be inferred from observable literacy events are embedded
within broader social and cultural norms” (Lewis & Fabos, 2005).
Literacy cannot be understood in isolation from a particular society, culture, or
context (Warschauer, 1999). This distinction was articulated by Street (1985) as two
opposite theoretical positions: “autonomous” and “ideological” models of literacy. The
autonomous model of literacy is a school-based textual competency that is universal
across all contexts but is grounded in western academic cultural values. When literacy
education is reduced to a set of skills defined apart from any social context, it is often
taught within an authority structure where students are instructed in the roles and
identities they are expected to fulfill in the outside world. This dominant form of literacy
instruction among the educational establishment reinforces traditional middle class
discourses of power, knowledge, and identity, further isolating students who do not
identify with the dominant culture (Street, 1995).
From the ideological model, literacy is situated within principles of language as a
social phenomenon. Literacy is more than just acquiring content; instead, reading and
writing are best understood within the context of the social, cultural, political, economic,
and historical practices that provide them meaning. Street (1995) argues that these
practices can reveal underlining assumptions and make explicit power relations
embedded within traditional concepts of literacy. The way that teachers and students
interact in their classrooms is a social practice that shapes and influences the type of
literacy being learned. Since there are many different types of contexts, there can be
multiple forms of “literacies” that take on a variety of practices.
This understanding of literacy practices is largely influenced by the concept of
“new literacies” (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006). From this perspective, literacies are
defined as ‘socially recognized ways of generating, communicating and negotiating
meaningful content through the medium of encoded texts within the context of
participation in Discourses (or, as members of Discourses)” (p. 64). These literacies are
described as “new” in terms of both the new technology used and the new “ethos” or
participatory culture that surrounds their practices (Jenkins, 2006). New literacies usually
reference the new forms of literacy made possible by the development of digital
technologies that enable the production and interaction of meaningful content. In
addition, these tools are highly collaborative and distributed, allowing the users to engage
in a participatory culture around their use.
Working with computers and mobile devices, enable adolescents to develop
literacy practices that could not even have been imagined a few years ago. Examples of
the participatory cultures that surround these multiple “new literacies” include interactive
play with video games (Gee, 2003) and online multiplayer games (Steinkuehler, 2003),
the production of “zines” (Knobel & Lankshear, 2002), and the literacy practices of
English language learners in online fanfiction sites (Black, 2005; Chandler-Olcott &
Mahar, 2003). This dissertation traces adolescents’ development of new literacies within
online social and learning networks (boyd & Ellison, 2007; Perkel, 2006).
Gee’s (2006) theory of D/discourse provides a tool for understanding multiple
literacies by exploring the interrelationships between language, identity, and a social
context. This theory describes the differences between “discourse” and “Discourse”
(denoted by the use of lower-case d and a capitalized D). The language used by students,
the verbal interactions formed to express their identity or to foster community, is referred
to as their “discourse” with a “lower-case d.” Students do not form identities or interact
with their friends through language use alone. Instead, members of a community share
actions, values, attitudes, beliefs, and emotions, as well as gestures, symbols, tools, and
technologies in such a manner to distinguish between insiders and outsiders. Discourse
with an “upper-case D” describes this as “a socially accepted association among ways of
using language, of thinking, and of acting that can be used to identity oneself as a
member of a socially meaningful group or ‘social network’” (Gee, 1996, p. 131). Thus, a
Discourse integrates literacy practices, including talking, listening, writing, and reading,
with the actions, beliefs, and technologies associated with being a member of a certain
affinity groups (1996).
One ongoing large-scale study of adolescent Hispanic literacy practices in and
out-of-school within a low socio-economic community is especially relevant to this
review (Moje, Overby, Tysvaer, & Morris, 2008). The mixed method research design
allowed the researchers to document and analyze the literacy practices, skills, and
motivations of a large numbers of adolescents through a survey (n=716), while at the
same time analyze how and why adolescents read by interviewing 79 students or about
10% of the overall population. The researchers used the following data sources:
(a) computer-based surveys, (b) computer-based reading diagnostics, (c) school record
data, (d) semi-structured interviews, (e) reading and writing process interviews, and
(f) ethnographic interviews and observations. The researchers analyzed the descriptive
data, performed regressions on the survey responses, and used the constant comparative
method to code the interview data. Their three research questions were: (1) What do
young people in one community read and write outside of school? (2) What is the
relationship between what they read and write outside of school and their achievement in
school? (3) What motivates youth to read and write outside of school?
The results of their research put into question the popularly held belief among
some adults and teachers that Hispanic adolescents of this poor urban community “don’t
read” (NEA, 2007). Of the 715 youth surveyed, 92% reported reading some kind of text
outside of school three to four times per week or more. However, the majority of the
youth did not read novels; instead, they were reading magazines, informational texts,
digital (websites), or electronic texts by other youth (youth zines, blogs, or text
messages). On average, web site reading (M=4.31, SD=1.94) was the most frequent,
followed by letters and notes from peers (M =4.15, SD=1.83); music lyrics (M = 3.8,
Sd-2.08); email (M =3.79, SD=2.10); magazines (M = 3.48, SD=1.70); and novels, short
stores, and plays (M=3.43, SD=1.99). These mean responses should be interpreted with
caution because their distributions were non-normal, with the majority of the youth
sitting at the low end of the distribution. The frequency of the adolescents’ use of digital
texts in this community demonstrated a digital divide, as only 29% reported reading
websites every day outside of school while 11.5% of the students reported that they did
not access the Internet outside of school at all. This is in contrast to the Lenhart and
Madden (2005) study, which found 90% of American adolescents were Internet users.
The researchers questioned if these out-of-school literacy practices had any
impact on the adolescent’s literacy performance in school. The researchers ran multiple
linear regression analysis on their out-of-school reading frequencies by text type with
their grade point average (GPA) in English, science, history and math classes. The
regression analysis showed that only novel reading outside of school predicted an
increase in GPA. In one group this related positively only to English grades, not science
or math. However, while the students were reading outside of class, they might not be
reading frequently enough to make a difference in their school achievement. In the
qualitative analysis the researchers found that adolescents were reading texts that were
embedded in social networks allowing them to build social capital. They liked texts that
were not only about people like them (race, ethnicity, age, class, or gender) but also texts
that provided them information for self-improvement, role models for identities, or
techniques for maintaining and establishing their relationships.
The New Literacy Studies perspective (Gee, 2000, 2003; New London Group,
1996; Street, 1995) examined literacy in different contexts, both in school and out of
school. The researchers found that adolescents can develop new “literacies” in many
creative ways through situated discourses. New Literacy Studies researchers have
examined student D/discourses in a variety of out-of-school environments, including
interactive play with video games (Gee, 2003), the production of “zines” (Knobel &
Lankshear, 2002), multi-literacies and English language learners in an online fanfiction
site (Black, 2005; Chandler-Olcott & Mahar, 2003), and literacy practices within
multi-player online games (Steinkuehler, 2003), but there has been little research on
student literacy practices (boyd & Ellison, 2007; Perkel, 2006) in online social networks.
In each of these cases, it appears that the youth studied are highly motivated to engage in
the literacy practices under study even though the literacy activities appear to challenge
some of their literacy skills. These studies of adolescents engaged in new literacies
suggest that many of the practices hold young people’s interest by engaging their
experiences and identities in ways that conventional school literacies do not.
Many researchers over the last decade have argued that literacy is embedded in
and develops out of the social practices of a culture (Gee, 1996; Street, 1995). As ICTs
have become more integrated within our daily life, there has developed a need to analyze
the impact of these technologies on literacy. In response to these issues, the New London
Group (1996) developed a broad framework called multiliteracies. This framework
recognizes that literacies are influenced by both the cultural and linguistic diversity of
society and the multiplicity of text forms found in ICT.
These situated discourses are often associated with textual practices mediated by
information and communication technologies (ICT). When adolescents interact with
Instant Messaging (IMing) and chat programs, they exhibit new linguistics and textual
practices described as Netspeak. While in social network sites, adolescents are not just
passive viewers of content but instead are creating new cut-and-paste literacy practices
that include a re-mixing of multimodal resources.
Adolescents are also actively participating in our global society using IMing to
stay connected to their network of friends. IMing, a common feature of SNS, is a popular
form of discourse among adolescents in which they send real time messages over
computer networks (Lenhart et al., 2001). The language used in IM and seen on postings
to SNS profiles demonstrates both an evolution of discourse and new literacy practices
(Crystal, 2001). This language, sometimes referred to as netspeak, contains both typical
linguistic forms and new non-standard forms. Some examples include the use of
acronyms (e.g., “lol = laugh out loud,” “pos = parent over shoulder”), emoticons or
graphic icons that represent emotions (e.g., “ = happy,” “ = sad”), and avatars which
are graphical representations of virtual characters. In a national survey of adolescent
literacy practices, 38% of teenagers say they have used netspeak, like lol, in written
assignments for school (Lenhart et al., 2008).
A case study of seven participants' IMing practices was conducted in a small
mid-western town (Lewis & Fabos, 2005) that had universal public access to the Internet.
The researchers reported language, social, and surveillance functions within the
adolescents’ use of IMing. The participants were found to use language “strategically and
creatively in their IMing to initiate and sustain exchanges,” including the manipulations
of “written tone, voice, word choice, subject matter, and structure of messages in order to
sustain interesting conversations and cut off those that were not of interest” (p. 482).
IMing was used by the participants to both enhance their social status and to sustain their
offline friendships. Finally, the unique features of IM, including the use of buddy lists,
enabled the participants to monitor who was on or offline. While all the participants
enjoyed being able to monitor their friends, most attempted not to be the object of
surveillance, especially by their parents.
Adolescents who use these SNS and blogs are no longer just passive viewers of
online content. Instead, over half (57%) of online teenagers are creating content online by
posting to blogs; creating web pages; and sharing pictures, stories, and movies (Lenhart
& Madden, 2005). One researcher found that users on MySpace were expressing a
technically simple but complex social practice that involved the copying and pasting of
code into their profiles that enabled them to reuse and appropriate the multimedia of
others (Perkel, 2006). The researcher found the creation of profiles on Myspace to be a
social production and site of new literacy practices. In the creation of their profiles users
often appropriated text, music, images, and videos from other sites. Even more interesting
was how producers of these profiles often reused HTML and CSS code, usually in a way
unintended by the original programmers, to change the appearance of their sites.
The Digital Youth Project, a three-year ethnographic study sponsored by the
MacArthur Foundation, was a collaborative effort of 28 researchers covering 22 case
studies (Ito et al., 2009). The ethnography explored how adolescents are interacting with
new digital media. The study found that adolescents use online spaces to “hang out” with
their peers in new ways to extend their social and school contexts online. Students use
mobile phones, portable game devices, texting, and Internet connections to constantly
update and maintain their online presence. The majority of youth spend their time online
in friendship-driven groups; a minority uses these online tools to join interest-based
groups. Adolescents use these online groups to connect to peers and content area experts,
including adults, to learn about areas of interest and to receive information that is not
available to them from their schools or friends offline. Youths have the opportunity to
publicize and share their own work and receive critical feedback from the community.
The researchers found that in friendship-based and interest-based online groups
adolescents were expressing new types of social and technical literacies. By “messing
around” with new media, adolescents developed new skills in their areas of interest.
Some of these adolescents “geeked out” by developing their skills through Google
searches, lurking on discussion forums, or joining a chat rooms of experts. Interaction
occurred in this environment among a variety of experts from different age groups. The
traditional roles of adults and adolescents often changed, as the value a member brings to
the community was more important then standard markers of status or authority. Through
the immediacy and breadth of information available online, adolescents developed
self-directed learning skills through exploration. This is in contrast to classroom learning
where students are taught predefined goals within a common curriculum.
This landmark study on digital media and youth has important implications for
educators and policy makers. First, the researchers stated that while adolescents are
participating in SNS they are developing important technical and social skills that are
needed to be active members of a globally connected society. Instead of creating barriers
to participation in online SNS, adults should find opportunities to facilitate young
people’s engagement with digital media. Instead of just providing access to online
information, educators should be open to forms of online “experimentation and social
exploration” that are fundamentally different from traditional instruction. Adults can play
an important role in setting “learning goals” for adolescents, especially in the online
interest groups where adults function as role models and more experienced peers.
It appears that students are using ICT in different ways within school and in
out-of-school online environments. When technology is used in school, adolescents are
often frustrated by the policies that limit their access to the tools they use to express their
identities and connect to their friends. Outside of school students appear to be
experimenting with these ideas within online global social networks. What is not known
is how adolescents are integrating these practices within their daily lives both within
school and outside of school. The central focus of this research is to trace adolescent
identities and literacy practices across different contexts both online/offline and in school
and out of school.
The literature suggests that a growing gap exists between how students are using
and learning with technology in and out of school. The purpose of this research was to
compare students’ identity and literacy practices within and around LMS and SNS. The
distinction between online and offline or real and virtual has become an artificial
construct. Instead, technology use both in and out of school has become integrated
throughout the daily practices of many adolescents. Traditional place-based case study or
ethnography is no longer sufficient to study the literacy practices and identity of
adolescents that move so easily between online and offline spaces.
This dissertation was influenced by two research methodologies: connective
ethnography (Androutsopoulos, 2008; Hine, 2000; Leander & McKim, 2003) and the
case study (Yin, 2003). Connective ethnography is an emerging methodology that
analyzes the boundaries between online and offline spaces through tracing the flow of
adolescents, their text, and cultural artifacts across these multiple contexts. The
traditional assumption that the offline space is the context that helps explain the
phenomenon that is online is also challenged. Instead, moving between the online and
offline breaks down this dualism and helps clarify the connections between each space
and how each influences the other (Slater, 2002). Instead of focusing on pre-defined field
sites, this form of virtual ethnography is both mobile and connective. Connective
ethnography challenges the artificial boundaries between the real and the virtual and
seeks to understand "the processes by which social spaces are held apart and blended and
how boundaries and blends are recognized" (Leander & McKim, 2003, p. 229). This
approach allows the researcher to understand the social situatedness of literacy and
identity by examining how adolescents navigate within and between the online and
offline or in school and out-of-school contexts as part of their everyday practices.
The second methodology that influenced this research was the case study. A case
study was deemed the most appropriate method because it is naturalistic, rich in
descriptive data, concerned with process, inductive, and interested with meaning making
(Bogdan & Biklen, 2003). Yin (2003) identified five characteristics in a case study
design: (a) a study’s research questions, (b) its propositions, (c) its unit of analysis,
(d) the logic of linking the data to the propositions, and (e) the criteria for interpreting the
findings. A case study should strive for a holistic understanding of the phenomenon by
being descriptive, providing understanding, and helping explain its characteristics.
This study took a connective approach to a case study by investigating six
students from a 10th grade Language Arts classroom and their cultural practices in
Blackboard, their learning management system (LMS), and in MySpace, a popular social
network site (SNS), over an eight-week period. This research combined both online and
offline interactions with the adolescents including participant observations in their LMS
and their SNS, face-to-face interviews, and online focus groups. The students’ material
culture including documents and writing samples from both their LMS and SNS were
analyzed. The central focus of the research was to trace adolescent identities and literacy
practices across different contexts both online and offline and in school and out of school.
The research was guided by the following questions:
1. How do students manifest their identity within school and out-of-school online
2. How do students’ literacy practices compare within and around school and
out-of-school online environments?
Research Site
The research site was chosen based on two main factors: the successful adoption
of the Blackboard learning management system within a classroom and reasonable
proximity to the researcher. A conscious decision was made to investigate a classroom
that had a reputation for the successful integration of a LMS to support teaching and
learning instead of researching more typical practices. Since the research suggests there is
a wide disparity between how students use technology in school and out of school, a
classroom was chosen that used a LMS to increase interactions within the class for the
comparison with the students' use of technology out of school. A list was compiled of all
the school districts that met those requirements, and appropriate leaders were contacted to
gain access for the study.
A school located in southern California was selected that is a recognized leader in
using technology to support instruction. The school is open to any student in a large
urban district and was established as part of a community redevelopment project at a
retail shopping center. The small high school has an enrollment of about 500 students. A
large percentage of the students are Latinos (92%) and 89% are on free and reduced
lunch. The school was recognized by the State of California as a Title1 Academic
Achievement School, and U.S. News and World Report recognize it as one of the 500
best high schools in America in 2009.
The out-of-school research was conducted through MySpace, a global Social
Network Site (SNS), a website that enables people to collaborate through
computer-mediated communication tools and to form online communities through an
online profile, a “friends” list, and a public commenting system (boyd & Ellison, 2007).
On this site members make connections to other members through their profiles. In order
to form a connection, a member has to accept a friend into his or her social network.
Once a member is within a friend’s social network he or she can have access to all other
friends within that person’s network if those members give permission. In MySpace,
there are two types of websites: private and public. A public website is open to anyone
who visits the site. Neither being a member of the user's network nor even having a
MySpace account is necessary to view the contents of the page. In order for a private
website to be viewed, a user must have both a MySpace account and be accepted into the
member’s social network. The researcher was accepted into the participants’ social
network so he could view their web blogs, postings, comments, artwork, music, video
postings, and other material culture.
In order for students to participate in the study, both students and parents had to
grant permissions. After parent consent and student assent forms were returned from the
members of the hybrid class, 10 participants completed a survey (during class time) that
asked them to describe their use of social network sites (see Appendix A). The survey
took 10 to 15 minutes to complete. Blackboard postings from all 10 survey participants
were downloaded and analyzed. After reviewing the survey results and the Blackboard
data, six students were purposely selected who matched the demographics of the school
and were active members of a social networking site outside of school. Every effort was
made to select participants that matched the gender and ethnic diversity of the school as a
whole. Active members were defined as users who logged onto their social network site
daily or almost daily, while a hybrid classroom was defined as a learning environment
with a LMS where some of the learning occurred online. Some of the Blackboard
postings of the survey-only participants were used in this research, especially when their
posts were critical for understanding the interactions of the six main participants. No
social networking sites from the survey-only participants were viewed or used as part of
this research. Any data referenced from them were labeled survey-only participant, and
survey-only participants were not identified or given a pseudonym.
The demographics of the high school resulted in the selection of participants who
were largely Hispanics from a low socio-economic background. Three girls and three
boys with diverse academic backgrounds and identity formations were selected from a
9th grade Language Arts classroom. There were four Hispanics, one Caucasian, and an
African-American participant. The ethnic makeup of the participants was representative
of the larger demographics of the school. Based on their grades in their classes, there was
a student with poor grades (Cs and Ds), four students with good to excellent grades (As
and Bs), and one student with average grades (Cs and Bs). There was a diversity of
identities among the group. Two participants self-identified as athletes and one of these
was active in student leadership. Two considered themselves artists: one an actor while
the other one liked to draw and was a musician. Another participant liked to write poetry,
and one was a technology geek. The focus on diverse identity formations was important
so that identity could be used as an analytic lens for the research (Gee, 2001). The names
of the students, the teacher, and the school were not used in the research. The researcher
compensated the six students with a $50 gift card and a raffle for an iPod.
Data Collection
During the eight weeks of the study, data were collected from both the students’
LMS and their SNS. Data collection included participant observations, student
interviews, focus groups, and an analysis of material culture. Email was used to question
participants while online discussions and postings were observed. Online text, images,
and videos were viewed, downloaded, and analyzed as material culture. It was recognized
that the online context might affect the data being collected. Email interviews lacked
non-verbal communication clues but allowed more time for reflection, while data cited on
web pages could be changed or deleted resulting in issues of version control and data
stability (Merriam, 1998). For example, several participants completely changed their
SNS profiles during the study, but only one of the participants archived the old profiles.
By triangulating these various data sources, the researcher attempted to increase
the construct validity of the case study (Patton, 2002). Participants were observed in their
classroom and in both their LMS and SNS. Interviews were conducted face-to-face while
in some cases follow up questions were answered by email. Documents and material
culture were downloaded from the LMS and SNS. For example, a screen capture utility
was used to take snapshots of the layout and data of each participant’s SNS at different
points in the study. The text on the SNS was copied and pasted into a software program
to be analyzed. In the LMS, student postings were copied into notes and saved,
preserving the nested structure of the online threads. During data collection, preliminary
data analysis included observer comments, short written memos, and the development of
preliminary categories such as types of identity, literacy practices, and SNS and LMS
There were several challenges with collecting research data on a social network
site. Of utmost concern was protecting the privacy and identities of the participants. For
the purpose of this research, no other web pages on MySpace were viewed except those
of the participants in the study. All six participants were encouraged to send messages to
all the members of their social network notifying them that they were part of a research
study on MySpace for those eight weeks. If the contents of the participants’ page could
only be understood if it was viewed within the context of another member’s page, that
member’s page was viewed only if it was a public page available to anyone on the
Internet. The six participants of this study had any number of comments posted to their
web page from members of MySpace who did not give permission to the researcher.
These comments were not cited or used specifically in the research and were only viewed
to provide an overall sense of the online community. If individual posts or comments
were used, then the member granted written permission for their use.
After the fieldwork was completed and before the dissertation was published, all
the participants were deleted from the MySpace profile that described the research study.
Participants were encouraged to delete any posts mentioning their involvement in the
study. In addition, Google and other search engines that cache websites were contacted
requesting that the original website be deleted. The purpose of this was to destroy any
evidence that connected the identities of the participants to the researcher or the study.
Participant Observations
Arrangements were made with the teacher to observe the classroom at five
different times when the students were using Blackboard. During these observations the
researcher both interacted with students in the classroom and observed students within
their LMS. Online material culture was identified within the LMS during these
observations and later copied to a data set. Field notes were taken during the observations
with comments written immediately after the class. These notes and comments were
organized into weekly data sets within a digital journal.
During the whole class observations, the researcher observed how Blackboard
was being integrated within classroom instruction. The focus was on how the six students
interacted with each other both in the classroom and within the LMS. Did the participants
seem actively engaged in their learning? How do they represent themselves in the
classroom and in Blackboard? What were their literacy practices in class and in
Blackboard? Only the interactions of the six main and the survey-only participants were
documented. Although other students were present in this public setting and may have
interacted with the target students, they were not specifically observed and no notes were
recorded about their behavior.
Online observation and analysis of the students’ Blackboard postings and
MySpace pages were conducted weekly throughout the data collection period
(Weeks 1-8) for up to two hours each week in each online setting (total 32 hours). The
purpose of this analysis was to understand how the students use language, images, and
other features of MySpace and Blackboard to make connections, demonstrate literacy,
and represent themselves to others.
The researcher accessed all public Blackboard postings from the class website
including archived data but only captured the data from the consented research
participants (including other students in the class who were consented but were not
selected for intensive study). The captured data included discussion board postings,
online journals, and synchronous transcripts, which were saved to a dataset for analysis.
Through this process the lead researcher viewed (but did not capture) the postings and
interactions of students who did not agree to participate in the study. However, this
information was available to all members of the class, including teachers and
administrators who had access privileges to the Blackboard site, and thus the information
was not considered “private.”
During the eight weeks the participants’ writings, postings, and interactions were
observed in their SNS, each of the main six participants accepted the researcher as a
"friend," and provided him access to his or her profile on his or her SNS. None of the
survey-only participants’ SNS profiles was view or documented in this research. The
main participants’ daily practices on their SNS profile were observed. While viewing the
SNS, the researcher considered the following questions: What choices did the participants
make in the design of their profile? How were they self-identifying themselves online?
How did they decide what type of personal information to include? What types of
interactions were facilitated by the profile? Data from the profile were collected,
commented, and coded. This information was used to develop questions for the
participant interviews. Some of the data obtained during the observations in MySpace
were publicly available for those students whose MySpace pages were set to public
access. For those students whose MySpace pages were set to private, the observational
data were accessible due to the participants granting access to the researcher.
The six participants completed two semi-structured face-to-face interviews; some
of them answered follow up questions by email for this project (Merriam, 2000). The
purpose of the interviews was to gather descriptive data about adolescent use of
technology in class and out-of class in the participants’ own words so the researcher
could develop insights into their identity and literacy practices (Bogdan & Biklen, 2003).
The researcher used a general interview guide that contained a set outline of topics (see
Appendix B). By asking a series of questions from these topics and then probing more
deeply based on the participants' responses to the questions, the researcher had the
advantage of providing reasonable standard data between participants but allowing for
greater depth than with more structured interviews (Patton, 2002).
One of the interviews was conducted face-to-face in the school’s library. The
second interview was completed in front of the researcher's laptop, which was connected
to a 3G wireless network so that the participants could demonstrate typical computer
practices within the LMS and the SNS. This was necessary because school networks filter
most SNS. The researcher visited the participant's SNS profile and their LMS before the
interview so questions could be developed concerning the participant's typical practices
on each online network.
A computer screen recording utility was used to capture the participant's actions
on the computer during the second interview. Each interview was also digitally recorded
by a microphone and transcribed. In addition to the recordings, the researcher wrote
comments on his field notes immediately after the interview. A third interview for two of
the participants was set by email to ask follow up and clarifying questions after analyzing
the data from the earlier face-to-face interviews. All email transcripts were downloaded
with comments added and immediately saved to the data set.
Focus Groups
The researcher led two focus groups with the six participants. The first focus
group was conducted in the teacher’s classroom during lunch while the second was in the
library after school. Each focus group lasted less than one hour. The focus groups were
digitally recorded, transcribed, and saved to a dataset. One of the focus groups
concentrated on the participants' use of technology in class while the second dealt with
their use of technology out of school (see Appendix C). The benefit of this approach was
that the students were able to interact not only with the researcher but also with each
other as the themes of identity and literacy were discussed in a relaxed non-threatening
environment (Krueger & Casey, 2000). In the focus groups the participants articulated
their opinions, helping each other to realize their own viewpoints (Bogdan & Biklen,
2003). During the final focus group, the participants were debriefed and given the
opportunity to comment on their experiences. At this time, participants were
compensated for taking part in the study by getting their gift cards and a raffle for the
iPod took place.
Documents and Material Culture
Each week the researcher accessed forum discussions, online journals, and other
work samples from the LMS, digitally removing the names of the participants not in the
study. In addition to the in-school data collection, the researcher collected data from the
students' use of technology out of school. Online text, music, video, wall postings, and
design elements were collected, commented on, and analyzed from the students' profiles
on their SNS.
For a single day during the study, participants completed an online log that
reported on their texting, instant messaging, email, and use of MySpace. At different
times throughout the study, every student completed at least one “a day in the life” matrix
(see Appendix D). The day in the life matrix was organized through a password protected
web-based database on the researcher’s personal web site. Students were able to copy and
paste into a web form their full transcripts of their texting, instant messages, email, web
browsing, and use of technology for the day, including pictures and the URLs of their
most visited websites. This was a secure and encrypted web-based storage system that
was only available to the researcher and individual participants. All of the participants
except one completed their technology use matrix. Maya could not access the site
because she primarily accessed the Internet at home through a mobile device that was not
compatible with the service. All usernames, email addresses, and identifiers from
non-participants were digitally removed before saved to the data set.
Data Collection Timeline
During data collections, the researcher spent several days a week at the school.
The data were collected over the final six weeks of the school year. During this time the
classroom was observed four times with one additional observation spent collecting data
from student portfolios in the teacher’s classroom. Student interviews and focus groups
were conducted during lunch and/or after school. Time was spent each week observing
the SNS and communicating with the participants online. An additional two weeks were
spent observing the students’ interactions in their SNS and collecting data from their
LMS into the summer after the school year ended. Five of the six participants responded
to follow up emails up to six months after the data collection period ended, while one of
the participants stopped all contact with the researcher once the official eight-week period
was completed.
Table 3
Data Collection Matrix
In School
LMS Observations
Document Collections
Survey Participants: Choose participants to
LMS Observations
Classroom Observation 1
LMS Observations
Document Collections
Interview Participants C/D
Classroom Observation 2
LMS Observations
Document Collections
Classroom Observation 3
LMS Observation
Document Collections
Participant A/B: Interviews
Classroom Observation 4
Classroom Observation 5: Portfolio Data
Participant E/F: Interviews
Focus Group: Technology use in school
Collect student archive data from LMS
Observe students in SNS
Interview Participants A/B
Participant A/B: Complete technology use logs
Observe students in SNS
Participant C/D: Complete technology use logs
Collect student archive data from LMS
Participant E/F: Interviews
Participant E/F: Complete technology use logs
Observe students in SNS
Observe students in SNS
Focus Group Chat - Technology Use out-ofschool
Observe students in SNS
Participant C/D: Interviews
Observe student in SNS
Observe student in SNS
Data Analysis
Language can only be understood within the cultural and historical context of the
users of the language. The primary functions of language are to support social activities
and identities and to support human interactions within social groups. Language is used
to build activities, identities, and community through the use of history and culture. Thus,
thick descriptions of the context and detailed transcriptions of the participants' language
were critical for the analysis and authenticity of this study.
Field notes, interview transcripts, and material culture from both in school and
out-of-school use of technology were collected and analyzed. Once the data were
collected and stored in digital format, they were imported into a software program called
Tinderbox. Eastgate, the developer of Tinderbox, describes the program as a “personal
content management assistant that stores your notes, ideas, and plans.” Using the
conceptual framework, the researcher developed general codes of context, literacy, and
identity and applied these to the data. Other codes emerged from the data themselves,
such as Photoshop practices or school likes and dislikes. This was an iterative approach
where relationships began to emerge from the data that changed or influenced how the
data were organized and understood.
All of the data were analyzed by breaking down the information into the smallest
possible unique idea and placing it in a note in Tinderbox. A note was coded by placing it
within an adornment on a concept map (see Appendix E). Each adornment in the concept
map had an on add script that propagated note attributes. Notes had various attributes
such as participant, data type (interview, focus group, technology matrix), online
environment, and a broad topic: a) contextual information, b) identity and c) literacy (see
Appendix F). Within each topic more specific themes were applied to the data. For
example, data within the identity topic were tagged in-school or out-of-school identities
and placed within one of these sub-sections: a) identity formation, b) multiple identities,
or c) future aspirations. Some of these sub-categories were broken down further. For
example, the multiple identities sub-category was coded a) Nature-Identity,
b) Discourse-Identity, c) Institutional-Identity, and d) Affinity-Identity. These digital
notes were then searched and organized for analysis.
Within Tinderbox custom searches and queries were created called agents. These
agents were used to organize the data by certain characteristics. There were agents for
participants, topics (Context, Identity, and Literacy), themes (Identity Experimentations,
Discourse-Identity, etc.), data type (Interview 1, Focus Groups, etc.), and research
questions (see Appendix G). Custom queries were created to return specific data results.
For example, a query was created that returned all notes by Participant 1 within the
MySpace online environment that had the theme affinity identity. The agents were used
to organize the data into general categories relating to identity and literacy and to explore
connections and relationships between the use of technology in and out of school. The
categories were reevaluated for external and internal plausibility and relative
inclusiveness and checked as credible by members and critical friends (Patton, 2002). All
of this information was then related back to the research questions as show in Table 4.
Table 4
Data Analysis Matrix
In School Environment
Observations Interviews
Q1: Identity LMS /
interviews at a Writing
Observations school
Field Notes /
Chat focus
Out-of School Environment
Observations Interviews
Gain access to Student
Analysis of
SNS profile. interviews on text, video,
SNS at of
music on
profile to form
participants school
use of SNS
Q2: Literacy LMS /
Interviews at a Writing
Observations school
Field Notes /
Lunch time Discussions
focus group
practices on
SNS: written
text, use of
music, video,
color and
design in
Chat focus
interviews on
SNS at of
Analysis of
through the
use of text,
Lunch time video, music
focus groups on profile.
Both Maxwell (1992) and Yin (2003) mention the importance of establishing
credibility in qualitative research. This research conformed to the three ways identified
by Yin to prevent problems with construct validity. First, multiple sources of evidence
were used to validate the findings. The chain of evidence was established, and all
interpretations were documented and supported by the evidence. Finally, member checks
were completed with the participants to ensure the researcher was properly interpreting
the data and critical friends analyzed the researcher’s interpretations for plausibility
(Guba & Lincoln, 1989). To prevent issues with internal validity, pattern-matching
techniques were used across all the different data sources and aligned with the study’s
conceptual framework (Miles & Huberman, 1994). Since this was a naturalistic and
exploratory inquiry, the findings are not considered generalizable (Patton, 2002).
However, it is hoped that enough rich descriptions and details have been provided so that
insight might be found for other educators, researchers, or policy makers interested in
comparing students’ use of LMS in school with their use of a SNS out-of-school.
This chapter begins with a description of the context where the study took place,
including an introduction of each participant. Following the description of the school and
its programs, the participants’ family backgrounds, impressions of the school, and their
technology use at home and in school are presented. Next, the participants’ identity
formations and literacy practices are analyzed both in Blackboard and in MySpace.
Chapter 4 concludes with a discussion of how technology has reinforced the connections
and links between the participants’ sense of identity and literacy practices within and out
of school.
The city of Valley Vista has been hit hard by the current recession. Like many
cities in Southern California, the collapse of the housing market has had a devastating
impact on the income of families living in Valley Vista. For instance, the median home
price $271,640 has decreased by 27.20% over the last two years. Areas of town suffer
from extreme poverty, and an alarming number of businesses have been forced to close
over the last year. The unemployment rate in the city is 12.20% while the job growth rate
is negative, decreasing 5.40% in 2009. In describing the poverty in Valley Vista, a local
teacher shared how the poverty is deeper than just economics. "There's a poverty of the
spirit, of the heart, and of the soul that crushes hope," he said. "We want each student to
raise to his or her utmost potential and surpass. They can't do that if their spirit feels
continually broken."
Valley Vista Community High School (VVCH, a pseudonym) was founded in
2001 as a small alternative school of choice to help relieve the overcrowding at the large
urban schools in the district. Due to open enrollment, any student in Valley Vista Unified
School District (VVUSD) can apply to attend the school. The school was established as
part of a community redevelopment project where part of a shopping center was
transformed into district offices, a community health clinic, an elementary school, and a
new high school. VVCH has an enrollment of about 500 students. The school has four
areas of focus: a) media and technology, b) health and wellness, c) public service, and
d) hospitality. The student-per-computer ratio at VVCH is 0.7 (California School
Technology Survey, 2007), which is significantly lower than the district (2.52 students)
and state (4.11 student) ratios. Participant Alex Riviera, a student at VVCH, commented
on his MySpace profile, "great school . . . we have more laptops than students." Most
classrooms have an Apple Macintosh laptop computer for every student, though some
math teachers have PC laptops running Microsoft Windows. A large percentage of the
students are Latinos (92%), 89% are on free and reduced lunch, and 31% of the students
are English Language Learners. The school is recognized by the State of California as a
Title 1 Academic Achievement School, and the 2009 U.S. News and World Report
recognized it as one of the 500 best high schools in America.
This study focused on six students in a freshman English class. All freshmen take
English, biology, a math course (algebra or geometry), physical education, a technology
course, and an elective (usually hospitality or an art class). The school operates on a
block schedule so students have longer periods on some days and do not visit all of their
classes everyday. On Fridays students have a project period where freshmen in teams
research and work on a single topic – health and fitness – all year, culminating in a
presentation to an elementary school class. Many students take technology courses every
year with an emphasis on productivity tools (Microsoft Office), web page creation
(HTML), graphic design (Photoshop and Illustrator), and video production (iMovie, Final
Cut Pro, After Effect).
The year of this study was the first year the Blackboard learning management
system was introduced to the school. The freshman math, science, and English teachers
adopted this online environment for their classes. Blackboard was mainly used by the
students to take formal tests in English and biology and to take practice quizzes or review
problems in preparations for benchmark tests in algebra or geometry. The participants
had Mr. Garcia (a pseudonym) as their English teacher. He used Blackboard for online
discussions and for quick writes on short writing prompts. The students were taught how
to use Photoshop to manipulate images in their technology class. Many of the students
would then post these images on their MySpace profiles for their peers to review.
The school has two popular optional programs that are taken by many of the
freshmen. First, there is a summer school program where students can take an
Introduction to Technology course. Next, students have the opportunity to take classes on
their campus from Valley Junior College after school. If students take these after school
classes all four years they can graduate high school with an Associates degree from the
college. However, to participate the students have to apply to the college and begin the
program at the start of their freshman year.
The demographics of the six participants were representative of the population of
this small urban school. There were three male and three female participants. Four of the
six participants were Mexican-American, one was African-American, and one student
was white. All of the students were raised in working class families from a largely
Hispanic community.
Participant 1: Alex Riviera
Alex Riviera, known as “A-Dog” by his friends, is a 16-year-old
Mexican-American. He was born in a neighboring city but has spent all his of schooling
years in the city of Valley Vista. Alex has one sister and lives with his mom, dad, and
members of his extended family. Alex has a passion for all things technology-related:
computers, cell phones, and video games. “I love using my computer.
It is my – it has, you know – everything that I need. I would be completely lost without
it.” While he has an older generation Windows XP computer in his room and a Nintendo
Wii game console, his parents will not purchase him a cell phone until he can afford to
pay for it himself. He visits popular technology blogs like Engadget and CNET on a daily
basis, keeping track of the latest technology-related news. He is savvy with technology
but is keenly aware that much of it he cannot afford. While browsing one of these sites he
shared, “I just look through and see if anything catches my attention. These products I
know I will never buy cause they are like 600 [dollars].”
The current recession and housing crisis has impacted Alex’s family dramatically.
Alex’s father has been the most successful of his 10 brothers and sisters. One of his
uncles lost his house, so he moved into Alex’s family garage. Another aunt's home was
foreclosed on so she moved herself and her two kids into the large family room in the
back of Alex's house. An uncle who is single could no longer afford the rent on his
apartment so he is living in a trailer in their driveway. Alex’s grandmother has also
recently moved into their house because an aunt could no longer support her. Alex’s dad
pays for everything and does not expect rent because he knows his family cannot afford
it. While Alex respects his father's decision, he resents the fact that he has had to make
sacrifices for them. Alex said, “And my Dad, you know, they are family and he knows
they can’t [afford rent] so you know . . . so he takes away from us.”
Alex often finds refuge from the chaos of his home life by spending his free time
on the computer in his room and sees the computer as the center of his social and
entertainment life. When I asked Alex what were some of his interests outside of school,
he said,
I talk on the phone and go out sometimes but mostly [I am] on the
computer, I have all my music collections, all my photo collections, I don't
watch TV anymore, I just go on Hulu [ is an online video
streaming service] right now. It just, ya know, has me.
Alex spends time browsing websites, reading and responding to MySpace messages,
posting MySpace bulletins to his friends, creating video tutorials, watching YouTube
videos, manipulating images in Photoshop, working on his homework, or completing
online math and science quizzes and reviews in Blackboard. Alex usually eats his dinner
alone in his room and watches online episodes of Naruto, a popular Japanese anime about
an adolescent Ninja. Alex shared,
It is like a really good show. I go through the hassle of reading each sub
title. I really am liking the show. I just click on an episode I want to see
and just watch it. I usually turn off the computer at that point and just like
do homework or something else. I am done for the day after that.
Alex takes school seriously and is a good student, getting "A" and "B" grades in
most of his college preparation classes. However, he did not start out that way. He was
slightly embarrassed when he explained he was older than all the rest of his classmates
because he flunked out of first grade. His early troubles in school may have been related
to English language acquisition as Spanish is the primary language he speaks at home. He
went to the elementary school that shares a campus with his current high school. Both
schools were constructed as part of a redevelopment project on the site of a rundown
shopping center. He went to his large neighborhood middle school but applied to attend
VVCH. When asked why he applied, he shared his concerns that his large local public
high school was unsafe. “Like, I hear friends talk about – [the local public high school]
now they say there is drugs everywhere you know, no one cares. There is cops
everywhere, not the type environment [I want to be in].”
Every spring Valley Vista students visit their local middle school and present to
eighth grade classes in an attempt to recruit students to come to their school. This was the
first time Alex had thought about attending the school, and he was interested in what the
school could offer him so he completed all the paperwork and applied to the school. He
said he was selected in the lottery and indicated not many students applied because “it is
not much of a hyped school.” The profile of the school has increased dramatically within
the community over the last six months. The school has had some positive public
exposure, and Alex and his classmates feel this will result in higher quality of students
wanting to attend the school.
Participant 2: Blanca Flores
Blanca Flores is a 14-year-old Mexican American girl who comes from a large
family. She has five sisters and four brothers. Two of her brothers and one of her sisters
are adopted. Her parents, who are active members of their evangelical church, have a
passion for helping the needy in their community. They have an adopted child that came
from a relative who is a drug addict while their other adopted child was abandoned at
their church. Blanca loves playing with her little brothers and sisters though she is closest
to her older sister who recently left home to join the military. Blanca especially enjoys
playing soccer and watching the Denver Broncos play football on TV. She shared that
since she started attending VVCH she has been getting more into computers. “I wasn’t
really a tech person, but now I’m getting so much into like computers and all the
programming on the computers.”
Spanish is the primary language that is spoken at home though her parents
encouraged her to learn to speak English at an early age. Her mom wanted her children to
have more opportunities than she had when she first emigrated from Mexico not being
able to speak English. Blanca remembers as a young child being encouraged to talk in
English to some of her neighbors. An African-American man who lived two houses down
from their home was evicted so he asked her parents if he could watch their house at
night by sleeping out on their porch with a blanket. Blanca has fond memories as a child
trying to talk to this man in English.
Blanca did not choose to come to VVCH. Instead, her parents told her she would
attend the school. Blanca shared that while she was in middle school she was a "drama
queen and a tough girl" who would often get in to arguments with other students. One
day her mother was at the doughnut shop and overheard a group of older girls who were
seniors at the local public school say that they were going to jump Blanca during the first
day of summer school to make sure she does not attend their school. After hearing that,
her mother told her she was not going to go to that school and she went to sign her up for
VVCH. Blanca misses her friends from her local high school and wishes her new school
had sports teams. However, Blanca has a good attitude about it. "Yeah, like I miss out
that there's not sports, but I'm learning so much new things in technology. So I think like
if I play sports outside of school through leagues, I can keep playing soccer."
Blanca shared what she liked most about her school was the fact that teachers
really care about their students and are really helpful. At the start of the school year,
Blanca worked hard to have a good attitude at school and to turn in all of her work.
However, near the end of the fall semester her grades started to slip and she became
depressed about her sister leaving for the Marines. Mr. Garcia, her English teacher,
noticed the change and talked to her about it, suggesting she apply to the Student
Assistance Program (SAP), a peer-counseling program where older students listen and
give advice to other students. Blanca's comments on Mr. Garcia and her school were as
And like anything I've ever needed, I know I can go to him . . . he's been
the best teacher here. And I also like that if you come in the morning or if
you're after school, it's not – there's not always a teacher, but there's
always a staff member who's willing to help here.
Blanca struggled academically her first year at VVCH, earning low grades. When
I asked her about her many missing assignments on Blackboard, she shared, "Well, it's
because we're lazy . . . he gives us a chance to do it in class, and some people are just like
whatever, yeah." When asked how much Blackboard affects her grade. "Well, mainly all
we do in his class is Blackboard and AR (Accelerated Reader). So if you're missing
assignments on Blackboard, you are pretty screwed". She shared that the classes at
VVCH seemed much easier than she thought they were going to be. If there was anything
she would have done differently this year, she said she would have studied more and kept
up her grades. She thinks if she went to the larger public school she might have done
better at school because she would have been playing sports and to be eligible she would
have had to keep a 3.0 grade average. "Cause here I'm just like whatever. A 2.0 average,
that's all I have to keep. And over there, for sports, I think now it's a 3.0. And before [at
her middle school] it used to be a 2.8 that we had to keep." Next year, she shared that she
will go wherever her mom wants her to go to school. She planned on joining a soccer
league outside of school this fall so she says she would be happy attending either this
school or the local public school.
Blanca feels one of the benefits of coming to the school is that it has taught her
how to use new technologies. In her technology class she has learned how to use
Microsoft Office, create a website, and manipulate graphics in Photoshop.
I didn't know that just anyone can make up a website on the Internet . . . I
thought you had to go like through school, you had to do so much. I
thought you had to go through a lot more to be able to make a website.
She enjoyed learning how to create different types of graphics in Photoshop. She has
used her new Photoshop skills to spice up her MySpace profile.
I've done a collage that we made in school in Photoshop. It was just a
picture of me and my sister when she was first leaving (to the military). I
had that as my background. So I made that here at school and then I
just – she uploaded it –she was helping me. She does everything with
computers. So she just kind of uploaded everything, and then we set it as
my background. But really, I don't know how she did it.
When she is home she usually checks her MySpace a couple of times a day to see
if she has any messages or visits her friends’ "activity stream" to see what her friends are
doing online. Blanca usually only emails or text messages her sister, who is stationed in
Florida for the Marines. One of the new things she really enjoys is using Twitter. Blanca
uses Twitter to not only keep in contact with her friends but also follow her favorite
celebrities. Often on the way home from school, she finds free Wi-Fi and connects to her
twitter account on her sister's iPod.
There's this free thing [Wi-Fi] where if you're just walking, or wherever
you're at and there's Internet access, it will enable you to it. So it's pretty
expensive alone, but then there's one, if you go though like all these things
on your iPod, that you could find it in certain spots.
She gets frustrated that she cannot access the school's Wi-Fi from her iPod to post
Twitter updates at school. When asked about accessing Twitter from school, she said:
"Gosh, no. I wish. Like in my biology class, today we opened up a frog. So I wanted to
post up dissecting a frog. And I kept trying and trying, and I was like, man".
Participant 3: Reggie Johnson
Reggie Johnson is a 14-year-old African-American who lives in northern Valley
Vista. Since his parents are divorced, he alternates every other day living with his mom
one day and his dad the next. Reggie has a 26-year-old sister living in Sacramento who
he visited during spring break, though he does not see her as often as he would like.
Reggie, an outgoing, gregarious student with a positive outlook, earns “As” and “Bs” in
school. In elementary school he earned good grades, but the teachers often sent home
notices that he talked too much. Reggie shared,
I would always get that little note at the bottom, saying I talk a lot. And it
would be like – I always like – I don't know, to me, I help people. I like
helping people. So I would always be like talking to people like, “Oh, this
is how you do this.”
When Reggie entered middle school he channeled his social energy into student
leadership and was eventually voted an ASB officer of his 8th grade class.
Reggie did not want to come to Valley Vista high school but instead wanted to
attend his local community high school. His parents’ decision that he attend the new
school was difficult for Reggie. He had gone to school with his friends since kindergarten
and was well known and liked on campus. He reluctantly completed the application to
come to the school but his heart was set on attending his local school. Reggie and his
parent’s indecision on whether to apply to the school resulted in a missed opportunity to
take part in the after school college program. Students at Valley Vista have the
opportunity to take classes from Valley Junior College after school on their campus.
Reggie who is an honors student was upset about this missed opportunity.
I did not know this when I applied but it was too late. Because I could
have had my AA. I could have been two years ahead of everybody else.
It's ok, you know, if I take enough AP (Advanced Placement) courses I
can do well enough.
While Reggie is now happy to be at the school, it was especially difficult the first day:
"So I came to VVCH, and actually, the first day, I didn't know anybody here. It was a
very rough first day." However, the very next day of school he visited the Director of
ASB and applied to be a member of the freshman student leadership team.
Reggie is one of the most technically-sophisticated participants in the study, yet
he is the only one without a MySpace account. About two years ago, Reggie had a
MySpace account but his parents became concerned after watching Dateline’s "To Catch
a Predator," an investigative TV series about adult predators that were using MySpace to
make contact with teenagers. When his parent's reviewed his account and saw that
Reggie included his last name on his profile, they banned him from using MySpace.
Since then Reggie has been using both YouTube and Twitter as his social network sites,
creating profiles, posting videos, status updates, and messaging friends. The irony of the
situation is that, by default, these sites are set to public and do not have the privacy
protections of MySpace. Reggie likes to use Twitter to follow his favorite celebrities and
he wishes more of his peers would use the service. (In a nationally study on adolescent
SNS use, only 8% of teens use Twitter [Lenhart et al., 2010b].)
Reggie uses his cell phone to communicate with his new and old school friends.
He mentioned he is more likely to go out and do activities with his old school friends that
he has known much longer. Most of his new school friends he only knows from class.
Since he does not know them as well as his old friends, he usually communicates with
them by texting about school activities or assignments. You can often find Reggie
playing in after school pickup soccer games at the park where many of the older players
and referees know him by name. He has a passion for soccer, which he has played for the
past nine years in American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO). He plays mainly
defender or midfielder. One year he got team MVP, and his teams have come in first
place and second place many times.
While Reggie likes his school he worries about what he might be missing out on
by attending the school. "One thing I don't like – well, like I guess sometimes a small,
smaller school – you know, you have to settle for things – like no sports... certain classes
not being available, like how many electives they have here." Reggie does like the
smaller family atmosphere of the school and all the technology that is integrated within
all his classes. Since Reggie will not have the opportunity to play soccer for his high
school, he continues to play in leagues outside of school.
Participant 4: Liliana Aguilar
Liliana Aguilar is a 14-year-old Mexican American who lives with her mom and
her step-dad. She has a little brother and a little sister and three older half brothers from
her step-dad's first marriage. She has some family that lives in Virginia, but most of her
family still lives in Mexico. Her family saves all year so they can visit their relatives in
Mexico every summer. Liliana uses Instant Messages (IM) to talk to her cousins in
Mexico but prefers other methods like MySpace or the phone to talk to her friends in
Valley Vista. When asked about how the recession has affected her family, she says that
she still has plenty of food to eat but the family has cut back on the things they do not
really need. For example, she had to give up getting a cell phone until they could afford
Though she lives only about 10 minutes away from VVCH, she did not want to
attend the school. She complained that she had no other choice because that is where her
mom wanted her to go. Like some of the other participants in this study, she bemoans the
fact that the school is too small to have an athletics program while praising the school for
its use of technology and the after school Junior College program. Liliana is a good
student who made Honor Roll her first semester. Recently her grades have begun to slip;
she is at risk of getting her first D in a class. The pressure of doing well at school and on
state standardized tests has stressed her out. “Last year I had all ‘As’ and now they
dropped really low. I have ‘Ds,’ which is bad. Just the stress of all the – school and stuff.”
