I have three college-aged children (and thank you to those of you who immediately thought she doesn’t look old enough to have three college-aged children). None of them use or own phone books. In fact, none of them have a traditional Ma Bell kind of telephone. They have a cell phone and a laptop…period.If my kids can’t locate you or your business on the web, you don’t exist to them.Period. (If you are a pizza store and lack a website, you are missing a tremendous amount of business from my two boys, by the way). Recent Pew Research results suggest that 93% of all Americans under the age of 30 are cell phone users. Pretty sure most of them have laptops, too.
My kids are not atypical. In fact, they are the norm – and becoming even more normal as the connected generation expands. According to the CTIA end-of-year survey for 2009, a staggering 285,646,191 million Americans have a cell phone connection. This is up 15 million from the same time 2008. And the Pew American Life research reports that young teens are the largest growing demographic of cell phone ownership. But it’s not just about cell phones – it’s about smart phones, wifi-enabled laptops, and even wifi-enabled gaming devices. Students are online all the time. Like it or not.
What does all this have to do with higher education faculty? Well, aside from the Ed Tech departments, very few faculty (adjunct and tenured) make the effort to cull together a web presence searchable by their students.
So what, you say, peering over your use for word-processing-only desktop computer next to your rotary phone? Don’t professors have enough to do between research, writing, teaching, and all those administrative committees? Perhaps, but ultimately, faculty have the responsibility to be available to their students. I believe they also have a responsibility to be transparent – professionally speaking. Future students should be able to check them out, look into current course offerings, current/past writings, current/past research, and how available the instructor made him or herself to student questions and concerns.
In the past, students could use print faculty directories to find office phone numbers and locations – but let’s be realistic. Students don’t use these booklets, faculty in their cubicles do. Students “Google”. Having a faculty directory on the school’s website is a step in the right direction – but often these data bases are not searchable by Internet search engines, and, even if they are, the results are often not much more than a name and phone number with an occasional email address. This is not the kind of background surfing future students want.
This is also not what you as a professor should want because when you lack a web presence, the next stop for most students is sites like RateMyProfessor.com. RateMyProfessor is crowd-sourced ratings and comments about professors from virtually every institution of higher education in the country. It is not normed, and all your students from a particular section are not surveyed. Essentially, it boils down to those students with enough motivation (the gamut from Loved the class! to He sucked!) to go to the website, locate the professor’s name, and add the rating and comment. Average performances do not seem to create this kind of motivation – so often professors can have A ratings alongside F’s. Not very helpful to students looking to know what a particular professor is all about, and certainly not helpful to a professor’s reputation with a myriad of mixed messages.
Higher education faculty need to consciously create a professional web presence. Below are some tips to help make your Google quotient rise:
- Create a landing page – and keep it updated! A landing page is a single web page that includes a short bio, contact information (email and office phone and address no home addresses), and a professional looking head shot. You will want the rights to the head shot so you can use it with all your professional web activities. For adjuncts, I suggest creating your landing page on a personal site like GoogleSites or on the space provided by your home ISP – that way you won’t have to backtrack and change your landing page URL on all the websites to which it is linked. Here is my UW-Stout landing page.
- Link, link, link. Use the URL landing page link as your link on all professional websites which ask for your own homepage address.
- Visual Identity. Use the same headshot. As your image becomes identifiable with your web identity, it will help students instantly know that out of all the search results, you are the Lisa Chamberlin that works on Open Education issues and not Lisa Chamberlin that is a Nashville recording artist (Yep, that’s who I compete with for the top 10 Google search results for my name – ouch!).
- Multiple Accounts/Similar handles. I teach for a variety of institutions and do contract work for others. As I choose email addresses, Twitter names, etc., I try to always use something similar to firstname.lastname@example.org or a derivative of it. Overtime, students and colleagues begin to expect the “chamberlinonline” portion and makes it easier for them to find me.
- Network. Whether you choose to use a resume/contact linking site like LinkedIn.com or build a network of digital colleagues via another tool like Twitter, do build your digital personal learning network and follow the “web presence” standards above when registering for these sites.
- Add an RSS Feed (Thanks, Stian, for #’s 6 and 7). Allow interested students, colleagues, and the like to stay up-to-date with your current publications.
- Provide links to your research from your landing page. Even better, provide Open Access to your published research when you do provide the links.
- Poll your current students. This is one of the most powerful and eye-opening steps of building a web presence. Ask your current students if they Googled you. Ask what they were wanting to find out. Ask what they did find out. Strive to make their search goals and your web presence goals align as closely as is comfortable.
To the students of the connected generation, professors who deny access to technology within their courses or deny being accessed by technology within their profession, are a dying breed. They are seeing these professors as less and less relevant and out of touch with modern society. Like it or not, technology is the next evolution in education – professors must evolve or become extinct.