Digital identity: How to benefit from smartphone usage

Daniela Puerta
28/08/17
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Quick Take: Digital identity is understood as the trace each user leaves in the virtual world, and this university aims to inform its students on the repercussions this may have on their working future.

Santiago de Chile, Chile

Universities are committed to graduating their students with the skills needed to succeed in their future and work life. Today, students need to be skilled in technology use and also be mindful of their digital identity.

In November 2015, Universidad Autónoma de Chile was again accredited for four years, joining a select group of 20 accredited Chilean universities. In addition, the university began offering students free tuition, as part of the tuition-free policy launched in Chile in 2016. Through the policy, lower income families that study at specific institutions can do so completely free of charge for the duration of their studies. This allows a large number of low-income students access to higher education.

Universidad Autonoma de Chile. Photo: AFP Pablo Vera Lisperguer.
Universidad Autonoma de Chile. Photo: AFP Pablo Vera Lisperguer.

In the midst of this series of changes, the university also decided to implement new technological developments. In 2016, the school created a Computer Education Center, with the aim of reinforcing excellence in pedagogical processes. With Moodlerooms, the university creates virtual spaces where all four of its campuses have the same opportunity to access unified course materials and evaluations. This approach facilitates the student-teacher relationship, and also aids in administrative processes.

As a result of this increase in online learning, the university began to study their students’ digital identity. Digital identity is defined as the trace left by each online user. These traces can include images, data, and information that users leave behind when using technological tools. This is explained by Marisol Hernández, professor at the Universidad Autónoma de Chile, also in charge of the Computer Science Department: “That digital identity –a topic that is part of my doctoral thesis– says a lot about students’ technological behavior and how they learn. At this moment, we are in the process of validating the tool that will measure and indicate students’ digital identity, to later analyze in focus groups whether that digital identity leads us in some particular way to how students learn.”

Understanding digital identity can be useful in teaching, as it can help educators use technology for more precise and personalized purposes. This can be particularly helpful and relevant today, where students are seemingly more critical of traditional teaching and learning methods, and are demanding alternative ways of learning and technology that can truly help them attain skills and competencies.

It is key to resignify learning spaces and identify what students use in their day-to-day life.

Redefining education means to give it a comprehensive look, taking into account the new learning tools available, even those that we often don’t perceive are being used for learning purposes. “When professors are talked to about technological tools, we often tend to think that learning is only possible through a formal environment and with certain technologies, without thinking that there are other tools that can be of equal or more beneficial value to the educational process”, declares Hernández.

"When professors are talked to about technological tools, we often tend to think that learning is only possible through a formal environment and with certain technologies, without thinking that there are other tools that can be of equal or more beneficial value to the educational process."

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This expert in education and technology refers to tools such as:

1. WhatsApp – WhatsApp is used mainly in Latin American countries as a mobile chat solution. Although many may think it is a communication tool only, the application is used by students as a learning tool. Study groups can be created, support and advice can be exchanged, and exam preparation can also take place, among other things, making it an alternative education space.

2. The same occurs with other technological tools such as Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, which are usually considered as social networks with no real value in the digital education space. “When someone talks to me about giving tools a positive or negative value, or decide which are formal or informal, it’s like someone asking me if technologies have advantages or disadvantages; it has to do with the possibilities that I as a human being can visualize and in fact utilize,” explains Hernández. Therefore, redefining learning spaces is necessary, and we need to take a look at the technologies that the student actually uses in his or her day-to-day life.

3. The use of technology goes far beyond student life. Today, technological tools also have an impact on students’ work future. Not only due to what is published about them, but also because they are used as tools to make one’s career trajectory known to the public, as is the case with LinkedIn, the digital platform used to display one’s resume or to look for employment.

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Universidad Autónoma de Chile’s has rethought the ways in which we can use the technological tools given to us in order to create opportunities. A cell phone can either be a distractor in class, or it can be a translator, spell checker or query tool. The university is trying to train students and teachers with the skills they need today, and which the world demands of them. This includes technological tools of all kinds that make up their digital identity.

Marisol Hernandez,Teacher and General Coordinator of the Computer Area, Universidad Autónoma de Chile. Photo: AFP Pablo Vera Lisperguer.

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