Is the web GOOD or BAD for you…?

By Feb.16, 2010

I am doing a couple of workshops on ‘Social Media for Research’. I will also start my learning technologies drop-in sessions soon. (Please check the calendar on the left hand side for further details).

Both activities aim to create a space for experimenting with the possibilities the web has to offer, as well as to discuss the implications it can have on one’s practice. Above all, I hope to present the two sides of the story.

The web can be a great channel to communicate our practice and create alternative spaces for discussion and collaboration, but it can equally expose us and our work in ways we have not experienced before. By using the social web to collaborate, disseminate our work and raise a professional profile we are  not only establishing contact with a bigger circle of people, we are reaching wide and far, and way beyond what we have grown used to, or what our institution has been able to provide. In this sense, the web, as it stands today, is a new world to explore. Understanding and finding ways through which we can use it for our own benefit is key when developing a presence online. So yes, the web, just like everything else in the world, presents both advantages and disadvantages. How we understand its role in our practice and appropriate it to our advantage is therefore crucial.
There are several anecdotes about the use of the web and the impact it can have on one’s career. I have come across both exemplar and  inadequate patterns of use of the web which inevitably impact accordingly on one’s reputation and ‘real life’.
That, however, does not mean we should give up on this new means of communication altogether. It just means we need to be aware of the implications of being online.

‘I have heard stories about people not getting a job or students getting expelled because of internet ‘misuse’. Should I venture in this world at all? I think it is better to ignore it… ‘

I have just paraphrased some of the comments I often get when talking about making use of the internet to enhance one’s practice. This kind of anxiety is common in someone who’s just starting, or someone who has not before reflected about the implications of using the web at a socio-professional level. These are common concerns and should not be disregarded, but rather addressed and discussed. ‘Avoiding‘ the web; making a conscious decision for not taking part in such world is not the ideal answer in the current age. If for nothing else, simply because we will not be preserving our identity and practice by keeping it only face-to-face; we’ll rather deprive it from its digital form and impact. It is all a question of accompanying the pace of society, and the (r)evolution it is going through.

The issue is no longer about having or not having an online presence. We have passed beyond that stage. In one way or another, we are all online. [please note I am referring especially, but not exclusively, to  academia]. Our institutions put our contacts online. Most of us even have an institutional profile page. The departments we belong to also have a website where information about us is given.
It has never been really an issue to provide such professional details about us in a static page. It is like making our business card accessible to more people. Yet, displaying information on the institution’s website is a totally different game from that presented in current interactive spaces, where we not only make ourselves more available; we also become exposed to a bigger audience. Our ‘business card‘, all of a sudden, acquires a more dynamic and complex dimension. We start calling it our digital ID. It contains information about our socio-professional practice, our participation in given environments, our (collaborative) links with other peers, and so on. Implicit to it is also what others think of us and of our work: our reputation.

So now the question is: Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily.
Yes, I know. We all wished that the answer would be ‘no, not at all’. It would make us all feel so much more reassured and willing to be more active online. But there is no rose without a thorn, and we do need to be aware of the full picture. We need to weigh the pros and cons and establish a balance regarding our online presence. That is way different from excluding one self from this new form of communicating, collaborating and creating new learning and professional links. It is also different from ‘diving’ into this virtual world without giving it any consideration. But none of this is that different from our activity in our local surroundings.

So, I guess what I am trying to say is that we can’t consider the web from one perspective alone, but rather address the challenges it poses with a critical and inquisitive mind, and use it to our own advantage.

The next posts will be about social media and collaboration, and social media and dissemination of one’s work.
I have been collecting interesting testimonies from people who have engaged with the web and will add them to my reflections.

After all, another aspect of being online is that we are not alone and we can always look, and ask, about what others do and which experiences they have made. We can all learn from what others share with us. All we have to do is ask. There will always be someone willing to provide some answers.

I must say, I have already gathered some and am looking for more practical (and personal) examples of how the web has enhanced one’s practice. How it has provided new opportunities for collaboration and partnerships, support and new experiences. If you have some ideas to share, please post them here. I will make sure to mention them in my next post.

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