Feb 14

Are you Building Your Child’s “Permanent Record”?

Tuned In Family Book CoverWhat follows is an excerpt from my new book: Tuned in Family: How to Cope, Communicate, and Connect in a Digital World.

 “According to a recent study, 78% of parents helped create their children’s Facebook pages, and 7.5 million users are under the age of 13. The way your kids use social today will shape their future. It’s time for everyone to get educated on how — and how not– to live online.” (Amy Jo Martin from FastCompany: http://www.fastcompany.com/3010034/the-truth-about-kids-and-social-media)

She goes on to stress that helping our children to navigate this online world is no different than teaching them how to ride a bike. It is important because, “…kids are building a personal brand from an early age.”

What does she mean by “personal brand”? Branding, as a practice in the marketing field is all about communicating to a group of people the attributes of a product or service. To create an image and connect emotions to a product so it is memorable, something that people will talk about, and buy. Think of your favorite brands and consider the emotions you connect to that brand. It could be a brand that was in your house growing up, one that, as a parent, you continue to use because it is not only a good product, but one that  evokes memories and pleasant emotions.

With the advent of digital communication technologies, most specifically tools that make it very easy to create content that is posted online, in a public forum, we can extend this product branding idea to people. Every time we create content about ourselves, we are building the framework for our personal brand and for what people will think about us.

But now we can see this online branding with our own children. Those teens who are athletically inclined and want to be noticed by college recruiters are building online portfolios of their skills in video and pictures so that they can be easily found when someone does an online search for them. We also see high school students who use pseudonyms so people, in theory, cannot find them in online searches.

And more and more it isn’t our children who are just building their personal brand. Families, parents, grandparents, and siblings are all building that brand for our children before they even have a say or any control. Pictures, videos, status updates, blogs chronicling a mother’s pregnancy, Instagram pictures of baby’s first anything, apps that help you build your children’s timeline – all of these tools have been created to help us share and remember the highlights of our children’s and families’ lives, but at the same time all of this content is being stored in some capacity and, if it is public, it can be part of online search results.  These tools are powerful; they create a digital footprint of who we are, what we like and what we don’t like. When we include our children, and sharing content about them, it is hard to think that what we share about them today on the internet, is becoming part of their “permanent record”. But it is doing exactly that.

Parenting is a big responsibility. Want to add an even bigger responsibility to it? Consider this: what you decide now about how you will share content about your child will follow them into adulthood  as it never has before. You are starting the digital footprint of their life.

Every tool you use to share content about them has the potential to make that content public, to link it to other data about your child, and to create paths to discovering more about you as a family for marketing purposes or security reasons. What does this mean for your family? It means becoming very aware of the implications for the content you share and how you choose to share it. Remember to always think of your content on a scale of private to public. This is why starting now to figure out what you will share and what you will not share is so important.

Tuned In Family Content Sharing

Thinking through a content filtering process will help you do just that.

  • What information will we not share online? This can be anything from phone numbers and addresses to specific types of content, such as pictures of your children, your home, or new purchases.

  • Who will you share what information with? For example, think about pictures of your children. You might be fine with sharing those pictures with your immediate family and close friends, but you might not want to share them with anyone else. You may even go so far as to segment your children’s pictures into those that you will share more publicly, such as little league pictures and event pictures, but milestones like losing the first tooth may be only for close friends.

  • Where will we share information? This is where your audit comes in. Using the example above, if you have a Facebook account and Flickr (a photo sharing site) and you write your own blog, each of these tools probably fall on your “private” to “public” spectrum. Facebook may be a space you share with your close friends and friends, your Flickr account may be private for just family, and your blog may be completely open online for anyone to read. A picture of your child in their team little league photo might be something you would post on Facebook (or share, because the little league team has already shared it), but the missing tooth might go on Flickr, and you never post pictures of your children on your blog.

Remember to think about your content in a new way. Before you post anything, pause and consider:

  • Type of content: Are you sharing a picture or a link to something?

  • Purpose: What is the purpose for sharing your content? Is it to celebrate something? Is it to stay connected to family and friends?

  • Audience: Who is your intended audience for your content? Is it your co-workers, the public or your family?

