Crafting Your Identity

flickr photo shared by me and the sysop under a Creative Commons ( BY-ND ) license

There are all sorts of options if one wants to create an online presence that you control. It does not have to involve deep technical knowledge or take hours and hours. It should be thought about with some care but it can be relatively painless to get started. A basic start can be built on later if you so choose.

Settling on Space

Alec Couros's page
Alec Couros on

The easiest and most basic option is to create an page. It allows you to upload an image, add a brief description, add some information like your location, where you work, use some tags to make you more searchable, add any social media accounts that you use, and provide links to any other relevant sites. It is just a single page, compact and brief, but it does give you a place to tell people how to find or connect with you and tells a little bit about you.

Philip Harland's blog/website
Philip Harland’s website

If an page doesn’t feel quite like enough, you could go a bit further and create a website. This does not need to be nearly as technical or time consuming as it sounds (or as it used to be). There are plenty of options out there like WordPress, Blogger, Weebly, and Wix and many more. All of these are free and fairly easy to use. Some of these, like WordPress and Blogger, began as blogging sites but WordPress now offers the option during creation to focus on a blog or a website. This gives you the ability to create more than one page, choose how to organize what you share, and have more control.

Note: If you want to go a bit beyond this, you could purchase a domain name for yourself. It should be something recognizable, either a version of your name (whatever you use professionally) or something else that you consistently use. Consistency is important, just like branding for your favourite product or company. This makes you easier to find and to connect mentions of you into an overall presence. You could also consider purchasing hosted space which means that you are in even more control of your space on the internet. Instead of relying on someone else to own and manage the site other than the content and appearance tweaks, you then have even more control. Reclaim Hosting, which came out of University of Mary Washington’s Domain of One’s Own project, has become a popular option as it is run by people in higher education with the interest of promoting the importance of students and instructors owning their place on the web, giving their clients the best support and protection possible.

"Instagram and other Social Media Apps" by Jason Howle on Flickr
flickr photo shared by Jason A. Howie under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

Social media
Most people today are present on social media in some format, be it Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, or numerous other options. It is worth considering having a professional presence on at least some social media sites. For one thing, many sites use social media to authenticate comments on articles. It is worth finding out where to find colleagues who are working on things that interest you and joining them.

You do not need to sign up on every social media platform. Even one is a good start. Consider what you might find useful. An unused account is only of minimal benefit so signing up just to sign up will probably not feel fruitful. Also, think carefully about how you will choose to handle students in this context. For example, if you decide to have a professional presence on Facebook, will you “friend” students? Will you create a “Page” instead and allow them to like the page but without the same level of connection? Will you return “follows” on Twitter? Will you “connect” with students on LinkedIn?

Blogs have become fairly common now, even in higher education with sites like Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education as well as individual academics, departments, units, and universities joining in. This medium is a less formal way of sharing research, insights, experiences, and knowledge that would not necessarily be appropriate to publish in a book or journal but are still relevant and interesting. This could include updates about programs, courses, publications, conferences. In some cases, blogging has been considered as community outreach as it is generally more accessible to the public than traditional published works. In some spaces, there is a push to consider it as part of the academic record, even factoring it into tenure considerations. You may choose to engage in this, sharing interesting things from your research which may or may not fit into more traditional publications. It is important to find a voice for blogging that is less formal than what you would use for other forms of academic work. This makes it more approachable for those not sharing your expertise, allowing you to share some of what is important to you without endangering work you intend to publish.

What should you share?

Old Guy by Radarsmum67 on Flickr
If your profile photo looks like this, you may want to rethink it for a professional page or account
flickr photo shared by
Radarsmum67 under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license
  • Images
    Let’s start with images. In a world where face-to-face meetings are no longer a given, it is worth considering putting at least one photograph of yourself online. If you are going to do this, please think about using a relatively current image. Remember, some of the people who will seek you online will be students or colleagues who have met you. If they cannot recognize the image you use, then it can work against you. Is that really the person they met? Maybe they are looking for a different person with the same name. It is good to be consistent and, if you use multiple spaces for professional purposes, try to use the same image (or at least look like the same person in each image). You should have an image on an page, social media you use professionally, a website. If you choose to use an image not of yourself, at least try to make it consistent with your identity (if you named your website something clever, make sure the image functions like a logo). There are always exceptions but this is a good place to start.
  • Curriculum Vitae
    Having space online makes it easy to have a public version of your CV available. It could be broken apart, listing courses you have taught, publications (with links where possible), current affiliations – it is useful to list academic institutions where you teach as well as any other businesses or employment that is relevant or organizations that you are associated with so people can get a sense of the scope of your experience and knowledge. This allows you to customize how you want the material presented, provide more active links, and choose only the segments that are relevant. Alternately, you could share a traditional CV also. You may choose to provide a link to a document (using Google Docs, Dropbox) which means you can update the document itself and anywhere you use that link will automatically access the updated version. This is much preferable to providing a PDF which takes far more steps to update. This would be the only real option for an page.
  • Research
    It is a good idea to provide some information about your research areas. This could just be a short blurb or could provide some rough information or even reflections on current projects, depending on your comfort level. It should definitely include previous research, which could include publications if you have not already provided a publications list elsewhere. Again, consider your site may be viewed by students and colleagues alike, community members or even organizations or companies who could have an interest in your work.
  • Portfolio examples
    You may choose to provide artefacts of your work which do not necessarily fit into traditional publication modes. Infographics, images, digital projects, videos, podcasts, brochures, informational packets, poetry, all could be shared here.
  • Courses taught
    It is worthwhile to consider sharing syllabi for previous courses. This will allow those viewing your site to get a better idea of your teaching style which is very beneficial to any potential students who may be trying to determine whether they may want to take a course from you or seek to work with you as a teaching assistant or even as a supervised graduate student.
  • Social Media
    If you have signed up on social media sites, you should consider sharing that information on any pages or sites that you have. Equally, if you have a website, you should include that link on social media. The point here is connect the places where people can find you so they know different ways to interact with or follow you. It allows you to create a fuller picture of who you are as a digital person.

Keep in mind…
Any digital identity is a work in progress. Just as the rest of our identity adjusts and grows in our relationships and over the course of our life, digital identity also changes. You may want to redo things, grow or shrink the amount of your presence, change the sites you use over time. This does take some time but small doses of regular attention can keep this fairly minimal. And as our identity shifts, it is worth thinking about ourselves and others with kindness, empathy, and forgiveness.