When does Average Joe become Joe Expert?

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’!

By | 2008-06-13T13:47:35+00:00 June 13th, 2008|Musings|30 Comments

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  1. lihonda 6/13/2008 at Jun 13, 08 | 2:13 pm

    Without taking TOO much time to ponder the question, to me an expert is someone who can speak to a topic, make numerous references, analyze and synthesize on a topic and cause me to go “wow” to myself over and over. I know someone who thinks she’s an expert but she is just regurgitating what others are saying with absolutely no thoughts of her own.
    Is it really important to be an expert? I suppose it depends on what’s at stake. Do you need to learn something practical and usable? Then no. Do you want to know the theoretical value of it and how it fits into the great scheme of things? Do you want to scaffold onto your existing knowledge? Then perhaps yes. Which leads me to believe that there are probably different levels of expertise in any given field. Maybe specialties? Doctors are experts in the medical field but there are those that specialize in certain areas, and multiples therein when you talk about, say, the heart.
    Great question! And this is definitely not an “expert” answer.
    p.s. if the “expert” is no charismatic or outgoing it makes him/her hard to be heard.

    lihonda’s most recent blog post.. Wikispaces and VoiceThread

  2. Anne Mirtschin 6/13/2008 at Jun 13, 08 | 2:15 pm

    You have just taken me back 10 months, when I wondered what web2.0 was. A blog was commenced with no real purpose except for spasmodic journal entries. Gradually as I got involved in an education department project, I realised that there was a potential audience out there, comments were coming in and blog stats could be analysed.
    This was a real motivation factor and now conversations are maintained via blog commenting. However, all my staff at school know that I blog and this has now after 10 months of work, encouraged approximately 70% of our staff to commence blogs. All primary classes have class blogs and there is an air of great excitement in the school with staff and students alike sharing knowledge, collecting material and writing up posts.
    They too, are now getting those dots on the clustr maps and the cycle continues.

    Anne Mirtschin’s most recent blog post.. Photofriday

  3. Elona hartjes 6/13/2008 at Jun 13, 08 | 2:37 pm

    What qualities do I see an expert having? I’m not entirely sure except that an expert needs to be knowledgeable in his or her field. Maybe an expert is someone who knows more than me on a topic.

    Just an aside here, I’ve been edublogging for almost two years now, and I remember the time that it came all together for me. That was the moment I no longer felt like a digital immigrant to the blogosphere but a digital citizen of the blogosphere. And, as a good citizen I am now sponsoring new immigrants to the blogosphere.

    When did you feel like a digital citizen of the blogosphere?

  4. […] 13, 2008 · No Comments Steve Dembo has just written a post on “when does the average person become and expert?” I read this with great interest. When I started blogging, I really had no idea what I was […]

  5. jim 6/13/2008 at Jun 13, 08 | 5:00 pm

    Great article.

    Had to laugh when I read Mark Twain’s quote because of all the times I have sat during professional development days thinking I know as much about the topic as the guy speaking but he was from another district so he was the expert.

    I think the answer to your question for me is that to be an expert you really need to know what you are talking about, you have actually done what you are talking about, and I can take what you talked about today and use it in my classroom.


    jim’s most recent blog post.. Schools Out for Summer- finally

  6. EFL Geek 3.0 - ESL & EFL in Korea 6/13/2008 at Jun 13, 08 | 7:17 pm

    Average to Expert…

    Teach 42 has an interesting post about Average Joe morphing into Joe Expert. I found it to be interesting and makes me think about the people who I consider to be experts in their various fields. In my mind it comes down to having the courage to presen…

  7. Nadine N 6/13/2008 at Jun 13, 08 | 7:52 pm

    The characteristics of an expert that you list are really a list of leadership skills. As you pointed out, one could be knowledgeable without being a particularly good leader – one that others would be inclined to follow. An expert is one who seeks out opportunities to learn from others, who is open to new ideas, and is ambitious when it come to experiences – as you said, “have the desire to become an expert.”

    I sometimes get frustrated by the fact that in order to be viewed as an expert or a good presenter, one need to be a blogger. All the prominent “experts” have blogs. Is it possible to be a really effective as passing on one’s expertise without having a significant, well read, heavily followed blog?

    Great post – really got me thinking!

    Nadine N’s most recent blog post.. The Flip – Worth the Hassle

  8. Jenny Luca 6/13/2008 at Jun 13, 08 | 9:27 pm

    Love this post! I’ve been blogging for five months and can’t believe where it’s taking me. I think items 9 and 16 from the Wikipedia post are important if you’re going to move from the public face of your blog to the public audience of presenting to people. We need people who are outgoing and charismatic to ‘sell’ this message that this stuff is transformative for learning. If the presenters aren’t engaging the audience will tune out. I’d like to write a post about this post – and of course I’ll be linking to it!

