THE CONNECTION OF SELVES: EXPLORING IDENTITY
DEVELOPMENT IN A TRANSNATIONAL ONLINE DISCOURSE
University of Central Lancashire (UNITED KINGDOM)
There has been considerable research to suggest that learners develop an alternate identity to interact more easily within an online space (Kim, Lee and Kang, 2012; Peachey and Childs, 2012;
Brown, 2011). In addition, it could be inferred from a number of the studies that an everexpanding, global, virtual discourse space may be helping learners to participate with reduced
anxiety and increased self-efficacy. However, questions remain surrounding how to categorise the identity learners create, which is arguably an identity fashioned purposely for online integration, and how a practitioner may harness this identity to improve the language learning experience for their students. In terms of the first question, there is scope to suggest that they are two global schools of thought. Perhaps more common is a realisation in line with Kramsch’s (2009) concept of the second language ‘virtual self’ – a facet of a learner’s perceived ideal ‘self’ (as explained by Dörnyei, 2005), activated when inside an online space, but always at the learner’s disposal, because it is simply one aspect of an holistic learner identity. The counter-argument to Kramsch’s (2009) paradigm, referred to as the ‘multilingual subject’, is the theory often mooted in gaming research (Yee, 2009; Peterson, 2006; Bessière, Seay and Kessler, 2007), that the identity development is a form of escapism. Put in the simplest of terms, students seem to see the ability to integrate under an assumed identity as a crucial affordance of joining a virtual space.
Both theories share similarities, but it may be necessary to highlight the key difference. Essentially, both Kramsch (2009) and the gaming theorists agree that a new persona is created.
However, the former’s portrayal of the identity as one element of a language learner’s ideal character implies that any interaction or learning taking place within the online space could be
harnessed in the traditional classroom. Yee (2009), certainly, would appear to be claiming the opposite, that the virtual and real world may be entirely distinct conceptions of reality.
This paper evaluates the validity of both the abovementioned paradigms, on the understanding that they both may have missed something in their assertions. This is informed partly by studies
on using technology (Greenhow and Robelia, 2009; Lee, Srinivasan, Trail, Lewis and Lopez, 2011) which appeared to conclude that students needed signposting to when learning online was
taking place, suggesting that the identity development may not be a conscious process. The paper looks at a relatively new concept – the distinction between the second language
connected self (L2C) and the second language offline self (L2O), as well as discussing the results of an initial qualitative study to ascertain student perceptions on virtual spaces. By exploring the
concept and its implications for students and practitioners, the author reasons that online identities may not be a facet of a learner self, but rather a compartmentalised reality that a learner can
simply activate or deactivate. Were this to be the case, then it is possible there may be a whole additional language learner, with different levels of language learning potential, with whom many
teachers may still have yet to engage.
Keywords: identity development, virtual worlds, discourse, transnational, engagement, self, L2
virtual self, multilingual subject