22 06 2012

I said it back in 2008, and I will say it again today: social media can be used to win elections. President Obama’s staff masterminded the then-early use of social media to propel him to the White House, merrily tweeting away while opponent McCain was still trying to figure out email. More recently, the Troy MI Library was saved through the spectacularly effective use of social media to save itself. Here, watch the video:



What I find amazing is that, while the Tea Partiers framed the issue as one of taxation, the Library and its supporters used tweets, status updates, and videos along with old-fashioned yard signs, flyers and print ads to reframe a small tax increase as a book burning. And did it ever catch people’s attention.

Regardless of your political affiliations (or aspirations), it is very clear that the Tea Party sees the world primarily through the lens of taxation. Thus, they will seek to frame nearly every issue as just that. It is a strategy that speaks to the pocketbooks of most Americans. But, as opponents in Troy found out, it is a strategy that is easily flipped on its side by tactical reframing.

A book burning speaks to us on an emotional and intellectual level, which is precisely what the Library group desperately wanted and needed to do. While the notion of the book burning in this case was a subterfuge, in the arena of public attention, their megaphone was louder.

Better yet, their use of social media allowed the Library supporters to spread their message more virally than just public protests and posters. In so going, they completely “changed the conversation from taxes, taxes, taxes to library, library, library.”

The city library is a symbol of education, as well as the community’s commitment to supporting it. When supporters changed the conversation, they implicitly made the Tea Partiers look like they were anti-education and anti-knowledge. That’s a hard image to overcome, no matter how much the tax increase might be.

And it is not a whole lot different from how the Obama camp made McCain look four years ago: uncool, old and chained to an analog past. Furthermore, both the Library campaign and Obama’s campaign managed to get the least likely voters out to the polling place: the tax supporters in the case of the former, and young adults in the latter.

Most importantly, though, is that both instances show the power of social media. While the playing field may be a little more even this time around in the Presidential election, there are still opportunities to seize the microphone. As for the residents of Troy, I am glad that someone did. While libraries are necessarily in a state of transition now as the public and books all go digital, they are still the storehouse of all things knowledge. The thought of shutting one down just burns me up.

Dr “Binding Decision” Gerlich

Text Book Case

20 02 2012

Text books are the bane of every student’s existence. From the 1st grade on through college and grad school, we have to lug these heavy tomes around in backpacks and briefcases (for the nerds), no doubt doing harm to our posture and spinal health. And in spite of the author’s and publisher’s best intentions, these books are always far out of date long before they ever reach our hands.

Which goes a long way toward explaining why I have not used standard text books in years. Why turn the class into a history lesson when things are happening right outside the window?

These books costs lots of money, as every college student will attest. But grammar and high schools follow a different model, with books being issued to students at the expense of the school district. Unlike college Texts (which tend to be revised every 2-3 years), lower-level books often have a shelf life much longer (like 5 years). Still, the amortized expense of these volumes is no small burden for the taxpayers. So that’s why everyone was gaga over Apple’s announcement earlier this year about iPad text books. These texts would eliminate the need to wear heavy backpacks; instead, a single solitary iPad could contain everything the student needs.

Which is why everyone was gaga recently when Apple announced text books for iPad. Unfortunately, we nice as the idea sounds, it is likely still an unfeasible solution for nearly everyone involved.

How’s that again, Mr. Technology Maven?

Simple. First of all, these things cost money. Lots of money. Starting at $500 a pop, it’s going to take a hefty tax increase and/or corporate sponsorship to give every student an iPad. Follow this up with the seemingly small price of $15 per text having to be renewed each year, and suddenly the book itself, over 5 years, costs the school $75.

Never mind all that previously mentioned hardware. If you think your current iPad is going to last 5 years, think again. Especially when you consider that kids will be using these things.

“The dog ate my iPad.” “Sorry, I dropped it in a puddle.” “My sister deleted all my texts.”


The fact is, there is a hefty price to pay for this digital convenience, and until iPads (or other tablets) are ubiquitous, this idea simply will not fly. It will ultimately take everyone owning his or her own tablet device (good luck with that), and the schools being willing to consider a digital trade-off as being a fair dollar-for-dollar exchange.

