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#128: What Fuels You as an Educator?

#128: What Fuels You as an Educator?

This content first appeared on APUEdge.com.

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

What motivates you to keep teaching? In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses tools to assess your true drive and how to track the impact you’re having as an educator.

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
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Read the Transcript:

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 podcast. Today, I want to talk about some motivation we have to show up for work, why we’re in this game of teaching in the first place. And that question on my mind is, “What fuels you?”

What is it that motivates you to keep teaching, to reach out to help other people? They’ve studied this out. And the research tells us that there are a lot of different orientations we have, to come to teaching. On a practical level, that’s really nice and kind of helpful to figure out about yourself.

If you’re interested in the direction that you’re going with teaching, the Teaching Perspectives Inventory is an awesome tool to assess what your main driver really is, and whether or not you’re actually doing it. The teaching perspectives inventory is one way to see your primary motivation and the comparison between reality and fantasy. So, check it out.

Some people will be the apprenticeship type, some will be the social change type, and there are several others. I’m not an expert in the TPI, but I do know that this was the first thing that opened my awareness to the fact that we are not all educators for the same reasons. Some people are educators for reasons that really light their fire. And it makes them happy and excited to just do what they do. And some people are not as excited about the job that they do but the fact that they get to be with people.

Sometimes people are much more excited about just being involved in that subject area. Like maybe you teach geology and you just love rocks, you just love the mountains and all the different rock formations and everything you can talk about with rocks. If you get to talk about it all day long when you’re teaching, that’s going to bring you that joy and excitement, right?

As a musician myself and a creative, I really love teaching music. I especially loved teaching live music classes, when I was a band teacher, or when I was leading some choir group. It would be so much fun to take something that was very rough, and help people put it together until it was just absolutely beautiful and totally expressive. To me, that was so much fun.

But it was nothing compared to seeing the people that I was working with transform as human beings. And there’s a phrase that I like to bring into my role as an educator. And strangely, it comes from Napoleon Bonaparte. And I didn’t ever know until I looked it up who initially said this phrase. But the phrase is, “A leader is a dealer in hope.” That is so interesting to me. So not only is an educator a leader, by being an online educator, you’re out there creating new things. Helping people into whatever field it is. Helping them learn and grow and transform, and you’re also just leading the future.

So, a leader is a dealer in hope. And that is something we all have that we can do as educators. And hope is absolutely essential to a happy life, or a high-quality life. Hope is that idea that there is something better in the future. We can get through the tough times, because they won’t always be tough. We can look forward and we can look to what will be that hasn’t come to pass yet.

The leader’s hope really comes from the belief that a goal is attainable. We can teach people something new; we can help them to learn, grow and transform. It gives you the strength to take yourself through the tough times. It also helps you to use your own personal creativity. And to think more about ideas that have you stuck, too. You wrestle with them and come up with new possibilities.

And hope also brings the ability to be resilient, which means to get through the tough times, to bounce back, to keep going. When we face uncertain times in our life like the world we’re living in now, we need more inspiration. We need more creativity. And we need more resilience to get through and keep going. And hope can bring us all of those things.

So as a leader, as an educator, we are dealers of hope. We bring hope, we talk about hope. And we provide a frame of reference so others can have hope too. Beyond that, what is it that really does motivate you to teach? What is it that brings you into the arena every single day, to do what you do? If we can pause and just capture that, the fuel behind what you do every day, then we can make sure you have it in your life every day. We can actually be intentional about doing the kinds of things that are going to put that in its proper place.

One of the things that fuels me is the people and the joy of connecting with other people, but also wrestling with things and creating something that is transformed. It could be that we’re wrestling with a problem, a program, or trying to develop a musical number we’re going to polish and perform. It could be anything like that. But that wrestle and the transformative experience, and then the product at the end. That is such a beautiful bright spot in my life. And I look for that all the time when I’m an educator doing my educator thing.

What is it that you look for? Take a moment to just jot down some ideas for yourself. And if you have a reflective journal, this is a great idea to write about today. What is it that you deal in? As an educator primarily, we deal in hope. But what else? What is it for you?

