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Helping Educators Thrive while Teaching Online, so They Can Help Students Develop Their Potentials and Promote Resilience and Lifelong Learning in Their Communities

Dr. Bethanie Hansen 

Strategic Educational Leader and Coach

#107: Managing Sick Time or Emergencies as an Online Teacher

#107: Managing Sick Time or Emergencies as an Online Teacher

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. Hanseninterim Associate Dean, School of Arts, Humanities and Education

You never know when an emergency or illness may strike. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides tips and strategies to help online educators prepare for unexpected absences, illnesses, or other emergencies. Learn why it’s so important to keep your class in order, develop a communication plan, provide emergency contact sheet, and more.

Listen to the Episode:

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Read the Transcript:

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.

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. Today, we’ll talk about sick time when you’re teaching online classes. I hope you never get sick when you’re in the middle of a class, that could be a difficult time for you. But, it does happen and, of course, there are other reasons we might have to leave our class, like illnesses or other emergencies. Perhaps we have a brief technology failure and don’t have new technology right away. For whatever reason, there are so many reasons we should prepare for sick time when we’re teaching online and this episode will help you to do that.

First, we’ll talk about keeping your class in order before an illness ever strikes. Then, policies you may maintain so that when someone else teaches your class, students will know what to expect. We’ll talk about grading your work, the actual emergency or illness time, and some personal experiences I have in this area. So, let’s get started.

Tips for Preparing Your Classroom for Sickness or Time Away

First, before you ever have an illness, you want to keep your class in order. What are some of the things that you might do to keep your class in order?

Be Proactive

First, be proactive. Guide your students in what they’re habits should be when they are participating in your class. By being proactive and giving announcements up front, having your class set up for the entire course before it begins and having a regular routine, it will be easy to maintain that class in your absence should you need to be out of class.

You can guide students well in advance of any assignment by giving them some sheets of guidance, maybe examples. You can have a video where you walk through the assignment. And, all of these can be prepared before you ever start teaching your class. After all, you handle these assignments regularly and you know that there are students who tend to struggle with the same things every time. Why not prepare those videos before the class begins so that, should you become ill, your guidance is already there in the classroom?

Keep an Organized Classroom

Then, keep an organized classroom. If you have rubrics in place for your assignments, always have them in a space that students can view them before submitting their work. You might also have them in a place where someone else can see them if they should have to step into your class in your absence and grade that work.

You can have the lessons labeled and everything in order in the learning management system. With the way that learning management systems are designed today, it is very easy to have an organized online classroom, well prepared with all the lesson materials before the course starts, and ready to roll for your students and for the entire session.

Create an Emergency Contact Card

Contact information for your supervisor might be difficult to get if you work at a large online institution that is not very personal with you. However, most places we teach nowadays do contact us and let us know exactly who to speak with should we become ill or have an emergency. Create an emergency contact card and keep it in your wallet, on your board at home where you might keep important things, and share it with any loved ones that are close to you. If you have an accident or an illness and you are not able to communicate with your institution or your students, a person in your life can use that information to reach out on your behalf.

Some important details could include your supervisor’s telephone number, email address and name. If that’s not available, maybe there’s a faculty relations or a hiring department or some other management group at your institution that you can speak with.

If you’re a K – 12 educator, there might be a substitute teacher hotline, a principal, an administrator, a colleague, a friend, someone you can contact or have your family and friends contact in your absence. Keep that information close by, always ready in an emergency.

Provide Students with a Secondary Contact in Case of Emergency

One other tip is to give your students information about who they can contact if you don’t appear in class. Should something happen to you and no one in your life is able to reach out to the institution, students should know how they can reach out when they need help. Perhaps we could give them the information to the department chair, the principal or whoever manages your group. Either way, you always want students to have a secondary contact in case of emergencies, so giving them that information could be useful. You might not give them your supervisor’s phone number, but an email address would suffice.

Maintain Healthy Habits to Keep You Well

And then, of course, maintain healthy habits the best you can to take care of yourself during times where you are well and healthy and all is going as planned. When you maintain healthy habits and take care of the sleep you need, the healthy eating and the rest at times when you’re not working and keep those relationships alive in your life, that will help you to be ready to go when it is time to teach your class so that you’re always at your best. Then, when you should have to reduce that effort, you still have something to give and you have done such a great job up to that point.

Classroom Policies to Develop Ahead of Illness or Unexpected Absences

Now that you’ve kept your class in order, a second area to be thinking about is policies you maintain in the classroom. These policies can be very helpful to you in times of illness or emergencies.

Develop a Communication Plan for Students

First one is a communication plan. A communication plan is when you tell your students how often to expect to hear from you. For example, you might tell them to check the weekly announcements every week and you can prepare standard announcements to have rolling out each week of the class automatically. You can update them with any pertinent information as you go, but having these in place is a wonderful part of your communication plan.

A second part of your communication plan is to let students know how often to expect grading feedback. If they have questions about their grade or would like something explained to them or would like to challenge a grade, giving them a communication plan about how to contact you and who to reach out to is very helpful. This communication plan could also include that information I previously mentioned about contacting a supervisor if you are out of class and non-responsive. It may sound strange to tell students what to do in your absence before you ever have an absence, but in case of an emergency, students do need to know who they could reach out to to get help finishing their course.

And, in your communication plan, I would also suggest posting this in the course where it can be prominently displayed so any visitors to your classroom can also see it. Perhaps in a course announcement or the syllabus or both.

You can follow your communication plan regularly and make sure students are updated about what’s going on in the class, and also use the course messaging system. Many schools nowadays use email as well, which is fine, but in your absence, someone will not have the access to your email. If there is a messaging system in the classroom or a question and answer board, I would suggest using that regularly so students’ exchanges can be viewed by others who might need to step into your classroom.

Follow your communication plan. Once you’ve told your students how you plan to communicate throughout the course, stick to it. If something should happen and you can’t be in the classroom, they will be the first to realize something has gone on and be able to reach out if needed.

And, of course, be clear and present in your course activities. A highly engaged instructor creates a wonderful atmosphere and relationships with their students. If you’re clear and present in the announcements and your grading substantive feedback area and also posting in discussions, it’s going to be obvious that you’re there creating a wonderful learning experience together with your students. If something should happen, another person could look into this and see how you have taught them, what your approach has been, and do their best to continue giving those students a positive experience in your absence.

Maintain a Clear and Quality Grading Strategy

Clear and present grading of students’ work is also essential so that your course is always well-maintained but also anyone who must step in in your absence can see what you’ve done with students to this point. And, I would suggest if you have essays to grade that you provide comments directly on the essays that are written. Also, provide students with the rubric ahead of time. Post it in the assignment area and use it in your grading. This makes your grading very clear and others can understand on which you have based the scoring and the feedback.

Now, when you grade your students’ work, it’s important to use rubrics. Rubrics show various ranges of skill levels achieved, categories that you focused on, and so forth. One of those categories should be the content itself.

For example, if you’re teaching a music appreciation class, as I do, there’s a section where we mark about using music terms appropriately. I, of course, have ranges for that but I also mark it and explain to students when they have used the terms well and when they have a misunderstanding. And, I have some different corrective elements that I can put in there to explain what the term means if a student has misunderstood.