Which is another way of saying that an iPad in every backpack is likely still a long way off. Especially for those unable to purchase their own as well as those in cash-strapped school districts.

At the college level, there is a better chance of it taking wings, particularly if there is a transitional period in which students have a choice. Still, going digital is not without its problems. College students love to sell their books back to the university, but this won’t happen with ebooks. There will be the sunk costs of both the tablet and the book.

While I am all in favor of Apple’s bold initiative, I regret to say that we have a long way to go before this becomes reality. Until then, though, I will continue to make all of my materials available electronically…for free…and let my students figure out how and by which device they wish to access them.

You’re welcome.

Dr “By The Book” Gerlich

Off Ramp

7 12 2011

There are few things more exciting than a road trip. Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel took a season-long road trip from New York to Los Angeles in I Love Lucy. Ted and Marshall recounted a crazy trip to Chicago in “Duel Citizenship” on How I Met Your Mother. Chevy Chase took us on four Vacation installments, the first of which was an amazing journey to Wally World (“Sorry folks! We’re closed!”).And Steve Martin and John Candy wound up being reluctant road trippers on Planes, Trains & Automobiles.

While we Americans love to lay claim to the road trip as our distinct cultural experience, I think more importantly it speaks to our inner nomad. Adventure. Wanderlust. Saying the hell with it all and just getting away.

And while most of us wish these road trips would never end (possible exceptions being Martin and Candy), the sad reality is that they must come to a close.

Like this one.

We started this great learning adventure on the 29th of August. Ninety-seven blogs later (no kidding), we have come to the end of our tour of duty together. But while the journey may be over as far as you and I are concerned, it does not mean that the wheels have fallen off our vehicles. We’ll just be traveling separately. Learning goes on.

And so does change. It is a reality that anything not changing is in fact dying. People. Businesses. Ideologies. Governments. Even (perish the thought) religions. (I’ll let you battle that one on your own.)

Which is why I wrap this course under the cloak of Change. Yes, I know I am anthropomorphizing something that for many is a hard pill to swallow. But Change is a friend who transcends time and space; she is a stumbling block to the stubborn, but a warm welcome to those of open mind and resilience. Deny her, and she will beat you with a vengeance. Embrace her, and she will love you for eternity.

Even in our short 14 weeks together, much has changed. Facebook is in the process of unleashing its new Timeline feature. A flock of new products have been introduced (something on the order of 4000). Republican presidential candidates have come and gone, smoking or not. It’s just not the same place we inhabited at the end of summer’s intense heat.

I am not sure my students realize this, but I am the lucky one in all of this. It is neither burden nor chore for me to write daily for you. Why? Because I get to read your replies. I am not looking for affirmation or agreement. No, many of you have boldly stood up to me and disagreed. For those who seized the moment and fearlessly challenged me, I am grateful. For those who restrained themselves, I can only say I wish you had cut loose. It’s OK.

And for all of the comments you posted this semester, I have but two words: Thank you. You made my semester.

OK, six words.

One of the things I like doing with my kids is something that most 52-year-old men would never be caught dead trying: jumping on the trampoline. I am sure I am quite the sight. I know I am, because the kids are laughing hysterically. As much as I try to stay in good shape, I am just not as limber as a 10-year-old. Or coordinated.

Rob Bell wrote of his own father-sons jumping experiences in Velvet Elvis, “It is on this trampoline that God has started to make more sense to me.” I’d like to extend the analogy by saying that it is on our trampoline that life makes more sense to me.

It is a concert of ups. Downs. You. Me. Together. Apart. Reaching. Falling. But all the time fluid.

Sometimes we land perfectly. Sometimes we hit with a thud. And sometimes, when everything goes just right, one of us winds up launching about 15 feet in the air.

Change is a lot like the trampoline. It’s about being willing to cut loose. Have fun. Take chances. Embrace the moment. The alternative is to sit on the deck and just watch.

And now as we bring this road trip to a close, may you see the world through a different lens than when we started. May you fill your tank often, focus on the road ahead, and keep your safety belts fastened, for the future is a crazy uncharted place to navigate. And may you be willing to hop on the trampoline and laugh, scream and holler like a kid. Cut loose. Everybody. Because life is pretty boring sitting on the deck.