  • Permission: Do you have permission to post this content? Do you need someone’s permission? I’ll get more into the importance of this idea later in the book. Basically, it is always polite to ask first if you plan on posting content about someone other than yourself.

  • Level of privacy: How private should this content be? How public can it be?

  • How will you share this content: Is this better emailed to a select group of individuals? Use your technology audit to determine which social tool you use would be the best place to share this content.

  • To post or not to post: The final step is to decide if you should post the content online at all. All of the other steps lead to this point which is your final decision mark. Remember, once you post it…it’s out there.

If you follow these steps you will have a much better approach to posting any of your content in a way that acknowledges what it means to be building an online digital identity for yourself, your family, and your children.

Jan 14

Redefining the “Selfie”

The “Selfie”. We all know what it is.  It looks something like this:

Yep those are all me. From last March through this past December. That lovely lady in the first picture with me is my rescue greyhound, Fiona (aka Dave’s Party. You can watch her races over at Track Info and see why she now lives the luxurious life of an adopted greyhound) who we brought home in December.

Anyway, we are seeing more and more derisive comments about selfies. Even the urban dictionary definition is pretty snarky:

A picture taken of yourself that is planned to be uploaded to Facebook, Myspace or any other sort of social networking website. You can usually see the person’s arm holding out the camera in which case you can clearly tell that this person does not have any friends to take pictures of them so they resort to Myspace to find internet friends and post pictures of themselves, taken by themselves. A selfie is usually accompanied by a kissy face or the individual looking in a direction that is not towards the camera.

There’s even a charity activity going on right now that you can accuse someone of posting a selfie and they have to pay $1 — donated all to a good cause of course: http://selfiepolice.org/ .

The Oxford Dictionary even went so far as to give “Selfie” the esteemed title of “Word of the Year” for 2013. And let’s not forget all of the crazy commentary on this famous selfie:

So leave it to Dove to take this “Selfie” concept in a different direction. Rather than using it as a commentary on a “self absorbed” generation that doesn’t care about anything but image, they’ve called out the self-empowering opportunity that the selfie can provide. In an era of photoshopped imagery, when the so-called beauty or fashion or entertainment industry is telling us every day how we should look and should feel, Dove is saying, hey, let’s see what happens when we encourage young women and their mom’s to take selfie’s as a commentary on their own beauty.

This is part of their continuing branding strategy to be the beauty product solution for “real women”. What is great about what they are doing is they are creating videos that speak to women of all walks of life. Of all ages. It is a painful and sad truth that we all struggle with self-esteem issues.  The marketing team at Dove is capitalizing on that, and in the process creating an interesting dialogue with their #beautyis campaign.  Does it translate into sales for them?  Maybe, maybe not. But it does add another perspective to this idea that social media is just selfish and showing off.

Regardless of the blurred lines of Uniliver/Dove and the many ways in which we could dissect this campaign from an ethical perspecitve, the video and the message is very powerful indeed. I know it struck a chord with me.

Read more about the #beautyis campaign here: http://www.dove.us/Our-Mission/Real-Beauty/default.aspx

Jan 14

Goodbye PFinn, Welcome Pres. Laackman

The search for a college president is an interesting process. Last year when PFinn announced his retirement there was much surprise from the Champlain Community. An in-depth position description or “Champlain Presidential Search Prospectus was developed. Go ahead. Read it. It’s quite something isn’t it? Fast forward to today and we’ve been through a rigorous search process that saw four interesting and diverse individuals brought to campus at the end of December. While I haven’t been at Champlain as long as some of my colleagues I have lived through the transition from Pres. Perry to Pres. Finney.

As they say, “May you live in interesting times.”


The transition in leadership at a college is a very interesting process…even more so than the search! Being a college president is a high stakes game with expectations high, pressure to see changes and make a mark within the “first 100 days”, and grappling with a diverse population of employees and constituents.  A college president reports to the Board of Trustees and must answer to students, staff, and faculty. They must frame a direction, and move an institution along a path that will eventually (hopefully) continue the success of the institution while balancing the disparate points of view of faculty, staff, and students. They must manage a group of individuals who believe we should “stay the course” while others believe we should make “radical changes” while still others aren’t even sure what we should do in the face of increasing costs, higher competition, growing our national and international reputation, and grappling with external pressures to show ROI for everything we do. And don’t even get me started on how technology is changing how we deliver education! It’s quite a challenge overall!