Think about the last week of your life as an educator, just the last seven days. If you’re teaching a class right now, what is it that happened during your day that brought you a ray of sunshine, or made you feel really excited or look forward to doing it again? Whatever that is, I would write that down in your reflective journal. This is going to be a clue of the big picture ideas you need to be pursuing so that you have more satisfaction in your role and more happiness in your job.

One of the things I love most about that, wrestling with problems, is collaborating with other people. And right now, in my current role, I do a lot of collaborating with other educators, with colleagues and peers and leaders of all levels. And we might end the day with a conversation where we’re talking about something that is a challenge we’re working on. I love focusing on some of the wins of the past week. So often, I’ll try to choose a conversation for the end of the day that will bring a spark or a light into that day and end the day really well.

That way, in my own role as an educator, no matter what challenges I’m facing during the day, I’m going to end the day in a way that really leaves me feeling great and having a sense of control over what I’m doing. After all, there is so little we can truly control in our world. And in our lives, we can control the attitude we have. And a great way to do that is to put people in your path that you know you can be positive with or who will celebrate with you, or who are willing to look at the hope and the bright side of things. So if you’re interested in that, that could be a way to end your day as well.

What else brings you a fuel for what you’re doing? What gets you through those hard times and helps you persevere, when things seem really, really difficult? It’s very easy to notice all that’s going wrong, we could list five things that are going wrong right now. But what’s going right for you?

If this is a bit of a struggle, and it’s difficult to know what lights your fire, I’d like to suggest one activity you could try every day for the next week. And pretty soon you’re going to be able to identify those things that do bring you a sense of satisfaction in your work. And then you’ll notice what really lights your fire, not just satisfaction, you’ll get to that next level of being really excited about what you do. This activity is to write three good things that are happening or did happen.

At the end of every day, schedule five minutes, just take a notepad and write down three good things. After you do that for a couple of days, turn them into three good things that you did. Things where you had an impact, where you contributed your strengths or your talents. Something where you had autonomy, or you benefited by collaborating with somebody else. Whatever it is, you want three distinctly different things every single day for one week.

And then at the end of the week, look back for patterns. What similarities do you see? Are there similar activities that were good in your opinion? Did these things bring you hope, satisfaction, happiness? Help you feel glad that you are doing the career field you’re in? Whatever you see in those patterns, you can then decide how to get more of that in your daily work. And that’s going to continue to light your fire.

As you think about what fuels you as an educator, and what really brings you excitement in your day and passion to your work, there are some things we can do to help light the fire of other people around us. This is especially important if we have friends, family members, peers and colleagues who are struggling to feel like the work they do makes a difference.

The first thing we can do to inspire hope in other people and light their fire is to show that we love and care for them. That could be we’re just listening, we’re just being there being present, just spending the time. Everyone needs to feel that they are important, and that others will listen to them and just care for them. So demonstrating the love and care we have for others can be a real bright spot that lights the fire.

Second, remember that everyone deserves happiness. And there are some simple things we can do to inspire happiness. While we may not be able to make anyone feel an emotion, we can definitely invite happiness through the things we do. Sometimes it’s through a thank you note, sometimes a phone call, there are a lot of things that can bring happiness. And if you think about what the person in your life might be most interested in, you can act on that and generate a little more happiness.

A third thing we can do is to help the other person figure out what lights their fire and motivates them most. And this could be a lot of talking about the past, what brought them excitement in the past, why they entered the teaching profession, what they have loved. Sometimes in courses they have taught in times when they’ve had a good experience professionally, or with students, happy memories they have during their career.

There are a lot of ways to get at that and really identify what someone’s passion is in their professional area. And if it’s really, really challenging for a person to get up to the space of finding that, we could also look at recreational interests and life areas, and find something that brings joy, excitement, passion, enthusiasm and happiness for that person. Simply having the conversation and exploring that with someone else can also demonstrate that love and care that was the beginning of this list. Anytime we spread that hope in others, and light the fire for them by identifying what they care most about, that will just bring more of the good that we’re trying to put out there in the world by being educators, teaching others and lifting them to the next level of whatever their career field is, or whatever their professional goal is or their personal development goal. So the more we help other people figure out what lights their fire, the more we’re generating a lot of that.