Dr “Go Ahead And Jump” Gerlich

In And Out Of Control

6 12 2011

Every time I teach my MBA Marketing Seminar course, I have students take a short survey I call the Survey of Personal Perceptions. The title is mine…I made it up to disguise the intent and source. But that does not diminish its value.

Actually students completed the time-honored Locus of Control instrument developed by Julian Rotter (1966). And lest anyone be concerned about my violating an IRB protocols, let me explain that I do not use the LoC fur research purposes, nor do I ever look at anyone’s score. It is strictly for the benefit of students to find out a little more about themselves.

And for anyone wanting to see what Rotter’s original 29-item scale looks like, click here (there are 6 “dummy” items in the original that are not scored). The LoC produces a score between 0 and 23, a continuum ranging from high internal locus of control (0) to high external locus of control (23). There are no “correct” answers, only indicators of what you perceive to be true. alternate version of the scale (with 180-degree opposite scoring) is available here, along with excellent interpretations of results.

Basically, Rotter said that at the personal level, we vary in our perception of how much control we have over the events that shape our lives. A high internal LoC knows with absolute certainty that s/he makes his/her own luck, and is fully responsible for all consequences. A high external LoC, on the other hand, believes that much (if not all) of what happens is beyond their control, and either the result of luck or other people controlling him/her. (Click here for an excellent discourse on interpreting the LoC score.)

Absolute 0s and 23s are not common (although I confess to scoring a 0). What I have noticed through the years is that in the field of Business, most students score between 0 and 8. Scores above 12 are very rare. Maybe this says something about the nature of students who select a Business degree. I tend to agree. It takes decisive people to run businesses (as owners or employees).

Many semesters ago, I actually did use the LoC in research, and compared students in campus vs. online courses. I found that online students tended to have lower LoC scores. This is a very desirable, and probably necessary, trait for online learners, simply because the format requires students to stay extremely focused and be self-starters.

Basically, if your score leans toward internal LoC, you are in varying degrees of control of your destiny. If your score leans toward external LoC, you are other-controlled. Those on the extremes (he says as he looks in the mirror) need to be cognizant that there can be frustrations along the way. For example, a “perfect” internal LoC must be aware that s/he cannot be a control freak and expect to keep friends. Furthermore, s/he must acknowledge that, no matter how hard they (I) try to control their (my) destiny, there is always going to be some manner of luck involved. The bumper sticker philosophy is indeed correct. Shit happens. As for me, I have learned to accept those realities, and live my life merrily controlling me and hopefully no one else. Just don’t try to control me!

I would love to use the LoC instrument on a lot of different citizen groups. I suspect that some extremely conservative religious followers (regardless of the faith) tend toward external LoC. I would also not be surprised to find a lot of externals among the most strident OWS protesters (that whole 1% argument speaks volumes to me). I also suspect that LoC scores are lower overall today than they were a few generations ago.

As for how LoC might manifest itself in our buying ways, I also suspect that high internals are more cautious and decisive in their purchases, looking before they leap (especially with regard to credit). And even if they do “live dangerously,” they do so knowing there may be consequences…and they alone are responsible for their actions.

As my students review their scores from the beginning of the semester, I hope that they do realize there is no judgment being passed, and, as I said above, there are no “right” or “wrong” answers. There are only your answers. Figure out who you are, and what it means. And then try to live happily with that knowledge.

Dr “0 to 23” Gerlich

For Better Or Worse

4 12 2011

My life took a fateful turn in Spring 1974 when, in my high school freshman Honors Math course, we were introduced to computers. These were not like any computers we use today, of course. And, truth be known, we never actually saw the computer on which we worked.

Yes, I used the singular. It was a mainframe located at the Illinois Institute of Technology in downtown Chicago. We were connected via a very clunky cradle telephone modem. And we had to take turns using our one TTY machine, a beast of a contraption that basically was a massive keyboard with a punched paper ribbon output as “memory.” We spoke in Fortran IV, and stored all of our programs on those pale yellow rolls of paper. Perish the thought we might actually lose it. Or the dog eat our homework.

