Who are you?

(6 min read) “Who are you?” the small child asks, looking up with curious eyes.

I am a growing fractal, a friend you haven’t met (yet), a dreamer tethered to the ground by a thin thread like a balloon and rooted like an old old tree. I am a reflective surface that smiles back at you, not blindly, but with insight. I am content and mostly I wake up eager to greet the day.

What am I is a different question. How do people perceive me? To be honest, I don’t think many people know me, despite my being quite frank and open about my personal quests, interests, struggles, and daily goings-on. I often speak of using music as a medium to communicate, as it is somewhat free from the confines of words and their societal associations, and allows me to put people into new thinking situations they might not otherwise meet (or invite meeting). I think though, that music sometimes gets in the way. My quest is not to teach music, or to be a cellist, as such.

I think; I am a communicator. That puts a finger on it. Whether with the cello, or words, or sitting and looking, or walking with someone, I associate with being a communicator; one who communicates – sending and receiving meaningful exchanges. Everything else stems from that, really. Image CC BY-NS-SA by Michael Levine-Clark

In this #el30 course Stephen has asked for an identity graph without reference to the ‘me’. Graphs are tricky for me. There are levels of connections that bend toward the ‘who’, having to do with time allocation, responsibilities, physical and mental energy directed toward something or someone, and our own understanding of our identity evolves as we do. I will make one; watch this space.

By this I mean the conception of self.

As a child there is a nice illustration of that understanding of self. The game ‘guess which hand’ where you hide an object in your hand and ask another person to ‘guess’ the location. A the hand is then revealed either as empty or shows the hidden object. When children are below the age of 2 1/2-3 they can’t process the difference between their thoughts and what another person can perceive – the idea of private thoughts has not been developed yet, so hiding something in front of them makes little sense. (watch about 10 seconds of this clip- I don’t know the people in it- and you’ll see this boy ‘think’ in front of himself)

When I first heard Robert Winston explain this phenomenon on a BBC programme my daughter was 2 and my son was nearly 4, and I was incensed. Naturally I thought it impossible. My daughter was more clever than that, and how could he say otherwise? But when I tested it, sure enough, she showed me open hands every time, sweetly saying, “guess which one!” and did not understand somehow that I could already see, yet my 4 year old son could play the game perfectly well, hiding the object and keeping his thoughts private.

As children grow, they become aware of the self, and of the others around them, and begin to make social comparisons. Interestingly, their views on learning, attribution, and the impact and processing of feedback also change. -and these don’t necessarily match up to what teachers say. (see this chapter, which sadly is not available online at all) From the chapter by Wittrock:

At about 6 years of age many children do not separate ability, effort, and achievement (Nicholls, 1978). They equate effort to intelligence, and success to smart people who work hard. At about 7 to 8 years of age they distinguish these three concepts form one another, and causally relate effort, but not ability, to achievement. At about ages 9 to 11 years, ability also becomes a cause of achievement, but they still believe that people who work hard are also intelligent or able individuals.

Beginning about age 11, children realize that effort and ability are relatively independent of each other, and are causally related to achievement. This developmental progression implies that training programs designed to teach children to ascribe success and failure to effort rather than to ability are likely to be effective primarily with children who are old enough to differentiate these concepts from one another, and who realize that each of them can independently influence achievement.

Children also develop in their concept of locus of control, their belief that events they experience are under their own or internal control, rather than under the control of other people or forces outside themselves, that is, under external control. From Jean Piaget’s research on causal reasoning (e.g., Piaget & Inhelder, 1975) young children often overestimate their ability to control events, including the weather and the movements of the sun and other stars.

Social comparisons are engrained and reinforced through school and society, and for some the quest for things and status (followers and likes?) seems to give value as opposed to the self-comparison of where you are now, where you have come, and what is your potential. That is not to say that having a voice is valuable – it certainly is, but you or I are not defined by the perceptions of others.


Identity for me is a deep thing, that is different from the many hats we wear in our day-to-day persona. They are all part of the same, but only I see all of my identity. A small example.