Alright, so think about what lights your fire. Notice it over the next week, and see if you can share and inspire others to do the same. And of course, I would love to hear from you and hear how you’ve made this a reality in your life and in your work. Go ahead and visit BethanieHansen.com/request, and you can share your comments there. And any tips and strategies you have in this particular area would be wonderful. We can share them with other educators in a future episode. Take care of yourself this coming week and enjoy your students. Now we’re wishing you all the best in your online teaching.

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.

Quizlet: Flashcard App to Help Students Learn Course Material

Quizlet: Flashcard App to Help Students Learn Course Material

This content first appeared on APUEdge.com.

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

Quizlet is a very popular flashcard app used in education. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks about using Quizlet flashcards to build long-term memory along with suggested ways that students can help create, use and share the flashcard content as part of the course.

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | Pandora

Read the Transcript:

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. Today, I’m going to talk about the application or the platform called Quizlet. Apparently, Quizlet is super popular in education, generally. But let’s just talk about its potential in online education, shall we?

Online, we have so much possibility here. One thing we can do with Quizlet is get a free account as an educator and just use it for creating some things we share with our students. At the very basic level, that’s a good thing. So, let’s just say that you remember way back, I don’t know how long ago this was, but in your early educational years. Mine were a long time ago. And you used to make flashcards. If you ever had that experience, you know the experience of trying to repeat phrases, terms, ideas and concepts, right?

I remember walking across the university campus, oh, I was probably 18, 19 years old. And I had this huge stack of flashcards. And on the front of the card, I had whatever kind of term it was I was trying to study. And on the back, I would have like this big definition. So, I would first go through and read the term on the front, then flip it read the term on the back and try to associate the definition with the word. And then I would go through backwards, I would read the back of the card, then read the front.

And in my experience, this was great because it was a new method, right? It was the reverse of that first approach. So, it was like studying in a whole different direction. And then I could give my set to somebody else. They didn’t even have to be in my class because the answers were right there. I could have them hold my cards and just say the word, check the back for me and I was never looking at it. And I could explain to them what I believed it was, and then we could kind of make it a conversation.

There were so many ways to use those flashcards. And I remember studying so many concepts for different courses. I’m pretty sure it was not a world language course although I did take Japanese and Spanish. And I probably used flashcards in those classes. This experience was some kind of course with a big, heavy load of content and vocabulary terms. It might have been an advanced course in some subject matter that I was learning about. I just remember that stack of cards mattering to me and carrying it all over the place.

If you’ve had that experience long ago, in your earlier education years, as I have, you know that that is a profound way to study something that you just need to integrate into your brain. It’s like we need to soak up the words and make them part of our new vocabulary. You can’t really do that just passively reading a textbook.

Use Flashcards to Build Long-Term Memory

Let’s think about our students today. And what they’re going to get from our online class. They’re going to go through the content, hopefully they’ll take notes. Some of our students may take notes, some of our students will just read it, watch a video that’s in the class, and then click through and do the work. And there’s not enough time there for all of that content to move from short-term memory into long-term memory and become an area of mastery for our students. So, Quizlet is a great tool that can help us make that shift with our students and promote a greater level of mastery, for the sheer goal of just learning the terms and the content itself.

Now, you could take this a lot further, and there are a lot of other ways to use Quizlet. But this is the one I am really emphasizing today. And that is to bring academic vocabulary into the world that our students live in and help it to become part of who they are.

Many people believe a college education ought to transform the individual. So, if a person is taking an online class in a subject matter, they don’t really know very well, the only way to become transformed by it is to actually make it part of who you are, to consume it, to be able to speak about it intelligently, to learn the terms the phrases, the concepts, the ideas, and then to apply them in real life, or imagine applying them, if it’s not something we can actually carry out. Whatever that takes, at the very least, our students need to be able to speak the language of the subject they’re studying.

Quizlet can help us a lot with that. I’ve visited the platform myself several times. And I’ll be honest, I haven’t used Quizlet to its maximum capacity. This is an area I’m exploring too as an online educator. I’m just checking it out and thinking how wonderful it would be to have this set of flashcards, and to just embed that in the classroom.

One of the things I could do as an educator is to create the flashcards myself. I can spend the time, I could put images on there, I could add all kinds of definitions, color coding, highlighting, whatever it takes. And I can download the app and do it on my mobile device. So, if I have a few minutes here and there, I could be creating that content for my online course.

