Identity, Projective Identity, Community Identity, Creative Projection, Imagineering, Immersive Experiences, Connections...

This is a study of Identity, Avatar and On-line Identity, Community Identity and the use of an Analytical Eye to look at these with a view to their educational potential. In this artifact I will use the lens of expressing and utilising viewpoints of "identity" (Gee, 2001) to explore its creative use in looking at ones self in the real world, and through projected and community identities in on-line environments and social networks on the Internet.

It takes the form of an assemblage of a number of artifacts and parts created during the "e-Learning and Digital Cultures" course on the Edinburgh MSc in e-Learning. It arises through their "temporal emergence" into an aggregated holistic view (Pickering, 2005, p35).

I chose to introduce myself at the start of the Digital Cultures course with some images of collaborative artworks produced by on-line communities I have engaged with. One was a collection of images of eyes...

All Eyes - Collective Art - Ghosts of a Chance at the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Luce Foundation Center, 2008.

My contribution was "Ai Eye", an image of the eye of my virtual worlds avatar "Ai Austin". This has layers of meaning to me which I want to explore in this artifact.

During the course I have explored self identity with my Life Wall, avatar identity with my AI - Avatar Identity digital artifact, community identity with my GA-MMA community ethnographic study, a study entitled Think Like a Robot, and "posthuman" viewpoints which aggregate these multiple perspectives (Hayles, 1999).

I want to bracket the study and work on the course by returning to use an "Analytical Eye" to explore the individual works and their meanings to me, and try to relate that to the readings for the course and wider relevant literature.

I accompany the body of the text with a side bar which experiments with a customised Typographical Visual "Neo-Grammar" expressing the core "connectors" I have drawn in the work. It uses a layout style with interactive linking capabilities well suited to on-line communications of layers of content. Some other authors have explored the idea of knowledge gathering through making a network of nodes and connections, e.g., Siemens (2005).


Life Wall

McAlpine (2005) pp. 379-380 provides a nice summary of the development stages of an individual in terms of their own perception of identity. In particular, a review of the literature indicates that younger children gradually develop a notion of their identity as something that is separate to the world around them and that can be observed by others. They develop social identity awareness gradually over a period right into their teens. He goes on to describe multiple identities adopted by individuals in both social and on-line cyberspace contexts.

At the very start of the Digital Cultures course I began to collect together some of the postings and imagery I used to introduce myself to the class. I was fascinated to consider and discover what I wanted to present, and was drawn to link this, initially, on a time line including projects, experiences, interactions, roles, etc. But, I went further and conceived the display format of the Life Wall using as just one element the WallWisher walls used to make introductions for the class. Life Wall is an exploration of the use of tags and clippings, links and annotations in a number of visual and layout styles to look at your life story, things you have done, people who have influenced you, etc. Elements are included to encourage reflection and recall. Emphasis tag levels encourage reflection on the level of impact on your life of the things you include. The rationale is explained at Life Wall Rationale.

This approach has much in common with the "Mystory" concept of Ulmer (2003). The mystory takes the form of a short series of web pages in which students make hypertextual compositions which represents a personal attempt to record the factors organising an individual's experience of the world through a form of self-portrait.

Projective Identity

Another Planet

AI - Avatar Identity is a digital artifact created for the Digital Cultures course. It explored a number of themes related to the creation of a challenging novel environment to unleash the creativity of the visitor (potentially a learner) as described by Bayne (2008) and Bayne (2010). These included a surreal and unusual colour scene set in a strange landscape. Ghostly avatars appeared. Unfamiliar copies of avatars were created. Unsettling multiple copies of avatars were present and disturbingly moved themselves about.

Perhaps most unsettling of all, the AI - Avatar Identity digital artifact explored the use of some very recently introduced technology in the development version of the OpenSim virtual world platform to support Non-Player Characters (NPCs). This allowed avatars to be cloned, to appear close to the original and interact physically with the environment and other avatars. strange and amusing effects ensued. By equipping the cloned avatar with MyCybertwin chat bot technology and connecting them to a set of potential answers to FAQs for each avatar, spontaneous chat between avatars and possible visitors took place without interventions and there were surprising results (Ai and Be Chat - avatar-to-avatar text chat).

