I always wanted to write a book. I just thought it would be a novel or a political essay, and not a how-to book on social media. But looking at this experience after having done it, I realize it was perfectly in line with who I am: a teacher. Sure, I could write a 200-page doctoral dissertation, conduct a major research study, defend it and present to others, but writing a book outside of the academic environment seemed like a whole other beast.
I teach Political Science and Education, not social media, in the higher education environment. So how did this happen?
Academia to Trade
Back in February of this year (2013), when many of my peers and colleagues were feeling tremendous anxiety over the state of higher education, I joined a membership group called ExclusiveEDU. It is run by Dr. Dani Babb, who is an authority in online education. I had read her book on online education, Make Money Teaching Online, and I joined her Yahoo group and her LinkedIn group. I rarely posted, but did read what others wrote.
The truth was, I was happily ensconced in my higher education institution, nearing the completing of my PhD, and anticipating a life of conducting research about refugee resettlement and educational policy. It’s an area of policy I am passionate about, as evidenced by my dissertation. But at that same time, there were cross cutting trends that were disrupting my happiness: federal legislation designed to upend the disreputable online colleges was taking its toll on the industry nationwide. As it turns out, schools across the board were afraid that the legislation would affect them. They pre-emptively started limiting enrollment, and many of my friends lost teaching positions. Full timers were not immune to the effect: at one point, my institution did an across-the-board 15% staff and faculty cut (of full timers only). PhDs were no more protected than those with masters degrees. It all came down to how well one was known, how well their worth was deemed critical to the institution, and the perceived value they brought to the table. Thank god I was left standing.
Moving Forward…but with Peers and Friends
But that scared me. The 2008 market crash had affected my husband’s real estate business. Housing values in my area of southwest Florida were cut in half. I did not want to be a victim to another crisis of circumstance. In February, I joined ExclusiveEDU. A membership group designed to help college faculty find online teaching and instructional design jobs, ExclusiveEDU was my protection. I felt that if I joined I could mitigate any potential loss of income by exploring possibilities at other institutions. I treated it as a sort of insurance against loss. Sort of like carrying your umbrella and then it doesn’t rain. Many of the other members of the group had already lost teaching positions or were looking for additional ones.
The group helped members find those jobs, providing members with leads, but more importantly it helped me start to think like an entrepreneur. Daily social media “challenges” got me out of my cave of privacy on the internet. I knew I was never going to be “found” (at least by those who I wanted to be found by), never going to be seen as an authority in my field, never going to be able to network effectively in the 21st century if I didn’t take the step into the social media whirlwind. I had a Facebook account, but rarely posted. I had opened a Google+ account, but had no idea how it worked or why I needed one. I knew how to *play* a YouTube video, but only my 12-year-old son knew how to upload them. Twitter seemed ridiculous. I was actually an early adopter of LinkedIn back in 2006, but only had about 15 or so connections. Scribd was a site that I had no idea existed, and I only heard of Slideshare at conferences. I had some work to do.
Connecting in Academia
By the summer, my profiles were established, I was connecting with colleagues, I was making new connections within the field of refugee education on LinkedIn – even being asked to develop a Political Science program for a refugee higher education online program run through a consortium of Jesuit schools, such as Regis, Georgetown, and others. In May, I taught my first class to Syrian refugees living in Jordan. I did this as a volunteer, too. I connected online with people I met at a conference for resettled refugees in the Tampa Bay area.
Being a Digital Nomad
In July, my husband and I traveled to France. I’ve written a bit about our journey here, and will write more eventually. Near the end of our trip, as we spent 3 days in beautiful Colmar on the German border, I received an email asking if I wanted to lead the social media challenges for the ExclusiveEDU group. I was surprised. Yes, I had built up my social media presence dramatically, but was I an authority? Then I remembered something my mom taught me: make “yes” your default position. If it’s legal and ethical, say yes. Become invaluable. You can learn the
rest. So I jumped into the fray. I started this new position from my laptop, in Paris, really living out the meaning of my blog about being a digital nomad.
The days morphed into weeks morphed into months of writing daily challenges for online professors looking to expand their reach, promote their expertise, network with experts in their field, run webinars using new technologies such as Google Hangouts on Air, and writing blogs. I coached one-on-one via instant message. I held my first webinar with the Colorado Chapter of the USDLA. I started making how-to videos for YouTube. Many of my peers started asking for help setting up their blogs, something I had learned just 6 months before. Experience, as it turned out, did not need to be years in the making.
Teaching…but in a different way
And what I discovered was that I loved what I was doing. I loved designing social media challenges. I loved figuring out creative ways to cross-promote content across different mediums. I loved creating websites for my peers to help them showcase their expertise as lawyers, historians, geologists, and accountants. I loved teaching teachers how to maximize their social media presence, not because social media was fun or easy, but because it was an effective tool.
One day, as I was instant messaging two of my group members on Facebook, I had this idea to combine all of the challenges into a book. Surely the challenges that my friends had found helpful in academia, others would find helpful in their careers and businesses. That’s the way my ideas occurred, too, while I was writing or talking about ideas. Action, as it turned out, begets action. I didn’t have to sit around and wonder what the plot lines were going to be for my debut novel, I had a book right under my nose.
I rewrote the book for a broader audience, I added a great deal of content to keep the information current, and I had it edited – twice – by my friend, peer, and fellow author, Leslie Bowman. Dani, Leslie and another author, Laura Hope-Gill, the poet laureate of the Blue Ridge Parkway for her book The Soul Tree, wrote “In Praise of” reviews for my front inside cover and for my editorial reviews page on Amazon, and I was off.
So, I hope you enjoy my debut book. No, it’s not a novel, but on the other hand it will teach you some things that could help your career or business endeavors. And the reviews have been positive, even from people I don’t know.
Pick it up today at Amazon, and tell your friends about it. It’s likely they will find something on it to benefit their goals and career plans, too.