She knows that her parents will not be able to afford to send her to college. “I am trying
to get a scholarship and my grades I know that wouldn’t work.”
Based on her interactions with her peers on MySpace and Blackboard Liliana
appears to be an outgoing and talkative teenage girl. She confides that she likes to write
poetry but that she does not want to share any of her poems.
I do that a lot when some people want me to tell them about it (the poems)
I don't like talking to people . . . about that – I don't like talking out loud. I
am talkative as you can see in class. But when it comes to presenting or
talking in front of the class. I totally get embarrassed and shy and quiet
and I hate that about me.
She writes poetry in English and Spanish but keeps it private. It is something personal, a
way to express her feelings without have to worry about being judged by her peers. She
shared that writing poetry helps her deal with the stress of her life and the pressure to get
good grades. Writing poems relaxes her. About writing she shared, “that release it
distresses me. Right now I am going through a bunch of stress ‘cause of testing and my
grades. That is a way to get rid of it.” When asked why she does not share her poems, she
said, “They are so personal, that is why.” While she will not share her own poetry she
likes to post poems and text that others have written as blogs on her MySpace.
Repurposing these texts in the public space of her profile enables her to share how she is
feeling with her peers without the personal judgment that would come if the poems and
text were written by her.
Participant 5: Maya Martinez
Maya is a quiet, shy, and very reserved Mexican-American who lives with her
mom, dad, two sisters, and little brother. Her family often expects her to take care of her
younger sister and little brother when her older sister, who is 18 years old, is not around.
Maya and her family like to get together at parks and have large picnics on the weekends.
She considers her family close, though they are known to get in typical family squabbles
and quickly forgive and forget. Of all the participants, she was the hardest to get to know
and the most guarded with her answers. She often seemed reluctant to answer the
researcher’s questions, and he never felt like he had the opportunity to really get to know
Maya in her free time likes to play her clarinet, cook, draw, and talk to friends.
She has played clarinet throughout elementary and middle school in the school band. One
sacrifice she had to make to attend VVCH was giving up the opportunity to play music at
school. VVCH does not have a music program, and she misses playing clarinet at her
new school. Maya enjoys cooking at home for her family and looks forward to taking the
various cooking and hospitality classes at school. One of her favorite courses this year is
art. She also took art last year at her middle school where she discovered she enjoyed
drawing. Her favorite subjects to draw are buildings and people because they appear
more realistic to her. Art is very personal and she does not feel comfortable sharing her
art. When asked if she posts her art on MySpace, Maya replied, “No, cause I’d get
ashamed . . . too embarrassed.”
Like most adolescents Maya enjoys talking to friends in her free time. When she
came to the school, she did not know anyone. She met many of her new friends during
summer school before her freshman year, which made starting at a new school easier for
her. She communicates with her friends mainly by texting on her prepaid cell phone plan
or by sending messages through her MySpace profile. Maya has to manage how often she
texts her friends because she can only send out a limited number of texts each month.
One of the ways she keeps in touch with her friends is by checking out the activity stream
on her MySpace profile. The activity stream posts all the actions of her MySpace friends.
This is where Maya reads her friends’ bulletins and sees what new pictures or videos they
have posted.
Maya knew about the school because her older sister is a senior at VVCH. When I
asked her why she chose to attend the school, she said, "Well, yeah. It looks interesting.
Cause the computer, and I want to be like into the computer, you know, have more
opportunities. And cause my sister come here too." So while she did not like the fact that
the school has no music or athletic programs, she was interested in learning how to use
technology in new ways. With her family’s support, she decided to apply to the school.
It was difficult to get a clear picture of how Maya used technology at home. It
appears that her parents limit her time on the computer. Maya shared that her Mom keeps
track of what she does on MySpace and when she is using the computer for Blackboard.
However, most of her status updates on MySpace appeared as Mobile updates. She was
asked how she accessed her MySpace.
McG: I also noticed on your profile. Do you access MySpace a lot from
your phone?
M: No. Do you know what a DSi is?
McG: Oh a Nintendo.
M: The new version has Internet. So I go on from there–
McG: Oh that’s cool. So you use Nintendo DSI to go onto MySpace and
you post your status from there.
M: Yeah –
McG: Ok. That is why when you look at your status [on MySpace] it says
posted from Mobile.
So Maya often uses Wi-Fi to update her MySpace from her Nintendo DSi's wireless data
connection. (About 19% of teens nationally use portable gaming devices to access the
Internet wirelessly [Lenhart et al., 2010b].) The researcher does not know if this is done
because of convenience, or because she has limited access to a computer at home, or
because it is a way to get around her parent's limits on her technology usage. When the
researcher asked her to complete an online form for this study, she said she could not
because the web browser on the DSi would not allow her. In addition, only one of her
Blackboard postings during the time of this study was posted from home. The rest of her
work was completed during school hours.
Participant 6: Jon Nelson
Jon Nelson is a 14-year-old European-American who lives alone with his father.
He grew up in a surrounding city but was taken away from his mother by Social Services
because she is an alcoholic. He lived with his grandmother for a while before he came to
live with his father, who is a journeymen carpenter in Valley Vista. His mother is much
better now and he visits her on a regular basis. Jon has three older sisters, an older brother
who is also in his twenties, and a brother-in-law. While the recession has been hard on
many families in Valley Vista, Jon shared that money has always been tight living with
his father, so he has not noticed any difference.
Jon is smart and humorous and has a strong sense of self. He identifies himself as
an artist and has dreams of being an actor, writer, or producer. His interest in
cinematography has led to the creation of a production company with his older brother, a
photographer, which is advertised on his MySpace profile. Jon has produced a couple of
short video clips that he has posted on YouTube. The wide availability of computers and
the video production classes are what drew Jon to VVCH. He complains about the lack of
a drama program at the school and hopes to get involved in an after school drama class in
the community to help develop his acting skills.
I have talked to my sister about this a lot and umh I am starting to get
involved with extra work – extra work you know – extra work like
background actors and stuff like that and uh that's how I am trying to get
involved. I need to get into some kind of drama class or some kind of –
even if it involves switching high schools. Which is something I don't
want to do cause I really do like this high school cause it has the whole
technology aspect but it's kind of depends on what I really want to do . . .
Jon is a very intelligent, borderline gifted student. By the end of the first semester,
he qualified for the honor roll (3.5 to 3.9 GPA) and mentioned if he worked a bit harder
he probably was capable of being a straight “A” student. While his grades are good
enough to be successful in the after school Junior College classes, he applied to VVCH
after the application deadline. Jon is a voracious reader, having the highest Accelerated
Reader ranking in his class. His MySpace profile and his essays in his portfolio
demonstrate Jon is a gifted and creative writer. His sense of humor shines through his
writing. In his portfolio, there was a hilarious creative writing essay about a young man
who hears a Huey Lewis and the News (an 1980's pop singer) song in his head and goes
to see a psychologist for help. On a survey he described himself as a funny, witty young
man. In the general interest area of his MySpace profile he posted,
I have blue eyes and blond hair. I like 1950's hats and Windex. How do
you clean your windows? I love a girl with beautiful eyes. How will I find
a girl that has eyes like her, I probably can't, but I'll manage. She's one of
my good friends from back in the day, which was a Wednesday by the
He often uses his humor to get attention from his friends at school, though he says he is
trying to change and be more serious and respected. He shared, “I have become a little
less talkative. You know more focused on my goals. Things like that. So that is pretty
much the change.” Jon is not afraid of change. He posted the following on Twitter: “The
rain falls upon the earth and cleans us of our past so we may start anew. I love the rain. I
have no choice but to welcome change.”
Jon is a heavy computer user, spending several hours a day on his computer in his
room. His father does not provide him Internet access; instead, Jon gets Internet by
logging on the free Wi-Fi signals of his neighbors. During the focus group he explained
how it works.
J: I steal my Internet from the neighbors. So if their Internet's slow, my
Internet's slow.
McG: What happens if they put a password on it?
J: They don't. I hope they don't or I'm just cut off their network forever.
Jon’s father does not know how to use the computer and Jon shared that he even
has to check his father's email for him. He said he tried to trick his father into paying for
FIOS, a high speed Internet and digital TV package, by suggesting it was required for
him to do his homework on Blackboard for school. His father would not pay for it. One
day during the study he posted that he was in a panic because his neighbors Wi-Fi was
temporary down and he thought he was going to be shut out of his MySpace.
Jon uses his computer to stay in contact with his family and his friends through
social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. He does not live with his
brothers and sisters so he communicates with them primarily through MySpace. He often
finds it is easier to talk to his peers, especially girls, on MySpace than in real life. He
commented that he could read their MySpace profile and find out what they are interested
in. He shared,
Well, for me it is easier to interact sometimes on MySpace. There are
some people in the class that I first talked to on MySpace before I even
talked to them in class. It like makes it easier to talk to them. We have
something to talk about and you don’t have to worry about making a
mistake socially. There is like several people in this class that I talked to
first online. We talk all the time online now and I even talk to them in
class. I know this is kind of lame but sometimes it is easier to talk about
something emotional through MySpace than in person. You have time to
get the words right and say exactly what you want.
At school he hangs out and socializes with friends at lunch or during physical education
class. Jon is also an officer in the Chess club on campus.
Summary of Context Section
This introduction to the six participants and their small high school demonstrates
that student find SNS, including MySpace, and online tools like Blackboard an
indispensable part of their social and academic life. Even students from a lower SES
background make it a priority to get online even if they have limited access to the Internet
outside of school. These students seem to find a way to stay connected either by using a
neighbor’s wireless connection or using mobile devices like an iPod or a Nintendo DSi to
get online. All six participants used MySpace and Blackboard for academic and social
purposes to express their identity and communicate with their family and friends.
Identity Formation within School and Out-of-School
Question 1: How do students manifest their identity within school and out-of-school
online environments?
For this research, identity was viewed as a social construct that is formed through
interactions between members of a 9th grade Language Arts classroom using Blackboard
and their group of friends and family within MySpace. The identities of the six
participants cannot be understood separate from this context. Instead, identity is a
transactive process between these participants and their context resulting in the
expression of multiple selves (Calvert, 2002; Gee, 2001; Lave & Wenger, 1991). The
participants used MySpace and Blackboard to form and experiment with their identity, to
practice multiple identities, and to express their aspirations for their future.
This analysis of the students’ identities was framed by Gee's model of using
identity as an analytic lens for research (Gee, 2001). Gee argued that there are four ways
to view identity as (a) a force of nature (Nature-Identity), (b) as a position endorsed by an
institution (Institutional-Identity), (c) as an individual trait accepted within the discourse
of others (Discourse-Identity), and (d) as the experiences shared in an affinity group or
what Wenger (1998) calls a community of practice (Affinity-Identity). For example, an
adolescent can be a male Mexican-American (Nature-Identity), honor roll student
(Institutional-Identity), funny (Discourse-Identity), and member of the chess club
All six participants used MySpace and Blackboard to express their aspirations for
the future. Growing up in an urban poor environment, these students hope to improve
their economic condition through a better education. These six participants or their
parents chose that they would attend VVCH because they believe it will provide a better
opportunity to succeed in school, get scholarships for college, and have access to a
well-paying job. Liliana, Maya, Alex, and Reggie expressed feeling stress and pressure to
succeed in school so they could receive the necessary scholarships to attend college. The
participants’ identities are compared within MySpace and Blackboard with an emphasis
on adolescent identity formation and experimentation, their expression of Gee's multiple
identities, and their aspirations for their future.
Identity in SNS Profiles
One of the most common ways the participants expressed their identity was
through the About Me section on their MySpace profile. In creating a profile, a member
of MySpace is given a series of form boxes to complete. Within these boxes, the user can
place simple text, html code to structure, or css code to style their text. Most users will
just type in their content and use a MySpace 2.0 template to style their profiles. The
About Me box is the place where the member of MySpace introduces himself or herself
on the profile. For Liliana, Maya, and Blanca this was a static box where they first
introduced themselves and they rarely changed it. In fact, Liliana and Blanca rarely
visited or even viewed their public MySpace, relying on friends to tell them when
something needed to be changed or updated. Liliana explained this during her interview.
L: I just go on MySpace my profile only when I am at my house or when I
want to change it. I don't go to my [public] profile at all.
McG: Only other people.
L: If something messed up. Usually a friend tells me. Cuz I don't check.
Instead, these participants used MySpace primary to communicate with other friends
privately and not to publish their own ideas. They would read their friends’ activity feeds
and send messages and bulletins to their friends from their private page. Most participants
would update their About Me on a regular basis, using it to publish their work and
express themselves to their friends. Jon and Alex had a more dynamic About Me section
to their profile, which they updated on a regular basis. Alex was the only participant who
would archive his old About Me sections as blog posts on his profile.
All six participants updated their status on their profile on a regular basis. The
status update on MySpace appears at the top of a user's profile and is stamped with the
current date and time. The status is also published in their friend's activity stream. The
status update has a 160-character limit so it can be updated through a cell phone using a
SMS text message. These texting plans were too expensive for most of the participants.
Only Reggie and Maya had a texting plan on their phones; one was limited to 1,000
messages and another was deducted from a prepaid plan. These participants shared how
they had to be careful not to go over their texting limits or their parents would take away
their phones. Because of these limitations, most participants updated their status through
a web browser on a computer or mobile device with Wi-Fi.
Identity Formation and Experimentation in SNS Profiles
Most of the participants used MySpace as a form of "networked public" – a
mediated space that supports sociability to express themselves to a group of selected
friends (boyd, 2008). Other participants used their MySpace to experiment with their
identity or to create an online expression of themselves to their friends. Only one
participant (Reggie) had a SNS profile that was not private so his information would be
available to anyone on the Internet. It was a common practice for participants to
exaggerate their age on their profile either as a joke (Jon) or to appear more mature
(Reggie and Blanca).
Alex's MySpace profile has a conservative white background with the default
MySpace blue and orange headings. Near the top of his profile he has a scrolling list of
all the videos he has created. Underneath this list are his blog entries, links to his photos,
and an archive of his status updates. Alex identifies himself as a 16-year-old male from a
small town in Mexico. When asked why he listed the Mexican town as his city of
residence, he shared, "the only reason why I have that – the biggest reason is that's where
my family is from – a little town. That’s just for me who cares. I am proud to show it. My
roots." In his photographs, he has an image of a large cross that overlooks his hometown
in Mexico. He listed under his details that he was 5'8", straight, looking for serious
relationships and friends, and that his hometown was "love town." When he was asked
about that he laughed and said, "that’s nothing –that’s just me hiding my identity."
However, he was inconsistent because later under a list of his companies, he revealed,
"My Life from Valley Vista, CA."
Blanca's profile has a gray background image with music notes and stars. It is
clear that she loves and misses her sister who is away serving in the military. Her
username is "don't leave me sis" and she wrote that her mom and her sister were her
heroes. She also exaggerates her age, posting that she is a 17-year-old female from
v-town. In order to survive in a rough neighborhood, Blanca puts up a public persona of
the "tough girl" – someone you do not want to "mess with." Blanca used her About Me
not only to introduce herself, her real age, and her interests but also to let it be known to
her peers that she will stand up for herself.
MY FREINDS n i love my FAMBILI. im a ko0l person dont judge me by
Bianca did not use the grammar or the syntax of Standard American English but
instead she wrote in the accepted slang and "text speak" of her peer group. In several
places of the excerpt she uses abbreviations that are common in texting where users have
character limits to their messages. Even though she has no such limits in her About Me
box, Blanca types N for and, UR for you are, and U for you and drops the vowel in a
word like PLY. Her unorthodox use of capitalization provides a kind of reverse emphasis
on those sections of the text that she does not capitalize. In addition, it allows her to use
mixed case and letters for numbers when she spells out cool (Ko01). While some of her
spelling "mistakes" might also be the result of a lack of mastery of the English language,
she has tested out of the English Language Development program.
Maya is much more self-conscious about what her MySpace profile says about
her. In her About Me section, she shares just the basic details of her birthday, age, and the
school that she attends and that she is a shy person who likes to talk to her friends and
family. Maya has photographs of friends, inspirational quotes, a music player where she
can listen to her favorite songs, and a Virtual Pet social application on her profile. Her
profile has a pink background with purple flowers. Maya has only limited access to a
computer outside of school. She usually accesses and updates her MySpace profile
through her Nintendo DSi portable gaming device's Wi-Fi connection. When she posts an
updated status from the DSi, it is tagged mobile with a cell phone icon next it. Since the
DSi has a virtual keyboard that has to be pecked at with a stylus, Maya often makes typos
on her status updates.
im notba perfect hairdoesnt alwbys stay in place & i spill things a
lot. im pretty clumsy & sometimesi have a broken friends and i
sometimes fi
at 8:54 PM from mobile
Two minutes later she made the following corrections and reposted her status, which
was cut off by the MySpace status character limit.
im not a perfect hair doesnt always stay in place & i spill things a
lot. im pretty clumsy & sometimes i have a broken friends and i
at 8:56 PM from mobile
The message limit cut off the word "fight" at the end of her message. Later in an
interview she shared that she was embarrassed by these mistakes. This status update was
one of the most revealing and personal that she posted on her profile. She shares her
imperfections, disappointments, and troubles with her friends.
Reggie is the only participant who does not have an active MySpace profile. He
uses his YouTube channel and Twitter page to provide an online presence and connect
with his friends. On his YouTube profile he has uploaded several videos he took from his
cell phone at a Jonas Brothers concert. He uses his YouTube subscriptions like a
traditional SNS friends list, subscribing to the channels of his closest friends. YouTube
has an internal messaging system that he uses to send messages to these friends. On his
profile, like many of the participants, he exaggerated his age by listing that he was 19
years old.
On Reggie's Twitter account, he adopted a username referencing the Hollister
Clothing Company, a popular surf themed store marketed towards teens. He also used a
gray background with a repeating dark gray image of their corporate logo, a Seagull.
When asked about these references, he said, "Hollister is a clothing brand, it is one of my
favorites. I was just seeing names [for a username]. I was like OH! I will try that you
know." On the profile he includes his real first name and lists his location as
Reggie's profiles on Twitter and YouTube are listed with the default public
settings. Both MySpace and Facebook by default have their profiles only available to a
user's friends. Reggie, who doesn't have a MySpace because of his parent's privacy
concerns, uses two SNS sites that are less secure than MySpace. During an interview,
when I asked Reggie about privacy concerns on Twitter, he was aware that he needed to
be careful.
McG: Now do worry about [telling people where you are at in your status
updates]. Right here you said I just went to RoundTable Pizza. Now
obviously if you do that afterwards it is not that big of a deal R: Yeah I don't put it when I am there . . . that’s really
McG: People will know where you are.
R: Yeah, I was watching this show Ugly Betty [a TV show on ABC] . . .
her boyfriend had just gone to this place and they had just broken up
and she had stalked him the whole time and she was looking where he
was at on Facebook. And you know you can do the same thing [with
Twitter updates]. He had just updated I am here and here and here. She
was just following him the whole way. I am like wow that could really
be a problem.
McG: Wow.
R: Yeah! So I decided I am not going do that I am finished [with those
kinds of updates].
Even so, he decided not to make his profile available only to his friends. He shared that if
he started to get friend requests from people he did not know he might make his profile
One of Twitter’s main appeals for Reggie is that he can follow celebrity tweets
from the likes of Ryan Seacrest, Oprah, and the band Paramore. When asked about this in
the interview, he shared the following:
McG: So it's kind of fun to subscribe to celebrities and other people and
kind of -R: Uh-huh. Not somebody that I don't know, but somebody that's a
celebrity that the other people have.
McG: Yeah.
R: And it's not like they are going to try to talk to me or something.
McG: Yeah, but you kind of know what they are doing every day.
R: Yeah.
McG: Yeah, that's kind of cool. Is there anything you learned about
someone that you just thought, "Well, that's interesting that they like to
do that" or...
R: Well, Ryan Seacrest, he goes around everywhere and he sells all these
things –American Idol and different things.
McG: Oh, yeah.
R: And like listen to 102.7 [a radio station].
McG: Yeah.
R: And, um, he like puts different things about celebrities. Like he's
talking to one right now, and he's actually Twittering -McG: Wow.
R: -- "Oh, I'm talking to..."
McG: Yeah.
R: Whoever. You know, I'm like, "Oh, that's cool.
McG: Yeah, that is really cool.
R: And then I'll like -- oh -- 'cause it will say like "one minute ago," so I
might tune in to 102.7 to see if it's still on.
This exchange demonstrates the power and influence of mainstream popular culture and
consumerism on teens. In a celebrity-obsessed culture, teens find value in following the
mundane everyday tasks of a celebrity. In this example, Twitter is being used to market a
radio station and American Idol, the popular TV show on Fox. A popular television host
is manipulating Reggie to get him to turn to his radio station to hear his show. Blanca
also exhibited celebrity obsession when she posted dozens of Twitter updates declaring
her love for Mitchel Musso, a Disney channel star and singer, begging him for a reply.
Jon Nelson uses his MySpace profile to describe himself to his peers and to
situate himself as an artist. Jon updates his profile on a regular basis and changes the
layout and redesigns his profile every few months. He uses dramatic backgrounds and
color schemes to create a beautiful landscape on which to express his identity. At the start
of the study, his profile had a beach theme with light colors; later in the study he chose a
dramatic nighttime scene as his background with darker more subdued colors. Jon uses
MySpace to publish the short videos he has created on YouTube, to share his favorite
quotes from popular television shows like "House" and "The Office," to listen to his
favorite music, and to write short blog entries. In his About Box he shared:
My Name is Jon Nelson and what I do, what I really do, is inspire
imagination. I have dedicated my life to the mediums, which you read,
watch, and experience. I am an actor, director, writer, but most
importantly, an artist. Art is something that provokes a feeling, inspires
hope. My job is to bring to you (my audience) comedy, drama, action, and
true entertainment. In the end I'm a filmmaker and an author.
Jon uses humor throughout his profile. On his profile, Jon made a sarcastic joke
about reading and writing. “I was talking about how I don’t like to read–which I actually
do like to read . . . I wrote ‘don’t you want to be a writer, yeah I write you’re the one who
has to read’.” Jon identifies with several comedians on his profile. When asked about his
use of humor, he shared how his own sense of humor sprung from tragedy,
I don't know when I was a little kid my mother use to always play Jim
Carrey movies. He is my favorite actor and it would always just be a Jim
Carrey movie. It would be like the Mask or Liar, Liar and we would just
play these movies all the time. I don't know if that is how I got into it just
loving this guy just goofin around but I think there is like all the great
comedians that come from tragedy and my mother was an alcoholic and I
can't really remember back then. But my life is not extremely easy. You
know it has been harder than most kids these days. and uh I think that is
part of the reason there is enough pain in the world . . . there's enough you
know there's just enough pain in the world. I don't want to add to it.
This quote provides insight into Jon’s background and the role humor has played in his
life and development. He shares how he has used humor to help him get through some of
the most difficult times in his life.
Liliana's MySpace profile has a black background and white text. Behind the
black background is a colorful zebra stripped animated gif that flashes between yellow,
blue, green and purple. In several locations on her profile, she has her name spelled out in
calligraphy as a text image which she created using a popular photo editing web site. In
her About Me section on her profile she describes herself and shares some of her
characteristics and her likes and dislikes.
Liliana, throughout her profile and in her interviews, expressed a conflict between being
a naturally shy person and wanting to be more outgoing. In the above excerpt she
expresses how she is not as trusting as she used to be. After expressing her beliefs on her
profile she lets it be know that she will not change for anyone. She ends the excerpt with
a common cliche found throughout Myspace, “If you wanna know more about me just
message or comment me!” This is such a common way to end the About Me section on
MySpace, that Alex mocks it on his profile.
We top it off by saying thing things like comment me or message me, if
you want to know more. Haha. No your not. You just like everyone else
including me. Your not special. What's the point of me telling you that,
you probably don't wonder.
Near the end of this study, Alex updated his profile by describing how he had
changed since elementary school. Back then he was the "class clown" that was too
insecure to talk to girls in his class and who struggled to read. He wrote:
Well, lets talk about my past. I was young and stupid. I didn't care about
most people and you would almost always find me in a small group
consisting of three to four people. In class I was the clown. That's all I
was. That was all I was known for. If we can find people from my past
they'll tell you that I was the "funny guy" that can put on the smile on
anybodys face. I craved attention back then and would make a fool out of
myself to get it. I wasn't that smart either. Hell, like back in 5th grade I
read at a 3rd grade level or something like that. I remember having the
hardest time with girls. I was never really able to speak to them because
most of the time I said the wrong thing. Well, that's all I want to tell you
about my past. I'm going to get to my present.
After discussing his best friends and what they mean to him, Alex shares how he has
changed since elementary school, becoming more confident and a better reader:
I can still say that I'm very funny but have changed somethings. For one I
don't crave attention anymore so I only make the people close to me laugh.
It's one of the many privileges of being my friend. I'm a lot smarter then
before. I now read like at a college level. That’s all I want to write about
that. I don't have a problem talking too girls anymore. I can talk to all girls
without a problem. I can make them laugh too.
He later went on to discuss how his future was unknown. Also on his profile he has a
large dramatic image that he created in Photoshop that states "I am going to have a
relapse" above a dark blue sky with a bright light behind it. This quote references his
favorite rapper and performer, Eminem, who released a new album called Relapse. When
asked about it, he shared,
I looked it up and it means going to an original state. People saying that I
am changing kinda of but in a bad way I am getting tough and um I am
noticing it to cause of drama and stuff and I am defending myself and I
going to bounce back.
This theme of change was a common thread found on many of the participants’ profiles.
Jon Nelson is one of the participants who wrote eloquently about how he was
changing his identity through the transition from middle school to high school. Unlike
some people who are afraid of change, Jon is open to it. On a Twitter updated he posted,
“The rain falls upon the earth and cleans us of our past so we may start anew. I love the
rain. I have no choice but to welcome change.” Most of the participants have two groups
of friends: those friends from their old middle school and their new friends who chose to
attend their high school. Jon shared that at his middle school graduation they announced
his name as Jonathon Nelson. In high school his English teacher asked him if he wanted
to go by Jonathon or Jon. He decided to go with Jon. He shared, "I thought it was cool
because I was leaving my old self, Jonathon, and now something new." In addition, Jon
has also been working over the past year on losing some weight. So on his MySpace
profile, Jon describes why he decided to change his name at the new high school.
Welcome to my world, my art, my true love. About Jonathan Nelson: Me?
If you know me, you know [me] as either Jonathan or Jon. Jonathan made
you laugh, he was the guy you knew but didn't really know. He made an
impression even if it was small. Most of you knew him. That overweight
"Chris Farley" individual. He's still here, just thinner. I took the name Jon
when I entered high school. He's the guy you don't know. The sheltered
black sheep, if you will. Pardon the pun, Chris Farley was in the film
"Black Sheep." Over the past year, and years before that, a transition has
occurred. If you saw me today, you might just see why. I'm still a goof,
just not the one you used to know. Who is this new "Jon?" He's just a bit
more serious, a bit more handsome. Can you call me Jonathan? If you
knew me when I was, I'd prefer it.
In this excerpt, Jon is trying to describe who he is and how he is currently going
through changes and describe the process to different groups of friends who know him
from two different contexts. He starts off describing his profile as his world and his art.
Throughout his profile Jon describes himself as an artist. This self-concept of an artist is
really important to him; it is how he views the world and how he wants the world to view
him. He then describes his two selves: Jonathan his old middle school self who played the
overweight class clown and Jon, the thinner, more serious, and more mature high school
student. In this description, he compares his old self to Chris Farley, a famous comedian
who fits the excessive, doing anything for a laugh, and die young archetype. When Jon
was asked about this section on his profile, he shared that he did not like the person he
was becoming. He was trying to act a certain way to meet the expectations of his old
friends so he decided to change. Now, he feels like he is a bit more sheltered, less
talkative, and more focused on his goals.
There was also a notable change on Blanca's profile throughout the study. At the
start of the study, Blanca was primarily a MySpace user and her profile portrayed a
toughness, as demonstrated from the quote referenced above from her About Me section.
However, by the end of the study she had removed all the text from her MySpace and had
replaced it with pictures from her family. We discussed why she removed the text with
the cuss words from her profile in the interview.
McG: Does that make you think about the stuff that you might put on your
MySpace? If like four or five years from now, maybe a college
recruiter might come on and look at your MySpace? Does that ever
make you think twice about what you might put up there?
B: Yeah. For a while I was really hostile.
McG: Uh-huh.
B: Cause I had stuff going on, and I was really, really hostile. And I was
starting to put up stuff on my page, and just messages I was sending to
my friends, like telling them about what I was feeling... So I'm like
thinking, you know, "Oh, don't put stuff like that".
While she still had her MySpace profile for the purpose of connecting to her friends and
maintaining her social network, she had switched to Twitter as her primary means of
publishing her status updates. When her sister left for the military, she let Blanca borrow
her iPod touch. Blanca prefers to access Twitter from the iPod's Wi-Fi connection as she
found it more convenient and it allowed her to update her status when she was out with
her friends. In fact, when she was forced to use a computer for a few days to update her
Twitter, she commented on how weird it felt to be using a keyboard.
Multiple Identities in SNS Profiles
In addition to experimenting with their identities, the participants often expressed
multiple identities on their SNS profiles. Gee's model of multiple identities was used to
analyze the participant's profiles for examples of Nature-, Institutional-, Discourse-, and
Affinity-Identities. These four identities are interwoven and interrelated and often cannot
be understood in isolation from each other. In fact, each of these perspectives can be
developed and maintained through the social interactions within the context of the
participants SNS.
Nature-Identity. The student's Nature-Identity is a fixed biological, natural,
unchanging state. The student’s gender and race are attributes of his or her
Nature-Identity. Within MySpace the attributes of one’s Nature-Identity are limited by
the options provided when editing a profile. In the basic information section of the
profile, there is a gender category with the option of male or female while in the details
section a user has a limited number of choices under ethnicity, religion, sexual
orientation, or dating status. For example, a user can choose between the following
options: No Answer, Asian, Black/African descent, East Indian, Latino/Hispanic, Middle
Eastern, Native American, Pacific Islander, White/Caucasian, or Other. A user with a
mixed ethnicity or someone who did not "fit" within those labels is limited to choosing a
single ethnicity or no answer. The participants in this study either selected one of the
options or chose no answer and then described themselves using their preferred label in
their About Me section of their profile. In addition, after entering the date of birth,
MySpace automatically adds an astrological sign to the detail sections and does not
provide an option to have it deleted.
Liliana and Blanca, both Mexican-American girls, chose not to publish their
details section on their profile. Both opted to maintain their ethnicity, sexual orientation,
body type, and dating status as private on their profile's home page. This is not surprising
as some of these categories, such as sexual orientation and body type, might be too
personal for adolescents to share online. Society often puts pressure on adolescent girls to
meet some idealized body type. Many adolescent girls, and boys for that matter, feel
uncomfortable about themselves as their bodies change during puberty. To have to select
a certain "body type" and publish it to all your friends seems especially intrusive. Choices
of body type are No Answer, Slim, Athletic, Average, Some Extra Baggage, More to
Love, or Body Builder. However, Liliana published her gender, dating status, and her
astrological sign, but not her ethnicity, on her MySpace blog. Both Liliana and Blanca
included pictures of themselves and their families on their profile so their ethnicity was
not completely hidden.
Maya, Alex, and Jon all published their gender and ethnicity in the details section
of their MySpace profile. Jon labeled himself as a "Capricorn, straight, single male,
White/Caucasian, 5' 7", with an average body type." Jon provided more details about
himself in his General Interest box, writing, "I have blue eyes and blond hair. . . My
Father looks like Hulk Hogan. My mother looks like Cutty from 'House'," while Alex's
details were listed as "an Aries, a straight, single male, Latino/Hispanic, 5' 8", with a
body type 'More to love!'" Alex wrote in his About Me, "I'm Mexican but if your my MS
friend then you probably knew that." Maya's details were listed as a "Sagittarius, 15 year
old Latino/Hispanic girl." All three of these profiles contained pictures of the
participants, their families, and their friends. Reggie, an African-American, did not use
MySpace; instead, he used Twitter and You Tube, which did not by default publish a
user’s gender or ethnicity.
Institutional-Identity. The second perspective on identity, Institutional-Identity,
refers to influential organizations that are critical to the socialization process, like the
family, school, and government. Institutions, which have a history and tradition, can
provide stability to society. Institutions have a powerful influence on identity
development by authorizing a variety of social roles. For example, the research is a
father, researcher, and teacher. Each one of these identities stems not from nature but
from an institution (family, university, or school district) that gives the research certain
authority in these positions.
Some have argued (Silverblatt, 2004) that mass media like films, television, and
websites have emerged as social institutions, assuming some of the functions previously
held by the church, government, and the family. A website like MySpace provides some
of the functions of social institutions: (a) membership in a group; (b) providing access to
people; (c) unifying diverse groups of people; (d) providing information on the past,
present, and future; and (e) offering a safe place to exchange ideas. Durkheim (as cited in
Mendelsohn, 1966) predicted that new institutions would emerge as society grew more
complex: "Specialized institutions serving specialized social needs [would] develop and
proliferate to maintain social stability; and new institutional forms [would] displace old
ones only when the old ones no longer managed to serve their original purposes
effectively” (p. 140). It can be argued that among Millennials, SNS have emerged as a
social institution, replacing a need that is not being fulfilled by the family, church, or
Just like family, church, and school reflect and often reinforce social, racial, and
economic divisions within society, some have argued (boyd, 2010) that choice of SNS
can also reflect those divisions. Around 2007, researchers such as boyd (2007b) and
Hargittai (2007) began noticing that adopters of MySpace had different backgrounds than
those who adopted Facebook, an alternative SNS that surpassed MySpace in worldwide
users in 2008. This was part of a trend where Millennials with more social capital began
using Facebook more than MySpace.
At the beginning of this study, Jon was the only student with a Facebook account.
Within six months, half of the participants had a Facebook account including Reggie,
who was not allowed to have a MySpace. During the study, Jon shared that he recently
started using Facebook. "Facebook requires that you use your real name. Well, I found
six of my relatives on my father’s side of the family that I have never met before so that
was really cool." Facebook was usually the second web page he would visit everyday
after MySpace. "I would always open MySpace and then open a new tab and go to
Facebook." Even though he used Facebook, he did not identify with Facebook. He
perceived it as something for someone older and more mature. He shared, "I am not
really a Facebook guy yet. I am at the in between stage between MySpace and
Reggie, who could not use MySpace, often complained when not enough of his
friends used Twitter or Facebook. "A lot of people my age do not know a lot about
Twitter. That's why I was like, ‘Uh!’ But I do have friends my age. They come here . . ."
Reggie let his feelings be known on his Twitter feed when he posted, "FACEBOOK >
MYSPACE". As a member of the Associated Student Body (ASB), Reggie had some
influence on the school’s decision on whether to use SNS to promote school activities.
Even though it appears that most of the students are active on MySpace, the school chose
to create a group profile on Facebook. Several teachers at the school have Facebook
profiles, so Facebook might be more acceptable to the school than MySpace. Not
surprisingly, the friends of VVCH Facebook group at the time of the study had only six
It is also possible that the participants did not want the school to have access to
their personal network of friends on their SNS. While Reggie created the school’s
Facebook and Twitter pages, users of the page did not know who controlled the page. By
friending the school, they could be giving teachers or administrators access to their SNS
profiles. One participant in particular often used his MySpace account to get answers to
the homework questions. The student posted MySpace bulletins requesting the answers
among his friends and then used a mobile device to access the answers and write them
into a notebook on the way to school. Adolescents might not want the school to be aware
of social behaviors that might diminish their status or affect their identity at school.
The four Hispanic students all expressed strong connections to their family
through their SNS profiles. For them family was very influential on their institutional
identities. Alex shared in a blog post an exchange dealing with poverty that he had with
his 10-year-old sister that he thought was humorous.
Being Poor: A conversation with sister
So the funniest thing happened to me just now.
Well, it made laugh.
I walked in the living room, where my sister was watching Disney. She
was watching a show about the Disney Princes. I think the show was on
the topic of Zac Effron. LOL. I was walking by searching for some milk. I
then said.
"Sis do we have milk, or are we poor?"
The she replied with a serious tone.
"We're poor."
That made me laugh. I then go in search for some milk. I found half a
gallon of milk. Enough to satisfy my milk need. After I pour myself a
glass. I say...
"Sis, wheres the thing that makes milk yellow?
(I meant to say pink, you know strawberry). Then she says...
"Yellow?" in a confused voice.
That made ma laugh again cause it’s like I'm an idiot.
I couldn't find it, even though it was right in front in me. Before I found it,
thinking we were out of pink powder stuff, I say...
"Sis, I hate being poor. Go get a job."
She then says....
She's ten years old.
I love my sister <3
By sharing this story in his blog post, Alex is identifying himself as poor and expressing
a strong emotional connection to his sister. He also described in words and with pictures
his family’s hometown in Mexico on his profile. He mentioned on both his MySpace and
on Blackboard that his father is his hero.
Blanca listed her mother and her older sister in the Marines as her heroes and at
one point had a picture with her mother as her profile picture. When she was asked why
she was going to VVCH, she said that is where her mother wanted her to go. Liliana had
a picture of her father, brother and some cousins posted prominently on her profile under
the quote, “We ride together, we die together.” When asked about the quote she said,
“We stick together as a family . . . do or die. . . for all of us.” Near the bottom of her
profile she had a picture with her niece and nephew. Maya described how she often spent
time at the park with her family but that they also argued a lot.
McG: Do you live with both your parents?
M: Yes.
McG: Are you a pretty close family?
M: I would say like whatever.
McG: Whatever?
M: Yeah. Like in the middle. Sometimes we fight -McG: Yeah, that's pretty normal.
M: -- then forget about it.
McG: And your sisters are older than you?
M: Well, my older sister comes here, she's 18.
McG: Okay.
M: Then my little sister's 5.
McG: Oh, okay. So what are some of the things your family likes to do?
M:I don't know, just go, um, with my other family, hang around with them
like in the park like that.
Her Mom wanted her to attend VVCH because her older sister was attending the school
and could look out for her. While the participants had cousins, brothers, and sisters as
friends within their SNS, none of the participants’ parents used MySpace.
Discourse-Identity. The third type of identity perspective used in this analysis is
Discourse-Identity, which is an individual trait that is developed through interactions with
other people. For example, Maya describes herself as a shy person. Her shyness is an
individual trait that she cannot achieve by herself but, instead, the source of this trait
comes from her discourse with her peers and teachers. She is not born with her shyness
(Nature-Identity) and her school doesn't label her as shy (Institutional-Identity). She is
shy because she perceives it, and her friends and other people interact, talk, and recognize
her as a shy person.
Gee (2001) argues that discourse identities can be seen as either an ascription or
an achievement. The ascription and achievement continuum relates to how active the
participants are pursuing their discourse identities. Maya did not like the fact that she was
shy, though she did describe herself as shy on her MySpace. She did not actively try to
achieve her shyness through her interactions with her friends and teachers but, instead,
her shyness was ascribed to her by the way that her peers and adults responded to her or
talked about her in certain environments. In this analysis, some of the participants’
discourse-identities were mentioned on their SNS profiles while other participants’
discourse-identities were revealed through their personal interviews and the focus groups.
Some of the participants worked actively to achieve their discourse identities by
labeling themselves with a certain trait on their SNS profile, through their answers to the
survey, or in their interview. Blanca described herself in a Twitter update as, "Im not
mean im brudely [sic] blunt." However, on her research survey she described herself as
"funny, kind outgoing, and lovely," while on her MySpace, Maya described herself as
shy. In the survey at the start of this research, she described herself as "friendly, always
smiling, a bit talkative, enthusiastic, positive, and respectful." Like Maya, Liliana labeled
herself on her MySpace profile as a "friendly but shy person." On her survey, she stated,
"I am loud, shy around a crowd, friendly, honest and trustworthy." While Liliana
recognizes that she is shy and gives herself that label in multiple environments, she also
stated that she doesn't like the fact that she is shy.
A popular practice on MySpace is to answer survey questions about yourself in
a blog on your MySpace profile and then message the survey to your friends to complete.
Alex, in an online survey on his MySpace profile, answered the question, "Are you shy?"
with "when I want to be." In our interview, Alex described himself as "intelligent but
lazy." Jon self identifies himself as an artist on his profile and in his personal interviews.
In a survey at the start of the study he wrote, "I would describe myself as a funny, witty
young man. I happen to be a complete goof at times. I am an entertainer." Reggie wrote
in his survey that he is a "person who is outgoing, and fun." The participants may have
consciously or subconsciously described themselves differently in their surveys because
they knew the surveys would be used to select participants for the second part of this
research project. Their desire to participate (and be paid for this participation) could have
resulted in the participants describing themselves in ways that they thought might make
them more interesting participants for this research.
Some of the participants had discourse identities that they did not actively pursue
but instead the traits developed out of their interactions with their friends on their SNS.
Reggie, one of the better students in the class, shared that his friends describe him as
"funny, outgoing, laid back and loud." Reggie's actions on his Twitter demonstrate how
he is outgoing. On one post he offered to help his friends with their Twitter backgrounds,
"JUST hit me up H3R3 [here] if you want a background for your TWITTER." During our
interview he shared how he created an image for a friend in Photoshop. In a survey Alex
stated that his friends describe him as an "outgoing and hard working person." Blanca
said her friends call her "funny, kind, and dorky."
Liliana was very concerned about how she was perceived on her MySpace profile.
She rarely allowed any of her friends’ comments on her site to be public. She even
removed her MySpace wall, which is an usual practice for MySpace. She commonly read
friends’ comments to her status updates, pictures, and surveys on her private page but
would not publish them on her public profile. However, Liliana made public postings on
her friends’ walls. She posted a question on Alex's wall asking, "Hey Do u Kno When we
R Supposed 2 Return the Textbooks in 2 the Library." Maya's friends in a survey
described her as "shy, quiet, honest, trustworthy, always smiling, and friendly." Jon was
known as the "funny goof" by his friends and used humor throughout his MySpace
profile. For example, in response to one of Jon's Blog posts on his father's penchant for
cut-off jeans, Alex posted the following comment, "hahahaha cut offs so funny."
Affinity-Identity. The final perspective on multiple identities used in this research
is Affinity-Identity. The affinity identity perspective stems from being a member of an
affinity group that is organized around a common interest. Members of an affinity group
experience shared practices that can have an impact on an individual's identity
development. Members of an affinity group might be friends or just acquaintances that
meet online. The key focus is not on institutional affiliation, natural characteristics, or the
discourse among the members but on the distinctive social practices and common
interests found within the community.
Many of the participants were members of affinity groups outside of school,
online, or within their SNS. Some of the participants joined technology-related affinity
groups online to improve their technology skills for school projects or to increase their
social capital at a school where technology skills are highly valued. Jon daily visits a
technology related SNS ( that uses Ning, a web site that enables
affinity groups to form their own online social networks around a common interest. The
site is a network of technology geeks who post product reviews and tutorials and answer
members technology-related questions. The site also has a live IRC chat room where
experts are available to answer technology-related questions in real time. Jon visits the
site to read reviews or get answers to video editing or Photoshop-related questions.
Reggie and Alex both spent time visiting cell phone-related affinity groups online.
Alex visited technology-related blogs to research and compare the features of the latest
cell phones. During one of the interviews, Alex showed me a website that he visits
everyday that compared the "Sidekick vs. the Ocean [two new phones] . . . I saw that. A
video where they compare both of these products." Reggie visits several sites to learn
about cell phones because he hopes to get a part time job selling them.
I would like to work in Best Buy in the cell phone department. I donna for
some reason I really like that I like to go to [a website
about cell phones]. I really like cell phones. I just like to see what is new
and different things. I look at new articles and start reading them. And it’s
like oh the Palm Pre came out last week and the new iPhone came out
Many adolescents organize groups and form identities around areas of common
interests. They think of themselves as a "soccer player," "actor," or "musician." VVCH,
being a small school, doesn't offer athletic or music programs. These students have to
develop those skills outside of school. Adolescents in more affluent communities often
have parents that pay for lessons and club sports to develop their skills and interests.
Many adolescents attending VVCH do not have those same opportunities so informal
online social networks and affinity groups can play a more vital role in their identity
development around their areas of interest.
Other participants are involved in affinity groups that focus on their interests or
hobbies outside of school. Both Reggie and Blanca play soccer in leagues but they also
play pick up games after school at the park. These informal groups come together after
school just to play the game they love. Reggie's face lit up when he talked about soccer.
"You know – it's just becoming my thing. Because like at the park I go to, it's not a very
big park – but there are a lot of people there. They know me already." Jon, who is
interested in acting, is looking for an affinity group for actors. He likes to visit a website
that list monologs and then practice them in front of a mirror at home. He then
commented about the experience on a blog on his MySpace.
Friday, May 15
Current mood: awake
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities
I was doing a monologue to brush up on my acting skills, right. It's one
I've been practicing for a few days now. It's about someone confronting
his peers after years of emotional and physical abuse. Now it was amateur
at best, but when the end of the monologue came, and I switched off, it
was like this rush of who I was all came back. If I can push my emotions
to the level of nearly forgetting who I am (not to say I want to), and
transform into this character, I must have some kind of talent. "The
greatest actor does not act." I need to take hold of that statement. It was
kind of surreal, actually.
Jon, who was quite articulate about the experience, does not have a way to practice his
acting and get feedback. If he could find an online actor's affinity group, he could
videotape his monologues and get reactions from other members of the affinity group.
Liliana was actively involved in an affinity group that was centered on a social
issue that she cared about. She has a badge on her profile that links to Social Vibe, an
alternative SNS that raises money for social causes. When a friend in her P.E. class told
her about Social Vibe, she decided to add the badge to her MySpace profile. When using
Social Vibe, a user chooses a commercial brand to endorse and then receives a Social
Vibe badge that is added to their MySpace profile. Liliana chose to endorse Samsung
Electronics. By promoting Social Vibe and Samsung, she earned points, which were
transformed into donations for a charity. She said most of her friends chose to fight
poverty, but she has a 23-year-old cousin that has cancer so she decided to raise money
for "Stand Up to Cancer." A user also has a profile on Social Vibe where they can answer
the question of the day, make status updates, have a friends list, and make comments like
a traditional SNS while earning additional points for their charity. If a friend on MySpace
joins Social Vibe, then the user also receives more charity points. Social Vibe recently
announced that over the last year they raised a million dollars for charity.
As a member of Social Vibe, Liliana felt like she was doing something important
to help other people. She used Social Vibe to raise money and promote awareness in
finding a cure for cancer. She invited her friends to join the site and they could see the
cause that she was supporting by the badge that was on her MySpace profile. Some of her
friends asked her about this badge, which gave her the opportunity to share her story
about her cousin with cancer. Through this process Liliana began to be identified as
someone who cares about finding a cure for cancer.
By using the badge on her MySpace she was taking advantage of the opportunity
for constructing her achieved identities. The badge not only represents her membership in
a community concerned about cancer, but it also links her to an entirely new discourse
community that is aligned with these values that she is trying to ascribe to herself. Thou
this could be achieved with out technology, SNS make this a much easier process
because the links between these communities are easier for people to follow.
Blanca and Reggie were fascinated with celebrity culture and both were members
of online fan clubs or followed celebrities through their SNS. Reggie was a fan of the
Jonas brothers and his YouTube profile is dedicated to the musical group. Most of his
friends that were following him on YouTube were also fans of the Jonas brothers. They
would post videos of the band and make comments on each other’s profiles. Reggie also
followed the Tweets of Nick Jonas on his Twitter account. Both Blanca and Reggie
would follow famous celebrities on Twitter and visit celebrity culture websites like TMZ
or the Perez Hilton blog. While Reggie enjoyed staying abreast of the everyday musings
of celebrities, he knew it was just for fun and they would not respond to him. On the
other hand, Blanca was obsessed with Mitchell Musso, a singer and actor on the Disney
channel. She ended almost all of her tweets with Blanca loves @mitchelmusso. One week
she posted several hundred tweets just declaring her love for him. By starting the tweet
with an @ sign the message appears in the users in box. Blanca was hoping to get his
attention so that he would Tweet her back.
Future Aspirations in SNS Profiles
A common theme among the participants was to use their MySpace profiles to
express their aspirations for their future. Some of the participants had very specific goals
they wanted to achieve while other participants included more general statements, quotes,
and clichés to express their vision for their future on their profiles.
Reggie's aspirations for the future are clearly to get good grades in high school
and get accepted to a respected university. In addition to working hard in school and
volunteering in ASB, Reggie is a member of Upward Bound. The goal of Upward Bound
is to support students from low-income families to succeed in high school so that they
can enroll in and graduate from college. Reggie spent a week at a local university
between his freshman and sophomore year at an Upward Bound camp. He shared on his
Twitter feed a day before he left that he was excited to be going to Upward Bound. On
his return he posted, "Just came back from UB i'm so tired but it was fun living on my
Alex, who shares similar goals with Reggie to go away to college, posted on his
MySpace profile that the future holds the great unknown. He did not "know what was
going to happen tomorrow or let alone next year." He shared he didn't know which
college he would attend or even if he would have the same friends in the future. He
concludes by saying, "I don't know anything about my life in a future sense. What I do
know is that I'm going to stay young and stupid – well always at heart."
Throughout Jon's MySpace profile he expresses his dream to be an artist, either an
actor, director, or writer. He lists the name of his production company as his occupation.
On his Twitter page, as a joke, Jon states that he is "The Academy Award Winning
Actor/Director/Writer." Throughout his SNS, Jon has created a vision of his future where
he can make a living being creative, doing what he enjoys the most: expressing himself
through the arts. When I asked him his opinion about how students exaggerate their age
and accomplishments on their profiles, his tone demonstrated that he took offense.
