Avoid the facepalm: Take charge of your online personal brand

Anyone who has ever been on a big job interview or in a faculty review hearing may have had bad dreams or anxious imaginings of  a nightmare scenario: just as things appear to be going well, the interviewer asks you about an embarrassing or compromising situation from your past — anything from a brush with the police or your attendance at a drunken bacchanalia to your former affiliation with a questionable group or ill-advised public performance. Luckily, you remind yourself, such skeletons in your closet are matters of the past that this employer or panel of evaluators could never find out about… right?

As we learn more every day in our increasingly ubiquitous digital landscape, the twin pillars of online data searching and social media make it easier than ever for potential employers or merit reviewers to discover the details of our lives, be they laudable or loathsome. The controversy over the revoked appointment of Steven G. Salaita at the University of Illinois in reaction to his inflammatory Twitter rhetoric is perhaps the most high-profile example of online presence affecting an academic job search. It is easy to imagine far more mundane discoveries happening earlier in the search process resulting in unfortunately negative perceptions of one’s online persona.

While many of us in academia might chafe at the notion of “personal branding” and self-marketing from the business employment world, the fact remains that higher education is no different than any other industry in its capacity and potential interest in mining social media for information about potential hires or promotions. In addition, internet searching is a common-sense way to vet potential guest speakers or other folks that might visit campus — if this could be you, it’s definitely a good idea to ensure that the “you” that emerges from a Google search is the you you want to present. That’s why taking your “online presence” as a key component of your personal brand is important.

Kelli Marshall from DePaul University wrote the following piece for the Chronicle last week. It provides some helpful advice and links to resources for helping you take proactive steps toward having the kind of online personal brand that will help rather than hinder in your professional life. Avoid the painful facepalm!

For additional insights into creating an online presence for your personal brand, check out Lesley McCollum’s “A Beginner’s Guide to Establishing an Online Presence” in Inside Higher Ed.


January 5, 2015

How to Curate Your Digital Identity as an Academic

If you don’t manage your online presence, you are allowing search engines to create it for you

How to Curate Your Digital Identity as an Academic 1

In 2009, anyone who searched my name on the web would first encounter the opinions of a disgruntled Midwestern undergraduate who lambasted me for being an unfair, unprofessional, and essentially ignorant professor.

Oddly enough, the student was angry because I had begun incorporating Twitter into the classroom. I was among the early advocates of using the social-media site in teaching, especially in large lecture-based courses. While many of the 120 students in my introductory film course embraced the Twitter assignments I devised, a handful revolted, including this particular student. He took to the Internet to express his belief that social media had no place in the college classroom, and any professor who thought otherwise was not only oblivious to Twitter’s intent (It’s for socializing, not learning!), but also graded her students unreasonably. In his diatribe, he called out my name, school affiliation, and the classes I taught.

Because I attended a graduate school focused on technology and digital media (even for those of us in the humanities), I’ve had an Internet presence since 1999. Teaching assistants in my Ph.D. program were required to, at the very least, post their syllabi online. Our advisers also encouraged us to have our own websites (or pages), which we rudimentarily made via software like Microsoft FrontPage (1996) and Netscape Composer (1997). So I’ve been aware of the need to shape one’s digital identity or online persona for quite a while now.

But of course, the Internet changed significantly between when I left graduate school in 1999 and my student’s public critique of me in 2009—see, for example: Google rankings, social media, sitemaps, shifts in search algorithms, robots, crawlers, and search-engine optimization in general. The Internet has changed even from 2009 to today. Suffice it to say, that undergraduate’s tirade is now buried deep in the web. Nowadays, the first item to appear when anyone plugs my name into a search engine is my personal website, followed by my social-media presence, and then direct links to the mainstream publications for which I’ve written.

So how might academics—particularly those without tenure, published books, or established freelance gigs—avoid having their digital identities taken over by the negative or the uncharacteristic?

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Resolve to reflect on teaching in 2015!

The New Year often brings with it an invitation to reflect on past actions and future prospects. We make resolutions aimed at self-improvement for the year ahead (for me, it’s getting back on my exercise regimen, doing more recreational reading, and blogging more regularly!). Introspective reflection can also be a vital component of successful teaching.

