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This content first appeared on APUEdge.com. 

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenAssociate Dean (Interim), School of Arts, Humanities and Education 

Is it possible to take a short break or vacation while also teaching an online class? In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares strategies for planning a short time away from the online class. Learn about the importance of communicating time away with students and colleagues, how to work ahead in preparation, and other tips for planning a short break away from the online classroom.

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Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics and parents, who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun! Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen. And I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. I’m Bethanie Hansen, your host, and I want to talk about managing vacation time while teaching online. At the time of this episode being produced, it is mid to late July of 2022, you’re of course welcome to enjoy it and listen to it at any time of the year and we hope it’ll be valuable to you.

This this idea, though, of managing vacation time while teaching online tends to come up at three specific times of year. One is in the summer. Traditional school districts, if you have children in school, are on summer vacation. And a lot of times, spouses, if they teach at a traditional on the ground campus also have vacation. Whether you have family members who are on vacation or not, it might just strike you that you want to go on vacation for a few days in the middle of the semester that you’re teaching.

If you’re teaching throughout the summer, it can definitely be challenging to want to continue teaching while you’re also having that urge to go on vacation and travel. So, we’re going to talk a little bit about how to navigate that.

We also have the fall, early fall, there are many holidays that happen, especially Thanksgiving in the United States. So, around that period, if you have courses that just continue through Thanksgiving week, it might also be challenging to navigate that period. And then the other thing is, we have the winter holidays at the end of December. So, a lot of people will have holidays, maybe you have Hanukkah, maybe you have Christmas, New Year’s, there are many other holidays also that happen in the winter. And many people have a tradition of taking vacations and traveling and seeing family. And above all else, celebrating during these periods.

No matter what kind of time of year you’re facing or looking at, managing a little vacation time around your online teaching is possible. It can be done thoughtfully, prepared ahead of time, and managed really effectively while your students continue to grow with you, and continue to learn with you. So, we’re going to talk about that. And we’ll just jump into three main elements to help you manage vacation time while teaching online.

Review the Pace and Structure of Your Class

And here’s tip number one: The first tip to managing your vacation time while you’re teaching an online class is to look at the pace of that class, the structure of it, and the time that you’re going to need to be away. This is really important because if your vacation is going to happen over a three-day period, right when your students are completing a major assignment, you might have tons of unanswered questions, leading to student frustration. And it’s also going to seriously impact your success as their educator leading them through that.

So, take a look at the big picture of your course. It has some ebbs and flows and some tense times and some less tense times. There are going to be some moments where you’re really preparing for an assessment, or engaged in a discussion that’s super relevant. And there are other times where you can be less present and just kind of check in and answer questions. So, take a look at the big picture of your online class, as well as your own needs and your plans for that travel or vacation you’re thinking about. And then plan your time accordingly.

As you do this, you might notice there are some things that come up for you. One thing is the grading timeline. Will you need to be grading 30 essays when you’re also driving down the road to California? Or will you need to be involved in a seriously detailed level of discussion while you’re flying across the country to New York City? Whatever it is, you want to just look at the load that you’re going to have and the needs that your students are going to have and plan the timing of that vacation the best you possibly can when you consider the course that you’re teaching.

Consider Your Students’ Needs

Secondly, look at your students’ needs. Specifically, we’re going to get into the details now. So, if, again, we’re going to grade 30 essays, what do students need to know for that to go well, for them and for you?

First of all, they’re going to need a lot of clarity going into that big assignment, especially if it’s around the time of you taking a few days of travel or vacation. They’re going to need some guidance. Maybe they’re going to need an explainer video. You could look at our previous episode number 118 for a Video Explainer, if you wish, a little guide on that.

You can also create some kind of guidance asset around walking them through that assignment. The steps needed, the materials included, what knowledge they’re demonstrating, and how this hits one of the points they’re trying to come away from this course with. So, think about what students are going to need in terms of the preparation for that assignment, so you can plan ahead to give them all of that structure, all of that scaffolding for success.

Secondly, give your students the information about yourself. That is, if you’re going to be offline for two or three days, you want to tell them that. That would be an announcement about instructor availability. In fact, I like to use that as the title of my announcements. It says, “Instructor availability” and then the dates. And in the body of the message, I just tell them, “I’m going to be off my usual routine” or “I’m going to be out of the classroom, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week, due to travel, I will answer all of your questions when I get back.”

