Last Days at Radford U!

“Early retirement” has a unique meaning for tenured professors – it means retiring at any point prior to death. This past spring I accepted an early retirement offer extended to all tenured Radford faculty sixty years of age or older.

My last day as Associate Professor of Marketing at Radford University is December 24, 2021. On Christmas Day I am officially a retiree. I had planned to be in my role another five years… but as we discuss in my innovation course, plans change.

Why the change of plans? We had a new wonderful grandchild three hours away in Tennessee; COVID made the three-hour trip more daunting and teaching less enjoyable; Radford offered an attractive early retirement plan.

The goodbyes are bittersweet.

I enjoyed my fifteen years at Radford. The close relationships with students and colleagues were special. I created two new courses – social media & content marketing, and service & product innovation – topics of interest to me that also seemed to engage students. I had multiple students write me a few years later saying that those courses had already benefitted their careers. I found the job highly rewarding.

Designing My Retirement

What am I going to do? I get that question a lot… I don’t know for sure! I have some writing I want to do; some conference papers I would like to submit; I have lost weight and have begun to exercise regularly; and am spending time with my son, daughter-in-law, grandson, and daughter. So it is off to a promising start…

I am also planning to launch a new blog by late January to help myself with the effort and hopefully engage others as well.

As long-term readers of my blogs and my Twitter and LinkedIn friends know, I created the Social Media Marketing course eleven years ago when it was a novel idea. I was, therefore, unable to use the traditional techniques to “innovate” a new course – copy someone else’s syllabus or use textbook outlines. As I related in blog posts and a pedagogy paper, my Twitter followers and blog readers stepped up and helped me create the course.

Can that success be replicated? I would love thoughts from my friends and readers on the retirement process, as well as planning and discovering the new role. How are you planning retirement – or what are you doing if retired? Please comment or contact me with your thoughts:

  • gmail – GarySchirr
  • twitter: @professorgary
  • (or comment here)
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From Blog to Book: Success!

I was thrilled when Success is my Major by Aisha Foy arrived in the mail on Saturday!

Aisha was a student in my social media & content marketing class at Radford 6 years ago, Spring 2015. She was an all-Big-South star on the women’s basketball team that qualified for the NIT tournament. Her blog for our “passion project” was on motivation and success – with some basketball included.

I was pleased that Aisha continued to contribute occasionally to the blog for a couple years after class. (I do check those links, alums…) I was even more pleased when I heard she had turned her passion project into a book…

From Blog to Book!

Aisha is now Director of Recruiting for women’s basketball at the University of Kentucky. Despite her demanding role, she decided it was time to turn her blog into a book.

In an early SMM class, we helped a local author market her book and make an Amazon bestseller list. This is the first book to come from a student’s passion project in the class. I hope there are more to come! Here is the link to the book on Amazon.

Best wishes Aisha!

Thanks Aisha, for the kind words for social media class and the “gray-haired professor who was excited about social media.”

This is the tenth year that I have been teaching social media and content marketing at Radford. I have been planning an upcoming “look back” at the crowdsourcing of the course and its subsequent evolution.

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The dark side of remote work – do they really need YOU?

Last week on this blog I posted a video of a panel discussion on remote working. As a part of the panel, I conducted a survey of attendees and LinkedIn followers that showed favorable experience with remote work during the pandemic.

Sixty-five percent of respondents to the survey felt that remote work’s advantages out-weighed the disadvantages for them personally; fifty-nine percent believed it was true for their organizations.

Arguments for in-person or hybrid work

Of course, the flip side of these statistics is that 35% and 41% of those surveyed felt that the advantages did not outweigh the advantages for themselves and the companies, respectively.

LinkedIn posted a discussion of The dark side of remote work. The issues raised in the LinkedIn discussion were very similar to issues raised in my survey by both supporters and opponents of remote working: communication and corporate culture suffer and management is more difficult. For that reason, many people brought up hybrid working – coming to the office two or three days a week.

Hybrid provides a reduction of commuting, which might still allow a company to recruit from a wider territory, while still maintaining contact with fellow employees.

When I realized the really dark side of remote work I saw that the remaining geographic limit in a hybrid work environment could be viewed as another advantage of that model.

The really DARK SIDE

Even though I used to teach a course in globalization and cross-cultural marketing, it was not until a conversation in my weekly zoom call with my friends Rich and Bob, that the true dark side from the remote worker’s point of view became clear to me. If my company is comfortable with my job being performed fully remotely, am I still the best person for it?

Is there perhaps someone more knowledgeable, willing to work longer hours, or cheaper in Austin, Salt Lake City, Belgrade, or Mumbai? Will remote work acquaint knowledge workers with the global competition experience?

Of course, the globalization of white-collar work has already been underway. The Internet has allowed companies to outsource IT, engineering, and other skilled work ever since the Internet and sharing tools made communication and collaboration possible across the oceans. Virtual companies already exist.