McG: I see this a lot on MySpace where you might be projecting on your
profile where people they are less describing their current reality and
more describing what they want to be. So they will exaggerate how old
they are on there – I think you put your income as $250,000 or
something like that.
J: That was kind of a joke.
McG (laughs). I know and you also talk a lot about these business ideas
and your production company. Those types of things. So how do you –
Can you talk about that a little bit? Maybe that you have noticed it on
other people's profiles?
J: I think I take my profile more seriously mostly because uh – I don't
know –when people go to my profile they want to get to know more
about me. I think I should be honest and tell them who I really am and
what I want do.
McG: Yeah.
J: And you know the film company thing, that's real. You know it is my
film company. I am trying to you know do things and entertain people.
McG: Yeah.
J: Create art. Quote un Quote. And I don't know, I just want to say who I
really am to these people.
Jon takes his aspirations very seriously. This is how he defines himself; it is his reality.
He considers himself an artist, and he wants to be an artist in the future.
Some participants were less specific about their aspirations for their future but
instead posted quotes and comments on their profiles expressing their worldview and
vision. Liliana has the following quote on her profile, "Remember the past, plan for the
future, but live for today, cuz yesterday is gone and tomorrow many never come." When
asked about this quote, she shared that it is true, because “you need to remember the
people that helped you in the past, plan for the future, but live in the moment because you
could die at any time.” In another section of her profile, she wrote, "I have BIG
DREAMS; and I plan on achieving them all." Maya posted a short blog titled, "live ur life
ur way." In it she shares that nothing lasts forever so "like it, laugh it off, avoid the
bullshit, take chances & never have regrets, because at 1 point, everything u did was
exactly what u wanted!!" This concept of living for the moment was a common theme on
both of their profiles.
Identity in Blackboard (and at School)
Blackboard, the school's LMS, provided the students the opportunity to express
their identity in a more academic setting. Students had opportunities to experiment with
their identity, express Gee's multiple identities, and share their aspirations for their future.
These were expressed online in Blackboard, in classroom interactions that were observed
by the researcher, and through social interactions with their friends at school as shared
during the interviews or focus groups. Student discourses with their teachers and their
peers online and in the classroom often reflected their values and their perceptions of
their own identity. Finally, the school as an institution can label students and have a
strong influence on adolescent identities through its system of policies, testing, grades,
and awards.
Identity Formation and Experimentation in Blackboard (and at School)
The participants used Blackboard and the environment of their English classroom
to express their identities to their teacher and their friends. Sometimes the identities
expressed were different from how they expressed themselves socially on MySpace,
while other times they had consistent identities in both environments. While some
participants customized their Blackboard home page, most of the participants expressed
their identity through classroom behavior and discussions in their English class or
through their use of audio and text in the forum discussions on Blackboard.
Some of the participants used the customization features of Blackboard to change
the look and content of their Blackboard home page. While this enabled the users to
individualize their Blackboard accounts, it did not operate in the same way as a MySpace
profile because individual students could not view each other's home screens. Since the
students primarily accessed Blackboard in class, students often showed off to their
classmates how they changed the color of their Blackboard or customized their home
screen with widgets and news feeds. In a school that places a high value on technological
proficiency, showing off how they customized their Blackboard was a way to increase
their social capital at school. Blanca explained how she told her classmates how to
customize Blackboard.
Modify your layout. You just -- all of mine is different. Everyone's like,
"How do you do that?" I'm like, "I just modify my page." They're like,
"How do you do it?" I don't know, you go in on the corner, there's a
During one class, Jon explained to another student how he could change the text and
heading color of his Blackboard to the color plum when he joked, "Hey, this is the new
MySpace." During an interview, Reggie demonstrated how he changed his Blackboard to
red and had it display a calculator and his report card widget. He was embarrassed when
the widget displayed a low Blackboard grade in his math class, saying, "like, Oh I didn't
really want to see that."
During an English class, the students participated in an assignment on Blackboard
that required them to take on a "virtual" identity. The students read Edgar Allen Poe's
"The Cask of Amontillado," a short story in which the narrator, Montresor, takes revenge
on a friend, Fortunato, who supposedly insulted him. For the assignment the teacher told
the students to imagine it is 50 years later and the person to whom Montresor tells the
story decides to turn him over to the police for the murder of Fortunato. The students
were asked to take on the role of either the defense lawyer for or the prosecutor against
Montresor and write their closing argument in Blackboard. After they had written their
speech, they would use Voiceboard to record their speech as an audio discussion board.
Then, their classmates were expected to listen to these audio posts and respond to the
different threads in Blackboard. All of the participants, except Blanca, completed the
While the technical and literacy aspects of this assignment are discussed in the
literacy section below, the assignment provided an opportunity for the students to take on
a virtual identity. Four of the participants took on the role of the prosecutor and only one
chose the role of the defense attorney. Reggie, as the defense attorney argued, "Montresor
is clearly insane; his actions explain how his mental capacity is severely damaged. His
supposed confession was really a cry for help in his own twisted maniacal way." Most of
the participants recorded a relatively straight reading of their speeches. Maya and Liliana
sounded self-conscious when they were recording their speeches. Maya started her
speech off with a nervous laugh. Of all the participants Jon seemed to relish the
assignment the most because it was an opportunity to showcase his acting skills at school.
Jon did not just read his response but acted out the part of the prosecutor and tried to put
in as much emotion as he could in his argument on why Montresor should be found guilty
of murder. He dramatically concluded his monologue with the following,
Fortunato was found walled in! But he was already dead as soon as
Montresor began to speak. So Montresor, I commend you for your
intelligence, but I pray to God you will burn for the blood you have
spilled. Your mind could have once been a gift, but now – now, it can be
considered a curse.
Blackboard, as an academic environment, did not provide the participants an
informal space to experiment with their identities at school. Even so, the students found
ways to individualize their Blackboard environment by customizing their home screens.
When asked in an interview if he would like an informal space in Blackboard to post
whatever he wanted, Jon responded, “This is an institution, it is kind of how it works.”
However, some students used Blackboard’s forums to be creative and socialize. In a
forum where students were supposed to be analyzing a poem, Liliana and a friend named
Juan began exchanging virtual fruits. After Juan offered her an apple, Liliana replied,
“thanks :D! but I really don’t like apples.” Juan then tried to give her a virtual banana and
she wrote, “lol thanks ill take the apple instead of the banana.” While being off task, this
playful exchange illustrates how the students found a way to be creative and express
themselves even within the more formalized environment of Blackboard. In addition to
experimenting with their online identities in Blackboard and at school, the students often
exhibited multiple identities.
Multiple Identities in Blackboard
Gee's (2001) model of multiple identities was used to analyze the participant’s
interactions in the classroom and their technology mediated practices at school and in
their postings on Blackboard. While using Blackboard, the participants had many
opportunities to express their multiple identities including (a) Nature-Identity,
(b) Institutional-Identity, (c) Discourse-Identity, (d) and Affinity-Identity.
Nature-Identity. A student's gender and race, examples of Nature-Identity, play a
prominent role in schooling, both in class and online. Some might suggest (Cohen &
Ellis, 2008) that a text-dominated LMS, like Blackboard, might lead to racial and gender
equality by rendering them invisible or irrelevant. However, traditional racial and gender
differences can be expressed in the LMS through discourse style, images, audio, content,
and patterns of LMS use (Herring, 2003). Of course, the use of the LMS in a hybrid
environment eliminates the possibility of gender and racial invisibility.
Being a small school that is predominately Hispanic, VVCH appears to have
limited racial segregation. The participants shared that since VVCH is such a small
school everybody just knows everyone. Social status appears to be based on affinity
groups and common interests instead of who is the most popular. Jon commented,
"There's no clear distinction between popular people and unpopular people to me."
Blanca shared, "I don't think we have like a popular group. I think it's just the loud––
there's just loud people that are active," while Reggie said, "There's not exactly popular,
there's just people who are more outgoing than other people . . . it's so small that pretty
much like you see people and you're like 'oh, I know them'." Jon, one of only two nonLatinos in the study, was asked about his perception of race at the school.
McG: You come to a school that is 92% Latino. Do you ever feel race is
an issue? Do you ever feel like an outsider at the school? Has that ever
been an issue?
J: I think it definitely has been an issue throughout . . . it is almost 6 years
that I have lived here . . . and it is not a huge issue. I do notice it
sometimes. Sometimes I will look around and go, I am the only white
guy in here. But it is not a huge issue. It is just sometimes there are
little barriers. Little things about that culture that I am not a part of . . .
it is not really a big deal honestly. Just sometimes I kind of . . . I . .
.Earlier on in the year I tried to make it a bigger deal . . . I tried to
convince myself that it was a bigger deal . . . but it really was just all
because of me, and you know I don't really think it is that big of a deal.
In this excerpt, Jon expresses how being in the minority made him at times feel
like an outsider. While he did not want to make race an issue at school, he had to deal
with being different even among his closest friends. Alex is one of Jon’s best friends at
school. They were often seen hanging out and talking to each other before and during
class. During one of the observations, as Jon and Alex entered their English class, Jon
hits and pushes Alex playfully on his shoulder in a clear sign of endearment while they
were both laughing about a previous conversation. Later, that evening, Alex posted a
comment on Jon’s MySpace saying, “Yo thanx for being my white friend ;>.” So while
Alex’s comment to Jon was positive and reinforced their friendship, it was still expressed
in racial terms.
Institutional-Identity. Schools can have a powerful impact on adolescent identity
development. Institutional identities can be chosen or imposed. Some adolescents choose
to accept and embrace their institutional identity while others choose to reject their school
identity. Some students work hard to do well in school and accept any identities the
school will place on them. However, some institutional identities are imposed on
individuals, forcing them into certain positions, duties, and responsibilities not of their
choice. For example, students might be labeled poor readers, or their family income level
places them in the "free and reduced lunch" program. This combination of labels can
result in the school giving them the identity of "at-risk" student.
Because it is a small school, the teachers and administrators at VVCH work hard
to create a supportive and friendly environment. In an informal discussion between the
researcher and one of the teachers at the school, the teacher shared that she tries to learn
every student's name. When she sees a student she doesn't know on campus, she will
walk up to the student and ask his or her name. In most classrooms, teachers have posted
the school’s vision and mission and expected student learning results (ESLRs). The
vision states, "VVCH is designed to offer students rich, challenging curriculum in a
small, caring environment . . ." while the mission statement says, "It is the vision of the
VVCH staff, in partnership with our stakeholders, to create a community of learners who
are technically, intellectually, and socially equipped to succeed in life." The ESLRs,
which use the acronym TECHNO, state that students who graduate VVCH will be
"Technologically literate individuals, Effective collaborative workers, Complex, critical
thinkers, Helpful community contributors, Nurturers, and Outstanding students." The
school clearly has developed a strong sense of community. Every student who attends the
high school is given a list of student expectations that explains rules and expected
behavior. For example, students are not allowed to use any personal electronic devices
(phones, ipod, etc.) while on campus. This is also posted in many classrooms. Some of
the participants have accepted these rules and expectations and are actively pursuing the
support of the community while other participant identities are in conflict with these
Reggie, as a member of ASB, is actively pursuing acceptance by the school and
trying to be good leader on campus. Reggie shared that the current ASB president of the
school was a good role model for him. At the start of the year Reggie was often late to
school because it started at 7:10 in the morning and he was not used to the early time. His
teacher often got angry with him for his tardiness. Reggie noticed that the ASB president
was always early and never late to class. Reggie shared,
He's always early. You know? so like, I'm like wow, you know. I was like
wow, he does a lot [for the school] you know. But I think I should be more
like him. So I started to be earlier and earlier and I noticed more
opportunities just kept opening and opening. Because our teacher, because
she's one of those teachers that if you don't do the right thing, she won't
allow you to be like –– special privileges in class. So I noticed that things
kept opening more and more and more. And I'm like, "Wow, okay – this is
Blanca is a student who is struggling in school and often misbehaves in class.
During class she frequently interrupted and talked back to her English teacher, trying to
get his attention. During her interview she shared how much she likes and respects the
teacher. There is a disconnect between the identity she is portraying in the classroom and
how she actually feels. During a classroom discussion about global warming, the students
and teacher evaluated the arguments that Al Gore was making in the movie "An
Inconvenient Truth." The teacher divided the class in half for the debate; half the students
were to go to the computers to discuss the issue on Blackboard and half of the class
would debate the issue in class. Here is an excerpt from the exchange:
Mr. Garcia: Who is in the fishbowl and wants to debate this in class?
Fifteen of you who are shy and want to go on the computers, you can
debate on Blackboard.
Student: I thought you said normal people.
Mr. Garcia: No, I said Blackboard people.
Observer Comment: Alex and Jon moved next to each other in the middle,
so did Reggie. Liliana also stayed to discuss the issue in the
Mr. Garcia: The Blackboard discussion will expire . . at 11:55 on Saturday
night. You have to discuss it by then. I want you to respond to the
questions and respond to one other person.
Mr. Garcia: People in the fishbowl turn around. Jon, Alex, and Blanca are
in the fishbowl. The rest of you have to take notes.
It is interesting to note the teacher’s use of the word shy to refer to those students who
prefer to debate on Blackboard instead of in class. Maya was the only participant who
chose to go to the computers to discuss the issue on Blackboard.
After the class divided in half, some of the students logged onto Blackboard and
began writing and posting their responses to the prompt while other students formed two
circles in the class. Those students in the "fishbowl" were to debate the topic while those
students outside the "fishbowl" were to take notes. Alex, Reggie, Blanca, and Jon began
debating the effectiveness of the arguments in the movie. During the debate Jon says
something privately to Alex and laughs. The teacher asks Jon why he was laughing, when
Blanca answers for him by saying "I think they are touching each other." This causes the
whole class to laugh and embarrasses Jon and Alex. Blanca gets an attitude and says,
"Whatever . . ." The teacher defuses Blanca's anger by joking with her, "Why are you so
hostile? Were we married in a past life?" The class then returns to the discussion. When
the class was over and Blanca walks past me out the door, she yells back to her teacher,
"Mr. McGarvey is nice and understanding, unlike you Mr. G".
After school when the researcher asked the teacher about the exchange, he said,
"Blanca is not malicious but she is like that all the time. Sometimes she crosses the line
and is disrespectful and I have to set her straight." The researcher subsequently asked
Blanca about the exchange in class with her teacher,
McG: . . . you were giving Mr. Garcia a hard time yesterday?
B: Yes.
McG: You were teasing him there, weren't you?
B: Yeah.
McG: You like to do that?
B: Yeah. He's -- he's just -- he's the -- here, so far, he's the best teacher.
McG: Yeah, I could tell he's really good.
B: And like anything I've ever needed, I know I can go to him.
So even though Blanca really likes him and considers him one of the best teachers at the
school, she still talks back to Mr. Garcia in class and sometimes "crosses the line" and is
While Blanca's actions in school demonstrated a disregard for her coursework,
when she was alone she shared her concerns about how she was doing in school. One day
the researcher noticed that Blanca was very upset after school. When the researcher later
asked her about it, she said she was failing P.E. Blanca perceives herself as an athletic
and this was devastating to her self-image. She spent the next week staying after school
everyday doing circuit training for extra credit to raise her grade. While this extra effort
was often not seen in her other academic classes, Blanca did not see herself as someone
who could get an F in P.E.
The school places high value on student mastery of technology. Since every
classroom has computers, all teachers are expected to integrate technology into their
classroom projects. Some of the participants felt this expectation was unreasonable,
especially for students who had limited access and experience with technology at home
or before they attended the school. The students were especially frustrated with a math
teacher who was one of the few who had Window PC laptops in his room. The students
complained that he expected them to know how to connect to the Internet wirelessly on
Windows when all of their training at school was with Macintosh computers.
A: And if we experience problems with Mac, we have an idea how to fix
them cause we probably experienced them before. But with our Math
teacher, he expects us to like to know everything about, you know,
Microsoft operating system.
McG: Oh, okay.
A: Which is really hard. But he'll say, "You guys have been here for a
year, you guys don't know how to like get along on the Internet?" And
it's different from a Mac and PC.
Blanca also shared her frustrations with teacher's high expectations for working with
B: And because we're -- they say that we're already been here a whole
year, that they expect us so much out of us through technology. Like a
lot of people don't just get everything down the first time they hear it,
you know?
McG: Yeah.
B: And they're like, "Well, we taught it to you at the beginning." And it's
like, "And you keep teaching us new things, you know? We're not
going to memorize every single thing." So it gets frustrating.
At the end of the year the school had an awards ceremony where students could
win an award for "Best Use of Technology." This environment has resulted in increased
respect and social status among those students who were more proficient with
technology. Being a "tech geek" was valued more so than maybe at a typical high school.
During the focus group, the participants got competitive when they started discussing
these awards.
R: Each teacher got to pick two from each class.
B: I should have gotten one.
L: I got one.
R: I got four. I'm not bragging.
J: I'm Jon and I have to put this on record. I got three.
R: And that was Reggie who got four.
McG: Making this official. Wow, competitive.
This exchanged demonstrated how Reggie, Jon, and Liliana were proud of the awards
that they received for their academic achievement at school. These three were actively
pursuing acceptance by their teachers and wanting to succeed in school. During one of
the interviews, Reggie excitedly shared the specific awards he received. "I got two
awards today. One for the presidential silver achievement award [for getting a 3.5 to 3.9
grade point average]. I was really . . . was really proud that I got it and I got the best use
of technology." Blanca, who was a less successful student, felt like she should have
received an award. Even though she struggled academically her freshman year, she still
desired acceptance from the school.
Some of the participants actively rejected the institutional identities preferred and
reinforced by the school. One of the rules the participants did not like was prohibition
against using any electronic devices on campus. Some students thought this was
inconsistent with a school that was known for being a technology-focused school. Reggie
complained about the rule against using his phone saying, "It is just weird because you
are allowed to use a laptop at lunch. If you bring out a laptop they won't say anything but
if you bring out a phone they will." Liliana shared that the school would not allow you to
use any electronic devices "during class or during school hours . . . like my camera if I
had it in my hands right now they would take it away."
Many students still used their phones secretly at school. Liliana shared that
students send text messages on their phones in and out of class when the teachers are not
looking. During summer school Liliana used a friend's phone to get on MySpace. She
shared how she tried to get on MySpace using the school's computers but it was blocked
so they used the cell phone, which the school cannot filter. Reggie shared that he knows
many students who text in class. "In geometry one person who sits right next to me and
they are on IM [instant message] 24/7. There will be people in the same room [messaging
each other]. You know." Reggie, who, as a member of ASB, is very concerned about his
image as a leader on campus, shared that he got caught texting in one of his classes. “I
actually have gotten caught once . . . But I said no more and I am not doing it. I got my
phone taken away for 30 minutes and I was so scared." However, Reggie said he did
think it was all right to send text to Twitter because he was not disrupting another student
in class. "So I was like no more texting. . . no texting other people, just Twitter. I don't
like texting other people. I just start Twittering even though the teachers cannot tell the
difference." During one of the focus groups, Blanca was visibly upset because the school
took her iPod touch away when she was using it in class that day. The school would only
return the device to one of her parents. After the interviews, Blanca asked the researcher
if her could pretend to be her Dad and pick up the iPod. He laughed and told her that the
school knew who he was and that would not work.
Discourse-Identity. The participants in this study expressed their discourse
identities through their interactions with their peers and their teachers while at school and
in Blackboard. As the participants were observed in class, in their focus groups, and
through their online interactions on Blackboard, some of their personalities and
individual traits emerged. At times these traits were in conflict with their out-of-school
discourse identities and at other times they were consistent with each other.
At the start of the year, Mr. Garcia had the students create "I am Posters" that
included drawings, pictures, and descriptive words to characterize themselves. Mr. Garcia
then posted these posters on the walls throughout his classroom. Alex described himself
as "upbeat, adventurous, joyful, and nonchalant" on his poster, while Blanca wrote that
she was "nice, extrodanary [sic], inocent [sic], smart, sarcastic and joyful." "Optimistic,
intelligent, nice, inquisitive, and creative" were the attributes that Reggie used to describe
himself. Maya and Liliana did not have their posters on the wall. Jon wrote that he was
"trusting, encouraging, intelligent, charismatic adventures, eccentric and sarcastic."
Some of the participants’ discourse identities at school were in conflict with their
identities expressed outside of school. While Blanca would often give the impression that
she did not care about her grades or doing well in school, her actions in Mr. Garcia's class
demonstrated that she did not want to disappoint him. She would sometimes joke around
and disrupt Mr. Garcia's English class. One day at the start of class, Mr. Garcia
complemented the class for being good for the substitute teacher the day before. Several
students said the substitute was cute and looked like Fabio. Blanca teased Mr. Garcia
when she said, "You would have liked him cause he looked like you probably did when
you were in college." Mr. Garcia ignored her and continued with the lesson. During
another assignment, while most of the class was working quietly on a written assignment,
Blanca was totally distracted. She had a hard time concentrating and was talking to the
people sitting around her. While not being loud and disrupting the rest of the class, she
was not being productive either. In another instance, Mr. Garcia was complimenting the
class for their insightful comments on Blackboard when Blanca shouted out, "I wanted to
do [the Blackboard assignment] but I forgot." Mr. Garcia replied, "I know some of you
forgot." A few days later, Blanca posted on her Twitter, "Board [sic] as hell in science
ugh ready for my next class."
Jon was a participant who was consistent between his in-school and out-of-school
discourse identities. He would try to entertain his peers by being goofy or telling jokes.
During one classroom observation, the students were watching excerpts from the Al Gore
film "An Inconvenient Truth." Jon, who is always looking for an opportunity to make
people laugh, pointed to an audience member in the film and said, "Look at the guy
picking his ear!" As everyone in the class burst out laughing, Jon had a huge smile on his
face. The teacher replied, "Jon don't make fun of the audience." Jon uses humor to
express himself and interact with his peers on MySpace and at school. In an interview Jon
shared, "There is something about being funny that is very rewarding."
For one of Mr. Garcia's assignments, the class had to read a short essay from U.S.
News and World Reports about a book called the "The Narcissism Epidemic." The author
argued that the four causes of increased narcissism in American society are parenting,
celebrity culture, media and the Internet, and easy credit. Reality TV shows and SNS
postings often only highlight the narcissistic parts of people's personality. The students
analyzed the author’s arguments in a two-paragraph essay and then took an online
narcissism quiz on Blackboard. While the students were writing their reactions, Maya
asked Mr. Garcia if she could look at the book. Maya compulsively played with her hair
while she perused the tables of contents of the book for several minutes.
During the focus group, the researcher asked the students about the narcissism
quiz. The students said the quiz returned a scaled score from 1 to 10. A number higher
than 5 and you were narcissistic while a score under 5 meant you had a low self-esteem.
This was the exchange from the focus group:
McG: I don't know if you heard this before, but they refer to your
generation as the "net generation," and that you guys have certain
characteristics: You're multi-taskers, you use technology, and some
people say that you're narcissistic. And what they mean by that is that
because you're doing, you know, Twitter and MySpace and all those
things, you're constantly updating about your life, putting it online, and
so it's kind of like you're self-absorbed.
And other people say that's kind of extreme, that that has really nothing to
do with it. You know, that just -- it's just a way of expressing yourself.
So I was wondering if you guys could comment on that, what you
thought about the reading and about the quiz, what it told about
M: I think that was actually true, 'cause like I read the thing, and it said if
you have a low narcissism, that you were kind of shy. And I'm kind of
shy. 'Cause I got a 3.
L: I got a 3, but I'm not that shy.
M: You get shy when you speak like in front of people – like class.
L: Shut up. No, I'm not [shy].
J: Um, I'd like, I don't know, I'd like to say that I thought it was true. I was
like in the middle, so, I thought that was true. I don't know, I kind of
knew what the quiz was headed for, so I kind of adjusted my answers a
little so I wouldn't seem narcissistic.
McG: Okay.
J: But I thought it was true. And I think that this generation does have a bit
of narcissism to it.
In this exchange, Maya and Jon found the results consistent with their perceptions of
their discourse identities. Maya's results reinforced her view that she is shy while Jon
admitted to adjusting the answers to his score so he would not seem so self-absorbed.
However, Liliana found the results to be inconsistent with her perception of her discourse
identity at school. Before this exchange, Liliana discussed in her interview that she did
not like that she was often shy at school. She shared, "But when it comes to presenting or
talking in front of the class, I totally get embarrassed and shy and quiet. I hate that about
me." When Maya, a close friend who probably also knew this about Liliana, confronted
her with this inconsistency in front of the rest of the participants, it angered her. Liliana
told her to "shut up" because she did not want to be perceived as a shy girl at school.
Affinity-Identity. Most high schools have clear distinctions between different
social groups on campus. Many times these distinctions are based on race, gender, social
status, student interests, clubs, or activities. Students can form their affinity identity
around common interests and groups of friends. This analysis focuses on the participants’
impressions of their school's cliques, which were shared through personal interviews,
focus groups, their Blackboard postings, and the researcher’s limited interactions with the
students in the classroom. A more detailed analysis of the school’s affinity groups would
require a longer ethnographic study that is beyond the scope of this research.
Even though VVCH did not have the more traditional affinity groups based
around athletics or music programs, some of the participants still identified themselves as
a musician or athletic. Maya, who played clarinet in the elementary and middle school
band, still identified herself as being a musician, as someone who plays the clarinet, even
though she has not played for over a year. On Blackboard, in response to the Robert Frost
poem "The Road Not Taken," Maya shared what learning how to play meant to her.
My pivotal moment I would say it was when I joined band because I
learned how to play the clarinet and met lots of new people. I also became
a great musician and got many awards for my dedication and I went to
important events, regionals on a solo. If I wouldn’t of done than I would of
probably ended up as a rebel, because playing the clarinet calmed me
Both Blanca and Reggie consider themselves soccer players even though they do not play
for their school. They have other opportunities outside of school to play soccer that
reinforce their affinity identity as an athlete.
Many of the students shared that one of the positive attributes of going to a small
school is the friendly and close-knit environment. In the focus groups the participants
shared how students are not really classified by their popularity.
J: We don't really -- I don't know, maybe I'm just speaking for me, but the
popular people, I don't even know. There's no clear distinction
between popular people and unpopular people to me.
McG: Like you would see at a traditional school–
J: It's not traditional by far, I think. . .
B: Yeah – I think – we don't have like I don't think we have like a popular
group. I think it's just the loud – there's just loud people that are active.
Like they are just running around. I think that's what we have. We
don't have a popular group.
R: Here, like Blanca said, there's not exactly popular, there's just people
who are more outgoing than other people. And it makes it seem like –
it's like at Valley, people like are friends. Like everybody – it's so
small that pretty much like you see people and you're like, "Oh, I know
them, da, da, da, da, da." And it's like people who aren't as outgoing
don't seem – it's not really a popularity thing, it's just that people don't
know you. Like, oh, you know.
McG: Since it's kind of small, everybody knows everybody. But the
people who are more outgoing seem to be talking to more people.
R: Yeah.
A: It's not just popularity, there are just like some groups that are really,
really large, and some that are just like small. And depending on what
group you're in is how you relate to the other people around you. And I
don't know, I don't really see anything about popularity.
J: I think that's the only distinctions that we really have at this school.
There's no popular, unpopular, there's no – nothing clear in that range.
It's just different kinds of people.
In this discussion, the participants appear to agree that the school does not have the
typical social division between popular or unpopular students. Instead, students cluster
around groups of friends who have common interests.
The social distinctions at school appear around interest and affinity groups.
Blanca shared,
Here at school, we all, like there's a lot of little groups. But since it's so
small, you just notice –you know people by their little groups. So it's like,
“Oh, those are the weirdoes, those are the school people.”
Jon thought,
I think we have, um, like we have distinctions between different groups.
Like we have kind of like punker kind of kids, people that's gay, people
that are like in bands, people that are just, you know, kind of in the
However, Blanca shared that most of the social interactions occur outside during lunch or
physical education.
But here, the way that everyone like really talks is outside. Cause outside
they play games, we do basketball at lunch, we do -- we do pie contests.
We either do contests through the A.S.B. or we just -- or we'll just play
games outside. So like everyone -- that's practically the way we
communicate. Like, "Oh, you're the one that scored that goal during last
Some of the participants are in clubs on campus that reinforce their affinity
identities. Reggie, Jon, and Alex are successful students who are perceived as the smart
students in class. They all read significantly higher than their grade level. They take their
schoolwork seriously, usually trying their best, and, as a result, get good grades. Alex,
Reggie, and Jon are actively involved in the California Scholastic Federation (CSF) and
the chess club that meets every Friday on campus. Alex shared, "I always wanted to learn
how to play and now I know. I don't know how but I became the President." Liliana
identifies herself as someone who is socially conscious. She cares about her world and
wants to make her community a better place. She is an active member of Interact, a
volunteer service club that is associated with Rotary International. The Interact club,
which is the largest club on campus, completes two community service projects a year.
Future Aspirations in Blackboard (and at School)
Many of the participants had aspirations for their future that they expressed at
school and through Blackboard. Some of the participants believed that they could achieve
their aspirations by getting good grades and attending college. One of the reasons the
students attended VVCH was the belief that it gave them the best opportunity to
overcome the economic and social barriers to success that they faced living in Valley
Vista. Their English teacher, Mr. Garcia, reminded them that achieving their goals would
not be easy and often would require personal sacrifice.
For most of the participants the key to success was getting good enough grades so
they could get a scholarship and financial aide to attend college. Reggie was a student
who was very serious about school and felt the pressure of being a successful student.
When asked what he was doing to prepare for college, he shared the following:
R: I am going to college and I do not want a C.
McG: Yeah.
R: I don't want – I don't feel like wasting time.
McG: Uh huh
R: I see a lot people – one of my friends is getting a D in Bio an F in
Spanish. I am not wasting my time.
McG: Yeah.
R: I think that is a big waste of time. I am trying–because time is–I notice
because I am on the computer all the time – time you know is
McG: Yeah.
R: Can't make up lost time. Especially you know I am not wasting my
time. No. I have to get this done. I have to you know go to [college] –
that’s why I have got a zero period and that's why I am in upward
McG: Uh huh
R: I am not wasting any time. Cuz zero period helps me get more credits–
you know–Upward bound helps you get into college.
McG: Uh huh
R: Because they work directly with a lot of colleges. They are sponsored
by the Cal State so it does help you get into college.
McG: Yeah that is awesome.
R: . . . I don't want – I want my first year to be accredited like a really
good college. Because Valley Vista Junior College . . . I don't want to
really be going to the JC and say – ah – cause that's really sad that Mr.
Garcia [his English teacher] told me that our valedictorian from last
year went to the JC. That was kind of shocking.
McG: Yeah.
R: So a lot of things you know just make me want to do my work more.
You know certain things like my Dad telling me all these different
things like you have to do in school. Cuz he did in school. He couldn't
afford a lot of the things he can afford now. So he rewards me with
gifts and different things. I am like OK. I have to do this.
This exchange by Reggie provides insight into the stress and pressure he is feeling
to be a successful student. He starts off repeating how he must get good grades and not
waste any time on anything that will not help him achieve his goal of attending a good
college. He sees the way to achieve this goal is through working hard in school, taking
challenging AP classes, and getting accepted to a prestigious college. In another excerpt,
Reggie expresses a strong desire to leave Valley Vista and start a new life somewhere
else where he will have more opportunities.
R: But um . . . I need to widen [my perspective] because I really really do
not want to stay in Valley Vista. How sad it sounds.
McG: uh huh
R: I don't I don't you know want to start a life in Valley Vista. I don't!
McG: Yeah
R: Um my parents I don't know if they would be mad about it?
McG: If you left moved away.
R: Yeah. I probably if anywhere I moved – New York. Yeah. that’s what I
see myself doing or NYU.
McG: Wow, that would be neat.
R: Or going there starting or starting there.
Some of the students have thought about what they want to do as a career, but
there is not a clear connection for them on how they will achieve those goals. Blanca, as
part of a school assignment, had to research a possible career. As part of the research she
looked up the requirements for the job, the job description, the interpersonal skills needed
for the job, and the average salary. Blanca expressed an interest in being a probationary
McG: Okay. I notice somewhere I read that you wrote that your goal is
that you want to be a probation officer.
B: Yes.
McG: Is that still a goal of yours?
B: That's still my goal.
McG: Do you know what you need to do in order to do that? What are
some of the things you need to do?
B: Not really. I haven't looked into it. All I know is -- into my research, I
was looking into -- I had a college, a career research, and I was just
kind of looking into the basics 'cause I left it to the last minute. And I
was just kind of like how much do probation officers earn? Just the
basic stuff. And I was looking into their soft skills and their -- into
their soft skills. And it was just like you have to be able to
communicate with people, you have to be able to get people to listen to
what you're saying. So that's -- I really haven't looked into it. My
sister, the other day, she bought me a book from Barnes and Noble,
"The Life of a Probation Officer."
McG: Wow.
B: And it's on a girl. It's based on a single mother. So I was going to start
reading that, but I haven't started it.
After reading “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost, the students have to write
either a poem or a letter about a turning point in their own life. These were then posted on
Blackboard. In this excerpt from Alex’s poem, he wrote about how the decisions he
makes today will have an influence on his future.
We all have to face decisions.
One can attempt to hide,
But it’s something that we must envision.
Practice is what I decide,
Because occasionally, the finest choice is one that we can’t see.
While Alex’s poem conveyed an uncertain future, Jon chose to express how discovering
what he wanted to do in life was his pivotal moment. In his Blackboard posting below, he
shared how his desire to tell stories provides meaning to his life.
I think I've always known what I wanted to do with my life, but the
revelation that I could do it... now, that was my turning point. You hear
about people who spend their entire lives in a dead end jobs, going home
each day to their average families in their average homes wishing that they
could be more... more of anything. What if I never found a connection to
storytelling? Real story telling in so many forms: the meaning behind
literature, drama, cinematography. I can't imagine a life where this thing
that I love, this thing that's my wife and my mistress at the same time, was
nonexistent. If I never discovered my truest love, my inner spirit, myself:
who I am, I would have spent the rest of my life wishing for more; only
Although Jon has expressed a desire to be an artist, writer, and filmmaker, he has not
explained how he is going to achieve those goals.
After writing about their own pivotal moments the students had to interpret the
symbolism in the Robert Frost poem in a Blackboard forum discussion. The teacher
asked the students, “Why might Frost have chosen to write about a road that goes through
woods rather than roads that go through a garden or a widen open plain?” Reggie
responded by explaining how the woods were mysterious like his future.
I think that Robert Frost choose a forest as a setting because a forest is not
easily seen through, almost mysterious, like the future you really don't
know what’s next. The road represents how we go along in life with twist
and turns and the right decisions determine where you end up when the
road ends. These symbolic references help relate the story to real life and
give the story substance and meaning.
Mr. Garcia responded to his post by writing,
I like the analogy of “twists and turns.” I haven’t heard that from others,
yet. I would like you to elaborate on that idea. If we can have twists and
turns, can we have roundabouts? Do we then get stuck, or go backward
In another aspect to this assignment, the students were to interpret contradictions
in the poem and post them to Blackboard. One of the survey-only participants in the class
mentioned the contradiction of not taking advantage of the opportunities available to
them in high school so they could attend a good college. Mr. Garcia provided an
insightful reply to the post,
There is an aspect to higher education that is seldom discussed with
teenagers, and that is the idea of becoming distant to your family,
especially if you come from working-class Latino background. Because
college gives us new perspectives, some college students start to see their
families and themselves differently. Sometimes the time and space
between families as a result of higher education is more than they
bargained for, and parents become resentful or regretful. Could the road
less traveled be the more dangerous one?
After class, the researcher asked Mr. Garcia about the comment. He shared, “Oh
yeah, family is a big deal. . . in these kids’ culture. I wanted them to know that sometimes
trying to better yourself means you will to give something up. It isn’t easy.” When the
researcher asked him if this is something that he had to deal with, he said, “My own
family complains because I don’t make it to every relative’s birthday. I have my own
family obligations. I am working another job. My parents and relatives will say I am
being uppity.” Finally he shared that some of his seniors are dealing with this very issue,
Some of my seniors are going through this right now. They have to make
decisions some have to choose between their family and their education. I
have had to have tough meetings with parents. Ask them do you want
what is best for your child. It is not always easy. Sometimes the kids are
not willing to make the sacrifices to open up new opportunities or
Mr. Garcia, a Latino who came from a working class background, can relate to the
circumstances facing many of his students. He reminds his students that choosing to get a
college education might be a difficult choice that will likely require personal sacrifice.
Summary of Identity Section
The six participants in this study used MySpace and Blackboard to experiment
with their identity, practice multiple identities, and express their aspirations for their
future. These adolescents found ways to express themselves both on their MySpace
profile and in their interactions with their peers and teachers in Blackboard. The
participants used their MySpace to establish connections to their family heritage as
demonstrated in Alex’s reference to his hometown in Mexico and Blanca’s and Liliana’s
family pictures on their profiles. While on Blackboard, the students took on the virtual
identities of a defense attorney or prosecutor, acting out their closing arguments in their
audio voice board discussion. Some of the participants’ identities were consistent both in
MySpace and on Blackboard, like Maya, who was naturally shy. Other participants, like
Blanca, who struggled academically in school, would often express a different identity in
and out of class. Most of the participants, like Reggie and Jon, used MySpace to express
their dreams and aspirations for their future. Jon posted blogs about his desire to be an
artist while Reggie shared his excitement about Upward Bound on his Twitter updates.
Literacy Practices within School and Out of School
Questions 2: How do students' literacy practices compare within school and
out-of-school online environments?
The literacy practices of six participants from a poor, urban, predominantly
Hispanic community were analyzed within Blackboard and MySpace. The participants’
literacy practices included not only their reading, writing and production skills but also
the communication and critical thinking skills necessary to navigate and maintain their
broader social and academic networks online. The students demonstrated complex social
and academic discourses within these environments. These skills were embedded and can
only be understood within the online and offline context of their SNS and LMS.
Within their SNS the participants demonstrated various literacy practices,
including the ability to use online tools to navigate and manage complex social and
written discourses. The participants used online tools, including social applications within
their SNS, to manage their friendship practices. These social applications were also used
to challenge friends in games, to take care of a “virtual pet,” or to promote social causes.
All of the participants used the micro-blogging, commenting, and blogging features of
their SNS to write short status updates, comments on their friend’s profiles, and longer
written discourses on their own profiles. They produced online profiles to publish their
best work and demonstrate their technical proficiencies. Profiles were used to publish the
participants’ photographs, videos, favorite music, or poetry. The participants repurposed
text by taking memorable quotes from television shows, movies, or song lyrics that
resonated with them and publishing them on their profiles. The technical skills and design
of their SNS profiles demonstrated proficiency with the digital tools necessary to produce
online text, images, and videos.
The participants used their LMS to demonstrate various academic literacies,
including the ability to critically analyze text and to communicate with their peers and
teachers in an academic online environment. Students wrote critical responses to short
stories, published their own creative writings, and commented on their teachers’ and
classmates’ posts. Most of their academic classes also used Blackboard to assess student
understanding of course objectives through online tests, quizzes, and reviews. While the
participants did not have a profile on Blackboard, several students customized their
Blackboard accounts and used the LMS to demonstrate to their peers their technological
Literacy Practices Within a SNS
The literacy practices of the participants were observed on their SNS profile,
including social and written discourses among their online network of friends. The
participants demonstrated the ability to manage complex social relationships using the
tools within their SNS profile. A variety of written discourses were expressed through
short status updates and longer blog posts on the participants’ profiles. Some of the
participants used their SNS profile like a portfolio to showcase their photographs,
writing, and videos while other participants refused to publish their creative work online.
Finally, in the production of their profiles and the publishing of their videos and
photographs, the student’s demonstrated certain technical skills, some of which they
learned at school.
Social Discourses Within a SNS
The participants practiced a variety of social discourses on their SNS profiles
during the study. MySpace, their dominant SNS, provides a diverse set of tools to
manage communications and messages within their group of friends. The participants
used these tools to rank their friendships, keep track of their online status, and send
synchronous and asynchronous messages. Liliana, Maya, and Blanca added additional
applications to their SNS profile to challenge their friends in online games or to raise
awareness for social causes. An elaborate set of norms and practices have developed
among the participants on the proper way to manage their relationships online.
Friendship practices on SNS. The participants used the various communication
tools within MySpace to maintain their social network. Participants added friends to their
SNS by accepting or denying a friend request. Liliana only accepted friend requests from
people that she knew. She shared:
If [it] is someone I kind of know a little bit or they know family – but I
like actually go and ask my family or whatever if they know them – I will
add, like accept them, if not I don’t.
Blanca also only added people to her MySpace that she knew personally. She shared her
thinking behind this process during her interview:
Um, first I check if I know them. Like if I know them, if I know them
really well, I see their picture, I'm like okay. Then I'll go onto their page
and read what they are about, and I'll be like I think this is a person [I
know]. So I'll just add and talk to them. But if I don't know you, I pretty
much don't add you. If I think I know you or you say like you're like, "Oh,
remember me from your cousin's party? We were hanging out," I'll add
them. And I'll be like -- I'll kind of look at their stuff and be like -- after
while if we don't talk or I really don't know them, I just delete them.
Blanca is aware that she cannot trust everyone that she meets online. “I only add people
who I know because my cousin’s friends, she was talking to a guy, and he was nowhere
near her age. So I was like [friending] only people I know.”
Alex accepted anyone who friended him. He stated, “but if I don’t know them I
still accept them but I send a message asking if I know them.” However, every few
months he deleted friends from his profile that he doesn’t talk to. Alex mentioned that
when he first got onto MySpace he was warned, “you don't want to get just a lot of
random people that will just you know take up your space and you won't be able to find
people that you actually want to talk to.”
MySpace has a unique feature where a member is allowed to rank their top eight
or 11 friends on their profile. Alex stated that “the closer [a friend is] to you moves them
more to the top [of his friend list].” The top friends are listed on their profile with their
avatar (usually a picture of themselves) and an online/offline status under their name.
Most of the participants used this feature to keep track of which of their closest friends
were currently online. Blanca shared why she uses her top friend list: “You know, this is
so I can see, you know, ‘Oh, he’s online, let me go and send him a message’.” Alex also
valued the online status updates on his top friends: “Yeah, that’s actually a big thing.
Cause these are the people I talk to the most . . . if they are online I will send them a
message.” Liliana did not like this feature and felt it was an invasion of her privacy that
her friends knew when she was online. She shared why she removed the online status
from her profile,
L: I will get bored and I like just log off. Cause I don't like the log in
thingy. I will just cut someone off and sometimes . . .
McG: You mean the thing that they can talk to you . . .like they can IM
you in the corner.
L: No – it’s this little thing that says online.
McG: Oh yeah
L: I don't have it – I don't like it.
McG: Cause people know if you are online or not.
L: Yeah – like some people message me and I don’t like talking to them
sometimes so I will just pretend I am not online and then talk to others.
For some of the participants there was a social dynamic on whom to place on or
remove from their top friends list. Maya shared that in order to be on her top friends list
someone has to “be friendly, talk to me a lot, have a fun time.” Alex did not like it when
friends placed other friends on their MySpace just to increase their own social capital.
The thing that bugs me about that is people put in their top ten people that
they don’t even talk to. So my top friends are people who are my best
friends. I am not saying it is hard to get on but I take it somewhat
seriously. I don’t just post anyone there.
Jon places the people he talks to and his family on his top 11 list on his profile.
Originally before I changed it [to a top 11]… it was just my family [in his
top eight]. My three sisters, my brother, my brother-in-law. Blah blah
blah. Then my friends. But I decided hey it is MySpace, I guess I will put
my family after all my friends.
Even so, Jon complained that sometimes he feels like he really does not know all
the people on his friend list.
Well, I have like 92 friends on MySpace and recently, I was looking at my
friends list and I was like who are these people anyway. I know some
people just accept anybody as a friend but if I don’t recognize someone I
will send them a message, asking who are you.
Alex mentioned that he sometimes rotates the order of his top eleven list by
“moving them” based on how much he values their friendship. He described this process
as follows,
McG: Now have you ever taken someone off (your top 11) because you
don't talk to them anymore and hurt their feelings?
A: Yeah. People do take it sometimes seriously like why am I not on your
top and I am like hey we haven't talked in two months.
McG: Yeah
A: I thought we were done.
McG: Yeah.
A: Um. Yeah. I take people off every once in a while once a relationship is
dying. I don't see them or care for them anymore. At that point I just
take them off.
Alex then went on to describe his relationship with the various members on his friends
This is my best friend for two years, Jon [participant six from the study].
We have been very good friends since last year. I meet this guy [pointing
to another friend on his list] before him. You know how it is Hector (a
pseudonym), Jon and me . . . in the circle [of closest friends]. She was to. I
have been friends with this guy since second grade. I used to be best
friends with these two all the time. I still talk to these people a lot. Peter (a
pseudonym) was also part of this group. He goes to another high school
now so I am not that close to him – slowly moving down [on his top
friends list].
Some participants struggled with the social consequences of removing a friend
from their top ten list. Blanca shared how one of her best friends removed her from his
top friends list because of a girl he liked.
Yeah, um, my best friend one time, he started talking to this girl, and she
didn’t like me. So we would still talk, he would come to my house in the
afternoon, and then that day I was like. “So what –– [cause he removed
her from his top ten list]” “cause she posted, ‘Oh, that bitch isn’t on your
top anymore.’” And she goes, “Loving your page now.” And then I was
like, “Oh, wow, really? She comes before me now?”
Jon also struggled with keeping a girl he really liked on his friend list. It was difficult for
him to see her face on his profile every day because she did not share the same feelings
towards him.
McG: What has caused you to remove someone from your top 11? Has
there ever been an issue there?
J: Yes! Actually, I have taken my best friend Maria (a pseudonym) off my
top, she has always been in my top. But I took her off twice and then
put her back on. Actually, took her off once and deleted her as my
friend . . .and then
McG: What were you saying by doing that?
J: I don't want to know you anymore because . . . I fell in love with this
girl and she . . . I just needed to stop thinking about her cause it was in
the past and I needed to just forget about it. And when I log into
MySpace everyday and see a picture of her and she is always
gorgeous. It is very hard.
McG: Yeah.
J: So I took her off and deleted her. I ended up added her like two days
later. It didn't really work. But . . .yeah . . . I don't know. I guess it was
a symbolic gesture.
The participants abided by a complex set of social norms as part of their typical
“friending practices” on their SNS. Some participants only “friended” their friends while
other participants “friended” even causal acquaintances. The participants were very
aware of the consequences and dangers of “friending” strangers and seemed to be
concerned and aware about the need to protect their privacy. Most of the participants
placed their closest friends in their top friends list as a way to keep track of their online
Communication practices on SNS. Once a member of MySpace has added friends
to his or her profile, the member can use the communication tools provided on the profile
to maintain the friendships. This is done by checking his or her friend’s activity stream,
sending the friend messages, or posting comments on the friend’s profiles. The activity
stream lists all the trends and details of what the members are currently doing in their
social network including activities like updating photos, adding music, posting a blog, or
making new friends. Blanca explained it by sharing,
Say you update something on your profile even if you just add a picture,
add a new song – just different little things. Or if someone tags you in a
photo, you know, it just posts everything. Like those are the activities that
people have done.
Jon, when describing his daily practices on MySpace, mentioned that one of the first
things he checks when he logs into MySpace is the status updates of his friends and then
his activity stream. Jon was interviewed while he was checking his MySpace.
McG: So when you login what is the first thing that you check?
J: I look at the status updates first of all. Most of these people I don't know
right now . . . well I know them but lets see here. Look at the activity
stream next.
J: I saw my sister uploaded some photos but I saw that I had some
messages. So I will check them first.
J: OK . . . here we go. Lets see here. [He reads a message in a soft voice.]
J: He wants to have a smart conversation.
McG: This is a friend you know from school.
J: A friend I knew from middle school. We don't talk much [face to face].
He was more of acquaintance in middle school but we kind of got to
know each other a little bit on MySpace. Ok
McG: What did he ask you? I didn't read it.
J: He didn't ask me anything, I asked him. Now, he wanted to have an
intelligent conversation so I asked him how he felt about the current
Presidency. I knew he would laugh at that.
As Jon described, the participants logged onto their MySpace, reviewed their friends’
status updates and activity streams, and then checked their messages. Alex described the
process he goes though,
A: I just have the urge to see if I have any messages [on MySpace].
McG: You can sign yourself in [to his MySpace account].
A: [Student logs into MySpace]. This is the account I use for MySpace.
McG: Ok.
A: I have new messages. I don’t want to reply to the messages, until 8:00.
Ok, so I have something to do until then. My cousin, friend, an old
friend from my middle school; she is in eighth grade right now. Old
friend I haven’t seen in like a year.
McG: Ok.
A: Someone I use to sit by and talk to a lot [at school] and now we never
talk. It is just MySpace now.
McG: Yeah.
A: These are just older replies [scrolling through messages on MySpace].
Since I didn’t get any comments, I am reading it tonight.
McG: Ok.
Like many of the participants, Alex used his MySpace to send messages to his
friends and maintain relationships with classmates from his old school. As part of this
research, participants were asked to keep a log of their technology use over 24 hours on
an online database. Jon kept track of his MySpace activity over a single evening. During
this time he documented the following activities: (a) sent a message via MySpace to
Alex, (b) responded to a message from a peer, (c) responded to a comment with another
comment, (d) watched one of my video comments on YouTube, (e) replied to a friend’s
status update, and (f) accepted a friend request from a peer.
A common social practice on MySpace is to send bulletins to friends and to post
comments on a friend’s profile. A bulletin is a message that is sent to every friend on a
member’s MySpace friends list. Maya, when asked how she uses bulletins shared, “You
can post a message for, say the whole school. If you have a question you can ask right
there [on MySpace]. You can put VVHS students and ask the question then they will
Several of the participants used bulletins to share information about school
activities or deadlines or to ask questions about homework assignments. Blanca posted a
bulletin asking about the deadline to turn in library books. Alex commented on her
bulletin, “I don’t know when we turn in the books sorry ”. Liliana, after a great day on
a field trip to Valley Vista Junior College, posted the following bulletin,
Subject: fiElD TRiP!
