#68: Entrepreneurial Ideas and Concepts for the Online Educator

#68: Entrepreneurial Ideas and Concepts for the Online Educator

Online teachers must be innovative and creative in order to keep online classes relevant, fresh, and fun to teach. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses what educators can learn from entrepreneurial business strategies. Learn how to apply the “five C’s” of entrepreneurship—credibility, clarity, conviction, capital, and concentration in execution—in the classroom.

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Dr. 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.

Have you ever noticed that there are several types of educators, but really two ends of a polarity spectrum? There are traditional approaches, where a person develops a class, teaches it over and over exactly the same way, and really relies on the presentation of the course, but preserves the content.

Then there are people who are a little bit more on the creative end. I’m not sure if you would label these as innovative or simply creative, but many people in the world would label this entrepreneurial.

Entrepreneurial educators are more creative types, who want to change things up a bit. They’re always looking to meet students’ needs or find out what students really want to learn, even if the topics come from the same basic background, they want to change things up. They don’t want to do the same thing twice. They might do it twice to see how it’s working, but then add something to it the next time.

So along this spectrum of sameness—traditional approaches and variety, creativity, and edu-preneurial approaches—think about where you are as an online educator. In today’s episode, we will talk about entrepreneurial approaches to your online teaching, and we’ll be using five concepts from someone very interesting and unique in the business world.

Chinedu Echeruo, who was a serial entrepreneur, is a business person, has an MBA from Harvard and has really made a mark on the world through a history of doing a great job in business, starting with a travel app, Hopstop.com, that was sold to Apple, and a lot of other things that you can search the internet and find.

The five C’s of entrepreneurship we will be looking at today are credibility, clarity, conviction, capital, and concentration in execution. So let’s jump in.

Credibility: Where Does it Come From?

As an educator, you likely already have some kind of credibility. Your credibility comes from your background, your knowledge on the subject matter, your expertise and your personal experiences that you access.

Some of us are very traditional. We want several degrees in a subject area before we teach it. We want to write a book on the subject. We want to write articles about it. Present at conferences. We want to be recognized for our expertise. And that’s where we think our credibility comes from.

Others of us are very authentic. We want to talk about it in real time, connect on a personal level and have something to say that may be changing over time, and we feel that our openness and vulnerability to be lifelong learners is part of our credibility. And we don’t necessarily need as deep or as long of credentials as some other people might have.

Credibility varies. Credibility really is something that comes across to others and is received by others. And then, is judged by others. In the educational world, some kind of credibility must be there from our credentials.

If you’re a K-12 educator, you have some kind of certificate to teach in the classroom. Even if it’s a temporary substitute-teaching credential, you have something that’s giving you the permission to be there. It’s like a stamp of approval, where someone out there has said, “Yes, you can enter the classroom and do something now.”

If you have been teaching a long time in K-12 education, you might have what we call a Professional Clear Credential, or something like that. It’s a little bit more long lasting, and you can just renew it over time. Sometimes you have to prove that you’ve been teaching to renew it. Other times, you might have to prove you have new units of study in your subject area, new educational credits to prove your credibility, and you can renew that credential. But all those credentials are usually based on some kind of college degree. And that’s part of your credibility.

In entrepreneurship, credibility is very important as well. If you come along with an idea and you share it with others and you don’t really know what you’re talking about, you haven’t done your homework, you’re not really sure where this is coming from, then it’s going to be difficult to get someone to buy your idea, much less, sell it, or gain support, or traction of any kind.

In the classroom, we similarly have that same idea of needing to prove our credibility. I’ve seen some online educators post their background on the front page of the classroom. They’re telling everyone where they went to school, where they studied. Perhaps they studied abroad, traveled to Ethiopia or Russia or South Africa or Brazil or someplace like that. And they may even have some pictures of their travel expeditions in the subject field.

For example, if you’re a business teacher, maybe you have images of you in a business setting. If you’re a communication teacher, maybe you have images of yourself on assignment somewhere. And if you’re a music teacher, maybe you have images of yourself conducting an ensemble or performing on an instrument. Whatever you put in the classroom, that initial credibility goes a long ways towards helping your students know that you’re probably someone who can lead them through this content.

Ongoing credibility is different. The way we show up in that online classroom every day and throughout the week and over the course itself, that credibility is essential that we maintain. We can’t really stand on a degree or a certificate or some pictures we put in week one, and hope that students just trust us for eight or 13 or 16 weeks of class.

