In case you couldn't tell, that is a picture of an "ivory tower." And today it is easier than ever for academics to get out of the ivory tower and harness the power of the internet to educate, inform, and connect with people worldwide.
Unfortunately, many academics have no online presence beyond their faculty page on the university website. But there are some great options for expanding one's digital presence that does not take a lot of time or technical expertise. I will present these in order from smallest to largest undertakings.
I recommend that every academic create an academia.edu profile page. Academia.edu is a bit like taking your universities profile page, putting you in charge of it, and beefing it up. You can see my Academia page here. Academia.edu groups its users by university, so you will see that my URL page connects me to Acadia Divinity College. You can also connect with and follow updates of other colleagues on Academia.edu.
Academia.edu is very much about you putting your academic work out there on the internet. While you may think that many students are using library websites to find information, most of the time they are just asking Dr. Google - and if your work isn't easily accessible via Google, there is almost no chance of non-students finding it. Academia.edu provides you a place where you can:
- Share your CV (This is the the only place where I share my CV from)
- List your book publications (and hopefully spurn some sales!)
- List AND SHARE your published articles
This last one is really important. Most academics write things because they want to contribute to the body of knowledge in their field. But the amount of times a journal article may actually get read is pretty small, and usually confined to other specialists in the field. Academia.edu reports that "papers uploaded to Academia.edu receive an 83% boost in citations over 5 years." This is happening, not because the best articles in the field are found there, but simply that they are being found! Now be sure to consult your publisher (honor the embargo, etc.), but once you can, and hopefully as soon as you can, upload those essays to your Academia.edu page so that they can enjoy a wider readership and have a greater influence.
Choose a Social Media Outpost
Many academics have at least one place that they are present on social media - be it Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. But don't be afraid to stick those links into your email signature so people can connect with you there. More than that, though, is actually using that space to share short thoughts. I have found that I have as much, if not more, of an impact on my current and past students through Facebook than I have while they were in the college. It is a way for me to share my life with them, share thoughts with them, and to forage for interesting reading for them too. Think of yourself as a funnel to share the knowledge that you find interesting with those who follow you.
The next step up from an Academia.edu page is having your own website. More than the others, this requires some technical know-how. The good news, though, is that making great websites is easier than ever, and it isn't at all hard to find someone that for some $$ will build the website for you.
If you want a nice free option, check out Wix.com. It is a very simple drag and drop interface. The downside of a free option is that your URL would be something like "johndoe.wix.com." However, with Wix, you can upgrade to premium plans (Which have a yearly fee) to get your own domain name (i.e. johndoe.com). Another paid option that I have come to love is SquareSpace.com - this website and blog is a squarespace website and I think it's a pretty good website :-) If you are an academic and you are interested in having someone build a squarespace website, email me and I'll be glad to help you out (contact button at the very bottom of the site).
A website gives you a more permanent and nicer looking place on the internet that is all your own. You have the freedom to add pretty much anything you want to your webpage, and it increases your visibility online.
A blog is easier than a website to create (just go to blogger.com sign up and start posting!) but it is a bigger commitment. I post once a week on this blog, and I post on a wide variety of topics. There are times even for me when I'm not sure what to post on. But a blog that is not really maintained (you should post at least once a week) is pretty useless in my opinion. But if you have the energy and resolve to post more often, a blog is a great way to get more substantive thoughts out into the world.
One thing I do want to recommend to academics who take up blogging (including those who currently blog!) is to learn the medium. Just like we teach students to write academic essays, blogs are their own beast. There are WAY too many academic bloggers who are posting massive articles. The truth is that very few people are reading all the way through those posts (this post is getting too long already!). If your thoughts are that substantive, break it down into a 3 or 4 part series of posts. And learn to use lots of sub-headings, lists, and even pictures. For those interested in both blogging and a website - well, that is why I chose Squarespace. It powers both my website and my blog and is incredibly easy to use.
Podcasts have exploded in popularlity - chances are that you listen to a few yourself. But, at least in my area of studies (Biblical Studies), there aren't yet that many podcasters out there — with the exception of apologetics podcasts which are to be heartily commended. Mark Goodacre did one for awhile, but hasn't kept it up (if I'm mistaken, please correct me!). I have thought seriously about doing a podcast in the past, but don't feel yet that I could handle the time commitment, as I would want to be consistent and do a good job. But perhaps you are the one to tackle a good podcast in your area of specialty! If so, all you really need is a decent microphone (this is a great one that I use). Go on to fiverr.com and hire someone to create an intro and outro, and then download Audacity on your PC, or use Garageband on your Mac. Libsyn.com is a great place for hosting a podcast, or if you go the website route, you can also have a podcast using Squarespace. If you are very serious about podcasting, I'd also recommend a podcast tutorial like this one, or check out the Podcast Answer Man.
Academics — put yourself out there! Attract more attention to your scholarly work and connect with new people online.
Do you have any other suggestions? Let us know in the comments.
photo credit: View of the UT Tower from University Avenue via photopin (license)