Guide Students to Create the Content

But I have this other plan for Quizlet that I think would be even better than me as the instructor spending the time building the content. My other plan is to have students create the content. They can create their own flashcards with the content from the course. And then they can collaboratively share it within the course. So, let’s just say I have 20 students in my class, or 25 students in my class, and I’m going to give each one the opportunity to get in there and build their set of flashcards.

Then, they can bring that flashcard set into the discussion space, and everyone’s going to share it there, which means everyone can click through and try your flashcards. And by the time they’ve gotten through several sets of these flashcards, they’ve had that repetition, but they’ve had it in a special way that’s different with each set of flashcards. It’s like magic. We’re going to surround them with the terms and the ideas so they can absorb them and become conversant in that language of the subject matter. This is a very basic level of learning something in a course, that entry level of just learning the key words and phrases that are to be used.

Some people online will tell you there’s a fear that Quizlet could be used for cheating. Quizlet is a study app, it is not used for cheating. However, if a student goes there and takes their ideas off someone else’s freely shared flashcards, that would definitely be an academic violation, a problem with academic integrity.

As you set up your activities in Quizlet, or with Quizlet for students to create or build, what are the things you can do to encourage students into academic integrity and academic honesty? One is to use that content for studying, then to put it aside and to use their own memory and their own thinking when they’re creating their assignments and doing their work. This is the only way your students can know for sure if they actually learned anything. And, by the way, students monitoring their own learning is the critical element that gives them the responsibility for what’s going on. Not everyone is going to see it that way. However, the more you coach them to create the flashcards, the less likely they are to just copy other people’s work.

You could have a little contest or you could have a grade for this. You could do all kinds of fun things to ask them to be creative or to encourage the creativity. You could share the terms, you could share the definitions right up front and make it a contest of the graphics that they could include on those flashcards. Whatever approach you decide to try, there are many ways for you to encourage creativity and originality in what they’re doing.

If you want to run their submissions through a plagiarism checker, an originality checker like Turnitin.com, you could have them submit the terms and definitions to you as an assignment in a Word document, and then go create the flashcards. See, there’s always a way to check originality even when you’re using multimedia tools.

Try Live Rounds of Quizlet in Synchronous Classes

Now, if your students decide to use the free version, this app does have ads on, it is going to be a little more limited than the paid version. Quizlet Plus is a version for teachers. And they call it adding “teacher superpowers” to your account. If you decide to get the Quizlet Plus version for teachers, you can actually enroll specific students in the Quizlet group. And you could have these Quizlet rounds that are called live rounds in real time. If you’re teaching a synchronous online class, this could be especially fun. You could see your students’ progress as they’re completing their study sessions. And you can encourage them to get in there and do the work.

You can also see what topics your students are studying when they’re in the app. So that Quizlet Plus version is a very interesting way to give yourself the space to tailor the help that you give your students and to meet their needs more fully. There are a lot of ways for you to explore this tool, and several types of games that students can play once they have Quizlet flashcards. They can create new sets of flashcards quickly and easily, there can be various ways of studying the fronts or the backs, we could put diagrams on those things. And as I mentioned, images, all kinds of stuff. You can also import from Word Excel or Google Docs to create a study set. So that makes it even easier. And you can have a library of these cards, so you can collect them over time, and have study sets from a lot of different people or a lot of different topics.

It’s a very interesting tool that can even be embedded in your classroom. So, you can put a link to the site, coach your students on how to use it, and then have a repository of all their Quizlet stuff sort of stored there in your classroom. There are also some solutions for textbooks provided on the Quizlet site.

Try Textbook and Existing Resources on Quizlet

Just looking through their myself, I see subjects like chemistry, calculus, engineering, linear algebra, physics, biology, languages, business, and even more. So, some of these flashcards are already there and already available ready for you to use.

As you’re thinking about how you might use Quizlet, I just want to encourage you to try it out, give it a trial run, see what you think of it. And also ask your students what ideas they have for using this tool in different ways. Once you get a flashcard set and you start playing with it, you’ll be surprised at all the different ways that you can play with those ideas that are there for you.