With that in mind, I thought I would post two open letters to the outgoing and incoming leaders of Champlain College.

Dave Finney 2013Dear Dave (he’s been here long enough, we are on a first name basis):

Goodbye. It’s been quite a ride here at Champlain. From the moment you walked in you shook us up, challenged us to make big changes, and moved us toward a vision that, at times, seemed out of reach. And yet, here we are nine years later with a completely different curriculum, growing standing in national rankings, a more diverse student body and faculty, and a stronger emphasis on study abroad for our students. We have new buildings, and a campus that gets rave reviews. Sure we have our issues like any college does, and I certainly have not always agreed with your point of view, but as we all look back on the past nine years, I think we can all agree that Champlain is stronger today then when you walked in the door and took the helm.

Of all your work, I would like to publicly thank you for your passion that our students study abroad. You gave them passports. You moved us to have a Montreal and Dublin campus. You have opened up the world to our students and as a faculty advisor I can tell you that each student I have who has gone abroad comes back changed, more open, with a greater capacity for empathy and global thinking. While the buildings are nice, it is my opinion that this one thing is your lasting legacy. Every student who studied abroad during your tenure went there because you opened those doors and made it easier AND made it an expectation. And for this, you have my heartfelt thanks.

laakmanDear Mr. Laackman (I hope I can call you Don?):

Welcome to Champlain College. We are a cool bunch of people who, for all of our differences, have one thing in common: our passion for our students.  When I met you so briefly on your whirlwind interview back in December you seemed like a person who shared that passion. I hope that is true. I don’t know you yet, and you don’t really know us yet. Over the coming months you will be given opportunities to get to know us better. From my perspective as one professor who does not speak for anyone else but myself, I hope in the coming months and years you will:

  • Come visit my classroom. Yep. Just pop in. Grab a seat. Watch what I do. Pay attention to the students. Look around the room.  The more you know what happens in the classrooms at Champlain the faster you will get to know first hand what it is like to deliver the kind of education we deliver every day. 
  • Walk around. Get to know not just the buildings but the people in the buildings. Show your face so we all get to know you not as “The President” but hopefully as “Don”.
  • Practice the three Fs: Friendly, Fair, and Firm. I think any leader can get a lot accomplished if they are friendly to their employees and community, treat everyone with respect and fairness, but at the end of the day, they make the hard decisions and stand firm.
  • Put yourself out into the community. Vermont is a small town. It’s amazing how connected we all are to other people, and how easy it is to get to know others. Doors are opened on a handshake, and you never know who you’ll meet downtown on Church Street, or on a hike in the Northeast Kingdom, or in our many little shops throughout the state. Get out and about and use your faculty and staff colleagues to help make introductions.
  • Foster connections online. More and more University and College presidents are building their college’s brand by being active participants on tools like Facebook and Twitter. Need a good model? Check out President Santa Ono from the University of Cincinnati.  You can find him on Twitter at PrezOno and on Facebook as Santa Ono. Not sure how to get started? I know a person or two who can help.

I look forward to getting to know you better over the coming months and years, and look forward to having you sit in on my future classes. You have a standing invitation!  Best of luck in your coming days and welcome to Vermont!

Now, only time will tell. But as a very biased employee at Champlain College what I can tell everyone is that even in the midst of great change, we have always been a college that focuses on relevant, career-focused education. And I know for myself that will not change.

UPDATE: 3:30 1/10/14: Turns out our new Prez does have a bit of a social media footprint already! That’s what I get for not first doing a search. You can follow him on Twitter at @donlaackman and you can also read his blog at DonsDesk.wordpress.com.

Jul 13

Getting your head in the game: Why you should treat college like training camp

I read a great blog post the other day by Janell Hazelwood, a blogger and writer for herself and companies including the New York Times and BlackEnterprise.com. Entitled “Career Training Camp: Are you Prepared for your Next Season?” the post connects the training process of an NFL football player getting ready for the season, to the process each of us should go through as we come out of the summer and get ready to do our best work in our careers.

Janell Hazelwood

She created a list of her recommendations to include:

  • Scrimmages and training drills
  • Meetings with coaches and senior players
  • Evaluation of your peers
  • Elimination of weak links
  • Participation in enrichment

Go on over there and read it. I’ll wait.

As I read this post I found myself nodding my head in agreement, but also thinking about how well this advice translates to incoming and returning college students.

Anecdotally, in the 13 years I’ve been teaching, I’ve observed an interesting behavior of college students. It’s a pattern that continues and is becoming even more pronounced. Please remember that my area of expertise is Digital Marketing and while that includes some consumer behavior, I’m no anthropologist or sociologist. They probably have a much more academic and clear way to describe this process. But over the years I have taught all levels of students, been an advisor, and watched how young people change, mature, and grow as they experience their college years. So, begging forgiveness of my colleagues in those other disciplines, I’ll provide you with a glimpse of what I have observed:

  • First year:  Students go from the “deer in the headlights” or “lost puppy phase” of the first few weeks to that heady realization that they are on their own — many for the first time. I watch every year as many young people go from polite with an aura of scared, to a false sense of freedom, to forgetting completely why they are even here in the first place — to learn!  This first year is the make or break year for many students. Those who keep their eye on the ball and remember what the purpose of these four years are for, rally quickly and start getting involved in things and begin building for their future careers. Unfortunately, I see fewer and fewer students starting their college career this way. More often they are so busy having experiences outside of the classroom that interfere with their academics they fall further and further behind.
  • Second year: Where I teach many students get opportunities to begin their first internships in their field of study as soon as their sophomore year. If a student has been proactive in their first year, they will have made connections on campus with faculty, become part of a strong peer group, let go of those behaviors that are not helpful, and have taken advantage of every opportunity to learn about their chosen field both in and out of the classroom. This may mean they change their major, which at this stage is actually a very good thing, because they are even more clear about what they want and what they do not want. However, a student who is not on their “A” game,  might not have a second year at our college…or if they do, it will be unfocused. They may blame the faculty for their faults, or outside circumstances, and may be focussing far too much on the life experiences outside of the classroom. These are the students who don’t turn in work, who show up late to class, who don’t pay attention, and who disrespect their teachers and their peers. They shut themselves off from learning and in so doing fall even further behind.
  • Third year: As juniors, many of our students get ready to study abroad. Those “A” game students have already decided where they want to go, have references (almost too many to pick from) from an internship and faculty, are on top of the process and know exactly where they are going to go and why; which means their study abroad experience will be more than an “experience”. It will be transformative. It will change their life. Students who have not been as proactive, may find themselves scrambling to line everything up, or will be going abroad for all the wrong reasons — like one student I had who learned a great deal in Australia, but failed every single class he took, so he had to retake everything and ended up having to take an extra semester of classes to graduate. They go to “soak up the culture” if you will, and miss so many opportunities.
  • Fourth year: I call this the “Oh shit!” year. This is when every student I have, regardless of their preparation (or lack thereof) wakes up and sees that in just a short period of time they are done, and have to go out into the big bad world and make a living.  Universally I see students in crisis. They feel a great deal of pressure and are afraid that all their work has been for nothing. This “crisis mode” makes that last semester very difficult for faculty and students — in my case, I push them even harder to make sure they are ready and have the confidence to go out there, and they resist even harder….but an interesting things happens as their final year wraps up. Those who have really worked, and I mean worked hard, every semester, every year, suddenly find themselves on interviews and often getting jobs even before they graduate. Still others find that they have the skills, they graduate with confidence, and even if they go home for a short time as they decide what area of the country they want to live in, they go on interviews and they get jobs. Those who treated college like an extension of high school, or spent their time with their energies focused in other directions have a much more difficult time of it.

Which experience would you like to have? Parents, which experience would you like your child to have?


