Problem Based Learning & Digital Identity

The first week of research and finding our way as a group has been interesting.  It made me think carefully of both what the concept of Problem Based Learning was, as well as what our individual digital identities were and how this impacted on our interactions and learning.

“Maze” by Taken, CC0 (Source:, n.d.)

As a group we have faced challenges on finding a suitable tool that works for us so that we can meet.  This is compounded by challenges of our own abilities and knowledge of the different tools.

So it made me think of what ‘drives’ our literacies of these tools, is it as Prensky (2001) initially proposed; age and being native to the technology?  I say initially, as Prensky (2001) definitely moved away from the concept of ‘age’ being a determinant.  However, let us stay then with the idea of being ‘native’ to the tools because we are born and raised with them, thus making us ‘fluent’ de facto as we are linguistically with our own mother tongue.  Do I agree with this concept?  I would say no.  I say this, as my mother tongue is Icelandic, but I was born in an English speaking country, yet ended up doing all my formal schooling in Iceland.  Yet I would say my English is perhaps better than my own mother tongue, as I am immersed in it continually in my current context and have been for the last few decades.  So this then would perhaps lead to the argument that it is about ‘immersion’?  Perhaps?  Yet I have met other foreigners who have the same background as I do, yet they have retained their accent of their mother tongue, and still revert back to their mother tongue in heated debate.

I then thought back to a paper I had written, where I had come across Goode’s (2014) concept of a Digital Identity:

Goode (2014) posits that the skill set, and the inherent belief surrounding such a skill set, is based on a belief system.  This belief system focuses on four areas that forms the basis of the internal digital identity, and is formed through formative experiences, such as home life and, to a certain extent, school, as well as socioeconomic and cultural contexts (Goode, 2014; Gurung & Rutledge, 2014).  The first of the four quadrants that make up this belief system is that of the user’s own perception of their skill levels, the second is their belief regarding the opportunities and constraints to use technology that exist within their environment.  The third aspect pertains to the importance of using technology, and finally it is the user’s motivation to learn more about technology.  This intrinsic view point, or attitude, contributes toward a complex, and fluid, introverted view of a digital identity and will form the type of skill set development based on the belief system the user holds (Goode, 2014; Gurung & Rutledge, 2014).  Both Goode (2014) and Gurung & Rutledge (2014) argue that the student’s personal use and habits can even influence their subject choices as well as career paths. 

(Cited from Sharp, 2015)

What I liked about Goode’s (2014) theory was the recognition of both the perceptions of the user of their skills and their motivation to learn more.  This was reiterated in White’s (2016) presentation on Visitor vs. Resident, where he mentions that motivation is important when moving from visitor mode to resident.  Even more important, which Goode (2014) does not specifically make note of in her belief system, but does allude to in the case studies that she discusses in the same paper, is the context.  I think context is critical to this belief system.

So how does this all relate to Problem Based Learning?  This is what had me floundering at first…and perhaps it still does 🙂

I had to unpack for myself how PBL differed to Inquiry Based Learning (IBL), as that was something that I was more familiar with.  PBL differs in that a scenario or problem is presented to the student or group, and they then decide what they need to learn in order to address the problem.  Whereas IBL requires that the students will explore a topic/theme and then develop a specific focus for research, creating a hypothetical question.

Does it mean that if I can use technology fluently, I then am able to learn with ease?  This, I think is where PBL comes in.  As I had stated in a previous paper:

It is without a doubt that the digital natives, through their upbringing and “socialisation” (Prensky, 2011: 17; cited in Towndrow & Fareed, 2014: 4) have different skill sets pertaining to the digital world.  This skill set, however, does not necessarily translate into the much needed academic skill set required for educational success (Gurung & Rutledge, 2014). 

(Cited from Sharp, 2015)

So how do they gain this skill set?  Through a different pedagogical approach?  Is PBL the solution?  This is something I am still trying to figure out, as I am not yet sure how comfortable I am with the learning methodology.  The core underpinning of social constructivism that underlines this, where learning within groups is required, is not always successful in my opinion.  We see this countless times in our own practice where we have students complain that they are doing the all work and the others are not doing their part.  Yet it may be case of different working methods, time constraints, cultural issues (something that is rife in any country, not just the South African context), or something as simple as group dynamics.

So does Problem Based Learning become the solution to providing the much needed academic skill set needed in today’s technological infowhelm?  I do believe it is an approach that has much to offer, and certainly is better than the traditional method we are all so used to, but need to finish this course before I can make a sound judgement call on this 🙂


Goode, J. (2014). The digital identity divide: how technology knowledge impacts college students.  New media & society, 12(3): 497-513.
Gurung, B & Rutledge, D. (2014). Digital learners and the overlapping of their personal and educational digital engagement.  Computers & Education, 77 (2014), 91-100.

Taken (n.d.) “Maze”. [Online Image] Pixabay. Available from:

Sharp, S. (2015) Digital Identity and the role in education success. [Academic submission]

White, D. (2014) [YouTube] Visitors and residents (part 1) Available from:




4 thoughts on “Problem Based Learning & Digital Identity

  1. Hi! I liked your blog post, it discusses similar ideas to my reflective post for topic 1. I like your analogy with language which definitely highlights that digital literacy also needs practice to stay fluent. I also think that the technical definitions of “resident” will change as we move forward (today it’s facebook, twitter and blogs, but what will it be in a year?), which means that you will need to learn new things in order to stay a “resident”.

    Feel free to have a look at my blog post for topic 1, if you’re interested!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree that to stay ‘fluent’ we need to learn new things, but is that not so in a language? To stay fluent in a language we need to practice and learn new words all the time? New ways of using our language? I definitely am keen to read your blog, so will comment when I have read it in your blog space 🙂


  2. Really nice reflections, Sonja! I fully agree and also like the analogy with language… And it is true that if you do not keep practicing and using it, even your own native language will get rusty:-)

    Liked by 1 person

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