Digital or Die – Building our Academic Digital Identity

As a “young” researcher, I have been struggling for months with the concept of Digital Identity (DI). Digital Identity has been defined simply as “the permanent collection of data about us that is available online” by BinaryTattoo.

Up to the mid 90’s, pre-Internet days, academics built their scholarly identities via publications, conference presentations, workshops, etc. that they physically attended. Word of mouth about the quality of their teaching and research was another key diffuser and builder of their scholarly persona., such as annual conferences where vibrant ideas were exchanged with a lot of farewell hands-shakes and best wishes till “See you next year”.

Fast-forward 20 years, and a few iterations of the World Wide Web later, and now we are faced with a broad range of options to build and nurture our academic persona.

Sometimes my colleagues play down the importance of our web presence. I usually challenge them to drop what they are doing and Google their own name… (By the way, I hope that’s the first thing you do when you finish reading this entry). The results are usually surprising; because like it or not, we ALL already have a digital identity. If we don’t take a proactive approach, the web (a.k.a. browsers’ obscure algorithms) will do that for us. We are also preparing our students to successfully join a workforce that it is increasingly demanding higher degrees of digital literacy. We constantly advise them to be careful about what they (or their friends) post on social media platforms, so why don’t we preach with our example?

This double realization piqued my interested in the topic. But here lies the challenge; understanding the effort, impact and reach of each of the options available is very daunting and time consuming, especially if you want to do it organically and refuse to pay some consultant to do it for you.

This is a working list of options that I am currently exploring (please feel free to share more via @mariaspayne):

  • Build you own website. Get a domain, a hosting solution, and some web building software or cloud solution and get it started. Easy? Probably not, but well worth the investment of your time and energy. Thankfully, more and more institutions are supporting their faculty efforts to get these sites started and pass beyond the “CV.pdf” state into more of a “Digital Vita”. Here at Teaching & Learning Innovations, we regularly run workshops to get our faculty started with their sites in WordPress (shout out to Mr. McGarry). Some great examples are:
  • Design and build your courses in open platforms such as NRS222 
  • Display your profile in generalist professional sites such as LinkedIn
  • Display your profile in academic sites such as, Research Gate, Google Scholar, Vitae, ResearcherId, ORCID.
  • Blogs entries – like the one you are reading now!
  • Slideshare or even YouTube – what’s your channel?
  • Building your presence on Social Media; this one is another tough cookie worth a separate blog entry: which platforms? Twitter (love it!), Facebook (mixed feelings), Snapchat (really? yes!), Google +, or Instagram of all of them? or what about splitting their use and maybe use Facebook only for your FFF (for Family, Friends & Fools) identity? What if someone is building the next Tinder for academics? (Don’t get me wrong, I meant Tinder as a matching platform for academics with common interests).

I guess the marketer in me is whispering to go to back the basics: before I select the “media vehicle” I need to start by asking myself:

  • Goals, Message & Audience: What are my ultimate goals? Career advancement? Get a first academic job? Engage in conversations with scholars in my discipline? Post-doc opportunities? Entice students to register for my classes? Support promotion and tenure reviews? Solidify my big grant/fellowship application? Attract a potential book publisher?
  • What are the top scholars in my field actually doing? What can I learn from their approach?
  • What other scholars’ approach to DI do I respect and I admire? What can I learn from them?
  • How much time can I honestly dedicate to build and maintain these efforts?
  • How can I find and communicate my inner-voice in a consistent and uniform way across such a multitude of platforms?

We have a saying in Spain: “la mujer del César no sólo debe ser honesta sino además parecerlo” with a loose translation as “Caesar’s wife must not just be honorable, but must appear to be so.” The time has come to be not only committed and passionate teacher-scholars, but also to share our strengths, thoughts and shortcomings with the world. Let’s embrace our vulnerability and focus on the building process and not just on the outcomes. I am sure we will learn a lot on the way, benefiting first our students, our colleagues and, not last, ourselves.

It helps me to know that I am not alone in my quest to understand the multifaceted complexity of who we are as academics and humans in cyberspace. (arg! If only N. Negroponte could give me a sense of direction!)

If you want to learn more please join our next Faculty Gathering, open to all CI faculty to attend in person or via Zoom this Friday, October 16th, 12.00-1.30 pm. RSVP here 

Thanks for reading and connecting!

Maria Ballesteros –Sola


Teaching and Learning Innovations – Online/ Blended Faculty Community Lead


One thought on “Digital or Die – Building our Academic Digital Identity

  1. Pingback: Open to the Public: Developing Scholarly Presence and Identity Online - Digital Pedagogy@Austin College

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *