The following are some of my recent research efforts.  My main research focus is on the impact of social and digital technologies on college students and higher education as a whole.  I am a firm believer in theory-to-practice and utilize research to inform my work.  I also believe that research should be accessible to all and therefore endeavor to make my work translatable for practitioners. I also serve on the editorial board of the NASPA Compendium of Emerging Practice in Technology and Higher Education. Please reach out to me if you’re interested in engagement opportunities or are considering submitting. I’d love to be of help.


I am happy to finally make my entire final dissertation available for all to download and read.  This document represents some of the first qualitative research into how traditionally aged college students use social media and its impact on their development and how they construct identities online.  If you want a more detailed description, I’ve included the abstract below.

Interested in downloading it?  In addition to the dissertation now being available on the ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Database, I’ve also made it available as direct download.

Suggestions for readers.  Depending on your purpose in reading it, you may want to focus in on some chapters more than others.  Those interested in the general findings should focus in on Chapters 1 and 7, the first and last chapters.  If you want to read the direct quotes from the students and their stories (perhaps the most interesting and accessible part) focus on Chapter 5.  College students educators interested in the implications of this research for their work will want to focus in on Chapter 6.  I’ve included the table of contents below if you want to get a sense as to how the over all document flows.

Supplemental materials.  Below you’ll find videos and slides from my dissertation defense as well as an early presentation of my preliminary results.

Cite it.  Brown, P. G. (2016). College students, social media, digital identities, and the digitized self (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. (Accession Order No. 1776598125)

Click HERE to download my dissertation in full.


Social media and digital technologies are ever present in the surround of current traditionally-aged college students. Although research into understanding these experiences is increasing, there is a need for further research into what may be developmentally different for this generation. Postmodern theorists have posited that as a result of digitization, traditional conceptualizations of selfhood and identity may be changing. The contexts and affordances of these technologies are having an impact on human development and contemporary college students are uniquely situated to experience their effects.

This qualitative study aimed to understand how these college students conceptualize their sense of self and identity as a result of digital and social media immersion. In particular, this study explored aspects of digital identity and digitized selfhood to surface important behaviors and developmental processes that are being impacted. Sixteen traditionally-aged college students, primarily in their fourth year of college, participated in a series of interviews and observations to probe this question and were selected as exceptional cases for their heavy usage of social technology. During
this process, students were asked about how they conceived of their identity and identities online and how it impacted their overall sense of self.

Findings for this study did not reveal fully realized postmodern conceptions of selfhood, such as Kenneth Gergen’s (2009) relational self, but participants did demonstrate understandings of selfhood and identity that hinted at this possibility, including what Robert Kegan (1994) would characterize as fifth order consciousness. Identities were found to be subject to contextual and relational processes that required constant maintenance and reconstruction. Additional findings uncovered college student developmental patterns that reach from being externally defined, and beholden to the views of others, towards internal definition, whereby students made conscious choices about social media use. Implications for practice include the need to educate students on digital reputation and identities, the importance of reflection and goal setting in relation to social media, and the necessity to partner with students as our collective understanding of technology evolves.


Click to view.