Body: so today we went to VVJC!
i tought it was gonna suck; but it didnt!
the bus ride over there & back was SUPPER fUN!
& the HiSTORy Of THE MEXiCAN-AMERiCANS class was interesting!
i actually learned something new! time went by supper fast today!
Her bulletin was written with an unorthodox use of capitalization. Some teens will use
unusual capitalization as a graphical way to emphasize certain words. When asked about
it, Liliana shared, “I just like the way it looks.”
While some students will call up a friend on the phone if they have a question
about a homework assignment, one of the participants shared it is easier to post the
question as a bulletin. By posting a bulletin, all his or her friends will see the question
resulting in a better chance that somebody knowing something will respond. Jon posted
the following bulletin for any of his “friends” in his Algebra II course.
Need Help in Algebra 2? Look no further
If your taking Algebra 2 with me at VVHS or using a McDougal Littell
Algebra 2 textbook you can go here: [YouTube link]. This math teacher
has videos for every section of the book explaining the concepts and how
to use them with examples. It along side the actual textbook can help a lot.
I repeat, this is a really cool resource. If you are in my class, you can
appreciate the fact that the teacher looks like our teacher and even has
A participant was asked if he/she sent bulletins to get help on homework assignments and
gave a surprising response.
McG: If you are home and stuck and you go to Blackboard and can't find
any answers to your questions do you ask a friend through MySpace
what is the homework? Is that pretty common – do a lot of students do
Student: Yeah. We ask for the answers though we don't ask for help we
ask for the answers.
McG: So sometimes you just share the answers with each other.
Student: Yeah
McG: Do you think the teachers would think that was cheating?
Student: I think it is cheating myself but I do it cuz sometimes I am in a
car [on the way to school] and that is where I remember that I have
homework and so yeah I just go.
McG: On the phone.
Student: Yeah message someone I get the answers –if its writing I will just
print it or I will just copy some of it and turn it in.
McG: Now can you do it all off the phone. So if they replied to your
bulletin you can just read it off the phone.
Student: Yeah, copy it.
McG: Copy it.
Student: Copy it on a piece of paper but it is hard for me to write in a car.
This student who did not understand a math assignment one night posted the following
Subject: VVCH MATH Homework!
Body: kk so has anyone done them;
cuz i need to copy both of them cuz im like supper stuck & confused about
how to do the backs & the whys
if yuhh have them will yuhh let mehh copy pretty please?
ill love yuhh forever(: lol
It is not known how widespread this practice is among the students at the school. When
another participant was asked about using MySpace to cheat, he/she appeared shocked
and said, “I don’t think so . . . I don’t cheat at all”. On the blog of a third participant, the
student answered the following survey question, “Do you believe that there are certain
circumstances where cheating is ok?” with “Yeah.”
When participants found something interesting on a friend’s profile, they either
sent a private message or a public comment. Alex really liked it when his friends wrote
comments about the photographs and videos that he posted on his profile. Sometimes,
when he posted a new photograph, he hid his other images just to emphasize the new one.
I value comments like to a point where if I have a new photo up, I'll hide
all the other photos I have. I'll just have that one on. Like I'm doing that
one right now, and after I get like 10 comments, that's when I put all of
them back on. But once I post another one, I do the same thing. Just so
people can focus on the new one. And hopefully get a comment.
Some of the participants like Alex and Jon appeared to approve of most
comments on their profiles while other participants, like Liliana, screen and only allow
certain comments to be posted. Jon posted a video that he created on his YouTube
channel with a similar title to a real movie that received several negative comments. Jon
decided to leave the comments on his profile and shared the experience during one of the
focus groups.
McG: So anyone else care about comments or why you have them
published or private?
J: I have a YouTube channel, and I've gotten some hate comments because
my video was misleading, apparently.
McG: The title, maybe?
J: The title. I didn't know it was misleading when I uploaded it, but
apparently it was.
J: . . . And apparently this was already a movie, and I didn't know that it
existed. But I got some negative comments from people because they
thought [it was] the real trailer, and it wasn't. And I didn't really care
about it; I just left them up because comments are comments.
Within the culture of many adolescent online networks there appears to be a form of peer
pressure to be authentic, to be seen as open, allowing friends to freely post comments on
their profile.
Liliana shared how she preferred to use mobile MySpace on a phone to review her
messages and comments.
McG: How often do you usually go on the computer?
L: Depends if I have homework . . . often . . . for MySpace I usually go on
my brother’s phone.
McG: Ok.
L: Because I am too lazy to go on my [computer].
McG: You use your brother's phone to go on mobile MySpace.
McG: Why do you like doing that?
L: Cause like there is more shortcuts.
McG: Oh ok . . . so is its faster.
L: Yeah
McG: So you do that mainly to read your messages?
L: Yeah and comments.
McG: And comments.
L: Cuz like I have to approve them.
McG: Oh ok. So you approve them before they get posted?
L: Yeah.
McG: Ok. That makes sense so if you like them you will approve them if
not you . . .
L: [Interrupts] I'll approve them anyway.
McG: Oh do you.
L: I just approve em.
While Liliana stated that she approved all her comments, she was the only participant that
did not have a public wall on her profile where her friends could freely post comments.
She shared a different story, “I delete everything . . . I don't like comments. . . cause
people read them. Sometimes I have stuff in there I don't like people to read.” It appears
that like many adolescents she cared deeply about what her peers said about her and
wanted her profile to reflect her best qualities while at the same time she wanted to
appear authentic and did not want to be seen as someone who screens the comments on
her profile. Liliana might also be afraid of the social consequences of having a comment
reveal personal or embarrassing information. Once, on MySpace, she made an
embarrassing mistake by sending a private message to the wrong person.
L: Yeah. Now it’s like right there. I mess up. I messed up so many [times]
McG: Sometimes you type something and it’s perfect and you go to send
it and it disappears.
L: No I sent it but to like a different person.
McG: Oh by accident. Oh my gosh!
L: And it has got me in trouble.
McG: So like you had a message you were sending to one person and it
got sent to the wrong person.
L: And the person about it . . . too.
McG: Oh! That’s not good.
L: So it was worse.
L: If like it was someone else I could shut their mouth. Cuz I know who
they like or something . . . whatever. But it was that person . . . I like!
McG: Oh no.
L: I was so pissed off.
McG: That’s not good. You can get yourself in trouble doing that.
L: No I didn't get in trouble. It was just something . . . like I didn't want
that person to know. And my friend was cracking up when she found
Liliana also shared that sometimes she did not answer all the messages that she received
on MySpace. “Like I have messages I haven’t answered cuz I don’t like the people.”
When asked why she did that, she shared, “It depends on what they say or if I like know
Alex and Jon are close friends that comment on each other’s profile on a regular
basis. When Alex updated the About Me section of his profile and forgot to mention Jon
and another one of their close friends, Jon decided to leave a comment: “So I don’t matter
to you? Let’s go Hector we don’t nee his bs. (if I want Hector to be my friend all I have
to do is feed him).” On one of Jon’s status updates he described how he was feeling sick,
“youll notice i don’t care about sepelling in this one. I just threw up a lot. Everything in
my stomach is gone. Don’t know why your reading this. I’m pail, and cold and hot.
BLAAAA.” Alex responded with a comment “been there.” Other times, comments
between them, like “hey” and “waz up” on the surface appear to hold just superficial
meaning but instead the comments are an important way adolescents maintain their
relationships by reinforcing connections and showing appreciation for each other.
A couple of the participants in this study adopted communication practices using
tools like Twitter and YouTube instead of MySpace. Twitter, which is primarily a public
broadcasting tool, is not as popular as other SNS among teenagers. A Pew Research study
found that only 8% of online teens use Twitter (Lenhart et al., 2010b). However, in this
study several of the students, (Reggie, Blanca, and Jon) were regular users of Twitter.
Twitter updates can be easily maintained through SMS text messages and Reggie and
Blanca preferred to access their SNS profiles through their mobile devices. Reggie used
Twitter because his parents did not allow him to use MySpace, while Blanca liked being
able to follow her favorite celebrities’ tweets. Reggie posted hundreds of updates, often
updating his status with just his everyday thoughts. When he was home sick he posted, “I
wonder what my friends are doing at school.” Jon used a software program that posted
his MySpace and Twitter updates simultaneously. In addition to Twitter, Reggie used his
YouTube channel instead of MySpace to communicate and stay in touch with his friends.
Here he describes how he uses YouTube as his SNS.
R: I have favorites and different things – subscriptions – I have subscribed
to – this is my friend – we go to the same school.
McG: Yeah.
R: We are obviously are into the same things. [Both of them have music
videos of the Jonas brother and Paramore]. But um yeah see I just talk
to her . . . see comments and different things.
McG: Ok so you can leave comments to her. It’s a way you guys can
communicate with each other.
R: That’s pretty much the only way since I do not have a MySpace.
While Reggie says he used YouTube like MySpace to communicate to his friends, over
the course of the study he really only communicated with one girl in this manner. Instead,
he found other ways, mainly Twitter and later Facebook, to maintain his social network.
Social software practices on SNS. One of the most popular practices on MySpace
among the participants was to install social software onto their profile. In March 2008,
MySpace released a development platform that allowed software programmers to write
their own MySpace applications. This allowed the participants to play games with their
friends, like poker, or play the role of a mob boss. Other participants installed
applications that allowed them to have a virtual pet. One participant installed an
application that allowed her to raise money for cancer research.
One of the fastest growing segments of the game industry is the playing of causal
games on SNS. The Causal Games Association states that 200 million people play causal
games over the Internet (Chokshi, 2010). Blanca in her interview described how her
family liked to use MySpace just to play games.
B: Some people don't go onto – they don't go on their MySpace and just
check their messages anymore. People go on for their apps now.
'Cause like I have Texas Hold 'Em, and for a while, I wanted to only
go on my MySpace to play Texas Hold 'Em against my brother. We all
– they all have laptops, so me and my little brother would be on the
desktop at the house, and we'd be like, okay, and we'd all get into one
room and we'd play against each other and take each other's tokens.
McG: So if you all have that app installed, you could all be at your house
and play them in the same game?
B: Yes.
McG: 'Cause you're all on MySpace at the same time?
B: Yes.
McG: Uh-huh.
B: And on Texas Hold 'Em, it's not just for your friends, it's for everyone.
McG: Okay.
B: You can make buddies on there, but just anyone.
McG: Anyone who has the application installed can play?
B: Can play against you, yeah.
In addition to Texas Hold ‘Em, another popular MySpace Game is Mafia Wars, a
game where the users are the head of a virtual crime family. Blanca had Mafia
Wars installed on her profile but she says she was too busy to play it with her
cousins. As users played these social games, updates were posted on their friends’
activity stream. Some friends resented seeing these constant game updates and
requests that can overrun their activity streams. Reggie shared his feelings on a
Twitter update, “I don't care about your farm, or your fish, or your park, or your
Maya installed a virtual pet onto her MySpace profile. She demonstrated
how she fed, exercised, and bathed her virtual dog during the interview. First, she
described how a friend sent her a pet and how she decided to add the application
to her profile.
McG: When you look at your profile. You got the game. The pet. What is
that, can you explain what that is?
M: - Laughs. Like right here. You can click on it and you can play with it.
It is like a way when you are bored just to play.
McG: Just to waste some time?
M: - Yeah.
McG: Like Neo Pets where you have to feed it and stuff.
M: - Yeah. You can go buy things for it. Sometimes it [the virtual pet] gets
lonely so we have to send it.
McG: So you send it to other friends and other friends can add it to their
M: Yeah, that is how I got them.
McG: That is because another friend did that to you, probably when
another friend does that you get more points.
M: I think so.
McG: That way you have more things to feed your animal.
M: Yeah.
In this next section of the interview, Maya described how she went shopping for
her pet. The shopping experience is very similar to a typical online store, including online
advertisements. The user finds an item that they want to buy and places the item in a
virtual shopping cart. If they have earned enough virtual cash to purchase the item, it is
deducted from their account. This virtual store is an excellent simulator of a real online
store, acting as an excellent training ground for what Maya would experience in a “real”
online retail environment. As Maya demonstrated this in the interview, she became
embarrassed when she realized she did not have enough virtual money to buy a present
for her pet.
McG: You go shopping for things (for your pet).
M: I just bought that.
McG: How many coins does your pet have?
M: 594.
McG: OK [as she logs into the shopping area a pop up advertisement tells
her that the store has now released Racing Gear for her pet. She clicks
on the button and is taken to the racing gear section of the store.
Several items are listed with avatars, descriptions, and a big buy it
button. In the top corner, it shows her coin total 594 and her gold total
M: Right now I don't have no gold or anything so I don't know what that’s
about so I can't buy anything.
McG: That’s alright. [She appeared embarrassed that she did not have
enough gold to buy her dog anything in the virtual store]
During the next section of the interview Maya described how she takes care of her
virtual dog. The virtual pets provide visual clues to their owners when they are sad or
happy. The owner needs to interpret what these behaviors mean and either feed the
animal, give it a bath, play with it, or give it exercise. As Maya successfully cared for her
pet, more coins appear in her account.
M: You can go like to play with it.
[She visited her virtual pet, a dog. An image appeared of a sad dog with a
thought bubble of a broken heart and another talking bubble saying
Yo, Yo, Yo.]
McG: He looks sad.
M: He looks sad. You have to feed it, too.
[While we are talking Maya feeds her dog a birthday cake. The virtual dog
looks much happier.]
M: It goes increasing. [She is referring to her coin total].
McG: Okay.
McG: Hey he is sad already.
[Dog is still hungry so she feeds it a pizza.]
McG: It can get expensive feeding him.
M: Laughs. You have to take him bath and everything.
[Next see clicked on a bar of soap and rubbed it on her virtual pet, cleaned
it while pink bubbles floated away from the dog. Her dog appeared
happy and a 10 piece gold coin fell from the dog and was added to her
point total, which grew to 694.].
M: - You have to get the coins.
[She then clicked on a heart at the bottom of the screen and it says hug pet.
The dog started panting and sticking out its tongue with a happy face.]
McG: I see. It is very cute.
M: And like that is where the exercise is – where you wait when it is slow
[Internet connections is slow] – you have to walk it. Do you want to
see it?
McG: Sure.
[The dog appeared with a leash on a path in front of several houses. One
house has a sign in front with the words, Boo Boo residence, with a sad
dog looking out the window. At the end of the leash, is a virtual white
hand that the owner controls by moving their mouse. Maya moved the
mouse to the right moving the leash causing the dog to walk and "follow"
her down the path. As she walked the dog appeared happy and coins
(35pts) popped out of the screen and were added to her total (639).]
One of the most popular aspects of these types of games is how they can interact
with a user’s friend list from their MySpace profile. The game developers encourage the
users to include their friends in the game by giving them more coins for sharing their
pets. This increases the user base of the game and the online profits for the developers.
Most of these games have advertisements in the sidebar, which provides income for the
McG: Now can your friends see your pet too?
M: - Yeah. You can battle against your friends.
McG: Umh.
M: - Those are the friends that I have that have a pet.
McG: Okay.
M: - So I can battle against them, visit them or Random Battle.
McG: Ok, cool.
[Directions at the top of the page says, "Welcome to the Playground! Your
pet likes to have fun with your friends! Hug each of your friends once a
day to earn coins. When they hug you, you earn double the coins! More
Friends = More Chances to Battle and Money! Every friend, get an extra
coin when you login. For every 5 friends, get an extra daily battle."]
Blanca had a similar game on her profile, but instead of buying a virtual pet, the
players of the game actually purchased MySpace friends from her friends list. In
describing the game, Blanca talked about how she could “own” her friends or that a
certain friend is at a discounted price. In an ethnically diverse community and
understanding the role race has played in American history, the act of “owning” a friend
appeared on the surface to be inappropriate. None of the participants seemed offended by
the game and Blanca shared that it is a way she demonstrated to her friends that she cared
about that them and was thinking of them.
B: No, that's, um -- that's actually -- this is an application on MySpace. It's
-- you own your friends. Like my sister owns me, and I own -- oh, I
logged in. I own my sister, and -- as a pet -- and she owns me. You
could buy your friends, and they'll become pets. And then when you
log in, like right here -- my cousin, she's on a bargain right now.
McG: Okay.
B: So.
McG: Is that kind of like I see on other profiles, they have like Neopets,
where they have like a little animal that they feed?
B: Oh, yeah.
McG: And then they play games to raise money, and then they can like
buy friends presents for their animal and walk their animal and things
like that?
B: Yes.
McG: So that's -- how's -- but this is with real people, so how does that
work? That seems kind of weird like you're buying them? What does
that mean?
B: Yeah. Well, right here, you don't feed them. You just -- you buy them.
McG: Uh-huh.
B: You can also update your -- how you feel about your owner.
McG: Uh-huh.
B: Then they have where you can send -- you can send your pet -- or even
any friend -- you can send them a gift. Give a gift. And then you can
send a gift to anyone. You could send them -McG: Oh, you have 68,000. That sounds like a lot.
B: Yeah. You could sent send them a cat, a ring, you can send them
anything. Just -- and that's all.
McG: And then that shows up on their profile?
B: Yeah.
McG: Okay. Wow. So do you like it when people send you stuff?
B: Yeah. It's just like, "Oh, I thought about you today."
McG: Yeah.
The final example of social software used by the participants was the adoption of
software programs to bring awareness to social issues. As discussed earlier in this
dissertation, Liliana joined Social Vibe, an organization that raised money for non-profits
by selling advertisements on social network sites. By adding Social Vibe, a badge was
posted to her MySpace profile that included both an advertisement for Samsung
electronics and her cause to raise money for cancer research. Liliana used the application
in a similar way as Maya did her virtual pet. She visited her Social Vibe page and
completed activities, answered her daily question, or invited friends to join her cause,
which resulted in her gaining points. Those points translated into money raised for her
cause. Liliana described how Social Vibe works.
McG: Yes, I remember seeing this picture [her Social Vibe badge] on
here. So when anyone clicks on it you get points up here and um.
L: These are the points that I have gotten so far today.
McG: So you have got two points today. Oh wow.
L: I got two badges. That’s why.
McG: Ok . . . cool. What happens if you get points? What does that mean?
L: The goal . . . that’s money for this.
McG: So that says . . .
L: Stand up to cancer.
McG: To cancer. Wow that’s cool. So as people visit.
L: Yeah that’s what they have raised so far.
McG: Wow that’s neat. So as people visit and click on it, then the site
raises money.
L: Yeah I get points and the points go to that . . .and we raise money for
Another application that was used by several students from VVHS who were
non-participants in this study but who had public profiles on MySpace was Causes. The
application allowed users to promote a social issue by having friends join a cause and list
the amount of money donated to the issue. The application used MySpace bulletins to
send out information to promote the cause. A friend of Blanca’s was using this
application to organize a student protest against a chemical treatment plant that was
planning to operate in the city. An environmental impact report was going to be voted on
by the Valley Vista City Council and several students used Causes to send out MySpace
bulletins to get students to attend the meeting. Blanca spoke at the council meeting,
arguing that pollution from the chemical plant could aggravate health issues. After
hearing from the speakers, the City Council voted down the report, effectively killing the
Written Discourse Within a SNS
The participants in this study practiced various written discourses while using
their SNS. Students wrote both short status updates and longer blog posts on their
profiles. A few students chose to write using formal Standard American English grammar
while most of the participants wrote in an informal style of writing, using slang,
abbreviations, and emoticons. Some of the bilingual students wrote in both English and
Spanish on their profile. Several students took quizzes or surveys, answering the
questions as blog posts and then encouraging their friends to do the same. A common
literacy practice among the participants was to repurpose written text, quotes, poems, or
other written passages that resonated with them and post them on their profiles.
Status updates on SNS. The most common written discourse among the
participants was the micro blog or status update. These short 160-character limit
messages were usually posted as status updates on their MySpace profile, though Reggie,
Blanca, and Jon also used Twitter to publish their micro blogs. Most SNS status updates
have a 160-character limit, which forced the participants to write in a concise style using
abbreviations and emoticons (a practice where text characters are used to express
emotions), though recently SNS like MySpace and Facebook have increased their limit to
over 400 characters. Some students preferred to update their status in real time through a
mobile device while other students updated their status only after the fact on a computer
at home. Almost all of the status updates were in English although a few of the students
mixed English and Spanish in their posts.
The participants used their status updates to post how they were feeling or what
they were currently experiencing. Reggie, Blanca, and Jon updated their status several
times a day while Liliana, Alex, and Maya only updated their status a few times a week.
Liliana explained how sometimes she gets too busy with homework and does not update
her status as much as she would like.
McG: So how often do you change your profile on MySpace?
L: Mostly often but right now I have some stuff going on like homework I
need to catch on . . . so I don't update it.
McG: You don't have the time.
L: So it is mostly every week but right now it has been 3 weeks and I
haven't updated it.
McG: Because you are really busy.
L: Yeah . . . it’s old.
Liliana often struggled with balancing her social life with her schoolwork. She shared
that MySpace often distracts her and it sometimes kept her from getting all of her work
McG: Do you think MySpace is bad for your learning?
L: It’s a distraction
McG: It is keeping you from doing what you want to do.
L: That’s why I like put a big banner thingy piece of paper on my
computer that says that I can't use MySpace until I do my homework.
But sometimes I throw it in the trash.
McG: [Laughs].
L: It doesn't work.
McG: It doesn't work.
During the interview, Blanca described how she usually makes all of her status
updates on Twitter instead of MySpace.
These are just our statuses, like just whatever we feel right now. . . I
usually don't update that one [on MySpace], I usually just update on
Twitter. . .That's what I do more now, Twitter. I get hooked on Twitter.
Jon shared on his MySpace and Twitter accounts his frustration with trying to describe
complex emotions within the limits of a status update. “Status updates are a way to tell
people you don’t know about feelings you are forced to express with just emoticons. 
That says it all.” Jon often used his status updates to express his humor. In one of his
posts, he mocked the 160-character limit to status updates on MySpace by posting,
The participants often described how they were feeling towards school or
complained about the work they had to complete. Jon criticized the poor timing of a new
video game arriving during finals week. “WHY DOES CRYSIS COME IN THE MAIL
ON FINALS WEEK!!! LAME TIMING AMAZON... Mood: adventurous.” During
summer school Jon shared his frustration with his math class, “Algebra 2... need I say I
want to kill myself, or is it a given?” Several of the students were trying to raise their
Accelerated Reader grade in their English class before the end of the school year. Reggie
shared on his Twitter update an unbelievable task, “omg i am super. just in one day i
finishe one 300 page book, 293 page book, and 357 page book. 3 books in 1 day. I AM
ON FIRE!!!!!!!!!!!” Maya mentioned that she was working on an assignment for her
math class when she updated her status on MySpace with, “‘seeing if can pass a quiz on
Blackboard’ from mobile. Mood: happy.” Blanca even updated her Twitter status during
school by secretly using her phone against school policies. She posted the following
during her computer class, “In graphic design listening to @mitchelmusso n drawing a
picture of him i love @mitchelmusso.” By using the @sign before the Twitter username
of the Disney Channel actor, Mitchel Musso, her status update became a public message
on his profile.
Alex, Blanca, Liliana, and Maya spoke both Spanish and English and often posted
their status updates in both languages. Liliana posted, “Querer y Amar no es lo mismo;
Siempre es mas Grande el Amor que el Cariño,” which loosely translated in English
means: “To want and To love are not the same; The Love is always greater than the
Affection.” Blanca sometimes mixed slang, English, and Spanish in the same status
update. Blanca wrote “‘&eCHENA BBY&e i LOVE my frister [sister] Jenny &e&e Por
que solo los tontos se enamoran igual que yo con una mirada con una sonrisa y sas ya
cayo’ Mood: naughty Posted from Mobile.” Her post started with a shout out to her baby
sister and her older sister, Jenny, who was away from home in the Marines. She then
wrote in Spanish, “Only the fool falls in love as I do with a glance and a smile and I’ll be
quiet” (sas, ya cayo is slang that can be translated as whoops, I'll shut up or I'll be quiet;
literally "ya cayo" means I already be quiet). She also posted random letters and symbols
“&e” between her key ideas as a visual decoration.
Liliana had an unusual literacy practice where she began all her MySpace posts
with the same quote. Every few months she changed this quote to reflect her different
interests or moods. These short quotes were often inspirational sayings and revealed her
current philosophy on life. Obviously, these quotes take up some of her total characters
and limit the length of her status updates. For example, she wrote the following on
| |LILIANA| |!" R E M E M B E R T H E P A S T , P LA N F O R THE F
E V E R ! a t 7: 43 PM Mood : D E T E R M I N E D !
Over the next several weeks, all of her status updates began with “remember the past,
plan for the future, but live for today . . .” She also typed in all caps and increased the
kerning by adding an extra space between all her letters. The message “ITS NOW OR
NEVER!” is the unique message for this update. During the interview, when asked about
these practices, she shared, “I just change after the back slashes, that is what I change. I
don't change the quote.” Earlier in the school year she had a different quote at the start of
all of her postings,
| |LILIANA| |!" " L O V E I S L I K E M A G I C B U T M O S T O F T H
In this posting, the repeating message is her philosophy on love while in the update she
was encouraging her friends to look at her new pictures on her MySpace profile and to
post comments about them.
Blog Posts on SNS. Some of the participants posted regular blog entries on their
MySpace profile. Blog posts are longer online journals that are posted in reverse
chronological order, with the most recent posts on the top. While some participants wrote
original blog posts about a variety of topics including favorite books, video games, and
personal relationships, others often repurposed text found online as blog posts. These
quotes, raps, or longer stories resonated with the participants, and they posted them as a
way to share them with their friends. A common practice among adolescents is to post
and answer survey questions as blogs. These participants then encouraged their friends to
answer the same survey.
Four of the six participants consistently wrote in an informal almost verbal style
using the common vernacular of adolescent culture, though Jon and Alex wrote their
blogs in a more formal style using conventional American English grammar. For
example, in a blog about her heroes Blanca wrote, “My BIG sis, Mom, CHIO N DA
REST OF MY SISTERS R MY HEROS.” In contrast, Jon quoted poetry in a blog post
about a visit to a hospital,
“Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.” But, never the less, I went to
the hospital today. I was in the emergency room at four in the morning,
not because I was dying, but because it was easy to get in. In the past four
days I've had some kind of bacterial infection that tore up the tissues
surrounding my tonsils.
Alex wrote regular blog posts expressing his opinions on a variety of topics.
Usually, Alex wrote in a formal style correcting spelling and grammar mistakes in his
blog posts while at other times his writing was more informal. A couple of years before
the start of this study, when Alex was still in junior high he posted his first blog post.
What are Blogs by Alex
What are blogs?
Current mood: bored
Category: MySpace
What Are Blogs?
Well I’ll tell you what I know. I did some research and I found out that
blogs like this one on myspace is just a personal or public journal. In a
blog you can speak or talk about anything you want.
For example: video games, people, stores, tv, and/or movies.
This was my first BLOG so comment.
In his first blog post, Alex shared that when he wants to learn about something new he
will research the topic. One of his MySpace friends commented on his post by telling him
that he misspelled the word video [which he edited and fixed] and gave him kudos for his
first blog post. I found his type of peer review editing was an unusual practice on
MySpace and only occurred between close friends. In another other post Alex discussed a
book he just finished reading.
May 30, 2009 - Saturday
So I just finished Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer. For those who you who
don't know, Eclipes is the third book in the "Twilight Saga." What can I
say about it. I bought it like long time ago, but I finally finished it.
Spoiler Alert
I'm not telling you. haha. Read the damn book
I liked it and can't wait to read the next one "Breaking Dawn".
Alex used his blog in unique ways different from the other participants. He used
his blog as an archive for his old MySpace profiles. Whenever he updated his profile, he
copied and pasted all the text from his About Me and other sections on his profile into a
blog post. This preserved his old profiles and enabled his friends to see how his interests
and style changed over time. One of Alex’s posts caused a small controversy when he
reposted a bulletin and comment exchange between two of his friends about their high
school on a public blog. A non-participant posted a threatening bulletin for all incoming
freshman telling them that VVCH was boring and to watch out for the sophmores. Alex
posted Jon’s comments to the bulletin in his blog post,
Shut up you dumbass. The only reason you think the school sucks is
because your grades suck, and teachers hate you because you treat them
like shit. Freshmen, you need to know that high school isn't all fun and
games. It should be all about work, getting ready for the rest of your lives.
VVCH offers the absolute best high school faculty. So, yes, all the other
high schools are pissed at us cause we get visits from celebrities. We may
not be the "all-American" high school you imagined, but when your doing
Photoshop for two hours listening to a music server getting ready for indepth conversation about fallacys in modern day literature with Mr.
Garcia, you tell me if it's a damn good school or not. Next year we get all
new hardware, and an improved P.E. department. The high school doesn't
even matter, it's just the thing that takes you to collage.
Alex then writes, “haha. It is amazing how everyone has their own ticks.” Several
students commented on this post. Jon said, “Wow, that’s funny. I was going to post a
blog on this.” A girl posted a comment saying, “hum it is boring at VVCH.”
Jon, like Alex, blogged on a variety of topics, but almost all of Jon’s postings
were written in a formal style following conventional American English grammar. Jon
shared why he corrected his spelling and grammar mistakes in his blog posts.
J: I am trying to sound smart [spoken in a low voice as he is typing].
Something you might find interesting. I always write my messages in
proper grammar and capitalization. I don't know why. I keep trying to
sound smart . . . ah . . . I don't know but that is what I will write.
Jon was very open and shared his personal thoughts in his blog posts. In the
following posts he shared how he spent most of his weekends alone in his room playing
video games and pledges to be more social.
Friends (My pledge to prevent being "Anti-Social")
Current mood:
Category: Friends
I'm anti-social. I never really thought I was. I 'm way too sheltered
sometimes, it's like I have to be on all the time. I don't want to pretend to
be something I'm not. I have a lot to offer: I'm funny, at least an okay good
conversationalist, and great listener. I need to get out there. I need to stop
making excuses, making up invisible "barriers". My life is too secluded,
I've lived in this room 24/7 and I'm tired of it. Where I'm gonna go? Not
sure. Anywheres fine. Life's to much fun to spend it alone. I need some
real friends, people I can really talk to. Not to say I don't already, but there
are so many people out there, so many that share my interests or lack there
of. So no, I don't really want to be the guy at the party everyone knows, I
just want to be at the party.
A friend commented on this post warning him not to be so honest as some people might
take it the wrong way.
In another blog post, he described in his humorous and insightful way a typical
weekend stuck at home in his room on the computer updating his MySpace and playing
video games. He broke down the blog post into three parts, describing his typical Friday,
Saturday, and Sunday. On Friday, he described the stress relief he felt during the
weekend, of not having to worry about the pressure of school and how he can turn off his
brain and be lazy.
T.G.I.F. (I'm so screwed)
Current mood: aggravated
Category: Life
It's Friday. T.G.I.F. Now I'm sure you're all aware of the soothing effect a
Friday can have on your tortured soul. When there's no teachers, and no
books to pretend to read; life is good. But for me, every Friday is a bullet
to the brain. It always happens, and there's no denying it. One word, one
solemn inexplicable word: Laziness. With all the pressure lifted from my
shoulders I slip into non-stop video game marathons and bags of Doritos.
As the blog continues he described how on Saturday he let himself go and got lost
in the pleasure of video games and MySpace.
I'll set my alarm for 8 am and hit the snooze three times. I eventually turn
it off. And here we are. An entire Saturday where Niko smuggles heroin,
Nomad shoots more Koreans Bellic [video game characters], and my Sims
acquire another house. Another day where I eat that "stuff" out of a can,
and those "things" in the box. My hair is greasy, my clothes are dirty, and
my room... I can't even see the carpet. I'll hit the Internet on my plush
office chair, making sure my MySpace picture is appealing, even if
Photoshop is required. God forbid anyone seeing me now... any time but
now. I envision a world outside my bedroom door full of the delights men
can only dream of. But then again, I did enjoy that last level. And hey, my
YouTube channel got another hit! But even so, even with all of these socalled accomplishments, my heart feels empty.
Sunday was his day of renewal. Sunday was the day that he prepared himself for the rest
of the week, getting reading for the challenge of going back to school. He concluded his
post by wondering why he wasted so much of his weekend in front of a computer.
Sunday. The day of rest? No. For me, it's the day of redemption. I shave, I
clean, and most importantly: I rebuild. I maybe even perhaps rebuild the
notability it took an entire week to earn. This all leaves a simple question.
Why? Why would I choose to spend my time in front of a computer
instead of outside, instead on reading a book, instead of being with
friends. Who am I? Maybe you yourself have fallen in to the pit of douche
bags. There are things I want to do, then things I do.... why do they never
match? And if they did, would I really be happy? Here's to hope, god
knows I need it.
Many of Jon’s blog posts are humorous. In this post Jon, shared how taking penicillin to
combat an infection had cleared up his acne.
"Could it be that the acne is over?" Wrong.
Current mood:
Category: Life
"Could it be that the acne is over?" Wrong. I was prescribed penicillin to
combat the infection in the back of my throat. Now, over the time I've
been taking it (4x a day) I've noticed a huge improvement in my
complexion. It seems as though my face was picture perfect, as far as skin
goes: a place it hadn't been since the sixth grade. It’s very sad to connect
the dots. Penicillin is a very wide range anti-biotic and is sometimes
prescribed by dermatologists to fight acme. The sad part is I'm out of my
prescription, and just short of becoming a drug addict, there's nothing I
can do. My improved diet helped my skin by leaps and bounds, but
Noxima and Zap-Zit, as its called, leave me to spend scheduled time of my
day to man the front lines of my skin care army. God willing, everything is
gonna work out without any catastrophes. But if you do enjoy the
occasional narcotic or abused prescription, penicillin works like a charm.
Jon used his MySpace to promote his production company and added a disclaimer at the
end of this post. “JAN Incorporated, or any harboring companies, including Bouncing
Bears Productions are not responsible for any drug use pertaining to this article. JANI
does not necessarily share the views, opinions, or thoughts surrounding this topic.”
While it was common for many of the participants to post short quotes from
movies, songs, and television shows to their MySpace profile, Maya and Liliana
published longer quotes as blogs. In these blogs, they republished their favorite quotes,
poems, raps, short passages, and clichés, usually in English but sometimes in Spanish.
This repurposing of meaningful text allowed them to express their feelings and take
ownership of ideas they did not feel comfortable expressing in their own words. In
analyzing their MySpace as a whole, certain themes like change and loss begin to
Liliana posted a blog entry on change that described how relationships change
between people who care about each other. These series of quotes are popular among
adolescents and can be found on several other non-participants’ public profiles.
Current mood: grateful
"You never know what you have until it's gone." You may not think it's
true at first, but trust me, it is. Sometimes you have to let go of the people
you love to know how much they mean to you. It may be hard at first, but
"missing someone is a big part of loving them." You have to know who
matters to you and who you can trust. Only care for the people that care
for you. In life a lot of things will change. "People change and promises
are broken. Clouds will move and skies will be wide open. So don't forget
to take a breath" That is so true. People grow up and change. I mean the
promise you had a year ago, won't be the same promise you have now.
People will break promises because they feel like they are getting older.
No matter how much you want them to not change, they will. Change isn't
always bad, but at the same time, it isn't always good. You just have to
accept change and still be there for the person no matter what. The one
thing that won't change is their love for you. So just be who are, because
the people that really matters won't mind. Don't change because you have
to. If you do change then tell the people that they have to accept it and get
over it. Live your life to the fullest, and live with no regrets. You are not
going to be young forever. So have fun while you're young because once
you get older, reality gets harder. Also think before you do something
because it can be the biggest mistake of your life. So just be yourself and
no one else. Don't look back on your past, and look forward to the future.
Things will always get better."
Liliana agreed that the theme of change was prominent on her profile. She even shared
that she was going through changes, though she could not articulate them.
McG: The other thing I noticed there is a theme to your profile. I don't
know if you knew that. In a lot of your writing you talk about change.
L: Yeah. yup yup [shaking her head up and down]
McG: You talk about with every breath we take life changes whether good
or bad, people come and go leaving footprints on your heart and after
we are never the same. What does that mean to you?
L: Some people came and went like – yeah. They change they help me
grow as a person but they like left afterwards. They like moved and
McG: Yeah, and some of it might be like you have changed. Do you
L: Yeah.
McG: Yeah. How have you changed?
L: I don't know.
McG: You don't know.
L: Just everybody tells me that I have changed. I ask them how and they
say that its like they can't explain it. Like I don't know. I know I've
McG: Yeah?
L: Yeah. And I think I have gotten louder too.
Later the researcher asked Liliana about how she did not want to change.
McG: You also mention on your page about not wanting to change? So is
that struggle you have you talk about change and other people change
but you don't want to change?
L: No I just like the quote.
Another theme found on her profile was the military. The background of her
private MySpace page was a dark green, brown, and black camouflage image. She has
several quotes about the military and her profile contains a drawn image that was a
tribute to the military. Many graduates of VVCH chose the option of going into the
military, and Liliana has a few friends that have enlisted.
McG: And the other thing I notice throughout your profile is that you have
a theme about the military. The soldiers heart picture. Did a friend
draw that for you?
Figure 2. Soldier’s Heart Drawing on Liliana's MySpace
L: Yeah. Juan [a pseudonym].
McG: Was he? I recognize that name from something? Had he posted on
your wall before?
L: On Blackboard. The guy we were going back and forth with the fruit
[They were joking around during a Blackboard discussion. This was
mentioned in the identity section above].
McG: Yeah . . . Ok.
L: He drew it for me.
McG: He drew it for you. Ok. Does he know people in the military?
L: He started drawing and we were like making fun of him . . . cuz the
heart like you see the little helmet and he like messed up so he like
made it a helmet. He got the idea from there.
L: He was drawing up stuff in Mr. Garica’s class [English teacher].
McG: Ok.
McG: He then scanned it and gave you a copy.
L: No I took a picture of it.
McG: Oh you took a picture with your phone. Ok that’s cool. Why did you
decide to put it on your profile?
L: Cuz, I know people in the army.
In this next section of the interview, Liliana shared her fear of losing a close friend who is
about to join the military.
McG: Yeah and so do you have friends or family that are in the military?
L: Both and one is going to join.
McG: Oh really so what do you think about that with the wars? Does it
worry you?
L: I think it is sad. When my friend and I found out the first thing I told
him was you are going to die.
McG: Well that’s awful to say to him!
L: But it is true cuz all the wars so many soldiers have been killed.
McG: Yeah.
L: And I don't want that to happen my friend.
McG: Yeah.
L: But it is not like I am going to stop it so yeah.
Maya was another participant that not only posted quotes on her web page written
by others but had a clear theme throughout her profile. The theme of loss was evident in
the song lyrics, quotes, and blogs on her site. Maya shared how a group of her friends
began to change in ways that she did not like resulting in the loss of the friendship. As
she shared this, her body language and facial expressions revealed that she was still hurt
by these events.
McG: The other thing I noticed if you look at your profile again. I noticed
there was a theme in your profile. There is something you talk about a
lot , I don't even know if you realize it. What I noticed in your blogs
and your writing you have some quotes, nothing lasts forever and you
never know what you have until it is gone. You wrote things like that.
And a couple of your songs, "When you are gone" and then another
song was, "My Life would suck without you".
M: I just liked those songs.
McG: There is a theme there, I am impressed. I don’t know what that says.
M: I just put the songs that I like.
McG: It seems like both of the things that you - I don't know if you can go
to your blog - had written there. I don't know if that is something you
wrote or you found and put on there from another site. But seems like
you are talking about loss? How you don't appreciate something until
it is not there anymore. Can you talk about that? What you meant by
M: Before I would have some friends and I would get along with them so
good. They started to get in a fight with one of my friends and then
after that they just changed.
McG: You don't see them anymore.
M: Yeah. I don't talk to them. I try to but they just changed so much they
don't want to be friends with me no more.
McG: Yeah that has got to be hard.
M: Yeah.
Some blog posts were written in Spanish. Liliana posted a series of quotes she
credits to the Nobel Peace prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Known by the
nickname Gabo, the Columbian author is one of the most beloved 20th century writers
from Latin America. His writings on love and loss are very popular among adolescent
Latino girls, though these quotes could not be verified as his. The blog posts that follow
are both in Spanish and English.
Under every blog post there is a small translate link that is powered by Google’s
translating software. Clicking on the link produced the following rough translation
produced by Google.
Do not push yourself too hard. The best things come when you least
expect them. Become a better person and make sure you know who you
are before you meet someone else and hope that they know who you are.
There will always be people who will hurt you; therefore what you have to
do is keep on trusting and just be more careful about who you trust twice.
Do not cry because it is over, smile because it happened. Perhaps God
wanted you to meet a few wrong people before you meet the right person,
so that when you finally meet them, you would learn to be grateful. Do not
waste your time with someone who is not willing to spend it with you. For
the world, this may just be another person, but for this person you may be
their world. Never stop smiling, not even when you are sad, because you
never know who might fall in love with your smile. The worst way to miss
someone is to be sitting next to them while knowing that you will never
have them. A true friend is someone who reaches for your hand and
touches your heart. Just because someone does not love you the way you
want, does not mean that they do not love you with all their heart. No
person deserves your tears and whoever does deserve them should not
make you cry. I love you not because of who you are, but because of who
I am when I am with you.
Liliana was asked about the quotes above and shared only a few details about them.
McG: On your blog postings. Can you show me that? It was written in
L: Oh God! um. That was a poem that I copied off a paper that a friend
gave me.
McG: Oh yeah. What was it . . .
L: That one [student goes to the blog post]. Just yeah – random stuff like
yeah – just all comes [down] to people liking each other.
McG: Ah huh.
L: Two friends that are like inseparable – basically.
When asked about what her profile says about herself to others, Liliana said, “I am into
poetry and stuff and taking pictures.”
Alex mentioned in his interview and on his MySpace profile that his favorite
rapper was Eminem. In a blog post, he quoted from one of his songs calling it the best
rhyme ever.
Best Rhyme Ever
By Eminem
I ain't gonna eat, I ain't gonna sleep
Ain't gonna breathe, til I see, what I wanna see
And what I wanna see, is you go to sleep, in the dirt
Permanently, you just being hurt, this ain't gonna work
For me, it just wouldn't be, sufficient enough
Cuz we, are just gonna be, enemies
As long as we breathe, I don't ever see, either of us
Coming to terms, where we can agree!
Both Liliana and Alex used their blogs to post text written by others. This repurposing of
other texts allowed them to take ownership of these words and express how they were
feeling whether it was in English or Spanish.
Another common practice among the participants was to post surveys as blog
posts and to request friends to answer the questions in their comments. Even before the
widespread adoption of computers by adolescents, teenagers passed around notes asking
their friends to complete surveys as a way to get to know each other. Liliana, Alex, and
Maya all posted surveys on a regular basis and often answered each other’s surveys. Alex
was asked about the surveys on his MySpace profile.
McG: Yeah. Lets go back to your profile. You have posted some blogs.
You seem to like surveys.
A: Yeah. I do those because of boredom. They are just surveys about me. I
am going to start doing a thing about me. I am going start this new
thing where if I wrote a lot about me and post them up bulletin style
where I will remember what I wrote. Um. I have a friend who wrote
this and it kind of got my attention [another survey] so I posted it up. I
asked her. My cousin posted up this survey she copied it [from another
Friends post a survey as a blog and then answer the survey questions. On some SNS, like
Facebook, they will tag friends who they want to answer the survey. On MySpace,
adolescents will post their survey as a blog and then send out a bulletin or a message
telling their friends to complete their survey. Friends will often answer the survey as a
comment to the original blog post or post their reply as a blog on their own profile. The
following excerpt from Alex’s blog was a survey he copied from his cousin’s blog post.
May, 2009 - Friday
I lovee surveys!!! by Jennifer™ (my version) [his cousin, a pseudonym]
Your boyfriend or girlfriend was into drugs, would you care?
Do you feel comfortable with answering personal questions?
= sometimes
Are you shy?
= when I want to be
Do you like being home alone or does it freak you out?
= I love it
Do you have any bruises on you?
= no
Where is your phone right now?
= in front of me
What did you do today?
= school
Did you have a good day?
= It was a good day
Do you have any plans for the weekend?
= no
Has someone ever made you a promise and broke it?
= idk [I don’t know]
Surveys for the participants were another way for them to communicate with their friends
and experiment with their own identities as they explored their own thoughts and
Portfolio production within a SNS
Jon and Alex used their SNS like a portfolio to publish their work. These students
posted their writings, pictures, or videos so their friends could add comments. Blanca
used her SNS profile as a way to archive and back up their pictures and videos off their
home computer, only making some of their files public for their friends to see. Jon
actually created a production company and used his MySpace profile to showcase his
videos and his brother’s photographs.
Liliana and Maya both shared how they liked to express themselves through
artistic endeavors. Liliana liked to write poetry while Maya enjoyed drawing. However,
both of them did not feel comfortable sharing their art on their MySpace profile. Liliana
wrote her poems as private blog posts. She refused to publish them and did not share
them with the researcher. In the interview, she discussed how writing her poetry relaxed
her and helped her deal with the stress and pressure of doing well in school.
McG: Going back to yourself. What would you say are your worst and
best characteristics?
L: My best – I guess writing poetry. I do that a lot then some people want
me to tell them about it but I don't like talking to people about that . . .
McG: Would you feel comfortable sharing with me a poem you have
L: No. I don't [have] any right now with me . . . They are so personal that
is why.
McG: That's ok. Do you see yourself as being a writer?
L: No . . .
McG: What makes you want to write a poem?
L: The release – it de-stresses me. Right now I am going through a bunch
of stress cause of testing and my grades. That is a way to get rid of it.
Maya felt the same way about sharing her drawings on MySpace. She was asked if she
would share her drawings online.
McG: Have you ever thought about posting any of your art on your
M: No.
McG: You'd never do that?
M: No, 'cause I'd get ashamed.
McG: You'd be too embarrassed?
M: Yeah.
Unlike Maya and Liliana, Blanca and Alex used their MySpace profile as a way
to archive their videos and photographs that they stored on their home computers. Blanca
shared how she got a virus on her home computer and she was afraid she could lose her
photographs so she backed them up on her MySpace. She then used MySpace’s various
publishing options to keep some of the pictures private and shared other images with just
certain friends.
McG: I also noticed you have a lot of pictures on your site compared to a
lot of other people. So is that something you like to use your MySpace
for, just to kind of upload your pictures?
B: Yeah, that's pretty much why I do it. I – because I've had a lot of
problems with our desktop, and that's where we save all our pictures.
So I just decided to go save them on MySpace. And then if people
want to see them, they can see them. But for -- I have the pictures from
when my sister-in-law was pregnant. We were deleting everything off
the desktop because 'cause we had a virus.
McG: Uh-huh.
B: So we were just saving pictures. So I saved those, and I just put them
"private." So I just saved everything up there.
McG: So you can put pictures up there and just kind of use it as a way to
have it in case anything happened to your computer, they would be
saved forever on MySpace?
B: Yeah.
McG: And then you can set them to private so only you can see them, not
your friends, if they're personal pictures?
B: There's many ways you can save it. You can save it for friends, for
certain ages, and for public view to everyone.
Once Blanca had her images hosted on her profile, MySpace provided a set of tools that
enabled her to edit the images, arrange them, and create a slide show. Blanca shared, “ I
went to ‘My Photos,’ and then I made -- all the pictures that I wanted to go onto my -onto the slide show -- I just put them all together.” Alex likes to add photographs to his
profile directly by imbedding them with html code instead of uploading them to the
MySpace photo gallery. When asked if he used Photoshop on his images he shared,
Not um really, I just like . . . using normal photos the ways the photos
were taken – the original. But I like to post it on my profile where people
can look at it and don’t have to comment. That’s were I can add stuff.
The images that Jon liked to post to his profile were ones that demonstrated his
Photoshop skills. Using Photoshop, he created image montages and applied various
effects to his photographs. Jon uploaded the images to his MySpace gallery, tagged his
friends in the images, and waited for their comments. In one of the images, Jon gave
himself sunken eyes and stretched his thumb in Photoshop. He titled the image,
“Photoshop to the Extreme!” A relative commented, “what did u photoshop u still look
scary lol jk” while a survey-only participant in his class wrote, “Nice curtains”
[referencing the dark curtains in the background of the photo] and another friend wrote,
“y was I tagged in this photo.”
Jon created a production company with his older brother, a photographer, called
Bouncing Bears Production. On his profile he had links to his brother’s Flickr page, a
photo sharing website, that showcased his photographs. Most of his brother’s
photographs were of nature scenes or family events. Jon also embedded YouTube videos
that he had produced onto his profile. While he edited some of his videos to tell a story,
most of his photographs and videos were created for artistic effect. In one of the
photographs, which he used temporarily as his MySpace avatar, he looks into the camera
using his hands as frame. Jon was asked about the image,
McG: What inspired you to use that as your avatar?
J: What my picture.
McG: Yeah.
J: I just thought it was funny. Usually, I don't know everyone always
uploads pictures that make them look really good.
[Comment: In the picture his hands are in front of his face making a frame
– like a movie director trying to visualize a shot. So instead of the
viewer looking at his picture, it gives the viewer the feeling that Jon is
looking back at them.]
McG: Yeah
J: That’s what I do to . . . I kind of did that one cause it is like the picture
is suppose to be an album cover. You get the idea. Kind of just like
taking a picture – this is a picture of me – it doesn't really have any art
aspect behind it.
Jon posted a video in which he just stared into the camera for three minutes with a
disturbed look on his face while the X-Files television theme song played in the
background. Jon shared his thinking behind the video.
J: The X-Files theme. I was bored. I am sorry. Ah – I know you were
expecting some real cool meaning behind it. I was just kind of bored. I
decided to put on a funny expression.
McG: It was kind of disturbing.
J: I just stared at the camera for a while. I hope you don't think I am crazy.