Things did get better after that, of course, and today we are so connected that the world hardly even resembles what I knew 37 years ago. Despite how crude this all sounds today, though, my peers and I were on the bleeding edge of technology. And it whetted my appetite for more. Much more. It helped shape who I am today. Gadget guru. Purveyor of all things cool. OK, sucker for all things geeky and expensive.

It is fun to look over my shoulder to see just how far I (and we) have come. Heck, we had just gotten a color TV about that time. We were rockin’. It’s also reassuring to read that most people think that technology has made our lives better.

Although I will admit to many instances of serious questioning. Soul searching. Cursing.

Ever since I started teaching online in 1997, people have asked me what I think about it. My standard response: “The good news is that I get to take it with me. The bad news is that I get to take it with me.”

Fast forward to 2011 and suddenly the majority of us are on 24/7 call, seldom more than a text or Facebook Message away. And when we aren’t, people start to get worried. I should know. People have become so accustomed to my being wired (in a wireless kind of way, of course), that anything other is cause for alarm. Just the other day my colleague tried to reach me for over an hour. I had silenced my phone and had not turned it back on. Worse yet, I did not have the phone in my pocket. It was not against my body, meaning I was, for all intents and purposes, off the grid. Completely. “Dude. You went cell phone MIA. Everything OK?”

I took this as a sincere act of friendship. In a 21C kind of way, of course. (Thank you for caring, my friend.)

Still, I do indeed wonder about all this technology. In many regards, it has made our lives much better. It has changed our homes, our workspace, everything we do. Today, tablets like the iPad are allowing us to put computers in places we never could have put a PC. Like on the fridge or hanging beneath the kitchen cabinet.

While we have not yet reached the point of the paperless office (some studies show us actually using more paper than before, thanks to the ubiquity of printers), none can argue that the way we do our jobs today is light years removed from a couple of generations ago. Yeah, in just a few decades. And the improvements I have seen during my professional career (23 years), is nothing short of amazing. What was once the forefront of computing power is now just a box of stone tools beside today’s workhorses.

Interestingly, though, while we say it has improved our lives, we’re not necessarily always happy about it all. One of the funniest skits on this paradox was performed by comedian Louis CK. Maybe all the advancements have made us techno-entitlement freaks. I know I am guilty. I curse my iPhone’s autocorrect for typographical blunders that would never have occurred back in the day of F2F communications. If I slip off the 3G grid into Edge, I become impatient when my Facebook posts hang and emails take forever to send (from my handy wireless computer phone, remember). And don’t get me started when there’s a little snow on my satellite dish and I have to venture out in the middle of a snowstorm with a long-handled broom. So I can receive television signals from space.

Yeah, maybe I shouldn’t complain. After all, it’s the weekend. I am taking advantage of every guy’s prerogative to spend a couple of days in low self-monitoring mode (read: I have not shaved since Friday morning). I’m working at home using Clear Wimax, listening to the Cowboys game from across the room via satellite TV, sending text messages, and downloading a book to my iPad.

Sure beats 1974. “Cradle modem? Are you freaking crazy? How did you guys live?” At least I’ll have stories for the grandkids.

Dr “Better? You Bet” Gerlich

For Better Or Better Yet

23 11 2011

It’s been in the news. We hear about it all too often. Children are bullied for being different. And sometimes that bullying leads to suicide.

It was in response to bullying and resulting suicides that prompted Dan Savage and his partner to start the It Gets Better Project in September 2010. Specifically, Savage wanted to tell bullied and otherwise tormented LGBTQ youth that things really do get better. Do not give up. Do not hurt yourself.

In the words of the website, The It Gets Better Project was created to show young LGBT people the levels of happiness, potential, and positivity their lives will reach – if they can just get through their teen years. The It Gets Better Project wants to remind teenagers in the LGBT community that they are not alone — and it WILL get better.

But what started as just a small grassroots effort to encourage adults to shoot short videos offering their own messages of hope has turned into one of the most effective viral campaigns ever unwittingly launched. Tod ate, over 22,000 videos have been recorded and posted online, by straights and LGBTQ community members, celebrities and the person next door.

And it is an area in which my colleague and I wanted to study.

