Originally published May 25, 2021. Backdated for public readers.
I remember the first time I learned about online avatars and the concept of digital presence. In grade 9, I read Virtual Vandals, a Tom Clancy Net Force series novel designed for teen readers. The story followed two teenage protagonists on a virtual reality adventure. They logged into a digital world, created avatars to conceal their identity, and pursued a faceless antagonist driving an evil geopolitical plot (Duane, 1999). The pop-culture hit, The Matrix reinforced the characteristics of the digital avatar again during a grade 10 acting class film critique. In this film, characters could ‘load’ anything from clothing to tools, making their appearance in the matrix different from their real-world selves. The main supporting character, Morpheus, explained the appearance in the matrix as one’s “residual self-image … is the mental projection of your digital self” (Wachowski & Wachowski, 1999). Most recently, however, Speilberg’s (2018) film Ready Player One cautioned that digital identity does not infer unanimity. Indeed, the actions of the two protagonists in the digital world created real-world consequences. The concepts of digital identity are not new to the pop-culture, but they are entertaining examples of the pros and cons of our digital age.
During this second unit of our first course in the Royal Roads MALAT program, my cohort and I investigated the importance of digital identity and presence. In the coming units, we will fully explore the various organizational structures involved in online learning; but at their foundations, learning in the digital environment requires awareness, participation, and collaboration (Rheingold, 2010). Critical thinking and consumption, famously coined as “Crap Detection” by Ernest Hemingway, or an understanding of who wrote it, their sources, dissenting views, and the correct information, will inform our work (Canvas Network, 2017). As part of the awareness phase, we are currently learning about our digital footprint, how others may use the digital space differently, and how rapid shifts from analog to digital environments create constraints.
Today’s blog post helped me articulate the purpose behind my digital identity and explore how I can make further improvements in the future.
As discussed in my last post, my professional work as a leader in the youth sports sector heavily influences my online presence. Therefore, my goal as a ‘web-resident’ is to further the strategic plan of Cycling BC and represent the values of the Coaches Association of Canada, Cycling Canada, and Cycling BC to help make the activity and sport of cycling as accessible as possible to all Canadians (White, 2011).
I can meet these expectations by carefully choosing the words, messages, and images that I share with coaches, instructors, parents, athletes, and prospective cycling families. For example, I aim to role model the following through my actions in the digital space (and the real world, for that matter):
- use precise language,
- show an appreciation for the reader,
- trust in the reader’s interest in growth and development, and
- use awareness of calendar and social events to maximize the relevance and effectiveness of my posts.
I also need to recognize that readers and viewers look for different things in their role models. Morgenroth, Ryan, and Peters (2015) showed that role models could either 1) act as behavioural models, 2) represent the possible, and 3) be inspirational, and that ultimately, the viewer will decide the mode their role models fulfill. In my role as Cycling BC’s Head of Coach Development, I am responsible for the messages that I share in the digital world and take great care in promoting values and actions that will help people create positive associations with their bikes.
At Cycling BC, we are initiating a new coach mentorship program, whereby NCCP ‘certified’ coaches can pursue professional development opportunities to maintain good standing. As the project lead, I plan to use various online technologies to foster an environment that promotes community, knowledge transfer, and opportunities to help coaches take on new and challenging roles. For example, one component of our mentorship program will be our monthly study group. To help each participant expand their abilities, all participants will receive the opportunity to lead a meeting each year and fulfill the remaining roles. To help make this initiative a success, I will need to utilize my technical skills in video editing, learning management systems, lecture and facilitation design, and social media to provide resources and set the tone for the participants. Areas for improvement include my ability to develop an eLearning program from scratch (I worked with a consultant for our 2020 project) and optimizing my audio capture and editing skills to improve the sound quality of our video resources.
To help facilitate a greater connection between our coaches and increase their understanding of how athletes perceive them, we could use various activities to help them explore their digital identity. For example, numerous coaches in our community are now filming and sharing highlights of the skills and activities they complete with the athletes on social media. By sharing this information, coaches help ensure parents understand how their child is improving and help new coaches access helpful examples. In the past, apps like Coaches Eye (now known as Hudl or OnForm as of Sept 1st, 2021) allowed coaches to share information within a private group of coaches. Reed’s Law discusses how the value associated with sharing information with others changes as the number of people increases. Reed’s Law hypothesizes a linear value associated with story-telling between individuals, a ‘squared’ value associated with facilitating transactions, and an exponential value associated with facilitating affiliations and hosting conversations (Rheingold, 2010). Reed’s law also hypothesizes that as the scale of a network increases, the dominant value of the network tends to shift from one category (stories) to another (square or exponential, respectively) (Hogg, 2013). Our coaches are already doing a great job sharing their experiences within their local community and I am curious how I can facilitate more significant connections with coaches in the public network and increase information on the web.
