An online presence is key to being relevant.
Prominent edublogger Will Richardson writes regularly about the value of having an online presence. As he notes, being "clickable" in today's day and age is increasingly important. Semantic Studios founder Peter Morville calls this idea "findability," meaning that "you can't use what you can't find."
Regardless of what it is called, the big idea is clear: In the Internet era, it's not enough to have good ideas or content. People also have to be able to find you. Don Tapscott, author of Wikinomics, puts it this way: "[The risk is] obscurity: the risk that one's work will get lost in the vast digital wilderness of content and voices....In today's information-soaked environment, writers and content creators need to find ways to permeate people's consciousness."
I have personally discovered the truth of this big idea. My Web sites garner tens of thousands of hits a month. To my disbelief, nearly 1,600 people subscribe to my blog on Kâ€“12 technology leadership on a daily basis. More than 7 million Internet viewers have seen a video I helped create. I am eminently clickable.
The impact of my online visibility has been profound. Nearly every day I hear from someone, somewhere in the world, who has a question or a comment about my online content. Because I'm clickable, I have connected with numerous information sources and voices that I never would have found otherwise. My online presence has fostered many professional opportunities. Most important, my scope of influence has expanded significantly, furthering my primary goals of positively impacting schools and helping school administrators with their technology needs.
In contrast, my academic colleagues are not clickable. They rarely have anything online besides their department Web page. They have yet to understand the value of a significant online presence. Indeed, most faculty members essentially have relegated themselves to the information and communication tools of the 1980s (or earlier).
Assuming that academics wish to have their work better known (and thus used), there are a few basic steps that would significantly increase their visibility. The first step would be for faculty to expand their department Web pages. Instead of merely listing their degrees, contact information, and courses, faculty could list their publications and their abstracts, post slides from their conference presentations, and upload copyright-protected drafts of working papers, all of which would give Internet search engines more information to index. Second, faculty could hyperlink to the journals and to the organizations that publish their work so that visitors could easily access them. Third, using wikis with their classes could create resources that benefit not only their students but also other audiences across the globe. Finally, faculty members could blog a couple of paragraphs about their work just once a week—thoughts, helpful resources, an interesting article or a book, a short summary of their latest idea—which would dramatically increase their "Google rank," since search engines give preferential rank to blogs. They also would realize immeasurable gains from their colleagues subscribing to, and commenting upon, what they post.
The era of search engines and the Internet is here to stay. Academics who don't take advantage of these new tools risk obscurity, and thus irrelevancy. As well, they miss out on substantial personal and professional benefits.
Dr. Scott McLeod (www.scottmcleod.net) is a Techlearning blogger and director of the UCEA Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education at Iowa State University.