For some deeper analysis of issues of gender in projected identity, see Tolentino (2009) and Nowak&Rauh (2005).

As the integrating theme of AI - Avatar Identity I chose the Beatles lyrics of "I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together" from "I am the Walrus".

AI - Avatar Indentity

To summarise how I relate to my avatars: I am Ai as he is me. Be is her and she is her. But we are all together.

My explorations on this theme include:

Hayles (1999, pp23-24) mentioned Philip Dick's novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (which was the basis for the Blade Runner movie) through which a number of projected identity and ethical issues are explored. Some are explored in the Blog Posts mentioned above, and in the Blade Runner Philosophical Issues Blog.

I mean Projective Identity to be interpreted as a positive and mind expanding phenomenon, as in Gee (2003), not the controlling and negative influence it can sometimes be interpreted as in psychological studies where it may be referred to as Projective Identification.

Projective identity - It means one is as a virtual role in the game. According to Gee (2003) p55, playing on two senses of the word "project," meaning both "to project one's values and desires onto the virtual character" and "seeing the virtual character as one's own project in the making, a creature whom I imbue with a certain trajectory through time defined by my aspirations for what I want that character to be and become."

Further to using one's imagination to forge a projected identity, e.g. for an avatar in a virtual worlds, creativity can be unleashed by designing a whole environment (Weber, 2007) or world in which to explore. Imagineering as Disney calls it. Jermone Bruner, the American psychologist, argued for the value of "progressive widening" and decentering away from oneself of an individual's frame of reference (suitable guided) in games and possible worlds (Bruner, 1985) to explore and learn.

And the creative design of such environments leads naturally on to involvement with others in their design and use... in communities...

Community Identity

GA-MMA Community

I very much like team projects and collaborative working, and have loved working in teams scattered across the globe on my projects and in my recreational interests.

As an aside, and showing my long term interest in the theme of community involvement, "All together now", as in the Beatles song, was the title for my first after dinner speech to colleagues and their partners at the start of a large research community effort in the US. Everyone was asked to join in the refrain... after a few glasses of wine.

I think the ideas in Lave and Wenger's (1991) description of situated learning through participation in a community is a good formulation of where a positive learning experience can be had. These are sometimes called "communities of practice" (Wenger (1998)) I can see that is one of the motivators for my own best learning experiences. Doing new things in challenging new environments, sharing a scenario and community set of aims, and coming to be part of that community. I always say that I like projects that are community based... but its more the sense of being part of a community doing interesting things than the project itself sometimes.

Experience on a specific programme I have in mind in making these observations is on the Coalition Agents eXperiment (CoAX, 2002) On CoAX I led a collaborative project to demonstrate intelligent agent technology a few years back in which around 30 organisations eventually were involved. Some made big contributions throughout and some were active for a period only. But all were considered to be community members and promoted that way in reports and presentations. We all shared a common core scenario, but it was modified to accommodate each participant's need to show their wares. We used a "buddy" system where each PI was responsible for bringing in each participant and ensuring the scenario accommodated their needs. I learned a lot about many technologies in that programme, and it would not have mattered if our own technology was a small or large part. It was being on the team and accomplishing things together that I recall, and I know many of the others do via their continuing positive comments about the experience.

For my virtual community ethnography I chose to study the Gerry Anderson Model Maker's Alliance (GA-MMA), a group I helped form and that I have been involved with since. It is an example of the type of rich on-line community involvement I have experienced and enjoyed in on-line interactions. The GA-MMA ethnography web site itself gives much more detail, and some personal accounts of my experience.

Analytical Eye

As I

Utopian visions have always appealed to me. Future cities, future worlds. I am generally positive and optimistic. I like fantastic and forward looking literature and films. Especially when they create an entire ecosystem or world in which the story takes place. For example, Kemlo and the Satellite Belts (read in my teens), Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (unsurprisingly), Larry Niven's Ringworld (early twenties), and more recently James Cameron's Avatar. The detailed realisation of Pandora, its geography, flora and fauna by James Cameron and his creative team for the film "Avatar" is a good example of the detailed imagination and background hard science that goes into the creation of an imaginary "other world". For some this detail and level of potential immersion in the film or its associated media and games is very appealing.