The content you are teaching matters the most. Writing style is also important. We want to help students as much as we can learn how to write properly and be able to produce academic essays. But, more than that, we need to know that they understood the subject matter. Unless you’re grading English essays, in any other subject area, grade the content first and be sure to give lots of comments about that content and then provide correction on the formatting, the citation style, and the grammar and other things you might care about.

Never let a student move on out of your class who has very poor writing without correcting that. It would be a shame for a student to go through an entire online degree and not learn how to write properly. English class is really not the only place where we can do that.

If you provide quality grading in your classroom every time, then should something happen to you and you’re not able to finish teaching the course, someone else will be able to look over your grading, see what your approach has been and give those students a quality experience to the end of the class.

You can also ensure that when you have given your students quality grading feedback, they are learning from you. There are things that you can teach them that no one else can, and giving them your best every time when you are at your best is a really great policy to ensure that they learn what they can learn from you.

And, lastly, decide up front what you care about most in grading your students’ work. What ideas and concepts matter to you? Be sure to remark about those ideas when you’re giving the feedback and let students know as much as possible.

Tips on How to Handle Emergencies or Illnesses

Now, let’s talk about how to handle those emergencies or illnesses that occur. Anything could happen, ranging as small as simply having an allergy situation, like I’m having this week, or you might have something like a hospitalization, a surgery, a major illness that keeps you away from your work. You might have an accident. Perhaps there’s a natural disaster or a car accident. I have worked with faculty who have had all of these things happen. I’ve also worked with faculty who had terminal illnesses or major degrading illnesses that took away their ability to teach online at all.

Issue an Instructor Availability Announcement to Students

There are so many things that can happen during our lifetime, independent of our work. Whatever is happening to you, whether large or small, the first step is to let your students know what to expect. I like to call this an instructor availability announcement. Your students need to know that you’re not going to be on your normal schedule, that your regular communication plan has been disrupted, and that they will need a little more patience than usual.

When you give them this plan, it is not important to give them your personal details about the crisis you’re experiencing or the illness. If you are comfortable doing that and you would like to share it in a brief way, it’s of course acceptable to do so. But, I always suggest that faculty keep their private details to themselves when they feel they want to do that.

So, telling your students that you’re going to be out of class for a few days, or unable to interact with them for a few days is totally fine. That instructor availability announcement could say something like, “I will be offline Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week. I will check-in Friday and at that time, I will answer any questions.”

And, you could also give a contact information for your supervisor if they have an emergency or a question that’s urgent in your absence. If someone else is going to step into your class while you’re away, it’s helpful to let students know that as well. Introduce the person, give them their email contact information and, of course, help that person know what to expect when teaching your class.

In an ideal situation, when you’re ill, you’ll have a substitute teacher come in and work with you. In colleges and universities, that is rarely the case. Sometimes you might have a colleague that’s able to teach for you, but that is extremely rare. If you’re going to be out only a couple of days, simply putting an instructor availability announcement and returning and catching up when you’re well again is adequate.

If you’re going to be out a longer duration and someone’s going to teach the rest of your class or a period of time for you, you might want to orient that person, if possible, on what you’ve done with your students and what you would appreciate them doing in your absence.

Communicate with Supervisors, Colleagues and Family

Communicate with your supervisor and your institution about your absence. And, of course, if you are not able to do so, be sure to have your family or friends who are contacting your manager for you do this on your behalf.

If you have a colleague that can teach for you in your absence, communicate well with them what you’re going to be doing and when you can be back and how they can reach you if they have any questions. Then, of course, when you’re teaching and you are just gone for a short time, you’ll have to catch up and let students know about your grading timeline when you’re back.

When others are teaching, you will need to know what they are going to do in your absence. For example, in my institution, if another faculty member steps in and teaches for you, they will manage the questions students have and they might engage in the discussions and keep the class basically moving forward. But, the grading will be the instructor’s responsibility when they return from the illness.

In special situations where an instructor is gone for longer than just a few days, that grading might be done by a colleague. But, it depends on the situation and it’s not exactly clear for every single case. It can be helpful to discuss this with others who might be teaching for you, just to find out what to expect and also to help them know how they can help manage your class.

In the worst-case scenario where you cannot finish the class or even tell your students that you are gone, the best thing to have done up to that point and in any case when you’re teaching is just your best work, to be on top of your game when you are healthy and well and when everything is going the best that can be expected.

If you cannot finish the class or even tell your students that you are leaving, be sure to give your colleague or your supervisor the best guidance you can about what you’ve done with your students to that point and then step out of the classroom and allow them to teach it out.

Tips for Supervisors to Manage Faculty Emergencies

Now, I’ve had some personal experiences with each of these scenarios where I have managed online faculty in the School of Education at my university and in the School of Arts and Humanities. There have been so many situations and they’re all different. They range from just a brief illness where a faculty member just let me know and needed me to watch their class, and sometimes I’ve had a situation where a person had a major illness, they were hospitalized and in surgery and unable to communicate with me. And, the way I discovered it was they were simply absent for class more than a day or two.

And, as the supervisor of online faculty, I’m very proactive and I look at their classrooms and I stay on top of that. So, a faculty member’s not going to be away from class for more than a day or two without me noticing and then I’m going to reach out if it takes three, maybe four days and they’re not back in class and I’m going to see what I can do to help them.

If you don’t have someone like that in your situation, it’s especially helpful to reach out and be proactive whenever you can. I’ve had faculty also have car accidents where some major things were happening and they were not going to recover right away and they really could not teach again for weeks. I’ve also had faculty where their technology had failed, their computer crashed, they were not able to get another computer anytime soon. And, in those kinds of emergencies, it can be especially debilitating to you if you do all your work online.

One recommendation for that is to find a place where you can either get a loaner computer, short-term or maybe there’s a computer work station where you can log in, either on a local college campus in a library or in a public library. And then, of course, log off again and clear the cache and the cookies after you’re done using it for your teaching. If you have a family member or friend with a computer that you can use, you can also do that short term in a technology accident.

If you have a health decline that’s actually going to take away your ability to teach online, and I’ve worked with many faculty in those situations as well who either could no longer type, could no longer speak, could no longer maintain the rigor of grading essays for very long, different things, you might be able to work with your academic institution to teach smaller course loads.

You might be able to reduce your typing by using something like Dragon Dictate, naturally speaking. There are a lot of different ways to accommodate health declines or other kinds of setbacks where you’d like to keep teaching but cannot teach to the full load that you might have in the past. And, I would highly recommend considering those and then, of course, deciding if you are able to teach in the future. And, only you have the answer to that. You can think about your own personal situation and decide.

Whatever happens to you, know that your work is valued to your students and to those that you work with at your school or your institution. As an educator, you make a difference and you matter immensely. I want to encourage you not to be embarrassed if you have a sickness or an illness or an emergency, but to reach out to people around you and communicate what your needs might be. You will be surprised how others can step in and help you and manage your students on the short term at least in your absence and help you make arrangements for whatever needs you might have.

Of course, wrapping all of this up, it’s never fun to be sick when you’re teaching online, but there are so many things you can do to plan ahead before sickness ever strikes or emergencies come, and there are things that you can do to manage those things if you should experience them.

Above all, I suggest that you keep a contact card for your colleagues, your manager, your supervisor, and your institution available where loved ones in your life can reach out and let others know if something’s happened to you, should that be the case. This, at the bare minimum, is really important so that you have an emergency plan as an online educator.

