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Developing Digital Change Agents

Student Affairs educators are called through the Social Change Model to develop change agents.  Students setting out to build communities for positive change.
This post proposes that social change and being a change agent can also occur online.  Because of this, leadership educators should be including strategic reflection and digital activities with college students in cultivating the capability to be digital change agents.
In a previous post I explored the Social Change Model, offering what benefits and guidance it provides leadership educators as well as student leaders in becoming change agents.  But I also served up a bit of challenge.  I called for change.
The model is not far off.  The terminology is valuable with important conversations and exercises we can lead our students through in reflecting on behavior online.  So I turn again to the 10 competencies I proposed for a digit student leader (link) and align them with this model.  Two that were included in the competency list that I did not feel fit into the social change model were the following competencies that I would classify more into a specific technical skills.

  • Awareness of Emerging Technology Tools and Platforms
  • Content Analysis, Sorting Accuracy and Quality from Fake or Misinterpreted Information

Making the Social Change Model Work for Developing Digital Student Leaders
Working with what texts we have as leadership educators, we will adapt, following as Tim Gunn declares on Project Runway, “Make it Work!”
As written, the model did challenge my original competency list, to look beyond just individual-like values, and consider more in the group and community.  I hope these give just one perspective in how you can use this model to teach digital leadership techniques for your students.
The goal for me will always be to put theory into practice, but also vice versa.  Many times practice must come before an appropriate theory is developed.  Using this model, here are practical ways to incorporate digital life into student leadership curriculum.
These include each vector, corresponding digital competency, reflection questions (good for individual and group discussion, as well as project assignment) as well as individual and group activities.  All of these are written for a leadership class or training session for college students, but of course could be adapted for middle and high school students or other settings too.

social change model edit

Social Change Model Vector #1: Consciousness of Self: Awareness of the beliefs, values, attitudes, and emotions that motivate one to take action.

Digital Competency: Online Self-Awareness and Reflection of Digital Profile

Reflection Questions:

  • Have you ever Googled yourself?
  • Do you know every social media platform you are on, and the content that dates back to when you opened the account?
  • What are your privacy settings?
  • Have you ever posted anything you later regretted?
  • Have you ever taken any post/picture/video down?  If so, why?

Digital Activity:

  • Step 1: Google yourself and list out the top 20 results.  (Step 1a: Clean up anything that is false or negative).
  • Step 2: Create an excel document, listing out every social media platform you have an account with.  Note any privacy settings.  Answer what you enjoy or dislike about each platform.  Note how often you use this account.
  • Step 3: Taking on an outsider perspective at your pages, what are the themes of your posts.  Do you complain or post praise for others, post pictures from parties or engaging life adventures?
  • Step 4: Reflect and journal, answering the question: What is the perception you want to give people based upon your social media activity?  Does your current activity reflect this?

Congruence: Thinking, feeling, and behaving with consistency, genuineness, authenticity, and honesty.

Digital Competency: Establishing Personal Virtual Boundaries including Privacy, Managing Time Spent Online and Overall Wellness

Reflection Questions Topic #1

  • Are you able to go at least one day without logging online (not including for academic purposes)?
  • What is the feeling you get when you can’t find your phone?
  • Do you ever feel like you are addicted to certain platforms?
  • Can you leave your phone in your pocket/bag at dinner?

Reflection Questions Topic #2

  • How do you act differently online?
  • Have you or someone you know ever lied about something on social media to get attention?
  • Are there things you choose not to post online or would not want to be discovered in person?
  • What weight is associated with being different on social media than in person?
  • What does your profile picture say about you?

Digital Activity

  • Using butcher paper and markers, draw out a code of ethics for your life.  Include the entire picture of wellbeing, from spiritual, academic, relational both in person and online.  Work toward a model that directs your actions to be seamless in all areas of your life.  Use words, images or whatever coding that works for you.
  • Adjust your privacy settings to reflect this code.
  • Take a picture to share online on your chosen platform, such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

Commitment: Motivational energy to serve and that drives the collective effort. Commitment implies passion, intensity, and duration.

