REA: Tending your digital presence

Mary Hess of Luther Seminary presented the first pre-conference session, on “Creating and Tending Your Digital Presence as a Scholar,” at the Religious Education Association annual conference. Although I’m a minister of religious education, not a scholar of religious education, I figured I would hear much that was applicable to me — and I did.

Hess began by making an important point by referring to research on (a href=”>context collapse done by cultural anthropologist Michael Wesch. Hess told us that tending one’s digital presence is a way to intentionally build context in the face of context collapse. “I don’t think it’s a choice any longer,” she said, to tend one’s digital presence.

One problem faced in tending your online presence is figuring out how to uniquely identify yourself — especially challenging for those of us with common names. Hess introduced us to ORCID, a registry of unique researcher identifiers for scholars. (As a minister in a numerically small denomination, I already have a unique identifier — search for “dan harper unitarian” and you’ll find me.)

Hess reviewed some social media sites aimed at academics, including, Mendeley as a useful digital repository or archive, and Merlot for sharing teaching resources.

Hess said that for her, Slide Share has actually been more useful at getting her work out than any sites dedicated to academics.

Turning to what she called “popular publication,” Hess spoke briefly of popular Web sites such as the Huffington Post, Religion Dispatches, and Odyssey Networks. Hess feels that it is critically important for religious education scholars (and practitioners!) to break out of the boundaries of our narrow intellectual speciality.

“I think in my more cynical moments that as higher education focused on production of certain kinds of knowledge, it has removed people from public life,” she said. She contrasted this attitude with the attitude of John Dewey, one of the founding intellects of the Religious Education Association. Dewey, she said, was a public intellectual. She added that the question of what it means to be a public intellectual is critically important.

Slides for this presentation on Slide Share