Later in the focus group, the participants began discussing the artistic value of the
photographs and videos on Jon’s profile and Jon shared how he wanted to
create videos about absolutely nothing.
J: I upload photos, and I don't really care about comments.
M: You upload random ones.
J: The upload -- the only photos that I really upload are just pictures of my
face. And that's it, really. So -M: And your art.
McG: And that video. That was interesting.
J: Yeah, that video. No one's seen that video 'cause no one cares about my
M: I haven't seen it.
McG: You're just staring -J: Yeah, just staring at the camera for about three minutes.
M: For three minutes?
J: Yeah, pretty much.
McG: I was expecting somebody to scare you. You ever see those things
where you stare at it for a long time, and then something scary jumps
at you? That's what I was expecting, but it didn't happen.
B: I got scared last time watching one of those.
A: I remember about a like month ago he was telling [me] about it where
he mixed a video where you don't know what's going to happen, so
you stay watching just to see if anything happens, and it's just a waste
of your time.
J: I want to make a YouTube channel that is just completely a waste of
your time. There's no purpose to it. It will be like a video of a banana
or a live shot for like 40 minutes. People will expect something very
exciting to happen, and nothing will ever happen.
L: That's good to know. That way, I won't go on it.
The participants had a variety of opinions on the value of using their MySpace as
a digital portfolio. While some of the participants, like Blanca, Jon, and Alex, posted
their digital creations on their profiles for their friends to comment, other participants like
Maya and Liliana were either too embarrassed or thought their work was too personal to
be published for their friends to view. The photographs, videos, and writing on the
participants’ profiles, either set to public or private, demonstrated that they had developed
sophisticated technical skills that they learned in school, from friends, or online.
Technical Literacies Demonstrated Within a SNS
In both the production and the maintaining of their SNS profiles the participants
exhibited certain technical skills. All of the participants learned how to create and
manipulate graphic images using Photoshop in their computer class at school. The
students used this skill not only to create and maintain their SNS but also to help their
friends add graphics to their profiles. Students also learned basic HTML to create web
pages. With these skills in HTML the participants were able to customize their profiles
on MySpace. Other students had skills in video production. Jon edited his videos using
professional video editing software to cut different scenes and add titles and background
music, while Alex usually just posted his raw video clips online. While all of the students
learned some technical skills in their computer class at school, other participants further
developed their skills online or through the help of friends.
All of the participants have learned how to manipulate images using Photoshop in
their freshman computer class at school. Photoshop is a very expensive program (retail
$699), but a few of the participants mentioned that they had downloaded a copy at home
so they could either finish their computer class work or edit images for their SNS. It is
not known whether they purchased the program legally or downloaded a pirated copy
online. Alex shared how he worked on Photoshop not just for class work: “Yeah, [I use
Photoshop] just for fun, I do that at home because I enjoy [it].” One of the first edited
images that Alex posted was one in which he was sitting on a park bench at Knott’s Berry
Farm with Jon.
A: This is the first. I think [I] did this as my first Photoshop lesson when I
actually got to use it.
McG: Yeah.
A: I finished and had this photo of me and Jon at – where was it – Knott’s
Berry Farm. You know where they have the bench where they have
fake people.
McG: OK.
A: Yeah that’s the photo. The only thing I did was take away the
background – the bench and put a photo in the back to um to the – you
know – text and put the same photo in layers and added different
effects to them. Nothing too special but just my friend.
McG: And then you posted it.
A: I posted it.
Jon and Blanca liked to use Photoshop to edit images they published on their
MySpace profiles. One of Jon’s most commented images was when he edited a movie
poster for the “Forty-Year Old Virgin.” Jon edited out the actor, Steve Carroll, and
replaced him with an image of himself in the exact same pose under the title “Sixteen
Year Old Virgin.” By using various layer blends, Jon was able to create an image that
looked natural and unedited. His sister commented on the image saying, “You are the
best. I love it.” Another non-participant, said, “oh wow . . . just don’t let it get to 40 lol.”
Blanca also had fun editing images in Photoshop. In one example, she edited out
the background of an image with her brothers. She then made it look like they were
traveling in Japan. She shared,
I just put [one] yesterday, that we went to Japan . . . it says “Just kidding,
Photoshop.” Yeah. Supposedly we were at the airport . . . at a restaurant in
Japan. It’s all fake! I’ve never been there.
Before Liliana had Photoshop she created all the graphics on her MySpace profile using
Photobucket. Photobucket is a website that provides free image hosting and editing.
Liliana shared how she used the site to create an animated background for her MySpace
McG: I like your background on your profile.
L: The zebra one?
McG: Yeah – zebra.
L: I got a white one [zebra striped image] and I painted it red and made the
flashy thingy [gif animation].
McG: That's cool. It’s like an animated gif.
McG: Did you do that in Photoshop or something like that?
L: I did it in Photobucket [a website]. I did the pictures over there and I
send it with gif [to her profile. Photobucket provides the html code
necessary to add the images to her MySpace profile].
McG: Uh huh.
L: I did it right there with speed and everything.
McG: Cool.
L: I didn't have Photoshop back then.
In addition to her background images, Liliana used Photobucket to create the text images
that have her name spelled out in calligraphy and another image of a crown on her
profile. She shared, “I just typed in my name [in Photobucket] and like choose the font
and the crown stamp.” She also used MySpace to customize her photographs to add her
name and butterflies in the corner of one of her images.
Both Reggie and Alex were seen as technical and their friends often asked them
for help. Reggie used Twitter to market his Photoshop skills. He posted a Twitter update
that stated, “JUST hit me up H3R3 if you want a background for your TWITTER!” For
one of his friends, he created her background image in Photoshop and then edited her
avatar image giving her blonde hair. Reggie visited her Twitter page and discussed how
he created her profile.
R: Well . . . I just had changed my background to these things yesterday.
But before that I had one that I had made in Photoshop. It was the
Photoshop things we learned [from class] like [creating] fires, different
things, other things like that I learned on my own like different brushes
which are different things you can do in Photoshop and that has all
pretty much contributed cause I did make her background too. Can I
check? [visit her account]
McG: Yeah sure. I did notice that you had made a tweet saying something
about –
R: And I made her whole layout. It is kind of weird.
McG: That one – yeah.
R: We were cracking up when we made this.
McG: It's cool!
R: Yeah, cuz she is not a blond [Reggie used Photoshop to give her blond
McG: So you changed her hair color in Photoshop.
R: Yeah, I was trying to . . . she said she wanted to be a blond. So I am
OK – I'll make it. So I was trying to you know she said she wanted to
be colorful so I started to play around with different brushes and
different um things.
McG: I did notice you put a Tweet up saying if anyone wanted help with
their backgrounds you could do that.
R: Yeah. I had just finished mine and I was like oh this is easy so I can
help other people.
McG: Did you help her before you sent that or did she reply to that?
R: No uh, yeah she did reply to me can you help me? She gave me her
password to her thing [Twitter account] and I went to her account
because she was like it was too hard.
McG: Ok.
R: No it’s really easy and then she was . . . I am like OK.
McG: You were doing that at home. It wasn't like you guys were next to
each other. You logged in and did it for her and then asked do you like
R: Yeah.
McG: And then you went back and forth
R: She said Ok and I went OK. I was going to send her the picture so that
she could set it as her background and I had a little bit of trouble
because of the restrictions they have on because the file has to be
under a certain amount and it was over [Twitter requires that users
compress their background images before they upload them to their
McG: Oh.
R: I had to keep shrinking it down and would that work and it wouldn't fit
on the page right. I had to keep resizing it and doing different things to
A friend of Alex was trying to transfer music from his computer to his Sony Portable
Playstation (PSP) and he asked Alex for help. Alex had a hard time trying to explain to
his friend how to do it so he created a video demonstrating how to transfer the music and
uploaded the video to his MySpace profile.
Yeah, I told him at school and he didn't get it and we talked over the
phone. We spent all together like four hours – me explaining and he
couldn't get it. And I told him I will just make you a video. I just got the
camera and I did it and he got it.
In the creation of their MySpace profiles, the participants exhibited a certain level
of technical skill. In their computer class at school the participants learned how to create
web pages with HTML. The participants used these skills out of class to edit and
maintain their SNS profiles. Even though Blanca learned HTML at school, it was often
easier for her to copy and paste HTML and CSS code from other websites, like or MyHotComments to create her layouts.
McG: I noticed you have like an animated background on your profile -- it
looks like it's blinking -- it's kind of pretty.
B: My -- oh, on my public profile? The cupcakes?
McG: Yeah.
B: That one, I actually bought -- I didn't buy it, I got it from "My Hot
McG: This one? Yeah.
B: This one? I got it from -McG: Yeah, I saw something that said "My Hot Comments."
B: I got it from my "My Hot Comment." And then on my "Hot
Comments," there's different like layouts where you can go on the site
that's either layouts or you could do – or it could say, "Quotes" or just
little comments.
McG: Uh-huh.
B: So that's where I get a lot of my stuff from.
When Blanca was posting a status update to her MySpace about a friend who dyed her
hair, she tried to use HTML to change the word blonde to yellow.
&eCHENA BBY&e i LOVE my frister &e&e chio is officially
Mood: &e&e HaPpY &e&e
Posted at 7:13 PM
She begins her status update with a “shout out” to her sisters and then writes the message,
“Chio is officially Blonde.” However, she forgets to put a space between the font tag and
the color attribute, as seen above, so instead of changing the word blonde to yellow, it
prints her HTML code to the screen. In addition, she never included the closing font tag
</font> to enclose the word blonde.
Reggie was an active member of the YouTube community, spending a significant
amount of time watching videos, customizing his backgrounds, and sending messages to
his friends. Reggie logged onto his YouTube account to demonstrate how he used
YouTube as his SNS. While viewing his account, I commented on the number of videos
he had watched.
McG: Yeah. So it says you have watched 3,800 videos.
R: Wow!
McG: Have you seen that before?
R: No I haven't.
McG: And that is probably only the ones you have watched while you
were logged in.
R: True.
McG: It is probably a lot more than that – the number is probably low
because you probably watch a lot of videos when you are not logged
R: Well I have it automatically sign in on my computer
McG: Ok.
R: I am always logged into YouTube. Always.
Reggie also shared that he watched videos on how to improve his Photoshop skills so he
could get a better grade in his computer class.
McG: So what, um, what kind of videos do you normally watch on
R: Um, "How To."
McG: Oh, yeah, that's a good idea.
R: Like I always want to get a better grade in my class.
McG: What class is that again?
R: That's, um -McG: The tech -R: Computer proficiency, yeah.
McG: Okay.
R: Um, I would see how to do things in Photoshop.
McG: Oh, yeah.
R: And how to make things better.
McG: Oh, cool.
R: And that's how -- and then he -- that's why -- that's why I got an "A" in
that class.
McG: Oh, yeah?
R: Because I do different things, you know -McG: Uh-huh.
R: -- that did that. And, you know how, to -- how things work -McG: Uh-huh.
R: -- you know, how things work in Photoshop and so many things.
McG: There's a lot of tutorials on YouTube. So you look them up on how
to do it and then you can show the teacher in class.
R: Yeah.
Reggie also demonstrated certain technical skills in the creation and customization of his
YouTube channel. YouTube provides many options for controlling the design of an
individual member’s channel.
McG: You customized your own background. You can do that. Can you
show me how you did that?
R: First thing you would have to do is going into your account And then
you would go into edit channel.
McG: Ok.
R: And then um . . . channel design and here you can changed all the
pictures and different layouts.
McG: So you select the theme you select the layout.
R: And you want to see the video that comes up right here.
McG: That's your featured video and this doesn't necessarily have to be
one that you created but could be any video on YouTube.
R: I think so but for me it is the ones that I have.
McG: Ok.
R: And pretty much all the – these are customizable to any color you want.
These are just easier preset choices.
McG: Ok
R: But uh – yeah – comment box you can change the text, color, text size,
different things. Here where you upload background, background color
if you don't want an image you can have just a solid color. If you want
it to repeat or just one.
McG: You could probably even set the transparency level.
R: Yeah.
McG: That's cool
R: That’s why I have been playing around with this . . . got into it.
McG: That’s neat.
Reggie described how he is able to control the colors, background images, and even the
level of transparency of images and colors within the design of his YouTube channel.
When Reggie logged into his account, he had options to upload new videos, subscribe to
other member’s YouTube channels, to read and send messages to friends, and to leave
comments on other videos.
R: But YouTube, if you have a YouTube, I'll talk to you on YouTube.
McG: Uh-huh.
R: Cause I have a friend that goes to another high school, and that's the
only way we talk, YouTube.
McG: Wow. That's interesting.
R: Yeah. We talk through messages.
McG: So on YouTube, do you -- you message each other's videos? Or
how do you message each other on YouTube?
R: Um, on your page.
McG: Uh-huh.
R: Um, channel.
McG: Uh-huh.
R: You have comments -McG: Uh-huh.
R: -- and then there's messages.
McG: Oh, wow.
R: Like actual messages. So sometimes we just use comments, and then
sometime we use messages.
Alex and Jon were also users of YouTube and had more typical practices in which
they viewed movie clips or uploaded their own movies. Alex hosted his unedited raw
video files on his YouTube account while Jon often used video editing software to refine
his movie files. Alex embedded his YouTube videos on his MySpace profile. He shared
that most of his friends viewed his videos off of his MySpace profile not his YouTube
channel. Alex explained his different hosted videos.
McG: The other thing I noticed that you have more than other people are
your videos?
A: The videos – yeah. I don't really do videos. I can explain. In front of
my house there were three hobos and then the cops came and I wanted
to record that. A friend kept annoying me about how to put music on
his PC so I did that for him.
McG: You showed him how to do that.
A: Yeah. Then my cousin who lives in Texas who really misses her
younger cousins and wanted me to do a video [of them] saying hi.
McG: Yeah.
A: These two are a video my cousin was recording and I wasn't noticing
and I fell on this one [The video shows Alex and his friends playing at
the park on a seesaw. Alex falls off the seesaw and all his friends start
laughing.] I posted this for fun. This is just me saying hi [to his
MySpace friends].
McG: I don't know if I saw this one. I saw the one where you fell down
[we both laugh].
A: Look how chunky I used to be. Why so chunky? [He presses play on
the video. Alex and I watch the video playing where he says "Sup
MySpace"]. I think I put it up when I first got on MySpace. Just a fun
Alex also had a link on his MySpace to a BlogTV account. BlogTV is a live video chat
room where a member can invite friends to watch and comment on a live broadcast. Alex
had only created a single live episode that was broadcast four months after the official
end of the study and never archived.
The participants expressed multiple literacy practices on their SNS during this
study. These literacy practices included not only the ability to use online tools to manage
complex social networks but also the technical skills necessary to produce digital
profiles. The participants demonstrated sophisticated social discourses, maintaining their
friendships using a variety of communications tools and social applications including
games. Through their status updates and blog posts on their SNS, the participants
demonstrated written discourses. Finally, their SNS profile can be viewed as a type of
portfolio where video, music, images and repurposed texts were mashed together to form
individual online identities of the participants.
Literacy Practices Within a LMS
The participants expressed multiple literacy practices within their LMS. These
literacy practices included academic discourses within an online environment where an
English teacher and his students critically analyzed text and debated social issues.
Students wrote critical responses to short stories, published their own creative writings,
acted out literary characters through a recorded online audio discussion, and commented
on their English teacher’s and classmates’ written posts. The most common practice on
their LMS in their math, science, and English classes was the assessment of course
objectives through online tests, quizzes, and reviews. Within their LMS and their use of
classroom use of computers, the students exhibited a set of sophisticated technical skills
and proficiencies, including the ability to communicate academic ideas in writing both
online and with a word processor; manipulate images in Photoshop; create simple web
pages; and edit videos.
There were many problems with implementing the LMS within the classes at
VVHC. All of the students in the English class could not access the school’s Internet at
the same time because the classroom had only 15 wired connections and an inconsistent
Wi-Fi signal. Not all students had access to the Internet outside of school, which could
explain why many students did not complete some of the assignments within the LMS.
The teacher had concerns about students using the LMS to cheat on tests and quizzes, so
he was discouraged from using one of Blackboards most useful features – immediate
feedback on incorrect answers. Students requested but did not have online access to their
total grade and daily homework assignments within the LMS.
Academic Discourses Within a LMS
The participants practiced a variety of academic discourses within their LMS and
their English classroom during the study. Blackboard, their LMS, was used in their
English class to foster communication skills through online discussions and to develop
critical thinking skills by analyzing literary texts and the quality of evidence used to
support an argument. Students were observed in their English classroom while they used
Blackboard, took part in classroom discussions, and used other computerized tools like
Accelerated Reader (a reading comprehension program) and Microsoft Word. Some of
the students demonstrated these skills at school while other students chose to complete
their Blackboard assignments at home.
Communication literacies within a LMS. Students in their English class developed
the necessary communication skills to use Blackboard to complete online discussions.
Among the participants this was one of their favorite activities within Blackboard. While
their math and science teachers also used Blackboard, only the English teacher assigned
students online discussions. Every few weeks, the teacher posted a prompt and expected
the students to reply not only to his questions but also to at least two other students’
posts. The prompts were usually about literature the class was reading, a film the class
was watching, or an issue the class was debating.
Most of the participants enjoyed using Blackboard to participate in online
discussions. When asked to explain how online discussions were used in their English
class, Alex shared,
Um. Discussion boards are when he [their teacher] posts up a question and
anyone in his whole class can go and try to answer it with their opinion.
And there is no real right or wrong answer. Its just expressing yourself.
Whatever you post other people can read [it]. And they can choose to
reply to Mr. Garcia again, or reply to what you said.
During a Blackboard assignment on evaluating contradictions, Jon interrupted the
discussion by posting a comment to Mr. Garcia about how much he enjoyed using
Blackboard. He wrote,
I really enjoy using Blackboard at home and in the classroom. It really
brings learning off the page for me. Thank you for involving us in such a
great learning experience. Your really teach incredibly well, your by far
the best English teacher I’ve ever had, but then again it may be the subject
matter I really love (and by the way I’m not kissing up to you).
Later, Jon was asked to explain what he meant by the comment and why he likes using
McG - In your English class. I know in this class he uses Blackboard
differently [from your other teachers].
J: Yeah, very differently. Every other class is just quizzes. Things like
that. He uses a lot more to do with communication then anyone else.
McG: In fact you seem to like it. You wrote somewhere on one of your
posts kind of to him - “I am not kissing up but I really like doing this
and then the quote you said was ‘Blackboard brings learning off the
page’”. Do you remember what you meant by that?
J: Wow! Ah it just brings – it brought it home for me. It was just very. I
went onto Blackboard – I can actually open it up right now [on
Blackboard]. Oh what happened? I can't find it [The teacher had
closed student access to the forums on Blackboard at the end of the
year]. Anyway, I was just – it was interesting to go in and – ah – be
doing an assignment and have all the other students’ responses to the
same piece of writing. It was very interesting to see how they
responded to it. You know I pulled like – if I didn't understand
something I would go and see how they felt about it – that makes a lot
of sense. I could pull this from that and yeah it is very nice. It is just a
classroom out of a classroom. It was cool.
McG: And do you think most students share that opinion or do a lot of
students see it as extra work?
J: It is just school to them. It is just school to me too. I just think it is a
much better way to communicate about how we feel about a certain
passage. It is a lot better than – yeah – It is a lot better than how most
teachers do it, which is kind of dry. I actually like Mr. Garcia very
much because he doesn't just give it to us cut and dry. We have
discussions about the meaning of it.
McG: It isn't like he is telling you this is how it is.
J: Yeah. I like his class so much because it is all about the deeper
meaning. That’s kind of what my whole life is about, I guess so.
When Reggie was asked about using Blackboard in his English class, he
compared it to MySpace and IMing. He liked using it to get help from his teacher and
students he does not normally talk to in class. However, he thought it was inappropriate
to use MySpace and IM to communicate with his teachers.
McG: Yeah. And the other thing that is different on here is that you have
done some discussion boards.
R: Yes . . . um
McG: How was that experience?
R: It’s a lot like instant messenger but better . . . you know.
McG: Ok.
R: You know you have everybody in one place. You don't get people that
you know . . . it’s an easier way to get everybody to um help each
other and have Mr. Garcia help you without other things you know –
like – because I can see how IM and um MySpace would be – like – a
little bit crossing the line of teachers and students.
McG: It would be a little bit weird having your teacher as your friend on
R: Yeah. I would like to be talking about I don't know but its better to be
using Blackboard you know because that’s what it is created for.
Another benefit of using Blackboard discussions is that it allowed students who
are either English Language Learners or not confident in their writing to see how other
students responded to a prompt before having to answer the question. Maya shared how
she always waits to answer a prompt in Blackboard until she can read the posts of her
McG: Do you like doing that [Blackboard discussions]?
M: Yeah, 'cause if you don't understand it, like you could see someone's
example and then make up your own.
McG: So that helps being able to see what other people have written?
M: Yeah.
McG: So you know like if you're on the right track?
M: Sometimes you don't understand it like what the question is asking and
some people do. You can see what they wrote and see what they are
trying to say.
McG: Yeah. I never thought of that. That's interesting.
Reggie mentioned what it was like the first time the class used Blackboard to
discuss a poem in class. While he thought the technology was interesting, he questioned
the value of using it to replace an in class discussion. To Reggie it was easier just to
discuss the poem out loud since everyone was in the same place. It could have been
interesting if the assignment was completed at home where everyone was in a different
R: But, um, at school, it was pretty interesting [using a Blackboard
discussion] because it was just -- first time it wasn't just a test, you
McG: Uh-huh.
R: But by the second time, we were discussing -- I think we were
discussing one of the – it was – it was something we read.
McG: A poem?
R: Yeah, I think so.
McG: About the road?
R: The road less traveled.
McG: Yeah.
R: Or not taken.
McG: Yeah.
R: Yeah. We were discussing that. And that was -- it was interesting
because, um, Mr. Garcia -McG: Uh-huh.
R: He was over there – [Reggie points to another corner of the classroom]
McG: Uh-huh.
R: – and we were on the computers, and we were like saying – we were
actually like discussing it. But I'm sure if we got to use it more, it
could be more useful.
McG: Uh-huh.
R: Because that time it was like – 'cause if we weren't in the same room, it
would be more useful.
McG: Yeah.
R: But since we were in the same room and it was loud –
McG: Yeah.
R: – all we could do is type.
McG: Yeah.
R: And then it would come up and – but I'm sure if we all used it outside
of class –
McG: Yeah.
R: – it would be a lot more useful.
The students spent a considerable amount of time discussing online the Robert
Frost poem “The Road Not Taken.” Usually students posted their response to the prompt
and then replied to classmates’ posts. Rarely did the students elaborate or make changes
in their original post based on their classmates’ or teacher’s comments. In one of the
threads titled Interpret Symbolism, the teacher asked, “Why might Frost have chosen to
write about roads that go through woods rather than roads that go through a garden or a
wide-open plain?” Blanca replied to the question, “The reason for me thinking that
Robert Frost chose the forest was because the forest is not easil enterd or scence [sic].”
Mr. Garcia responded to her post with the comment, “I would like you to elaborate and
use Standard American English, complete with proper punctuation and spelling.” Blanca
did not reply to her teacher’s post. In another example, Reggie wrote a longer response to
the prompt.
I think that Robert Frost choose a forest as a setting because a forest is not
easily seen through almost mysterious like the future you really don't
know whats [sic] next. The road represents how we go along in life with
twist and turns and the right decsions [sic] determine where you end up
when the road ends. These symbolic refrences [sic] help relate the story to
real life and give the story substance and meaning.
Mr. Garcia liked Reggie’s response and encouraged him to continue to elaborate on his
idea. He wrote,
I like the analogy of "twists and turns." I haven't heard that from others,
yet. I would like you to elaborate on that idea. If we can have twists and
turns, can we have roundabouts? Do we then get stuck, or go backward
Even though Reggie was a much better student than Blanca based on his grades, he also
did not respond to his teacher’s post.
There were instances where students replied to comments on their posts to
improve their own ideas. Liliana responded by writing, “I think that Frost chose a road
that goes through woods rather than an open road to symbolize the difficult journey we
all have to go through in life.” Mr. Garcia encouraged her to elaborate on this response by
posting, “This sounds like the beginning to a great response. Elaborate on how woods are
more difficult than an open field to navigate.” Liliana then posted this longer response,
I think that Frost chose a road that goes through the woods rather than an
open road to symbolize the difficult journey we all have to go through in
life. Because in open road you could see what's ahead of you and what it
holds in store for you. But in the woods you can't tell whats [sic] ahead of
you and you could get lost and not find your way back to where you came
from. Just like in life because you sometimes make choices that you later
regret and you can't go back to the point in time where you made that
By encouraging Liliana on her original post, Mr. Garcia was able to get her to elaborate
on her ideas by supporting her original statement with more concrete details.
When most students responded to each other’s posts, they typically provided
superficial affirmation that they liked their comment. The students did not provide each
other with the constructive criticism the teacher modeled in his posts. In a thread on
evaluating contradictions in the Robert Frost poem Liliana posted,
I think that what Robert Frost means is that in life we make a lot of
choices some good and some bad but that is what life is all about. I mean
if we all made the right choices every time we would never learn from our
mikstakes [sic] and life would get boring.
A non-participant from the class replied to her post writing, “very nice…I like (k1k3)™
•”. Liliana responded, “-thanks! :D”. Both students used symbols to personalize their
comments and make an emotional connection with each other. The non-participant often
ended his Blackboard posts with “(k1k3)™ •” using it as a type of digital signature,
while Liliana ended her comment with an emoticon symbol of a large smile. The lack of
an analytical response is not a surprise because the students were not explicitly taught
how to analyze each other’s posts or how to respond with probing questions. If the
teacher was going to require the students to respond to each other’s posts, some class
time could have been spent discussing the proper way to respond to an online post with
examples or procedures that the students might follow.
Jon was one of the few students who replied to classmates’ posts with an
analytical response. On another thread the students were discussing the connections
between a Robert Frost poem and a letter he wrote. A survey-only participant wrote the
post below and later Jon responded to it.
The two works of literature speak of two roads and one choice. In the
poem he must decide which road to select for he cannot travel both, the
letter speaks about two roads and how he is traveling only one road but
imagines himself as the other man traveling that road he stated he would
once travel but may hap if not possible in this life than in another life. For
he declares that the man he sees is like his reflection coming from the road
he did not took. It seems as if he was traveling both roads, the one he took
and the one he promised to take another time but in a different person or a
different life. I would like to ask Robert frost what was this choice he had
to make between the two roads was it a decision like going to college or a
conflict in his personal life as well as the result, did this choice truly make
a good difference or created only more conflicts for him, in order to
comprehend his poem with more knowledge based on his experience.
Jon really liked this participant’s post and replied that after reading the post he could not
write a better response.
I’ll probably get a lower grade for this, but I can’t respond to Mr. Garcia’s
question. That was great, amazing. You said exactly what I would have
said and then some. Besides paraphrasing your writing, I couldn’t do
much more. The only thing I would like to add is what I would want to
talk to Frost about. I know exactly where’s he’s coming from. I’ve met
people that have this way about them. We think the same, have the same
intentions, but somehow have different lives. It’s kind of scary to think
that my soul is a duplicate of another; my core is expressed in someone
else. Could it be that we all have that one person out there, a perpetual
soul-mate, not necessarily pertaining to love? Maybe when you have that
great connection, that unheard of, indescribable connection, you’ve found
your soul-mate, your other half, yourself?
Like most of his classmates, Jon’s post was just an affirmation of the original poster’s
comments. However, he does add an explanation on why he likes the post.
In a Blackboard assignment the students had to demonstrate a variety of academic
skills including the ability to read and understand a short story, analyze the motives of the
characters in the story, and write a creative response explaining the actions of the
characters. Once they wrote their responses it was acted out and recorded with a
microphone and Blackboard’s voice board software. Students were then able to listen to
and respond to the audio postings of their classmates.
Blanca explained how she completed the assignment,
Where there are 15 hardwire computers, and we all log in, and we had to
read a story. And he had questionnaires like how did we feel about the
story? And some of us were like, “Oh, it was a really good story.” “It gave
a lot of detail.” And like we were speaking and it was recording us. So –
and we would hear other people tap in, and then they’d be like, “No, that’s
not true.” Like we tried that one day, I was like, “No, the story wasn’t
good.” And it was just kind of like an argument, you know.
Alex explained how the Blackboard voice boards were used to discuss the short
story “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allen Poe. In the assignment the students had
the choice of impersonating a defense attorney or prosecutor in the trial of Montresor.
A: This one was interesting. I liked doing this one. He only gave us one.
It's ah lets see what it says – [There is a long pause. Student is clicking
and browsing through the audio discussion thread.] This is it.
A: It like has a prompt and [The student clicks on the speaker volume. We
begin to hear his teachers voice from web page]. "I would like you to
respond to the writing from the following quick write question. . ."
Like he would give us a prompt and we would write it down on a
Word document and we’d copy and paste it and put it up and record it
with our voice.
McG: Paste it into here [pointing to the audio voice board in Blackboard]’
and then you’d read it and record your voice playing it.
A: Record your voice. Yeah. They are meant for – you can hear other
peoples. Lets try my friend’s. [He clicks on the play button, next to his
friend’s audio post].
McG: huh ha
A: and it has what he wrote and it has his own you know [We begin to
hear voice of his classmate]. "Crime and punishment . . . my dear
McG: You can hear what he said.
A: Yeah you can have attitude and you can put like “Ladies and
Gentlemen of the jury”. I thought it was really cool.
McG: Yeah.
A: We only posted one that I know of. I don't know how we can fix it but
there was problems with the microphone cause other people’s voices
you can hear in the background [from the] class. But it was something
that I really liked.
McG: I think in one of them you pretended like you were a lawyer or
A: This one was it. You know my defendant. Yeah.
Reggie shared in the interview how the class used the audio voice board
discussions in his English class. Reggie found the audio posts useful but he complained
that many of his classmates did not take advantage of all the features in Blackboard.
McG: What were these? [Pointing to the voice discussion board on
R: That was when [we were reading] Crime and Punishment . . . there was
a prompt . . . about the story – something I forgot – but um you had to
record your voice actually and say what you would do. You know.
McG: How was that experience like?
R: Um a lot of people were creating fake accents. Different things.
McG: How did you know what to say?
R: Well first I wrote it out and we had to do it in school.
McG: So you wrote it out first and then you read what you wrote
R: Yes
McG: And then it recorded you that way.
R: Yes, and he like . . .
McG: And then you could go and hear what other people said.
R: Yes, you could like see that was a good point that was not good point
you know was mine weaker or what could you add to yours and
different things. I think it was useful.
McG: Uh huh.
R: Some people they didn't exactly – some people don't take advantage of
all this stuff that we have on Blackboard.
Reggie describes his thought process when he reads or hears another classmate’s post in
Blackboard. He compares what they wrote to what he wrote and thinks about how he
could make his argument stronger. In this assignment, Reggie, as the defense attorney,
argued that Montresor should be declared insane and not found responsible for the
murder of Fortunado.
Montresor is clearly insane; His actions explain how his mental capacity is
severely damaged. His supposed confession was really a cry for help in his
own twisted maniacal way. He clearly thought that this person was a
friend some one he could share stories with true or false. To put him in jail
would be unfair, and in violation of his rights as a person with mental
insanity. As the defendant’s lawyer it is my job to defend his rights. The
story is clearly made up because the alleged murderer has no motive.
Montresor does not explain the reason for his actions. His claims say that
there was an insult that led to his actions. But the defendant does not
include in his statements what the insult was. He had no clue what he was
doing telling that man this outlandish story. He was clearly hallucinating
the whole situation. He has no motive to kill Fortunado. Making him an
unreliable source. Making the case invalid on account of temporary
Reggie shared that with the Voice board assignment he learned that how you say
something is just as important as what you say.
R: . . . you had to use like a really strong voice. [Think about] how to
persuade. What arguments [to make]. Like if your voice was strong
most people would like – um – agree with you cuz that’s how a lawyer
McG: Okay.
R: It was like a moment when we learned not just language arts also like
McG: It’s not just what you say it is how you say it.
R: Yes, That's another thing that voiceboard helps you with.
McG: that's interesting.
Maya was embarrassed when she had to record her voice during the Blackboard
audio discussions. She did not like hearing the sound of her own voice.
M: Well, he sometimes puts discussion boards. Like there was an
assignment. We had to write them right there [pointing to Blackboard
on her computer]. We could record ourselves in there and type it up.
McG: Did you like doing that?
M: No it was kind of embarrassing.
McG: Because you could hear your voice.
M: People could go over and see it.
McG: And hear your voice.
M: Yeah.
McG: And people would comment on what you said.
M: Yeah [shakes head up and down].
McG: Did you like that or was it uncomfortable?
M: - It was all right the only part I didn't like was you could hear the
In the assignment, Maya acted the part of the prosecutor arguing that Montresor should
be found guilty for the murder of Fortunato. Her reading starts off with a nervous laugh
and then her voice cracks while she says,
Montresor is clearly the one guilty for killing Fortunato; he even said it
himself when he confessed to my client. He gave exact details of how he
would plan his revenge against Fortunato for insulting him. He knew that
Fortunato’s weakness was his knowledge on wines or anything that
involved it, so to convince Fortunato of going with him he told him that he
had purchased a pipe of Amontiado. To make sure that Fortunato went
with him he kept on threatening him to go to Luchesi’s, another wine
expert. Once Fortunato decided to follow Montresor to the Amontiado he
started giving him wine to get drunk enough to follow him and end up
killing him. He wanted the crime to be perfect and by perfect he meant
that he wouldn’t end up getting punished for punishing who had offended
him. He also need for Fortunato to know who had killed him, but without
getting punished for the crime otherwise it wouldn’t quite be revenge.
When Montresor was taking Fortunato through the catacombs he would be
telling him to observe their ancestors, he would be saying that so that
would be one of the last things he would ever see. It’s clearly that
Montresor had his revenge planned well and for those options he is clearly
Through Blackboard the participants demonstrated a variety of communication
literacies in an academic context. The students had to be able to express their opinions in
written form using evidence from literacy sources to support their arguments. In addition,
students had to analyzed their classmates posts and respond with their own comments. In
one assignment, the students even had to record themselves acting out a hypothetical
character from a short story.
Critical thinking skills within a LMS. In the classroom and online in the LMS, Mr.
Garcia, the participants’ English teacher, challenged his students to think critically and
not passively accept the information they were learning in school. Both in the online
forums and in classroom discussions Mr. Garcia often asked probing questions or
encouraged his students to elaborate on a written argument by providing more evidence
and concrete details. He taught his students how to evaluate errors in reasoning by
discerning the use of fallacies in arguments. In contrast, the students shared that their
math and science teachers used the LMS just for online reviews, quizzes, and tests to
evaluate their understanding of course objectives.
Mr. Garcia led a discussion by asking the students to analyze Al Gore’s use of
evidence in the movie “An Inconvenient Truth.” He said, “If we are not pretending, we
need to be thinking.” He asked the class, “How do we analyze his argument?” Jon
responded, “Look at the credibility of the argument.” Liliana said, “The claim,” while
Reggie shouted out, “The evidence.” Alex shared, “Emotional, logical, ‘Oh my god – I
can’t remember!’” while the class laughed. Liliana continued by saying, “Feelings.” Mr.
Garcia responded to the class by stating,
Ethical appeal also goes to intent. Al Gore has to prove his intentions are
good in the first place. When you evaluate, you have to know his intent.
He is trying to prove he is a good person and we should believe him. So it
is not just about his evidence.
Later in the movie, the teacher stops the film and says,
Al Gore is relating the death of his sister from cancer to global warming.
He is making an analogy, giving us a comparison. What is the relationship
between the tobacco farm, his sister, and her death? Tobacco is made to
create cigarettes. His sister smoked them and died from cancer. The
relationship. We are changing the environment and it is making the planet
warmer. Now, we have to ask our self – is that a true relationship? – Farm,
smoking, death, the same as the environment, global warming – Does the
argument work? Is it a true analogy? Is it a solid connection? Stand if you
think it is a good relationship.
Several students in the class stand, including Jon, Alex, and Maya. Reggie, who is sitting,
says, “The relationship is not good, how does that relate to us?” Maya responds to Reggie
and says, “We are causing pollution.” Reggie, who thinks it is a false analogy, shared, “I
am not completely sure. It is not clear. Could have been clear if it was like – ”. The
teacher asks, “Where does it break down for you – the relationship between the
environment and our use of carbon?” Reggie says, “Al Gore doesn’t make it clear
enough. He is just implying it.” The teacher asks, “Is he poisoning the well [a type of
fallacy]?” Jon responds, “He is addressing the counter claim.” The teacher, “Yes, we
don’t know if he is poisoning the well, yet. What is the counter claim he is trying to
address?” Jon shares, “Everything is alright.” The teaching explains, “If global warming
is not a fact, how does he combat – rebut that?” Reggie shares, “He gets expert opinions.”
The teacher asks, “Do all the scientists agree that global warming is real?” Reggie
responds with a question, “Where does he get the scientists from?” The teacher tells
Reggie, “Good question. Lets see.” For the next several minutes the teacher explains the
difference between popular articles and peer-reviewed articles published in journals. Jon
interrupts this discussion and asks, “Do we know what kind of sample was used in the
research and can we assume it was randomized?” The teacher shares the importance of
knowing the type of methods used in any research.
After the classroom discussion, the class was divided in half with some of the
students logging onto Blackboard to debate the effectiveness of the Vice President’s
argument on global warming while the rest of the class debated the issue in class. The
teacher tells the class, “The Blackboard discussion will expire at 11:55 pm on Saturday
night. You have to discuss it by then. I want you to respond to the question and respond
to one other person.” Maya, who did not participate in the classroom debate, instead
wrote the following argument in the online forum,
I believe that Al Gore's argument in the video “An inconvenient truth”
overall was very reasonable. He kept us engaged and attentive, because he
continuously twisted analogies saying that global warming is happening.
He made me doubt a little though because he sometimes went way
overboard. I think he did a great job because he messed around with our
emotions, like when he showed the part that some polar bears are dying
because they can't find a thick enough iceberg. What made his argument
very strong was that he used analogies, facts, and expert opinion which are
a great source of evidence. Even thought there were a few fallacies in his
argument like when he states “If we do the right thing then we will get a
lot of wealth,” I think this is hasty generalization, because he doesn't
explain what we should do and what the results would be. Al Gore is
trying to inform us that, we are the cause of global warming and if we do
something to solve it then we can also be the solution for it. I think that his
intent is noble and his argument is proper. I enjoyed watching the video
because he made me think that we should start doing something to stop
global warming. He made me think that because he messed around a bit
with my emotions and especially with my fear. The reason why I believe
that global warming is happening is because temperatures are getting
higher, and we have also experience very destructive earthquakes, etc.
The other participants were involved in the classroom debate, called the
“fishbowl,” a classroom discussion strategy. Those students in the “fishbowl” debated the
issue while the rest of the class took notes on the debate. Reggie, Jon, Blanca, and Alex
were in the “fish bowl” while Liliana took notes on their debate. The teacher asked them,
“What do you think of his argument?” Reggie responded, “It was effective for most
people who are not analyzing it like we are. You would think it was a great idea.” Blanca
shared, “Yeah, I agree . . . the part that was effective was when the ice was melting – that
was just sad.” The teacher asked, “Do you think global warming is real? Where do you
stand on this issue?” Jon raising his hand dramatically says, “From what I have been
shown in this documentary and other things that I have read, I believe in global
warming.” Alex says, “I don’t know . . . it could be caused by solar flares.” Blanca states,
“He overdoes it on some points.” Another student shared, “I don’t think it was credible.”
The students continued to debate the validity of the argument until the class was released
for lunch.
The participants shared that their other teachers who used the LMS were not
facilitating online discussions nor were they using the tool to foster critical thinking. The
science and math teachers’ primary use of the LMS was as digital worksheets that
provided extra practice questions and problems that reinforced concepts taught during
class. These digital worksheets gave the students additional practice problems and
provided immediate feedback on their answers, though both teachers removed this feature
later in the school year amid fears that students were sharing the correct answers with
each other.
It should be noted that Mr. Garcia had created a classroom culture that valued the
importance of developing critical thinkers. By integrating the use of a LMS into his
classroom, he was able to extend this culture online. While the LMS provided the
opportunity for the students to practice academic discourses and develop critical thinking
skills online, this was mainly the result of the teaching skills and experience of Mr.
Garcia and not due to any inherit qualities within the LMS.
Learning difficulties within the LMS. Technical and social barriers prevented
many students at VVCH from taking full advantage of the learning opportunities afforded
them through Blackboard. While the school district provided a trainer who met with the
teachers individually on how to implement Blackboard, Mr. Garcia often encountered
unforeseen problems using the software that frustrated his students. Even a high-tech
school, like VVHS, with a laptop computer for every student in class, had practical
problems that prevented equal access to technology for all students to complete their
assignments. The participants shared that those students who had a computer and Internet
access at home were more likely to get their Blackboard assignments completed. Liliana
admitted that it took her much longer to complete her Blackboard assignments at home
because she was often multitasking – simultaneously communicating with her friends on
VVCH has computers in almost every classroom for every student. Some of the
classrooms have limited network connections to get on the Internet but a wireless WiFi
connection is provided for the school. Most of the freshman teachers use Blackboard, and
they expect the students to complete their Blackboard assignments in school on the
school computers. Jon shared that “every class in school pretty much has a computer for
every school desk. Usually they tell us when there is something new on Blackboard – it is
not really independent. They tell us and we go and do it.”
While VVCH is a high tech school that has computers in almost every classroom
for every student, technical problems still adversely affected student access to the
technology. Near the beginning of the school year, a district server crashed, which
resulted in many students losing their work. During the focus group, Maya and Alex
complained that when the server was down they lost a few of their completed
McG: Does the technology ever not work? Is there any time that the
technology prevents you from getting work done?
M: Yes. The server.
McG: The server? Can you explain that?
M: The server -McG: Maya.
M: Oh, Maya. Sometimes the server isn't connected.
McG: Okay.
M: Or it's going slow 'cause too many people are using it.
McG: Oh, okay. And do you find that you end up wasting time?
M: Yeah.
A: Alex.
McG: Go ahead Alex.
A: At the beginning of the year, like in the second month, I had like all my
projects and some personal things in my server, right?
McG: Uh-huh.
A: In my own personal folder. And something happened to the server, and
it was down for like a week. Remember?
M: Yeah.
A: It was down for like a week.
M: It was like for two.
A: For two. It was like a long time. A long period of time.
McG: Wow.
A: And once it started again, all my stuff was gone. Everything was
erased. All my work and some personal files. And I told the computer
teacher, and he didn't really care. He was like, "Oh, just, you know,
start again."
McG: Yeah.
A: And that really frustrated me, you know.
Liliana also commented on how she had to save her work to her personal USB drive
because of how long the network was down. Students who could not afford or did not
have access to their own USB drive did not have this option.
McG: Do you guys ever have any other types of technical problems at
school like that?
L: Sometimes the server doesn't work. It has only happened twice. . . So
like . . . we couldn't turn in anything to the teacher.
McG: um.
L: No . . . I think we could but like we couldn't go on our server to save
McG: um.
L: So we had to save it in the computer [on the local hard drive accessible
to any student] and like other people throw it away [delete it] or they
like copy your work so that was kind of hard.
McG: That had to be frustrating.
L: No cuz I saved it to my [USB] thumb drive.
McG: Ok, yeah that makes sense.
L: So no one could copy it.
McG: That was a good idea.
One of the practical problems the students faced in their English classroom was
that there were only 12 network drops for the laptops. The school has WiFi access but
Mr. Garcia’s classroom was in a dead zone where there was no consistent wireless
Internet. Since his classroom had an unreliable Internet wireless connection, the students
sometimes lost their work on Blackboard when the network dropped. This happened to
Maya once when she was taking a test in class on Blackboard.
McG: Is that what the problem was with the wireless that it would log you
out while you were taking tests on Blackboard?
M: Yes that happened to me once. You couldn't take the test again.
[Blackboard is set up for the student to only take the test once].
McG: Wow! So that is a big technical problem that you guys did not have
enough wired connections to get online.
M: Yeah.
Maya complained that the limited access to the Internet in her English classroom was the
reason why so many students did not complete their Blackboard assignments.
McG: I noticed many students do not complete their assignments on
M: No cause we barely have enough time.
McG: You don't have enough time to do it. You only have half of the
computers because only half of them go online.
M: Cause if we do them with wires we could. There is only like 12. We
can't use the other ones because it might log us out.
Reggie agreed that the limited access to the network in the classroom prevented some
students from completing their work. He often allowed other students who did not have
Internet access at home to use the computers in the classroom because he knew he could
finish the Blackboard assignment later after school.
McG: I did notice that there were a lot of people who didn't post anything
from that class.
R: There are a lot of people who don't post anything and I think for some
people because we only have 14 I think that are hard wired and that
can be a problem. I know that I have a computer at home. I can do the
work at home especially if it’s not due that day, I can do it at home. I
should let someone else who doesn't have a computer use my spot. So
they don't have to come back after [school].
Reggie felt he had more time to complete the Blackboard assignments at home. Since he
did not own a digital microphone he could not complete his audio voice boards at home.
McG: You have gone home and used Blackboard from home.
R: Yeah.
McG: How do you like doing that? Doing your homework online at home?
R: I think I can't do . . . well you can use voice board because there is a
text part. But um I can't cuz I don't have a microphone.
McG: You would need a microphone; that makes sense.
R: But, um, using it at home it seems like I don't know you have more
time. You know cuz here it’s like oh it’s time to go.
McG: Yeah.
R: There you have all the time . . . forever.
Alex admitted that sometimes he wasted time socializing at school because he knew he
could finish his Blackboard assignments at home. Students without Internet access at
home did not have that option.
A: I will start one [a Blackboard assignment] but there is no time limit so I
am sitting there talking to my friends doing what I am not suppose to
and I pick up that slack at home.
McG: So you can continue using it at home using Blackboard.
A: Yeah
McG: I bet there are some people at school that don't have computers at
A: Yeah
McG: They wouldn't be able to do that.
A: That is something yeah that is an issue you know a lot of kids face.
Mr. Garcia adjusted how he used Blackboard in his English classes because of
these problems. He could not have all of his students use the computers at the same time.
He often divided his students in half and had them do two different activities, allowing
the students the option to choose whether they wanted to have a discussion in class or
online using the computer. As was mentioned in the section above, when Mr. Garcia
divided the class for the debate on the movie “An Inconvenient Truth,” he said, “Fifteen
of you who are shy and want to go on the computers, you can debate on Blackboard.” By
this statement, it appears that the teacher viewed Blackboard as a tool for those students
who did not feel comfortable publicly debating the issue in front of their peers in the
Those students who did work on Blackboard at home were often multitasking,
working on several different activities on their computer at the same time. Liliana shared
how she had a MySpace window open while she was doing her homework in Blackboard.
McG: Let’s say you are doing your homework at your computer. Are you
often doing more than one thing at the same times?
L: Yeah. I turn on my music.
McG: Ah huh
L: And then Blackboard for Mr. Garcia.
McG: Do you ever have Blackboard and MySpace open at the same time?
L: Yeah.
McG: So you often go between the two.
L: I am multitasking.
McG: Multitasking . . . Ok. Do you think that is pretty normal?
L: For me to do – yeah.
McG: Yeah.
L: I don't think it’s good cuz I get distracted but . . .
McG: Yeah. So you think it takes longer to do your homework because
you get distracted while multitasking?
L: Yeah and like when I am in MySpace and in Blackboard at the same
time. I notice that I get worser grades.
McG: Oh really. Why do you think that?
L: Cuz I am more interested in MySpace and I am not paying attention in
Both the students and teachers had to deal with technical problems as they tried to
integrate the use of computer technology and the LMS into their teaching and learning.
Even for schools with high access to technology there is a struggle to ensure that all
students have equal access to the technology necessary to complete their assignments.
Some of the participants recognized this inequality and allowed those students who did
not have computers with Internet access available at home to use the computers at school
before them.
Written Discourse Within a LMS
There were four types of writing assignments that the participants completed in
their English class: a) the online discussions mentioned above where the students
answered a prompt and replied to student posts, b) online worksheets where students
answered questions on a Microsoft Word template and uploaded the completed file,
c) short quick writes where students were asked to answer a question in a few paragraphs
or less online, and d) more formal longer essays that were completed offline using
Microsoft Word. This section will focus on the last three types of written discourses.
While the teacher expected the students to write all of their responses following
traditional American English grammar, he only corrected their grammar mistakes on the
quick writes and longer formal essays.
Online worksheets within a LMS. In one assignment Mr. Garcia had his English
class read Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” and complete a word map using
a Microsoft Word template. The students looked up the etymology of vocabulary words
from the text online using, copied the sentence that used the word from
the short story, and wrote their own definitions. The students uploaded each Word file as
a post in Blackboard. Since the teacher did not post his comments on Blackboard, it is not
known if the students received feedback on these individual assignments.
One of the vocabulary words the students had to analyze was impose. Impose
means to “to establish or apply by authority” (Impose, 2010). The suffix im can mean
“not” while the root word pose means to “put into a certain position.” Blanca struggled
with analyzing this word as seen by her word maps below. Using the website she copied the definition for the word impose between the prefix and
root boxes below and her own definition does not appear to be related to either the
original context or her analysis.
Figure 3. Bianca’s Word Map
Figure 4. Liliana's Word Map
Liliana also posted a word map for the word impose. Both Blanca’s and Liliana’s
word maps appear identical and they made the same mistake in their analysis. In contrast,
Maya correctly completed her word map below by identifying the proper meanings of the
prefix and suffix and writing a definition that works within the context of the sample
sentence. These assignments were posted in a Blackboard forum discussion so all
students could view their classmates’ work. The students commented that they liked to
review other student posts before they started a new assignment to make sure they
understood it correctly. The problem of posting this type of assignment in a forum is that
it appears to reinforce mistakes or encourage students who do not understand the process
to copy each other’s work. The directions to the assignment did not require the students
to review or rate each other’s work, which might have resulted in students correcting
their mistakes before other classmates reproduced them.