However, the pandemic has forced most organizations to try remote working and as indicated in my survey has shown positive results with “home office” staff. My son works for a fully virtual firm. They are setting up a consulting firm to help other firms work remotely, as they perceive an increased interest due to the pandemic.

Coronavirus has given remote work a broad jump-start, thereby likely accelerating the globalization of managerial and knowledge work.

How to respond to the globalization of knowledge?

One obvious strategy is to actively encourage the hybrid approach to remote work within your organization. As mentioned earlier, many workers and managers are more comfortable with at least some person-to-person communication. If employees are to come into the office two days a week they can be drawn from a larger radius, but probably not on the other coast or across the Pacific…

For those faced with increased competition from globalization, Thomas Friedman in The World is Flat, suggested that they make themselves “untouchable” by one of:

  1. Being the absolute best in the world at what they do,
  2. Mastering in-depth specialized (local?) knowledge,
  3. Be locally anchored, and/or
  4. Be adaptable and nimble to constantly stay ahead.

Friedman’s list seems challenging; I recommend an article written by my daughter for a leading social media marketing blog this week that includes updated tactics on how to save your job.

So…Are you worried that increased remote work will increase competition for managerial and knowledge jobs?


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A Panel on Remote Work

I was delighted to be a member of a live panel discussion (via Zoom) to discuss remote work in an event organized and hosted by the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center.

There was some optimism in the group that continued growth of remote work could be beneficial to the New River Valley, a bucolic setting with two universities – Tech and Radford, beautiful scenery, a low cost of living, and high quality of life.

Panel discussion of Remote Work


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Empathy during pandemic: Masking your feelings?

In my previous post, Online versus in-class instruction is not really our choice for Fall, I made the argument that the face-to-face regime for college classes derived from CDC guidelines is far from the traditional in-class instruction that we are used to providing.

The plan I christened as a “COVID-Blended-Distanced plan” forced an instructor into difficult multitasking, watching students in-person and online and enforced distancing rules. The already distracted instructor would then have to try to read the body language of students separated by distance rules, through plexiglass barriers and masks. I suggested that online instructors using tools such as Zoom might well create an experience more like traditional face-to-face college courses.

Masks change everything!

Communicating with Masks – Kiki Schirr

A new free mini-e-book from Martin Lindstrom, Buyology for a Coronavirus World, decries the loss of empathy resulting from wearing face masks. In Martin’s view masks eliminate empathy!

Even without the distractions of plexiglass barriers, video cameras, viewing other online students, and all the other facets of COVID-Blended-Distanced teaching, the simple wearing of masks cuts off vital communication and all empathy, leading to the conclusion that Zoom or its competitors will likely provide a more personal, more traditional classroom experience than masked instruction!

Not just Higher Education – Life and Marketing in the Masked World

Lindstrom is interested in the world beyond my classroom. He believes that worldwide empathy has been replaced by fear and face masks. And it is not a temporary effect, but an acceleration of a trend already underway.

Measured empathy among the young is down 50%. Lindstrom argues that this is a natural result of the constant use of electronic masks – smartphones and earbuds. In his view, face masks are accelerating a worldwide loss of empathy.

Read the ebook to gain his perspective on how the loss of empathy will affect our world and marketer’s efforts to reach their customers.

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Online instruction versus the Pandemic version face-to-face: a follow-up

At the urging of my daughter who has been active on Medium for some time, I posted my follow up to my previous post on that platform instead of here at WordPress.

Face to Face?

If you are interested in seeing the Medium article please go here!

(I plan to be back to my WordPress home for my next post..)

If run into a problem with the Medium paywall, try this link.

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Online versus in-class instruction is not really our choice for Fall

I am starting my fourteenth year as a professor at a residential university in a bucolic rural setting. I enjoy relatively small classes and the resulting opportunity to really get to know many of my students. Our discussions are more effective because we can see the non-verbal cues – expressions and body language of each other. I freely walk around the classroom, encouraging students to participate in the discussion and discouraging some from participating on Snapchat or Youtube.

I am strongly biased in favor of face-to-face classroom instruction. But I don’t believe that what is offered on campuses this fall is recognizable as face-to-face instruction.

Spring 2020 comparison of online and face-to-face

I teach social media marketing and product innovation, both of which are naturally hands-on, experiential courses. I have employed many of the techniques of the flipped classroom – including recorded lectures and tests and readings outside class – so my efforts to suddenly covert my courses online in the Spring due to the pandemic were likely less painful than many of my colleagues. In addition, my topics and project-focus probably transferred better than most.