So I would ask that every student getting ready to go into college, or entering another year of college take the advice of @jphazelwood. Think of each and every semester as training camp for the next semester, always keeping your eye on the prize — a strong start to an amazing and rewarding career once you graduate college.  Every semester do each of these things:

  • Scrimmages and training drills: treat every class as a scrimmage and training drill. Engage in conversation, ask questions, do the reading, do your best work, take feedback in the spirit is intended — to help you improve and be at the top of your game.  Walk into every class with the attitude of “what am I going to learn today that will help me be successful?”
  • Meetings with coaches and senior players: Meet with your professors. Don’t wait for a bad grade, or to complain. Make your first meeting count. Go for advice, stop in to say “Hi!” Learn about them as people and you will find that some will become mentors, others will become friends. Remember, we know people. We help you get internships and jobs.  Meet students who are juniors and seniors. Get involved in clubs, organizations, the student government. Connect with those who are involved and you too, will become involved.
  • Evaluation of your peers: Pay attention to what your peers are doing. Assess their strengths — what are they doing right? Assess their weaknesses — what are they doing wrong?  They are your competition for internships, for scholarships, for awards. Keep it friendly, but stay aware that in business in all of it’s forms we must always understand our competition to benchmark ourselves and to see how we can be better. When you graduate, you will be competing for jobs.
  • Elimination of weak links: Are you in the right peer group? Do you have friends that are “dragging you down”? Are you in a major you dislike? Is your advisor not working for you either with their personality, or their advice? Continuously consider and evaluate weak links to assess how you will modify, change, or even eliminate that weak link. If it is a poor study habit, change it. If it is a peer group that isn’t on the same trajectory as you, slowly disengage in that group. Don’t be afraid to talk to professors about your changing interests and possibly even changing your major. Weed out what is not working and replace it with things that are.
  • Participation in enrichment: Seek out opportunities outside of class. Start a club, become part of a club, participate in community service, volunteer, audit other classes, do more than one internship, attend networking events off campus, in the business community where the college is located. Step up in your peer group. Become an orientation leader, or an admissions tour guide. Try to be a teacher’s assistant if they have them. What about a resident assistant in a dorm? Look for things that fulfill your interests, open your eyes to new possibilities and help you grow. Be a leader. Be a good follower. Make a difference.

As you do all of these things in college, which I see as the ultimate training camp for your career, you will ensure your long term success. Janell Hazelwood’s advice is spot on, for your career and for your preparation for your career, and worth paying attention to.  So treat your college experience like training camp. Follow your passions, network, try new things, all while keeping your eye on the prize — building experiences that will lead to graduation and the start of a successful career.


Thank you Janell for the inspiration for this post!

Jan 13

Six Things College Students Should Do Right Now to get Ready for Graph Search

On the 15th of January, Facebook announced Graph Search, an expansion of their search feature. Here’s a three minute intro from some of the folks at Facebook:


Pretty nifty eh?  Now Facebook is not just like a chair…it’s like Oprah or Bravo’s Millionaire Matchmaker. Don’t get my “chair” reference?  Take a minute to watch it.

Now that we have that out of the way, Graph Search has had a great deal of news coverage, at least when it was announced. However the average user may not even be aware that it’s slowly rolling out to people each day, and those people are conducting many different searches.  While Facebook has been clear that your privacy settings drive what people can find about you, it has been my experience that many people are not very thoughtful about their privacy settings, or they set them and then forget them, not realizing that as Facebook makes changes, that they should go back in and update them.

In the past it hasn’t really mattered as significantly as it is now going to matter because in the past I could search for people or organizations by name. Now I can search for “People who work at Champlain College” or “Students who go to Champlain College” and I can get a wonderful visual result of all of those people (my friends first and then others). In the view below I am able to see all the profile pictures in a grid format. I can also choose to see the results in list format.

Graph Search REsults

When I mouse over the individual’s picture I get even further information in a helpful pop up:

Facebook Graph Search Results

So you may be wondering what the big deal is.  Well there are two ways to look at this — and I look at it in both of these ways.

Way 1: HOLY CRAP THIS IS AMAZING! No. Really.  The ability to leverage the social graph of people to find places to eat, individuals with similar interests, pictures my friends or family took in different places at different times is super awesome! It’s like, “Hey Facebook…what took you so long!”.  The fact that it has taken this long to pull this together continues to surprise me.