Figure 5. Maya's Word Map
Online worksheets and other types of more objective assignments do not lend
themselves to be posted in discussion boards. This assignment could have been submitted
through Blackboard as an online assignment but not made public to the other students in
the class. In the directions for the assignment, the teacher could have attached a
completed example for reference for those students who did not fully comprehend the
Quick writes with a LMS. Quick writes were short writing assignments that the
students had to complete in Blackboard. These assignments were usually completed after
the students read or discussed something in class and the teacher wanted them to analyze
the literature or provide their opinion on a topic. The quick writes were usually short and
limited to just a few paragraphs. The teacher expected the students to complete the quick
writes in class but allowed those students with Internet access at home to complete the
assignment at home. Students were to write using the conventions of Standard American
English though the teacher did not correct their mistakes. These were different from
online discussions in that the students were not expected to comment on each other’s
After the students spent time in class discussing and analyzing the Robert Frost
poem “The Road not Taken,” Mr. Garcia asked the participants to complete a quick write
on Blackboard. The students had to think of a choice they had made that marked a
turning point in their life and imagine if they had made a different one instead. Mr.
Garcia ended his directions by writing, “Jot down notes about how you envision your life
would be different if that turning point had never happened.” Some students interpreted
that to mean to write a short paragraph while others wrote a bulleted list of statements.
Reggie shared in his quick write that his pivotal moment was when he was promoted as
an ASB officer.
Onetime that I was forced to make a pivotal decision in my life was when
I was promoted as an ASB officer, the current student dropped out and I
was immediately put in the position. I have to admit it was an honor but
with great power comes great responsibility and I was doubtful I had
enough responsibility to handle this position. I spent a week wavering my
decision until I finally made up my mind to take the position; it was a leap
of faith that happened to pay off. If I wouldn't have made that decision I
think that ASB would have been allot less successful, have a lot less
participation, and overall have a lot less fun in the school. I think that this
pivotal moment will be remembered for the rest of my life.
While Reggie has some minor grammar and spelling errors, he wrote his response in paragraph form with complete sentences. When Liliana chose to respond to this prompt she made an informal list of statements explaining how her life would have been different if she did not choose to attend VVCH. Choosing to come to VVCH.
-I would not have met some of my friends.
-I would not be in a technology school and have access to computers in
every classroom.
-I would be in a school with at least 2,000 other students, not like here that
there are only about 550 students.
-I would not be as safe in my local high school as I am here in VVCH.
-I would not have been able to join the Valley Vista Early College High
School Program.
Alex wrote about how he went to a party a few years ago and met someone who became his best friend. He describes her importance to him and how she brings happiness to his life. I can still remember the time when I had to make a choice of going to my
friends Halloween party. You see, when I was younger, I had plenty of
good friends, but not a best friend. When I went to the party I meet up
with an old friend. We hit it off so well, that we declared to everybody that
we become best friends. It was awkward in the beginning, but now she's
one of the most important people in my life. If I didn't go to the party then
I would probably have never become her best friend. I would be in the
situation I was back then. I would still have all my old friends but not a
best friend. I know for a fact that I wouldn't be as happy as I am now. She
has becomes a vital source of happiness for me. If I'm upset she always
knows how to make me feel better. I wouldn't have that. I'm so happy that
I have a person that will always be there for me.
In another assignment, Mr. Garcia had the students write a poem that took
inspiration from Frost. The student’s poem was to be in the style of “The Road Less
Traveled,” where the students discussed a decision they had made. Alex wrote a poem
about having to choose between two girls that he cared about.
On the Road by Alex Riveria
We all have to face decisions.
One can attempt to hide,
But it's something that we must envision.
Practice is what I decide.
Because occasionally, the finest choice is one that we can't see.
Hugs and some kisses are shared before their learning period.
Peers chat of the past, and what hasn't occurred yet.
Although this schools students aren't myriad.
I'm a fraction of the biggest family, I bet.
My old friends are green with envy
Two crimson faces dash towards me asking for a gesture of love.
I know both faces and I state I love them equally.
The dilemma is that for this gesture to prove true, one must be shoved.
I'm not one to damage hearts, so I do nothing anxiously.
The anxious situation changes and turns into an intolerable degree.
I find that the relationship they share in more important,
Than the one I share with these two girls.
Of all the things I have their most elegant.
When they speak my brain twirls.
The cost for this new choice has been the fact that my sea is more lonely.
In the poem, Alex describes how he cared about both girls and couldn’t make a choice
between them. In the first few lines he describes how avoiding the decision is not an
option but a decision in of itself. After describing his school and friends, Alex writes
how, in order to be in love, he will have to hurt one of the girls. Alex decides not to make
a choice, but the girls who know each other talk and turn against him, resulting in his
The final example of a short writing assignment is when the students had to write
a descriptive poem about another person who impacted their life. Liliana had shared in
her interviews how she liked to write poems to relax but they were very personal. In this
poem she writes about a relative who recently passed away.
Carolina [a pseudonym] Who
Carolina who sings in the pouring rain
who could play with you all night and day
who is like an Angel
protecting you over your shoulders
who cares for you when you’re sick
who comforts you when you’re sad
a shoulder to cry on
who is a dove in a pack of wolves
who is a lion when it comes to her family
who doesn’t live here any more
who is loved by all her family
who tells me in Spanish
“You are the brightest star in the clear blue sky”
who tries to tell me in English
“I love you” but can’t because she doesn’t know how
Carolina who I miss so much
Carolina why did it happen so fast???
Alex wrote a poem about his dad who made personal sacrifices by migrating from
Mexico to America so his family could have more opportunities.
He is one in a million
One who used to be youthful, but now is wise as a turtle.
A man that went to hell for a better tomorrow.
A tomorrow with hope and opportunity.
The hope and opportunity that he didn’t have but could give to another.
Another that brought him love.
A love that he left behind in the land he grew up.
He left the memories and traveled to the land of the free.
He loves the land of opportunity, but misses his home like a bird that left
the nest.
When I hear him, he speaks on the land and people he left behind.
He speaks on the importance of education as if it was more important then
family and religion.
He is a mule at work.
Making green for the family.
Someday he hopes to go back home.
To the land were he took his first breath.
In the poem, Alex describes how his father left everything he knew – the country he
loved – for a new one that would provide opportunity for his family. Alex recognized
how hard his dad worked so he could have the opportunity to get a good education. His
poem ends with his Dad’s dream of some day returning back home to Mexico.
Formal Essays written offline. Several times during the school year, Mr. Garcia
assigned formal essays that usually were several pages long. The students wrote multiple
drafts of these essays using Microsoft Word and their classroom laptop computers. The
essays were printed and submitted to Mr. Garcia who corrected them for content,
spelling, and grammar errors and returned them to the students. Before returning the
essays, Mr. Garcia made copies of each one and stored them in his student’s portfolio.
In one of the assigned essays near the beginning of the school year, the students
had to write about an autobiographical incident. Liliana wrote a story about getting lost in
Mexico with her family. The only participant who received an incomplete for not
finishing her essay was Blanca for her essay titled, “The Most Dangerous Game.”
Reggie’s essay was about two girls in middle school who got in a fight when one of their
friends shared a secret about the other. Maya’s essay about getting lost in the mall was
too short and contained many spelling and grammatical errors.
For Liliana’s autobiographical incident she wrote about when she was 13 and lost
in Mexico. She went to the faire with her extended family, including her parents and her
cousins. When they arrived at the faire, she described how she “smelled the sweet aroma
of cotton candy in the making” and “heard loud duranguense [a genre of Mexican music]
that filled our ears and made you want to dance the whole night through.” The cousins
wanted to go dancing but their parents were afraid they could get lost and would not let
them go. Carlos, Liliana’s cousin, talked the group into sneaking away off to the dance
floor. Her essay begins with the cousins arguing when they realized they could not find
their parents. Mr. Garcia’s comments are in the brackets.
“It’s your fault!!” [only use one explanation point] said my cousin Carlos
with rage. “No it’s not!!! It was your idea” [punctuation goes after the
quotation marks], replied Mario with anger. “So but all you guys listened
to me, there for it’s you guy’s fault not mine.”, Carlos said angrily. “I just
do want to get in trouble”, said Ana with tears in her eyes.
It was a cool, June night in Mexico and we all [none of us] didn’t know
[knew] what to do. Some of us where [were] screaming, others where
arguing, and then there where others who didn’t know what to do. I was
just a jean [hyphen] wearing 13 years old who didn’t know what to do. I
was scared, lost, and I felt like I was going to eventually start crying.
Throughout the essay, Mr. Garcia made comments correcting her grammar and spelling
mistakes. She then describes how a police officer takes the group back to the parking lot
where they find their parents. Their parents were upset and grounded them for two weeks
during their vacation.
Reggie’s essay is about an incident that occurred between two of his friends in
middle school. One girl shared with another girl that she liked a certain boy. Her friend
shared her secret with the boy’s girlfriend causing a confrontation. The essay begins with
the girl receiving a note in class where she learns her friend betrayed her.
“I’m gonna be late” she said as she was running down the long desolate
hallway. Waiting every coming moment for the inevitable 4th period tardy
bell. As she made her way into the classroom there was an overcoming
awkward silence. As she made her way to her seat, she felt as if eyes were
following her, almost as if they were glued. She finally made it back to her
seat when she took a much-needed sigh of relief. As she breathes, she
notices a note on her desk with the name “Percila’ on it. She scans the
room to see if anyone gives it away. As she opens the neatly folded letter,
the tension increasing with every unfold, she was stuck with curiosity [.]
[Run-on] “w[W]hat could be in the letter[?”] she thought to her self. When
she finally got the letter open, guilt came over her body. She felt as if her
legs and arms have been numbed and her heart was beating like a sonic
boom. As she glanced over at the sender of the letter, they glanced beck
[sp] quickly and angrily[.] [run-on] s[S]he could see the anger and
fustratation [sp] in their eyes. They glanced away and returned to their
work. She turns away in disappointment mostly in herself “How did I get
Like the other essays, Mr. Garcia corrected Reggie’s spelling and grammar mistakes.
Reggie lost points in his essay for writing a story about something he observed but did
not personally experience. Mr. Garcia commented at the end of his essay, “This was more
of a biographical narrative than an autobiographical one. You essential wrote about your
friends experience, not your own.”
Maya’s essay was also about being lost at the mall as a child. Her story was only
one and half pages long. Mr. Garcia wrote at the end that he was a bit disappointed in the
quality of the paper and that it was not up to her standard of writing.
“Where can they be at?” I wondered as I ran looking thought [through?]
the huge mall as fast as a racecar running in a racetrack. “I just saw them
next to me a minute ago. [,] they couldn’t of gone to [sp] far.” After all we
are a family of five it’s not that hard [easy?] to loose [sp] such a big
family. I ran across the crowded clothes department, nobody of [no one
from] my family was there. All of a sudden I felt like I want [was about]
to burst into tears. I knew that crying wouldn’t help me find my family, so
I started running in and out of the stores in the mall to see if I could find
my family, but there wasn’t any use to it the mall was too crowded, and I
couldn’t find them because I was to [too] short [previous sentence a runon rewrite]. “I know that I shouldn’t have separated from my family, back
at the toys [toy] department.[,]” I told myself as I sadly looked at the clean
The excerpt is from the introduction of her story with Mr. Garcia’s comments in the
In another essay writing assignment, the students had to tell a creative story using
action verbs about resolving a conflict. Mr. Garcia used a rubric to grade the essay on a
four-point scale evaluating the character development, type of conflict, the use of detailed
descriptions, and action verbs. Jon wrote a humorous story about a man who is going
crazy because he is hearing a Huey Lewis and the News [an eighties pop group] song in
his head. The main character also has a fear of plants. In the introduction, he is racing
through an office building and runs into the office of Dr. Pullerman, a psychiatric
Allen burst through the elevator doors on the seventieth floor. He looked
down the long hallway and cringed at the number of leafy plants lining the
walls. "No, that won't work, no, no, not at all." He backed up into the
elevator which had already closed then turned around and started
pounding the up button as through he were being chased, "They say it's
irrational, but there still scary as hell!" Allen jumped back into the vertical
stairs, "Close, close." The doors began to shut, "Very good." When the
eightieth floor appeared Allen jumped to the backside of the elevator after
seeing a row of slightly taller plants at the direct exit. Allen spoke with
great intensity, "What's with this place! Ah!" Allen straitened his collar
and ran out of the elevator toward a split in the hallway dodging every
plant along the way. He came to the crossroad and looked left, then right.
"Left, right? Wait, ah . . . left, no right. Right!" Allen ran to his right while
humming the remmants [sp] of what seemed to be a song, "Doing it all for
my baby . . . fine as she can be . . . everything she does for me."
Later in the story he explains his problem to Dr. Pullerman.
Allen took a deep breath, stood, and prepared his story with a few seconds
of silence and he stared at the floor. "Yeah...Richard I need...some help,
lets see; in 1987 Huey Lewis and the News released 'Doing it all for my
baby', a single that peaked at number six on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100,
making the band the first group to have five top-ten Hot 100 singles from
one album. It also hit the U.S. Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary list at
number two. Huey was once quoted saying, 'Today, it's very tempting to
create songs by cutting and pasting in the studio.'" Allen furrowed his
brow, "that's not relevant, but," Allen stopped pacing, stared at a
certificate at the wall, then continued his speech, "This is a nice frame,
you know I know a good frame guy. Did you take this to the place on
thirty-first? Never mind. Where was I? Oh yeah, you see when I was
twenty-three years old I worked with a record producer that got involved
with Huey Lewis. [LOL – This is hilarious] He had me doing several
projects with Huey's group and I helped supervise the track management
of one of their songs. The song was about 'Doing it all for my baby' and
the reason I'm telling you this is that it's been," Allen pushed his finger
into his left temple, "...STUCK," he put his second index finger to the
right side of his head, " my HEAD for twenty-three years."
What do you mean by 'in you head'?" Richard questioned.
Allen turned away from the plant in the corner he seemed to be giving a
nasty look and walked up to Richard coming within inches of his face, "I
can hear it." He took a deep breath and glanced at the plant then back to
Richard. Richard looked at Allen who at this time started to frustrate
himself by tearing a loose string from his shirt sleeve. Richard spoke loud
enough to catch Allen's attention, "You can hear it, literally?"
"Yes, Richard, and I know that you're thinking I may have schizophrenia
or am suffering from some sort of hallucination, but I've been to every
psychiatrist, every doctor. I'm not looking for medicine. Mostly because it
doesn't work, well...certainly not all of it, especially if you mix things."
Allen looked back the plant then sat down, 'I need to figure out why this is
happening to me. I just...can't take it anymore. I have a successful job, not
really, but I've got an apartment that overlooks...a parking lot...for the
apartments; I do things just like any other person...but the song is always
in the back of my mind." Allen pointed to a spot on the back of his head
and twirled his finger, "Somewhere in a general...this place. I can turn it
Jon is a clearly a gifted writer and his ridiculous story is entertaining. At one point
in the narrative Mr. Garcia comments LOL, laughing out loud. While Jon has some minor
spelling and grammar errors, about half way through the essay it appears as though Mr.
Garcia stopped correcting them. It is as though he is so engrossed in the narrative that the
minor errors have become irrelevant. At the end of the essay Mr. Garcia commented on
his disappointment with the ending: “The narrative is a riot, but the conclusion sort of
leaves the reader hanging. Its anti-climatic from every angle: the shrink’s and
Allen’s – kind of like Huey’s musical career.” In the rubric he suggested that Jon “try not
to make the story too confusing when the characters speak.” He liked the conflict and he
thought there were enough details describing the characters and plenty of action verbs in
each paragraph.
There were several opportunities where Blackboard could have been used to help
the students through the process of writing longer essays. At the beginning of the writing
process students could brainstorm topics and ideas for writing their essays in a class
discussion forum. The teacher and his students could comment on each other’s ideas and
make suggestions on how to develop their ideas further. After the students had written a
draft of their essays, they could post them to be edited and peer-reviewed by their
classmates. After the essays, had been submitted and graded by the teacher, the students
could be expected to make their final corrections and publish their essays to a digital
portfolio on Blackboard.
Technical Literacies Demonstrated at School
The participants had multiple opportunities to master a variety of technical
literacies while attending VVCH. These included the ability to operate an Apple
Macintosh laptop computer to connect to the Internet wirelessly, manage their network
resources on their school’s local server, and interact with their teachers and classmates on
their LMS. None of the participants had Apple computers at home, and some students
had difficulties transferring the computer literacies they learned on the Macintosh to the
Windows PC computers they used in their math classes and at home. The teachers at
VVCH had high expectations that the students be able to use technology to manage their
learning and produce high quality products. For Blanca, Maya, and Liliana, there was a
disconnect between these expectations and their own confidence in their ability to
complete these technical assignments.
Each participant attended a class, Internet programming, where they learned how
to use Microsoft Office, create basic web pages with html, and manipulate graphics with
Adobe Photoshop. Half of the participants also participated in a summer school course
before their freshman year where they had the opportunity to learn a variety of software
programs including how to edit videos in Apple’s iMovie. The teacher of this summer
course did not have the necessary technical skills to teach the class but instead directed
his students to use Atomic Learning, an online network of technical tutorials. Reggie and
Jon took this opportunity to become independent learners and use Atomic Learning to
master a variety of software programs. These skills helped them later in the school year
when they had to solve technical problems on their own that arose while completing
assignments for their other classes.
The participants demonstrated a variety of technical skills throughout this study
including basic computer literacy skills, video production skills, and the ability to create
and manipulate graphics in Adobe Photoshop. Some of the participants were able to use
their computer literacy skills to develop the necessary information literacies to manage
their learning at school both in and out of their LMS while other students were often
frustrated with using technology to complete their assignments at school. Those students
who had mastered the use of technology at school were respected and gained social
capital on campus. These students were often turned to for help by those students who
struggled with the use of the technology at school.
Computer literacies. Most of the participants developed a high level of computer
and technical proficiency while attending VVCH. Each student had to demonstrate the
ability to connect the school’s laptop computers to the Internet wirelessly and to save
their work to Blackboard and their server’s networked hard drives. The students managed
their learning online using Blackboard to complete online assignment for their classes.
By acquiring the ability to synthesize and evaluate information, a few of the participants
demonstrated the skills necessary to become independent learners.
All of the participants were able to research information online and navigate their
learning environment within their LMS. The participants used Blackboard to post
discussion topics and submit their assignments online. The students quickly mastered the
steps necessary to log onto the network wirelessly and locate network resources and
services through the Internet or Blackboard. Blanca describes how she logged onto the
school’s library website to take Accelerated Reader (AR) tests.
B: Usually, at school I go onto the library site. I go onto our school's
libraries, and then I go onto "AR," and then I would just go onto -McG: Nobody's shown me this. So the school has its own library website?
B: Yeah. And we'll just -McG: And you can access this from home?
B: Yeah, there's "AR connect." And then we log on, and then there's tests
we take for, well, we take tests for the school. We have to read books,
and they have certain points. And you read it, and then you take a test
on it.
McG: On the book, yeah.
B: And then you get points. And then it gets them to your English teacher,
who views it. And then we also go onto Blackboard.
McG: Usually the library site's mainly used just for AR? Or do people use
for other things?
B: Usually, I just use it for AR. There's other thing you can view on it, but
I don't really go through it.
McG: Yeah.
Alex described how his biology teacher assigned topics for his students to research
online. “Once in a while in Biology, my teacher might give us something. Like a topic we
are on like ecology or photosynthesis or anything and we will look it up on the web and
try to find some information.” For his computer class, Alex often used Google to find
images to manipulate in Photoshop.
I just use Google Images a lot that’s the only thing I do online . . .
like space. I look that up. I find one that catches my attention [Alex
completes a Google Images search using the term ‘Space’]. I find this one
and put it in MySpace. I will find one with a rocket ship or UFO. You
know something you know if I can think of it. I pretty much try to do it on
the Internet.
Several participants personalized their Blackboard home page by changing the
look and layout, adding widgets, and customizing the content. Maya said she added a
calculator to her home screen in Blackboard, “just in case I needed it.” She also added “a
dictionary, [weather] forecasts” and a note taking application. Since she likes to garden,
she created a customized RSS feed from the New York Times and posted it to her home
page. She shared, “Yeah, I like put my interests right there . . .” Jon described how he
customized his Blackboard account.
J: I have actually customized this [showing off the Blackboard home
screen which has custom colors and applications].
McG: Can you show me how you did this?
J: You can go to modify content or modify layout and change the color
and stuff . . .
McG: Yeah
J: If I wanted to change it to plum [a different color for the layout] and
McG: Ah ha. Cool.
J: Get links to the New York Times – political news or whatever.
McG: Did you set up those links yourself.
J: It something that –
McG: – that the school set up
J: No, it is not from the school – just like you can modify content.
McG: Oh you can set up your own RSS feeds or whatever it is.
J: it is something really simple – you just click on what you want to see.
McG: OK. Cool.
A few of the participants were able to not only manage and personalize their
learning within Blackboard but also research and find additional information to find
solutions to problems in order to learn independently. Reggie was not satisfied with just
learning the basics of Photoshop from his computer teacher. He used a video training
service that the school subscribed to called Atomic Learning to learn more advanced
features of Photoshop. As mentioned before, Reggie shared how he used, “quick tutorials
to learn how to do different things. I usually go to . . . a video that teaches all these
different programs . . . its called . . . Atomic Learning.” Atomic Learning was an online
service that the school purchased to provide professional training videos. Reggie shared,
“Yes, so I can log in with the school’s account and that is another way that I can learn
Photoshop and all of the different programs from that.” Not all of the participants took
advantage of this service. Completing tutorials within Atomic Learning was something
that Reggie did in addition to his schoolwork just so he could further develop his
technical skills. Reggie shared that in summer school he had to become an independent
learner because the teacher did not have the necessary knowledge to teach the various
software programs.
R: Yeah, we – um – they encouraged us to use that in the summer.
Actually our teacher was like there just sitting there pretty much we
had to learn everything ourselves.
McG: Oh wow.
R: We had to go to Atomic Learning and learn iMovie and how to do
different things. And that is how we made our movies. A lot of people
we [were] kind of mad about that but it turns out to [be] really useful
when you don't have a teacher there. We were like aren't you suppose
to be teaching us stuff but – um – I guess it taught us how to do stuff
ourselves. Not just rely on the teacher that’s important.
Both Reggie and Jon searched YouTube videos to find solutions to problems they
could not figure out on their own. Jon used YouTube to learn how to solve an Algebra
problem while Reggie used YouTube to improve his Photoshop skills.
McG: So what, um, what kind of videos do you normally watch on
R: Um, "How To."
R: Like I always want to get a better grade in . . . [my computer class].
McG: What class is that again?
R: Computer proficiency, yeah.
McG: Okay.
R: Um, I would see how to do things in Photoshop.
McG: Oh, yeah.
R: And how to make things better.
McG: Oh, cool.
R: And that's how -- and then he -- that's why -- that's why I got an "A" in
that class.
McG: Great!
R: Because I do different things, you know -McG: Uh-huh.
R: -- that did that. And, you know how, to -- how things work -McG: Uh-huh.
R: -- you know, how things work in Photoshop and so many things.
McG: There's a lot of tutorial on YouTube. So you look them up on how
to do it and then you can show the teacher in class.
R: Yeah.
Jon was struggling to learn certain concepts in his math class so he researched solutions
online. Through this process he found an instructor using the same textbook as his
teacher who was posting online lectures for each chapter. Jon posted a comment to the
instructor’s YouTube channel thanking him for making the videos. “You have saved my
Algebra 2 grade. Thank you kind sir, thank you.”
Video production literacies. Several students at VVCH were interested in learning
video production. The school has the equivalent of a complete television studio with high
quality cameras, lighting rigs, and green screens. The video production classes are
offered to juniors and seniors though freshman can learn how to do basic digital video
editing in iMovie. The school’s students have produced several documentaries and the
studio is used by the school district to record video messages by the superintendent and
other district personnel. These videos have increased the exposure of the school in the
community and brought positive publicity to the school.
Alex, Reggie, Maya, and Liliana learned how to produce and edit digital videos
using Apple’s iMovie software during a summer computer course before their freshman
year. The students also had access to Atomic Learning, a video tutorial service that
included clips on how to operate iMovie. During the focus group Reggie mention how he
learned how to edit movies: “In the summer they taught us how to use iMovie.” Liliana
complained that the freshmen do not get to use the production studio “for the videos. We
hardly use that here. Well, the seniors get to make videos, we don’t.” During the school
year the students often recorded their own videos of student activities, like the school
talent show, or for school projects.
At the end of the school year, the students had to complete a major video project
in their math class. The students were expected to make a video explaining a concept
from geometry from a real world perspective. Liliana shared how she was using
Photoshop to create the images for her movie. “For like [my] math teacher we have to do
a video. Photoshop is helping me cuz I like [to] do the pictures or whatever from my
video right there. And just enter them.” Reggie was so proud of his video that he bragged
about it on his Twitter feed, “Doing my GEO Video its AWESOMER!! Than yours LOL
jk.” He was asked about this post:
McG: The other thing I noticed on there was that you were excited about
your GEO video. What was that?
R: Geometry.
McG: OK.
R: We just finished videos. We have to make different things like. I made
my video. He has us use Window Movie Maker to make videos for
geometry and we are going to watch them on Monday.
McG: How was the video tied into Geometry?
R: The video has to be about geometry. Most people just made it of
pictures and text. Mine is actually a video picture and text and I used
Photoshop with it. I show actually how a building is classified as a
rectangular prism. I showed what is it and how is it with bullets. um . .
. with lines and different things to see like how it is –what shape is it
what different things its in on screen.
McG: I would love to see a copy of it.
R: I think it was OK. I was like. You know cause I was working on it from
6:00 in the morning on Sunday to 8:59 and I finished it and made a
copy and put it on my flash drive because I was so tired.
The students had two weeks in class to use the Math teacher’s Windows PC laptops to
create the video but most of the students needed additional time after school to complete
the assignment. Students who did not have access to a computer at home had to schedule
time after school in the technology teacher’s classroom while other students like Reggie
completed their videos at home.
Image editing literacies with Photoshop. Students at VVCH spent a large part of
their freshman year in their technology course learning how to create and edit images
within Adobe Photoshop. The students learned how to create digital collages, remove
backgrounds from images, correct imperfections within a picture, and create unique
digital effects like fire and ice. The students used these skills not only in their technology
course, but also to complete assignments for their other classes. These skills were also
highly valued outside of school by the students for use in the production of their SNS
One of the common Photoshop skills used by the participants was the ability to
digitally remove backgrounds from images to create new digital collages. One of the
assignments in the course was to produce a digital postcard by merging a self-portrait
with an image from another location. Blanca used Photoshop to remove the background
from a picture with her brothers and then merged the image with a background from an
airport in Japan. She posted the completed image on her MySpace giving it the caption,
“Just kidding, Photoshop.” Jon described his process in completing the assignment:
McG: You take out the background of your picture and place yourself into
another background.
J: Exactly, the other day I was looking up New York . . . pictures of New
York cause there is this photo that is kind of funny when I had long
hair . . . and I look like a homeless guy in the photo. So I decided to
make myself homeless in New York. So I would just look up a New
York street and go to images – I believe the one – I typed in night –
anyway if I see an image I like I go to it. And if it is not blocked [the
school filters out many images on the Internet] which it is blocked a
lot but ah – yeah – that is what I do.
McG: Now . . . have they taught the different technique of masking out the
backgrounds and using alpha channels or have you used the magic
wand tool or different techniques to delete the backgrounds. Has it
been easy for you to master or learn?
J: I definitely haven't mastered it yet. Photoshop is very intimidating if you
don't know what you are doing. The only thing I knew how to do in
Photoshop was use the band-aid tool. That’s the only thing I knew how
to use when I first went into it. Over the time I actually have learned a
lot of stuff so it is not so intimidating.
Alex used Photoshop to remove the background from an image taken at Knott’s Berry
Farm with Jon. Alex described the process in Photoshop: “The thing I did was take away
the background and put a photo in the back . . .and put some photos in layers and added
different effects to them.” Maya mentioned during an interview that she used Photoshop
in her technology course to “put ourselves in other scenes” by removing the backgrounds
from images.
The participants also used Photoshop to create original digital images and
collages. Near the end of his freshmen year, Reggie created a digital collage of several of
his classmates with the text class of 2012 and posted a link to the image on his Twitter.
Blanca responded to Reggie’s image with the tweet, “im sad cuz I’m not part of the 2012
pic.” Reggie responded back to her with another post on Twitter, “oh im sorry Blanca i
didn't have a pic of alot of people it probably would have been alot better.” As mentioned
earlier in this research, Jon used Photoshop to create a movie poster spoofying the movie
“The Forty Year Old Virgin” and Reggie used Photoshop to change the hair color of one
of his friends. Maya, who considered herself an artist, was asked the difference between
using Photoshop and drawing.
McG: Do you feel like you're able to express your art in Photoshop or do
you see is that something totally different from your drawing? A
different skill at all?
M: It's kind of both.
McG: Yeah?
M: 'Cause it depends on the way you feel like that day.
McG: Uh-huh.
M: And you want to express yourself. Or if you just felt like messing
Jon described the different assignments he completed in Photoshop.
. . . the first one was very basic. Cut out fruits and make a fruit face. Very
odd. Then we moved onto making things glow and now we are – this
second semester is all about creating things within Photoshop like fire, ice
which is really cool
Alex mentioned that he used his Photoshop skills to complete assignments in several of
his other classes: “I think three times throughout the year we used Photoshop to print out
posters about something we were doing.” Alex also mentioned that he enjoyed using
Photoshop so much in school that he started to use it a home “just for fun, I do that at
home because I enjoy [it].” During an interview Reggie explained how his skills in
Photoshop had improved over the school year.
McG: Have you gotten better at doing those things since you took your
tech class or your Photoshop class or is that something you probably
already knew?
R: Actually, yes, I have noticed that I have got a lot better at different
At least among these participants, the students enjoyed using Photoshop and developed
enough skills to integrate its use within their daily life.
Frustrations with technology at school. A few of the participants shared some of
their frustrations with using technology at their school. The participants felt that at times
the teachers had unrealistic expectations for their use of technology for school projects.
Because of technical problems and the amount of work, some students found it difficult
to complete all of their technology assignments at school. Many teachers assumed that
their students had mastered certain technological skills in their computer classes. Those
students who struggled with using technology felt they were at a disadvantage in
completing those assignments. Reggie and Blanca commented that they understood the
need for certain school policies on the use of technology at school, but they were often
frustrated with not being able to access their SNS accounts and email using their phones.
Jon and Alex were often thwarted by the district’s web filter from accessing certain
images to complete their Photoshop assignments. Finally, most of the students struggled
with completing their math video project on a Windows PC because they were trained to
use iMovie on the school’s Apple laptops.
The teachers had VVCH had high expectations for students to complete their
assignments using the technology available to them at school. Students were often
frustrated trying to complete these assignments at school since most of the students did
not have access to similar technology at home. During the focus group the participants
shared their frustrations.
McG: The school's known for use of technology. So how would you guys
-- what is your general feeling about having so much technology at the
school? Do you think it's a good thing or bad thing?
And describe your kind of experience using technology throughout the
year. What have you liked about it or maybe are there any frustrations?
M: I think there are some frustrations 'cause like in technology, you can't
finish all your work. You're kind of in a rush. Sometimes you don't -McG: Sometimes you run out of time?
M: Yeah.
McG: And it's not something that you could probably do for homework if
you don't have the programs and those things right?
M: Yeah.
J: We're not really allowed to do it at home.
McG: Okay.
J: We're not allowed to, but, you know, some of us do but, you know,
some of us do.
McG: Okay.
J: Just because we have to. And, I do not want to, I do not want to take my
tech class home, but sometimes I just have to, you know, keep the
McG: 'Cause there's a lot to do in there? It's a busy class?
J: Yes.
A: And the programs are like -- I think Photoshop's like $600.
McG: Yeah, that's a very expensive, yeah.
A: You know, it's not like most kids have them.
They shared how they often didn’t have enough time to complete their work and couldn’t
afford the software to complete the work at home. Blanca often struggled with using
technology at school and wished her teachers reviewed how to use the software
throughout the year.
B: And because we're -- they say that we're already been here a whole
year, that they expect us so much out of us through technology. Like a
lot of people don't just get everything down the first time they hear it,
you know?
McG: Yeah.
B: And they're like, "Well, we taught it to you at the beginning." And it's
like, "And you keep teaching us new things, you know? We're not
going to memorize every single thing." So it gets frustrating.
Alex complained about having to troubleshoot his wireless connection to the Internet
with the Windows laptop computers in his math class.
A: And if we experience problems with Mac, we have an idea how to fix
them 'cause we probably experienced them before. But with my math
teacher, he expects us to like to know everything about, you know,
Microsoft operating system.
McG: Oh, okay.
A: Which is really hard. But he'll say, "You guys have been here for a
year, you guys don't know how to like get along on the Internet?" And
it's different from a Mac and PC.
Blanca and Alex were frustrated when their teachers expected them to use technical skills
they had not yet mastered to complete assignments for their classes.
The school’s policies on the use of electronic devices at school and the quality of
the district’s web filter were also frustrating for the students. Students at VVCH were not
allowed to use personal portable electronic devices at any time at school. Many of the
students felt their cell phones were indispensible tools that provided them access to email
and their SNS, which they were not allowed to access while at school. Reggie
commented on the inconsistency of being able to use the school’s laptops at lunch but not
his cell phone.
McG: You guys have a school rule where you are not allowed to use your
phone during the day.
R: Which is just weird because you are allowed to use a laptop at lunch.
McG: Ok.
R: Which is different cause you can bring out a laptop and they won't say
anything but –
McG: if you bring out a phone they will.
R: Yeah.
So many students do not like the cell phone policy that many are willing to risk getting in
trouble by secreting using their phones at school. Reggie shared how a student in his
math class is “on IM 24/7.” Even Reggie, who is a good student and member of the ASB
leadership team, got caught using his cell phone to send messages to his Twitter account.
Jon was often upset with the quality of the district’s web filter, which seemed to
randomly block websites for no reason.
. . . the only restrictions I have ever had is with Google Images. I will go
look for an image and find something perfect for like ah a technology
project or something or something or other and I wont be able to use the
picture is blocked even though it is from a legitimate site.
The filters prevented Alex from doing his research at school for a project in his Biology
class and also prevented him from accessing pictures he needed to complete a Photoshop
McG: Ok. Has there been a situation when you couldn't do what you
wanted to do on the computer because of restrictions on the computer?
Anything that frustrated you? Can you explain what you were trying to
do when that happened? What was that like?
A: Um. I don't know how the software works . . . that they have. But I
know there is a lot of it – um – if it has the word sex. It will read
through all the text and if it has the word sex it won't put you in so if
you are doing something on the reproductive
MCG: Yeah
A: that is a topic in biology like right now it won’t lets you in. And
sometimes I also get problem with photos. Sometimes you will find an
image that is perfect for like Photoshop and this is the set photo you
want and you click on it, click on it again and you know Access
McG: Yeah.
A: Yeah, there is no real reason – it’s like a picture of a beach.
McG: Access Denied
A: Yeah.
Both Alex and Jon were clearly frustrated when the web filters prevented them from
getting their work done.
All of the participants voiced displeasure with a culminating project in their
geometry class where they had to create a video. The math teacher is one of the only
teachers that used Windows PC laptops in the school. The assignment specifically stated
that the students had to use Windows Movie Maker to create and edit the movie. The
students who had been trained to edit movies with iMovie for Apple Macintosh
computers were frustrated that they had to learn a new program to complete the
assignment. Reggie shared how having to learn two different video editors for two
different operating systems to complete the assignment was ridiculous.
R: Um I am getting frustrated using two different operating systems [that]
can get very frustrating.
R: Especially when you are working on everything in your technology
class on Macs.
McG: Un huh
R: And we have a problem because we have to make our videos play on a
Mac and a PC.
McG: Oh wow.
The students had to troubleshoot and learn how to save and export the videos in the
correct format so they worked on both operating systems.
R: That was one of the big things everybody was like what do I save it as?
What do I save it as?
McG: Yeah.
R: While I saved mine as Mp4 but – um – when we work on stuff on a
Mac and you are doing things in iMovie, which they taught us how to
McG: Uh huh
R: You know everything you know we can do in iMovie but when he
changes it and we have to use Windows Movie Maker its like what! –
even though everyone has this at home. Still like what is Windows
Movie maker? What is that?
McG: Yeah
R: And everybody was really confused about that and some people tried to
use iMovie and convert it over and then some didn't save it right and it
doesn't play on a pc.
McG: Oh Wow.
R: One of my friends – um – saved it has a windows media player file and
it doesn't play on a Mac. So there – so they click on it on a Mac and it
says there is no video there. And they were like what – what and they
got all freaked out. You know. And they had to convert it and different
things and it was a lot of hassle.
Liliana used her Photoshop skills to create images that she imported into her video for her
math class.
I have learned a bunch of stuff. For my . . . math teacher we have to do a
video. Photoshop is helping me cuz I like do the pictures or whatever from
my video right there. And just enter them.
Some of the students tried to use iMovie to complete the assignment but the Math teacher
did not allow them to use it in class. Reggie was upset that the school taught them how to
use iMovie but his math teacher was requiring them to use a different piece of software.
That was the main thing . . . that's what they taught us to use in the
summer [before his freshmen year], iMovie. And then he turns around and
makes us do -- Movie Maker and he says we cannot use iMovie. Even
though you could [some of the students found a way to export the video
from iMovie so it would play on both operating systems] and you
preferred it. You had to use [Movie Maker] -- you can't work on it in
another classroom. Like if you wanted to go to the technology class after
school and work on it, you couldn't. You had to go to the library. So you
would have to go to the library, city library, or go to somebody's house
[who had a PC].
Because of the requirement to use Movie Maker, if the students did not finish the video in
class, they could not use any of the other computers on campus to complete the
assignment, forcing them to visit a local public library that uses Windows computers.
Assessment Within a LMS
The participants’ teachers used Blackboard to assess student literacies through
online tests, quizzes, and reviews. Blackboard tests were given in class and proctored by
the teachers, while some online quizzes students were able to take at home. Some
teachers set up the quizzes so that they had to be completed in a set amount of time.
Other assignments referred to as reviews could be taken multiple times. This was used
like a digital worksheet to provide additional practice in math and science problems in
preparation for the state standardized testing in the spring. The students appreciated when
these questions provided feedback on their results though their teachers limited their use
because of a concern for cheating. The students suggested that Blackboard could be used
to post daily homework assignments and to allow the students to check their total grades
in their classes.
Most of the participants’ teachers used Blackboard to deliver online quizzes, tests,
and reviews to their students. At first many of the students appreciated being able to take
quizzes online and see their results immediately. Alex shared, “I like Blackboard, I like
the whole concept and the idea you know you can take a quiz and find our score right
there and then.” Blanca described how she used Blackboard: “Yeah. For math, that’s all
we do, the tests. For science, also, we [do] a lot of testing – or reviews on the practice
test.” Reggie was asked what was the difference between a quiz and a review in
McG: Is the difference with a review is that you can take them as many
times as you want and the quiz you can only take once?
R: Yes, tests you can only take once and usually are timed and . . . yeah.
These ones are you can take them . . . no . . .These ones you can
actually take three times [Reggie points to a quiz from his math class
in Blackboard]
McG: Um
R: And if you don't pass it in the three times . . . actually it goes by the last
score. If you got eight out of 10 and then seven out of 10. Then six out
of 10, it would take the six.
McG: That's a bummer.
R: Yeah so
McG: So you have to think about it if you want to take it again.
R: Yeah um pretty much that’s it.
Alex complained that the Blackboard quiz questions were more difficult than the
questions he received from paper based tests in class.
A: The thing I don't like about it is sometimes the questions that they have
on there just doesn't seem like a normal quiz question.
McG: ah huh
A: I just I don't know. It just like bothers me.
McG: Ok.
A: There is nothing really to it just bothers me that its not – um formatted
the same way as a regular
McG: question
A: Yeah.
McG: Is the way it’s formatted more difficult?
A: It makes it harder.
Some of the teachers used Blackboard as a way to review and prepare the students for
their CSTs in the spring. Blanca shared how she used it in her math class: “Like three
weeks before the CST, we were just doing test after test after test. Like at first it was fun,
you know, we were like using Blackboard, but after a while, it gets boring.”
One of the features the students liked most about online quizzes in Blackboard
was receiving immediate automated feedback on their results. Students answered
multiple choice, true/false, matching, or short answer questions in Blackboard and then
immediately received feedback on the accuracy of their responses. However, the teachers
noticed that some students were cheating by sharing their corrected answers with other
students who had not yet taken their tests. As a result, most of the teachers changed their
Blackboard settings to provide more test security. Alex was asked about whether he
received feedback on his Blackboard quizzes.
McG: Does Blackboard give you any feedback on your quizzes? If you get
something wrong does it tell you why you got it wrong?
A: I wish. Some of them do. There is a problem with cheating if someone
is seated here and someone here if I finish the test and got 80 percent
and it tells me the ones I got wrong so I can help out the person.
McG: Next to you.
A: It would be nice to have it because [now] it doesn't tell you which ones
you got wrong.
McG: And then does he set up all the quizzes the same way or are there
different ways of taking them some timed some not timed? How does
that work?
A: Some of them he has timers on one an hour 30 minutes or just 15
McG: Okay.
A: And at the end right before [it] times out it will say one minute later.
Some of them you can only take once. Some of them you can take up
to three times. Some you have an infinite number you can take.
McG: Yeah
A: some of them have a special code . . . you will have the test there and
you want to take it but it says you need a password for it. Like a
password. Those are for like Mr. Garcia’s fourth period [English
teacher]. He will have a test on something and he will say go on
Blackboard and the password is purple so you put purple and log in so
people won't do it at home. So they can't do it at home.
McG: So they have to do it at school.
A: So they have to do at school - can't cheat at home.
McG: So they can't have the book open while they are doing it. That
makes sense.
A: Yeah.
Many of the students complained about the large number of math questions they
had to answer in their online Blackboard reviews before their CST exams. For the
reviews the teacher set up the quizzes like an online worksheet. The students could take
the review up to three times. Traditionally, the amount of homework given by a teacher is
limited to what is feasible for them to grade. A teacher knows that for every assignment
given, they have to have the time to grade it. Since online worksheets can be
automatically scored, the teacher no longer has that concern. In the opinion of some of
the participants, this has resulted in their teachers giving them an excessive amount of
work. Jon complained,
Sometimes in math class, the teacher will give us like two hours of quiz
questions on Blackboard, nobody likes answering questions for two hours
. . . no matter what you are working on it gets tedious after two hours.
Alex describes how his geometry teacher posted a large number of online quizzes. “My
geometry teacher just posts up quizzes. Random quizzes. He tells us you know just finish
them by the end of the year, and they will affect your grade. So we just go online and do
them.” Liliana also complained how boring it was completing online reviews every day.
L: Quizzes and CSTs – before [the CSTs] we used it [for] review.
McG: I heard you did that a lot. Did that get boring after a while?
L: Yeah. You eventually start falling a sleep.
McG: [Laughs] because you did so much.
L: Yeah. It was like every day.
Maya described how she used Blackboard for her math class. After she completed a
review, she checked her score to see if she had an acceptable percentage before she
continued onto the next set of questions.
M: In math – there is an assignment posted – so I go to assignments [she
clicks on her math teacher’s assignment page in Blackboard] – there
are the ones I don't – like if I don't know if [I] had passed it I go to
tools and view my grades and check the percentage.
McG: Do you have to get a certain percentage?
M: Yeah
McG: And you can take it as many times as you want to get that
M: - No, like the quizzes I can only take them once because they are
already completed. The reviews you could. .
McG: Take them as many times as you want?
M: - Yeah. Like on these you only had three chances.
Jon checks his math assignments almost daily from home on Blackboard.
J: I would go to math and then assignments and just look over all my
assignments right now. I have some . . . ah . . . stuff I need to do.
McG: He gives a lot of quizzes and tests.
J: Lots of quizzes and it actually accounts for lot of my grade so . . .
McG: Are these types of tests usually timed or does he . . .
J: I can show you one if you like – usually when it likes ah – his quizzes –
this is a quiz but I can take it as many times as I want until I get the
grade I want. But, um, for the most part it is not timed. You can get as
much time as you want but it is timed stamped so he will know when
you do it. Yeah –you go through the questions. The quizzes and things
like that would be– timed.
A few of the students made suggestion on how the school could improve
Blackboard. One of the suggestions that Alex made was for the teachers to post their
daily homework assignments in Blackboard so he could check what needs to be done
each day from home.
I think they should really change or modify Blackboard in a way where
teachers have an account and they are able to post up homework. And they
could send messages to the students – cause there is like no real way you –
well you could go talk to them – but sends messages to your teachers and
they could reply to you. I hear all the time from intelligent kids you know
people who care about their education where like oh I just didn't write
down the homework and they want it. And you know it’s a big problem
that you know everybody faces sometimes they just don't write it down.
And you know it would be great if you could just go online and you know
just find out then what’s homework.
Reggie suggested it would be nice to be able to check their grades online in Blackboard.
Currently, they can only view partial grades of just their Blackboard assignments.
McG: Is there anyway for you to check your grades online without
Blackboard? Just like your regular grades and your homework in class.
R: No, not in any of my classes. We don't have that. I would like that –
that is something I would really appreciate. But so far nothing . . .
Certain things on Blackboard you can't do. Checking your grades for
your entire grade would be so much better.
McG: Um
R: I would probably do that everyday . . . check my grade because I want
to know what my grade is. Because I was not very happy . . . when . . .
he [science teacher] gave me a C and I knew I didn't deserve that C. I
went to him and he said “Oh”. He gave me some reason. I don't
deserve a C . . . so I did an essay for extra credit and I have been doing
all the extra credit assignments he has at the end of the year. Every
possible chance, because I do not want a C.
The participants’ teachers most commonly used Blackboard as a way to give
online tests, reviews, and worksheets. While at first the students enjoyed using
Blackboard and getting immediate feedback on their work, over time the students felt
bored and often frustrated at the large amount of questions they had to answer. Only a
fraction of the participants’ total grade was from work completed in Blackboard, so the
students had no way of checking their current grades online. In addition, none of the
teachers used Blackboard as a way to post daily homework assignments. Every English
teacher maintained a paper-based portfolio containing representative work from his or her
students. These portfolios contained student California State Testing (CST) results,
current reading level in AR, examples of student essays, and more reflective formative
assessments. It would seem that maintaining these portfolios online in Blackboard could
be a natural extension of the use of the LMS at the school.
Summary of Literacy Section
The six participants in this study used MySpace and Blackboard to demonstrate a
variety of literacy practices in their online environments. Within MySpace students had
to manage their social relationships using a variety of communication skills and tools
including the ability to send messages, wall posts, and bulletins, while in Blackboard the
participants had to respond to literature and classroom debates through online forum
discussions and audio voice boards. Both in MySpace and in Blackboard the participants
had to demonstrate the ability to express themselves through written expression. Some
students were more successful at transitioning between the use of academic language on
Blackboard and the more informal writing found on MySpace, while other students wrote
in an informal style in both environments and had to be constantly corrected by their
teacher. Both in MySpace and in Blackboard the participants demonstrated their technical
skills in producing videos and editing images in Photoshop. However, some students
expressed frustrations with school policies and the pressure to complete technical
assignments at school.
Connections Within School and Out of School
For this study the participants’ identity formation and literacy practices have been
analyzed by an artificial division of within school and out-of-school use of technology.
For these participants technology is instead integrated throughout their daily practices.
Reggie’s, Blanca’s, and Maya’s use of mobile devices to access the Internet enabled them
to stay connected to their social and academic networks anytime and anywhere. Even
those participants who could not afford cell phones used computers at home and at school
to regularly stay connected online. The major difference in their use of technology within
the two environments was that their practices at school were primarily dictated and
controlled by their teacher and school policies.
The participants were asked to self-report on their use of technology during one
day by uploading data to a web database, the technology use matrix (see Appendix D).
All the participants except Maya added at least one entry to the database. Maya could not
access the database because Moodle (the LMS used to host the database) was not
accessible from the mobile browser on her Nintendo DSi. It is not known if there was a
slight gender bias in the instrument as Liliana and Blanca only uploaded a single entry to
the database while Reggie, Jon, and Alex uploaded multiple entries.
Alex uploaded a series of entries explaining the various websites he visited
throughout the day. He usually starts his day (7:00 am) by checking his MySpace
messages before he goes to school. This was a way to quickly connect to his social
network before the start of school. After school he liked to run through his favorite
technology blogs (Engadget, Cnet, and G4) to stay up on the latest rumors and the
announcements of any new gadgets. Next, he watched his favorite animated TV show
and checked his MySpace again. Finally, before he needed to go to bed, he checked to
see if he had any Blackboard quizzes to complete in Math.
Entry added at 7:00 am. Spent time checking messages on
Web Page: I went to Engadget around for like 8 minutes all
together, but nothing got my attention at 5:00 PM
Web Page: I went to Cnet but didn't really clicked on anything.
Just skimmed through it at 5:06 PM.
Web Page: I went to "The Feed" on the G4 websites and I saw this
video on Steve Jobs history at 5:15 PM.
Web Page: I saw episode 18, 19 and 20 of Naruto. I fell asleep
during the third one at 5:25 PM.
MySpace: I spent the last thirty minutes on Myspace at 8:30 PM.
Blackboard: Went to see if any new test were up.
I didn't do any :> at 10:00 PM.
Blanca and Liliana uploaded single entries to their technology use matrix.
Blanca’s entry was a single text message about a friend she saw near the city courthouse.
The message was posted at 6:00 PM, and she wrote, “haha just saw u by the court house
n wanted to say hi :) smile.” The text illustrates how adolescents use texting to maintain
their social relationships by communicating the often mundane aspects of their day.
