Why (Not?) Consolidate Your Digital Presence

Not long ago my eportfolio was called Laura Gogia: Reigning in the Digital Sprawl (Clarifying point: you are reading a post on my blog right now, not my e-portfolio). My e-portfolio isn’t called that anymore in part because I change the purpose, organization, and appearances of my websites – including this one – fairly regularly.*  However, when the “reigning in the digital sprawl” was present in the title, it referred to the fact that almost all the content exhibited on the site was being pulled in from other digital platforms. There was a bit of dedicated “about me” content on the static front page, but the other pages were custom links to other digital platforms, including slideshare.com (presentations), YouTube (videos); academia.edu (formal papers); Flickr (my photography); other WordPress sites (my blog and other collaborative projects); and Google docs (my CV).  The front page also included (and still does include) my Twitter and Instagram timelines, embedded via widgets in the sidebars.

A screenshot of the front page of my e-portfolio,  early 2016. Every “page” is a link to another digital platform. Notice the Twitter timeline in the bottom left side.  The “What is this?” is the only dedicated content found on this website

My digital presence was and still is so decentralized that it requires “reigning in.”  Why? Because it was an organic development emerging from and integrated into the needs of my everyday activities.  I needed a place to publish slides to share with audiences, so…Slideshare.  Then I needed a place to publish papers so that I could share them with colleagues…Academia.edu.  I like to share my photography with friends and family…Flickr.

And so on and so forth.

As unplanned and unscripted as my decentralized digital presence was, there was something safe in keeping everything separate.  It would be the rare person who could/would find all the parts of me strewn across the Internet.  That’s fine of course, particularly if you are trying to share only one part of yourself with an audience. However,  I’m 40.  I’m tired of compartmentalizing.  I’ve done that before, and for my second career I’m trying something different.

Hence the centralization of my digital presence.

Most of the centralization that occurs on my website made sense to most people. Of course the e-portfolio would showcase writing, resumes, and other professional activities. The photography was a bit more “out there,” but it adds the creative touch that is almost expected in the digital pedagogies. Furthermore, my photography grounds and inspires the rest of my work. If you visited my office between 2014 and early 2016, you know that I like to have my pictures around me in physical spaces too.

But what about the Twitter and Instagram timelines?

I’ll be honest, I thought long and hard about whether I wanted those on my website – particularly when I was in the process of looking for a job.  What happens if I have a bad night or a bad Twitter interaction on the very night that a potential boss decides to review CVs and check out my e-portfolio?  Ultimately, I decided to keep my timelines on the portfolio, for a couple of reasons:

  1. I am my timelines. These timelines give the most accurate, real time picture of what I’m thinking about, how I interact with people, and who I am in a minute-to-minute kind of way…the kind of way that doesn’t translate itself through journal articles or even blog posts (which take hours, months, or years to complete).  It’s who I am – better that a potential partner or boss know a little of that prior to commitment.
  2. When my timelines are on my website, I try even harder to be my best self.  I’m not perfect. I’m downright annoying sometimes. I’ve drunk tweeted my academic heroes before – a problem I’ve (hopefully) solved through experimentation with various solutions. However, reminding myself that my timelines are also on my websites – it’s added incentive to be my best self.  By thinking about these things and safeguarding against them…yes I’m putting myself in harms way by risking a public presence in the first place, but it’s a relatively minor risk (particularly in the student stages) and it’s taught me a lot about myself, restraint, vulnerability, and forgiveness (of self and others).  These are lessons that have applications above and beyond social media.  You have to risk it to win it.
  3. It makes the website dynamic.  We don’t blog everyday.  We don’t publish papers every day.  We tweet everyday.  It livens things up and provides opportunity to convey snippets of information that don’t necessarily require an entire post.
To Embed Twitter Timelines

