TL;DR Version: There are wealth of free digital texts and tools that can be used to create and curate your online, educational brand. More importantly, when developed with a digital learning hub, you can build up and control your own learning management system.
In working with teachers in pre-service programs, professional development, and institutes like the MA NLI, I’m struck by the way that individuals typically view the use of educational technologies in their classroom. Typically, there is a certain sense of making our classroom, or teaching and learning “fit” into the digital text and tool. For example, a school starts an iPad initiative, and then administrators and faculty identify apps and content that should be used with students. There is a certain belief that technology is “necessary”, or “the next big thing” in society and education. However there never is a sense of what teachers can do with technology. To that end, I believe that we can empower our students in the reader/writer nature of online information. First we need to empower teachers in these online literacies. The first step in this process is managing our online identity…and possibly creating a brand for ourselves.
Using your own personal learning network
I see this as being a multistep process that really should be done every year. The first step would be to decide what online tools and environments are out there..and which do you want to be a part of? I’m currently on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, Scribd, Academia.edu, Foursquare, numerous Google Sites pages, and about 45 NINGs around the planet. I view my identity on each of these as different than one another, and sometimes they intersect or support one another. What I mean is that I see myself as being more like “me” on Google+ and Twitter, than I am on Facebook. On Google+ and Twitter, I share links about interesting projects I’m working on, or things I read that I find interesting. However on Facebook I share links and ideas, and toss in my fair share of family photos and videos. It’s important to understand what the affordances are for each group, or tool…and also decide how you chose to use them. The common thread in the use of all of these social networks is that I use them to drive content to my main website…which you’re reading right now. 😉 My advice is to use the social networks that make sense to you…and have them all drive content back to your blog, or your digital learning hub.
Your Digital Learning Hub
Your digital learning hub is your classroom website. In work with teachers I advise them to use a free tool like Google Sites to create a classroom website that you control. Consider the purpose and audience of this site before you start building it. This will help you think about how you design it for students/teachers/parents/the world. Think of this as your “teaching space.” I also advise teachers to start up their own blog. This blog is where you reflect on your own practice and this would be your “work space.” You should feel free to openly think and post about questions you have in your “work space”…this is for reflection. We want our students to reflect…as teachers we should be healthy, reflective practitioners…so now start reflecting.
Creating, curating and modifying your digital identity
While you’re signed in to Google, I would investigate your Google Dashboard and seeing what Google knows about you. Of course you could be proactive and add your own information. If you visit Google Profile you can add/edit/revise your own identifying characteristics that will be used by Google as people search online for information about you. By filling in this information for yourself, you can be a little more sure about what people will find when they search online for you.
Additionally, registering a domain name is a great way to be proactive and build online information about you that YOU control. Domain addresses and hosting are relatively inexpensive and allow you to have online spaces in which you house your brand. Building a webpage using Google Apps, or hosting it elsewhere provides you with an opportunity to share biographical information, blog..or even link to your other online accounts. A very basic, yet somewhat slick tool to use as a basic homepage that I love is flavors.me. Flavors.me puts together a home page for you in a couple of minutes that gives you the opportunity to compile and distribute information about your online identity.
Control your digital identity and brand
Whatever choices you make about your online brand, they are CHOICES. You should understand what each tool or social environment can do…and more importantly what do you want it to do. For most ICT tools there really are no rules for how they must be used. So, if you want to go nuts…and add avatars for all of your online accounts…feel free. The real key is to understand that your online brand is constantly evolving, even now as you’re reading this. The question is whether or not you’re informing that evolution or not. I would rather be proactive and create online content that people will be directed to when they search online for information about me.