Being a teacher my class sees a side of me, a bit of me. What they see is real, authentic, complete for their needs, yet incomplete in terms of my identity. I think that’s a personal thing. They see the bits they need to see, and the bits that I reveal are relevant to them. There are plenty of other bits about them and me that we perhaps don’t need to know. The vendiagrams of our interaction don’t have to overlap but a little, but when there is meaningful interaction and engagement – whether in coursework or whatever setting, this makes it all worthwhile. Geoff Cain hit the nail on the head with this tweet:

To know myself, I must be comfortable in my skin, in my mind, with myself. And that is a journey of discovery and, for me, of undoing habits and past actions that were off track to rediscover bits of myself. (Imagine doing something because you think you should, instead of doing what you really want to do – being under the thumb of parent/teacher/boss – that kind of thing). I worked with an ethnographer on a research project a few years back, and she called it ‘process’. Well, I looked deep in that mirror and have come far along that road. That’s all part of how I grow to understand and claim my identity, but the persona is the bit you see. I ask my Psychology of Learning and Teaching students to explore this in a task where I ask them to make a map about the different ‘hats’ they wear. I’ll warn you this little video I made a couple of years ago is a bit silly (and I never intended to share it beyond my class) – made my children corpse themselves laughing – but I’ll go to great lengths to get people interested and engaging.

For me the value is in connection, and that means that when people do connect it is wonderful. It might not happen often, but it is worth the wait. I tell people if they invite me, I’ll come, and likewise my door is always open. I think it’s a different attitude, unexpected somehow.

In the course topic intro, Stephen asks:

We were the client, we were the product – are we, at last, the content?

We have always been the content, whether as the author or as the lab rat – it is not an escape or an end to be content; it is one facet of an existence. As I engage, my footprints are both depressions into and impressions- from one angle I leave a dent and from another angle I create the bulge.

he goes on to say:

We are the thread that runs through an otherwise disconnected set of data…

Well… with our blinkered view, it may seem disconnected, but that is only from our perspective. *Someone* no doubt has connected it up, moves us about like pieces on a glass table, and plans about product sales and demographics. I did a research project once involving 600 children and we used their postcodes to gather information about the type of household they came from. (We were interested in whether or not they could practice at home). It was all anonymised, but one of my children was in the study and so I could look up my own postcode in this classification code thing, and OH MY GOODNESS they had our family down to a T. How we shop, how many bedrooms we had, what sort of education we had, what type of hobbies and toys our children had, what kind of cooking habits we had, what car we drove, whether or not I ironed shirts for my husband or if he did it, whether I had a husband or was a single parent or had a partner, or had extended family living with us. WTF!?! The categories and correctness of them was really scarily accurate, and we live in a very diverse part of our little town. Yep, someone has definitely already connected up all the data we splash about.

I wanted to get my initial thoughts down before jumping in to the videos. Now to catch up on the week’s resources.

Featured image taken of me by my dad, circa 1976.


  1. jennymackness

    Hi Laura – I have really enjoyed reading this post and your ‘hats’ video is great. The question you posed that intrigued me was – do you ever not wear a hat?

    I have never felt comfortable with the idea of multiple identities. I agree that in different situations different parts of me will be seen and seen differently by different people, but i have never felt comfortable with the idea of naming that part as one of many different identities. Perhaps it is just a question of semantics, but I prefer to think that I just have one identity, although I can see that my identity has evolved /is evolving, but I can also still recognise the child I was in me now – in the sense that there is much in me that has not changed at all.

    And I am interested that you are able to answer the question ‘Who am I?’ (you say ‘I am a communicator’). I don’t know how I’d answer the ‘Who am I?’ question. For me the question gets harder as I get older! Whilst I feel that I have only one identity, I don’t seem to be able to ‘name’ it 🙂

    Thanks for sharing this post. It has been an interesting week in EL30.

  2. Stephen Downes

    > *Someone* no doubt has connected it up, moves us about like pieces on a glass table, and plans about product sales and demographics.

    No doubt.

    But the skills required to do this are created only by graphs – whether neural networks or artificial intelligences. It’s a process of regression, recognition and categorization.

    It is, if you will, networks intersecting or interacting with networks (probably still a future field of study).

    p.s. Lovely post. You are an outstanding communicator.

    p.p.s. I’m wondering where you got the term ‘vendiagram’. It originates from ‘Venn Diagram’, named after John Venn.

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