    Jenny Luca.

    Jenny Luca’s most recent blog post.. School’s out Friday

  9. Steve 6/13/2008 at Jun 13, 08 | 9:45 pm

    @Nadine Interesting point! I actually look at it from the inverse perspective. I’m constantly surprised at how many expert voices I see at conferences that DON’T have a blog. I think those that do have a blog, just tend to speak ‘louder’ and make more frequent connections with people.

    @Jenny Look forward to hearing your spin on things!

    @Anne It’s pretty magical, isn’t it? And now you get the pleasure of watching your staff become experts themeselves. After all, I’d still say that the majority of teachers have less experience than them.

    @Elona Great question. I think it was NECC 2005 or so, when I first began meeting people who’s blogs I read regularly and conversely had people approaching me because they recognized me from my blog. Strange how my most prominent memory of myself as a digital citizen involves face to face interactions, not digital…

    @Jim LOL. I know that feeling so well! Especially when podcasting was the big new thing, I’d watch presentations and kept thinking, “I know more than this guy, why aren’t I in front of people?” However, this leads me back to point points 14-16 on that scale tho. The person doing the presenting was willing to put themselves out there and at the time I wasn’t. Whether you know more than the person in front of the room or not, if you don’t take a chance and put yourself out there, you can’t really be considered the expert.

  10. JackieB 6/14/2008 at Jun 14, 08 | 5:19 am

    Your post reminded me of the apprentice/master system. In the past one an apprentice studied under a master, learning by doing. Eventually, the apprentice would become a master and open his own shop – and teach a new apprentice.

    Perhaps one now moves from “Average Joe” to “Expert” when the “apprentices” start appearing?

    JackieB’s most recent blog post.. Review Stations

  11. jeffmason 6/14/2008 at Jun 14, 08 | 3:16 pm

    I was listening to Eric Schmidt speak this week and was reminded that Google was answering the question “how you determine who qualifies as an expert?’ for us, i.e knol project. While Google expects a knol to “be the first thing someone who searches for this topic for the first time will want to read”, I wonder how many people will make it the only thing they read. (Like our students who never venture past the first search page returned.)
    For grins and giggles, I would also like to know if Google used the Wikipedia article on ‘expert’ to determine who qualifies to write a knol.

    jeffmason’s most recent blog post.. Mars Phoenix Lander and Science Education Reform

  12. wmchamberlain 6/15/2008 at Jun 15, 08 | 9:28 am

    An expert is a person that already solved the problem you have now.

    wmchamberlain’s most recent blog post.. Having Fun in Summer School?!

  13. Steve Dembo 6/16/2008 at Jun 16, 08 | 7:32 am

    @Jeff LoL, interesting question. Great correlation. I never really think about seeking out experts when I do Google searches, but essentially that IS what I’m doing. Trying to find someone who is trustworthy and has an answer to my question.

    Steve Dembo’s most recent blog post.. Aaahhh, the joys of being a teacher

  14. What’s the point of Second Life? - Teach42 6/16/2008 at Jun 16, 08 | 7:55 am

    […] in your expert opinion, what is the point of using Second Life in education? Author: […]

  15. Karl Fisch 6/17/2008 at Jun 17, 08 | 5:35 pm

    Hmm, I thought people always went out in a blaze of glory . . .

    Yes, I think it’s very interesting how the concept of expert appears to be changing somewhat (well, at least for some folks). I now fairly regularly get asked to do speaking engagements – and it still surprises the heck out of me. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think I have something to add to the conversation, but I find it interesting that because of my blogging – and the Presentation That Shall Not Be Named – I’m apparently considered an “expert” – or at least someone worth listening to (and , even more amazingly, worth paying to come be listened to) – even though I don’t think I have the “qualifications” to be considered an expert (nor do I consider myself one).

    I’ve said yes to a few speaking engagements, but no to probably five for every one I’ve said yes to. I think what I have to talk about is very important, but most of the time I think I’m not a particularly good fit for the audience, or that due to the setup I wouldn’t get a chance to really accomplish anything of value. I often think that there are probably many folks in the audience that do know more than I do about the topic, but I guess I hope that perhaps I spur them to do a little bit more with what they do know and take action. In the end, I’m not sure if it matters that much if someone is an expert or not (at least in the areas we’re talking about), as long as they are able to further the conversation and make a difference for our students.

    Karl Fisch’s most recent blog post.. Birmingham, Michigan is Looking for a Forward Thinking Principal

  16. Steve Kinney 6/25/2008 at Jun 25, 08 | 7:19 am

    Originally, I was going to leave a long and possibly rambling response to your question. Instead, I’m going to try to answer it in one sentence:

    Average Joe becomes Joe Expert when you narrow the field of knowledge and niche down as much as possible.