I can focus in and be deeply immersed in richly created worlds whether portrayed from real life or in written and visual fiction. My "projects" since my school days reflect these interests... a secondary school project to study future cities with well designed transportation, future city architectures with a favourite being the designs of Corbusier (I was sketching local buildings that use Corbusier influences even when at secondary school), modern homes with an interest in Frank Lloyd Wright and his Prairie House designs (my home has design elements from this style), John Portman and his soaring hotel tower designs (e.g., the Bonaventure Hotel, LA as seen in the SciFi TV Series Fantasy island - we went out of our way to stay at this hotel), Space Habitats as envisaged by Gerald O'Neill, etc. I follow the groups involved in the design of oceanic and underwater communities such as Sea City (from my teens) and more recent projects.

I tend not to look back. I do not generally want to be exposed to negative and dystopian thinking. I don't like horror genres, as I found out when I was obliged to watch some chosen Digital Cultures Film Festival clips! I like a positive and happy ending. Disney suits me, expect the one where Bambi's mother dies!


It may be unusual, but I am in a position to listen to my own avatars in conversation, and even referring to myself as they chat. As part of creating a digital artifact for the Digital Cultures course, I set up and initiated a free flowing conversation between two clones of my avatars which were equipped with MyCybertwin chat bot technology via a web interface. This was interesting to observe - see Ai and Be avatar-to-avatar text chat. I was very surprised at how well they did with relatively little training, and no FAQ or tutorial sections in their repertoire.. which is possible with the technology provided. They seemed very civil, as intended. I tried to manually intervene a few times, but they seemed to chat on quite well, even changing the subject themselves a couple of times. They also clearly felt that they needed more guidance on how to converse which they can get from my own interactions with them. I will try to help them grow in their capabilities and topics of conversation in future.

This experience can be compared to a Chatbot to Chatbot conversation widely reported in August 2011. Based on interactions with many people on the Internet, they tended to get more argumentative.

Bayne (2008) describes a number of experiences which users in an educational context have when creating and using an avatar, and projecting identities onto them. She uses terms like the "uncanny" and "ghostly" or "zombie" experiences. These cause uncertainty and open up mind challenging environments in a way that can provide interesting learning opportunities. And I do appreciate its a term that has some history (See Uncanny).

I have used teleconference, distance collaboration and other forms of multi-user environments for so long, and have had experience of MUDs and MOOs as they grew from their text beginnings, so that its a more natural experience for me... just like I would not call using the telephone uncanny because I can heard a disembodied voice from a distance. But I can certainly put myself into an avatar shape or type which I know I find unusual or that feels "wrong". I recommend one very nicely constructed site in Second Life which allows for just such an experience. See Meta Body - Try an Out of Your Body Experience

As Eye

When discussing the nature of an individual's beliefs about intelligence, knowledge or the learning process (e.g., Norman (1993)) it can be a useful device to project oneself into the identity of another agent to clarify argumentation. I explored this in my Digital Cultures Posthuman Pedagogy artifact entitled Think Like a Robot. Others have observed that adopting such a projective identity viewpoint can be useful in educational situations (e.g., Angus et al. (2001)).

My experience in virtual worlds parallels some of the virtual world encounters and experiences described by Boellstorff (2008). A particular reflection on the nature of my bond with an avatar and whether I am "with" or "behind" the avatar is related in my experience in designing and using the "Personal Satellite Assistant (PSA)" avatar which I use when my attention is away from a particular focus in a meeting space, or when I am on-line through an interface which does not permit me a 3D viewpoint of how my avatar will appear to others. See connector Austin, Ai and the Personal Satellite Asssistant. I see this as "Ai" looking through the "PSA" robot floating in the meeting space... "I" am behind "Ai" but its "Ai" that is disconnected from the meeting space.

