Playing Around With Concepts Of College Student Digitized Self-Authorship

Although not the specific focus of my research, it nevertheless occurred to me that some of the behaviors I noticed students exhibiting in my research followed well known and well established developmental patterns.  As a thought experiment, I tried to map some of these behaviors to the classic developmental theories of Marcia Baxter Magolda and Robert Kegan.  This graphic was the result of this experiment.  It is VERY much in draft form and subject to my evolving understanding, but I wanted to put it out into cyberspace for feedback and thoughts about what I developed.


It was very clear from my interviews with traditionally aged college students that their social media use followed a transition from externally motivated behavior to internally motivated behavior.  Students evolved from being owned by social media to owning it.  This shouldn’t be much of a surprise as this is a natural developmental phenomenon, but the way it is instantiated online makes it somewhat novel and unique.

The external factors that seem to rule college student behavior online are motivated by a desire to portray an amplified life.  A life that appears to be constantly “exciting,” “fun,” and “engaging.”  Success in crafting this image is quantified through Likes and comments.  Likes are the currency of social media validation.  The more Likes one gets, the more validation one receives.

Validation through Likes is a trap for college students.  It plays into a vicious cycle where social sharing becomes less about connecting with others and more about portraying oneself in a specific way.  Receive a lot of Likes, and that means the next posting needs to achieve this same number of Likes or more.  Compare your number of Likes to those of others, and try to achieve more than they have.  Posting behaviors become a never-ending self-perpetuating cycle of posting-quantifying-comparing,  posting-quantifying-comparing. It becomes a game in which one constantly attempts to beat their own “high score” and those of others.  A behavior that can be incredibly draining, stressful, and depressing for the college student mind.

Students that have broken out of this cycle are the ones who emerge with a new found self-confidence.  They reorient their use of social media to meet their own goals.  Validation becomes less important.  Represented by the stages depicted at the right of this diagram, students make their own choices about social media and how it fits into their lives.  They also realize it is a constant renegotiation process.  So although they may again fall prey to the cycle noted above, they are more easily able to self-navigate out of it.  Social media use is on their terms.

So those are my thoughts…  What do you think?  How might you revise or refine this diagram?  Are these theories even useful for understanding social media use or do we need something else?

3 thoughts on “Playing Around With Concepts Of College Student Digitized Self-Authorship

  1. This is a great framework for traditionally aged students, but I am wondering how this would compare to an adult learner’s digitized self-authorship. Since nontraditional aged students tend to have a more defined “offline” identity, their patterns of social media behavior would likely align with other formal adult learning theories, such as Mezirow or Kolb. Maybe this is something worth further exploring 🙂

  2. I saw this in my research as well. I would add one component however. What I noticed was that digital context plays an important part in this. For example – in some spaces students may be in an earlier “order” due to the network or architecture, whereas in other spaces they may be in a 3rd or 4th order (for the same reasons). This is why overlaying theories such as self-authorship with ecological or spatial theories helps to complicate the navigation of what I am now coming to learn is our “hybrid” becoming. 🙂

    1. Yes. Yes. I’m really glad you brought this forward because that is very similar to what I found. You just put it more succinctly. 😉

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