If you think embedding a Twitter timeline is right for you, there are plenty of tutorials available on the topic – just google it.  However, not all WordPress sites are created equal. Among my dozen websites, I have RamPage sites (the Virginia Commonwealth University WordPress community), free (less flexibility, “wordpress” in your url)  wordpress.com sites, and hosted (e.g. more flexibily, no “wordpress” in your url, costs you money) wordpress sites.  You can embed Twitter timelines in the widget sections on each one of these types of sites but typically in different ways.  For the record, Tom Woodward is the RamPages guru.  If I don’t know how to do something or I’ve forgotten how to do it, he answers all my questions – including reminding me how to embed Twitter timelines (because it’s been awhile since I’ve done it on a RamPages site). So, thank you Tom.

If you are using RamPages, start by going to your dashboard and clicking on settings.

Step 1: Dashboard –> Jetpack –> Settings

 Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 5.57.11 PM

Step 2: Scroll down to “Extra Sidebar Widgets and click “Activate.”

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Step 3: Go to Appearance, click on Widgets, and then drag the Twitter Timeline (Jetpack) to the widget area of your choice (these will be different depending on your theme…usually there are sidebars and/or footer spaces).

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 5.58.29 PM

Step 4: Follow the directions found here.  And if you can’t follow them, that’s ok.  Ping me on Twitter and we’ll walk through it over the phone. 

*I’m not trying to suggest this is best practice or similar.  This is evidence of me trying to figure things out but also being in a constant state of transition. I live in a constant state of transition.

Why Embed Images & Videos

As the Connected Learning coach for Virginia Commonwealth University’s Collaborative Curiosity: Designing Community Engaged Research, I need to talk about the role of images and videos in digital communication – specifically blog posts – sooner rather than later.

Traditionally, academics have been taught to privilege text over other forms of communication for many reasons.  Paper-based essays and standard word processing programs really aren’t designed for images, let alone videos.  However, in Collaborative Curiosity we blog, and blogging takes place on the web.  Furthermore, one of the purposes of our writing assignments is to practice being engaging and accessible to non-academics. This is NOT the place or the time to practice lingo (in fact, the rubics specifically downgrade for lingo). If no one understands what we are saying then we might as well not say it at all.

Why do we embed images and video?

My daughter, Sydney, is an advanced and adventurous reader.  She is also a tween and hesitant to do anything that might be considered “babyish.”  However, she still prefers books with pictures to those without.  I asked her “Why pictures?” during a recent visit to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and here is how she answered (this was impromptu and unscripted, first take)…

If you listen to the one minute clip, you’ll hear her hit several big ideas: images help readers grasp the big picture, understand difficult concepts, build a mental picture they can remember, and bring stories to life.

Her answers come shockingly close to the findings of my dissertation research in which I analyzed student use of images, video, and hyperlinks in 500 blog posts from four different graduate and undergraduate courses. When students inserted images and videos (which they did often), it seemed to serve the following purposes:

  • To create an aesthetic. Students often add a featured image to their posts – something to set the mood or capture the flavor.  Note my featured image at the top of this post.  It’s a picture I took of myself taking a picture.  It’s meant to warn you that in this post we are going to talk about images and do-it-yourself-style creative composition. You can also think about these “aesthetic” photos like the pictures on book covers. They draw people towards them. Take a look at a screenshot I took of the Collaborative Curiosity bloggregate earlier today.

Screenshot (171)

You can see that some of these have images and others do not.  Which capture your attention?  Which would you prefer to click on and read?