I do not like to leave my avatar in a virtual world when I am "AFK" or marked as "Busy" when I am not paying attention to those around me. But, I see the PSA avatar as an entity that I could leave in a community or social context to be autonomous.. with interaction for other users only via IM/Text chat through the indication on its "screen" showing my avatar on it when I am accessible in world with me interacting through my "Ai" avatar. I even have thought it would be okay with me to leave several such PSAs in rooms I need to monitor but where I have to be elsewhere and am multi-tasking. This is very much like the "IMPs" (Intelligent Multimodal Participants) (Krutsch, 1999) in the Mitre (now open source) Collaborative Virtual Workspace (CVW), something we worked with on a DARPA project around that time.

The PSA probably represents the most abstract but also thought through and designed aspect of my use of identity, projective identity and community identity. It can be viewed in posthumanist terms as a far removed entity from myself (Hayles, 1999)

To Conclude

Austin's Eye Ai's Eye for
    Austin PSA's
    Eye for Ai

A conclusion can be reached... as we bring together the parts of this view of identity as expressed about self and the human element, about avatars and outside representations of self in on-line situatons, about functional or role-playing alternates in other worlds, about identity in communities made up of self and others collaborating and pursuing common objectives, and even hybrid combinations of these. The focus is not always on the self, but the self contributing as a part of a community.


Allsop et al. (2002)   CoAX (2002) Allsopp, D.N., Beautement, P., Bradshaw, J.M., Durfee, E.H., Kirton, M., Knoblock, C.A., Suri, N., Tate, A. and Thompson, C.W. "Coalition Agents Experiment: Multi-Agent Co-operation in an International Coalition Setting", Special Issue on Knowledge Systems for Coalition Operations (KSCO), IEEE Intelligent Systems, Vol. 17 No. 3 pp. 26-35. May/June 2002.

Angus et al. (2001) Angus, T., Cook, I., Evans, J. et al (2001) "A Manifesto for Cyborg Pedagogy?", International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education, Vol. 10, No. 2, pp.195-201.

Boellstorff (2008) Boellstorff, T. (2008) "Personhood", in "Coming of Age in Second Life" pp. 118-150, Princeton University Press.

Bayne (2008) Bayne, Siân (2008) "Uncanny spaces for higher education: teaching and learning in virtual worlds", ALT-J Research in Learning Technology, Vol. 16, No. 3., pp.197-205.

Bayne (2010) Bayne, Siân (2010) "Academetron, automaton, phantom: uncanny digital pedagogies", London Review of Education, Vol. 8, No. 1, March 2010, pp 5-13. Routledge.

Bayne (2011)   Lens Bayne, Siân (2011) "Lens" terminology suggestion, Personal Communication.

Blade Runner Philosophical Issues Blade Runner Film (1982) Philosophical Issues: Personal identity. See

Bruner (1985) Bruner, Jerome (1986) Actual Minds, Posible Worlds, Harvard University Press.

Chatbot to Chatbot (2011) Two AI chatbots have a conversation, one believes he is a unicorn. See

Dick, Philip K. (1968) "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep", Doubleday.

GA-MMA (2011) Tate, A. (2011) "Gerry Anderson Model Makers' Alliance Virtual Enthnography".

Gee (2001) Gee, James Paul (2001) "Identity as an Analytic Lens for Research in Education", Review of Research in Education, 25, 99-125.

Gee (2003) Gee, James Paul (2003) "Learning and Identity: what does it mean to be a half-elf?" from Gee, James Paul, What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy, pp 51-71, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hayles (1999) Hayles, N.K. (1999) "Toward embodied virtuality", Chapter 1 of "How we became posthuman: virtual bodies in cybernetics, literature and informatics", pp 1-25, University of Chicago Press.

Krutsch (1999) Krutsch, Michael (1999) "IMPs Enhance Virtual Collaboration Environments", Intelligent Human-Computer Interface Issue, The Edge, Vol. 3, No. 4., December 1999.

Lave & Wenger (1991) Lave, J. and E. Wenger (1991) "Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation", Cambridge University Press.

McAlpine (2005) McAlpine, M. (2005). E-portfolios and digital identity: Some issues for discussion. E-learning, 2(4), pp. 378-387.