Nevertheless, both my students and me preferred the in-class half of the semester to the online half. My students liked the fact that I employed Zoom to retain personal contact but agreed with the comments from a recent study from a professor at another university whose students decried:

  • The loss of structure,
  • Reduced peer-to-peer and student-instructor interaction, and
  • The loss of immediacy – having a question answered as it comes up.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a Facebook page for professors dealing with teaching during the pandemic. I have followed the reports of how different universities are planning to deal with Coronavirus in the Fall. Some universities are planning to be online in the Fall, some are still deciding, but it seems that most residential universities are planning to offer in-class instruction in the fall.

Most announced university plans seem to employ similar techniques to comply with CDC guidelines. As I read and study the proposals it is apparent that the choice for fall instruction is NOT traditional in-class versus online teaching.

COVID-Blended-Distanced “face-to-face” classes

Given adherence to the CDC guidelines for classroom instruction, a university in the Fall is choosing between online instruction and COVID-Blended-Distanced in-class instruction.  These classes will be significantly different from traditional in-class classes. (Virtual reality lab – CalTech)

From announcements and discussions in the Chronicle‘s Facebook page, COVID-Blended-Distanced classes share these features:

  • Classes with 40/50 or more students are online,
  • Relaxed attendance policy (don’t encourage anyone not feeling well to attend),
  • Accommodations for students with pre-existing conditions,
  • Serve students who don’t attend (simultaneous Zoom session or recording),
  • Meet in large rooms with 6-foot spacing between students,
  • Require students to wear masks, and
  • Professors stay behind a plexiglass shield.

I applaud the effort to protect students and faculty. But thinking about the environment under these conditions I believe that it will be fundamentally different from the traditional in-class experience. 

As a professor, I will no longer wander around the class as I will respect distancing, will want to avoid the need to wear a mask myself, and will often want to remain in webcam range for the remote participants in the class. Students will be more distant and separated. I will not be able to effectively read facial expressions through masks.

In addition, I will be distracted by the need to monitor the remote students on Zoom. The additional duties to enforce masks and distancing in class are also potential distractions.

Which is more personal?

I look forward to future pedagogical studies of COVID-Blended-Distanced classes versus online synchronous classes. I suspect that classes held via Zoom or its competitors may end up being more personal and encourage more interaction than in-person classes under the pandemic rules.

Being able to see each other’s faces on our screens and having fewer distractions should help communication, both peer-to-peer and student-instructor. We should have some evidence either way at the end of the semester.

I believe that most students and professors will continue to look forward to a return to traditional in-person instruction. But in the meantime…

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What are the lessons from your organization’s crash course in working remote?

Many of us – in business, government, education, and non-profit organizations – have gotten a crash course in working remotely the past few months. Remote work comes in a variety of styles:

  • Fully or mostly remote workers – “virtual company”
  • Mixed – some remote workers, some in the office. Whether remote may be determined by function or functions can be mixed.
  • Hybrid – workers come to the office 1-3 days a week or one or two weeks a month.

Since March I have worked in a virtual university, as all classes, recruitment efforts, and internal or external meetings have been online. Friends and relatives of mine have also experienced the mixed and hybrid version of remote work.

Despite well-publicized examples of firms that tried and backed away from remote work (e.g. Yahoo and IBM), we have all heard for years about the benefits of remote working for an organization:

  • Higher morale for some employees and an attraction for some candidates,
  • Drawing talent from a larger geographical area,
  • Reduced commutes giving employees time back and companies “green” credit, and
  • Savings on office space in high-rent cities.

In some cities, such as San Francisco, Seattle, NYC, Boston, Chicago, etc., the savings from reducing the usage of high rent commercial real estate and the escape from a crushing commute are apparent. In smaller, more affordable locales the cost and commute savings may not be as significant as the ability to draw talent from a larger geographical area.

From my own experience and other’s comments, it seems that many of us have learned:

  • More about the sharing tools: Slack, Teams, Zoom, Hangouts, Docs, etc.
  • The importance of a dedicated workspace at home,
  • That some employees enjoy and thrive doing remote work…but some not-so-much,
  • The difficulty of managing as usual, and, of course,
  • To put cool backgrounds in Zoom, Skype or Teams, so we look like we are at the beach.

Some personal takeaways from my sudden move online for teaching and graduate school recruiting:

  1. Humility. I think everyone finds it humbling to watch themselves lecture on video.
  2. Staying personal. My students said that they liked my class better than most after Spring Break. When I asked why, they stressed the week synchronous session with the class, and two scheduled some sessions, one individual and one small group.
  3. Variety. I learned to mix short recorded lectures, synchronous sessions, guest talks, and reading / discussion boards.
  4. Online does not save time – especially if you are trying to stay personal.
  5. High learning costs upfront. I pray they are one-time investments!
  6. Remote can be effective – if everyone is committed to making it work.

