Theme 1: Empower Learners

3 3: Identity — Let them try different roles

The third principle for empowering learners is the IDENTITY principle. It’s an important part of motivating learners. Offer learners different roles with different skills and project goals to give them a chance to see the topics they’re learning from a variety of perspectives, some of which may speak to them more authentically than others.

Gee (2005) describes the importance of roles this way:

“Any domain of knowledge, academic or not, is first and foremost a set of activities and experiences. That is, domains of knowledge are special ways of acting and interacting in ways that produce and use the domain’s knowledge; they are special ways of seeing, valuing, and being in the world. Physicists do physics. They talk physics. And when they are being physicists, they see and value the world in a different way than do non-physicists. The same goes for good anthropologists, linguists, urban planners, army officers, doctors, artists, literary critics, and historians.”

IDENTITY strategies in teaching

  • Group projects where specific roles are assigned or selected according to students’ areas of expertise and interest.
  • Assignments and opportunities to hear from, interact with, and/or work with practitioners in the field.
  • Stories and perspectives on the field from different roles within the field, from related fields, and from outliers in the field who have affected it by thinking outside the box.
  • Add a few strategies that might work in your course, and see others’ ideas here.

IDENTITY strategies in Canvas

  • Use the Discussion forum for role-driven conversations or reading responses (read more)
  • Provide Pages or Modules for group projects where students can contribute according to their existing skills — through interactions with each other on a topic, they will learn other perspectives related to the field.
  • Include assignments, activities, or discussions that require practice within domain specific identity.
  • Add a few strategies that might work in your course, and see others’ ideas here.

Knowledge Check


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