Our credibility comes through in the way we teach. In the way we follow up with questions. In the way we give students sources or connect to the ideas out there in the real world. And in the way we help them dig in, without just telling them the answers.

Credibility in entrepreneurship and in online teaching are both critical elements just to get started and they have to be maintained throughout a project, or it’s going to fail. Our students will trust us immensely when we’re teaching online, as we establish credibility and also maintain it.

Clarity: Ensuring Students Understand Ideas and Concepts

The second idea of entrepreneurship is about clarity. You have this creative approach, this big idea, and you want to communicate it out and try to create a product or sell it somehow. How well can you communicate that to other people?

If you are going to be an entrepreneur, of course, you need to be able to express what you’re trying to achieve, what you’re trying to do, and who you’re trying to sell it to. Perhaps it’s a service, you’re trying to solve a problem for someone. In that case, the clarity in entrepreneurship is about the solution, the pain people are feeling, how you can help them solve it, how many people you can solve that for, and what assumptions you have about it.

You might have to do a little bit of market research to find out what really would help people and what they really would buy. And of course, you’d also have to find out if they really want this solution. Solving a problem can be great, but solving a problem that people want solved is even better.

In education, we have the exact same scenario. We want to teach people clear ideas. By the end of a course and the end of a degree program, we want them to be able to do certain things and know certain things, and be able to apply all of that in the real world.

We need absolute clarity when we’re teaching a class, about what we’re trying to get at the end of that class. What should students be able to do? And every time we are in the discussion forum or in the assignment space or evaluating their work, that should be forefront in our mind. So in an entrepreneurial way, we need to be finding out all the time, whether we’re reaching our students. And also, are they able to communicate with clarity back to us.

Conviction: Persevering to Help Students Understand Difficult Topics

The third area of entrepreneurship is conviction. In many episodes of the Online Teaching Lounge, I’ve made reference to a tool called the Teaching Perspectives Inventory, the TPI. This is a great tool to just double check your orientation as an educator.

Conviction in your role in education comes from either your experience, a problem you see that needs to be solved in the world, the way you care about people, what you’d like to help others become. There are just so many ways you can approach education or teaching your subject matter. And your conviction is critical to seeing through those long classes, to persevering and helping people understand difficult topics and really getting through an entire career as an educator. Just like an entrepreneur, conviction has to be clear because we’re going to be on a long journey with our students.

If you’re interested in taking the TPI, it’s free and available online, and I have a link to it in my podcast notes. If you want to pursue your ideas with students or help them to pursue these topics in the future, think about your conviction.

How invested are you in helping your students learn about this topic? If you’re teaching a class that you really hate teaching, you don’t like the subject matter, and it’s just part of your job because that’s what you do in this particular institution. Maybe it’s time to either reframe the class, find a way for it to be a lot more relevant, or to ask to be relieved of teaching that class, and teach the others that you have much more conviction about.

You want to pursue that because you need to enjoy what you’re doing as an educator and your students need to get from you, what they need to turn that subject into something applicable in their lives or relevant to their work. So think about your conviction as part of your work as an educator. Much like an entrepreneur would be thinking about pushing an idea through and investing.

Capital: Accessing Resources to Help Teach

Now, think about capital. Capital is an interesting business idea. Of course, we need people to support us if we’re going to be putting a product out there and we also need ideas, we need material resources, we need financial resources. So human capital is not the only thing we need in entrepreneurship.

And in education, really, we’re thinking about the subject matter, the people in the class. There might actually be a lot of other people with expertise we can bring in, that can contribute to this endeavor.

For example, if we’re writing a course, we might not need to write that entire course just ourselves. We might be able to pull in experts from the field, have quotes from them, have a little cameo where maybe someone you know in your field is willing to be interviewed by you. And you could put that into your course to share with your students online, with permission of the person you interview.

There are so many different resources you may have as an educator. You can creatively draw those into your online class. Long, long ago, when I was first a band teacher, I remember tapping into the local university and inviting students who were learning to play their instrument at a very high level to come in and perform for my students, who were junior high kids.