I am curious to hear from you about your crash course and what you learned from going remote in you organization and industry:

  • What were the “biggest pain points” from the experiment in remote for you personally and your organization?
  • What seems promising about remote work going forward in a “normal” world?
  • What are the deficiencies of the remote integration tools you used?
  • What is the perceived benefit for drawing from a larger area vs. easier job switching?

I would urge all of you to take a moment and fill out a short survey about your crash course in remote working!

The results will be used in a local panel discussion for entrepreneurs and will be summarized in an upcoming blog post. (The survey is estimated to take 4 minutes…)


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#HIP – Was it High Impact for you too?

“High impact practices” (“HIP”) is a buzz word in higher education. Such practices are alleged to produce motivated students and loyal alumni of the university. Activities that have a high impact on students include:

  • Varsity and intermural sports,
  • Studying and traveling abroad,
  • Research with a faculty member,
  • Internships,
  • Capstone courses.

As graduation day approaches on Saturday without the usual ceremony, I am thinking of the students I would like to be saying goodbyes to, especially the bloggers from my social media classes and a group of honors students, formerly known as the COBE Fellows that I escorted to Manhattan to visit businesses and see the sights of the big city when they were rising juniors.

I hope that both activities, blogging for a semester, and visiting the business capital of the world, were high-impact! I have been looking through a semester’s worth of blogs this week, but have also thought of that first Fellows group, most of whom are graduating from Radford on Saturday, COVID-style.

The NYC Adventure

Fellows in NYC

Two years ago the COBE Fellows visited an impressive group of financial, fashion, consulting companies and even a supranational organization. We stayed a few blocks from Times Square for a week with no problems (at least that the students let me know about.)

After a nightmare in planning and logistics for me, putting the trip together, two members of the group really stepped up and handled the logistics in NYC, allowing me and a guest chaperone, Teresa Dickens, from career services, to enjoy the trip and interact with our local hosts.

COBE Fellows were invited into a private briefing at the UN, treated to several meals by kind alumni, gained significant business insight, and had a fascinating trip.

Of course, the students went to see the bull of Wall Street…

Even the trip from Roanoke to Penn Station and back via Amtrak was memorable. Business, culture, fun, and fellowship was packed into 5 days.

Was it truly a high-impact experience?

Reflecting on the week, it clearly was a high-impact experience!

I hope it was for the students also…

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Five things to do in Quarantine

Can something good come out of a pandemic?

I have encouraged (some might say coerced) 51 students in my social media marketing class to become new bloggers. I will likely do a future post showing off some of the student blogs that cover topics from vintage vehicles to makeup, music sampling to customer knives, and self-help and fitness to desserts. Of course, the topic of the pandemic and social distancing has come up in multiple blogs.

One of the students posted a video blog post this week on “Things to do when bored in Quarantine.” Her amusing and uplifting video presented her five choices:

  1. Home workouts – everybody must get toned
  2. Get fresh air in walks
  3. Go for drives – just don’t get out
  4. Journal
  5. Find New Music

I thought that was a good list. As I thought about it I realized that I had an implicit list that I wanted to do with the time.

Recall the words of Rahm Emanuel: “…never let a serious crisis go to waste.” Maybe that shouldn’t only apply to political activism – maybe it applies to human growth as well!

My 5 New Things to Do in Quarantine

Notice that my list has some overlap with the list of my student:

  1. Get reacquainted with old friends and family. Make new friends.

I have a weekly Skype (we stopped using Zoom because of the privacy issues) video meeting with my friends, Rich and Bob, who I have known since my wife and I moved to Chicago in our early twenties. We had kept in touch irregularly but the weekly coffee meeting brings back the old times in Chicago!

I also take part in a twice-a-month video cocktail hour with the League of Interesting Gentlemen, a group of local men who now have some time on their hands! And I have started texting and Facetiming others more frequently.

2. Catch up on Reading

5 things to do

After dinner I stay off the computer. I am reading three books:

  • The Three Body Problem – Sci Fi
  • Owning Game-Changing Subcategories, by branding expert David Aakers, and
  • The Age of Influence by Neal Schaffer

3. Learn to play my harmonica

I am working through “Learn to play in 30 days.” No progress to report – I am having trouble with the train sound…

4. Daily fresh air walk with my wife. Forest bathing.

We live in a beautiful wooded area in the New River Valley. I believe that forest bathing is a real thing. It is good to have another activity with my spouse, even though we spend our days in our home. The hill is steep, but if we go a step or two further each day…

5. Freshen up research and new projects

I must admit no real progress here… But if you want my excuses, it has been time-consuming to switch to teaching online and it is the peak season for activities in my role as MBA director, as I market and review new Fall candidates. Hopefully, if you ask me I will have something to report here in a month.


According to some, the origin of the Rahm Emanuel quote was a quote from a doctor calling on patients to take advantage of an emergency to improve their lives. So:

Do you have your own “quarantine Five?”

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