Identity and participation in social networking sites amongst pre-service elementary school teachers
Recent trends in social networking site (SNS) use amongst teachers have led to some alarming circumstances. Practicing and pre-service teachers have been fired or otherwise punished (e.g. suspension, licensure revocation, etc.) for a variety of offenses related to their SNS use, ranging from sinister to morally ambiguous offenses, and have been encouraged or required by school administrators, professors, and others in positions of power to use SNS in particular ways. Past research on the topic of SNS in education and SNS professionalism has focused on issues of implementation (e.g. how to use SNS to support learning) or utility (e.g. how to use SNS to successfully achieve career goals). Missing from this discussion, however, is an understanding of how teachers (and those preparing to become teachers) naturally come to participate in SNS, why they participate in the ways that they do, and how this use is related to their identity. This study seeks to fill a gap in the literature by understanding pre-service teachers’ uses of SNS in terms of previous experiences, cultural expectations, social benefits, connections to identity construction and maintenance, and how these uses and beliefs regarding SNS begin to change in response to professionalization processes. Grounded theory is employed to generate an explanatory construct, which I refer to as the Acceptable Identity Fragment (AIF). The AIF is then used to understand and illustrate issues surrounding SNS use in education. Major findings suggest that 1) pre-service teachers’ identities in SNS represent a fragment of their authentic identities, 2) pre-service teachers use various SNS differently in conjunction with each SNS’s embedded values and assumptions about identity, 3) SNS use raises various problematic issues surrounding identity and how pre-service teachers are perceived and judged as individuals (e.g. digital persistence, lateral surveillance, etc.), and 4) professionalization processes alter and restrict pre-service teachers’ ability and comfort to express themselves in SNS. These findings lead to discussion, implications, and recommendations on a variety of topics including the following: institutional uses of SNS in education, relationships between fragmented and authentic identities, SNS literacy development, and cultural issues of SNS use.