The theme of the SEDA conference held at the end of last term, was the Digital University and much of the discussion focused on digital networks, such as the use of the Twitter in academic development (in Chris Rowell and Helen Webster’s excellent talk on the 10 Days of Twitter course). The significance of the digital in relation to identity construction, particularly amongst academic developers, was a prominent theme which was explored both theoretically and in practice in Helen Beetham’s flipped lecture ‘Becoming Postdigital: in the wake, in response, in recovery’ during which members of both virtual and actual audiences intersected and interacted. One of the issues that Helen explored was the porosity of our experience made possible by online networks and interactions.
The role of digital interaction made me think back to the findings from our study, in which we asked about the importance of different types of networks, including those online, in relation to identity construction.
In many ways, all of the questions analysed in our study contribute to identity construction. Of particular importance was professional organisations and networks, within digital networking and presence being deemed of significance to 40% of respondents.
Being involved with professional organisations was seen as significant to respondents with 78% answering ‘Yes’ or “yes, greatly’ to the statement ‘Being a member of a professional organization (e.g. SEDA, ALT, SRHE) is important to me’. A similar percentage of respondents (72%) indicated that being accredited by a professional organization was important to them.
Similarly, for interviewees, conferences and network events were considered to be ‘a big part of my learning’ (IM) and associations such as SEDA, HEDG and the SRHE were cited as particularly productive organisations to belong to in terms of making contacts, entering a community of practice and generally learning about the area. It was observed that SEDA, in particular, has supported those new to academic development:
‘I’ve only been in SEDA for the last little while… And what I found has been absolutely fantastic. I mean the emails are worth their weight in gold… I think it has made me a lot more hopeful about things’ (IL).
I found them [SEDA events] invaluable when I started and … I can’t believe why that wouldn’t be similarly true today. Anyone who’s making the transition into [academic development] … because there isn’t a route, people come from all sorts of different places. I think in order to get the identity … it’s the good old community of practice theory… I mean to get the jargon, the language, to know the territory, the literature… to try to do that on your own would be so difficult … compared with the opportunities that you get through going to a SEDA conference, getting the newsletter… I think that as you become senior, I guess, that SEDA maybe becomes less valuable and HEDG becomes more potentially important… I think there may be room for more coordinated CPD for senior people (IG).
… because I’m new here, you know I can’t draw upon personal networks … So membership in things like SEDA, SRHE and then in [this country] we have one called EDIN … [has] really been invaluable with connecting me with the literature, but also a way to make personal connections when I go to events with people to share. (IO).
By contrast, online social networks (such as Twitter or Facebook) were deemed to be important in contributing to professional identity by only 40% of respondents. Several interviewees suggested that Twitter was something they intend to engage with more actively in the future. The reading of relevant blogs was also mentioned as a potential source of information and to enable ‘conversations with people outside the institution’ (IJ).