Way 2: HOLY CRAP THIS IS TERRIFYING! Yes. Really.  If your privacy settings aren’t fully updated and you haven’t given careful consideration to the things you have “liked” and your interests, all sorts of craziness can ensue. Just check out some of these great searches that @tomscott has pulled together and posted on a special Tumblr page.

If I were a college student getting ready to apply for an internship or getting ready to graduate, I’d be a little nervous. What I’m finding is that I have students who feel very confident that they’ve locked down their profiles and so far the only person I haven’t been able to actually find on Facebook has been my colleague @jtrajewski who says he has a personal page, but all I can find is his official page. Of course, Jon is in Digital Forensics and those people are very, very careful about content they share with free social media sites…or with any website for that matter.  By the way, you should follow him. Go on. Go do it now. He’s super smart and knows all sorts of security things.

Anyway here are my tips for College Students (and others) who want to be prepared for the full roll out of Graph Search.

  • Only post what you are comfortable with ANYONE seeing. It’s not just about Grandma. It’s about an employer. It’s about law enforcement. It’s a spouse or a partner. Make sure you keep in mind that just because you share it with your friends doesn’t mean it couldn’t show up in search in some way. Remember, the only true privacy setting you have on Facebook is what you choose NOT to post.
  • Update your Privacy settings. Facebook recently made this “easier”. Just click on the little padlock to get some of the basics, or click on the gear and select Privacy Settings.  I’m fairly intentional about mine as I allow followers and I let people find me via my work phone and email as well as have search engines find me.  I do that because of the work I do. If I didn’t do this work, I’d change it. What follows are some screen shots that might help you to find and consider how you might want to address your global privacy settings.

privacy settings part 1


I’m also careful about my Timeline and Tagging.  I don’t let people post on my timeline, which frustrates them on my birthday, but other than that it’s not a big deal. They can still tag me in posts and comment on my posts so it all works out.  I review all posts that I’ve been tagged in before I allow them on my timeline as well. I use custom settings for “only me” for many things as well.

privacy settings part 2


Take a few minutes to review the help section on Facebook on Privacy with Graph Search: https://www.facebook.com/about/graphsearch/privacy

  • Clean up your photos. This is no easy task. Facebook is not making it easy to do a global switch on the visibility of your images. Remember that cover photos are always public.  Each photo has it’s own privacy settings. If you don’t want things to come up you need to delete them or change the privacy settings on EACH ONE. Conversely if you DO want them to come up, adding in tags and a strong description will help people find you/your photo.
  • Clean up your groups and apps. Super simple. From your news feed just click on “more” next to the groups section in the left navigation (it is hidden until you mouse over it). This will give you a list of all the groups you belong to and you can then easily remove yourself from the groups you do not want to be associated with. Do the same thing for any Apps you are running. To do the same things for pages, you’ll have to go through the Activity Log.


  • Monitor your Timeline: Look through your Timeline and hide things that you don’t want people to see.  Please remember that this does NOT prevent others from seeing them if your friends have tagged you in them or if they can be associated with your friends in some way.  It just hides them from your Timeline.
  • Monitor your Activity Log: Can’t remember what pages or posts you liked? Can’t remember what you commented on? Check out that Activity Log. Consider it the main dashboard for every action you’ve taken on Facebook. This is where you see all the content you have posted based on category, such as the friends you friended and all the songs you listened to (with Spotify or other apps).  Once you remove something from here it is essentially removed from the interface… I won’t say it’s actually removed because, well, it’s the internet and we all know that means there’s a cache of this somewhere on some server. To get to your Activity Log click on that little gear, then click on privacy and then under “who can see my stuff” click on “use activity log”.  You’ll probably find some interesting surprises.

activity log

There you have it. Six things to do to get your Facebook profile ready for Graph Search.  Naturally you should do this every few months or so, or whenever Facebook makes a change (whichever comes first). Or whenever you forget to log out of your account and when you get home your cat is hanging around looking really, really innocent.


Jan 13

A joyful re-entry isn’t that hard…really!

