University of Georgia (UNITED STATES)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2012 Proceedings
Publication year: 2012
Pages: 2293-2302
ISBN: 978-84-615-5563-5
ISSN: 2340-1079
Conference name: 6th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 5-7 March, 2012
Location: Valencia, Spain
When an adolescent experiences feelings of isolation, he/she will seek out ways to alleviate these feelings. Interacting with digital media allows those who are isolated, whether it’s geographically or emotionally, to experience forming social connections with their peers and to construct their identity. Isolated adolescents use social media to connect with their communication partner and each informs the other’s literacies. Their identities will not remain static, but will continue to evolve with each new social engagement. With every new audience in the social communication virtual world, there is the potential for changed social identities. The information in this paper pertains specifically to the ways in which a homeschooler is engaging with social media to form his or her identity.

In his article, Affinity spaces: From “Age of Mythology” to today's schools, Gee (2009) states that in an affinity space, the groups speaks or writes in an “acquired language” that identifies them as part of this group and separates them from others. They are bound together by common ways of doing things and this common language. He proposes that virtual reality is the very embodiment of affinity spaces. It is where users can go to engage with other users from potentially distant locations to create new identities and then problem-solve (Berson & Berson, 2005; McKenna & Bargh, 2000; Myers, 1987; Walther & Bazarove, 2007). Virtual worlds encourage social and personal development (Beals, 2010) as the users are making connections and forming relationships with others in the virtual group, working on a team and learning to compromise, but in a manner removed from a face-to-face exchange (Brody, 2006; McKenna & Bargh, 1998; Walther & Bazarove, 2007). Although identities are fluid and participation with this media is usually confined to time alone, (Brody, 2006; Larson, 1995), virtual worlds are very social places (Bruckman, 1992). Players depend on each other to collaborate so that all can enhance their knowledge base (Clifford, 2005) and go farther in the game. Participants choose to escape into this world, but in order to be successful both socially and virtually, they must adhere to the rules of the group for their words and deeds, or be excluded from acceptance.

Gee’s definition of affinity spaces can be expanded to include social media communication of other forms. A socially isolated homeschooler and his or her social media partners engage in the basic principles of affinity spaces: informal learning cultures Adolescents use social media such as text messages, Facebook, MySpace, blogs, instant messages (IM), chat, email, and virtual reality to globally connect with their peers. This article illustrates how one socially isolated homeschooled adolescent uses social media to interact with others her age, construct her identity, and inform her literacies. At the center of the discussion is one 16-year-old homeschooler and the ways in which she uses digital media to create her social identity and reciprocate learning with her communication partners. Theories of social constructionism and literacy as a social practice are the perspectives through which the information in this article is viewed. It is suggested that digital media be assimilated into educational curriculum so that learning is more broadly informed by both traditional and online literacies.
Social identity, homeschool, on-line literacies, digital media, identity construction.