As part of ePortfolio week at the University of Guelph, I co-facilitated a session today on teaching dossiers and ePortfolios with my colleagues Janet Wolstenholme and Jason Thompson. My part of the session was to talk about the possibilities out there when thinking about an on-line presence to communicate about your academic self. The take-home message of my chat was, regardless of platform, it is in your best interest as a graduate student to start creating a place on-line where people can find your academic persona1. To help think a way through this, I created a matrix with the following axes:
- Professional <—> Personal, and
- Low Stakes <—> High Stakes
Choosing a platform or tool should be a process of deciding where you’re comfortable operating along the two continuums: a) how willing, able or concerned you are to share information about your personal self and b) how much effort you’re willing to commit (and this commitment might be measured in effort, technological expertise or otherwise) to the set-up and maintenance of the tool.
I should point out that while one end of the professional/personal axis is strictly personal, I don’t feel it makes too much sense talking about that end here as communicating strictly personal information would have little (intended) impact on this idea of communicating about your professional self. It’s part of the matrix, but for the sake of focus I’m ignoring it. So, it’s my belief that if you can match your own interest and intended scope for communicating your academic persona to a tool, you’ll be happier with the product.
With that in mind, I shared a range of tools and examples today. If you’re more the independent type, you can visit the bundle of links on your own but I’m going to break the tools down a bit and explain where I see them fitting along the two axis I describe above.
More Professional, Lower Stakes
An example: an academia.edu profile
Academia.edu is a social network pitched directly at those working (considered loosely) within academic institutions. By adding yourself to your school, department or college, you begin to see and can connect to others at your institution or with those academics, independent of location, that share similar research interests. You can also use the site to build your academic presence by sharing talks, papers and other forms of academic “currency.” I consider it lower stakes because you can add as little or as much detail as you like and it doesn’t really requires upkeep beyond a semesterly visit to update your activities. An added bonus is analytics; you can get an email anytime someone’s Google search brings up your profile. It’s egosurfing in reverse!
More Professional, Higher Stakes
Examples: the academic blog; D2L ePortfolio
The academic blog, which I unoriginally would define as a blog that focuses exclusively on your academic work, fits right into this quadrant. Importantly, it shares little or no personal information, which is often understood to be the mainstay of a blog. I like it because the blogging can provide an external audience with a more sophisticated understanding of your scholarly approach—in short its richer. For the graduate student, it might mean writing about stages in your dissertation or a particular challenge in your field.
I consider it higher stakes because you need to create content on an on-going basis and initially need to create the structure. Will you, for example, include a CV or a statement of teaching philosophy? Some of that structure can be static (i.e. more like permanent web pages rather than updating blog posts), with content often dictating design. It demands that you have an interest in maintaining the site, too (or having a friend or loved one who will do this for you).
More Personal, Lower Stakes
Example: about.me profile
Here’s my about.me profile; you’ll see it is one page with a quick outline of my academic interests. Visual. And a list of links to other places: twitter, flickr, linkedin and my personal blog. Creating the page took about five minutes for entering the content (and truthfully fifteen to fiddle with the look). It offers visitor analytics so you can get an idea of traffic and who is looking for you. I suggest that this profile is more personal because I’m linking to my various other presences on-line—one of which could be your lab website or graduate student page on your school / department / college website—and letting those sites do the “heavy lifting” regarding answering the question who I am.
More Personal, Higher Stakes
Examples: the personal-academic blog hybrid; informal ePortfolio
At the risk of disappearing into a never-ending self-referential cycle, I’ll cite this website as a “personal-academic blog hybrid”. While I post photographs I’ve taken well outside the academic sphere, I also do the same things I suggested for the “pure” academic blog: write and ruminate about approaches in my academic field. My site byline is “proudly muddying the line between my private and public persona” and I think there is some value to this. It’s more the real me for one—I show a balance of what informs my personal and academic practices. So, the whole is quite rich for someone wanting to know more. But I also carve out a significant portion to static pages that outline my academic training and publications. Again, like the professional blog, it is a tool that requires some more sophisticated knowledge about creating and maintaing the site. I must say, however, that that sophistication allows for more creativity in creating something that perfectly matches your goals.
Institutional repositories, such as the University of Guelph’s atrium.
Almost sterile of the personal, institutional repositories allow you to store your academic work in perpetuity (or, at least as long as the sponsoring institution exists). So that longevity is a good thing. Possibilities do exist to share that work too as the uploaded documents get metadata and URIs for easy sharing. At the same time, it’s not explicitly designed for accruing a public persona, so it could be difficult to curate an identity. I’ve used it in conjunction with academia.edu to host academic articles I cite and link to there.
A business-flavoured social networking site, LinkedIn has started to up its academic chops by, for example, allowing you to update citations to published works. Short-term, part-time or transient work (like TAships) don’t translate that well into the structure of the on-line resume. I would say it sits higher in the stakes category as it looks best if you create a complete profile, which can take some work.
- For graduate students, the best anecdote is exemplify how important this is was my own recent job search—thanks to analytics associated with the tool I use, I was able to see the kinds of visitors I had to the academic section of my homepage. Clearly employers were out there looking for and at me. [↩]