So, for example, I might have a college level tuba performance major come in, talk about playing the tuba, perform on his tuba a little bit, and demonstrate some really amazing, beautiful tuba playing. Students could ask and answer questions. And there could be a whole exchange there. He could also work with the tubaists in the junior high and give them a little bit of a masterclass, which would be the one-on-one or small-group coaching that a tuba player might give a small group of musicians.

These ideas can be done online. Now, the masterclass or the live group interaction might not, but the interview with the tuba player would be very easy to record, to create a transcript for, and to place in that online classroom.

So there are a lot of resources and capital you may have out there that could be part of your class, that maybe you’re not thinking of. Most of us think about taking a textbook and creating the activities. And we’re sort of in this closed space of just looking at these resources, but remember all the people resources you have out there. All the real world resources, and you may find that what you have to teach and what you have to share in your classroom is much greater than just a textbook.

Concentration in Execution: Finding What Works

Lastly, when we talk about concentration in execution, this is your focus and the way you stay true to what you’re trying to accomplish. In a business sense, this would be pushing through difficult times as well as prosperous times.

When you’re an entrepreneur, you’re going to have a slump in the beginning when you’re really trying to get things off the ground or get things started. You might not even make money the whole first year that you’re trying to work in a new endeavor. It might rise. It might fall. There could be waves of high and low throughout the entrepreneurial journey. A lot of people who are entrepreneurs come up with many creative ideas. They try them on and they move on to other ideas. And eventually, something works really well.

In our educational pathway and teaching online, we can have a similar entrepreneurial approach. We can try new things in our assignments, in our content, in the way we find out how things are landing with our students. And, when those things work really well, we can refine them and use them over and over, or we can pass on them when they don’t work well, try something totally different, or simply tweak those things.

Being committed to concentration in execution means that we’re very focused on what we’re trying to execute and get through, without totally changing it up all the time. Before we make modifications to things, we need to know why we’re changing it, what’s working, what’s not working and not just reinvent things from scratch. That could be totally exhausting and something that online educators do not have a lot of time for. So we definitely want to know what’s working and build on it and keep moving forward with our students.

To tie things up, today we’ve been talking about entrepreneurial behavior and concepts in our online teaching. And I’ve been drawing through some concepts that Chinedu Echeruo shared, and I put the link in the podcast notes. So please check it out. The five C’s of entrepreneurship; credibility, clarity, conviction, capital, and concentration in execution.

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 wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.

#66: Increasing Your Productivity as an Online Educator [Podcast]

#66: Increasing Your Productivity as an Online Educator [Podcast]

This content initially appeared at APUEdge.com

Maintaining a high level of productivity can be challenging for online educators. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides strategies on how to improve your physical and mental energy to increase productivity. Learn tips about how to manage your never-ending “to do” list, why it’s important to unclog your mind, and the value of giving yourself time to work on your personal “heart projects.”

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
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Read the Transcript:

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. It may seem a little odd to you today that we’re going to talk about increasing your productivity as an online educator, but I firmly believe that habits and strategies are what help us get through our teaching job and our teaching career. Many of us enter this profession because we want to make a difference or distill ideas upon others, or perhaps mentor people into our profession or the area that we love the most. Maybe we even want to make a big difference in the world.

Regardless of the reason why you came into this profession, the fact remains that being an educator is hard work. There is a lot to do. There’s a lot of feedback to give others. We must be organized to make that happen. We have announcements, we have content in the classroom itself, when we’re working online. We have follow-ups, personalized outreach efforts we need to do when students are falling behind. Guidance of all kinds. And as I mentioned before, feedback.

Among these many different types of activities, time gets away from us, sometimes. Have you ever said to yourself that you would get back to a task later in the evening? That’s a great sign that productivity tips can help you a lot in your online educator role.

Today, we’re going to talk about some special tips that come from a wonderful book called “Supercharge Productivity Habits” by John R. Torrance. It’s “50 Simple Hacks to Organize Your Tasks, Overcome Procrastination, Increase Efficiency, and Work Smarter to Become a Top Performer.”

Not everyone approaches their educator job as if it is a performer productivity type of role. However, we know that unless we keep up with the day-to-day tasks, the endless minutiae of being an administrator of the classroom, we will not be able to have the kind of impact we would like to have.

These tips today are intended to help you. I want to help you really enjoy what you do and make a difference, as you want to do. So let’s jump in and talk about productivity habits. I will share just a few today to get you started. And after this podcast, I do hope you will check out this book, “Supercharge Productivity Habits” by John R. Torrance.