In Reflective Teaching and Learning, Jennifer Harrison explains the roots of “reflective practice” in John Dewey’s examination of though and problem solving in the classic 1910 volume How We Think: “Dewey’s view was that reflective action stems from the need to solve a problem and involves ‘the active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it’” (Harrison 9, citation omitted).  Harrison continues to explain that reflective practice can be considered as occurring at three levels, each succeeding level being less instinctual than the previous:

  1. technical reflection: examining events and action to determine what worked and what didn’t, and why;
  2. practical reflection: examining “the interpretative assumptions you are making in your work” (Harrison 8);
  3. critical reflection: examining “the ethical and political dimensions of educational goals and the consensus about their ends” (Harrison 8).

While each level is important, the second — practical reflection — is what draws me to blog this New Year.

As I have worked with colleagues in interpreting their student evaluation data from the IDEA Center Student Evaluations instrument we use at Augustana, one of the matters we discuss is the selection of learning objectives that is central to the process. IDEA SRIs focus on student reports of progress on specific learning objectives selected as “essential” or “important” by the instructor. So, the instructor’s selection of priority objectives is obviously crucial. There are a couple of areas in the summary report to which I draw their attention: the reported progress on their selected objectives, of course, and also the raw data on objectives they did not select. If the scores on selected objectives is lower than expected, and/or the scores on unselected objectives is higher, at least one important question for practical reflection arises: Are the objectives you’ve selected really the focus of your teaching practice? Or is there a disconnect between your assumptions about teaching goals and your actual practice in the classroom? For instance, you may hold firmly to the notion that Objective #8, “developing skill in expressing oneself orally or in writing,” is important to your class. But do you actually spend time and energy instructing in this skill area in the class? Do your assignments clearly reflect and articulate that learning objective? If not, there may be a disconnect between what you believe or intend in teaching and your actual action in the classroom.

These three components of teaching practice — beliefs, intentions, and actions — are at the heart of the Teaching Perspectives Inventory (TPI), a free self-assessment instrument developed by Daniel D. Pratt and Associates based on extensive research into teaching beliefs, intentions and actions. The TPI is a 45-item survey that analyzes these three dimensions across five key teaching perspectives:

  • transmission: “Effective teaching requires a substantial commitment to the content or subject matter”;
  • apprenticeship:  “Effective teaching is a process of socializing students into new behavioral norms and ways of working”;
  • developmental:  “Effective teaching must be planned and conducted ‘from the learner’s point of view'”;
  • nurturing: “Effective teaching assumes that long-term, hard, persistent effort to achieve comes from the heart, not the head”;
  • social reform: “Effective teaching seeks to change society in substantive ways” (Pratt and Collins 2001-2014).

Any teacher will have varying levels of all five perspectives; some will be dominant, some recessive, and the levels may well change over time based on changes in knowledge, experience… and reflection!  I took the TPI last fall — here’s how it shook out:

Klien_TPI_results_Oct_2014

Developmental  teaching reached above the upper line, indicating a dominant perspective. Apprenticeship, Nurturing, and Social Reform all fall below the lower line, indicating recessive perspectives. Overall, the results in the 30s suggest that these perspectives are held moderately. The emphasis on developmental teaching makes sense to me, although I note a bit of a disconnect between my intentions and my actions — something I’ve been pondering about my practice since I took this survey. I was a bit surprised that the three recessive perspectives were at these levels, considering the emphasis on disciplinary analysis of communication as political and social agency that I (think I?) stress in my classes. More fodder for reflection!

The TPI doesn’t assume that some perspectives are “better” than others. And it’s not a perfect instrument, to be sure. Rather, the results provide one lens for practical reflection: what assumptions about teaching drive your practice at a given time? And is there any disconnect between what you believe, what you intend, and/or how you act as a teacher?

So, as we move into 2015, let’s take the opportunity to reflect on the work we do, and resolve to be more reflective practitioners in order to match our actions to our intentions and serve our students well.

For more resources on reflective practice, check out the following:

Happy New Year!

 

Work Cited

Harrison, Jennifer. “Professional Development and the Reflective Practitioner.” In Sue Dymoke and Jennifer Harrison (Eds.), Reflective Teaching and Learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008. 7-44. Print.