A couple of days ago at the National Communication Association conference in New Orleans we presented the first research paper from our exploratory study. In this study we examined the attitudes of WT students toward gays and lesbians, their perceptions of bullying on campus, and their interest in seeing a campus-specific video posted embracing this message. Students also watched an IGB video produced for a major state university outside of this region.

The findings were interesting, to say the very least. Given that we live in the buckle of the Bible belt, we expected a decided slant toward the right side of the spectrum. We were pleasantly surprised in many regards.

Our sample was small by design (it was exploratory, remember), with a total of 175 usable responses. The first task in this paper-and-pencil classroom survey was to complete Herek’s 20-item ATLG Scale (Attitudes Toward Lesbians and Gay men). The ATLG is comprised of two 10-item subscales, one about lesbians, the other about gay men. We found that overall scores on the ATLG were more open-minded and favorable than a statistical middle ground (we expected the opposite).

But we also found that WT is little different from the rest of the nation in that gay men are held in lower regard than are lesbians. We also found that males in general had harsher views toward gay men and lesbians than did women. This, too, is consistent with the rest of the nation. What was troubling was that 48% of respondents scored on the other side of that midpoint, demonstrating a fairly high degree of bias exists on campus. That the scores of this group of nearly one-half the sample were more than offset by the other 52% suggests that ours is a bifurcated campus, with a slight and encouraging tendency toward no bias.

We also discovered that the campus is fairly receptive to the idea of launching our own IGB Project video campaign and has fairly low perceptions of bullying on campus, but that there were significant differences based one whether respondents were LGBTQ themselves, knew someone who is, or were friends with someone who is. In other words, exposure is critical to open-mindedness toward this proposition.

Finally, we collected several measures of religious intensity, such as belief in a supreme being, frequency of prayer, frequency of reading scripture, frequency of attending religious services, and self-identified level of spirituality. It was at this point we noticed very confusing results. People who identified as not being very spiritual as well as not praying very often, were significantly more in favor of a WT IGB campaign. But there were no differences based on frequency of reading scripture, frequency of attending religious services, or belief in a supreme being.

Religious intensity, thus, is not a very strong correlate of views on bullying and a localized campaign.

We still have many questions that need to be answered. Why is the perception of bullying rather low here? Is it because bullying really is low, or is it because it is just not that visible? Or is our campus more accepting of the LGBTQ community than we expected?

Our results show some promise for a campaign of this nature at WT. We are anxious to broaden the scope of our research, at WT, into the broader community, and nationally. That 22,000 videos would be posted in 14 months shows that the digital grapevine has done its job, and millions more youth have been exposed to a message of hope.

It really does get better.

Dr “Spread The Word” Gerlich

Where Am I Thinking?

3 11 2011

The WTAMU campus has been abuzz this fall with our Common Reader selection, Where Am I Wearing, by Kelsey Timmerman. Kelsey visited campus in September, and my colleagues and I had a chance to spend an entire day with him as he presented to local high school classes, and generally just hung out with us as we drove him around Amarillo.

In conjunction with the book, my colleagues and I used this as a research moment. We crafted a lengthy paper survey that was administered in the Elementary Group Dynamics course that nearly all incoming freshmen take. We printed and distributed 1180 surveys, of which 939 were completed and returned to us for tabulation.

Survey questions included typical demographic items, questions pertaining to student views on sweatshop product and labor, whether students desire to purchased, or have already purchased, a product labeled as being “Fair Trade,” and the oft-cited 17-item CETSCALE (Consumer Ethnocentrism Scale) developed by Shimp and Sharma (1987). Because a paper survey was utilized (in order to be deployed in a classroom setting), it took several weeks for data to be entered, and then analyzed. We have now written the first of several papers on our findings, with a journal submission imminent.

And to put it rather simply, boy, were the findings interesting!

Our first paper focused nearly exclusively on student responses to the CETSCALE. The CETSCALE measures a person’s tendency to favor domestic-made products over those that are imported. Dozens of studies have deployed the CETSCALE across numerous demographic groups and settings in the US, as well as in many countries. The scale has an extremely high validity coefficient, and is the gold standard in measuring this cultural artifact.

