Digital Identity and the Academic

Digital Identity and the Academic

Using social media and developing a digital profile for professional and academic purposes can encourage students and tutors to become ‘connected educators’ (Catapano 2017) and extend expert networks, increase social capital (Rehm et al 2015), whilst improving digital literacy necessary for the sector (Brodie 2011). Kuh (2009) believes student engagement is the time and effort students invest in educational activities explicitly linked to their desired outcomes, it is therefore more than attendance or passing assessment, and the same can be said for academics.

How does an academic convey their engagement with their discipline or role presently?

In the past the academic was arguably the fount of knowledge at the front of a lecture theatre that we were grateful to capture for 2-3 hours per week. Their research outputs were found by searching through the institutes library dewey decimal system, and that was the extent of our connection to them.

Things have certainly evolved and Ingold (2015) meshwork theory likens the spider web to social networks and this helps us to visualise how our social communications connect us and can have impact and wider reach. Shackelford et al (2012) attributes the successful use of twitter, to teachers having more social, educational and expert presence on the platform than the students themselves. This allows for students to feel a sense of belonging in an already established and useful virtual learning space. Interestingly, research by Johnson (2010) found that tutors whom post entirely social or a mixture of social and scholarly content were perceived as more credible than those who post solely scholarly material, this is perhaps in contrast with the many cautions of an academics use of social media. Fear of oversharing, giving to much of their personal life away and so forth are often mentioned as limitations of engaging with social media, yet it seems students value this humanist aspect.

Vigurs (2016) explored the use of twitter across 3 doctoral student groups, and highlighted that students appreciated the morale boost, networking opportunities, and enhanced belonging to the community group. Conversely, Vigurs (2016) uncovered limitations such as; the professional and personal investment twitter requires, thus leading students reconsidering its value and relevance to them personally. Further, tutor presence was a positive in terms of demonstrating how to use twitter effectively, whilst it not being imperative for tutors to be accessible on this format. However, Vigurs (2016) participants did not like tutors using twitter superficially or cynically, therefore bringing the balance of personal and professional content into debate once again.

This balance is not one that an academic must consider as an individual decision to get right for themselves, but also has to consider the student experience, what it means for their institutes reputation, how their digital professional identity may influence the delivery of their subject. Elmes (2017) suggests that combining informal and formal learning, and increasing digital literacy in HE are barriers to successful application of technology within institutes, possibly as getting this balance correct is difficult, and thus innovating with technology can be stifled/maximised by an individual’s comfort not only with software, but the ‘connected educator’ they become in adopting it. Deci (1971) whilst a dated source, does propose, a valuable caution in that informal aspects of delivery may decrease the desire for students to learn within the context of the subject discipline. This poses the question as we reflect on our professional digital identity, is my digital identity appropriate? Personally speaking my subject discipline is early childhood, anything within the realms of parenting, lifestyle, care and education of children I am comfortable sharing. I am passionate about STEM, cognitive psychology of the smile and laughter response, and educational technology, and once again, am happy to share on these subjects. I’m also comfortable showing that I’m only human, and I genuinely enjoy the ‘chit chat’ of social media, and so again, am comfortable to share. But I am a drop in the ocean, many other academics and professionals in other walks of life have differing subjects, lifestyles and comforts in sharing. The balance in how we develop a professional digital identity is therefore entirely unique to individuals.

Nevertheless, Robinson (2016) suggests that HE institutes can be perceived as impersonal in content delivery, and it is innovative educators that are combating this in approaches that acknowledge each student as individual with their own outcomes, also, by representing themselves in a contemporary way via technology enhanced learning, social media connections and demonstrations of empathy/sympathy. Research by Hsu (2016) highlighted common barriers to technology including human and technological infrastructure limiting worth as institutes (regardless of phase in education) need the tools to embed technology well in practice, thus any discomfort with software or hardware will naturally impede developing a positive professional digital identity. Gachago et al (2017) research into ‘Digital Champions’ or ‘eLearning Champions’ found it necessary to have such champions with forthright digital identities as this can be linked to a ‘design mindset’ beneficial for innovation, change, empathy, outcomes and more. It could be argued a Digital Champion can pave the way for others to develop their own professional digital identity, as well as supporting the implementation of software/hardware in the institute. Personally speaking once again, as a Digital Champion myself I have recently being enjoying the benefits and learning curves of using Microsoft products, in particular OneNote and a touch of Teams, these have allowed for connecting with students and other educators within a ‘safe space’ confined to those associated with my institute. The content shared can be both formal e.g. lesson and assessment materials, and informal with the beauty of chat spaces or stickers, but again, a safe space associated directly with a module and institute (no need to fear oversharing personal quips that go viral).

