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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Don’t just write a teaching philosophy… paint a picture.

Writing a thoughtful and compelling statement of teaching philosophy is hard. It’s crucially important, and not merely for securing a faculty position, or making your case in a faculty review for tenure, promotion or merit. The process of self-reflection and articulation is an important exercise we all need to revisit periodically in order to (re-)discover the core of what’s important to us in our pedagogy and the outcomes we want for our students. But such self-examination can be awkward — where do I start? How much is it OK to toot my own horn? And more fundamentally, how do I put the basic instincts I have about what’s important to me into words that aren’t broad, abstract platitudes?  How do I get past “I want my students to be independent learners” and “active learning is important” and “I’m a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage?” (Those cliches may be true for us, but they’re deflating to write and tedious to read.)

The Teaching Center at Washington University in St. Louis has a wonderful set of resources for helping one compose a teaching philosophy statement, including links to lots more online resources.  Iowa State University’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning has a useful site on writing a teaching philosophy statement, providing some simple but powerful question prompts to drive your philosophical invention, as well as a helpful video featuring Susan Yager, who frequently teaches in ISU’s Preparing Future Faculty Program:

But what the Wash U and Iowa State sites might not provide as clearly is a sense of the core of a really unique, definitive teaching philosophy: the concrete texture and experiential detail of your classroom, described in ways that help the reader get a vibrant sense of what it’s like for your students and for you as the teacher.

Here’s where Mary Anne Lewis from Ohio Wesleyan University comes in. In her recent post on Vitae (an essential blog site to follow if you’re on the job hunt, or even just interested in ongoing faculty development at your current place of employment), Lewis describes how she discovered the notion of a teaching philosophy as a “self-portrait,” and in doing so rediscovered and was able to articulate her personal joys of teaching and learning.

Be sure to check out the original post on Vitae — at the end is Lewis’ own teaching philosophy statement in an embedded document file… and it’s really worth the read!

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October 3, 2014

Image: sketch of Albert Camus, by Petr Vorel

Just two years ago, I was in the same position that many of you are in now, namely on the academic job market. The fall semester is under way and, in addition to dissertation work and teaching obligations, you have to write and revise some dense documents for your job applications. Those documents, far from conversational in tone, have to represent your past five to eight (or more) years of academic work in a clear, compelling, articulate, elegant way that demonstrates your unique contributions to your field. And you should have finished your other dissertation chapter. And your dishes are dirty. And you have run out of socks.

I found crafting a “statement of teaching philosophy” particularly elusive. What is it exactly, I wondered, and how does one write such a statement? Should the tone be philosophical, practical, entertaining, or some combination of all three?

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Hack your writing with simple discipline strategies

We academics constantly face two competing impulses that threaten our productivity as researchers and writers:

  1. The chronic busyness that fills our days — prepping classes, grading student work, preparing for meetings, attending meetings, recovering from meetings……. that convinces us we have no time to write;
  2. The radical (compared to most other jobs) flexibility of our schedules, with sometimes wide expanses of unstructured time that can paradoxically cripple our ability to use much of it for writing (e.g., “I have all summer… My God, where did the time go?!?!?”).

This post from from Jennifer Ahern-Dodson of Duke University, written for the ProfHacker blog (which you should follow regularly — it’s great!), provide some simple yet valuable tips for keeping your writing productive by keeping it scheduled, limited, accountable to others, and kept in mental perspective with humor.

I just helped start a Writers Group for faculty at my college; the participants all seem to agree that having a sense of human connection for fellowship and accountability makes the process less daunting by making it less isolating. While I didn’t have it when I started this particular group, I am going to share with them the Writing Group Starter Kit from the Writing Center at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. It includes worksheets and instructions for making the group experience focused and productive.

depp writes

Now if I could only follow the advice myself!

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ProfHacker

Teaching, tech, and productivity.