One of our contributions to the literature is that we applied the CETSCALE to a rather narrowly focused demographic: students of the same academic level, roughly the same age and primarily from the same region. While this also limits generalizability across broader populations, it did gave us the opportunity to test the scale in a very controlled environment.

Next on tap was some data manipulation and smoothing. We created a new variable that added the scores of student CETSCALEs. Since there were 17 items scored on a 1-7 scale, this meant the new summated variable could range from 17 to 119.

We studied the literature extensively and developed seven testable hypotheses. Without going into the mechanics of it all, we found that, among our incoming freshman class, the “typical” consumer ethnocentric student had the following tendencies: Male, White, Right-leaning politically, and from a Rural home. Our statistical analyses showed mean CETSCALE scores to be significantly different at a very high probability level. Furthermore, those who had not read the books had significantly higher CETSCALE scores (meaning they were more consumer ethnocentric) than did students who had read the book. Each of these findings supported our hypotheses that these conditions, as reflected in prior studies, would prevail at WTAMU. We had also hypothesized that students reading the book would also exhibit lower consumer ethnocentrism, and the data supported us.

The next step involved building a model using stepwise regression. The four variables above, plus the Not Read/Have Read variable, were used as predictor variables of CETSCORE. Stepwise regression allowed us to see which variable entered the equation first, effectively telling us the most important variable in the mix. The most significant predictor was Political persuasion, with Right-leaning wielding a huge impact on CETSCALE (in stat-speak, that variable alone accounted for 76% of the variance in the equation). In subsequent steps, we found that Gender (Male), Race (White), Home (Rural) and Book (specifically, not reading it) entered the equation. All five predictors were significant contributors to the model; collectively they accounted for 82% of the variance.

Finally, we compared CETSCALE mean scores between those who had/had not expressed a desire to purchase a Fair Trade product, as well as those who had/had not previously purchased one. Once again, significant differences were noted, with those desiring to buy, and those who had already bought, Fair trade products having lower CETSCALE scores. In other words, they were less consumer ethnocentric.

It should be noted that our students sample had a mean CETSCALE score of 54.2, which is less than the possible median (68). This means that, overall, the incoming freshman class is not excessively consumer ethnocentric. Still, our findings indicate that the most consumer ethnocentric freshmen can be profiled along dimensions that place them well within the conservative ethos of the region, as well as the state.

And while the Book variable was the last (and least significant) variable to enter the equation, this does not mean it had less value in the grander scheme of things. Far from it. The fact that it was a significant predictor at all indicates that the book has the potential to raise awareness among readers. Furthermore, it demonstrates the value of a common reader program, and that it can effect awareness and change as well.

Yes, we recognize weaknesses of the study. We cannot say with absolute certainty that the book alone caused people to have lower CETSCALE scores. Furthermore, we have no way of knowing if any change that occurred would be lasting. It would be very interesting to track this same cohort for five or ten years, and then administer the same survey for comparison purposes.

But at the end of the day, we are extremely satisfied with our findings, as should Mr. Timmerman. I think he accomplished what he set out to do.

Dr “What’s On Your Tag?” Gerlich

This Is Your Brain On Facebook

20 10 2011

I wish we had Facebook when I was getting my PhD. There would have been no shortage of interesting topics to explore for the dissertation. There is probably no single force in global society these days that has had a greater impact than has our beloved Facebook. With over 800 million users (and still growing), it is now two-thirds the size of China. Or 2 1/2 times the size of the US.

Facebook loves to tout its user statistics, and rightfully so. But if I were a doctoral student these days, I would be almost giddy at the prospect of doing my research on the FB phenomenon.

Of course, that shouldn’t and won’t stop my research partners and me from exploring it. I am utterly fascinated at how one website has so radically changed our lives. Just yesterday I reconnected with two people I have not seen since 1971, when my family moved 12 miles away across Chicago suburbia. I never could have made those connections were it not for the shared platform that FB has become.

Of course, cynics can say that had I really wanted to stay in touch with them (or they with me), we would have done it the old-fashioned way. But that’s beside the point. People have been losing touch with one another for decades. Witness the many high school reunions still taking place, reuniting long-lost friends and lovers, without benefit of Facebook. Guilt may transcend technology, but technology enables us in ways we never before could have imagined possible.