I want to talk you through what you’re going to see when you start working in this set of flashcards that are in Quizlet. So, let’s just say you want to look for an existing set of flashcards that somebody else already created and just see if you could use that. There’s a search bar in the upper righthand corner of the platform when you’re on a PC. And you could just type the term; and since I teach music appreciation, I just typed the word music.

And the first thing that happened was several sets of flashcards came up. And as I open the flashcards I see there’s a set of 137 flashcards in this particular card deck. And down below, I can scroll up and down and see which items are on the flashcards. The flashcards I’m looking at happen to be the note names on the treble clef and the bass clef, along with some other symbols in reading musical notation.

This set of flashcards is a really fun one, because I see the name on the front of the card. And then when I click on the card, it flips over, and it shows me the answer. Then I go to the next one, same deal. Click on the card, flip it over, it shows me the answer. So, I can just click through these and really study that way. And that’s the self-study activity called “flashcards.”

Now, what if I want to do the learning mode? I could choose a goal to personalize my learning Quizlet. And your students could do this too. There’s a Quick Study, there’s a Memorize It All feature. And then there’s a Learn and Apply, where you try to build long-term knowledge. So, this is a degree of personalization that looks like it’s going to be pretty fun.

There’s also a function called test. And in the Test section, we’ve got some true and false questions. We’ve got a definition here and a term here. And we’ve got some things that we can do to click true and false down below. There’s also a little icon where I can click on it, and it’ll speak it out loud, which is great if I want to hear what is being said, especially if I’m studying World Language flashcards. That’s a good thing. So that test function is especially helpful.

And then there’s a matching game. So, if you click “Start Game,” all these things fly on to the screen. And I see for example, the word melody, and then on a different spot I see “it’s the line or tune in music, a concept that is shared by most cultures.” And I’m thinking, based on all the other answers, that’s probably the answer. So, I’m going to click on melody, and I’m going to click on the definition. And I’m going to stack them on top of each other and they disappear. And it’s timing me on the lefthand side. So, it’s kind of fun. It’s like a little game, and students will find this fun, too. So, I’m going to click on these different things and stack them on top of each other and pretty soon I’m going to be done. Yep, my last one. It took me 45 seconds to finish that quiz of matching.

And then on the screen, I have some feedback. It says great start. Now can you do it even better. And someone else who has done this particular set of flashcards, their name is on the screen. It says, “Can you beat this person’s personal best to 44.6 seconds?” And I have the option to study some more or go back to the set to play it again. And there’s my name, it shows me at 45.2 seconds. Wow. So, there are three people that are faster than me on this game. And I could click through again and become better and better if I really want to.

You might have a challenge with all of your students in one class, which would be kind of fun, because then they’re competing against people they know, and who they’re talking to in the same discussions and all of those things. So that matching game, even though it may seem basic, at first, could be super fun, a great way to get students engaged in their memorization and just their understanding of terms, definitions and applications.

There’s also something called “Checkpoint,” and it’s a new feature in Quizlet. It’s a type of assessment. And it’s going to help you choose which terms and definitions that you really want to see. And you get 20 seconds per question. So, it’s going to give you this challenge round and it’s just another way of testing their knowledge in Quizlet.

So, I hope you’ll take a look at Quizlet. Every time I introduce different kinds of technology here on the Online Teaching Lounge, I like to give it a try and talk about all the features, but I’m definitely not selling anything. I don’t work for Quizlet. I’m not an expert at Quizlet. Just talking through the possibilities and options.

Now if you use Quizlet, and you have experience with this, or you try it out after this podcast, I would love to hear how it’s working for you and any ideas you came up with that you might share with others. We can add it to a future episode. So just go to bethaniehansen.com/request. There’s a comment form there and you can share your experience and tell us how this worked for you. Thank you very much for being here and for listening to me walk through the Quizlet app. I hope you’ll check it out. And best wishes trying it this coming week in your online teaching.

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.

#126: Tips for Educators Starting a New Online Class

#126: Tips for Educators Starting a New Online Class

This content first appeared on APUEdge.edu.

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

Many teachers, especially those who are new to online teaching, struggle to figure out how to connect with students. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares ways to establish a relationship and rapport with online students.