Increasing Your Physical and Mental Energy

The first habit I’d like to share with you today is in the area of increasing your physical and mental energy. You’ve probably heard that athletes are always thinking about increasing their energy and bringing protein into the body, drinking lots of water, getting plenty of rest. It makes a lot of sense that a person who’s out there competing physically would need to do that, right?

Of course, the mind is also one of the greatest tools that we have at our disposal. We can’t have energy, like confidence or focus, motivation, or any kind of productivity at all, if our mind is wandering or not feeling healthy. In fact, there is a lot that has to do with our physical and mental energy that impacts our productivity and our overall effectiveness as educators.

Think about it, if you were really approaching your job as if you have to be in tiptop, physical and mental condition to be an educator, what would you do to reach that goal? I’ve thought about this a little bit, and in the time that I’ve worked at American Public University, I’ve been very fortunate to have the influence of the Wellness Team. Not sure if that’s their title, but early on several years ago, there used to be this little challenge in the employee portal. It was private, no one else could see it. But you had to record your weight at the start of each year. And you had to do some exercises along the way, partially some kind of incentive to have one kind of health insurance over another.

And I’m expecting that it probably had to do with the cost out of my paycheck. And that’s what motivated me. I don’t recall exactly what the situation was, but I do remember that I had to write down how much I weighed and then I had to engage in certain health-related activities like walking, or counting steps, or something like that.

Now, when you think about it, even just becoming aware of your own physical activity level, your physical fitness, your overall health, and your bodyweight does something to you. It was a few years of doing that, and pretty soon I realized I needed to make major changes. In my own situation, I did lose 95 pounds and I have successfully maintained that for the past four to five years. And it all started with that awareness every year that was part of the health insurance plan of just working at American Public University.


*About this image: My professional faculty photo, taken by American Public University Systems (2015, on left) and an informal photo taken at home (2020, on right)

If I took it further and thought about it every year and recorded my efforts to become a mental athlete as an educator, I would take it a lot further and increase my goals in physical and mental wellness. Over time, I want to become more confident, more focused, more productive, and more happy with myself in my role and in the work that I do with my students.

In essence, it is the everyday habit that one puts into their physical and mental abilities that come together to summatively create the performance and productivity we have in the online classroom.

There are some high-powered physical and mental energy hacks that Torrance shares in his book. And I’d like to share these with you here.

Tackle What You Dread First

First, he talks about tackling what you dread the most. It’s going to give you energy to deal with the less critical things or the less enjoyable things throughout the day because you’ve done the most difficult one.

Visualize Before You Go to Bed

Second, you’re going to visualize before you go to bed, and the thoughts that you take to bed matter. So your mind is going to get in a mood for sleep. And you’re also going to think about or visualize the type of things you’re going to be doing when you’re waking up that are pleasurable to you. So you’re actually predicting a positive day for the next day and thinking about the energy you need to begin the day.

Now that second hack there, thinking about it before you go to bed, I personally do that a lot. That’s one of my own habits. I’ll make a to-do list about the things I want to do the next day. And I’ll think about how I need to wake up.

Then in the next morning, when I wake up, I’m actually laying in bed sometimes feeling very tired and not at all interested in getting out of bed. And I’ll remember what I’m going to do first thing in the morning. And then I’ll purposely choose to jump out of bed and give myself some energy so I can get moving.

Sometimes it’s really hard. And other times it’s very easy because the motivating task is so interesting to me. Whatever you do, visualizing before bed can set the tone for the next day, but make sure it’s something positive you’re visualizing, and you’re seeing action and the motivation that you’re going to need.

Unclog Your Mind

Third, unclog your mind. So Torrance suggests that we all have a never-ending to-do list. I don’t know if you have one, but I know I do. And it can sometimes make me feel like I never really finish things. There’s always another list tomorrow and sometimes one list can go through a week or two without completely getting wiped out.

If you can unclog that list by writing it all down, setting it aside, turning off technology, and letting go of emails and all those things, at some point you’re going to have a little bit of space to think more clearly, be more mentally alert, and be able to set limits around your time.

Unclogging your mind is also going to help you think about what you can take off of your list. If you do write it down and realize it’s been there a while, maybe it doesn’t even need to get done at all, or maybe it could be delegated. There’s possibly another solution if you find that something is on your to-do list for a very long time.