Today, though, I read this article about how researchers have started using fMRIs to map the brain of FB users, and found there to be a strong correlation between a person’s FB network (i.e., number of friends) and the size of their amygdala. Basically, the more friends you have, the thicker your amygdala is.

And if I have lost you here, the amygdala is where we process emotions like fear and pleasure. The lead researcher, Ryota Kanai, was surprised to find the correlation. “Kanai is quick to point out that they don’t yet know if using Facebook changes our brain structure. While that’s one explanation for his findings, it’s also possible that people who have more Facebook friends have brains that came equipped with better friend-making tools,” the report concluded.

As you may recall from your basic stats class, correlations do not imply causation. Just because two things are related does not mean that one causes the other (or vice-versa). Still, the relationship means that this area alone is ripe for further research.

And, should a cause-and-effect relationship be found (e.g., that a bigger amygdala predicts Facebook network size), it would then open the door for countless research projects into what else it might predict. Does this bigger amygdala and resulting larger social network then lead to measurable shopping behaviors and predilections, for example? Does this mean a person is more gregarious, and by virtue of this, more willing to try new products? Can we draw other marketing conclusions based on this nugget of information? And for that matter, could a person’s Facebook network serve as a proxy for amygdala size, and then be used to predict consumer behavioral outcomes?

If that’s the course, I can see all kinds of targeted advertising to heavily-networked FB users/ The more friends you have, the more the marketing. But not necessarily merrier.

As for me, I would love to have one of those fMRI machines at my disposal. I could have a lot of fun peaking behind the curtain while folks fiddled with their Facebook. Until then, though, my partners and I will have to settle for survey research and focus groups.

You’ve been forewarned.

Dr “Research Is Its Own Reward” Gerlich

Hi Lips Are Sealed

14 10 2011

I am a little over one-half through a rather long trip to Las Vegas. It’s all work-related. Really. Trust me. Yeah, I have had several people offer to assume my job duties (sensing that I must be growing weary, but probably just wishing they were here). Upon further consideration, though, I think I’ll keep this job. I rather like it.

With three academic paper presentations under my belt, I can now focus all of my efforts on working with four WTAMU students who flew out yesterday. Together we are conducting Phase I of a long-term marketing research effort with The Terry Fator Show at the Mirage Casino.

Yep, it’s all very tough work, but someone’s gotta do it.

The project involves the students doing Man-on-the-street (MOS) intercepts with passersby, and then longer post-show surveys as people exit the theatre. In both cases, students are learning a lot about how market research is conducted, human interaction skills (you have no idea how hard it is getting people to give you a few seconds out on the street), and the use of technology in this research.

But first a little backstory. Terry is a Texan who won America”s Got Talent in 2007. His prize was $1 million and a Vegas showcase featuring him. He was a huge success and was hired by Mirage to a 5-year gig. He has played a huge role in the resurgence of ventriloquism as an entertainment form. He packs out his 1200-seat theatre five nights a week most of the year. He and his ten friends make people laugh for 90 minutes. Terry can sing. Act. Joke. Impersonate. And do it all without moving his lips.

So why the research? Simple. In a town like Las Vegas, you have to stay on top of your game all the time. It’s not like there aren’t other entertainment options out there. Heck, Mirage alone has the Beatles Love show as well as three night clubs. Walk a few hundred feet in any direction and you’ll see that the choice set explodes exponentially.

So our job is to take the pulse of the typical Vegas tourist, intercepting them out on the street to gauge awareness of Terry. It’s an uphill battle trying to constantly break through the ad clutter, rise about the hundreds of other voices in this town. But it’s something Terry must do. It’s been four years since he won AGT, and the folks who remember him from there won’t be around forever. The fact that Terry scored a cameo toward the end of AGT’s season this summer (in front of 20 million viewers) was a huge coup, but you cannot go to sleep in this business.

Vegas showgoers know that tickets are not cheap (Terry’s are typically in the $115 range, but run higher for seats near the stage). With so much money at stake for patrons, the show had better be good. Or else word will get out on the street, and the game will be over.