Liliana’s single entry was a summary of how she used technology throughout her day.
She uploaded a photograph of her friends’ performance at the school’s end-of-the-year
talent show. Next, Liliana shared how she worked on her Photoshop assignments at home
to finish them before the end-of-the-year deadline. Assignments from the technology
course were to be completed in class, but some of the participants found it difficult to
complete all the assignments during class time. Liliana was able to get a copy of
Photoshop for her home computer so she could complete her work at home.
On Friday we had a talent show and I took lots of pictures and videos then
in the evening I did some of my Photoshop assignments. Here are some
pictures: Date of Photography: 5 June 2009 2:00 PM.
Reggie shared on the technology matrix how he used text messages and his twitter
feed to communicate with his friends throughout his day. This happened to be a day that
he had got injured at school requiring a visit to the hospital to get stitches. At 7:00 in the
morning he called his Mom to pick him up from school. By 8:00, he texted his mom,
“Pick me up at nurses office.” Reggie received a text message from a friend asking him,
“Why r u gonna be late?” He replied, “I hit my head on a door and I am at the hospital.”
At 11:00 AM, he emailed a picture of his stitches to a friend. Later in the day he tweeted,
“I went to the hospital 4 stitches :( 4:16 PM via txt.” In the afternoon, he received a
phone call from Upward Bound verifying some information in his summer application.
Reggie spent the evening, watching YouTube videos, answering email, and
replying to friends on his twitter feed. In the afternoon he called a friend to find out about
his missed homework because of his absence. He later talked to another friend on his
phone to help her with her homework. He replied to one of her tweets writing, “its not as
easy as you thinks LOL via web.” In a reply to a friend he posted, “#dellusional idk it
was all a blur and i got stitches but im better anyway im coming back tomorrow 7:43 PM
via web.” Then he uploaded to the technology matrix, “checked my email (1,276
messages) *sigh*.” Before he went to bed Reggie called his phone to find it so he could
charge its battery over night.
Jon uploaded the most thorough responses to the database documenting his daily
interactions with technology. He was also the only participant that described in detail
how he used technology at school. In his second period class, he did not get on the
Internet but instead focused on completing a few Photoshop assignments. Near the end of
the day he used Blackboard in his math class to complete some quizzes.
Technology Matrix - Participant Jon Nelson at 9:00AM
 Used Photoshop in my second period Internet Programming class
 Did not use the Internet, all work was on the laptop
Technology Matrix - Participant Jon Nelson at 2:00PM
 Did a Blackboard test for my math class
 Worked on Blackboard finishing quizzes for my math class
After school, Jon described his typical daily practices on his SNS. As soon as Jon
gets home, he logs onto all his SNS and then goes idle. Each SNS is open in a new
window in his web browser, so he can quickly move between each network if he needs to
communicate with any of his friends.
Technology Matrix – Jon Nelson at 4:00PM
 Logged into Myspace, went idle
 Logged into Facebook, went idle
 Logged into Twitter went idle
 Logged into Yahoo for email
 Logged into YouTube
 Logged into
For the next two hours, Jon connects to his various friends on MySpace, Facebook, and
Twitter. Of all the participants, Jon is the most active on his SNS. Jon uses his various
SNS to connect to different groups of friends and family. He uses MySpace to
communicate to his school friends, Facebook to play social gaming applications and stay
connected to his family, and Twitter to follow a mix of friends and celebrities.
Technology Matrix – Jon Nelson at 4:30PM on Myspace
 Sent a message via MySpace to Alex
 Responded to a message from a peer
 Responded to a comment with a comment
 Watched one of my video comments
 Replied to a status comment
 Accepted a friend request from peer
Technology Matrix – Jon Nelson on Facebook
 Commented on my sisters Facebook status
 Played Pet Society on Facebook (15 mins)
Technology Matrix – Jon Nelson at Twitter
 Updated my status
 Looked at my friends status
Adolescents rarely use email to communicate with their friends; instead, email is
primarily used to communicate to adults. Those students who do not have a portable USB
drives also use their email to transfer files from their school computers to their home
computers. An email address serves as a virtual ID for adolescents. It is required for them
to sign up for accounts on their social networking sites. Unlike some of the other
participants, Jon checks his email daily.
Technology Matrix – Jon Nelson on Yahoo
 Checked E-Mail
After Jon checked his email, he visits YouTube to watch some videos and then
logs onto his personal diet website. Jon checks out upcoming trailers for movies he wants
to see.
Technology Matrix – Jon Nelson onYouTube
 Watched “The Taking of Pelham 123” videos on YouTube
 Visited “The Taking of Pelham 123”, watched official trailer (gotta see
that movie)
Jon loves movies and wants to be an actor. On his MySpace profile under the section for
favorite movies he wrote,
Cinematic Adventures? Hell yes! I live for film. I'd rather watch the last
thirty seconds of "Back to the Future" than have sex. The "Robin Hood:
Prince of thieves" theme makes me want to sword fight. I get exited every
time I watch "The Score." "Lost In Translation" makes me laugh and cry
all in one setting. Haven't seen these movies? I bid you a due sir!
Shortly before 6:00 pm, Jon logs onto his personal diet website to log all the food he ate
during the day.
Technology Matrix – Jon Nelson on
 Logged daily food information bills itself as a lifestyle tool not a diet. The website has a food
database of over 70,000 foods. In addition, to tracking members’ total calories, the site
also provides an exercise log and an online forum that can be used as a support group for
the members.
Around 6:00 pm, Jon begins working on his homework. He launches Photoshop
and completes four different assignments for his technology course. While he is working,
he will quickly jump to MySpace in an open browser window.
Technology Matrix – Jon Nelson at 6:00PM
 Worked on Photoshop for Internet programming class (Finished 4
 (Meanwhile) Checked MySpace: responded to a comment, replied to one
 Took a photo of my cat
After spending a few more hours on his different SNS, Jon falls asleep.
As an observer of the students’ interactions on MySpace and in the classroom, the
researcher was able to follow connections across the boundaries between home and
school. On MySpace, when a friend is logged on to the SNS, it will broadcast online
under their avatar for all their friends to see. One night, as the researchers was
downloading data from the participant’s profile, he noticed that Jon was still online after
1:00 in the morning. The next day during the observation, the researcher made the
following comments,
The students entered the class sat down and took out their SSR materials
(books). Students quietly start reading. Jon has a hard time concentrating;
his eyes are wandering all around the room. He doesn’t appear to be
reading. Instead, Jon has both hands on his head and he is leaning back in
his chair. He is yawning in class and it appears he is tired and distracted.
OC: No wonder he is tired, he was up so late last night on MySpace.
In another instance, the night before a field trip to Valley Vista Junior College, Liliana
posted a status update mentioning how excited she was to be going on a field trip. The
next afternoon she posted the following MySpace bulletin,
Subject: fiElD TRiP!
Body: so today we went to Valley Vista Junior College!
i tought it was gonna suck; but it didnt!
the bus ride over there & back was SUPPER fUN!
& the HiSTORy Of THE MEXiCAN-AMERiCANS class was interesting!
i actually learned something new!
time went by supper fast today!
On the day that Blanca had her iPod touch confiscated at school, she tweeted “having a
sh*ty day.” In these examples, the researcher was often able to trace events that occurred
at school and then see their reactions to their day’s events on their SNS.
The central focus of this research was to trace adolescent identities and literacy
practices across different context both online/offline and in school and out of school. This
was done by analyzing the participants’ use of language and images within MySpace and
Backboard to make connections, demonstrate literacy, and represent themselves to others.
By expressing their identity and learning to make meaning with these symbols in socially
and culturally relevant ways, the participants developed and demonstrated new literacies
within MySpace and Blackboard.
This research compares the identity formation and literacy practices of six urban
adolescents within two online environments. A summary of the findings follows with a
discussion of the implications of adolescents using SNS and LMS to form their identities
and demonstrate multiple literacies. Recommendations for educators interested in using
SNS and LMS to develop adolescent identities and literacy practices are given. This
chapter concludes with a discussion of the limitations of the study and the need for
additional research.
Summary of Findings
This research is framed through the analytic lenses of identity and literacy and
grounded within the social-cultural perspective of situated learning. The concepts of
identity and literacy were analyzed within the context of adolescents attending a small
urban high school in the city of Valley Vista. Valley Vista is a working class community
where 64% of the population is Hispanic and 55% of the residents speak Spanish. The six
participants, a Caucasian, an African American, and four Hispanics, attended a small high
school with open enrollment and an emphasis on technology. These six participants were
active members in a SNS and MySpace, and the focus was on their use of a LMS,
Blackboard, in their freshmen English class.
The use of a LMS and SNS became an indispensable part of the participants’
social and academic life. The students used their SNS and LMS to form and experiment
with their identity, practice multiple identities, and express their aspirations for their
future. Within their SNS and LMS, the participants demonstrated various social and
academic literacies including the ability to navigate and manage complex social
relationships and to critically analyze texts by interacting with their teacher and
classmates within an online academic environment. The students regularly read and wrote
text in social and academic online settings. Both in and out of school the students
demonstrated a technological proficiency in the digital tools necessary to produce online
text, manipulate images, and edit and publish videos.
The Context: Urban Adolescents Using SNS and LMS
The participants’ practices within their SNS and LMS cannot be understood
separately from their social contexts. While these participants lived in a working class
community and attended a small urban school, they chose to use a SNS that appeared to
be reproducing their social and racial divisions online. The participants often used mobile
devices to stay constantly connected to their social and academic online environments.
Many students in the participants’ class did not have access to the Internet outside of
school, and many of those that did have access did not have the social capital necessary
to make use of the technologies to engage in meaningful social practices. This resulted in
a paradox where some participants, like Blanca and Maya, maintained mobile
connections to their social networks yet still faced barriers that prevented them from
effectively working in their LMS outside of school.
Choice of Online Environments
The choice of LMS and SNS is not merely a personal preference like choosing to
use Gmail or Hotmail as one’s email service. A user of Gmail can still email a user of
Hotmail. However, each LMS and SNS service is like a “walled garden:” users of one
service do not have access to the members on another service. The choice of LMS is
determined by school district policies and personnel based on expense, usability, cost of
training, and support. This research confirms what other researchers have found (Ito et
al., 2009; Lenhart et al., 2010b) that adolescents largely chose their SNS based on which
network their friends are using.
The primary online environments of the participants were MySpace and
Blackboard. All the participants used Blackboard as their LMS at school though some of
the students supplemented Blackboard by using other online tools to support their
learning independently. Reggie spent time online using Atomic Learning, a subscription
service that specialized in software training tutorials. Blanca often used the school’s
library website to log onto the school’s AR service to complete her reading quizzes.
Reggie was the only participant that did not use MySpace because of his parent’s
concerns about the service though he did use YouTube and Twitter as his SNS. Near the
end of the study, he began to use Facebook as his primary SNS.
In this research three of the six participants regularly posted status updates to
Twitter accounts. Blanca and Reggie made regular posts to Twitter and Jon often posted
status updates to his MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. This is inconsistent with
a Pew research study that surveyed adolescent practices on SNS and found most teens
were not Twitter users. While the study found that 73% of teens used SNS, only 8% of
12-17 year olds used Twitter (Lenhart et al., 2010b). One researcher (boyd, 2009) argued
that teens do not use Twitter because of the public nature of the site. Teens prefer to
communicate with their friends privately.
The four Hispanic students (Alex, Blanca, Liliana, and Maya) preferred MySpace
to any other SNS. This is consistent with Hargittai's (2007) research with 1,060 first year
college students. She found that students of Hispanic origin were significantly less likely
to use Facebook as compared to MySpace, while white students were much more likely
to use Facebook than any other SNS. In her research, there were also important
differences in the sample according to parents' level of education. Students were
significantly more likely to be MySpace users if their parents had less than a high school
degree. These findings are consistent with this research as Jon was the only participant at
the start of the study who had a Facebook account. Later in the study, Reggie joined
Facebook primarily because his parents did not allow him to use MySpace. Though Jon
had a Facebook account, he did not feel he was ready for Facebook, as he perceived the
service as primarily for older teens and adults.
SNS could be Reproducing Social Inequalities Online
It appears that students’ choice of SNS service is reproducing the social and racial
divisions found within their social context. Earlier adopters and advocates of the Internet
often used the rhetoric of virtual communities fostering increased social equity
(Rheingold, 1993). In the early days of the web many celebrated the anonymity of being
online; like the dog in the old New Yorker Cartoon famously said, “On the Internet,
nobody knows you’re a dog.” In addition, many parents expressed concerns that child
predators using this anonymity could victimize children. In the early days of MySpace, a
few instances of these types of online criminal behaviors resulted in sensational national
headlines. However, it appears that these risks to adolescents are quite small.
While SNS theoretically allow teens to make new friendships online resulting in
more heterogeneous relationships, most teens connect with preexisting friends. Only one
survey of Israeli adolescents suggests that adolescents who make online friends tend to
develop heterogeneous relationships (Mesch & Talmud, 2007). Most adolescents do not
“friend” strangers online and instead keep their profiles private. All the participants
except Reggie had changed the settings of their SNS to private to protect their privacy.
Even Reggie, whose primary SNS, Twitter, is public by default, was aware of the risks
and self-censored his posts so as not to reveal his locations. Reggie shared how he only
posted his location in the past tense when he was using Twitter. He posted on Twitter, “I
just went to Roundtable Pizza,” but he later shared, “I don't put it when I am there, that’s
really [scary].”
It appears that SNS are primarily used by adolescents to interact with their
preexisting network of friends (Lenhart & Madden, 2007; Subrahmanyam & Greenfield,
2008) This tendency towards homophily, the propensity to associate with like people,
appeared to be reproduced online in this research. These sites had a network effect
because their use and value increased as more friends joined MySpace. As friends
followed their friends onto MySpace, adolescents began to self-segregate along racial,
SES, and social categories. The early techno-utopian belief that the Internet would
eradicate all social and racial barriers and provide online social equality based on merit
does not appear to be true. Instead, MySpace appears to reproduce the social and racial
barriers within adolescent youth culture.
A researcher (boyd, 2007b) caused a controversy when she posted a blog post that
described the class and racial division between adolescent MySpace and Facebook users.
In a soon to be published chapter, boyd (2010) explains how white adolescents and those
with more social capital are leaving MySpace for Facebook. She describes this migration
to Facebook as a type of virtual “white flight,” a term that explained the migration of
middle class white Americans from urban centers in America to the suburbs. Boyd
interviewed students on high school campuses, where some of the students referred to
MySpace as being “ghetto,” a place where Mexican and Black students hang out.
The sample size of this research was not large enough or diverse enough to
confirm or refute boyd’s work. However, Blanca provides an example of how this
process might be working. In the middle of this study, Blanca started using Twitter as her
primary SNS. She posted tweets several times a day and only visited her MySpace a few
times a week. By the end of this study, Blanca had removed all text and most of the
personal information from her profile on MySpace except for her status update and her
profile picture. Her profile had several CSS and HTML errors that resulted in partial code
fragments being printed to her page, appearing like a form of virtual graffiti. To a visitor
of her profile, it appeared abandoned. Blanca still logged on to her MySpace, but rarely
did she publish anything on her profile. She logged on solely to view her private page so
she could read and send messages to her friends.
Any Time, Anywhere Access to their LMS and SNS
Even students from a low SES background have made it a priority to get online
and stay connected to their friends and classmates. All of the participants except Alex and
Jon used mobile devices to stay connected to their SNS wirelessly. Liliana, who did not
have a cell phone, and Maya, who did not have a data plan on her phone, used the
Nintendo DSi gaming device to connect wirelessly to the Internet. Liliana often borrowed
her brother’s mobile phone to access her SNS profile on the go. She actually found it
quicker and easier to use the mobile shortcuts to access MySpace through his phone than
her computer at home. These practices were consistent with the latest research from a
Pew study that found that teen cell phone owners in the lowest household income
category (under $30,000 a year) were the most likely (41%) to use their handsets to go
online (Lenhart et al., 2010b). The Pew study demonstrated that while going online
through cell phones was too expensive for many younger teens that rely on their parents
to pay for the service, it also provided lower income households without a computer the
opportunity to get online. The six participants in this dissertation were younger teens who
primarily used home computers to get online and used their mobile devices to stay
connected with their friends on the go through free WiFi networks in the community and
at school, not by wireless data plans. It would be interesting to know if these students
would pay for their own data plans once they get older and could afford it. Once online
these participants used MySpace and Blackboard for academic and social purposes to
express their identities, practice new literacies, and communicate with family and friends.
While many students bring their cell phones, cameras, iPods, and DSis to class,
the school’s policies prevent them from using them. If a student was found with an
electronic device, school personnel confiscated it. During one classroom observation
Blanca was visibly upset because the school had confiscated her iPod touch. The school
district also filtered Internet access to only certain websites. The response of most
districts has been to ban the use of SNS at school. While the district has a legal
responsibility to protect students from the more dangerous areas of the Internet and needs
to monitor students to prevent them from wasting school time socializing online, there
might be some legitimate academic reasons for students to have access to their SNS at
school. Students could use SNS and their cell phones to stay organized and keep track of
their homework assignments.
At the same time, these policies were ineffective because students often found
ways around these barriers, even risking punishment to get online and maintain their
social networks at school. Reggie commented in the study how students in his math class
secretly sent text messages to each other. Liliana shared how during summer school, she
used a friend’s phone to get on MySpace during school.
L: In summer school we did it. We were always on it [MySpace].
McG: Probably people would get in trouble if they tried to do that or
L: No we were on a girl’s cell phone.
McG: um. Oh Ok. If you have a cell phone they can't block it.
L: Yeah.
Getting onto their SNS and maintaining their online identities had become a social
necessity for many of these adolescents. Reggie and Blanca posted status updates to their
Twitter and MySpace accounts several times a day through their Mobile phones,
sometimes even while they were at school. Reggie secretly posted the following Tweet
by text message right before lunch, “Just finished p.e! about 2 hours ago from txt.”
Blanca tried to send a tweet on her iPod during biology but could not get a consistent
Wi-Fi signal on her iPod to post: “So I wanted to post up dissecting a frog. And I kept
trying and trying, and I was like, man.” Even those students who did not have a mobile
device to connect online, like Jon and Alex, posted almost daily updates to their SNS
from their personal computers in their bedrooms.
Students could use their cells phones and SNS to stay organized and keep track of
their homework assignments. Alex and Reggie complained about not always
remembering to write down their daily homework. Teachers did not post homework on
Blackboard and many students did not use paper to keep track of their activities. Alex
I hear all the time from . . . people who . . . just didn’t write down the
homework and they want it. And you know it’s a big problem . . . they just
don’t write it down. And it would be great if you could just go online . . .
Allowing the students to use their cell phones and SNS to keep track of their homework
assignments might result in students being more engaged by keeping them organized and
reminding them to complete their assignments using the tools that they have already
integrated within their social lives.
Digital Divide and Social Context
Even a school that emphasized technology and had laptops for every student in
almost every classroom struggled in providing equal access to technology for all students.
Bridging the digital divide requires more than just providing a student with a computer; it
also requires recognizing the role of the social context and the need to use the technology
to develop meaningful social practices (Warschauer, 2003). For some students who did
not have computers or Internet access outside of school, it was a race to complete their
assignments during class time. Reggie and Alex allowed friends who they knew did not
have access to computers outside of school to use their laptops in their English class
before them because they knew they could finish their work at home. Maya, whose
mobile device to the Internet outside of class was not compatible with Blackboard, made
it priority to finish her Blackboard assignments in class. There were also technical
problems in their English class that prevented the students from accessing their Wi-Fi
signal, limiting them to only the 12 wired network drops to get on the Internet.
While some students were using mobile devices to maintain their social and
academic networks both within and out of school, other students were prevented from
accessing their LMS and SNS because of school policies, costs, and the lack of the
necessary social and academic skills to be productive online. This resulted in a situation
where some students could not access their SNS within school nor could they access their
LMS outside of school.
Maya often used her Nintendo DSi to access the Internet and her SNS outside of
school. However, she could not access Blackboard from the mobile browser on her DSi.
She often worked hard on her Blackboard assignments to complete them in class because
she knew she could not finish them outside of school. Both Maya and Blanca had family
responsibilities, including helping cook and taking care of their younger siblings, that
made it difficult to finish any schoolwork outside of class. Blanca had to share her
desktop computer time with her younger siblings. Her slow reading ability and poor
writing skills in English also made it difficult for her to complete many of her Blackboard
assignments within class time. Both Maya and Blanca struggled accessing their SNS at
school because of Internet filters and school policies. Even Jon, who was a heavy Internet
user, had to rely on the free Internet access provided by a neighbor who did not have a
password on his Wi-Fi network. So while Jon could access Blackboard and MySpace
from home, he was often worried about being cut off from his social and academic
Context: The Role of Technology
Technology played an important role in understanding the context of these six
adolescents. Living in a poor urban environment influenced how they accessed and used
technology. Both Jon and Alex did not own mobile phones because of the expense. Many
of the other participants did not have texting or data plans, on their phones because their
families could not afford them. Because of the expense of mobile data plans, Blanca,
Maya and Liliana used alternative mobile devices with WiFi connections to access the
Internet wirelessly. They had to know where in Valley Vista, they could access free
Internet. Liliana went out of her way to connect to these WiFi networks, parking in front
of a Starbucks on the way to school so she could download her homework. These
participants made it a priority to stay constantly connected to their social and academic
networks that are so vital to them for maintaining their online identities and
demonstrating their multiple literacies.
The adolescents integrated the use of technology throughout their daily practices.
However, their daily logs within the technology use matrix illustrated that many of the
participants did not use their time online efficiently to complete academic tasks. Both Jon
and Alex, did not start their homework on Blackboard until they had connected and
socialized on MySpace. Other participants like Liliana admitted that her homework took
longer to complete because she would stay connected to MySpace while she was on
Blackboard. It was common for the participants to have multiple windows open on their
computer that provided them access to their different social and academic contexts
Most of them used mobile devices to stay constantly connected to their social and
academic online networks. The technology also enabled them to do things, like interact
with friends across time and space and document their daily lives through text, images
and videos that would not be possible without the technology. The students were too
young to have access to transportation and lived across a diverse and dangerous urban
environment. It is only through their SNS and LMS that they were able to maintain their
social and academic online network of friends. By creating and maintaining their profiles
on MySpace and completing their assignments on Blackboard, the students were able to
strengthen their ties to a network of friends and classmates.
Online Identities Within School and Out of School
Why is it important to study adolescent identity formation? Adolescence is a
period in a young person's development where he or she will naturally experiment with
identity and try to figure out the type of person that he or she is or wants to be.
Adolescents are engaged in school when they are expressing their identity and learning to
make meaning with symbols in socially and culturally relevant ways. For this study,
identity is seen as a different but related construct to the concept of self (Brinthaupt &
Lipka, 2002). While an individual can have one self, they can have multiple identities.
Their family and friends and their experiences in school largely influence an adolescent’s
sense of identity. Adolescents often look for a "third place" outside of school and the
family where they can hang out and interact with their friends. Online environments,
MySpace in particular, allow adolescents this type of place where they can freely express
themselves and experiment with their identities. Even within the more formalized
academic environment of Blackboard, adolescents find opportunities to express
themselves and stake out their identity.
Gee (2001) argues schools should be analyzed from the perspective of multiple
identities. There are four ways to view identity: (a) as a force of nature (Nature-Identity),
(b) as a position endorsed by an institution (Institutional-Identity), (c) as an individual
trait accepted within the discourse of others (Discourse-Identity), and (d) as the
experiences shared in an affinity group (Affinity-Identity). A person’s Nature-identity is a
fixed biological natural unchanging state. Gender and race are attributes of one’s
Nature-identity. Institutional-Identity can have a powerful influence on identity
development by authorizing a variety of social roles through family, school, and the
government. Discourse-Identity is an individual trait that is developed through
interactions with other people while the Affinity-Identity perspective develops from
being a member of an affinity group that is organized around a common interest.
The six participants in this study used their SNS and LMS to form their identity,
practice multiple identities, and express their aspirations for their future. Some of the
participants displayed consistency between their in school and out-of-school identities
while there were clear differences for other students. Because of inconsistencies in their
identity representations, the participants were often expressing changing identities online.
While the participants were free to experiment with their identities, there was also social
pressure to appear authentic in their online environments. Some of the participants’
identities in and out of school were in conflict with each other, their families’
expectations, and their future aspirations.
Changing Identities Online
The six participants often changed identities in both their SNS and their LMS. For
some of the participants there were inconsistencies between their in-school and
out-of-school identities, while other participants were consistent in both environments.
These changing identities were demonstrated in their identity formation and within their
multiple identities.
Jon and Alex, through the transition from middle school to high school, expressed
how their identities were changing. Jon wrote in the About Me section of his MySpace
how he had changed from Jonathan, the slightly overweight class clown, to the thinner
and more mature Jon who was now in high school. Alex wrote in one of his blogs how he
had become more mature and confident since middle school. He was a better reader and
he felt more comfortable talking to the girls in his class. Jon also expressed his identity
consistently in both environments by discussing his desire to be an artist and used humor
to disarm his friends in school and on MySpace. By using quotes and his writing on his
MySpace profile, Jon expressed how he was open to and welcomed change.
Maya expressed that she was a shy person and refused to post her drawings on her
MySpace. In class Maya demonstrated her shyness by not volunteering to debate the
issue of global warming; instead, she chose to debate the issue within Blackboard. She
preferred Blackboard to public speaking because she had the extra time to reflect and
think about how to express herself. The one time Maya revealed something personal in
her status updates, she described her faults. In the update she wrote how she is not
perfect, but clumsy; her hair is often out of place; and she has a broken heart and
sometimes fights with her friends.
In contrast, Liliana was inconsistent in how she expressed her shyness online. On
her SNS she describes herself as both friendly and shy. During the focus group Maya and
Liliana got into an argument when Maya confirmed that Liliana was shy in class. So
while Liliana might be naturally shy, she does not want to appear shy. She also described
herself as “loud at times” and wrote in the About Me section of her SNS how she would
not change for anyone. In an online discussion on her LMS, Liliana was one of the only
students who playfully posted an off-topic discussion with a friend in the class when they
exchanged virtual fruit.
Blanca at first described herself as the tough girl on her SNS. She portrayed
herself as tough, someone who stood up for herself so as not be bullied. This might have
been a defense mechanism, a way to survive in her large urban middle school. One of the
reasons she attended VVCH was because her mother was afraid she was going to get into
fights with the older girls at her local high school. However, as she became more
comfortable at VVCH, she removed the negative and harsh language from her profile and
replaced it with images of her family. In class and in front of her peers, she was often off
task, talkative, and confrontational with Mr. Garcia. However, privately in the interviews
she heaped praise on him and described him as the best teacher at the school.
Reggie was consistent in how he expressed his identity in and out of school. At
school Reggie was very concerned about his appearance, how he looked, and how he was
perceived. He wore nice clothes, volunteered for school leadership in ASB, and did well
in school academically. On his SNS, Reggie’s profile referenced the Hollister Clothing
Company, a popular though expensive causal teen clothing brand style. Reggie actively
sought the approval of the adults at his school. When he noticed that his tardies to first
period had upset his ASB advisor, he started to arrive at school earlier. At the end of the
year he bragged to his peers about how many academic awards he received.
For this research Gee’s (2001) model of identities was used to compare
adolescents’ multiple identities in their SNS and LMS. For some of the participants, they
were consistent in how they expressed their nature, institutional, discourse, and affinity
identities in their SNS and LMS, while for other students there was an inconsistency.
While the participants expressed multiple identities online, these identities were still tied
to a single core identity. The students were not anonymous in either online environment.
All the students used their real names in Blackboard. Reggie, Liliana, and Nancy only
posted their first names on their SNS profiles while the other participants posted their
first and last names online.
Most of the students were consistent in how they expressed their nature identity in
their SNS and LMS. The students’ gender, race, and family background were made
explicit on their profiles either through the information each user provided in his or her
About Me section or through the images he or she posted online. At school the students’
gender and race were not hidden because the LMS was used in a hybrid classroom. Only
Jon, who was a minority white student, shared that at times he felt like an outsider to the
dominant Hispanic culture at the school. He shared, “I will look around and I am the only
white guy here. But it is not a huge issue. It is just sometimes there are little barriers.
Little things about that culture that I am not a part of . . .” When he goes to his father’s
church on Sundays, he commented that it is “kind of odd to be in an area of mostly white
people [at church]. It just feels. It just feels different.” He did say that his church friends
on MySpace sometimes better understood his humor and references to his favorite
Television show “The Office,” which most of his friends at school did not watch. Jon
also joked, “I get a lot more looks from girls when I am around white people – or that
may be an excuse.”
Schools as an institution can have much influence over how adolescents develop
their identities. Institutional identities can be chosen by the adolescents or imposed by the
school. Most of the participants worked hard to do well in school and accept the
institutional identities placed on them. However, Blanca who struggled academically in
school, often fought the labels “poor reader” or “at-risk student” that were placed on her.
Instead, she adopted labels like athlete even though it had less social capital at a small
school without an athletic program. Reggie, on the other hand, as an ASB officer,
actively pursued acceptance by the school and tried to be a good leader on campus. As
discussed in an earlier section in this chapter, the participants’ institutional identities
within their SNS often reflected the socio-economic and institutional divisions found in
the Valley Vista community.
The participants’ discourse identities in their SNS and LMS were developed
through their interactions with their friends, classmates, and teachers online. Some of the
participants actively pursued their discourse identities in their SNS and LMS while other
participants were ascribed the identities by others. For example, Maya did not actively try
to achieve her shyness through her interactions with her friends and teachers but, instead,
her shyness was ascribed to her by the way that her peers and adults responded to her and
talked about her in her SNS and LMS. On the other hand, Jon actively pursued the
identity of being funny and an artist. He described how he was an artist on his SNS and
gave examples, wrote text, created videos, and posted pictures to support that identity. In
addition, while Jon was in class and in the LMS, he used humor to express himself. Once
in class he made the class laugh when he described Blackboard as the new MySpace.
The participants formed their affinity identity around common interests and
groups of friends in their SNS and at school. Members of an affinity group experience
shared practices that can have an impact on an individual’s identity development. Jon's
use of quotes from House and The Office helped him to express his humor on his profile.
These quotes were repeated amongst his friends and reinforced connections within his
affinity group. Alex, Jon, and Reggie spent time in online technology affinity groups to
help find answers to their technology-related questions. Other active affinity groups
among the participants focused on their hobbies and interests. Blanca and Reggie played
soccer at a local park after school and were also labeled as athletes at school. Liliana
identified as someone who was socially conscious. She was involved in Social Vibe to
raise money to find a cure for cancer outside of school and was part of the Interact club, a
volunteer service organization in school.
SNS provide an important function by allowing adolescents to experiment with
their changing identities online. Over time, all the participants updated and changed the
content and appearance of their SNS profiles to reflect how they wanted to represent
themselves to their network of friends. By deleting the content and changing the
appearance of their old profiles, they could erase old expressions of identity and
introduce new ones. Alex was the only participant who was interested in preserving these
changes by archiving his old profiles as blog posts. The most dramatic change online was
Blanca, who removed the text that expressed her “tough girl” image from her profile and
replaced it with pictures that represented her closeness to her family. Jon also changed
the appearance of his profile several times during the study. His changes were to
introduce new artistic expressions of himself and did not fundamentally change how he
represented himself online.
The LMS, which was controlled by the teacher and school policies, did not offer
an informal place that allowed the students to experiment with their academic identities
online. However, even within this academic environment the students found ways to
express their identities. The students’ subtle changes to the look and layout of their
Blackboard home page demonstrated that the students, when given the opportunity, found
ways to express their individuality. In forum discussions, the students could express
themselves through their use of language or by taking on virtual identities of the
characters in the short stories they were studying.
Authenticity in Online Identities
There appeared to be a paradox that even though the participants exhibited
multiple identities and often changed their identities online, they still wanted to appear
authentic in their online environments. For some of the participants there was a social
pressure to be seen as open and authentic, not someone who edits comments from their
friends. However, there were several examples where participants manipulated their SNS
profiles to appear more mature or to highlight their best qualities.
Jon was a participant who valued authenticity on his online profiles. He appeared
to approve most of his comments, even if they were negative. Jon posted a video that he
created on YouTube that shared the title of a real movie. Several people posted negative
comments because they were expecting the movie trailer and not his video. Jon shared, “I
didn’t really care about it; I just left them up because comments are comments.” During
an interview when the researcher questioned the authenticity of his production company,
Jon took offense. “I think I take my profile more seriously mostly because uh – I don't
know –when people go to my profile they want to get to know more about me.” So while
Jon used humor throughout his profile, he was resolute about his aspirations of being an
artist and wanted to be taken seriously.
Alex also valued authenticity on MySpace profiles. Alex did not like it when
friends placed other friends on their MySpace just to increase their own social capital. He
shared, “The thing that bugs me . . . is people put in their top 10 people that they don’t
even talk to. I don’t just post anyone there.” Alex wanted his friends to comment on his
profile and actively pursued them. To get his friends to comment on a new photograph he
posted, he hid his other images to emphasize the new ones. Like many adolescents, Alex
liked to complete online surveys that were sent to him by his friends. Alex answered the
questions as a blog post on his profile then messaged other friends encouraging them to
answer the survey. Some friends answered the survey as a comment to his blog or they
posted their answers as a blog on their profile. This was a way to get to know his
MySpace friends more closely and also a way to share his beliefs and ideas.
Liliana was inconsistent in her description of how she used comments on her
profile. During one interview she stated that she approved all the comments on her
profile. However, she was also the only participant that did not have a public wall that
allowed friends to post comments. In a second interview, when she was asked about this
inconsistency, she shared, “I delete everything . . . I don’t like comments . . . cause
people read them. Sometimes I have stuff in there I don’t like people to read.” Liliana
cared deeply about what her peers said about her and wanted her profile to reflect her best
qualities while at the same time she wanted to appear authentic and did not want to be
seen as someone who screened comments on her profile.
While authenticity was valued by most of the participants, it was recognized that
many of them experimented with their identities on their profile. Almost all of the
participants exaggerated certain aspects of their profile either to appear more mature or to
be funny. Jon, as a joke, listed his income as over $250,000 a year on his MySpace and
described himself as the “Academy Award Winning Actor/Director/Writer” on his
Twitter page. It was common practice to exaggerate the age of the participants on their
MySpace. Reggie, Blanca, Liliana, and Maya listed themselves as being older on their
profiles. However, in other locations on their profile they listed their real age. At first this
was confusing, until it was realized that the exaggerated age was always in the default
About Me section of their profiles. This section was completed when the participants first
created their MySpace profile. Most of the participants created their MySpace accounts in
middle school when they were under the age of 13. MySpace has an age limit where
members must be at least 13 to create a profile. When the participants first signed up on
MySpace, they had to exaggerate their age to create their profile, and then they never
bothered to change it back to their real age.
Aspirations, Culture and Conflicting Identities Online
For some of the participants there was a conflict between the identities expressed
online, their family’s expectations, and their aspirations for their future. While many of
the participants had articulated their goals for the future, only a few of them had actually
made the necessary plans to achieve those goals. For some of the participants it was
difficult to balance family responsibilities and school work with their aspirations for their
future. Mr. Garcia, through assignments in his English class, tried to get his students to
articulate those goals and think about the obstacles that might prevent them from
achieving those goals.
The participants both in and out of school demonstrated their aspirations for their
future. They expressed a desire to do well in school and get into a good college so they
could find a well paying job that would end the cycle of poverty that many of the their
families have faced. Reggie is one of the participants who has clear goals to go to college
and is actively pursuing those goals. Not only is he planning on taking A.P. classes to
prepare himself academically for college but also he is actively involved in Upward
Bound, a program to help high school students from low-income families attend college.
Jon has very clear goals and aspirations to be an artist, actor, and director. He uses his
SNS profile to both articulate these goals online and to develop his written and technical
skills. Jon described how he was looking forward to taking advanced video classes at the
school so he could become a filmmaker. Blanca, during our interviews, expressed a
desire to be a probation officer. She shared how her sister bought her a book about a
single mom who was a probation officer but that she had not yet had the chance to read it.
However, she had not demonstrated the skills or the study habits necessary to get into
college to meet the minimum requirements to apply for that type of job.
The four Hispanic students (Alex, Blanca, Liliana, and Maya) all expressed strong
connections to their family. While the participants had cousins, brothers, and sisters as
friends within their SNS, none of the participants’ parents used MySpace. Alex told
stories about his interaction with his sister in a blog and described in words and pictures
his family’s hometown in Mexico. He mentioned on both his MySpace and on
Blackboard that his father is his hero. Blanca listed her mother and her older sister in the
Marines as her heroes and at one point had a picture with her mother as her profile
picture. When she was asked why she was going to VVCH, she said that is where her
mother wanted her to go. Liliana had a picture of her father, brother, and some cousins
posted prominently on her profile under the quote, “We ride together, we die together.”
Maya described how she often spent time at the park with her family but that they also
argued a lot. Her Mom wanted her to attend VVCH because her older sister was attending
the school and could look out for her.
Mr. Garcia gave an example of a student who graduated last year who struggled
with leaving her family in Valley Vista to go away to college. He shared how even the
best students at VVCH sometimes have not developed the necessary skills to be
successful in college. Many of his students have responsibilities to take care of younger
siblings or have to find a job to help support their family. He shared this story with his
freshman class as a warning on the need to prepare themselves with the skills necessary
to be successful in college.
I had a girl last year who graduated. I was counseling her. She got
accepted to go to a UC and move away but she refused because she didn’t
want to leave her family so she went to Valley Vista Junior College. She
was an A and high B student here at our school but she didn’t want to push
herself and take AP classes. Now she is at the junior college and she has to
take remedial classes because her skills are not there.
This story really had an impact on Reggie, who was concerned about getting into a good
college. Later, Reggie shared,
I want my first years to be at a really good college . . . I don’t want to
really be going to junior college . . . that’s really sad what Mr. Garcia told
us . . . that student from last year went to VVJC, that was kind of
Reggie did not want to get stuck in Valley Vista; he wanted to leave and start a new life
where he had an opportunity to succeed. In his SNS and LMS, he articulated the goals
and aspirations that many of the successful students in his class shared. He wanted to take
challenging A.P. courses so that he would get accepted to a good university. He planed to
spend his summers in Upward Bound learning the skills necessary to apply for college.
Finally, he wanted to leave the poverty of his hometown and have the opportunity to live
a better life even if that meant having to leave his family behind.
Mr. Garcia assigned a reading assignment and had the students write a short quick
write in their LMS as a reaction to a topic. The short essay was titled “College grad: ‘I
wish I’d gone to prison instead’.” In the article, the author described the expense and debt
that he incurred by going to college and how he had graduated with no prospect of getting
a good job and paying off his student loans. The graduate argued, “At least I would have
learned a trade or two [in prison] and started being independent once I got out.” Alex, in
his response on Blackboard, clearly articulated his own concerns about the expense of
Most people think that teenagers have no worries in the world. Not true. . .
many Americans like myself worry about the financial debt that comes
with attending college. I felt that the article Bob Sullivan wrote was
insightful on the struggle of paying off loans and credit card debts . . .
I learned that some people strongly feel that college is not for everyone
but I also learned that with a good attitude and hard work college can be
for me. Although Bob wrote strongly about the financial danger of
college, I still feel that college is possible and should be a goal we all
should have.
Alex shared his own concern about how he was going to afford college but also
reaffirmed his own desire to be a college graduate. In Jon’s response to the article he
questioned the whole system of how college is paid for and argued that the real problem
is how easy it is to get credit cards.
I believe its very surprising what has happen to the system. Putting credit
card companies aside, the way people have to pay for college is falling
apart. A lot of the debt he says is being accumulated is coming from credit
cards, but the popularity of credit cards may be linked to the raise in debt.
It could be that debt has always been bad for college students, but the raise
in popularity of credit cards makes it seem as if it is getting worse.
In a previous assignment on Blackboard, the teacher responded to a student post
explaining how some students have to choose between staying close to their families and
leaving for college. For many of these Hispanic students, the prospect of leaving their
families when they are struggling financially would be too great of a burden. Mr. Garcia
shared, “They have to make decisions. Some have to choose between their family and
their education ... Sometimes the kids are not willing to make the sacrifices to open up
new opportunities or education.” Mr. Garcia, who came from a similar working class
background as his students, shared how he had to struggle with these same issues when
he left his family to go to university. He shared how the experience changed him and that
he presently has family members that feel he is “uppity” and has turned his back on them.
The purpose of these assignments was to get the students thinking about the social
and economic barriers of poor urban students trying to attend college. Recent research at
UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute has revealed a demographic change where
more Hispanic students are moving away to attend college (Hurtado, Saenz, Santos, &
Cabrera, 2008). Since 1975, the share of Latino freshmen that attend college more than
50 miles away has risen from 46% to 59% while those who attend college within 10
miles has dropped from 30% to 15%. As a comparison, the proportion of white students
who went away to college has remained unchanged at 66%. One of the reasons for the
change is that an increasing number of Hispanic parents have at least some college
experience and are more willing than previous generations to loosen family ties to help
their children graduate from college. The participants in this study used their SNS to stay
connected to their friends, but since their parents do not use SNS, it would make it
especially difficult to maintain those close family ties through their SNS during the
transition to college.
Online Identities: The Role of Technology
Technology provided an important role in enabling the participants to express
their identities online. MySpace and Blackboard were forums that allowed the
participants to express their multiple identities and reinvent themselves as their
perceptions of themselves changed over time. The participants could express their
identities through the creation of their profiles on MySpace or how their interacted with
their classmates on Blackboard. These environments provided unique tools that enabled
the participants to create expressions of their identities online through words, images, and
videos. In addition, how the participants decided to use these tools impacted how they
were perceived by their friends. The decision to have or not to have a commenting wall
on their SNS or to accept or reject a comment on a blog post or photograph influenced
how they were perceived within their social network. All of which enabled them to
manage their multiple identities online in ways that were not possible without the
These environments were also empowering, allowing the participants to challenge
ascribed identities and institutional identities. Blanca who struggled at school
academically did not accept her institutional identity of an “at-risk student”, someone
who could not communicate effectively in a formal environment. Instead, she used
connections within her social network and the Causes social application to lead and
organize a protest against a chemical treatment plant in her neighborhood. She sent
MySpace bulletins to her network of friends explaining the risks the plant would pose to
the neighborhood and organized them to attend a city council meeting to voice their
concerns. She eloquently spoke at the city council meeting as a representative of her
school and was quoted in the local paper. The experience changed both how Blanca
expressed her identity at school and how she was perceived at school by her classmates
and teachers. Maya was too shy to debate an issue in class but was able to express her
opinions through a Blackboard forum discussion. The technology allowed her to
demonstrate critical literacies to her classmates by writing and responding to their forum
posts and gave her an academic “voice” that would have otherwise been silent.
Adolescent Literacy Practices Within SNS and LMS
The participants used their SNS and LMS to develop multiple literacies including
sophisticated social and academic discourses. Using a diverse set of tools to manage
communications and messages within their group of friends, the participants were able to
maintain their online presence. The participants developed their communication skills by
socializing in the informal environment of their SNS. Some participants joined
interest-based affinity groups online to develop specific skills and interests. Within their
LMS, the students developed more formal communication and critical thinking skills by
discussing academic texts within online forums. Within both their SNS and LMS,
multiple literacies were developed, included reading, writing, and the social practices that
were formed through the use of text, images, sounds, and videos, in cultural and socially
relevant ways.
Social and Academic Discourses in SNS and LMS
This research was consistent with the findings from the Digital Youth Project (Ito
et al., 2009), an ethnography that explored how adolescents were interacting within
digital tools, including SNS. That study found that most adolescents used SNS to
establish friendship-based groups online while some formed interest-based groups around
a topic of interest. In this research, the adolescents extended their social and school
contexts online by maintaining friendships within their SNS. This was especially
important because many of the participants had social and economic barriers that
prevented them from meeting face-to-face with friends after school. In addition, several
of the participants were active members of online affinity groups around specific topics
of interest where they learned information that was not available to them from their
school or friends offline. Within their LMS, the students were expected to communicate
within a formal academic environment controlled by their teacher using Standard
American English grammar. In both their SNS and LMS, the participants demonstrated
creativity, developed critical thinking skills, and received feedback from their friends and
teacher on work they published online.
Communication skills in online environments. The participants used both their
SNS and their LMS to develop a complex set of communication skills that are necessary
to become active members of a globally connected society. The students used these
communication skills to maintain their relationships with their peers online. For many of
the participants, their communication with their peers was an extension or continuation of
their communication from offline contexts. The adolescents in this study were able to
maintain their online reputations by manipulating the privacy settings on their SNS
profile and through their postings and interactions with their peers and teachers in their
The participants used their SNS to maintain their relationships with their peers
online. Many of the participants faced economic and social barriers that made it difficult
to communicate with their friends in person after school. Since VVCH was an open
enrollment school, students attended the school from diverse neighborhoods across
Valley Vista. Many students lived far apart and younger adolescents did not have the
means or transportation to meet. Even if they could meet, there were not many places for
adolescents in Valley Vista to hang out. Many parks were not safe, and gangs controlled
some neighborhoods in the city. SNS provided the students a safe place to socialize, play
games (using social software applications), and maintain their relationships online.
Both Reggie and Jon, who often complained about being stuck at home during the
weekends, described in detail how they interacted with their friends online. Reggie sent
dozens of text messages a day and used his cell phone to update his status on Twitter so
he could be connected to his social network anytime and anywhere. For the technology
matrix, Reggie shared how he used text messages, Twitter updates, email, and phone
messages to let his friends know he was okay when he hit his head at school requiring a
trip to the hospital for stitches. Jon described an afternoon MySpace session where he
sent a message to Alex, responded to another message from a peer, responded to a
comment with a comment on another friend’s profile, replied to the status update of
friend, and accepted the friend request from a peer. Even with all this activity online, Jon
desired a deeper connection from his friends. Over one lonely weekend of video games
and MySpace in his bedroom, Jon confessed, “My life is too secluded, I've lived in this
room 24/7 and I'm tired of it. Where I'm gonna go? Life's too much fun to spend it alone.
I need some real friends, people I can really talk to.”
The participants created an online presence through the establishment of their
profile on MySpace. Using the tools of MySpace, the participants were able to manage
their reputations online by manipulating the site’s privacy settings. Recent studies by Pew
Internet (Madden & Smith, 2010) suggests that young adults aged 18-29 are more likely
than older adults to change their privacy settings to limit the amount of personal
information about them online. This dissertation suggests that younger adolescents are
also aware of the need to protect their privacy online and have developed the necessary
communication skills to manage their reputations.
All of the participants except Reggie have set their SNS profiles to private so only
their friends have access to their online identities. This self-monitoring of their profiles
has created a dynamic environment where the participants have become aware of how
different audiences perceive their online identities. For some participants this resulted in
their changing their profiles or modifying what their friends have posted about them
online. Participants have done this by removing their tagged names from unflattering
photographs on friends profiles, by deleting negative comments, and, in the extreme, by
“unfriending” peers off their friend list.
Blanca was with her older sister as she was talking to a recruiter to join the
Marines when he asked for her sister’s MySpace username. During the interview, Blanca
shared that the recruiter said, “I'm going to go through all your MySpace.” He stated,
"We need to know, you know, if you've ever said, you're going to kill someone." He
continued, "'cause we need to know what type of person you are." Blanca also had a
friend who deleted his MySpace profile because it had references to his speeding and
street racing. He was concerned it might prevent him from becoming a highway
patrolman. These two situations got Blanca thinking about what image her profile was
projecting about herself. She soon deleted the cussing and hostile language off of her own
MySpace profile.
Even Reggie, who had a public profile, monitored his Twitter updates to make
sure he did not reveal too much personal information. Reggie shared how he watched a
sitcom on television where a character stalked and followed another character by
checking out their status updates. This made him think about being more careful with his
own status updates on Twitter. However, he did not make his Twitter private and while
he usually posted his location only in past tense he did share in real time that he was in
the hospital to all his followers on Twitter.
Several of the participants monitored their profile and made adjustments to their
status updates or deleted comments to manage their online reputations and identities. Jon
made a conscious effort to post all his status updates and blog posts not in the common
informal “texting” vernacular of his friends but instead wrote following the conventions
of Standard American English grammar. Jon was trying to project an online image of an
articulate, intelligent, and mature teenager. Liliana was a participant who monitored all
her comments and only approved those that she liked. When Alex posted a new image to
his profile, he hid all his old images to try to influence his friends to leave a comment on
his work.
Some of the participants found it easier to communicate on MySpace than at
school. Once they had made a connection on MySpace, it gave them something to talk
about when they did meet each other at school. Jon admitted that he usually talked to the
girls in his class on MySpace first. He shared that “sometimes it is easier to talk about
something emotional through MySpace then in person. You have time to get the words
right and say exactly what you want.” For adolescents trying to figure out who they are,
MySpace provided a safe place to practice their communication skills with each other,
especially with the opposite sex. Once Jon had communicated with someone by
MySpace, he could view their profile and see their interests, and it gave him something to
talk about when he saw them at school.
The participants also communicated with interest-based groups online. This
usually occurred on specialized discussion forums and websites and not within their SNS.
In these affinity groups, the participants had opportunities to learn about topics of their
interest. Reggie often frequented a cell phone affinity group to learn about the features of
new phones. It was his desire to become an expert on cell phones so he could get a job in
the Best Buy phone department. Jon spent time on technology-based SNS called This technology site had a forum where members could ask experts
questions. Jon used the site to learn tips and tricks on how to use Photoshop and
professional video editing software.
While at school in their LMS, the participants also had opportunities to practice
and demonstrate their communication skills. However, there were three major differences
with this environment. First, the teacher controlled the LMS and the students were
expected to follow certain behaviors and school policies when they interacted with each
other online. Second, the students did not have a profile or informal space where they
could post their academic work. Third, the teacher expected the students to write all their
posts using Standard American English. Informal “text” speak was not allowed.