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | Pandora

Read the Transcript:

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.

Every time I start to teach a new class, I remember the students I’m about to meet may not know anything about the subject matter, and they might not know me either. I probably have not met them yet, and I will need to get to know them quickly as we all get into the online classroom space. There might be many other things I want to think about as an online educator starting to teach a new online class, and maybe you have a long list of things you think about, too.

In my experience, I should pay attention to those thoughts I’m having before the first day of class and take action in the most important areas. That will make all the difference. In today’s episode, I’m going to walk you through key areas to address before you start teaching your next online class, and the number one most important thing to set the tone for the entire course session. You may be thinking, “It’s just an online class. What could there be to worry about?” And you would be right, you don’t need to worry. With attention to these key areas and the number one most important thing to address, you can have a wonderful online class. Pretty exciting, right?

Let’s get started with some of the questions I hear most often from online educators.

  • What do my students already know about the platform, and how am I going to help them find their way around the class?
  • How do I get to know students online?
  • What is the best way to contact my students so I know they are getting my messages and announcements?
  • How do I get my students help when their technology isn’t working, or when parts of the course aren’t working for them?
  • What am I supposed to do when my technology isn’t working for me? I don’t want to look bad in front of my students, but I know I don’t know everything about the technology either.
  • How do I help students get excited about this class if I didn’t write the course, and it’s not exactly organized how I would have created it, if it were up to me? After all, what should I do to try to get excited myself about the class?
  • If I get it all wrong and just don’t know how to teach online very well, what is the most important thing I should pay attention to?

These seven big questions land into three different areas, and I’ll walk you through these one at a time.

Focus on Communications in the Online Class

First, there are key elements to include in your initial communications, and those communications can include a welcome message sent before the first day of class, a course announcement published on or before the first day of class, and your introduction provided in the online classroom. These communications will focus on answering four of the important questions I hear most often from online educators.

That first question was, “What do my students already know about the platform, and how am I going to help them find their way around the class?” I like to assume that my class is always the very first course they are taking at my university. This way, I provide the kind of guidance a new student really needs. The experienced students can skip past these items, by including them I guide the new student into a successful start.

If my class really is the first one they are taking, it’s common for this student to know very little about the platform and nothing about how to get around the online classroom. I solve this by giving them a video walk-through of the space. This can be done with Screencastify, Loom, Kaltura, Camtasia, or any other video-making app. I have a few earlier episodes of this podcast that focus on making videos in detail, and I encourage you to take a look if you’re interested in more details on how to do it.

My walk-through video is going to be narrated by my own voice to start the relationship with my student, and I’ll show them where to click for the syllabus, the lessons, the discussions, the assignments, and everything else. I’ll usually end this walk-through by showing them exactly where to go to start their first bits of work in this class.

Some schools and universities have their own orientation videos to the platform, in which someone more generically guides the student through the online classroom space. If you have access to one of these and are short on time, you may be able to link to this or embed it into your classroom to save time. If you choose this option, I suggest putting a copy into your welcome message and your first course announcement, and then emailing both of these to your students for the special needs of newer students. After all, if they are less familiar with the platform, they are not going to know where to find the walk-through video if it’s hidden in the classroom.

While we are still talking about those initial communications, I’ll point out that the welcome message greeting your students before the first day of class is one key element for a great start. And, the first week’s course announcement is another key element. Both of these should include details about what students can expect, how to get started in the class, and how to contact you when they need your help. And, in both of these areas, you can find out how you can best contact your students to know if they are getting your messages and announcements. All you need to do is ask them to email you a short message to let you know they received that first communication, so that you know it’s a good way to reach them. And, of course, you’re going to have to follow up with those who don’t connect with you and keep trying different methods until you get it right.

Before your class begins, you have a little more time to find out who to contact about technology problems your students will have, and those technology problems you might have during the course. You can contact the classroom support department, or a help desk, or if you’re really not sure, the faculty HR department to find out who to contact. Believe me, you will need these contact phone numbers and links before that class starts because once class is in progress, you won’t have as much time to try to find out who to contact. You can share the tech department contact information with students in that welcome message and the first announcement, to put them at ease and get them focused help. This is time well spent. Trust me on this one.