September 30, 2014 by

Scholarly Writing Hacks: 5 Lessons I Learned Writing Every Day in June

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[This is a guest post by Jennifer Ahern-Dodson, an assistant professor of the Practice in Writing Studies at Duke University where she teaches digital storytelling and researches learning communities and community-university partnerships. You can follow her on Twitter @jaherndodson.–@JBJ]

On May 31st panic set in. I had agreed to commit to writing every day in the month of June as part of a faculty writing group experiment. Inspired both by National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), recent conversations about mini-monographs, and a visionary classics colleague who cooked up this idea, seven of us agreed to set a big scholarly writing project goal for the month (such as writing 30,000 words) and write every day to reach it.

We agreed to post our daily word count and to report our progress (and musings) on a private WordPress site: “(Wee) Little Monograph in a Month.” Despite my enthusiasm for the challenge, I feared I’d fail: Could I keep my writing momentum going for a full 30 days? Could I really write just a little every day and get a rough, raggedy draft by the end of the month?

Here’s what I learned from trying.

1. Use writing to figure out what you think. In the early messy-thinking-on-the-page stage, it’s not the quality of the words, but generating text that matters most. Because I committed to writing every day for a month, I was able to turn off the internal critical voice, that perfectionist voice that many writers struggle with, and just write instead of agonizing over every word and sentence. Sometimes my writing meandered for a while before I discovered what it was I wanted to say, but I finished the month with enough of a draft to see both gaps and possibilities. I had something to revise. One of my favorite posts from a fellow traveler in our June group captures the value of generative writing best:

Is anyone else discovering that they might be writing awkward/problematic/vomitatious words but that they are THINKING, and SEEING their project, as if for the first time?

2. 20-30 minutes a day really does make a difference. I’ll admit I was skeptical, but as I settled into the month, I realized that by writing just a little every day, I was making writing a habit. By “showing up” to write daily (whether I felt inspired or not), I discovered myself thinking about my project even after I’d met my daily writing goal, and so found renewed intellectual energy when I showed up to write the next day. Enforcing upper limits on writing time allowed me to walk away and not lapse into the stressful binge-writing trap, a practice that I sometimes fall back on that perversely just generates more resistance to writing at all.

Experimenting with short daily writing also allowed me to do an end run around the problem of (seemingly) unlimited summer writing time (no teaching, committee, administrative commitments), yet never feeling I had enough time to write the first draft of a book.

3. You gotta have a plan, and having a plan means scheduling time for weekly assessments and revisions of the plan and its goals. I revisited my writing goals at the end of each week to keep my big-picture goals in mind (to get that first draft on paper) and to see if I was working productively toward that goal. Each Friday part of my scheduled writing time included these questions:

(Big picture): What was I trying to think about, to understand, to express with this project? To whom? Why? How did the particular section I was working on fit into the big picture?

(Daily writing): How did it go? Did I need to stop and do more research before the next writing session? Was I distracted at that coffee shop? Bored by chapter 3? More productive in the morning? Did I need to schedule writing around vacation or travel?

By planning weekly assessments, I could celebrate small successes when I hit weekly targets, remind myself what it was I wanted to say, and look honestly at what was happening when I was writing, so I could see where I was getting stuck and whether I needed to revise my writing plans to keep the momentum going. Momentum is crucial.

4. Community matters: Showing up for each other helps you show up for your writing. I often resisted writing in June, especially on the weekends and while on a family beach trip. But when I resisted, when I felt I could not write one more word, I turned to our group WordPress site for motivation. Each of us in the June challenge—an historian, philosopher, rhetorician, classicist, German literature scholar, biologist, and Asian and Middle Eastern Studies scholar—posted the highs and lows we encountered with our writing and our research. Despite the disparate topics (including Medieval dogs, ancient foods from the wild, and fan fiction) and meeting only virtually, I felt connected to other writers, which kept me writing. Our group posted word counts daily, which was a helpful accountability measure, but we also infused a sense of fun by posting snapshots of our writing lives with a format adapted from the tumblr siteAcademic Breakfast. Here’s one from a writer studying foraging cultures:

wineglassWhere am I? On my sun porch

What am I drinking? Glass of Grüner Veltliner (Cheers!)