The teacher posted an assignment and the students were expected to respond
within the LMS. While there was one instance where Liliana and a non-participant wrote
informal posts exchanging virtual fruit, most of the posts in the LMS were more formal
responses to assignments. Students liked being able to read and see other students’ posts
before they posted their own. Both Jon and Maya appreciate that aspect of
communicating within the LMS. Maya shared, “If you don’t understand it, you could see
someone else’s example and then make up your own,” while Jon said,
It was interesting to go in and . . . be doing an assignment and have all the
other students’ responses to the same piece of writing. It was very
interesting to see how they responded to it . . . if I didn’t understand
something I would go and see how they felt about it.
Some of the participants appeared to appreciate being able to read their classmates’ work
and interact with each other online.
While the teacher spent considerable time reading and responding to the students’
posts on Blackboard, it was not clear if the students read his responses. Usually the
participants did not post replies to their teacher or make his suggested corrections after
they completed the assignment. If the teacher told them to write a post and respond to
another student’s post, most of the students completed those minimum requirements and
did not return to the discussion. Liliana was one of the participants who improved her
response to a Robert Frost poem online after Mr. Garcia encouraged her. In her response
she provided more concrete details and elaborated on her opinion.
Most of the participants typically provided superficial affirmations to their
classmates’ posts within their LMS. The students did not provide analytical responses or
the constructive criticism modeled by their teacher. Jon was one of the few participants
who responded to another student’s post with an analytical response. He described how
he liked how a classmate discussed the connection between a Robert Frost poem and a
letter he wrote and then he elaborated on what she had written.
Critical thinking skills in online environments. Some of the participants, in their
use of SNS and LMS, demonstrated critical thinking while practicing their social and
academic discourses. While there are examples where the participants used their SNS and
LMS to practice critical thinking skills, it is important to state that there is nothing
inherent in these environments that fosters critical thinking. Within their SNS, members
critically evaluated whom to friend and the type of privacy settings to place on their
profile. However, developing critical thinking is difficult and does not occur organically
online. More often, it requires the direction of a skilled mentor or teacher.
Both SNS and LMS are social environments that enable communication and
interactions. It is the members of the SNS and the teachers or school administrators who
control the LMS who largely determine how these environments are used. There are few
examples where the creation of the participant’s SNS profile demonstrated their critical
thinking skills. Alex wanted to document the evolution of his MySpace profile by
preserving all his changes in blog posts. By reviewing Alex’s blogs, a user can see the
changes in Alex’s identity, interests, preferences, and even pictures of his former
girlfriends. Most of the participants did not provide this type of transparency on their
profiles. Jon carefully wrote all his blogs and status updates in American Standard
English and grammar. By viewing Jon’s profile the user gets a sense that each picture,
background, and quote was placed for a certain effect and to express certain aspects of
Jon’s artistic identity.
The students shared in the focus groups and in their interviews the two ways that
the teachers at their school were using their LMS. In their English class, Mr. Garcia used
Blackboard to challenge his students to think critically through online discussions.
However, the majority of teachers used Blackboard just to post online quizzes to either
evaluate student understanding of a topic or to provide them additional practice online. In
their math and science classrooms, the students used their laptops at school and answered
the questions online. Some of these quizzes and reviews were timed. Sometimes the
students were allowed to take quizzes more than once to improve their grade, and other
quizzes provided feedback when the students answered the questions. In these
classrooms, the LMS was not used to facilitate online discussions.
In Mr. Garcia’s classroom, students often used Blackboard to respond to literature
and topics discussed in class. Students were challenged to think critically and not
passively accept the information they were learning in school. In one assignment, he had
them take on the role of a character in a short story and post their opinion as that
character. Mr. Garcia often responded to student postings in Blackboard, asking them to
provide more evidence and concrete details in their arguments. In one assignment where
the students were interpreting symbolism in a poem, he replied to a student by saying,
I like the analogy of "twists and turns." I haven't heard that from others,
yet. I would like you to elaborate on that idea. If we can have twists and
turns, can we have roundabouts? Do we then get stuck, or go backward
In another response to another student for the same assignment, he posted,
Your posting reminds me of a saying I have heard that goes like this: I
never promised you a rose garden. Life is not a garden, it can be more like
the woods, or life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you
are going to get, if you have seen Forest Gump. Elaborate on why movies
and literature choose analogies like forests and boxes of chocolates, when
discussing life.
He asked them to think about alternative viewpoints and to evaluate errors in reasoning
by discerning the use of fallacies in an argument. The students had to evaluate the
arguments used by Vice President Al Gore concerning the dangers of global warming in a
Blackboard discussion. A survey-only participant analyzed the vice president’s argument
in the following except from her post,
Except for those parts in which he went overboard, I think he did very
well. He used analogies, facts, and expert opinion, which is all a very good
source of evidence. I found few fallacies in his argument like once he
states “If we do the right thing then we will get a lot of wealth,” is hasty
generalization. Al Gore stated his opinion, we are the cause of global
warming and we can be the solution. His intent was clearly seen as noble.
I believe his argument is proper. I enjoyed as well his appeal to our
emotion of fear, although he relies on this appeal greatly.
Mr. Garcia responded to the post with this reply, “Excellent. You’re the only person, so
far, to notice the ethical appeal. What parts of the argument did you find to be too
While Mr. Garcia challenged his students to think critically in the LMS, it is not
known how effectively his students responded. Most students did not reply to his posts
and only responded to the minimum requirements of these assignments. However, his
students did share in their interviews that they appreciated the feedback and found the
online discussions interesting. Blanca shared how she felt about using a Blackboard chat
room in her English class,
B: It was on Blackboard. We went into like a little room, I think was a
chat room on Blackboard, and we just got to talk to each other, like
argument . . .
And he had questionnaires like how did we feel about the story? And
some of us were like, "Oh, it was a really good story." "It gave a lot of
detail." And like we were speaking and it was recording us. So -- and
we would hear other people tap in, and then they'd be like, "No, that's
not true." Like we tried that one day, I was like, "No, the story wasn't
good." And it was just kind of like an argument, you know.
McG: Like an online debate?
B: Like a debate. But it was really fun!
Liliana also liked using the discussion board in Blackboard. She shared, “I like that
discussion board thingy in Mr. Garcia’s class. It is kind of like a debate but on the
In comparing the participants’ description of how their other classes used
Blackboard to the observation of their practices in Mr. Garcia’s class, it appeared there
were differences. Most of the teachers used Blackboard to assess students’ understanding
of concepts taught in class through online quizzes and reviews, while Mr. Garcia
extended classroom lessons and discussions online. Blackboard was used to foster critical
thinking in his students because he already had created a classroom culture that valued
the importance of developing critical thinkers. While the LMS provided the opportunity
for the students to practice academic discourses and develop critical thinking skills
online, this was mainly the result of the teaching skills and experience of Mr. Garcia and
not due to any inherent qualities within the LMS.
Feedback loops in online environments. One of the benefits of using SNS and
LMS to publish student work online is that it provided them the opportunity to receive
feedback on their social and academic work. Within online affinity groups, students
interacted with experts where they could ask questions and get feedback on their work.
Several students posted blogs, quotes, images, and videos online and received feedback
from their friends within their SNS. In the same way, when students posted responses to
their teacher’s assignments in the forum discussion of their LMS, they often received
feedback from their classmates and their teacher.
Several participants received feedback on their work published on their SNS in
the form of comments. Most comments from friends were positive, and rarely was
constructive criticism seen on their profiles. This might be because the participants
filtered any negative feedback that tarnished their online reputations. Liliana posted a
long blog about the sacrifices soldiers make for our country. Her blog received six
comments and twelve kudos, a way for a friend to say they liked what you have
published. All the comments were positive with only one stating that the post was too
long. Liliana does not make her comments public on her photographs. Viewers of her
profile can see how many friends have commented on her photographs, but the comments
can only be read on her private page. Alex posted a picture where he stared into the
camera with an intense look with a friend in the background in the back of a classroom.
He drastically altered the colors adding a blue tint to the image with a bright colorful
background in Photoshop. The photograph had seven different comments. Liliana wrote,
“I saw you were taking pictures in class.” Maya wrote, “u guys look scary, I can see u
guys were taking pictures also.”
The participants also received feedback on their academic work in Blackboard.
The students received two different types of feedback from their LMS: automated
responses from quizzes and reviews and individualized responses from Mr. Garcia in
their online discussions. All the students were expected to complete online quizzes and
reviews in their classes using Blackboard. On some of these assignments, the students
received automated responses on the accuracy of their answers. On most of the quizzes
the feedback just notified the students if their answers were correct. However, on some of
their reviews, which they answered in preparation for their California State Tests (CSTs),
the students received more detailed feedback that explained why an answer was correct.
When the teachers noticed that students were sharing correct answers with each other,
many of the teachers removed this automated feedback to discourage cheating.
The second type of feedback the students received was more personalized
response from Mr. Garcia in their forum discussions. This was a labor-intensive activity
that required the teacher to read several hundred posts a week. Since Mr. Garcia only had
12 laptops connected to his classroom, he either divided his class into two groups or
allowed his students to do alternative classroom activities. Mr. Garcia did not respond to
every post written by his students, but his replies usually challenged them to think more
critically in their responses.
In addition to the feedback given by their teacher, some students received peer
feedback on their work in Blackboard. For most assignments, Mr. Garcia required his
students to post at least one reply to a classmate’s post. Looking through all the student
work in Blackboard, it was clear many students never replied to their peers’ work. Many
adolescents procrastinated and did not finish their assignments until their due date or near
the end of class. This did not leave enough time for classmates to read their posts and
formulate a reply. In addition, several students could not access Blackboard outside of
school, limiting their ability to respond to their classmates.
Multiple Literacies and Social Practices in SNS and LMS
The participants in this study were involved in a variety of literacy practices both
in their SNS and their LMS. These literacy practices were more than a set of discrete
skills, instead being influenced by the social and cultural context of Valley Vista and the
participants’ small high school. These adolescents read a variety of text both online and
offline that were embedded within their social and academic discourses. For this research,
these multiple literacies included reading, writing, technical skills, and the social
practices that might be formed through the use of text, images, sounds, and videos in
culturally and socially relevant ways within a LMS and SNS.
Reading practices in online environments. The participants read a variety of texts
in their SNS and LMS. Some of these texts were informal communications between
friends while other text were more formal blogs or academic assignments. The Hispanic
students read text that was written both in Spanish and in English. The participants
demonstrated through their interactions within their SNS and LMS that they could decode
a variety of texts from different social and cultural contexts. Consistent with other
research, those participants who read novels outside of class had better tests scores in
their English class.
“These kids don’t read” was a statement made by a colleague of Mr. Garcia when
he was covering his class for 10 minutes during one of my observations. He told the
class, “If you read for fun a little bit everyday, you will develop your brain and become a
productive member of society. If you don’t you will become one of the millions of
muscle workers and not make much money.” When I asked him about the statement, he
I am an old paper and pencil guy. The students need to read. My whole
point is to keep them accountable and read. I have developed over the
years various strategies, reading guides to keep them accountable so I
know that they are reading. Otherwise, they will just pretend to read.
While the perception of some of the teachers at Valley Vista, might be that the students
do not read, the evidence suggests from this research that the students read a variety of
text in both social and academic contexts. The question becomes not if the students read,
but what are they reading and does it matter what they are reading.
Most of the participants read short informal communications between their friends
in the form of texts and status updates on their SNS. Students also read their friends’
blogs and the descriptive text found on their profiles. These participants read texts that
were embedded in their social networks, allowing them to build social capital. Those
participants who were members of affinity groups around a topic of interest read
expository text about learning how to edit photographs, create digital videos, and modify
video games. Some of the participants used social software and played causal games on
their SNS that involved reading. Alex made an interesting comment describing how
video games helped him learn to read in English: “I don't think books helped me though.
I strongly believe video games did. Have you played any Pokemon hand held games? I
started off with blue version, I read a lot.” Pokeman are a series of popular role-playing
video games for the Nintendo DS where the characters often communicate through text
Some of the participants shared on their SNS the books that they liked to read. Jon
mentioned that he has read all the Harry Potter books. He stated that his favorite book
was Blow Fly, a book that inspired the television show CSI: Crime Scene Investigations.
Alex started reading Twilight because of a bet with his older cousin who did not believe
he could finish reading the book. Alex liked the book and placed an image of the cover
on his SNS. On his most recent MySpace profile, Alex posted comments about the books
he has read and boasted about his Accelerated Reading level at school,
hahahaha, Books. I don't read books. I have read some but not all. No shit,
right. Lets see. I read The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks. Great book,
highly recommend. I read Twilight, New Moon, Eclipses, and some of
Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyers. I hate Jacob, LOL. hmm I read at a
12.9 level. Twelfth grade student in his ninth month of school.
Alex was also a fan of a Japanese anime series which he watched almost daily online.
The series was in Japanese and had English sub-titles. The hours spent reading the
show’s subtitles may have also improved his reading ability.
Reggie was the only other member that had mentioned reading on his SNS. In one
of Reggie’s status updates he shared how he finished three books in one day. It is not
uncommon for the students to read multiple books at the end of the year to try and raise
their Accelerated Reading score before their final grade was posted. Reggie posted, “omg
i am super. just in one day i finishe one 300 page book, 293 page book, and 357 page
book. 3 books in 1 day. I AM ON FIRE!!!!!!” Jon, Reggie, and Alex were also the most
active members of technology-related affinity groups and spent a considerable amount of
their time each day reading expository text. The other participants did not mention any of
their outside readings on their profiles.
While correlation does not imply causation, it appears that those students who
were more active readers outside of school tested higher on their Accelerated Reader tests
in class. Jon had the highest AR score of any student in his class. Jon was an active reader
of both formal and informal text in and out of school. Reggie had the third highest
ranking and Liliana was ranked the fourth best reader in the class. While Liliana did not
mention specific books that she had read, she did share that she liked to read and write
poetry. Alex, who primarily speaks Spanish at home and only began to learn English in
elementary school, was ranked as the eleventh highest reader in his class of 34 students.
Alex’s AR tests stated that he was reading at a 12th grade reading level. In another blog
post Alex had commented on how much he had improved his reading since fifth grade.
These results were consistent with another study on adolescent Hispanic literacy
practices in and out of school within a low socio-economic community (Moje et al.,
2008). This mixed method research put into question the popular held belief among some
adults and teachers that Hispanic adolescents in poor communities do not read. In the
study, 92% of the 715 youth surveyed reported reading some kind of text outside of
school three to four times per week or more. The majority of the youth in this research
did not read novels, but instead read magazines, information texts, websites, or electronic
text produced by their peers. The researchers found that only reading novels outside of
school predicted an increase in GPA. While the research in this dissertation has a small
sample size and is not generalizable, it appears that those students who were active
readers of novels outside of school were the better readers or showed the most
improvement in their reading scores.
Writing practices in online environments. All of the participants demonstrated
written literacies for both social and academic online environments. It was common for
the participants to use a different style of writing for each online context. The participants
wrote descriptive profiles, short status updates, longer blogs, comments, bulletins, and
messages to their friends within MySpace. In Blackboard, the students wrote quick
writes, posted online discussions and replies to their classmates, and wrote text that they
acted out within the audio voice boards. Within their SNS, most of the participants wrote
in an informal style using their own syntax and grammar styles, while within Blackboard
the students were expected to write using the conventions of Standard American English.
All of the participants except Blanca seemed to be able to successful navigate between
both environments and adapt their writing for the appropriate context. Blanca wrote in the
same style on her SNS as in Blackboard and was often told by her teacher to follow the
conventions of Standard American English.
The students wrote in a variety of forms within their SNS. The writing in
MySpace was either (a) descriptive text that revealed their identities on their profile;
(b) longer blogs where the participants wrote poems, shared quotes, or told stories;
(c) comments, messages, and bulletins that communicated with their friends; or d) shorter
status updates that described their feelings and activities throughout the day. The
participants used these writings to maintain connections with friends and increase their
social capital within their social network.
Within MySpace most of the participants wrote in an informal style using syntax
that was filled with abbreviations, emoticons, and phonetic shorthand. For example,
Blanca wrote the following in a status update, “Thanks fir dat talk ...kidd... Feels gewd ...
Ponte en mi lugar....” The text uses phonetic spelling, “fir” is for, “dat” is that, and
“gewd” is good. She also mixed Spanish and English. While her message was a public
update, she wrote it to a single unknown friend. She told them, “Thanks for the talk . .
.kid. . . feels good . . . put me in my place.” An exception to this was Jon, who
consciously wrote in a formal style using proper Standard American English in both
MySpace and Blackboard. Jon shared, “I am trying to sound smart [spoken in a low voice
as he is typing]. Something you might find interesting. I always write my messages in
proper grammar and capitalization. I don't know why.” The one time Jon did not edit his
writing in MySpace was when he was sick and he shared exactly how he felt including
cuss words, spelling, and grammar mistakes.
Within Blackboard the students wrote for an academic audience that was
controlled by their teacher. Mr. Garcia had clear expectations that influenced how the
students interacted within Blackboard and their writing style. He assigned assignments in
the form of online discussions, short quick writes, digital worksheets, and audio voice
boards. The students were expected to write complete sentences following the rules of
Standard American English grammar.
Both the type of assignment and the audience influenced how the student wrote
on Blackboard. For the quick writes the students responded to their teacher’s prompts,
but only their teacher could read what they posted. In the forum discussions, the students
were allowed to respond to each other’s posts and share their opinions. This was a much
more informal type of academic writing and the teacher usually did not correct the
students’ mistakes if they were able to clearly express their opinions. The digital
worksheets were usually completed offline using Microsoft Word templates and later
uploaded to Blackboard. An example of a digital worksheet was the word map
assignment where the students had to analyze the meaning of the suffix and prefix of
vocabulary words from a short story. These skills-based assignments did not require the
students to share their opinions, but Mr. Garcia had the students post the assignment as a
forum discussion resulting in many students copying each other’s mistakes. Finally in the
audio posts, the students took on the role of a character within a short story by writing out
a script online and then recording themselves acting out the part. Other students in the
class were able to hear their recordings and respond with their own recordings.
Blanca was the only participant who struggled navigating the different
expectations for her writing within her SNS and LMS. She did not adapt her writing for
the different contexts but instead wrote in an informal style both in MySpace and
Blackboard. In one of the Blackboard assignments, Blanca was to explain why she
thought Robert Frost used the symbol of a forest. Blanca posted with this short reply: “the
reason for me thinking that robert frost chose the forest was because the forest is not easil
enterd or scence.” Blanca’s response was in all lowercase with no punctuation and had
several spelling mistakes. Mr. Garcia responded by writing, “I would like you to
elaborate and use Standard American English, complete with proper punctuation and
spelling.” In another post, Blanca tried to be creative and changed the color of her text to
yellow. Earlier in the week she had tried to change the text in a MySpace update to
yellow but failed because of improperly coded html syntax. After trying to read her
yellow text, Mr. Garcia replied, “I can't read your posting. Can you please use normal
font and color?”
There was only one instance where Mr. Garcia responded to a post by Blanca
without correcting her grammar. The students were to analyze some lines in a Robert
Frost poem and explain the contradiction. Blanca posted, “in linews 6-10 from what is
saidi say no because they are worn about the same meaning they were both worn
equally.” Mr. Garcia responded by writing, “Why then do you think he describes the
second road as having more grass and as wanting wear?”, ignoring her syntax errors.
Blanca had poor formal writing skills and did not feel comfortable writing in a public
academic environment. When she tried to complete these written assignments, she
received negative feedback from her teacher online. As a result, Blanca often did not
complete her Blackboard assignments. When Mr. Garcia mentioned a Blackboard
assignment in class, Blanca blurted out in class, “I wanted to do it but I forgot.” So while
the students exhibited a variety of written literacies within both MySpace and
Blackboard, not all the students were able to successfully communicate their ideas in both
A Pew study (Lenhart et al., 2008) suggests that Blanca’s writing practices are not
unusual for many adolescents. Almost two-thirds (64%) of adolescents surveyed used
informal “texting” writing practices in their schoolwork. This included 50% of the
respondents saying they sometimes used informal styles instead of proper punctuation
and capitalization. Abbreviations and text short cuts like “lol” were used by 38% of the
adolescents in schoolwork, while 25% used emoticons. While a large percentage of
adolescents (85%) engage in electronic personal communication, most (60%) do not
consider their daily Internet communication and text messaging writing. While teens do
not consider their communication writing, both parents and adolescents (86%) believe
that good writing is important to success in life.
Technical practices in and out of school. The students demonstrated a variety of
technical abilities both at school and at home. The students used these skills to complete
school projects, help friends with their technical problems, and create more dynamic
profiles on MySpace. When a student learned a new technical skill, he or she often
demonstrated that skill in the work done at home and at school, illustrating a clear
connection between each environment.
There were certain technical skills that the students learned at school and other
skills the students learned on their own out of school. Through their technology course
the students learned how to use Microsoft Word, create web pages with HTML and CSS,
and edit photographs using Adobe Photoshop. Some of the students learned how to edit
videos in Apple iMovie in a summer school course. At home students refined their ability
to use HTML and CSS by customizing their profiles on MySpace. Students also edited
photographs that they published on MySpace, often getting comments and feedback from
their friends. Reggie and Alex used their technical expertise to help friends who were
having technical problems. Reggie designed a Twitter profile and avatar for a friend
using Photoshop, and Alex created a video to explain to a friend how to transfer music
from a Sony PSP to a computer.
The students used their technical skills to complete assignments for their classes.
In their math class, they had to create a video that integrated pictures, video, and sound to
explain a real world application of a geography concept. Some of the students struggled
with this assignment because the teacher had them use Windows PC software to edit the
movies and the students had only been trained on how to use the Apple software iMovie.
Liliana shared how she used her Photoshop skills to edit the images that she was using for
her math video assignment. “Photoshop is helping me cuz I like do the pictures or
whatever from my active video right there. And just enter them.” Reggie explained how
his math video included more than just pictures and text.
The video has to be about geometry. Most people just made it of pictures
and text. Mine is actually video, pictures and text. I used Photoshop with
it. I show actually how a building is classified as a rectangular prism. I
showed what is it and how is it with bulleted [text]. – um – with lines and
different things to see like how what shape it is [and label] what different
things are on its screen.
There were clear connections in how the development of these skills impacted the
students’ work in both environments. For example, once the students were taught HTML
and CSS in their technology class, many of the students were able to apply those skills by
updating the design and layouts of their MySpace profile. Jon shared during the interview
that when he could not figure out how to apply a certain effect, he visited an online
affinity group, a geek forum, and asked a member for help. Jon developed the necessary
research and information literacy skills to find online help when he did not understand a
concept. For example, when Jon was struggling in his math class, he found a teacher
online that was using the same textbook that had YouTube video lessons explaining the
major concepts from each chapter. Jon found these online videos helpful and posted a
bulletin on MySpace sharing them with his friends in the class. Reggie learned how to do
a new effect in Photoshop by watching tutorials on YouTube. He then used these new
skills to get better grades on his Photoshop assignments for his technology class,
eventually getting an award for best use of technology at school.
Adolescent Literacy Practices: The Role of Technology
Technology enabled the adolescents to demonstrate multiple literacies including a
variety of communication, reading, writing and critical thinking skills. The participants
read and wrote a variety of text on MySpace by creating their profiles, updating their
status, writing longer blog posts and commenting on their friends’ profiles, which they
used to increase their social capital amongst their network of friends. Without online
social networks like MySpace, many of the participants would have been socially
isolated. Valley Vista did not provide many safe open places for friends to meet or hang
out. MySpace enabled the participants to maintain their relationships with their peers by
providing a safe place to socialize and play games online.
Blackboard enabled the participants to express a variety of critical thinking skills
online. The classroom forum discussions gave the students a written record of their
arguments, which in turn provided them time to reflect and respond in ways that were not
possible with just oral classroom discussions. This was especially valuable to second
language learners who were not confident in their ability to communicate academically in
English. The ability to read how other students responded to online forum discussions
gave them examples on how they could also express their own opinions and the time
necessary to formulate a response in English. Online forum discussions in Blackboard
and comments in MySpace also provided the participants with timely feedback on their
work from their peers and teachers.
Recommendations for Educators
What are the characteristics of SNS that engage students and motivate them to
create profiles that express their identities and demonstrate their multiple literacies? Are
there certain qualities or best practices within LMS that help foster critical thinking and
encourage students to demonstrate academic discourses? The following recommendations
suggest ways that educators can take the best qualities from SNS and LMS and use them
to foster adolescent identities and demonstrate multiple literacies.
SNS have become an indispensible part of adolescent’s social life, enabling them
to make connections with friends, establish their identities, and express multiple
literacies. Adolescents need these informal “third spaces” outside their school and family
where they can experiment with their identities. Within their profiles adolescents take
ownership of their own literacies by expressing their ideas through writing their own
texts or repurposing the text of others to express their opinions and beliefs. Adolescents
also have a place where they can publish their photographs and videos and get feedback
from their peers on their work. Many adolescents use their profiles to express their
dreams and aspirations for the future.
A LMS is a formal learning space online under the direction of a teacher and
school policies. Under the guidance of trained teachers, a LMS can be used to encourage
critical thinking, strengthen writing skills, and foster academic discourse. Most LMS only
give students limited opportunities to express their academic identities through written
replies in public classroom discussion boards or recorded audio voice boards. Would
students take more ownership of their academic identities if they had a place within their
LMS to create a personal profile that had examples of their best academic work and links
to other students who had similar aspirations, interests, and talents?
Based on the findings from this research on adolescent identity formations and
literacy practices in SNS and LMS, these are a few recommendations for educators
interested in integrating online environments into their classrooms.
Do not co-opt student’s SNS for classroom instruction.
Create PLE (Personal Learning Environments) for students. These are a type of
online academic profile that can be used as a digital portfolio.
Increase student accessibility to the Internet, LMS and other instructional services
through mobile devices.
Do Not Co-opt Students’ SNS for Classroom Instruction
While President Obama recently commended the National Teacher of the Year for
her use of Facebook to engage her students, this research suggests there are concerns
about co-opting students SNS for academic purposes. Assumptions cannot be made that
all students in a class are using the same SNS. At Valley Vista several of the teachers
used Facebook as their SNS while most of the participants were on MySpace. This
research suggests that current practices within SNS might be reproducing society’s social
and racial divisions online. By forcing students in a class to join a certain SNS for an
instructional activity or to facilitate group work, the teacher could be making these social
and racial divisions more explicit.
Many of the participants used their SNS to experiment with multiple identities.
Other participants have inconsistencies between their multiple identities in and out of
school. By having students use their SNS in class, teachers could be forcing them to
making certain private identities public, revealing these inconsistencies in their identities
at school. Behaviors that might be acceptable in a student’s social network might be
inappropriate at school. Making students’ SNS profiles public could negatively impact
their institutional identities at school. Like Reggie said, using MySpace or IM with his
teacher was “crossing the line.” Forcing students to have classmates who are not their
friends join their private social networks to complete group work could result in students
being teased or result in cyber bullying.
A student’s SNS profile was created for social and not academic purposes. SNS
allow adolescents to communicate and maintain connections with their private network of
friends. While the literacies that students are demonstrating within their SNS might have
some academic value to educators and they might envy their students motivation and
engagement within their profiles, it is important that educators respect and recognize the
boundaries of their students’ SNS.
Create a PLE (Personal Learning Environment)
Can educators implement the best qualities of SNS within a LMS? Some
researchers (Attwell, 2007; Severancea et al., 2008; Van Harmelen, 2006) have suggested
the establishment of a PLE. A PLE is defined as an online environment that allows
learners to take control and manage their own learning separate from the context of an
individual course. PLE enable learners to control information through syndicated feeds,
publish their own work like a portfolio, and connect to other learners like a SNS. They
are usually contrasted with LMS where learning is managed and controlled by an
institution. Within a PLE the learning interactions and artifacts are not constrained to a
single class like a LMS but instead represent all of a user’s learning as a whole.
PLEs are most often used by advanced users of information and communications
technologies (ICT) and created informally using freely available Web 2.0 social software
like Google documents, blogs, wikis, Flickr (a photo sharing site), and (a
bookmark sharing site). These tools contrast with the first wave of Internet technology
where information and services were broadcasted to a large audience by enabling users to
both create and share information and knowledge. The problem with this approach is
most adolescents do not feel comfortable enough with using these tools to create a PLE
on their own and would find it difficult to manage the various technologies to create a
single unified learning context.
The second type of PLE is a more formal environment that is either integrated
within an institution’s LMS or a separate piece of social software installed on a school’s
Intranet. While this type of PLE is created and sponsored by an institution and might
have policies that control users behavior, the purpose of the PLE is still to foster informal
learning. While both Blackboard and Moodle (an alternative LMS) have options for
students to create personal profiles, they do not have all of the features common to SNS.
One option is to implement an open source social networking platform on the school’s
Intranet. Some schools have had success with the social software, elgg ( With
elgg, a student can have a profile, gather information dynamically by subscribing to
syndicated news feeds, publish best examples of their academic work, and collaborate
with members of the PLE using features similar to a SNS. Many students are used to
creating different profiles for different contexts. For example, Jon used MySpace to
communicate with his school friends and Facebook to communicate to distant relatives
and older family members. Within a PLE, students create an online profile for an
academic context.
These tools allow adolescents to create an academic profile where they could
gather information both of personal and academic interests. A user can add any type of
Real Simple Syndication (RSS) feed to their profile. By subscribing to a RSS feed,
information and links from the Internet are automatically added to the user’s profile. An
RSS feed could be of a personal nature, like a friend’s or teacher’s Twitter stream or
around a topic a student might be researching for a project. If teachers used Twitter to
publish their daily homework assignments with hash tags for each of their classes,
students could subscribe to those feeds and have their assignments automatically listed on
their own profiles. This would solve the problem expressed by Valley Vista students who
wanted a way to access their homework online.
An academic profile within a LMS could be used as a digital portfolio allowing
students a place to express their academic identities, demonstrate multiple literacies, and
articulate their aspirations for the future. Students would have the opportunity to publish
on their profiles best examples from their writings and academic discourses from their
LMS. This is not something the students will do intrinsically; teachers will have to not
only require it as part of their classes but also have clear guidelines on how these profiles
should be used. Teachers could model for their students the type of information to
include in their profiles by creating a professional profile of their own. Students will need
to have explained how their academic profiles are different from their personal SNS. For
example, teachers can require that all student writing follows Standard American English
grammar and that the students adhere to the guidelines of the school’s acceptable use
policy (AUP).
One of the problems that many teachers face is that by the time students receive
their feedback on their writing they have lost interest in the process. Most students look at
their grade and never make the necessary changes and corrections to their final draft. The
participants from Mr. Garcia’s class did the minimum requirements for their assignments
in Blackboard and rarely responded to his online questions and suggestions. If teachers
required students to publish their essays to their academic profiles, students would
hopefully have the motivation to make those final changes.
The profile becomes a repository of the student’s best work and documents his or
her learning throughout high school. As the students upload their work, they are given the
opportunity to label their work with descriptive words known as tags. Reflecting on their
work and giving it appropriate tags categorizes their writings. These tags and keywords
are automatically linked to each other. By clicking on a tag, students can see other
students’ writing that shares the same tag. This can reveal relationships and themes
within a student’s own work and between different students.
The final aspect of PLE is that it operates in a similar way as SNS, enabling
collaboration and interactions between users. Within their academic profile, students can
create a friends list and manage a public commenting system where teachers and peers
can leave comments on their profile or specific examples of academic work. A “friend”
on their academic profile could be a social friend, a classmate, a group member with
whom a user needs to collaborate to complete an assignment, or someone who shares a
common interest. If teachers, administrators, and support staff, in addition to students,
created profiles, academic discourses could be facilitated between students and adult
Students need to be trained in the proper ways to leave comments in an academic
setting. Within online discussion boards, it might be common for peers to leave
inflammatory comments know as “flaming.” These statements are usually controversial
and negative, and their sole purpose is to provoke an angry response. Within an academic
environment, students should write comments that include a positive statement and a
question that would further the discussion. Students could also write a question that
provides constructive criticisms. This type of criticism should not attack the user but
provide them insight into how to improve their work.
Every freshman at Valley Vista is expected to research possible occupations and
write an essay explaining his or her aspirations for the future. As part of the process
students learn the requirements of certain jobs. If this essay was published on the
students’ academic profile with their resume of accomplishments, the school’s guidance
counselor could review the data and meet with students individually to help them plan
ways to achieve their goals. Jon and Blanca had clear ideas on what they wanted to do
after high school but did not demonstrate plans for achieving those goals. In addition, if
their interests were tagged, students would know which of their classmates shared their
interests. This could facilitate the formation of clubs and support groups around topics of
interest. If teachers and other adults created their own professional profiles with tagged
data, students could find mentors with expertise in these areas of interest.
Many schools have their students complete a final culminating project, sometimes
referred to as a senior project, as part of their graduation requirements. Students could use
their academic profile to document their progress towards their senior project. The profile
could help facilitate the student’s finding an adult mentor who might have expertise in the
topic of their senior project. When students complete the project, they will be able to
publish their results on their profile. Their academic profile becomes not only a log of
their academic progress through high school but also a demonstration of their learning
with examples of their best work.
There are some questions as to whether adolescents will actually use PLE. It is
possible that adolescents are not interested in using social software for academic purposes
and instead prefer to use their favored SNS to publish their work. PLE might become
virtual “ghost towns” like many online corporate communities (Cramer & Hayes, 2010).
Students might reject systems that limit interactions to just students within their school.
Additional research is necessary to fully understand the benefits of PLE in fostering
adolescents’ identity formations and literacy practices.
Increase Student Accessibility to the Internet Through Mobile Devices
So how are adolescents accessing their social and academic online environments?
It appears that adolescents are using mobile devices to constantly stay connected to their
academic and social networks. These devices have become integrated within their
lifestyles, an extension of how they express their identities to the world, and the lens
through which they learn about the world. Many of the adolescents in this study used
their mobile devices to update their status on their SNS and maintain their friendships. If
adolescents, even from the poorest communities, are already bringing these powerful
communication devices to school, should not educators be using the technology to better
support learning and instruction?
Most adolescents are using mobile devices to connect and interact with their
peers. Ninety-three percent of adolescents, ages 12 to 17, go online; 75% of them own a
cell phone; and 66% say they text, according to a recent survey from Pew Internet
(Lenhart et al., 2010a). For many adolescents cell phones have become an indispensible
tool for communication. Today adolescents communicate more often with their friends by
text message than even face-to-face (2010a). This study also found that teen cell phone
owners in the lowest household income category (under $30,000 a year) were the most
likely (41%) to use their handsets to go online (2010a). While going online through cell
phones was too expensive for many younger adolescents that rely on their parents to pay
for the service, this practice also provides lower income households without a computer
the opportunity to get online.
Many of the participants in this study used mobile devices to access the Internet.
Blanca, Maya, and Reggie regularly communicated with their peers through text
message, often using the devices to update their status on their SNS. Liliana, Maya, and
Reggie also used other mobile devices like iPods and their Nintendo DSi to access the
Internet wirelessly on the go through Wi-Fi connections. For Maya, this was her primary
way of accessing the Internet outside of school.
Some might argue that mobile communication devices are used by adolescents
strictly to socialize and would only result in distracting students from their learning. In
this view, mobile devices are reserved for social purposes while computers are used for
learning. There is a fear of using mobile devices that allow adolescents to access an
unfiltered Internet into the classroom. Most computers in schools have software that
allows educators to manage use and access for certain educational purposes while mobile
devices are not as easily managed. There is also a legitimate concern of adolescents’
using mobile devices to cheat, cyber bully other students, and behave in other
inappropriate manners.
Other educators have safety concerns about students using these mobile devices in
ways that might compromise school safety or distract students from their academic work.
A recent study (Thomas, 2009) found that 30% of cell-owning 17-year-olds say they have
received sexually suggestive images of someone they know via text message, while
another survey by Pew Internet says 15% of teens between 12-17 have received a sexting
message (Lenhart, 2009). Sexting is not just a moral concern but also an illegal activity
that schools have a responsibility to prevent. Problems arise when many of these
activities occur off campus and outside of the school day but their impacts are felt at
Even though cell phones have become indispensible tools for adolescents, these
same devices are often banned at school. It is the policy at Valley Vista and many high
schools to ban the use of all mobile electronic devices. If students are found using a cell
phone or iPod at school, the device is confiscated by school personnel, and only returned
to the student’s guardian. Most students use their cell phones to manage their social
communications, but they are not allowed at school to use the same devices to manage
their academic communication. Outside of school adolescents are more likely to jot down
a note using their phones than pen and paper. Reggie shared that he often takes notes on
his cell phone by writing a draft. A draft is a text message that is not sent. Alex
complained that he often forgot what his homework assignments were before he got
home because he did not like to write things down. Would more students complete their
homework if they were allowed to keep track of their work using their cell phones, the
same devices they use to manage their social life?
This dissertation suggests that banning adolescents use of mobile devices and
social media at school is not effective. These restrictions are not preventing students from
bringing them on campus or preventing their use. Students find ways to stay connected to
their social networks even at school. What is not known is how best to harness these
mobile devices for more academic purposes while at the same time protecting student
privacy and insuring a safe school environment. More recently, parents have urged
schools to allow cell phones on campus for emergency use outside of instructional time,
allowing parents to stay in contact with their children. This has resulted in many schools
formulating policies and rules to regulate the use of mobile phones and social network
sites in school, under certain circumstances through AUP. For example, some schools
and universities are experimenting with text message alert systems, like, to
send out group text messages in an emergency.
In other instances, individual teachers are finding ways to integrate cell phones
into their instruction. In Chester Middle School, north of New York City, a sixth grade
teacher is allowing his students to use text messages to summarize and analyze poems.
He found the students were highly motivated and demonstrated a better understanding of
the poems than his students who did not use their phones (Sullivan, 2010). A Spanish
teacher in Green Bay, Wisconsin, had students complete permission slips to use phones
in her class. Students left recordings speaking in Spanish to a class voice mail system.
During another class she had students work in pairs to answer questions in Spanish and
text their replies to a website, Poll Everywhere (, which
allowed her to project the anonymous replies to the entire class. Her students then
corrected the spelling and grammar of the replies. A science teacher in North Carolina
has been allowing students to use cell phones as calculators for years. Recently, students
in his class have used video phones to create a public service announcement to encourage
recycling, take pictures of organism that they later had to identify, and send text messages
to coordinate and document a field trip. Those students who did not have a phone
partnered with other students (Schwartz, 2010).
All the stakeholders within a school should review their policies on mobile
devices to see if there might be legitimate uses for mobile devices for academic purposes.
Policies can be written that mitigate these concerns and allow educators to manage
students’ use of mobile devices for specific academic purposes. Recent case law has
allowed some districts to change their AUP to cover off campus activity.
If the speech act doesn’t directly reach the school campus, such as a
website that wasn’t accessed or created at school, it’s put to a test in which
an adult determines whether the information would have eventually
reached the school and caused disruption. “Reasonable foreseeability”
gives schools the right to discipline students for speech acts committed off
campus when a material disruption of and substantial interference with
others’ rights exist. (Cramer & Hayes, 2010, p. 41)
This should allow schools more flexibility to punish students who create or send
inappropriate material off campus and then bring it to school through their SNS or cell
phones to disrupt class.
Most online instructional services are not accessible through the students’ mobile
devices. Valley Vista, like many high schools, offers certain instructional services,
including their school’s website, Accelerated Reader, and Blackboard, over the Internet.
However, some of these services are not accessible through the browsers found on these
devices. Maya could not access her assignments in Blackboard through the mobile
browser on her Nintendo DSi. Schools should work with their software vendors and
computer services to make sure that all instructional services are available through
mobile devices so every student has equal access to the school’s instructional services.
Even more difficult than making instructional content mobile accessible is
insuring that there is pedagogical compatibility with mobile phones. If history is a guide,
changing pedagogies, developing new content, and effectively integrating a new
technology is a slow process, especially for an institution that is reluctant to change
(Cuban, 1986). More research is needed to discover best practices for how to use mobile
technologies and social media effectively to support the creation of learning
environments that enable learners to reach educational objectives in new ways.
Limitations of Study and Need for Future Research
There were clear limitations to this study that should be understood when
evaluating the implications of this research. This case study was in a unique school, a
small technology high school in a poor urban district with open enrollment. Students
chose to attend the school and were screened through an application process. The fact
that students chose to attend the school likely resulted in students who were more
committed to the school and their education. Even though the school had open
enrollment, it still reflected the demographics of a largely Hispanic community.
Every effort was made to select participants that matched the demographics of the
larger school population that was 94% Hispanic, 2% white, and 3% African American.
While slightly more females (55%) than males (45%) attend the school, this study had a
gender balance with three male and three female participants. There were four Hispanics,
one African-American, and one Caucasian participant, approximating the demographics
of the larger population. In addition to demographics, the participants were selected based
on their results from a survey. It is possible that the participants answered the questions in
such a way as to try to get selected, since the main participants were paid to take part in
this research. The researcher did select students who were heavy users of MySpace to
take part in this study. While it appeared that the participants’ practices on MySpace were
not unusual, this study does not reflect the practices of those students who did not use or
lightly used a SNS.
Adolescents’ use of technology and online social networks can change quickly
and be influenced by fads. There has been a clear migration of adolescents from
MySpace to Facebook throughout the United States over the last several years. The data
from this research captured adolescent practices in the spring of 2009 in a largely
Hispanic community. Previous studies are consistent with the claim in this research that
Hispanic adolescents prefer MySpace, but it is quite possible that they will also migrate
to Facebook. Recent data released by Facebook (Backstrom, Chang, Marlow, & Rosenn,
2009) suggest that 2009 was the year more African-Americans and Hispanics began to
use the service.
In some of the observations there might have been an observer effect. The students
might have spent more time on Blackboard or MySpace because they knew an outside
researcher was going to be reading their postings. Near the end of the study Mr. Garcia
mentioned that he was impressed with the students’ most recent Blackboard postings. He
said it was probably the best response he had received all year. He wondered out loud if it
was because they knew an outside researcher was going to be reading them. The
researcher had access to all the participants’ postings for the whole year, including
assignments completed before the students knew the research was going to take place.
There was no clear difference in the quality of the posts from the beginning of the year to
the end of the year that could not be explained in their overall improvement as writers.
There is a clear need for additional research on the impact of LMS and SNS
within poor urban communities. There is some concern how SNS in particular might be
reproducing the social and racial barriers found in these communities online. More
research needs to be completed to understand the impact of these barriers on adolescent
identity and literacy development online. It is also not known what impact this will have
on minority students when they attend college and are not using or do not have the
experience with the SNS used by the dominant culture within the university. This is why
assumptions cannot be made, for example, that all college students are on Facebook. A
more detailed ethnography of SNS and LMS practices of a diverse group of adolescents
might reveal a participation gap or clear differences in how online environments are used
between different ethnic groups.
This research has suggested that adolescents are using online environments to
experiment with their identities and practice multiple literacies. However, students often
faced social and institutional barriers that prevented them from effectively expressing
these identities and literacies in academic environments. It has been suggested that PLE
might provide students an opportunity to express their academic identities and
demonstrate academic literacies at school. More research needs to be completed to see
how effective PLE will be in achieving these goals. Will students be as motivated to
express their academic identities and literacies online, as they are their social identities
and literacies? This research is important because in a globally connected world
adolescents will need to be able to demonstrate their identities and literacies in both
social and professional settings.
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Appendix A. Classroom Survey to Select Participants by their SNS Practices
Name: __________________ Age: ____ Email: ____________________ Phone: ___________
Describe a few of your interests or hobbies. What clubs, teams, or groups do you most identify
with at school.
Have you ever created your own profile online that others can see, like on a social network site
like MySpace or Facebook?
Where is the profile you use or update the most often (include username or address)?
Is your profile currently visible? If so, is your profile visible to anyone, or visible only to your
Have you ever created and posted video on YouTube?
About how often do you visit social network sites (choose one)?
a. Several times a day
b. About once a day
c. 3 to 5 days a week
d. 1 to 2 days a week
e. Every few week
f. Less often
How often do you make changes to your profile (choose one)?
a. Several times a day
b. About once a day
c. 3 to 5 days a week
d. 1 to 2 days a week
e. Every few weeks
f. Less often
What are the different ways you use social network sites? Do you ever use those sites to .
Yes | No
a. Make new friends
b. Stay in touch with friends you see a lot
c. Stay in touch with friends you rarely see in person
d. Flirt with someone
e. Make plans with your friends
What are the types of information you have on your profile?
Yes | No
a. Personal information (name, email, etc)
b. List of interests, hobbies
c. Message board / Comments from friends
d. YouTube videos
e. Music
f. Images
g. Blogs or online journals
10. What are the specific ways you communicate with your friends using social network sites? Do you
ever . . ?
Yes | No | Can’t do this on my site
a. Post messages to a friend’s page or wall
b. Send a bulletin or group message to all of your friends.
c. Send private messages to a friend within the
social networking system.
d. Wink, poke, give “e-props” or kudos to your friends.
e. Post comments to a friend’s blog.
(Survey adapted from Pew Internet & American Life Project Parents & Teens Survey, October‐November 2006). 340
Appendix B. Interview Guide
This is just a general guide to the types of topics / questions the researcher will be asking the participants in
the semi-structured interviews. While the questions in the guide will be used to provide a structure, the
interviews will be customized according to each participant's response and the flow of the interview. Part of
each interview will be in front of a computer where the participants will demonstrate their typical use of
MySpace and Blackboard.
In Front of the Computer:
• Show me what you do when you are on MySpace?
• Show me what you do when you are working in Blackboard?
• Do you often use MySpace and Blackboard at the same time, or do you usually work within each
during different sessions at the computer?
Identity Formation Questions
• What is your family life like?
• Tell me something about yourself.
• What are your interests? What do you like to do in your free time?
• How would you describe yourself?
• Why did you decide to take an online class?
• How do you represent yourself to the other students on Blackboard?
• How do you represent yourself to others on your MySpace profile?
• How do you decide what type of personal information to include on your MySpace profile?
Sense of Community Questions
• While you are at school do you most identify with a certain social group?
• How often do you interact with other students in your online class?
• How often do you interact with your friends on MySpace?
• How do you decide whether to accept someone as a friend on MySpace?
• Do you have any MySpace only friends? Describe your relationship with them.
• Do you ever interact with your online classmates outside of Blackboard?
• With all of the communication options available, how do you decide when to call, text, email, instant
message or post a message to your friends wall?
Literacy Practices Questions
• What do you like / dislike most about the experience of taking an online class?
• Describe a typical session on MySpace. Anything interesting or unusual happen to you on MySpace.
• How often do you change your profile?
• What do you like / dislike about using MySpace?
• You wrote "quote example of student writing in school"? What does that mean to you?
• You posted the following on your profile "quote example from SNS profile"? Why did you post that
quote, song, poem, etc? What does it mean to you?
• Describe your educational experiences within Blackboard. What has it been like?
Appendix C. Focus Group Questions
This is just a general guide to the types of topics / questions the researcher will be asking
the participants in the online chat / focus group. While the questions in the guide will be
used to provide a structure, the interviews will be customized according to each
participant's response and the flow of the chat.
Using a Learning Management System
What is your general feeling towards using technology at school? What do
you enjoy doing the most? Any frustrations?
How do you all like using a learning management system (LMS) in your
What are the benefits and difficulties with using such a system?
Does everyone feel the LMS affords them the opportunity to express
themselves and their interests?
What are the types of activities that everyone does in the LMS?
How often do you interact with other students or your teacher in your class
Using a Social Network Site
 How much time do you guys spend on MySpace?
 What are your favorite things to do on MySpace?
 Do your parent’s monitor your time on MySpace or do they limit how much
time you spend on MySpace?
 Do you friend adults to your MySpace page – teacher, relatives, etc?
 How often do you interact with your friends on MySpace?
 How do you decide whether to accept someone as a friend on MySpace?
 Is your social network site blocked at School? Do you ever access it anyway?
How do you all do it if it is blocked?
 Does everyone listen to music or watch videos on MySpace?
 How do you decide what type of personal information to include on your
 Do you ever worry about strangers accessing that information?
Appendix D. Technology Use Matrix
A course in Moodle (a type of LMS) was created to organize the field research. Each participant was given
a username and password to access the online web site. For one day during the study, participants were
asked to upload data documenting their use of technology within the Moodle database.
Moodle Site Listing all the Requirements of the Participants
Technology Use Matrix: A Moodle Database 343
Blank Entry Form Used by the Participants to Upload their Data 344
Appendix E. Concept Map Used for Coding with Two Example Notes
A note to be coded was first dropped on the appropriate participants’ adornment on the map. The
participants’ id number and pseudonym were added to the corresponding attribute fields in the note and the
participant’s color was added to the border of the note. Next, the note was dropped on the appropriate code
adornment. For example, if a note was dropped on the family background adornment then context would be
added to the note’s topics attribute and family background would be added to the theme attribute (see
example notes in Appendix F). In addition, each note would take on the background color of the
appropriate topic.
In the example below, the Introduction and family background note was dropped on the Alex adornment
giving it the poppy color border. Next, the note was dropped on the family background adornment giving it
the green color background for context. The note was also dropped on the personal characteristics
adornment giving it the second blue color representing identity. Alex’s second note is about his student
hobbies (context) and daily home computer practices (literacy).
Appendix F. Example Notes
Appendix G. Tinderbox Agents
In Tinderbox, agents are created to perform dynamic queries and lists. Agents return a list of note aliases
that meet the conditions of the query. This is a dynamic list as new notes are created an alias of that note is
automatically added to the agent. In the example below, an agent was created that returned all notes that
have Identity Experimentations in the themes attribute. Agents can also return notes in a certain order. In
this example, participant and data number sorted the query. A list of all the Agents in the study
An Agent that returns any note with Identity
Experimentations in the Themes Attribute
Results of the Identity Experimentations Agent
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