As an online instructor you may already be involved in some social networking efforts though sites such as LinkedIn. There is value in building your own personal learning network as you advance in your professional work and continue to make new connections. Now there are more options than ever, including several sites created specifically for those working in academia. You may find some benefit from participation in these communities, in addition to more general networking spaces like Twitter and Facebook.
Similar to other sites, you'll find the academic online communities offer features such as individual profiles, status updates, discussion boards, interest groups, job announcements, and news feeds generated from the updates of accounts that you follow or connect with. What makes these systems "academic"? Primarily, they cater to the needs and interests of faculty, staff, administrators, and students in higher education, encouraging research collaboration and sharing of resources. Several systems also restrict membership to create more private venues for discussion. Explore these new options and consider how participation might be helpful to you.
- Academia.edu has taken on a mission "to accelerate the world's research" by providing a space for sharing. The site currently has over 850,000 members and the system's analytic functions can be used to track the impact of your work. Once you set up your profile, you can upload academic papers and other documents, "follow someone's work" and academic journal accounts, and link to your professional association memberships. The site also shows you other members that work at your institution. Richard Price, CEO of Academic.edu, has a public profile that gives you a good view of the components available.
- GoingOn was recently introduced as an "informal learning environment" for faculty and student connections focusing on personal and academic relationships in a "virtual campus" setting. This managed service centers on school level memberships, creating private networks and areas for discussion, event announcements, etc. The Chronicle of Higher Education posted an interview with John Corshen, CEO of GoingOn, just last week. Take a closer look and talk with your school's technology coordinators if it looks like something you would be interested in exploring further.
- Mendeley is a reference and citation application that includes annotation features, such as highlighting and note taking. Currently over 1 million people are using the system, which contains over 140 million papers. Social networking options allow you to share your annotations with others, as well as upload your documents, set up an individual profile, and join group discussions. Read more about the site's users, which include students, librarians, researchers, and professors working in a range of settings. Mendeley is free, but does require a download.
- MyExperiment.org is a much smaller network with around 5000 members. This system "enables you and your colleagues to share digital items associated with your research – in particular it enables you to share and execute scientific workflows." MyExperiment is focused on the tasks associated with conducting research projects, and sharing and managing data. You can view some of the user profiles online and explore a variety of work and interest groups.
- Profology is another new networking site specifically developed for academic professionals, including faculty, staff, and administrators. According to the website, Profology "provides members with individualized, discipline-specific content, and enables collaboration with colleagues across academia." One unique aspect of this system is that is it closed to undergraduate students. Find out more via Twitter and Facebook.
Tips for Getting Started
The list of networking options is growing, and it doesn't make sense to try to join them all. As you explore some of the new academic communities, consider how they fit into your current social media use.
- Consider your social media and networking goals. How will these sites help you in your academic career? The possibilities are many, from making new connections as part of a job search process to promoting your current research projects. Think about how your participation in online academic communities fits in with your overall social media strategy.
- Examine the various features available. Do you want to upload your academic papers? Are you looking for research partners? Or maybe you are interested in joining conversations outside of your current group of colleagues. Find the sites that offer the functionality you are interested in and need.
- Join your current colleagues. If you are interested in joining a community where you already have some professional relationships and connections, find out which systems your peers use and start there.
- Pick just one or two academic sites to add to your online presence and activities. Don't spread yourself too thin. Sign up for accounts that you know you can manage and maintain, and keep them up-to-date. Concentrate your efforts on the sites where the most relevant conversations are taking place.
- Set up your profile. Complete the first steps after registering for an account and fill out your individual profile. Generally speaking, the more complete your profile is, the better. This can take some time to accomplish, but will help others find you and get to know you better, based on your academic experience and interests.
- Promote your new profile(s). Let others know that you are now active in a new community. Link your new profiles to your homepage or other "hub" account, such as LinkedIn. Share your new community via tweets and staus updates on your other social media accounts.
This post covers just a few of the existing possibilities. Tell us about your favorite social networking sites. Where do you find the most value in connecting and sharing with your academic peers?
Image credit: Nazareth College, Flickr, CC-BY