Get the Right Amount of Sleep

The fourth productivity hack is getting the right amount of sleep. Believe it or not, the amount of sleep you get every day actually impacts your mental and physical functioning. Over time you can actually have long-term health effects that are negative if you’re constantly cheating yourself on the sleep.

Now, if you have dragged your work out throughout the day, especially when you’re only working online, if all of your energy is put into that, it can feel like you can never really let go and never really get enough sleep.

Think about what kind of environment you need. What kind of bedding will be most comfortable for you? Is the pillow nice and cool or warm, however, you prefer it? Would there be something you could do before bed to relax you, like a warm bath or some people even drink warm milk, or cocoa, or something like that? Is it helpful for you to read a book before you go to bed? One thing that I’ve heard a lot is no caffeine and no alcohol in the later hours of the day because both of those tend to impact the quality of your sleep throughout the night.

And then, of course, avoid screen time, two hours before bedtime. You can wear these blue-light-blocking glasses that will help you to actually reduce the impact of the screen on your eyes. And you can also buy a light therapy lamp on Amazon that’s going to help you have an experience with bright light, first thing in the morning to really set your time clock and your circadian rhythm.

These are good things to think about if you’re still having problems getting high-quality sleep, but getting enough sleep is definitely essential to give your brain the energy it needs and your body, the energy as well to get through the day.

Pursue Your “Heart Project”

Next, spend a good day chunk of your day pursuing your heart project. A heart project is something you really care about. It’s in your own goal area. It might be what Torrance calls your ultimate passion. When you focus on these things you care most about at some point during a day, this is going to give you a lot of joy, it will refresh you, and help you feel totally revitalized and energized.

So if you have a lot of grading to do, and you’re not a big fan of grading, do the grading, but be sure to give yourself time for this passion project, or heart project. You need reasons to get out of bed in the morning. And if this is it, give yourself the time after you’ve done some of the more difficult tasks of your online teaching job.

Some of the other tips mentioned here in the body and mind category are to have a sense of gratitude and to have a positive outlook on life generally. You also want to think about eating the right foods. Believe it or not, the things you put into your body impact your energy level and your mental functioning.

There’s a thing called inflammation. If you’re not familiar with this, certain foods can actually cause your body to react in a way that inflames your cells and parts of your body. If you eat a lot of carbohydrates and sugar, some people react very poorly to that. You might have puffy eyes or a puffy face and mentally feel quite sluggish and tired. This will make it more difficult to be productive as an online educator, or in any other field.

Think about how healthy food makes you feel. And even if it is less enjoyable than some of those more high carb, or high sugar foods you might crave, think about how you might be able to incorporate these healthy foods to enhance your mental alertness.

Eating more calories early in the day instead of at night can also give you more energy. And then, of course, more fiber, fruit and vegetables, and protein and minerals and vitamins. These things can all add to your energy level and clear up your mind so you can think clearly and be more productive along the way.

Be Active and Find a Physical Exercise You Enjoy

And then lastly, be active, enjoy what you’re doing physically. You might be inspired through exercise, which will help you sleep better and relieve stress as well as boosting your brain. But you might also find a new habit that you could enjoy, like going for a run, short walk, working out with someone else, biking, or even dancing.

My personal favorite is putting on my noise-canceling headphones, some really peppy upbeat music, and walking on my treadmill for 30 minutes or more sometime in the middle of the day. Whatever it is that helps you to physically get active. When we’re working online, we’re sitting a lot and we’re much more prone to want to sit a little bit longer so that we can just get through what we’re trying to do that day.

If you break it up instead, you’ll find that you have more energy and you can even be more productive. So take breaks. Think about the food you eat and the exercise you do as ways to fuel the mind as well as the body.

There are many other productivity hacks and habits in this book by John Torrance. I hope you’ll check it out and try those that I’ve shared with you today, as we all work towards being more productive online educators. And I wish you all the best in your online teaching 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 wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.

#65: Strategies to Make Discussion Boards More Engaging [Podcast]

#65: Strategies to Make Discussion Boards More Engaging [Podcast]

This content initially appeared at APUEdge.Com 

Discussion boards are a required part of many online courses, but they can sometimes get flat and boring. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks about how to have an engaging dialogue with students. Learn five strategies to improve discussion boards as well as how to apply the Guided ANCHORS approach to managing discussion forums.