I’m stunned. Seriously. It seems like just a few hours ago that I left campus for my sabbatical, and here it is already the third week of classes in the Spring 2013 semester. I’ve been officially back to work now for three weeks. And I’m already sick, and have already had to miss one of my classes (thankfully, didn’t need to cancel it since my partner in crime, Professor Kelly Thomas was fit and healthy!).

sicklolcat Put me back into the petri dish that is a college campus at the beginning of the semester and no matter how much antioxidant foods, and antibacterial soaps I utilize, it is no match.  For those of you who teach, you know what I mean.  That third week pandemic that hits every semester. It’s shear luck to beat it.  Clearly my luck in this case did not hold.

You’d think I’d be upset about it.

But I’m not.


I’ve been away for months. I’ve had the summer and fall of a lifetime enjoying this amazing privilege called “sabbatical”. I’ve rested. I’ve relaxed. I’ve re-energized.  I’ve done amazing things, like level my blood elf, Lisaralisa, to an 88, overcome my fear of riding motorcycles, continue on a journey of health and wellness and I’ve slept… a lot. Oh, and I’ve been writing a book too! But something in all of that has been missing.  As wonderful as it has all been (and it’s been wonderful!), there was something that I have come to realize about my absence that has moved my re-entry from being onerous and difficult to a time of joy.

I’ll start by saying that it was clear to everyone, even myself, that I was burned out, exhausted and needed a break. Life as an administrator was very difficult and even my spring semester last year, when I no longer had the administrative responsibilities was still very difficult. I am the first to admit I was not a pleasant person to be around, and certainly not a good model for my students.  I even questioned if I should continue being a teacher. I’ve been doing this for thirteen years.  I didn’t feel I could reach the students any longer.  I walked into my sabbatical unsure, unclear, exhausted, and burned out.


Thanks to several former students (you know who you are), I pretty quickly came to realize that I love teaching and I love being in the classroom with students who are learning, growing, and teaching me new things every day.

This became even more clear to me as I walked back onto campus this January. My first day back, I started meeting with students. My first office hours were jammed packed. My classes have been fun, engaging, and super interesting. Quite joyful actually.After just a few short weeks into my sabbatical I was able to notice that the one thing I missed was the interaction I had with students.

It’s all about the students.

The reason why I became a professor in the first place was to teach. I felt that my background and interests would translate well into the classroom and that I could bring a lot to students. Over the years I’ve had good classes and bad classes. I’ve had great relationships with students and I’ve had very bad situations happen. It’s been an amazing ride and my sabbatical has provided me with a real gift.  A gift to come away, see things clearly, and remember why I decided to become a teacher in the first place.

My father was a teacher. I remember as a child watching him help high school students learn, and I remember him trying to teach me math (algebra was when we realized I make a really good writer). He was patient, kind, and met students where they were.  I’ve always respected his ability to calmly and thoughtfully reframe answers over and over helping his students make mental connections that allowed them to learn.  When I became a teacher I think he was proud of me.  We talked about it once recently while he was in the nursing home and he told me stories of his teaching and how he was able to connect with and reach his students in meaningful ways.  I talked about my work and I remember how engaged he got as I told him about issues with students. He would give me advice and we realized that we had some common ground, which is nice to remember.  My Dad passed away on Monday, December 3. This Thursday would have been his 77th birthday.  I think about this connection we shared as I walk into my classrooms now after sabbatical and after saying goodbye to this wonderful teacher and I am filled with gratitude.

And that, my friends, is why my re-entry is joyful.

Nov 12

Your Experiences + My Knowledge = Awesome Guidebooks

On the Internet no one knows you are a cat

Being a parent in the digital age is just as difficult as being a child growing up in the digital age.  It’s true. None of this communication technology comes with a manual really. Every day there’s a new tool, a new innovation, a new way to communicate and reach others. And somehow as parents, we are supposed to know how to guide our children through it…

Then of course there are those who believe because our children were born in the digital age they somehow have an internal “knowing”  that automagically allows them to fully understand all the communication technologies, know how to fix them, and how to use them accurately, so THEY should be showing their parents how to use them.


There are a host of guidebooks out there on how to keep your children safe from the “internet” and the “evils of Facebook”. There are experts who tell parents what to do, what rules to set, and how to be “age appropriate”. There is software that helps a parent monitor their children online, block content, and send text alerts.

And yet…

Mistakes are made every day. People get fired every day. Children post inappropriate content every day. Sexting, bullying, addiction, oh my….