Norman (1993) Norman, Don (1993) "Things that make us smart: defending human attributes in the age of the machine", Addison-Wesley.

Nowak&Rauh (2005) Nowak, K. L., and Rauh, C. (2005) "The influence of the avatar on online perceptions of anthropomorphism, androgyny, credibility, homophily, and attraction", Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(1), article 8.

Pickering (2005) Pickering, A. (2005). "Asian eels and global warming: a posthumanist perspective on society and the environment", in "Ethics and the Environment", 10(2), 29-43.

Projective Identification See

Siemens (2005) Siemens, George (2005) Connectivism: Learning as Network-Creation, Learning Circuits.

Tolentino (2009) Tolentino, Katerine (2009) Gender in Cyberspace. See

Ulmer (2003) Ulmer, Greg (2003) "Internet Innovation: from literacy to electracy", Longman, New York.

Utopia See, for example,

Uncanny See, for example,

Weber (2007) Weber, Aimee, Rufer-Bach, Kimberly and Platel, Richard (2007) "Creating Your World: The Official Guide to Advanced Content Creation for Second Life", John Wiley & Sons.

Wenger (1998) Wenger, E. (1998) "Communities of practice: learning, meaning, and identity", Cambridge University Press.

Proposed Extra Assessment Criteria

  1. How well were themes and readings explored during the Digital Cultures course, artifacts created, blogged items and lifestream events brought together into coherent themes and presentation within the artifact?
  2. How much did the notion of a typographical style of "connectors" and its rapid navigation approach add to the value of the artifact in terms of visual impact and effective link navigation?
  3. How useful were the creative inputs provided to enrich discussions on the topics presented on the course?


This panel experiments with a non-ordered reified set of connectors to the contents and themes of this artifact.

<Connector> ::=
      Token ⊃—⊂ Token


Tokens are provided with <name="..."> tagging accessible by clicking on tokens in connectors. Token types include literature citations, project web pages, digital artifacts, information snippets, etc.

Themes Explored

Identity, Projective Identity, Community Identity, Creative Projection, Imagineering, Immersive Experiences, Connections...

Educational value of imagining other worlds.

Us, together, community, collaboration.

Set of Connectors

McAlpine (2005) ⊃—⊂ Life Wall ⊃—⊂ Life Wall Rationale ⊃—⊂ Ulmer (2003)

Kemlo ⊃—⊂ Ringworld ⊃—⊂ Pandora ⊃—⊂ Utopia ⊃—⊂ Space Habitats

Sea City ⊃—⊂ Prairie House ⊃—⊂ Bonaventure Hotel, LA

AI: Avatar Indentity ⊃—⊂ strange, surreal, unusual, ghostly, unfamilar, unsettling ⊃—⊂ Bayne (2010)

Bayne (2008) ⊃—⊂ Meta Body - Try an Out of Your Body Experience

Ai and Be Chat ⊃—⊂ Gee (2003) p55

NPC ⊃—⊂ MyCybertwin ⊃—⊂ Ai and Be Chat ⊃—⊂ Chatbot to Chatbot

Tolentino (2009), ⊃—⊂ Be, Avatar Gender, ⊃—⊂ Nowak&Rauh (2005)

Hayles (1999, pp23-24) ⊃—⊂ Blade Runner ⊃—⊂ Projected Identity Issues

Lens ⊃—⊂ Gee, 2001

Norman (1993) ⊃—⊂ Think Like a Robot ⊃—⊂ Angus et al. (2001)

Weber (2007) ⊃—⊂ Imagineering ⊃—⊂ Bruner (1986)

Lave & Wenger (1991) ⊃—⊂ GA-MMA ⊃—⊂ Communities of Practice ⊃—⊂ Wenger (1998)

Boellstorff, 2008 ⊃—⊂ Austin, Ai and the PSA ⊃—⊂ Krutsch, 1999 ⊃—⊂ Posthuman ⊃—⊂ Hayles, 1999

The grammar of "connectors" is itself a work in progress to create a grammar of "contextualised connectors". See Another Planet.