Digital Competency: Articulating and Executing Professional Branding Blended with Career Strategy Online

Reflection Questions:

  • Looking at social media platforms, how can those sites aid in your internship/grad school/job search?
  • What do you want to be known for (your legacy) both on campus after you leave, but also in your life?
  • If an employer was to explore your Facebook feed, would their hiring decisions be affected?

Activity Part 1: Choose two of these options based upon your current online activity, either in creation or improvement of:

  • Twitter.  Include a quality profile picture and bio statement that reflects the presence you would like to communicate to others.  Seek out 30 individuals to follow that are of interests to your short and long-term objectives.
  • LinkedIn.  Include a quality profile picture and biography.  Using your resume, include at least the last two positions.
  • Connect other social media accounts where users can follow you at, such as Twitter or LinkedIn.
  • Blogging Creation.  Look into free platforms such as WordPress, Tumblr or Blogger.  An advanced option is to purchase your domain name that includes your full name: ie Jason Johnson would be  At minimum, create an about me page, as well as one blog post using an assignment from class.

Activity Part 2:

  • Work with digital partner, have each other observe the others social media activity for current and past postings.
  • At class, give each other honest feedback about patterns observed both in positive observations and areas of improvement.
  • The partner is also assigned to get to know their partners personal and professional goals and come to their partner with three resources they should be seeking out from online sources to enhance their brand, enhance leadership capacity in their position and/or seek out long-term goals.

quote 4_social change 2Collaboration: Working with others in a common effort.  It constitutes the cornerstone value of the group leadership effort because it empowers self and others through trust.

Digital Competency: Building Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) (Find more information on PLNs here)

Reflection Questions:

  • What ‘social capital’ resources do you have where you can learn from, both in person and online?
  • Who would like to learn more from and/or who do you need to seek out a stronger relationship with?
  • What group or leader on campus has a strong social media presence? How can you collaborate to add value to the entire campus community?

Digital Activity:

  • Step 1: Go onto Twitter and create a ‘twitter list’ of professionals and students in your field.
  • Step 2: Reach out to three of these contacts that you would like to create a connect with.  Request a google+ hangout or Skype, conducting an information interview.
  • Step 3: Write a blog post on who you suggest others should follow, what you learned in your interviews and the next steps in building your PLN.  Share this post on Twitter, thanking those individuals you interviewed using their @username.

Common Purpose: Working with shared aims and values. It facilitates the group’s ability to engage in collective analysis of the issues at hand and the task to be undertaken.

Digital Competency: Integration of Digital Technologies into Campus Leadership Presence through Community Building Methods

Reflection Questions:

  • How can you use social media in your leadership role?  What methods do you use currently?
  • What ways has your organization used social media, other than marketing events?  How can campus community be cultivated using social media?
  • What other organizations and resources exist on-campus that foster community virtually for you, your organization and the entire campus.

Digital Activity: Work with three other students on proposing a social media strategy project.

  • Step 1: Brainstorm ideas how student leaders can use their social media resources to not only advance their organizations, but to brand themselves going forward beyond college.
  • Step 2: Develop together a social media strategy project, choosing one of the following topics to utilizing social media in building community: School Spirit, Academic Integrity or Community Service.
  • Step 3: Implement strategy and track progress over two weeks time. (For example: for School spirit, create a hashtag to be used on twitter and Instagram, feature school athletes, coaches and staff, post throwback pictures from old games/events, highlight traditions or cool facts about the school)

Controversy with Civility: Recognizes two fundamental realities of any creative group effort: that differences in viewpoint are inevitable, and that such difference must be aired openly but with civility.

Digital Competency: Cyber Conflict Resolution and Mediation

Reflection Questions:

  • What negative behavior have you observed or experienced while online?
  • What is your response when you see something inappropriate or illegal on social media?
  • Have you or someone you know ever been cyberbullied?
  • How can you as a change agent intervene online?
  • Are you responsible to act if you see a fellow classmate posting something of concern on social media?