  • To illustrate specific points within the narrative. This gets to Sydney’s point that sometimes we need help getting an of what’s happening in the blog post.  An image can go along way in securing things in our memories – especially if you are writing about something abstract or unknown to your reader. In my research, effective student explanations and descriptions were often accompanied by images or video demonstrations.
  • To advance the narrative.  Sometimes you cannot say what you want to say effectively without videos or images.  Many students in my research included infographics, tables, or graphics so that they could speak to the image rather than describing it all in text.  Several made their own “how to videos” since they could not find what they wanted on YouTube. Images can provide evidence or support arguments, as they did in my recent StoryMap of the impact of Collaborative Curiosity on international educational research communities.
  • To demonstrate connected learning. Students use images or videos to support the documentation of connections they were making across contexts, disciplines, people, and time.  For example, they would include personal photographs to show how they had previously experienced something relevant to what was being discussed by the class, and then describe the connection.  These were particularly powerful examples of connected learning and almost always occurred when the student had made the image/video/graphic themselves.

What do I need to know?

  • The technical stuff. Embedding images and videos on blogging platforms such as WordPress is fairly straightforward, but if you need a tutorial, Google it.  You’ll find things like this and this and this.
  • The citation stuff. You need to credit creators of images and videos just as you would authors of text. It’s best/safest to use public domain or Creative Commons licensed work. VCU Libraries has published some very useful information on creative commons licensing. Alternatively, use or make your own images, infographics, videos, etc….That’s always safe and can lead to some of the best learning, too. Linking back to the original source can be the easiest way to give excellent credit – you can do this in the caption of the photo or in the body of the surrounding text. If you cannot insert a caption (say, for instance, we are talking about a featured image), then you can always insert the information onto the photo using Paint or Powerpoint or any number of image annotation apps.  In the case of YouTube or Vimeo videos, the video itself provides a link back to the original posting…in other words, it self-cites. If you go back to my previous posts (here or here) you’ll see that I made a special point of adding citations on my images.  I think most of these are images I uploaded to PowerPoint, add a text box for credit information, and then exported as a .JPEG .

Where do I get good images or videos?

My first and best answer is to MAKE THEM.  Ultimately, you will spend less time hunting around for exactly what you want.  This is just the beginning of a list, but easy places to make things include:

  • Your camera phone.  I made that video of Sydney on my iphone and uploaded it to iMovie for the captions, though I could have just uploaded it directly to YouTube if I hadn’t wanted to get fancy.
  • PowerPoint. You can make some fine graphics on PowerPoint (or Keynote) and download the slide as a .PNG or .JPG file.  Examples? Check out this graphic.
  • Draw a picture on paper then take a picture of it.  I’m serious. Add some filters, crop the edges. It’s old school, but still you can make yourself a nice concept map or picture or stick figure cartoon that way. This idea is a definite “DO IT” for you doodlers and artists out there.
  • Canva.com.  Easy, free graphic design tool.  Last year’s #curiouscolabbers got really into using it, and I’m more than happy to help at any point.

I know it is tempting to search Google Images for art.  However, it is extremely difficult to tell in these searches what might be available for public use and what is off limits. Therefore, I do my best not to use Google Images for my blog posts unless there is an obvious reason to do so. For CC-licensed or publicly available images and videos by others, I recommend…

  • YouTube or Vimeo for videos.  Of course.
  • Unsplash.com for some of the most beautiful and eclectic images available for free use. You need to read the “use” info on this site, but most of these images are available to use without giving credit to the photographer…as a rule I credit the photographer, because I am a photographer and I would want my work credited. Also, don’t get confused by the language on the site that says you should sign up to receive 10 free downloadable pics a month…that’s only if you want them to email you ten photos a month…I guess so that you don’t have to search and pick them?  You can search the site and download at will without signing up for anything.
  • Flickr.com. Check out the screenshot below.  Search for photos with your keyword, then filter by license to show only CC licensed work.  Until I stumbled upon Unsplash, this is where all my photos came from.

    Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 4.58.12 PM.png
    The license filter on Flickr.com allows you to search only CC licensed images

There are so many reasons to consider embedding images and videos into your blog posts, but consider this argument: Learning how to do it well will not only enhance your ability to express yourself, but it will enhance the likelihood that your audience will find your work accessible and engaging. So embed images and videos. Please.  It’s not an accessory, it’s an essential part of blogging.