One additional tip I have for you is to build relationships with colleagues and supervisors in your institution. You might not know everything about the technology and can get some great ideas from these people who are in the same boat with you. It’s always better to get the help you need to make technology work for you, so you can continue to be effective with students and focus on relationships with them, rather than learning the technology. And if you are still learning, don’t be afraid to tell your students just that. That you are still learning a few things in the online space, so you know how they feel being in learning mode—you’re right there with them. Owning this helps you encourage and connect with students, instead of making excuses and feeling like it’s totally out of control.

Ways to Get to Know Students

The second question online faculty ask is, “How do I get to know students online?” If you’re very experienced teaching face to face, it might seem like online classes couldn’t possibly bring you the same relationships and connections you might get when you’re in the same room with your students. But with some creativity, you can. Answering the question means that you’re going to think about the type of activity you might use to build rapport and relationships. And, you will also consider what kind of technology will make that happen for you. Will it be live, synchronous video meetings? Asynchronous video clips posted in the discussion space? Images each person posts, with some written introductions?

A basic way to get to know students is to think about what you really want to know, and then ask. And be sure to share it about yourself, too. I’ll give you an example of this. When I’m teaching music appreciation online, I like to know about students who have heard traditional music in other parts of the world. In my own introduction, I’ll tell them that I went to Brazil for a music teacher conference and describe some of the instruments I saw and heard. And I tell them that when I went to that same conference a few years later in Scotland, I saw informal groups of people in local pubs playing instruments and singing together. And I also saw a man in a Scottish traditional kilt standing in the center of town playing the bagpipes. And this man had a fancy attachment on the top of the pipes that made fire come out of them.

After sharing these examples, I ask them whether they have traveled, and if so, what kinds of music they might have noticed in other parts of the world. In the process of talking about the music, students who are musicians will usually share that information, tell us what they like to sing or what they like to perform, and what instruments they play. And some will even share sound clips or videos of themselves creating music. This is the beginning of getting to know my students in the online space, and we’re going to keep building on that each week in our discussion. Ultimately, to get to know your students, we have to be willing to share who we are as human beings, and invite them to share a little that brings them into the class and helps us see them as human beings, too.

When I get to know online students and bring in details about the subject we are going to study in the course, this can generate some excitement for the class. I know, it’s sometimes very difficult to get excited as the teacher if you didn’t write the class and you’re teaching what we call a standardized online course. But you can bring in those things that do excite you about the topics and the subject matter itself, and weave them into your weekly approach to that class, even if the structure of the class and the main content cannot be changed. By finding ways to relate to what you’re teaching, you will have a better chance of getting students excited about that class. And this will build positive momentum to help you keep going each week, and to help your students want to complete that course successfully.

I’ve shared some ideas here around getting ready and jumping into the first week of class, and about guiding your students around the course. And, I’ve also touched on some ideas to help you get relationships going with your students and with a course you didn’t create. In the end, some of you listening might be thinking, “If I get it all wrong and just don’t know how to teach online very well, what is the most important thing I should pay attention to?”

The answer is that the most important thing isn’t a thing at all. It’s the people on the other end of the screen. Your students are all there for a reason, and they all have their own, individual needs and challenges while they are in your class. They need support, encouragement, and above all, understanding. When you’re struggling to get through to them, remember that they are human beings who want to be successful, and they need you. Even if you have no strategies for communication plans, and you don’t know exactly what the best ways to reach your students are, if you stay in touch with empathy for your students and really want to help them, you will do well in all of your efforts. You don’t have to get everything right, and you don’t have to be perfect. But there is no replacement for caring about your students and being kind in your approach.

As you focus on the people you’re working with, this will invite you to sometimes be more flexible with them, or give them a few more resources to guide them. And maybe it will mean that you pick up the phone and try to reassure them when you’ve noticed that they didn’t log into the class at all this week.

Whatever you feel inspired to do in your care for your students, acting on those ideas will make you an excellent online educator. It will also help you enjoy teaching. Because the focus isn’t going to be about you and whether or not you’re doing it right. The focus will be on your students, and how you can guide, support, and love them. And as you prepare to teach your new online class, getting to know and caring about your students really is the most important thing.

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.

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