Well, to your health and to your wellbeing, I wish you all the best this coming week and I also wish you a successful experience managing any illness or emergency you might face while teaching online.

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/requests. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.

#105 Podcast: Helping Students Navigate their Online Education Journey

#105 Podcast: Helping Students Navigate their Online Education Journey

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education and
Dr. Jan SpencerDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education and
Dr. David Ferreira, Faculty Member, APU and Provost, Charter Oak State College

The pandemic caused the greatest disruption to higher education in the past 150 years. Helping students navigate these changes—including the shift to online education for many—is a major challenge for both student affairs’ professionals and teachers. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen and Dr. Jan Spencer talk to Dr. David Ferreira, an APU faculty member and provost at a community college. Learn how institutions of higher education must be ready for their students, how faculty can help students during their online education journey, and why mental health must be front and center for students and faculty alike.

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
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Read the Transcript:

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.

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. Thank you for being with us today. We are just around 100 episodes of this podcast. That means we’ve been with you almost two years, helping you learn more about online education and think about your students and your online work.

We have some special guests with us today, and I’d like to introduce Dr. Jan Spencer and Dr. Dave Ferreira. Jan, would you tell us a little bit about you just to refresh our listeners and then we’ll go to your guest.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you, Bethanie. It is always a privilege to talk with you and being a part of this podcast. I am the Department Chair for Educational Leadership and Student Life, which incorporates three different programs, the Educational Leadership piece of K-12 Education, and then two higher education programs, one in Student Affairs and one in Higher Education Administration.

And it’s really a real blessing to me to have my guest here, Dr. Dave Ferreira, who is newer to us at APU, but he is very much of an asset to our program, particularly in student affairs. Dave, tell us a little bit about yourself and where your main job is and anything else you want to throw in there?

Dr. David Ferreira: Well, thank you Dr. Spencer and Bethanie. Great to be here and thank you for having me. So, currently, actually, I’m the Provost at Charter Oak State College, which is Connecticut’s public online state college. And I’ve been in this role for just over six months.

Prior to that time, I was the Dean of Academic and Student Affairs at Northwestern Connecticut Community College. And so I’ve been in the Connecticut system. In addition, as you mentioned to working with APU as an adjunct faculty member over in student affairs and higher education. And it’s a really great role. I love doing that because we get to work with, and mentor, and teach the next generation of higher education leaders in particular over in student affairs.

So I’ve been in higher ed now for, I would say it’s actually approaching 20 years. And so, it’s really great because so much has changed over in higher education. And now, more than ever, we actually are taking a look at that type of holistic approach with students and just ways to work on retention and graduation, but also doing so with an equity lens. So I would actually argue there are a lot of challenges, but there is no better time to be in higher education than today.

Dr. Jan Spencer: That’s great. It is a changing world of student affairs and online education. And as your role has changed where you are now a provost of an online college, it is very much of an interest to us to see from your perspective, the kinds of things that are changing, just as your role changed. So, I think the different opportunities for people to work in higher education, particularly in the online space, are opening wide up and there’s challenge there, there’s opportunities there. Give us your perspective.

Dr. David Ferreira: I think that with the pandemic, obviously, nobody ever wanted to have a pandemic come to us, but it has. What I kind of tell my team, because as the role of the provost, I’m the chief academic affairs officer, I’m the chief student affairs officer, and I’m also the chief diversity officer of the college. So, I actually kind of three roles in one.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Not bottle washer, right?

Dr. David Ferreira: Yeah. No. But part-time. Other duties is assigned. And so what I’ve actually told my team, because actually we’re in the midst of actually starting up our new strategic plan to take us for the next five years, is we’re in the middle of the greatest disruption to higher education in the past 150 years. Been nothing greater of a disruption since the industrial revolution. So as we create our new plans, no pressure, right? And so I think what we have really found through the pandemic, we really highlighted a couple of things.

First, is that students were forced to go online really quickly. Over a matter of a week, I was the dean of academic and student affairs at Northwestern Connecticut Community College when that happened and we worked really quick to try to do the best experience online.

And for some students, it really wasn’t for them. They learned that, “Hey, I really need to be face to face or I need to be face to face for particular classes.” But, for others, they were kind of into this forced way in which they like, “Hey, I can work at 11 o’clock at night in my pajamas after the kids go to bed. And so this actually allows me the access and the ability to do so.”

Or in particular where I came from previously, I was in a rural area and transportation is a huge issue. So by just being able to have access to reliable Wi-Fi, I am able to actually access higher education or I’m able to access more classes so I can actually complete quicker.

And so, I think that is something really radical. So, what we’re going to see now on Charter Oaks and over at APU is that this is an option that they never considered before. And so, how do we actually then reach out to those students who are those students where when they were forced to go to online education, that it actually is working out for them? How do we identify them and actually go ahead and say, let’s go ahead and be your provider.

The other thing that I think the pandemic really highlighted is a focus on the holistic approach to the student and also mental health. Unfortunately, through the pandemic, mental health has really become a gargantuan issue, in particular, with our adult students that come over to college for online education. And so, I think as a college we’ve learned, we simply need to go ahead and need to make investments in mental health for our students in order to be able to best serve them because it is actually I think a moral imperative issue that we do so.

Dr. Jan Spencer: That was a tremendously insightful answer. And I do appreciate your wisdom in seeing the different kinds of challenges that students are facing with this forced-on technology that some of them never planned on.

At the same time, for those who have intentionally chosen online education from the start, there are some challenges in learning about student affairs, learning to practice student affairs on higher education administration because of the online factor. Can you address some of the ways that you can see students and institutions overcoming the challenges of trying to be personal with people and really help them along, but still maintain that distance? Because that’s what it is.

Dr. David Ferreira: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think that there’s a number of approaches we can take to try to be very personable with this. First is, use of technology. Even before the pandemic, we’re with our online students, how many of us actually made it possible to do things via Zoom, or Webex, or Teams or whatever it could be? Because there is a way where you can give personalized assistance using technology.

For example, before the pandemic, we probably did things primarily over phone or email. However, doing synchronous sessions to help them actually, for example, with students, with the onboard process, we can share the screen, teach them how to go through the application process, how to log into the learn and management system that they have at their respective institution to log in for the first time. Because that’s a big issue. If you’re coming to an online college and you haven’t taken an online class even in a couple years, just simply, how do I get to my course? Remember in a traditional university, where’s my classroom?

And you used to have to go around to the map, ask people where’s this hall, right? That’s the same thing in an online environment. We need to say, how do we take that and actually apply it over here. So things of utilizing technology to help students onboard and produce the most personalized experience.

Likewise, another thing that we really have learned and putting a focus on in particular in the upcoming semesters is about that outreach to the student and particularly, our new students within the first two weeks. How is their experience? How are they coming on board? Do they know about the resources available to them? Whether it be tutoring, the library, if they are struggling with anything from a mental health or short-term financial need. We need to make sure that we’re doing that personalized upfront outreach so that we can connect them to the resources because it is much more difficult to find those resources.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Yes. Bethanie, will you have something to add into this?

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Well, a question really, Dave has me thinking because when he’s talking about walking the student around campus, like what we used to do when things were “normal” and live, I’m just thinking with this online stuff and whether you’re doing it synchronously or asynchronously, everybody is in such a different place with that, right? Some are digital natives, some are just totally lost. And I’m wondering how faculty could help with that?