Sports coaching is a mix of art and science, and it is hard to know when athletes will achieve improvement. Likewise, it will be hard to measure the success of our coach mentorship program. If we set up our program in the context of a community (or a group according to Dron, 2014), we can track the progress through participant attendance, engagement, and satisfaction. However, I am optimistic the impact of the program will extend out into the online coaching network. Measuring success in the more public realm is more challenging. One idea may be an annual survey that asks coaches about the content they have been sharing online, supported by analytics data that illustrates changes in the number of follow requests, likes, or views, representing changes in consumer interest. Another marker for success based on Reed’s Law may show how the engaging stories shared by our coaches translate to increased revenues for small coaching businesses or donations to our larger non-for-profit cycling organizations. As with most of our programs here at Cycling BC, we design our pilot programs on a 3-year time horizon, meaning that our coach mentorship program will need to demonstrate its effectiveness and achieve financial sustainability by 2024.
Over the past decade, the sport of cycling has also quickly matured into a more mainstream activity. With the core disciplines of the sport now established, coaching and instructor certifications are professionally recognized, trail designs that promote safety and accessibility are more widely adopted, and there is increasing interest from the public to ‘go by bike.’ As a result, our sports leaders carry an even greater responsibility to lead by example and enact their leadership values through best principles (Gilbert, 2016). This can be challenging for some members of the cycling community who experienced the ‘younger version’ of the sport and feel like they have been working with limited guidance and support but have achieved success, nonetheless. For the coach mentorship program to achieve success, we will need to create an environment that values the experiences of all our members and helps the group aim together towards a common goal.
Regarding leveraging online tools to achieve this, our coach mentorship program could help introduce the concepts of online identity and grow a coach’s business and ultimately increase the quality of information available on the web. Boyd (2006) states that “profile generation is an explicit act of writing oneself into being in a digital environment and participants must determine how they want to present themselves to those who may view their self-representation or those who they wish might” (Boyd, 2011, p. 4). We can initiate this process within the closed community of the mentorship program, whereby the members serve as the imagined audience, or according to Boyd (2011), the intended public. The value of such an exercise would be to imagine “the audience or public [and] to adjust one’s behaviour and self-presentation to fit the intended norms of that collective” (Boyd, 2011, p. 4). In summary, I plan to recommend that coaches first share their content in a private setting, like Coaches Eye. When they feel they have consolidated a digital persona that they are comfortable with, they can then shift to using the open web to demonstrate their skills on the public market. As a result of engaging in this open sharing, we would also aim to help coaches outside our current community refine their teaching techniques and improve the overall quality of cycling coaching information available on the open web.
Boyd, D. (2006, December 4). Friends, Friendster, and Fop 8: Writing community into being on social network sites. First Monday, 11(12). Retrieved from https://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/download/1418/1336
Boyd, D. (2011). Social Network Sites as Networked Publics: Affordances, Dynamics, and Implications. In Z. Papacharissi (Ed.), Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites (pp. 39–58). New York, NY: Rutledge.
Canvas Network. (2017). Crap Detection. Retrieved 05 10, 2021, from https://learn.canvas.net/courses/1659/pages/crap-detection
Dron, J., & Anderson, T. (2014). Teaching Crowds. Athabasca, AB: Athabasca University Press. Retrieved from https://www.aupress.ca/books/120235-teaching-crowds/
Duane, Diane (1999). Tom Clancy’s Net Force Explorers: Virtual Vandals. Berkley Publishing Group.
Gilbert, W. (2016). Coaching better every season: A year-round system for athlete development and program success. Champaign, Illinois, USA: Human Kinetics.
Hogg, S. (2013, October 5). Understand and Obey the Laws of Networking: Ignorance of the laws of networking is no excuse. Network World. Retrieved November 2, 2017, from https://www.networkworld.com/article/2225509/understand-and-obey-the-laws-of-networking.html
Morgenroth, T., Ryan, M. K., & Peters, K. (2015, November 23). The Motivational Theory of RoleModeling: How Role Models Influence Role Aspirants’ Goals. Advance online publication. Review of General Psychology, 19(4), 465-483. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/gpr0000059
Reed, D. P. (n.d.). That Sneaky Exponential: Beyond Metcalfe’s Law to the Power of Community Building. Retrieved from https://www.deepplum.com/dpr
Rheingold, H. (2010). Attention and other 21st-century social media literacies. Educause Review, 45(5), 14-24. Retrieved from https://er.educause.edu/-/media/files/article-downloads/erm1050.pdf
Spielberg, S. (2018). Ready Player One. Warner Bros.
White, D., & Le Cornu, A. (2011, August 9). Visitors and residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9). Retrieved from https://firstmonday.org/article/view/3171/3049
Wachowski, L., & Wachowski, L. (1999). The Matrix. Warner Bros.