This is a reflection on W. Gardner Campbell’s article “A Personal Cyberinfrastructure.”

What was I thinking this article would tell me? I honestly don’t know. The name in and of itself is pretty vague, so I went in figuring I’d catch on a little while into reading it. Frankly, its a whole lot being thrown at you, but the main point he is getting across is: universities need to give students the opportunity to have their own online identity. 

It all started by introducing the academic world to online systems to manage classes. And it worked. Colleges use services like Canvas and Blackboard to organize due dates, grades, assignments, and much more. And its great! I love using Canvas and these accompanying websites that allow me to keep track of when everything is due and submit it online. I don’t have to go in to see my grades, and I can get grades back the second they are posted. But Campbell is saying this isn’t the goal. So what is it?

Blogs, websites, and social media. Campbell states that every college student should be given a website at orientation, and maintain it through college. And it makes sense. Through the little bit of experience I’ve had so far in this class, there’s a whole lot to learn. You have to learn how to express your thoughts, how to properly cite sources, and how to pull together different types of information to make a point. I agree, that while I don’t like social media or dealing with other people at all, it is an amazing skill to have. Especially in a world that is going more and more towards technology and digitization, your online identity will be the first impression you make on anyone these days. And that leads to an extremely important teaching lesson I feel Campbell skipped.

Online accountability. We have all heard it throughout our lives: once it is put on the internet, it is forever. And that is something I feel either a lot of high school and college age students either forget, or don’t realize the implications of. Someone who knows what they are doing (not me) can find a Facebook post from 5 years ago complaining about your teachers and calling them certain names, a picture of you and your friends at a party with refreshments in your hands, or even a picture you sent that you didn’t think anyone would see. And people check this. I have had several bosses interview me and tell me they would go through my internet history, and asking if there was anything I should explain. A picture of you and your friends doing something dumb at a party or with something illegal could easily turn into not getting a job 5 years later. So why post it? The fact is that once you put something out there, it is out there.

But this could be good as well. I said earlier your online presence is your first impression. So if they could google you and see pictures of you drunk at a party or screaming something that makes no sense while “dancing” (read: falling), why couldn’t they see all of your accomplishments as well? Why not fill those same search results with the work you’ve done, your posters/research you’ve presented, clearly outlined thoughts and perspectives on today’s society? Those same google results that could keep you from getting hired, could also land you the job of your dreams.

The world is changing, and I agree that colleges should help their students build an online presence to network with the world. The trick is to do it responsibly.