Dr. David Ferreira: I think there’s a couple of things that faculty can do, really. One, and we’re working on this too with our faculty, which is, depending where the student is in their online education journey. So I say, if you’re into a first semester gateway course, and it’s the first week or two of the semester, there’s an expectation that you give a little bit more grace to the student than you would, who maybe is in a capstone course in their final semester. They’ve already been through it, they’ve kind of gone through the process, they know where to look for things.

So I think we have to ask our faculty, where are the students in their educational journey? And in my mind there’s always two types of colleges or universities. There’s the first type of college or university who says, “Oh, only if I had these students. Are the students ready for our college or our university?”

And I think we’re not that. Our college and university is, is our college ready for our students? And it’s a change of mindset in order to actually go ahead and it’s a change of culture. And I think we really need to make sure are we doing our professional development for our faculty, our orientation for our faculty? Just like we ask, how do we onboard our students? Well, how do we onboard our faculty and our staff to actually say, this is our culture? Our culture is how can we prepare our college or university for our students, not the other way around and to then look at policies and practices that do so.

And also, I say do so from an equity lens standpoint in particular. And now we’re looking at this right now. Are we infusing culturally responsive teaching within our courses to make sure that also, everyone feels welcome and included and the material is relevant to them? And so, I think that’s there.

And then the last way too is we talk about learning preferences, right? And so, when we do communicate to students, are we communicating in the way that actually appeals to multiple learning preferences? I always ask the question, if you ever buy something from Ikea, right, there’s two types of people. Everything’s sprawled out and they start to try to put things together. There’s the others that read the directions first before they touch anything. Those are just our different learning preferences.

So, when we approach our lessons and the way in which we craft our online courses, are we doing so from a universal design framework as well, where we’re appealing to multiple learning preferences so that if this way doesn’t work for them, they’ll be able to capture and get the information that way. Again, we’re not lowering the standards, we’re providing multiple avenues so that we help the student meet the high outcomes that we have expected of our students.

Dr. Jan Spencer: In your sharing and including equity, diversity, inclusion, one of the spinoffs there is the area of politics. We’ve seen such polarization in our country, in our world for that matter, with regard to politics. How do we deal with the issues, particularly in an online environment where you have students who are thrown in a place together, but they may want to maintain their polarization, so to speak? As a student affairs, professional, highly trained, what are the ways we deal with that? Can you help us with that?

Dr. David Ferreira: Yeah, I wish I had the perfect answer because we are so polarized in this environment, whether we are mandate versus not mandate, mask or no mask, and left versus right, and who won the last election. There’s so many things that are very polarizing out there. And I think it’s providing opportunities for that type of discussion, but you have to make sure we have the framework.

I used to teach American government. And so, we would cover items like abortion, and the death penalty, and burning of the American flag. These things are very hot topics, right? People feel very strongly one way or the other. And so, I think it’s a way in which we approach it, because these are adults.

And so, the way I actually, I approached it upfront is I’d say we’re going to cover some very tough questions, some tough topics. And the only thing I’m going to expect is that we do so in a very respectful manner. When we framed it in that way of saying, this is the expectation, that we’re going to have these tough conversations, but, by the way, I don’t have these issues and I don’t expect to have it now. That sets a, I guess, a tone or a framework that we’re going to go ahead and have it.

But then on the other side, we have to have people see the other side, right? So, if we’re talking about a mask mandate, I would actually have our students look at it from the opposite perspective, right? Because there’s a lot of ways we can look at it. We’re looking at it from schools and school board meetings, making sure that we do so in respectful manner.

So again, I think everything we do, we have to do it by design. And if we do that and have it and teach and encourage, but also have people look at ways through their own opposite, not-lived experience framework, hopefully we can tone down the tenor because we are an institution of higher education and also of good citizenship. So we have to make sure we infuse that within our curriculum.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Excellent. Along with that, you mentioned the crafted situation where you have some outcomes you’re trying to achieve in terms of learning, but also relationship and being able to deal with difficult issues. One of the things is how we become global in our thinking, in our actions. And it puts a much of a greater challenge to an instructor to be able to maybe span the time zones.

So, a greater call to us, at least in my view, is to be willing to be imposed upon. So, if we’re going to have a class and we have a student that needs a conversation with us, instead of making them talk to us at two o’clock in the morning where they are, we’re the ones who need to be willing to be imposed upon. What is your sense of the willingness of instructors to adopt some of the challenges of online education and be willing to change their style to make it work?

Dr. David Ferreira: In the end I think what we have to ask faculty, and, again, I think it all goes back to setting up the expectations of culture. That this is our culture. Our culture is that we are a university that asks ourselves, are we ready for our students? If that’s not something that fits within your personal brand or what you are looking to do, maybe this place is not the place for you. That’s a tough question to ask, right?

But just like when I worked at the community college, there were some people who applied as a faculty member and really they wanted to work at an R1 heavy research university and we need those people. We absolutely need folks over at R1 institutions. We want the best folks at our R1 institutions. That wasn’t who we were as a community college. We were a teaching institution. That was our primary mode. And if that wasn’t your primary passion, maybe it’s not a fit.

But, obviously, you don’t expect a faculty member to be around at two o’clock in the morning, but you should expect a faculty member to say, “Hey, look, I should be able to grant maybe some office hours, but also say, but by appointment and try to work with the student.”

Because, for example, if you’re working with a student in Israel, you shouldn’t expect to have that student meet with you between sundown Friday and sundown on Saturday because they’re practicing Shabbat. That’s just a cultural expectation. And so I think you just want to say, look, there are some parameters, yes, we’re not going to expect you to be there 24/7, but we do expect you to at least be as flexible as you can be so that you can work with the student. And I think you got to have that in writing as well. So therefore it’s very clear that that’s who we are as an institution and that’s what we expect out of you.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you. One of the things you said are earlier, you’ve mentioned, I think at least once, maybe twice the involvement of mental health in student affairs. Can you expand upon that just a little bit? What is the increased role of student affairs with regard to mental health? When we say mental health, what does a student affairs professional look for? How do they help students in issues dealing with mental health?

[Student Affairs: Addressing Student Mental Health and Wellness]

Dr. David Ferreira: A lot of times when we take a look at mental health, one, it is on a huge rise and that’s nobody’s fault. That’s just part of the pandemic. I think studies have shown that between a quarter and a third of our adult student population that’s online, they’re struggling with some type of mental health. And then not to mention their children that are struggling with mental health that are going through their K-12.

So, there’s a couple things that I think we need to do as higher education institutions is one, what do we offer? And so I know at my full-time position where I’m at, we’re actually working to secure a vendor that can provide 24/7 mental health care in a, basically, a telehealth environment. Our students are coming to us via tele. So we need to be able to provide the mental health services in a telehealth environment.

And second thing we have to do is we have to train our staff. What are the signs we need to look for? Again, we don’t need them to be mental health experts, but what are the top two or three little flags or things we need to look for in order to identify or do kind of a little bit of an outreach to them to see how they’re coming along?

And then, as we mentioned here, it also goes to our faculty. Our faculty again, we don’t expect them to be mental health experts, but they’ll be able to see something is different in this discussion post this week compared to last week. Their performance has started to rapidly decline over the past two weeks.

