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 He believes that worldwide empathy has been replaced by fear and face masks.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…)

Survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ProfessorGary 

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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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Zooming – A progress report on the move online!

So far so good!

The students seem to like having a weekly class session. (See left)

Group sessions with the instructor seem to actually go better online than they do in class. I think we can concentrate better without the distraction of the other groups nearby.

We have a student that signs in by phone, so we do not see his face. But connectivity seems good. (A couple colleagues have had to go to heroic methods to get class information to students, such as mailing flash drives.)

I don’t yet have any complaints from students about downloading the lecture videos.

An unexpected benefit: Two of my students have told me that they enjoy attending class in bed…

But the workload!

I was in a better position than most of my colleagues for the move online. I teach social media and content marketing, so:

  • the course is very hands-on with a semester-long individual project,
  • my students have experience with filming themselves and sharing,
  • I try to “flip” the classroom, so I already had online quizzes and some recorded video lectures, and
  • I have used Skype or Zoom for guest lectures for 12 years.

But to move all lecture material online is very time-consuming. Even with a wonderful tool like Premier Rush an instructor can waste two hours editing a 20-minute lecture on which she or he already spent a couple hours reducing from 50 to 20 minutes.

Planning online activities to take the place of class discussion and informal activities seems to take even more time. (Even with a once-a-week 50-minute Zoom session, the class becomes a “hybrid class” with a majority of the activities asynchronous.) And of course, the new activities need to be graded…

A big concern – the Zoom Platform

Our university, like most other schools, picked Zoom as the synchronous platform to use for our sudden move online. Zoom is cheap and even more important is really easy to use.

Unfortunately, Zoom seems to be really easy to hack as well, with more backdoors than a funhouse. Apparently, lecture-bombing has caught on with haters and pervs. If that weren’t bad enough, the privacy agreement that most of us OK-ed when we signed up for Zoom allowed them to observe anything on our computer and sell it to anyone who will pay for it (allegedly including Facebook and some Chinese organizations). Zoom says that their privacy policies have since been changed to be more standard.

A clear summary of the Zoom issues was posted on a leading marketing blog site yesterday and featured on the American Marketing Association Daily: Zoom, Gloom, and Doom.

So now – on top of everything else – I am taking some time to try to reacquaint myself with Skype and Google Hangouts… and learn MS Teams. None of them seem as easy for classroom activities.

Have some sympathy for the professors…



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Using your Social Media Community to innovate

Was Mark Schaefer’s wonderful SocialSlam really eight years ago?

I still use my talk about using your social media community to crowdsource innovation in my social media marketing class.


Posted in Blogging, Co-creation or User collaboration, effectuation, financial services, Higher Education, HigherEd, innovation, Innovation education, ServiceInnovation, Social Media, Social Media Marketing, social media marketing, Teaching SMM, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Higher Education and the pandemic: Zoom to the Rescue?

Will Zoom keep higher education running during the Covid-19 outbreak?

Zoom seems to be the answer from every university, as they announce a physical shutdown for the semester due to the coronavirus pandemic.

I understand why.

I am a big fan of the video conferencing and classroom solution called Zoom. For several years I have used it for remote guest speakers, to hold class when at a conference, and even to record short videos for class. As MBA Director at my university, I have promoted the use of Zoom to unite in-class and remote students in synchronous discussion sessions to engage both groups.

Zoom is easy to learn and use:

  • A prof with a Zoom app can send out links to students who don’t need any installs,
  • Recording functionality is built-in and can be set to be automatic
  • As shown below you can include PowerPoints and the instructor
  • During discussion you can show the instructor and multiple students
  • Groups can break out for semi-private discussions

When I first heard about the possibility of moving online my thought was: I will move my discussions to Zoom.

And then I realized that virtually all of my colleagues were thinking the same thing.

Two Concerns about the Zoom Solution

As a NYT article points out, live streams or taped videos online are not necessarily best practices for online education.

My first concern was that three 50-minute discussions/lectures or 150 minutes per week on Zoom were a lot. We limit the weekly synchronous time in our MBA courses to 85 minutes. I decided to take some of my class activities and lecturing offline and effectively convert to a hybrid course with 20-60 minutes of weekly Zoom discussion. First concern addressed!

My bigger concern is UX or should I say SX – the student experience. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, we have 20 million college students in the US. Universities are notorious for scheduling classes in a tight period of time, say 9-3 M-F. So assuming most professors choose to stream their discussions during their scheduled class time, it would be possible that during a time slot that is popular through all time zones, say 2 pm EDT on Wednesday, 10 million college students could be streaming.

Those of us in our mid-30s or older can probably remember when the Victoria’s Secret Fashion show “crashed the internet” when over 1.5 million people signed in for the streaming show at the same time. Certainly, in the past 20 years, Internet connectivity has improved dramatically. But bear in mind that the fashion show, like Netflix, was one-way streaming, the “angels” thankfully didn’t see or hear the viewers. It is an integral part of Zoom that everyone sees and hears everyone else; there is download- and upload-streaming for those potential 10 million college students.

And (as will be discussed in a future post) we also have a surge in remote workers who will be using bandwidth during those same hours. My son who has worked remotely full time for several years says that he has already noticed a downturn in connectivity, even though he has a premium business line and the college students haven’t kicked in yet.

The IT people I talked to about this issue said that any problem will likely be with the local Internet providers. Zoom is hosted by Amazon and should have the capacity; most colleges have upgraded their pipelines; but there is a risk of a poor experience from the local carriers offering retail service to our students. Students may not have purchased a quality connection; ISPs may not have planned for a surge.

What can we do?

One solution: A professor can consider offering courses asynchronously with exercises, readings, videos, and quizzes. Students can sign on when convenient and when the connections are better. This could be analogous to my undergraduate days when my now wife and I took punch cards to the computer center at 2 am so we didn’t have a wait. (No we didn’t ride a horse there!)

My plan:

  1. Offer the course in a hybrid manner with only 20-60 minutes of synchronous classwork and asynchronous content like the online quizzes, exercises, and videos.
  2. Monitor student experience – consider a shift to fully asynchronous if there are too many problems.

Let’s hope that our ISPs can deliver a good experience under this sudden demand, but we should be prepared in case they cannot.

Low bandwidth solutions should be considered. For example, a class discussion could be held as a Tweetchat on Twitter (simply converse by Tweets using a designated class #hashtag).

Again – I am a big fan of Zoom classes!

Resources and a Call to action!

My social media friend Matt Kushin has put together a nice summary of resources for instructors in his post, Teaching Online in the Age of COVID-19.

The Chronicle of Higher Education published and advice guide on How to be a better Online Teacher. They also sponsor a Facebook group. called “Higher ed and the coronavirus.”

Please share your favorite resources, concerns, and experiences – both during the planning and during the course offering.

I would love to hear from other professors and students dealing with the pandemic!




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Eat like Andy – epic or flop?

Thanks to Burger King, Andy Warhol got another 15 minutes of Fame!

Googletrend Andy

Google Trend for Andy Warhol

Continue reading

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