Digital Activity: In Class Debates. Set up pro and against groups, each have five minutes to present their argument and will have another 10 minutes to address/debate statements.  Ten minutes to process as an entire class.  Total time 30 minutes.  Topics could include:

  • Should employers or college admissions have access to social media accounts to make decisions?
  • If you don’t agree or like what someone posts online, should you automatically unfollow/unfriend them?
  • Phones (and phone use) should not be allowed in academic classes.
  • You will be held accountable as a student leader to anything you post on social media.

Citizenship: Process whereby the individual and the collaborative group become responsibly connected to the community and the society through the leadership experience.

Digital Competency: Digital Decision Making Strategies: Based in Positive, Authentic and Constructive Activity

Digital Competency: Social Media for Social Good

Reflection Questions #1:

  • How does the collective social media activity of student leaders impact the university at large?
  • What about your particular organizations?
  • Why would the digital reputation of your institution impact potential applicants?
  • How can student leaders enhance the reputation and ‘likability’ of their university?

Reflection Questions #2:

  • What examples around the globe have you observed social media being used to address inequalities or collective efforts for social change?
  • Who are examples of leaders using social media to inspire positive change, for social good?
  • What are examples of so-called leaders using social media for negative causes?

Digital Activity: As an entire class/group, agree upon a semester-long project that requires a collaborative effort to improve the campus or local community.  Here are a few examples:

  • Tweet Up to Clean Up (Campus or local community service project).
  • Local Middle School Anti-Cyberbullying Campaign.
  • On-Campus Device Free Day.

Other ideas for digital activities infused into leadership development curriculum:

  1. In a class assignment, assign six questions to respond to in Twitter-language: 140 characters with hashtags as appropriate.
  2. Create a Leadership Class hashtag (#EDLD314), blog to post assignments, Facebook group for out of class group discussions and/or shared pinterest board
  3. Develop a relationships with another university conducting a leadership class training.  Organize a Google+/Skype chat with this other university leadership class/Institution to brainstorm, talk about leadership challenges, etc.
  4. Teach students how to live tweet, assign them to do this at a leadership position-related event/meeting that week.
  5. Going into the fall semester, offer ongoing summer Google Hangouts for Incoming Campus Leaders to discuss event collaborations, common questions, ideas for programs, etc.
  6. YouTube Vlog series of student leader positions, such as day in the life of a RA
  7. Develop a blog that includes a series from current student leaders who write post for incoming freshman class.
  8. Another idea for a case study: Take media examples of Twitter or YouTube gone wrong through viral results.

The ultimate goal of the social change model leadership development is change, the hub of all 7 C’s listed in this post.  It is a creative process, to make a better world for everyone.  By integrate the ‘whole’ world we live in, I have attempted to provide examples of how student affairs leadership educators can apply digital technologies and activities in the classroom and training exercises.
Slide1The creators of the social change model define leadership as “concerns with effecting change on behalf of others and society.”  It is collaborative, a process, value based, set for all students not just in leadership position.  I challenged the creators in my last post, saying that it needed to be updated to at least include examples in text that are digital specific.
But when looking at the core of this model, much is still applicable without needing to spell it out.  That is, both the challenge and the joy that student affairs educators are given; taking theory, models and existing curriculum and ‘making it work’ considering changing student demographics, emerging technology and campus climate.
By taking into account students lives, as they occur in person and online, works toward developing the whole person, making connections between their identities in various environments and showing students how to use these networks and strengths for social change.  This goes through the process of individual reflection and commitment, group conflict and dialogue and ultimately community impact.  Recognizing the possibility that social change can also be supported using digital tools equips students to be leaders in all arenas; preparing students to be the type of leader required in our digital world.
How have you used the Social Change Model in developing college students to be change agents?  What examples can you share on activities that incorporated social media or some other form of digital components?  Please share!

About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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