Who do I turn to? One, do they know who do they turn to at the college or university to basically do a checkup? So we need to establish some pieces in place, some processes, a design so to speak to do that. And then at the same time we got to have access to that telehealth type of mental health services. I think it’s really critical. I know over here in the state of Connecticut, the governor has actually allotted some money for colleges and universities to address mental health issues with students. And so my college has allotted a little bit of money to do that.

But even after the pandemic, we need to go do that because this is something I’ve always made a case for. When it came to the federal dollars that have come through the pandemic, not much has actually gone to online institutions and I’ve had to make the case, our students are humans, too. They’re struggling just like any student who’s sitting inside of a classroom. They’re just struggling from behind a laptop. And so we need to make sure that we have equitably distributed those resources to our online students so they can actually receive those types of supports.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you very much. I want to give Bethanie a chance as our hostess to speak into this process as well. Because I think she may have some questions to ask you, Dave.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thank you, Jan. And thank you Dave, for all the wisdom you’re sharing with us today. I was hearing the question that Jan just asked about the mental health and thinking about faculty. When you say that we need to make investments in mental health, it’s a moral imperative, earlier in this episode, I got to thinking that a faculty member thinking about a student’s mental health might be really concerned about how do I help? How do I support? How do I not cross the line into some area I’m really uncomfortable with or not qualified for? What do you think they could do?

Dr. David Ferreira: Yeah. I always start with professional development. We’re actually doing this in regards to accessibility as well, which is we’re doing a session on here’s the do’s and don’ts. For example, with accessibility, obviously you must give the accommodation that is afforded to the student. But don’t go beyond that. Don’t give them everything because if you give them everything, you have to do that for all students.

So same thing over in mental health. Here’s what’s not expected of you. You’re not expected to sit on the phone for two hours with a student as they go ahead and talk about how their world is crashing, right? Yes. You need to be responsive. You want to listen, but you need to say, “Okay, I’m hearing what you’re saying. And I want to connect you to the best person possible to make sure that we get you the help that’s needed.”

So, it’s the professional development. I would start with the do’s and don’ts. If your college, university is working with a vendor, typically built into the contract is professional development and training for faculty and staff. If not, it’s a little bit of an investment, definitely make that investment. And so I would say start over there. Work with them.

But then also at the same time, provide that professional development session, too. Sometimes it’s actually therapy for the faculty member as well. Because we also have to keep in mind that as our students are struggling through this pandemic from a mental health perspective, our faculty and our staff, they’re also struggling. They’re getting burnt out, they’re mentally drained. And so, I think we also, maybe as administrators or leaders need to also be conscious of that. And also ask ourselves, are we providing the support to our faculty and our staff? Because also when they learn about those resources available to them, they’ll also be better equipped to help with those resources available to our students. And I think that’s really crucial.

And the last thing I would actually mention too, and I think it’s really important to highlight when we talk about health and wellness is that the theme of this year’s Black History Month is health and wellness.

It’s important to make sure we realize that because I think it’s emphasizing where we see, but then also emphasizing too, the historical disproportionate impact on our underrepresented minority communities and particularly, in our Black community that systemically we’ve seen over the years. So, I’m really appreciative for this year’s Black History Month, that we have that emphasis on health and wellness because I really think it brings it to the forefront.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thank you, Dave. And I appreciate you mentioning the faculty. Sometimes faculty are really hard on themselves, and they don’t realize that all this added strain and stress of what’s been going on in the country or the world really just takes its toll. Sometimes work will take twice as long, or sometimes you’ll just be really unfocused and not sure why.

And it’s just a good reminder that yep, we’re all facing tough things. We need to know what those resources are so we can get through it. We’re just about at the end of our episode here and I’m curious if you have any last takeaways you want to make sure our listeners really get from your message today, Dave.

Dr. David Ferreira: Well, I think the first thing that we want to know, wherever you work in higher education, online’s here, online’s here to stay. And so again, I think for any institution, APU, or where I work over at Charter Oak or anywhere else, this is a rapidly evolving component of higher education. And, again, what are we going to do to make sure that more and more students are going to utilize online either partially or fully? What are we going to do to make sure we’re ready? And I think the biggest thing too is the fundamental question we have to ask is are we nimble enough to make sure that we can quickly adapt? We saw how quick and nimble we can be. In higher education, we don’t move fast, right? We kind of move like the Titanic.

And so we got to be able to say, are we nimble enough to actually make sure we can quickly pivot to best meet the needs of students? It is an imperative because that’s what we’re here for. We’re not here for the paycheck. We’re here to make sure that we actually provide those opportunities because what we do in higher education, fundamentally, at the end of the day, we make them better citizens. But also in a number of cases, we break the cycle of poverty, not only for this generation, but generations to come. There is no better place to be than higher education. And, honestly, with the access and affordability that we provide with online education, there’s nowhere else we’d want to be right now.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Beautiful. And Jan, do you have any final comments?

Dr. Jan Spencer: Well, I just appreciate Dr. Ferreira’s involvement in our program here at APU. He has added a great spark to what we’re doing. Appreciate his input all the time. And particularly now that he has become a provost, he’s going to have a different view yet of what it is that we’re doing here in terms of educating online learners. So, thank you, Bethanie, for helping us take the time to spotlight some of the things that are happening in the world of student affairs and higher education administration.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thank you both for being here. As we close this episode of the Online Teaching Lounge, we want to thank Dr. Jan Spencer, a Department Chair in the School of Arts, Humanities, and Education and Dr. Dave Ferreira, part-time faculty at American Public University and also Provost at Charter Oak State College.

Thank you for being with us today and thanks to you, our listeners for tuning in. Be sure to share this podcast with your colleagues who are working and teaching online. And spread the word about this podcast. Post this episode in your favorite social media space. We want to expand our reach to help you and others who are teaching online, which can be a challenging endeavor. Best wishes to you in your online teaching this 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.

#104: Tips to Recognize Burnout and Overcome Overwhelm

#104: Tips to Recognize Burnout and Overcome Overwhelm

This content first appeared at APUEdge.com.

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education

Are you experiencing burnout? Burnout is serious and can impact your health, happiness, relationships, and work. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses the signs of burnout including exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy. She also discusses ways to rebuild your emotional strength, manage your energy, and find satisfaction in your work again.

Listen to the Episode:

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Read the Transcript:

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 and thank you for joining me today. We will focus on how you can recognize burnout and overcome overwhelm through tips from Dr. Jacinta M. Jimenez’s book, “The Burnout Fix: Overcome Overwhelm, Beat Busy, and Sustain Success in the New World of Work,” and other resources.

But before we do that, I’m going to share out three announcements.

Here is a Site to Help You Navigate through Prior Episodes for Help

First, if you’re trying to decide what past episodes to listen to in your online teaching focus, with 104 episodes published so far, you could get lost in this long list of episode topics and strategies. To help you out, I’d like to invite you to visit my website: BethanieHansen.com.

Once you get there, you will find a menu item across the green menu bar at the top of the page called “The Online Teaching Toolbox.” By clicking this menu item, you will find some broad topics listed to help you navigate toward what you’re looking for. You can also access the toolbox using the big button on the home page that says, “find effective strategies right now.”

In future weeks, I’ll keep adding more structure to the website that will help you navigate topics even more quickly and effectively, so that you can read or listen about whatever you need in the moment.

