paper for AoIR conference – traces of self

Here is my PhD-related paper for the AoIR conference in Copenhagen in October.


This paper explores some conceptual issues emerging from my research into the question of how students and teachers negotiate issues of identity, authenticity, ownership, privacy and performativity in high-stakes online reflection in higher education.

The traces produced by online reflection are traces of a cultural moment and a political imperative, as much as traces of individuals. This paper critically examines how a humanist discourse of a ‘true self’, which can be understood or revealed through reflection, masks the increasingly invasive character of educational practices which demand confession and self-surveillance as evidence of progress and learning, and asks: in what ways might working online complicate, corroborate or undermine notions of the ‘true self’ in these contexts?

Download Traces of self: online reflective practices and performances in higher education as a PDF file.

4 thoughts on “paper for AoIR conference – traces of self”

  1. Hi Jen. I’m a member of AOIR but I won’t be able to make it to Copenhagen next month. ::sob:: I thought you might like to hear that a group of us in eLearning at the University of Sydney held our inaugural reading group meeting yesterday, and your article was the first thing we discussed. In fact the meeting came about because I circulated your article and people liked it and said we should form a reading group, so we did.

    The things that people liked were your careful and clear deconstruction of received wisdom (eg life-long-learning), and your dissection of the authenticity of ‘reflective journals’. I think that these are things we all felt instinctively uncomfortable about, but the way you linked them, and the metaphor of the masks, was really appreciated.

    Our work brings us into close contact with individual academics who are using online learning, and I hope that when any of us is next approached with the starry-eyed academic who wants students to engage in ‘deep learning’ using reflection we will be able to talk them gently through some of the implications. Also, our uni is presently buying an eportfolio system, so we will all be much more aware of the pitfalls.

    Incidentally, my partner who is an academic in nursing loved the article. But she told me an interesting story about learning to use the mask. They had a student who reported in his reflective journal that he was sexually aroused when learning to bath patients using his classmates. Although he didn’t act inappropriately, he was got rid of quick smart. If he’d learned the lesson of putting on the acceptable mask he might be an excellent nurse today. On the other hand, if he really had been a nasty little perv, or dangerous, he mightn’t have admitted his reactions quite so honestly and slipped into practice. Who knows?

  2. Wow, Mary-Helen, that’s totally brilliant! I think that given the feedback I’ve had so far I will focus on the masks for my 15 minute AoIR presentation. It’s not enough time to present the whole paper, so perhaps the time will be better spent looking at this idea in some detail. So thank you very much for that comment – really helpful.

    The real tension around the mask as metaphor for me is the extent to which we can choose what ‘face’ to present. I argue elsewhere in my paper that we are as much constituted by langauge as we are expressing ourselves through it, and so I’m not sure that I would go as far as Hargreaves appears to in arguing that students are in full control of the reflective narratives they craft or construct. I think that’s why I’m so especially keen on the genre of the ‘trace’- it captures some of the complexities around agency that I’m especially interested in.

    Anyway, thanks again – I’m on cloud nine now!

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