IMAGE AND IDENTITY IN ONLINE DISCUSSIONS: USING PSEUDONYMITY IN SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY TEACHING
This paper examines the role of pseudonymous interactions between students in the teaching of undergraduate social psychology. Pseudonymous interactions offer potential for enhanced confidence, disinhibition, and self-presentational exploration. These same features, however, may lead users to perceive pseudonymous interactions as less honest and trustworthy, with potential implications for education. Despite the fact that online discussions have been used in learning and teaching for some time, few studies have examined pseudonymity in learning contexts; we know little about the identities students adopt when given the opportunity to be pseudonymous or their reasons for making these choices. Similarly, little work has considered the impact of these self-presentations on learning. This study was therefore designed to examine how and why students chose to represent themselves when given a choice and the impact of these choices on learning. In our research, 150 undergraduate students (113 female, 27 male) in two social psychology courses with compulsory online discussions were offered self-presentation options including the use of real or constructed names and real or constructed images. Online groups (2 real name, 2 pseudonymous and 5 mixed) consisting of no more than 20 students were formed. Online discussions, encouraging debate of issues raised in face-to-face classes and by the course readings were conducted for 8 weeks, with students making regular short contributions. Pre and post-test questionnaires included forced choice and open-ended questions examining self-presentation choice and perceptions of learning. Results suggest that students were generally motivated by a desire to be honest, but that this was manifested in different self-presentational strategies. The use of pseudonyms was only slightly more popular than real names, however both groups emphasised their choice as facilitating honest and open communication. The majority of students didn’t chose to use an image, but those who did were twice as likely to construct an image, rather than use a real, current image. Although the majority of students were satisfied with the presentational choice they made, more than half noted they would change their self-presentation if they were completing the exercise again; in particular those who used their real name were likely to use a pseudonym next time. Despite the student perception that pseudonymity was associated with higher marks, students who chose a real name and image attained significantly better grades for the discussions than other self-presentation groups. Results from the present study suggest that online discussions in which students are given an opportunity to select their own self-presentation can provide valuable educational forums. Students made use of all the self-presentational options available and for many their choice appeared to allow them to communicate important information about their identity. In addition results suggest that students who used a real name and real current image received the highest total grades for the assessment. Given the design of the present study it is not possible to determine with confidence the variables that moderate this relationship, however, some speculations are offered in this paper. Finally some cautions about generalising the results to other courses are offered.
© 2008 Victor Karandashev