I give that information to them ahead of time so they can look ahead, plan their own work, asked me those important questions before I’m offline for a few days. And then as soon as I’m back, I’m checking those messages and I’m reading my emails, and I’m making sure I follow up with any student who’s a little bit nervous, and who wants an answer to something. I also want to make sure that when I get back in that classroom, I’m diving into any discussions we’re having, and I’m making myself fully present to them.

Now, if you’re a person who takes your cell phone with you, everywhere you go, you might be able to answer those questions when you’re out of the office, or away from home. Perhaps you answer those questions on the fly, and you just give students what they need here and there when it pops up. Or perhaps you actually tell them, you’re going to be completely offline, and you just answer them when you get back. Either way, students need to know what to expect in the assignment coming up and in their communication with you.

And then when you come back, some reassurance of your presence would be a little different than the absence you had. So, they would want to see you more engaged and more present so they’re reassured that you’re back with them.

Consider Your Own Needs

Third, we want to look at you and your own needs, personally. This is the only way you can decide what’s the best approach for your short time out of the classroom. That approach might range from completely cutting yourself off to the internet during those few days you’re going to be away, to just having that phone close by where you can answer urgent questions, or even allow students to reach out to you through text or phone call, maybe even email.

So, your personal needs are very important when you’re taking time away from your online classroom, especially if it’s during a class and just for a few days. One thing that I would highly recommend is getting ahead on your teaching. So, if there’s anything sitting there waiting to be graded, if you can take care of it before you’re away for a few days, then you don’t return to a huge pile of grading that sets you behind even further.

Another thing you could do is proactively just engage a lot in whatever discussion is happening that week. So, you have a lot of presence, and you’ve connected with your students to whatever level you can and then you won’t feel quite so overwhelmed. Again, getting back and needing to jump in and connect with so many students.

But lastly, I would say when you’re considering your own needs, personally, how much do you really benefit from various types of de-stressing activities when you’re on a short vacation. Whatever those are, plan those into your vacation, thoroughly enjoy that short time. Really invest in yourself and those that you love that might be with you.

Engage in all those fun activities so that you feel like you’ve really had a time away, and relish it. And then when you come back, you’ll be fresh and rejuvenated and ready to go. Never cheat yourself when you have a couple of days away, thinking that you have to get back quickly and get back online. It’s always going to be there. And you’re always going to feel that drive to get back to your online classroom.

So, if you have prepared adequately and followed those three areas of looking at the pace of the class, and your planned time away, looking at the needs of your students and planning ahead for those needs and addressing them, and then also looking at your own needs and planning what you’ll do during your time out, then you can have a fantastic time on your short vacation while you’re still teaching online.

Make Colleagues Aware of Plans

As you plan a time to get out of the computer room, and possibly away from class for a couple of days or three days, be sure to loop in your team. Many of us work with organizations where we have peers, colleagues, managers. And if it’s truly unavoidable to be away from that computer and you’re going to have that time anyway, alert them to your absence. Alert them to your absence so that you can have colleagues looking out for you. Perhaps they could stop by the class, just in case there’s an urgent question or need your students have, and they can have your back should something happen and you’re not able to get back home as planned on time. Then there’s someone that will be aware of where you are and what you’re doing.

Perhaps you have a supervisor or a manager, or a department chair, or a dean, or a principal that you can inform. I had that experience recently myself. I was going to be taking a very early morning flight from Washington D.C., home to Idaho where I live. And both the car to the airport and the flight are canceled, independent of each other. There were not enough drivers for the car so I had to find an alternate method. And also the flight being canceled, I had to find a different flight. I ended up finding another flight the same day from a different airport. And then I could just take a taxi so it all worked out. But you never know when you’re on a vacation if things will work out exactly as you’ve planned, especially in the constantly changing travel environment we’re experiencing in the United States today.

So, make your plans, have backup plans, communicate out. And again, tell your students what to expect. When your students know what to expect and you’ve planned for them and communicated well with them, they respect that and they trust that and they’re fine until you come back the next day or two when you’re back online. So, enjoy your time away should you be out of a class for a few days and plan accordingly. Best wishes in your online teaching and a short vacation you might have while teaching online this coming week!

This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best switches this coming week in your online teaching journey.