What am I doing? (5 words) Pre-writing – today’s words till ahead

How am I doing? (10 words) Proving difficult today to tend plants AND write about them.

5. We need to keep a sense of humor about the challenges of writing in the real world.
allthecatsOur writing community posted a wide range of experiences (and distractions) that we faced as we tried to write every day in June. Cats taking over our writing spaces. Power outages. Laptop crashes. Big ideas for other projects popping up and distracting us from our June writing project goals. We wrote in airports while waiting for lost luggage, a Disney World bathroom at 5am while family members slept, and in an outdoor garden that called for attention. Our pictures and musings captured our writing lives as we actually lived them, not as we imagined them. Collectively, we demystified the magical summer-of-productive-writing so many of us long for in April, but rarely see materialize by early August. Life happens. Writing can find a way in if we make the space for it.

In the end, I managed to write every day in the month of June and sketched out a rough draft of a book that I’d been sitting on for years. Draft in hand, I now turn toward the hard work of revising it. To work productively toward that goal, I know I need a faculty writing community, a writing routine (when the specter of “unlimited” writing time gets replaced by the “no time to write” mantra), and a plan for the academic year.

Our June group is resuming for the fall, and new writers are joining us. We will name and post our writing project goals and weekly targets to our new WordPress site “justwrite.” (My weekly goals will include writing Monday-Friday for at least 20 minutes).We will continue to post pictures of our writing spaces and the joys and challenges of scholarly writing. Our pictures may be less glamorous—beach views and sun porches replaced by offices or classroom spaces—but we will write, and use these scholarly writing hacks to face new kinds of writing resistance with good humor and a shared commitment to cultivating a sane and productive scholarly writing life.

Have you had success with online writing groups? What strategies seemed to help get the writing done? Share in comments!

In-post photos are courtesy of J. Clare Woods. Lead photo is “Writing in the Purple Room” by Flickr user Julie Jordan Scott / Creative Commons licensed BY-2.0

“Desirable Difficulties”, Part 2 (or a retroactive Part 1?)

Not much to add from yesterday’s post, except to point you toward another great discussion of the pedagogical opportunities provided by “desirable difficulties.” This time, David Gooblar, blogger for Pedagogy Unbound (and an instructor at Augustana College, yesssss!) provides some additional details for the kinds of moves you can make to provide opportunities for students to develop their storage memory for deeper learning. So, if you haven’t read Maryellen Weimer’s piece on desirable difficulties that I reblogged yesterday, great!  Read this one first, and then check out how Weimer recommends approaches to approaching student buy-in for a teaching approach that causes students to struggle (productively) on purpose.

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September 10, 2014

Browse the Pedagogy Unbound archives or share more teaching tips in our new group.

Last spring, a new study showed that students who took notes in longhand did substantially better on conceptual questions than those who took notes on a laptop. The results were, perhaps, not that surprising—until you consider that the laptops in the study had Internet access disabled.

It wasn’t that the laptop note-takers were more distracted. That may indeed be a valid concern with personal technology in the classroom, but it was not what Pam Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel Oppenheimer of the University of California at Los Angeles set out to measure. Rather, their study suggests there are real differences between the utility of taking notes by hand and on a computer.

When students take notes on a laptop, the study concluded, the ease of data entry makes them more likely to transcribe everything the professor is saying. Students who take notes in longhand, in contrast, cannot write fast enough to get everything down and so must be selective. It is precisely that process—of summarizing, thinking about what’s most important, predicting what might be useful down the road—that helps those who take notes on paper. Students who use laptops end up with neater, more easily searchable notes, but they may be denying themselves the opportunity to do the upfront processing that is a crucial factor, it seems, in long-term retention of class material.

