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Use Blogs, YouTube, and TED Talks to Help Refine Students’ Digital Presence

JD Schramm, EdD, helps MBA students enhance their digital presence with assignments that produce clickable, shareable materials.


JD Schramm, EdD, MBA

Lecturer of Organizational Behavior, Stanford University Graduate School of Business, CA

EdD in Higher Education and Higher Education Administration, MBA, BFA in Theatre

College students already spend lots of time cultivating their digital presence, says JD Schramm, EdD, MBA, a business professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business (GSB). So Schramm decided to capitalize on that interest.

He asked himself, “How can we use social media platforms to effectively increase the quality of students’ work in communication? How can we use platforms like Medium, LinkedIn, and YouTube effectively in the classroom to help students learn and increase their quality of work?”

His strategy—which he has applied to various classes—is straightforward. Rather than only asking students to produce assignments using digital formats, Schramm goes one step further by allowing students to post their work where it can be viewed by other students and, at times, the business community.

“The advantage of teaching something that gets posted to the Internet is that it raises the bar—it’s out there for the world to discover, not just your teachers and your peers,” says Schramm. “It changes the quality of what they want to accomplish.”

Here are three methods Schramm has developed to help students build and refine their communications skills, as well as enhance their digital images and online reputations:


“The advantage of teaching [students to do] something that gets posted to the Internet is that it raises the bar—it's out there for the world to discover, not just teachers and peers. It changes the quality of what they want to accomplish.”

— JD Schramm, EdD, MBA

Course: GSBGEN 317:Reputation Management: Strategies for Successful Communicators

Course description: Successful leaders have to conceive, author, rebuild, pivot, differentiate, and finally maintain a personal reputation to make a lasting, recognizable and powerful identity. Reputation Management will explore how you can effectively communicate to create, adapt and maintain your personal reputation. Your reputation remains fluid as you navigate your career decisions and interact with different professionals along your journey. The course is designed along three interlocking elements: reputation management literature, relevant case studies, and curated guest speakers. Students will learn the fundamentals of strategic corporate communication and the risk of not managing reputation effectively. These frameworks will be extended with specific case studies to illustrate where individuals, groups, and firms have faced the challenge of managing reputation effectively.

See resources shared by JD Schramm, EdD, MBA

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1. Invite them to the blogosphere—as on-the-scene reporters

Many students have not experienced the marketing side of blogging—a medium increasingly used by businesses to share their messages and promote their goods and services. So, as part of an intensive Stanford graduate-level course called Reputation Management: Strategies for Successful Communicators (see Context), Schramm has students write blogs in real time, during class, using the Medium blogging platform.

At the start of each class period, six students have been preassigned to create a 400- to 800-word live blog covering the highlights of the lecture being presented by him or a guest. Later, a student may add photos, links, and other relevant materials to increase the impact of the blog.

Through this exercise, students learn the art of listening accurately and reporting comments, information, and verbatim quotes precisely. There is also an element of urgency and critical thinking, as they strive to package information in an efficient and presentable format that is immediately available to the public. Schramm encourages students to remember that their reporting articulates their professional demeanor to members of the wider business community, some of whom may be paying close attention (and may one day play a role in their career).

Schramm adds that some of the class’s guest speakers will also join in—writing their own blogs or fine-tuning details on the students’ blogs—in order to continue the dialogue and learning beyond the parameters of the class session.

2. Make them video producers of college course materials

In another Stanford graduate course called Strategic Communication, Schramm divides his class of 48 students evenly into 12 teams. Each team is given the same assignment: to prepare a 10- to 15-minute oral presentation on a specific topic related to effective communication. It may cover something that was discussed in class or something discovered independently, such as a book excerpt, extensive blog post, or other approved material. All four students are required to appear on camera in their team’s presentation.

An Idea Worth Spreading

While JD Schramm encourages his students to deliver TED-style talks, let it be known that he has walked the walk—or, in this case, talked the talk. A number of years ago, he delivered a TED presentation himself, about his journey out of the depths of depression. “Break the silence for suicide attempt survivors” was delivered at TED Active in 2011 and has been seen by more than 1.7 million viewers since being placed on the TED website.

Schramm steps back from directly participating in the students’ work, preferring to bring in several communication coaches to help students manage time and anxiety issues, as well as help them edit their presentations for optimal organization and flow. Students can also find inspiration by watching past course presentations, many of which are uploaded to the Stanford YouTube channel and catalogued in the university’s GSB “Lessons in Communication” playlist.

Schramm notes that one student presentation on body language was so well done that it garnered about 100,000 more views on the channel—3.4 million (and counting) since May 2014—than a speech delivered at the university by Oprah Winfrey from April of the same year.

3. Motivate them to share their vision via a TED-style talk

For advanced communication students at Stanford, Schramm launched a special extracurricular initiative called “LOWKeynotes.” The program, begun in 2011, takes its name from the first letters of three words contained in the Stanford business school motto: Change lives, change organizations, change the world. Its inspiration is found in the influential TED Talks videos that use digital media to spread concepts worldwide.

“The value of these kinds of talks created in the image of TED is that you take a position, you articulate that position, you defend that position, and you do it in a way that draws people in and engages and compels them to do something differently,” says Schramm.

Students apply by submitting a one-minute video clip and an online questionnaire about their topic and their level of commitment to the two-month program. Of these applicants, 30 students—only about one quarter of all who apply—are selected.

LOWKeynotes is really designed for excellent speakers who want to be exceptional,” says Schramm. “It’s designed for the student who has already done some high-profile speaking. We have a sense that they can command a room. We know that they are able to do that. And they have to have a really good idea. Much like with TED Talks, we weigh whether this is an idea worth spreading.” Some questions to consider when evaluating speakers and subjects, according to Schramm, are, “Is this meaty enough that the student can spend a couple of months researching, writing, rehearsing, and working on a nine-minute talk? And is it significant enough to be enjoyable for the live audience, the students themselves, and future viewers online?”

Schramm assists students with their presentations by bringing in professional coaches who advise on executive presence, maintaining audience interest, effective storytelling techniques, and use of visuals and props. However, he notes that the essential first step is for each student to have a compelling topic and a clear thesis.

“For many students, [their topic is] a field they’re going to work in, a startup they’re going to create, a passion they have,” he adds. As such, their finished video will be something they can post on their LinkedIn profile, website, and elsewhere. Stanford also routinely pulls choice examples to include in its own Twitter, Facebook, and other online distributions. “Students will use it with investors. They will use it with potential employers,” says Schramm. “So this program probably has the greatest potential of enhancing a student’s digital reputation.”

Overall, Schramm has found that building in the requirement of “going public” does more than expose students to the full experience of building a digital portfolio. “This allows your students to have a wider reach, and it improves the work that they do in class, even if their project never goes up on YouTube,” he says. “As an educator, it also lets you have a wider reach in your classroom of whom you can touch and whom you can teach.”

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