Friday, May 27, 2011

Networking through Electronic Discussion Lists

This post comes out of a conversation I had with an instructional technologist who was trying to move from commercial work to academic. A friend of a colleague of my wife, he'd gotten in contact with me when my wife told her colleague a little about my work managing Arcadia University's instructional technology lab. The colleague knew his friend, who did a lot work on learning management systems in the corporate sector, was trying to get into higher education. Ever willing to mentor, I invited this instructional technologist, Dennis, to call me. I gave him a full hour of my time by telephone.

I suggested he tweak his resume and pare down the corporate terminology and try to couch it in terms relevant to instructional technologists in higher education

I suggested he frequent some email discussion lists. (I use the phrase in place of the more ubiquitous LISTSERV because the latter is a registered trademark according to Wikipedia.) I myself am a member of TCLCG-L and INFOLIT. I've also been on COLLIB-L and MEDLIB-L, but these are very active lists and you have to be ready for the flurries of emails related to hot topics.

The benefit to someone like Dennis of getting on some discussion lists are manifold. They help you:
  1. Learn the terminology college instructional technologists use,
  2. Become familiar with issues affecting instructional technologists,
  3. If you get involved instead of just watching, develop name recognition among a set of possibly future employers, and
  4. Become aware of job openings.
I excerpt my email to Dennis:
With regard to finding some [discussion lists] to follow, jump into some conversations when you know you have some relevant experience. In [discussion list] communities, there are always a set of people who dominate either in volume or content. Because you already know a good deal, you can contribute quite a lot on the content side. If you decide to do this, here are some more thoughts: Don’t be concerned about letting your involvement on the commercial side slip in. It’s my opinion that people won’t care as long as you’re saying something substantive.

Be thoughtful, meaningful. When I took an online class at Drexel, I discovered that I had developed a following among a few other students. They actually would message each other asking if I’d posted my responses to class discussion questions because they liked my answers the best. All I did was make a deliberate effort to answer the questions thoroughly, adding support content from independent searches if it seemed to help. Going some extra distance in commenting always seems to stand out. Maybe a bit like bothering to have a long conversation about job shifting rather than simply tossing out a few minutes of advice in an email!

If people like what you say, which they certainly will, name recognition for you will develop rapidly.
Everyone is busy and if someone like Dennis wants to get noticed and has some experience--even if in a parallel work environment--that person will become visible when submitting information that comes with a little investigative effort.

Some final words: Electronic discussion lists don't seem to get a lot of press, but they continue to be relevant. It's possible to learn more about a field in which you have limited experience by going to the right places. People value when someone makes time for them.