The other day somebody referred to me as an expert in the field of internet safety. While it’s true that I’ve done many presentations on the subject and have some very strong ideas about it, it got me wondering exactly when I became ‘an expert’? At some point, there was a line drawn on the ground. On one side, I was a nut with some crazy ideas about kids and the internet. On the other side I was an expert voice that has spoken to thousands of people on the topic. When did this change miraculously occur?

If you’ve been a member of the blogosphere long enough, then you probably can play the “I remember when” game. For example, I remember when David Warlick recorded his first podcast (altho I can’t find it online anymore). I remember when Will’s blog engine of choice was Manila. Heck, I even remember when the term Web 2.0 was coined!

But the most interesting thing to me has been watching blogger after blogger after blogger sit down at the keyboard, type up a few posts invariably to a non-existent audience, and struggle to be heard. The incredible thing is how many of those people are now experts in every sense of the word. Particularly in my role overseeing the DEN community for Discovery, I see it happening constantly.

I’m not surprised that these people have become experts. I still believe that every teacher is a rock star waiting to happen. But what’s fascinating to me is being able to watch somebody who considers themselves to be an average Joe all of a sudden realize that they have hundreds of people following them in Twitter. Or that they got 10 comments on a blog post of theirs. Or that people from 5 different continents have visited their blog.

While some people have been launched into the spotlight in a blaze of glory, most find themselves struggling to find their audience. I vividly remember what it was like blogging in a perceived vacuum. It’s rough to keep posting when you feel nobody is listening. And yet so many educators have persevered and found their niche in the blogosphere, becoming ‘famous for 15 people‘.

I looked up ‘expert’ on Wikipedia, which is an interesting irony in itself. However, the post did contain an interesting tidbit called Germain’s Scale. It is “a measure of perception of employee expertise” and contains 5 objective expertise items (the first five) and 11 subjective items.

1. This person has knowledge that is specific to his or her field of work.
2. This person shows that they have the education necessary to be an expert in his/her field.
3. This person has knowledge about his/her field.
4. This person has the qualifications required to be an expert in his/her field.
5. This person has been trained in his or her area of expertise.
6. This person is ambitious about their work in the company.
7. This person can assess whether a work-related situation is important or not.
8. This person is capable of improving himself or herself.
9. This person is charismatic.
10. This person can deduce things from work-related situations easily.
11. This person is intuitive in the job.
12. This person is able to judge what things are important in his/her job.
13. This person has the drive to become what he or she is capable of becoming in his/her field.
14. This person is self-assured.
15. This person has self-confidence.
16. This person is an expert who is outgoing.

Some of them are rather fascinating and clearly debatable. Items 9 and 16 in particular. I’m not going to point fingers, but their are several prominent educational experts that I would hardly consider to be outgoing or charismatic. However, I do understand why these qualities would be included in the list.

Other items make perfect sense. In particular, the expert to be really does need to have the DESIRE to become an expert. If they don’t have that desire to share and be heard, then nobody will ever know about it. While many experts claim that they are blogging solely for their own personal reasons. Were that true, why not take it offline? If you’re making it public then at some level, even sub-consciously, you want it to be heard. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

One last rambling thought on the matter. There are so many people that I consider to be experts in my network. Some are experts at global collaborative projects, or experts at integrating mobile devices into the classroom, or experts at using Web 2.0 tools for classroom communication… Do their friends, families and colleagues have ANY idea that they are experts? Do they give them the recognition that they deserve? I know that among my friends and family, very few have any idea about my online activities, nor that I present in front of thousands of teachers every year.

Mark Twain once said that an expert is “an ordinary fellow from another town.” Is that really all it takes? Someone you don’t know saying something that feels right to you? Maybe it’s really as simple as that.

I’m very curious to know how you determine who qualifies as an expert. And is it really even all that important? Chime in and I will forever consider you to be an expert on the topic of ‘defining expertise’!