The study’s results illustrate an example of what UCLA cognitive psychologist Robert Bjork has termed “desirable difficulties”–learning tasks that make students’ brains work a little bit harder in the name of better long-term memory. Our brains don’t function like audio recorders, saving everything we perceive. Instead, memories are cemented through frequent neural activity, and repeated encoding and retrieval processes. That’s what underlies the so-called “testing effect,” which I wrote about back in February. When we give our students frequent tests on important material, we force them to work to recall information. It is that mental work that makes for better long-term retention of whatever it is we want students to retain.

All of which means we should be giving our students frequent tests and quizzes on facts and concepts we want them to remember, and providing opportunities for students to do the mental work that will serve them down the line.

I suppose we could ban laptops from our classrooms to encourage longhand note-taking, though there are good reasons why such a policy may be unwise. But how else can we introduce desirable difficulties into our classrooms? I’ve summarized a few ways below, taken from the work of Bjork and his wife, Elizabeth Ligon Bjork, also a UCLA professor of psychology:

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“Once in a Lifetime”: Starting your first tenure-track job

"Same as it ever was?" Not even close, pal.
I just saw that a new advice essay on starting a new tenure-track job invoked the timeless wisdom of Talking Heads, and I thought, “perfect!”

And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go to?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right?…Am I wrong?
And you may say to yourself yourself
My God!…What have I done?!

Across the country, and in your home institutions, newly-minted Ph.D.s are starting a strange new journey in brave new worlds… and it can seem rather surreal. (By the way, did you know there is an upcoming free webinar on coping with the “impostor syndrome”?) All of us that were once in that position recall your swirling mix of conflicting feelings — exhilaration, caution, bravado, fear, enthusiasm, terror… keep going…

There was a great piece in the Chronicle four years ago with highly advisable advice for new tenure-track faculty… if you’re starting a new job this year, you should read this. Right now.  But for today I’m sharing a thoughtful and useful piece by four junior psychology faculty in a range of different institutions, providing advice to first-year tenure-track faculty after just completing their own. It’s worth checking out (and sharing with new colleagues, if they don’t yet subscribe to this blog!), because the position of the first-year tenure-track faculty member is certainly not the same as it ever was.

And besides — the authors are down with David Byrne. They must be wise.

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Once in a Lifetime

A tenure-track job is finally yours. Now how do you make it through the first year?

Careers- First Year Tenured Track

Creative Commons

We were in precisely that position last fall as we began our first years as assistant professors of psychology. Like diligent young scholars, we had read books and articles about how to succeed in academe and they had helped us map out some goals. But they were less helpful when it came to some of the day-to-day challenges, especially those that seemed unique to our departments and institutions.

All sorts of unexpected questions kept popping up all year, things like:

  • “The class test scores were awful; what do I do?”
  • “I ordered something a month ago; should I follow up with a staff member, or am I being too impatient?”
  • “Should I bother my chair about something that might be insignificant?”

Our reading didn’t provide clear answers to those questions, so we started asking each other. We are four friends who, after earning Ph.D.’s in psychology at the University of Virginia in 2013, accepted positions at institutions that vary widely in size, mission, and student population. As we moved into our assistant professorships, we organized weekly video chats to compare notes, share our triumphs, and troubleshoot our challenges. At the end of our first year, we realized that our experiences might be useful for faculty just starting out at other institutions. So here are our for-what-it’s-worth insights.

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Leave the poop deck unswabbed, matey… just write!

The beginning of the academic year is always a crazybusy time. If you work at a teaching-intensive institution, the start of the year often feels like a time of mournful separation — with the end of summer comes the end of our scholarship productivity for the year. That’s because finding time during the term to get any writing done can feel like Popeye trying to get Poopdeck Pappy to sleep when he’d rather go out and start a bar fight.