I would argue adopting educational technology such as Microsoft OneNote or Teams (or whatever your preference) with fellow academics or students is a preferential first step in developing a professional digital identity, then once there has been time to develop comfort in this ‘safer’ space, combining formal and informal aspects, may one wish to put themselves ‘out there’ on social media, or expanding those digital networks via blogs, websites and so forth.  Perhaps we can use Churches (2009) Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy Verbs to help us reflect on the functions and purposes of our professional digital identity, or use of technology. This is applicable for any age or phase of education, as it helps us to narrate the benefit for ourselves and our connections.

I’m airing on the side of positivity here, and as I have been described as ‘fearless’ more than once I will again throw caution to the wind as I share my blue sky conclusion…Moving forward it would be positive to see an increase in the value attributed to shares and posts from professionals and academics via their professional digital identity outlets. I’m referring to the blog that has perhaps been written as an alternative outlet, as the content can’t quite fulfil a journals criterion, or, the vlog or webinar training as the speaker hasn’t managed to make the dates of particular conferences, there is so much credible and valuable content out there. An academics professional digital identity has real capacity to cause ‘disruption’ to the world of research, higher education, CPD or indeed the individuals subject field. No longer are we confined to a timetabled slot in the lecture theatre, outputs for the few who obtain a book deal, or fulfil editorial/review criteria. I look forward to an explosion of shares as academics and institutes become increasingly comfortable with technology, social media and the formal/informal balance, myself being one of them.



Brodie, K. (2011) Social Networking, [Online] Available at (Accessed June 2017)

Catapano, J. (2017) Technology in the Classroom: The Connected Teacher, [Online] Available at (Accessed June 2017)

Churches, A. (2009) Blooms Digital Taxonomy, [Online] Available at (Accessed March 2018)

Elmes, J. (2017) Six significant challenges for technology in higher education in 2017 [Online] Available at (Accessed February 2017)

Gachago, D. et al (2017) Developing eLearning Champions: a design thinking approach, International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, p.2-14

Hsu, P. (2016) Examining Current Beliefs, Practices and Barriers About Technology Integration: A Case Study, Tech Trends, Vol. 60, 1, p 30-40

Ingold, T. (2015) Being alive: Essays on movement, knowledge and description, Routledge: London

Johnson, K. (2010) The effect of Twitter posts on students’ perceptions of instructor credibility, Learning, Media and Technology, 36, 1, p21-38

Kuh, G. (2009) What student affairs professionals need to know about student engagement, Journal of College Student Development, 50, 6, p683-706

Rehm. M, et al (2015) Social Capital in Twitter: Conversations Amongst Teachers, [Lecture] Presentation of Research to the University of Brighton, July 2015

Shackelford, J. et al (2012) Contribution of Learner–Instructor Interaction to Sense of Community in Graduate Online Education, MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 8, 4, p248-260

Vigurs, K. (2016) Using Twitter to Tackle Peripherality? Facilitating Networked Scholarships for Part-Time Doctoral Students Within and Beyond the University, Fusion Journal, [Online] Available at (Accessed June 2017)


Other reads I’ve enjoyed…

Cross, M. (2013) Universities should use Twitter to engage with students, [Online] Available at (Accessed August 2016)

Ebner, M.  (2010) Microblogs in Higher Education–A Chance to Facilitate Informal and Process-Oriented Learning? Computers & Education, 55, 1, p92-100

Heick, T. (2017) The Complete Guide to Twitter Hashtags For Education, [Online] Available at (Accessed June 2017)

Hosek, A. (2009) Communication privacy management and college instruction: Exploring the rules and boundaries that frame instructor private disclosures. Communication Education, 58, 3, p327–49

JISC (2015) Five reasons to use Twitter for your virtual CPD, [Online] Available at (Accessed May 2017)

Lemon, N. (2017) Emerging Participatory Culture: Making Sense of Social Media Use in and across HE and the Cultural Heritage Sector, [Lecture] Presentation of Research to Swinburne University of Technology, June 2017

Preigo, E. (2011) How Twitter will Revolutionise Academic Research and Teaching, [Online] Available at (Accessed May 2017)

Reynol, J. et al  (2013) Putting twitter to the test: Assessing outcomes for student collaboration, engagement and success, British Journal of Educational Technology, 44, 2, p273-287

Robertson, E. (2017) Digital Awareness, [Online] Available at, (Accessed June 2017)

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