Because I don’t have the $$ to read the full version of Chronicle of Higher Education, I usually scan through InsideHigherEd. (It’s sort of a Reader’s Digest version of the Chronicle, and free.)

There was a very interesting article today called “Professor Avatar” which discussed the ways in which our online personas mediate our interactions with our students and the world.

“academic avatars show a hunger to be seen and consumed by colleagues and students. ‘Look at me,” they say, “know me, this is me. I am interesting. I am accomplished. This is what I want you to know about me.’

I hadn’t really thought of adding all the bits of me online as avatars–both as bug_girl and IRL, but he’s absolutely right. After he discusses faculty home pages for a while, he goes on to say:

“For example, all those anonymous, stylized and sometimes unhinged academic bloggers may be termed Anonymous Avatars. They indulge in elaborate alternative lives full of flamboyant rants, public displays of sorrow and ultimately, solidarity and communion with the avatars that read, comfort and affirm them and their experiences.”

No Comment. Hmm.

“We make countless choices, conscious and otherwise, about what to reveal about ourselves and how to stylize ourselves. The end result is our avatar who speaks for us on the Web. We fundamentally change our relationship to our students, who become viewers and consumers of our avatars, and who may increasingly interact with us through avatars of their own…. “

What do you think–is he onto something, or just On something?

Posted by Gwen Pearson

Writer. Nerd. Insect Evangelist. Have you heard the good news? BUGS!


  1. All these people with Grand Theories of How The Internet Works seem to think that we blaggers are always agreeing with each other. “[R]ead, comfort and affirm them and their experiences”? O RLY? Methinks the author of “Professor Avatar” needs a taste of the intellectual disputes and occasional personal abuse tossed around in your average Pharyngula thread.

    Chatting with cool folks is nice, but I’m not in this game solely for the “affirmation”. Knowledge matters, debate is a path to understanding, and CITOKATE — Criticism Is The Only Known Antidote To Error.

    Oh, and those “elaborate alternative lives”? News flash: I live and work with fellow scientists. Anything I mention on my website can appear naturally in conversation, at work or over sushi.

    I must admit that upon seeing the title “Professor Avatar”, my first thought was, “Wow! Wouldn’t it be cool to have an airbender for a math teacher?”

  2. Haven’t people always been selective about how they present themselves in different contexts? Before the internet we agonized over our C.V. to make sure that it communicated our accomplishments and interests that were relevant to the job. There was even a section, “Hobbies and Interests”, where you could show how well rounded you were. The big difference is that the internet gives us a larger target audience. But who would depend on just the avatar to make a decision about hiring or what person to work with? You’d always want some face time to see what the person was really like.
    Further on in the article there are some interesting ideas about using technology in teaching — putting lectures on video and using lecture time for interaction. These are possible in a small class, but problematic for the large lecture courses in the sciences.
    A good, thought provoking article!

  3. Digital communication is now sufficiently mature that most of us have had the experience of building a relationship by email and then being surprised to meet a seemingly different person in the flesh. The notion of web presence and avatars simply extends that issue beyond one-to-one relationships. To my mind it’s just a reflection of reality – my wife was recently surprised to discover that a business friend that she considers a warm and caring person is viewed as a tyrant by his employees. We all show different personas depending on circumstance.

  4. Speaking as someone who knows the real you, I would say that your blog is a pretty accurate depiction of who you are (what you care about passionately, your interests and dislikes).

    In fact, an anonymous blog allows us to be free to show our real selves without having to put on our work face (or family face or I’m just meeting you for the first time face, etc..)

    Although…I might agree that you are “sometimes unhinged” ;-) (you can smack me WEN you see me next!)

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