The problem with “finding time” to write is that the enterprise is often impossible — there are always other things to fill our time. However, Joli Jensen from the University of Tulsa, a writing columnist for Vitae, reminds us that while the decks will never be sufficiently swabbed, we can still proceed to sail the scholar-ship (see what I did there?) with a little shifting of perspective and the application of a few easily implemented productivity tips (which she writes about in a separate piece that I recommend highly).

So put away the mop and weigh anchor, matey!  Arrrrr!!!

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Image: Richard Dorgan, from ‘Biltmore Oswald’ (Project Gutenberg E-Book)

August 29, 2014

 

One of the most widespread myths in academic writing is that you can, and should, try to “clear the decks”—that is, finish all of your other obligations before you can focus on your scholarship.

In a recent faculty workshop on “stalled projects,” six colleagues committed to try, for two weeks, a few of the writing approaches I’ve been recommending. No pressure, I told them. This wasn’t a permanent commitment. It was just a way to explore why these projects weren’t moving forward.

The day before our second meeting, one colleague emailed to say that she couldn’t start using the techniques because she was overwhelmed. There was just too much going on, it wasn’t an opportune time for writing, and now grading had to take precedence. She couldn’t make the meeting, and she would be out of town the following week, but hoped she could continue with the group once things settled down.

Obviously the “cleared decks” delusion had her in its grip. Even though she said she wanted to reconnect with her project, had been confident she could find 10 minutes a day to write, and had had a week free of teaching, she still hadn’t been able to get started. We had discussed specific ways for her to make better use of her time, such as doing scholarly writing before her grading. In spite of those suggestions, she still felt obligated to put her research project on hold until “things cleared up.”

The other members of the writing group understood, of course, but this time they had been able to make different choices. They, too, felt overwhelmed by other obligations. They, too, felt that this wasn’t the best time to be writing, and were tempted, each day, to put off even their brief 10-minute commitment. But somehow they were still able to try at least some of the techniques. And once they experienced even a little progress, they felt better about the project, and about themselves, and were eager to keep going. They were no longer stalled.

The reality is: Things never clear up. They don’t even reliably settle down. Your in box is always full. The decks are always crowded.  There is always more going on than you want or expect. Nonetheless, you can find ways to put your writing first, and make sure that it gets done. Otherwise, everything but your writing will get done.

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Give your students the gift of unplugging!

So, the academic term has just started. How many students have you found texting in your class already? Or checking e-mail, doing social media, or hitting the Candy Crush?

Most of us, to our chagrin, have encountered this hassle frequently — and a recent study in the Journal of Media Education reveals that the number of students who admit to using their phone during class time for non-class stuff exceeds 90%! We also have a good sense that the student defense of “multitasking” is largely bunk; study after study reveals that student multitasking with phones or computers while engaged in class or studying results in degraded academic performance.  But the lure of the digital distraction is pervasive, as many (most?) of us can attest if we’re being honest with ourselves (who here hasn’t gotten through at least part of a long meeting without a furtive phone check or two… or more?).

Louise Katz from Columbia State Community College may have found an answer, at least for her students. While some chafe at the idea of providing rewards for behavior students should be performing anyway, Katz argues in the Chronicle that a well-executed extra credit assignment might yield some valuable lessons for the digital addicts in our classrooms. So consider giving your students the gift of unplugged class periods! Some of them just might thank you for it.

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Today’s Lesson: Life in the Classroom Before Cellphones

Although I had taught for more than 20 years, I didn’t realize that I had forgotten what it was like to teach in a classroom without cellphones until I came up with a plan to relive those halcyon days. It was near the end of the semester, and I offered one point of extra credit per class period for my psychology students who turned off their cellphones before class and put them on the front desk.

I was sure that no students would part with their phones for such a meager offering. Wrong: Virtually all my students did. They even said they loved the idea, so the next semester I offered all my classes the same deal for the entire semester, and participation continued unabated. In fact, much to my surprise, after the first few days, when I walked into my classes all the cellphones were already on the table in the front of the room.

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