Online Learning Innovation Conference is Coming Up!

Second, I’m announcing that the Online Learning Consortium’s spring conference is coming up. At the time of this podcast, early April 2022, the international conference is just a few days away. The conference is called “OLC Innovate,” and it is focused on new ideas, strategies, and fresh approaches to online, hybrid, and blended education. I’m putting a link to the conference in the podcast transcript, so please take a look. The conference includes virtual presentations as well as live sessions on-site in Dallas, TX. So, if you cannot travel to attend in person, consider the virtual option.

At the conference, you’ll find new ideas, and you will also benefit from specific topics like blended learning, community colleges, historically Black colleges and universities, instructional design, online leadership, networking, research, career and technical education, instructional technologies and tools, open learning, and teaching and learning practice.

And your presenters will be excellent educators, leaders, and researchers who have gone through a “rigorous three-stage, double-blind peer review process upon conference proposal submission. Acceptance to present at OLC Innovate is competitive and is a great accomplishment.”

It’s always a good idea to refresh your teaching and stopping by a professional conference like this one might be just what you’re looking for. Not only will you keep growing, but you will have at least one fresh idea you can take with you to try out. If you are attending, I’m presenting a workshop about creating podcasts for education you might find interesting. Dr. Jan Spencer, one of my colleagues at American Public University, is presenting a workshop about three specific areas of online teaching and learning practice. These include the rules of the road for online presence, fun ways to enhance forum discussions, and innovative strategies for creating assignments.

Whether or not you’re able to attend the OLC Innovate conference for April 2022, I encourage you to submit a proposal to present a session, a workshop, or a discovery session for the OLC Accelerate conference coming up with virtual sessions November 1-3, 2022, and live sessions in Orlando, Florida, November 14-17, 2022. The call for presentation proposals is open until May 18, 2022.

Two Consecutive Years with the Online Teaching Lounge Podcast

Third, and most importantly, today’s episode number 104 marks the end of our second year with the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. This means that we have shared tips, strategies, and topics about managing online teaching every week for two continuous years.

There are over 2,000,000 podcasts out there with over 48 million episodes, and those numbers keep growing. And although there are millions out there, many of these have only a handful of episodes and then they dropped. Fewer than 20% of podcasts that start up reach one year of continuous episodes.

Next week’s episode launches our third year, and I invite you to keep listening to strengthen your online teaching technique and help rekindle your sense of purpose in what you do every day for your students.

We have established a strong history and have exciting plans for the year ahead. Episode 105 will feature Dr. Jan Spencer, the Department Chair at American Public University, and Dr. David Ferreira, Provost at Charter Oak State College and part-time faculty at American Public University in leadership and student affairs. The episode will focus on helping students navigate their online education journey, and it’s one you won’t want to miss!

Education is one of the most powerful forces in the world. By seeking education, we begin to dream again. We dream about who we are, and who we can become. What we can do, and what we might be able to achieve that we previously never imagined possible. And when we teach, not only do we help others learn and grow, but we also help them make their dreams come true.

Pursuing an education online can be a scary proposition for students. After all, when we sit in a live class, on a college campus, with a live teacher and classmates all around, this almost automatically puts us into a mental space to focus on learning.

Yet online, our students might doubt their own abilities to focus, to stay on task with the online materials, and to keep working without all of those people in the same room. This is one of the many reasons we support you and your teaching through the Online Teaching Lounge podcast, and why I hope you will share this podcast with anyone you know who could benefit.

Statistics in a recent study suggest that the number one reason that people listen to podcasts is to learn something new. And giving you new tips, topics, and ideas is our goal here. That said, let’s move into this week’s topic to help you get the new ideas you came for.

About Burnout

The Online Teaching Lounge podcast celebrates you, the educator, in this episode. As we close our second year of connecting with you, we realize that you work hard. And teaching online, at times you might feel isolated or alone. Technologies used in online education are marvelous, but they also invite us to keep trying new things, exploring, and making the class and our approaches better. This never-ending quest for excellence can become overwhelming. So many things might be part of that path to burnout as an online educator.

But how do you know whether you’re just getting a little stagnant and need new ideas, and whether you might have burnout?

Dr. Jacinta Jimenez describes three components of burnout. These include exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy.

Exhaustion means that you might feel very intense emotional, physical, or cognitive fatigue, and maybe a combination of all three. It’s a lingering state of being tired, and it’s persistent. One of the ways you can know whether you’re exhausted in these ways is that after you get a really good night of sleep or take some relaxing time off, you don’t feel refreshed or replenished. And if you notice this trend over and over, that’s an even better gauge.

Cynicism is an attitude of suspicion where you believe the future is bleak and that other people are acting only out of self-interest. An example of cynicism is when you always think the worst and have a hard time seeing the good in anyone. When you experience cynicism, you have low levels of job engagement. You start to feel detached. And, you are easily annoyed by the people you work with.

And inefficacy is where you’re being unproductive. You are working harder, but you’re producing less. You’re not getting the results you might have gotten in the past. You even start to feel incompetent, like you can’t keep up or be successful. Self-efficacy is an important part of confidence and it means that you can make things happen, and you know you can. Your efforts lead to results. In contrast, inefficacy is the state in which you believe that no amount of effort you put in will get you the results you’re trying to achieve. You don’t see that you have an impact or make a difference.

Although there are these three common components come together to suggest burnout, everyone experiences them in unique ways. For example, you might find yourself having a lot of exhaustion, where someone else might have a lot more cynicism.

Regardless of which aspect seems to weigh heaviest for you, burnout is serious and can impact your health, your happiness, your relationships, and your job. When you’re teaching online, you might find that getting the work done takes longer and longer. Mental clarity and sharpness are difficult to harness when reading through students’ comments and considering how to respond.

Either the online work begins to take up more of your free time, nights, and weekends, and keeps you from enjoying your personal life, or it’s increasingly challenging to get yourself to sit down to being at the work at all. You might even begin to think your students are not learning or getting anything out of what you’re trying to teach them, missing signs of their efforts altogether.

If you believe that you might be experiencing burnout in your work, this doesn’t mean that you lack coping skills or are just bad at taking care of yourself. And it doesn’t mean you’re weak. There are many combined forces that lead to burnout, some in the workplace, some in our own expectations for ourselves, and some in areas that are more difficult to pin down. If you’re experiencing burnout, Dr. Jacinta Jimenez’s five core pulse practices can support you in working through it and recovering.

The five core practices are behavioral, cognitive, physical, social, and emotional. These practices take consistent, intentional effort. And in the book “The Burnout Fix” I’ve referenced for this podcast episode, you’ll find exercises you can read, work through, and integrate into your life over time.

Getting through burnout is not something that can be done quickly or easily. But the positive of it all is that you can find real, research-based, and solid strategies to use that will help you out of burnout and they will also increase your resilience for future challenges and tough times ahead.

There are two of the five core practices I’d like to highlight today because we’ve explored them many times already in the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. The first is to “undo untidy thinking,” which means that you’re going to intentionally teach your brain to let go of thinking patterns that don’t help you.

Believe it or not, there are many different kinds of thinking patterns that hurt us. And some of these are common in work groups and families, and we accept that they are true or just the way things are. One of these is “all or nothing thinking.” This would be something like when you’re teaching a class that is going really well, and one student complains. Whatever the reason for the complaint, believing that one student’s complaint ruined the entire teaching experience or makes you a bad teacher, regardless of the positive experience you’re having with all of the other students, this is all or nothing thinking.

