October 31, 2011

Online Identity

The author of the blog posts for this week’s theme is Mark Carrigan. Mark is a postgraduate researcher in the Sociology department. He is a prolific blogger and can be found on a number of social networking sites online. As a 23 Things course tutor tutor, Mark can support registered participants through your blogs, so be sure to write about your experience of all the Things!

Although it can feel like the internet has been around for a long time, it really hasn’t. E-mail and mailing lists may have been part of academic life for many years but social media is only now starting to have much of an impact on academia. Established norms have built up around academic identity over many decades. In fact some are so established that they just seem to be ‘common sense’ and we tend not to think about them. However because the digital tools covered by 23 Things are so new, particularly within academia, they pose all sorts of new questions about how you present yourself and your work when using them.

In one way, questions of online identity for researchers are much simpler than those relating to ‘offline’ identity, in so far as that it’s much easier to exercise reflective control over your internet presence than it is over other aspects of your identity as a researcher. In another way though it’s more complex: the novelty of the tools, as well as the expansion of communication facilitated by them, means that online identity is relatively uncharted territory for researchers. To a certain extent these are personal matters, determined by an individual’s own sense of comfort with different approaches to online identity. However there are some key questions and suggestions which you might like to consider. Watch the video clip and read below to consider some of these.

1. What do you want to achieve through your online activity?

For instance, do you want to keep in contact with people you meet at conferences, connect to other researchers in your field, find opportunities to collaborate, promote your work or participate in debates about academic life? There are many reasons why researchers might want to cultivate an online identity but unless you’re clear about what your reasons are, your activity in this area is unlikely to be particularly rewarding or successful.

2. Given what you want to achieve, what would be the best platforms and tools for you to use?

Not all social media platforms are the same and this is reflected in who uses them and how they’re used. If you want to keep informed about new developments and participate in debates then twitter is for you. In contrast if your main concern is to connect with people in your area then you’d probably be more suited to academia.edu. Beware of the possibilities for procrastination which too many social media accounts can create - be strategic!

(Keep up with this 23 Things course to explore the platforms and tools.)

3. How should you behave online? How much of yourself do you want to express in your activity?

Do you want to keep a ‘professional’ identity which is clearly separate from your ‘personal’ identity? This depends on your personality, comfort in using online spaces and your academic aims. Some people make no attempt to separate personal & professional while others clearly demarcate where one ends and the other begins. These are two extremes with most people falling somewhere between them on the spectrum. However you choose to answer these questions don’t forget that all mediums are public to at least some degree!

Meet others interested in this theme: Tuesday 1 November, 12-1pm

This week's peer support event in the Research Exchange will be on "Improving your online presence & impact". Anna Sloan will be very glad to meet and talk to you and introduce you to some of these sites in the sofa area of the Wolfson Research Exchange on Tuesday 1 November, 12-1pm.

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