    For example, Average Joe restaurant eater may become Joe Expert when you want to know about the best lunch special Indian food restaurant in Fort Greene, Brooklyn that is BYOB — then all of a sudden, Average Joe has become Joe Expert.

    Steve Kinney’s most recent blog post.. The argument for web applications

  17. […] been in my mind for awhile now. Another one to have a read of would be Steve Dembo’s post ‘When does average Joe become Joe expert?’ Both of these posts reflect on names in the blogosphere and our tendancy to listen to what they […]

  18. RWilliams 7/1/2008 at Jul 01, 08 | 6:46 am

    Thank you for such a good blog read this morning.

    I would like to ask one question though

    Why does the network, the voices of NECC, continually point to the same people as experts — such as CoolCatTeacher?

    Though I had seen the project, on a scale compared to many others, what she did was within a private school setting with herself controlling the variables of filters, admin decisions, and a small amount of involvement compared to many other projects I have seen. In no way have I seen this project to be duplicated in any other environment.

    Is it because of visibility and self-promotion that someone becomes and expert?

    Again, this was a good read, but please, start sharing new names of experts.

    Thank you.


    ps: I am at NECC. If I see you, I will introduce myself. First time, still absorbing it all.

  19. Jim 8/5/2008 at Aug 05, 08 | 8:48 pm

    EXPERT = Former Leak Under Pressure

  20. Sean Nash 2/16/2009 at Feb 16, 09 | 1:48 pm

    Love this post. It hit home today, considering I have been trolling the folks I know for days now asking for suggestions on folks to come consult with a very open-minded school district taking the time out to do things right for a change.

    I had a feeling that asking for suggestion on this post might draw fewer comments than normal. I mean, really… how many people who actually DO some consulting/speaking work are going to mention their name? I guess this says some good things about edtech “experts.”

    Still- I am wishing I wasn’t the only voice in my entire district who is “picking the expert.” Always feels better to make decisions as a group. No?


  21. Sean Nash 2/16/2009 at Feb 16, 09 | 1:52 pm

    Shoot- commentluv skipped me. Here is the post: http://nashworld.edublogs.org/2009/02/13/trolling-my-pln-for-edtech-vision/

    Anyone here feel like sharing/suggesting an “expert” or two for this mission?

  22. Lee Kolbert 5/17/2009 at May 17, 09 | 10:05 am

    You really struck a nerve here with me, Steve. I’ve been called an expert in some things, which, although flattering, makes me really uncomfortable. I definitely do not think of myself as an expert in anything (well, I do make a mean Mojito) but I’m pretty good at listening, observing and trying to help others meet their specific needs; no different than any good teacher.

    There’s no good way to respond when someone introduces or refers to you as an expert. If you don’t refute, does that mean you agree? If you do refute, are you confronting/embarrassing the person who said it, and do the people who are listening/participating with you suddenly lose confidence in you?

    I think people who hear you advocate for the same things and provide good examples of sustainable models see you as an expert, merely because you do it and they haven’t. There’s also the Oprah-Effect. Once another “recognizable expert” acknowledges you as “an expert” then the door is open. Of course, it’s up to you, at that point, to show it or blow it.

    I do not think being engaging qualifies you as being an expert (think geeky scientist); however I do think you need to be engaging to share your expertise effectively.

  23. Susan van Gelder 5/17/2009 at May 17, 09 | 10:21 am

    When I was in the classroom I had a Niels Bohr quote on the wall, “An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.” To me that sums it up – the willingness to make mistakes, to learn from them, to rethink and go on. And at some point in that adventure, you develop expertise that comes of practice. Thanks for sharing your expertise.

  24. Patti Duncan 5/17/2009 at May 17, 09 | 11:37 am

    Interesting blog post. I too have been in the position of being considered an “expert” when I felt less than qualified. When I think about it though… I think that we can all be considered “experts” in one way or another if we fit the following guidelines:
    1) Have more knowledge on the subject than those who are looking to you for help
    2) Be willing to share, unabashedly and without reservation what we know on the subject
    3) Be willing to refer the “knowledge seekers” to SOMEONE ELSE who might be better able to help them without fear of NOT being considered THE EXPERT on a topic
    4) Be willing to constantly search to know as much we can about the subject, even if that means changing our opinions on that subject if need be
    5) Make every effort possible to put into practice what we are sharing with others in the setting that it is meant to be practiced in. IF that is not possible, be willing to cite those who do and have succeeded in doing so….
    IMO… someone can be considered an expert in just about anything, if they fit these criteria. I also agree with someone who commented earlier that a great deal of “expert status” has to do with visability. There are TONS of experts who are operating on their local level within their own communities and have no desire to expand their sharing community. The fact that they have not “gone National” does not diminish their “expert” status as long as there are others who could benefit from their sharing..

    Patti Duncan´s most recent blog post.. 50 Ways to Use DE Streaming… and BEYOND!

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