It’s often called a cognitive distortion, because it’s not based on fact or truth. Could one complaining student actually be a sign that you’re a bad teacher? Perhaps. But it doesn’t mean that you are suddenly a bad teacher when everything else is going so well. And you would need much more evidence and insight to determine the quality of your teaching beside just one student’s opinion.

Another core practice Dr. Jimenez recommends in her book is to evaluate your effort. This means that you think about your emotional wellbeing and your energy levels. And, you take charge of your time and priorities. In this area, you might have to settle for “B-minus” level work on some things you’re responsible to complete, and you might even need to leave some things unfinished. Perhaps you will have to say no.

Evaluating your effort might feel difficult because many of us believe that we are our work. Or in other words, our work is a reflection of who we are. So, if we’re putting in too much time and not getting the results we want, or putting in too much effort for the smaller things that should take much less, it seems like our fault or a flaw in our character. But that really isn’t true.

One way to begin making changes in effort is to notice where you have high energy, and what drains your energy. And then, you can also think about different times of day in which you have naturally higher and lower energy. With this awareness, you are in a position to begin planning the draining tasks you must do for the higher energy parts of your day, when you are more able to tackle them better. And those things that refuel you or lift your energy can be planned in times where your energy levels might naturally be lower. Focusing on your energy levels and the required effort of your work and life tasks helps you start setting limits and boundaries to avoid overwhelm.

Intentionally setting limits on the time something will take or the effort you can give it helps get things into their proper places again, and it gives you the space to establish priorities.  And if we work with our priorities in mind day in and day out, and re-evaluate those priorities regularly, we can guard ourselves against becoming overwhelmed in the future as we move out of burnout.

Another area of evaluating your effort has to do with your emotional health. Emotions are data that speak to us, and yet many adults don’t recognize what they are feeling or have words to describe it. And many are uncomfortable experiencing these emotions.

Just like strengthening muscles, learning to identify what you’re feeling, reason about what it means for you, and what you’ll do with it, gives you power over your emotional self and builds emotional strength. As you focus on doing this and on managing your energy as well, you will regain a sense of purpose in what you’re doing and begin to feel a sense of satisfaction in your work again.

As we close our second year of the Online Teaching Lounge with today’s focus on identifying burnout and trying some ideas that will help reduce burnout and lead to thriving again, I want to thank you for the work you do each day teaching others online.

As I mentioned earlier in this episode, this can at times feel like isolating and challenging work. But through the power of education, we help people grow and learn, and we even help them make their dreams come true. In your own work to build new habits that reduce burnout and bring you back into alignment with your purpose and priorities, you too will begin to dream again and may even be able to keep moving forward serving many more students in the future, too. I wish you all the best in your online teaching this week, and in the year to come!

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.

#103 Podcast: Insight from Leading the Way in Online Higher Education

#103 Podcast: Insight from Leading the Way in Online Higher Education

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com. 

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education and
Dr. Jan SpencerDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education and
Dr. Kate Zatz, Acting President, American Public University

The pandemic accelerated the prevalence of online higher education. While offering online education was a new endeavor for many institutions of higher learning, American Public University has been delivering online, or distance, education for 30 years. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen and Dr. Jan Spencer talk to Dr. Kate Zatz, who served as a university board member for 17 years before becoming Acting President in 2021. Hear insight about navigating rapid growth, the challenges of continuous improvements to technological systems and processes, and the work being done to connect and assist students in an online environment.

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
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Read the Transcript:

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.

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. This is Bethanie Hansen, and I am so excited to be with you today. We have two special guests, Dr. Jan Spencer and Dr. Kate Zatz. We have just celebrated our hundredth episode on the Online Teaching Lounge, so we’re very excited that we’ve been running this podcast for almost two straight years, helping online educators and other professionals in online education understand students, meet their needs, and really get things going. So I’m going to pass it to you, Dr. Spencer, and, Jan, can you just give us a little bit of an introduction to you, and then go ahead and introduce our guest?

Dr. Jan Spencer: Yes. Thank you so much, Bethanie. It’s a privilege to be here. I serve as the Department Chair for Educational Leadership. That’s in the K-12 arena. And then also I have two programs in higher education, one in student affairs and the other one in higher education administration.

And when I first began this role, I was in a meeting with Dr. Kate Zatz, and found out that she has degrees in these areas. And I thought that would be perfect to ask her to come on and interview her about higher education, and her understanding and her wisdom in terms of student affairs and higher education administration. Since she’s now the President of our university, what a privilege it is that she immediately said, “Yes, I would love to do it.” And so I want to just ask her to introduce herself, and so glad to have you here, Dr. Zatz.

Dr. Kate Zatz: Thank you so much for inviting me, Dr. Spencer. Is it okay if I call you Jan? You can call me Kate.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Call me Jan, I’ll call you Kate. Great.

Dr. Kate Zatz: It’s a deal. I’ve been of American Public University since November 4th, 2021. I’m currently the acting president, but prior to that, I served on the board for the last 17 years. And when I came onto the board of APUS, I was a Dean of Students at the College of Aeronautics at LaGuardia Airport. And that was right after I had finished my doctorate at Columbia University. I hold an EDD in Higher Education Administration, a Master’s degree in Education Administration, and a Master’s in Student Personnel Administration from Teachers College.

Teachers College was the first institution to actually have a degree in Student Personnel Administration, started by Sarah Sturdivant in 1921. It was out of the need for integrating what happens inside a classroom with what happened outside of the classroom, and the need for developing a cadre of people who could help run institutions and focus on student personnel in areas of student activities, deans’ offices, international students, career services, student activities, the whole plethora of what happens in a higher education institution. So, I’m one of those lucky people who figured out very young in life what I wanted to do, which was basically go to college, figure out how to be paid to be there, and never have to leave.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Kate, you are a treasure to all of us here, and you’re delightful to speak with. One of the things that I added to our questions from our original consideration of this was getting your perspective, since you have a longevity of experience with the university. Now you’re the President. That’s a different place of observation of what’s going on. What do you see differently now that you’re the President?

Dr. Kate Zatz: I’m having the time of my life. I always thought when Wally Boston was doing this, it had to be the best job on the planet. And apparently, I was right. It is an amazing experience being the President. We have just so many things in the hopper about moving the institution forward.

The big difference, I think, between being the board chair of the last 17 years—I’ve spent at least 12 years being the Chair of the Board of American Public University, sitting with my colleagues as a board member, you think you know what’s going on, on the inside. You think that you’ve done your homework to advise the management and the administration about the best practices and the best things to do. But being on the inside, it’s really interesting when it comes to actually deploying, or implementing, or figuring out how to do that vision that you’ve heard, and the disjointed parts of it, but also the seamless points of it.

And the unifying fact is how mission-driven American Public University has been ever since I came on the board in 2004, serving those who serve, and how we go about every day trying to improve how we do that, that no matter where you sit, whether or not it’s the board or in the President’s chair, how we really try to focus on the student experience and making it better all the time. And how we go about trying to make it a better institution, serving more students, serving students better, making education affordable, keeping it affordable, and all the time, working on the quality of what we’re providing, that we’re pretty much in sync.

