“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
Warren Buffett, American businessman
In the online world, the process of reputation building has arguably become quicker, as has the time it takes to ruin it. Think of those tweets people fast regret but even a few seconds after posting it is often too late to retract, due to retweets and favourites.
At a conference last year, I took part in a digital identity workshop, which highlighted the dangers of putting too much, or too little, out in the public domain. I use a variety of social media tools, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, Blogger, Mendeley and YouTube, and in this post I am going to find out what anyone with internet access can find out about me. To help me with this, I am following a worksheet for an e-reputation course run by Swansea University.
My privacy settings are pretty tight on Facebook and I’ve disabled public search. I had a quick look at 48ers.com to see if I could find any embarrassing Facebook stories relating to the University of Westminster but I’m happy to report there were none!
Simply by typing in my name (in inverted commas), location and job, I get a list of my social network sites, as well as information about things I’ve been involved with professionally e.g. the first London Librarian TeachMeet and my Erasmus trip to Lund University. Hopefully these would go in my favour if a potential employer googled me.
I repeated the search in Google Images, but all that appeared were the photos I have on my Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, as well as ones I’ve used in my blog.
I use the same Twitter account for professional and personal tweets, so in theory anyone can find out that I have a bit of an obsession with Ancient Egypt. Hopefully, this wouldn’t harm my professional reputation though.
Looking up my Twitter username on TweetReach, I discovered that tweets relating to my username have potentially reached 5,837 accounts in just 6 days, far more than are actually following me. I was slightly unsure about this result, so I tried searching for the hashtag #infolit (for tweets relating to information literacy). I just 4 days, nearly 12,000 accounts had been reached, with an account I tweet for (@infolitgroup) in the top five impressions.
So, I’ve found out what information is available about me in the public sphere and I haven’t come across anything damaging. In fact, some of it could be quite useful in building my professional reputation. It’s worth bearing in mind that if you are invisible on the web, this could also have negative consequences for your employability (unless you’re planning to be the next James Bond!). For a start, by not engaging with social media, how do you know what others are saying about you? Also, Twitter in particular offers a great professional networking platform, to the extent that some people are just as well known by their online username than their real life one (Llord Llama being a prime example). This is demonstrated by the trend to include your Twitter username on conference badges, so that people who know you better by that name can identify you (as well as encouraging new followers, of course). Phil Bradley discussed the dangers of not having an online presence in a recent blog posting:
“A potential new employer, if they have any brains at all are going to be looking at your social media footprint as much as anything in your CV. If you were going to employ someone, and two people had equally good CVs, which would you go for – the one with hundreds or thousands of Twitter followers or the one who didn’t have a Twitter account? The one with lots of contacts on LinkedIn, or the one with none?”
As part of this project, we are planning to offer sessions on the topic of managing your online identity, as this is a key link between digital literacy and employability.
There is widespread agreement across Higher Education that the digital literacy of our students and staff will be critical in a future where technology will pervade the learning and teaching experience. What is less agreed is what we mean precisely about the term digital literacy? Without understanding what it is we want students and staff to be able to do or understand it is difficult to see a clear path to ‘embedding’. Possibly however one currently gains a sense that there is agreement forming that meaningful digital literacy is about being confident to grapple with and work a way through new tools and systems as they continue to emerge at the alarming pace that they do. In addition what is key for education and employment is the capability to grasp how new tools and systems can and are being used within the context of one’s subject area or profession.
In most institutions different subject areas, different departments and very definitely, individual staff, will have their own views about how best to ‘give’ students the skills they need to be successful in their chosen area of study. Many will instinctively react strongly against the notion that some sort of generic digital literacy skills course can suffice for their students. As with many things this is a bit of a non-argument as in reality most people, to succeed, need generics and specifics with most things they need to know about or learn. The premium approach is to provide a generic base upon which subject specialisms can build and on top which individuals can layer their own specific and personal knowledge of what information technology does for them.
The real key to embedding is getting a shared institutional understanding of what everyone can offer in helping to make an individual a capable and continually evolving user of IT. That everyone includes the institution’s ethos, it includes what the institutional staff (including the most senior) say about and do with technology, it is linked tightly to how technology is used to deliver the curriculum and of course it is intimately tied up which each and every student’s experience of IT inside and outside of the university environment.
For the reasons above projects such as the Digital Literacies in Transition project, led by the University of Greenwich, which is seeking to draw together the views of a whole range of stakeholders to get some shared understanding, are critical. The whole idea of thinking of digital literacy as something that must evolve and develop as students transition from one phase of their life cycle to another is one that is much nearer to a meaningful definition of digital literacy than one which leads to a focus on which software or systems they must know and understand.
The transformations project on Digital Literacy at Westminster is a member of the CAMEL group meeting regularly to discuss the Greenwich led project and see how what the CAMEL institutions can learn from each other and in turn feed into the overall aims of the Greenwich project. A key objective that the transformations project shares with the Digital Literacies in Transition project is the development of a shared institutional understanding of digital literacy. This is needed first so that meaningful ‘face-value’ statements and objectives can be made in relevant strategic plans for the future. These must have universal buy-in and be linked to a clear idea of the way in which the curriculum will be delivered and made use of by students. More than statement however, the idea d digital literacy needs to be inherent, and therefore embedded, in all that staff and students do.