It is in working with Terry that I have come to notice the many places his ads appear (the most prominent of which is the inside back cover of Spirit Magazine on Southwest Airlines flights). But he also has 5 taxi wraps, along with lots of taxi tops and and taxi backs. Oh, and those awesome 70-foot electronic marquees on either side of the Mirage. Yet people we interview on the street will say they’ve never heard of the man.


But for the folks we interview exiting the show, it is no longer about awareness. Now we’re going after content and demographics. Gender. Age. And, most importantly, what did you like and dislike about the show and specific characters.

While Terry can read an audience like a book most of the time (you don’t need a laugh meter to know when something resonates), sometimes folks just need to be given the opportunity to provide more in-depth information. And so we stand outside the turnstiles, giving autographed picture cards to those willing to give us a few minutes of their time.

As for the technology, we are using iPads with wifi as our survey tool, and Qualtrics online surveys as our data collection method. In fact, our sidewalk intercepts are powered by a portable wifi hotspot in my front pocket. I am able to come in the through the backdoor via my iPad and watch the results coming in.

It really is tough work. We did this several days and nights last August, and we’re doing it for four days this trip. Why? Because a great show is a terrible thing to waste, and we want to see Terry prosper long on the Strip. “Hey, free water if you take our survey! Here, I’ll walk with you.”

Yeah, I’ll keep this job.

Dr “Lip Service” Gerlich

Hired Guns

29 06 2011

One of the funnier (in my opinion) shows on TV last season was Outsourced. Set in Mumbai India, it featured an American company’s call center, and the pitfalls associated with managing such an operation. The show tapped into one of our great frustrations, because nearly every one of us has had to laboriously listen to someone named Peggy on the other end of the line.

Notice I am using the past-tense, because NBC canceled the show after just one season. Oh well…maybe they have outsourced comedy now as well.

But the topic of outsourcing continues to raise the ire of people stateside. And now it is coming to academia. Just when you thought you had made the perfect choice for you (or your child’s) education, along comes the sobering reality that universities are increasingly partnering with external for-profit companies, all in an effort to deliver the goods you want.

It’s not because the schools see a pot of gold at the end of the outsourced rainbow. No, the grim reality is that many schools are being forced to consider such options in the wake of massive state budget cuts across the nation. Add in the scarcity of qualified professors and instructors in some disciplines, and you have the formula for the New Education Model. In order to be able to offer courses and programs, universities are increasingly partnering with outside firms and individuals. These same external players bring with them the promise of more students.

Given that the current budget in Texas means state universities will receive only about 25% of their funding from Austin, it thus behooves administrators to leave no stone unturned. Tuition dollars and endowments become the primary revenue sources under current funding; with accountabilities running higher than ever, schools must look to the bottom line as they seek to fulfill their mission.

And naturally, this has lots of folks up in arms. “We’ve never done it that way before.” “Pretty soon they won’t need us!” “But what about quality?”

I have heard these all before, except it was the 1990s when we were ushering in the then-novel idea of online learning. We got over most of those worries (as I knew we would). Now we must plow through the current bog of resistance.

If, in the interest of program continuity, we have to hire specialists from far-flung locations, so be it. It’s much cheaper than trying to lure professors (and professionals) to our far-flung location. It’s far less expensive to farm out our marketing efforts to someone else (like Lamar University did with their graduate education program a few years ago). And if students are what we crave, then maybe we really should look at partnering with what amounts to education brokers, companies like Omnicademy who bring students and online courses together…even if the student is only “consuming” my class but applying it to a degree elsewhere.

To be sure, mistakes will be made as universities slash their way through the new jungle of financial realities, but just like we did in the 90s with online courses, we will learn from our mistakes and become the better for it.

Rather than fear change, I embrace it confidently. For those who fear their livelihood being outsourced, I have three words: Make yourself indispensable! Don’t run from it. Instead, figure out how to master it, and in the process, make yourself the go-to person. It’s hard to outsource someone with specialized skills. But if all you can do are the basics (whether in academia or the general workplace), then you may find yourself looking for a job in Mumbai.

Maybe we’ll find each other online, or on opposite ends of a conversation. May I call you Peggy?

Dr “Don’t Fight It” Gerlich