With all the advice and guidebooks and warnings out there you’d think we would have adjusted by now. You’d think we would have this digital content thing all figured out.  That Emily Post would have written the book.  That the schools would have it all integrated into their curriculum.

Well it’s not happening.  Digital literacy, it turns out, is not easy to teach and certainly not easy to learn.

Why? Let’s see….

  1. No one can agree on the definition of “Digital Literacy”. Does it mean software literacy (like knowing how to use Excel)? Does it mean knowing how to program? Does it mean security and privacy? What about content creation? Or mobile? Is it about policies? Rules? Regulations? Is it all of these?  (here’s some interesting comparison resources: Microsoft, Wikipedia, National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the US Government.)
  2. It changes. EVERY DAY — seriously. New hardware, software, infrastructure, tools….every single day there is some new thing to learn, to try, to apply.  Who can keep up? Did you ever read about Moore’s Law? Yes, it’s about chips and yet every innovation in computing processing speed means our capacity for digital technologies and innovation increases. Check out this great article from CNET to get some tech perspective and increase YOUR digital literacy.
  3. We are all figuring it out as we go.  Some K-12 schools teach it, some don’t. Some colleges teach it, some don’t. Some people like to learn it…most don’t. Experts are narrowly focused in specific areas and when ever someone writes something about it, refer to item number 2 above.
  4. We are all busy making assumptions. How many of you have heard the term “digital native” and the idea that the “millennial” generation “get’s” technology which of course means that anyone born before 1983 doesn’t understand technology. Naturally because I was born in 1967 I clearly do not understand technology and thankfully made a child in 1996 who helps me navigate my every day life because she was born into all of this (just in case you missed it, that was sarcasm).  Take a minute to read this Population Reference Bureau report from 2009 to get a full sense of generations and the concept of “cohorts”. Once you look at it you will begin to understand why making assumptions about someone’s age and their technology use/comfort level is … well … to put it politely just stupid.  But, we do it all the time. Employers are hiring “young people” who can manage their communication technology because “they just get it” while I watch many of my students self select into majors where there isn’t “technology”. I myself wrote my dissertation topic back in 2007 about this very thing, and in the time that has passed, little has changed when it comes to people and their behavior around technology. Age does not determine anything about it. Period.

As you can see, it’s a complex challenge and there is no simple answer.  However, my goal is to respond to this challenge. With your help.

I’m writing two guidebooks.  One for parents and one for tweens/teens. Using my experiences and knowledge as a Mom and as a professor of digital marketing, coupled with a long history as a communication professional with degrees in communication, public relations, internet strategy management, and organizational behavior, I plan to write guidebooks that will get at the heart of these challenges. Avoiding tool-specific “how-to’s” and focusing more on ways in which to cope with specific situations, I hope to create useful guides that will help families and individuals become comfortable with navigating these ever-changing waters.

The key to all of this are the experiences of individuals just like you. Parents who are on the front lines every day. Young professionals who have survived high school and have successfully launched their professional lives whether that included college or not. Your experiences and advice will help make the vision of these guidebooks a reality.

Today I kick off two surveys:

  1. For young professionals 18 – 26 years old who don’t have children: What advice would you give to tweens/teens to manage their “digital life”? What would you say to parents? http://bit.ly/eybook201218-24
  2. For parents of children any ages: What are you and your child(ren)s experiences with digital communication tools, social networks, online games, mobile communication technologies? http://bit.ly/eybook2012parent

Please take a few minutes to fill out the appropriate survey. Share them with your friends.  Pass them around.  I’ll be collecting responses through December 2, 2012 and will be using them to add depth and context to the two guidebooks I’ve been working on during my sabbatical.

Starting next week I’ll begin blogging my book outlines, interesting facts, experiences and stories as I pull together the content to create the manuscripts.

The manuscripts will be turned over to Champlain College students in the Publishing in the 21st Century class in the spring semester for them to edit, publish, and market.  (I’ll be blogging about that process as well).

So will you join with me and help me write some guidebooks that provide context, advice, and support for families and individuals as we all work together to figure out how to successfully navigate our digital world?  I hope you will — I am very much looking forward to reading about your experiences!

Thank you.