ProfHacker recently posted: Open Thread: Advice for Personal Versus Professional Websites? I didn’t have time to post a reply at the time, but I have strong feelings on this one.  Folks should read through the original ProfHacker post and replies if they’re looking for more diverse perspectives on this issue.

Foremost, I think the important thing, especially for emerging scholars, is to have a web presence that you define.  No matter where it’s hosted.  It’s an opportunity to present your work, from the perspective you want to.  Anecdotally, I know that it helped me a lot on the job market to have a site that re-presented virtually all of my job materials except for a few items.  And I think that the competency to build and maintain basic sites like this one will become less and less of a “bonus” in job candidates, and more and more of an expectation in job candidates.

I set up this off- .edu website for a variety of reasons.  One was that, in the summer in between my dissertation defense and the start of my tenure-track gig, I was essentially without an institutional home.  This made me consider the ramifications of being beholden to any institution for the hosting of my professional website.  In short, I didn’t like the idea of it, and the prospect of building an autonomous site was exciting.  I also like the idea of having a really complete set of materials housed on one site, even if some of those materials are also duplicated on other, on- .edu sites.  It was also cheap, and easy.  (For technical info, check out the About 3 x 3 section.)

I also think it might be more to the advantage for younger, less established academics to set up off- .edu sites, in addition to maintaining necessary web presences on their home institutions’ servers.  The simple facts are that young academics always–I think–hope to stay at their jobs for a long time.  But careers are more volatile than they used to be–largely because of market forces–and very few people seem to stay at the same institution for an entire career.  An off- .edu website is much easier to carry around with you if you find yourself moving from one institution to a new one.  Your own site also can help to “brand” you within the field, and provides a space for professional communication that’s less formal than traditional publishing venues.  If your home institution will allow you to run Drupal, you might have a little more autonomy than otherwise.  Here at Western, a kind soul in the Coulter Faculty Commons even designed a WCU-specific WordPress theme for our faculty to use on the WCU servers, which is badass.  I love my instutition, but I know that a lot of my peers who are also junior faculty look at the current economic/budget situations around the various states and worry that they could be looking for a new job sooner than expected.  So, portability might be something for some folks to consider.

I’m a big fan of autonomy.  My idea was that by going off- .edu I could simply control more of the site.  The look, the traffic monitoring, the nature of the content.  I could make the site as quirky or straight-laced as a chose, without worrying about aligning with institutional aesthetic themes, or other institutional bounds of design.  I can run the Google Analytics myself, and I have control of the design of the site, which was very important to me.  So, for me the big reason to have an off- .edu site was, as much as anything, that I enjoy having a visually rich site, and having the freedom to indulge some of my extra-academic interests on the same site.  Some people like to keep those lives separate, but I don’t see much point, because they aren’t very separate in practice for me.  The office comes home with me, and sometimes the office is home.  It’s all muddy.  We don’t have the luxury of punching in and out, and this site somewhat captures that dilemma, I think.

I don’t think it’s really an either/or situation.  A lot of my mentors, peers, colleagues run off- .edu websites, but in almost every case I know that they maintain on- .edu websites at their home institutions, primarily for teaching purposes, as well.  Here are some examples of both:

Clay Spinuzzi, University of Texas at Austin

Jim Brown, Wayne State University

Will Burdette, University of Texas at Austin

Patricia Roberts-Miller, University of Texas at Austin

One thing to remember–and remember very damn well–if you’re using an off .edu site to run your classes, is that absolutely no FERPA protected data should go up, ever.  And if you’re unsure if something is FERPA protected, you should probably just assume that it is.  Keep in mind also that every educational institution will have its own legal counsel, and its own interpretations and procedures for the finer points of dealing with FERPA data.  Even if you operate an off .edu site, I would recommend abiding by your home institution’s best-practices, to the letter.  Though, you should realize that by running an off .edu site, you are accepting greater personal liabilities if there is ever an occasion for you to be held liable for something.  In my own case, this is a non-issue for the sorts of courses I teach.  I keep FERPA data as far away from myself as I can, so I don’t have to safeguard it, and because there is very little that I need to collect.  If I keep student names, grades, and identifying information off the site, I figure I’m on pretty solid ground.

In the spring my graduate students enrolled in Visual and Digital Rhetorics and I will launch the Rural Image Cooperative [URL works, but site is not yet built], which will fill a new niche in visual rhetoric scholarship.  While I haven’t crafted the mission the statement of the RIC entirely yet (primarily because I want the grad students to have a role and stake in that crafting), I did choose to purchase an off .edu URL because the site will hopefully be “pan-institutional.”  My hope is that other instructors at other institutions will periodically take over the site and, along with their students, make their own contributions.  In this sense of cooperation, I didn’t want the site to appear in any way proprietary by falling under the purview of my home institution’s, or any other institution’s, URL.  My institution is great, but in the sense of, say, performative rhetoric, I feel its important that the site perform what I hope it will be, which is to say, not owned by any one academic institution, but cooperatively owned by all of the contributors that I hope the site will attract in the coming years.  I’ll have lots more on the RIC once the spring semester rolls around, and mention all of this only to say that there are lots of legitimate reasons to go off- .edu, both for individuals’ websites, and the sites of larger academic endeavors.

Bumble Bee, by Nate Kreuter

Professional Presence on the Interwebs

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