The big differences for me between being on the board and being the President are that I have made a commitment to myself to be a President in residence. It may sound really old school in considering that the pandemic’s going on, but I’m actually sitting in 111 West Congress Street here in Charles Town, West Virginia, where it has been the hub of who we are and what we do for the last 20-some years. We had moved out of here for a while, but we’re back in the building, and it’s really a hub of activity right now. Dr. Smith is downstairs, one flight away from me. Dr. Cottam is in this building. Accreditation is in this building. And the idea that we’re here and we’re able to just walk up and down the stairs to talk to each other about what we’re focusing on and how we’re going to serve students, it’s really a pretty amazing place.

Dr. Jan Spencer: When I got the gist some time ago that you spend a lot of time there in your office, I was very impressed by that. It shows a depth of commitment, if you don’t mind me saying that. I like that. With regard to student affairs in higher education and higher education administration, during your tenure with this university, you have seen an enormous level of changes going on in the online space particularly.

It is during these last 17 years of your involvement that the university has grown very large and very influential in higher education. This is a changing world. Can you enlighten us a bit about what we should be aware of in the changes that are going on in this space?

Dr. Kate Zatz: When I became board chair in 2004, we had 7,000 students, and at that point we were still mailing out books every month. And here we are, and we’re close to a 100,000 students. And boy, have things changed. The one constant is change.

I can only reflect on how many different iterations of what we do, we’ve gone through. In terms of course development, for example, it’s a good thing that we’re on a three-year cycle for updating all our courses, because with technology changing as fast as it does, sometimes when you take a course and look at it once, it could be three years before you update it, things have really changed by then.

So what has changed? Years ago, back in 2004, when we introduced the Partnership at a Distance (PAD), there were some assumptions that we made about students and their ability to be self-sufficient and navigate the online universe on their own with very little support. And perhaps that was true for some students.

But it wasn’t too long after that, that we started in with realizing that there was a space related to student affairs where career development, and advising support, and the ability to talk to people who were in the field that a student was studying. So, very early on, by 2007, we had started the process of actually chartering student groups here at APU, which is, at that time, it was really pretty cutting edge.

That coupled with, somewhere around 2007, 2008, 2009, we started applying for and earning Sloan and Gromy awards for excellence in online education, which meant that for us, our learning outcomes of how we were able to verify what we were teaching was what people were learning, and then taking the information on how to improve courses and reflecting that into the curriculum and improving.

So we went through a whole series of that, while at the same time working toward our initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission. It was pretty monumental when we hit that milestone.

And then, as time has gone on, there is no doubt about it that we continue to be a leader in student learning outcomes, program outcomes. One of the things that is just truly amazing to me is how library services and information has changed to the point that obviously we no longer send books out to people. What we do is that we subscribe and make available some of the best online reference platforms there are, period, point blank. The fact that regardless of where you are in any one of the 24 time zones, that 24 hours a day, you can do things like log into the library and get help with something that you’re studying. So the changes have been ever increasing.

And for the future, what I see happening is, as we were a pioneer in online learning, oftentimes when we would put up a system, it would be not necessarily a smooth transition to the next part. For example, if you applied, how your application got transitioned to financial aid, or how we took information about you and your interests, and lined you up with the right curriculum. Some of these processes would take longer than we would wish. So automation has been one of the hallmarks of one of those things that we continue to work on. Where we’ve been able to automate something, we’ve pretty much done it.

And where I see still some benefits for students in the future are being able to automate things that are currently manually done on their behalf, where some of those big questions about when one is applying to come to APU, about if you decide you want to take a program or you want to study something, you still have to figure out how you’re going to pay for it, and how many credits you’re going to be able to transfer here.

So, some of these things, the accuracy of how that happens, but also the speed by which we’re able to give a student the answer of how many credits we’re going to take, and how much it’s going to cost, and how much aid they’re going to get, are still critical issues that we can always continuously improve upon. And that’s one of the really cool things about this place is that we learn from doing, and then we take the information, and we turn around and improve the processes. And it’s one of the things that I’m really very proud of that we do that because we’re always striving to be better.

Dr. Jan Spencer: That’s great, Kate. Thank you so much for that. As you’re speaking and sharing about some of the changes that are happening, one word that came to me is the word “challenge.” Because I am overseeing the higher education administration program and student affairs, there are some left curves that may be up ahead for somebody who’s going to be entering that field.

What are some of the challenges that we may encounter in working and preparing students for a degree in higher education that we may not be aware of even yet in terms of it being right in front of us? Help me understand some of the challenges that you now see as the President.

Dr. Kate Zatz: So, student affairs, I think has always been a passion, and it is an area that causes people to think holistically about students. And I think one of the challenges for people going into this field is, as COVID has certainly impacted us, we’ve been teaching online, we’ve been a remote institution for the last 30 years.

What has not caught up is how we educate people to be in student services and student affairs. In some ways, it’s been a field without an epistemology. The closest you can find perhaps is Chickering or some of the work of Knefelkamp. And those issues of student development theory and how they apply in an online environment, they’re not always as easy to see.

And what happens is, I think that one of the things that we’ve lost is our connection to students. We have to really work at it. And what I see as a challenge is people who go into the field not realizing that a lot of the work that they’re going to end up doing is online. It’s going to be remote. It’s going to be individualized, and it may not be on a traditional campus.

And what I’m really seeing is traditional campuses, nonprofits who have decided to go online, who don’t have the staff support infrastructure to do a really good job teaching online. What they’re trying to do is, they try to poach people who know what they’re doing.

So here at APUS, one of my challenges has been working on retaining our very creative, dedicated staff and student advisement, for example, financial aid, admissions, making sure that we are at least where other institutions are in the market in terms of pay.

But, we have a different quality of employee because many of them not only understand the theory and the practice, but have taken the time to learn how to do that in an online environment, which is not an easy thing to do. So learning how to navigate online for the current student affairs professional or the student in student affairs, coupled with the challenges of doing this online, I think, are part of what faces us.

Dr. Jan Spencer: I have in our programs sought to establish things like a Student Union where students would come together every month. We encourage mentorship. It’s hard, though, to get students to buy into that. Even though our professors are willing, sometimes it’s difficult for the student who is signed up to have a remote education because they basically don’t want to deal with people so much. Can you help me with that?

Dr. Kate Zatz: Some of the fun that I’ve been having is I’ve showed up at the orientation for doctoral students, but we have some really active groups on different platforms like Quill and Scroll, Saber and Scroll, that I’ve been invited to. There are so many different student groups that are meeting. And I don’t know how to get this across to students that are studying student affairs, but how you go about networking with each other. There’s some positions I’m looking for to fill here at APU, and I’ve been able to use my network to go, “Hey, we’re hiring here. This is what I’m looking for. Is there anybody you can nominate?”

And the thing is, is that’s done because I’ve got a very large network of people who have worked in student affairs. And that, along with doing things like getting involved in the National Association for Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) where there’s different groups within NASPA that focus on different topic areas and different service areas within the field, it’s really worth somebody’s while if they’re new to the field or are looking to be promoted.

There’s only so many years you want to spend at an entry-level position, but there are opportunities to move your career forward by getting involved with the professional organizations that are out there that are specifically related to student affairs administration, and it’s really worth one’s while.

For years, I was a vice president for student affairs and would attend NASPA as a chief student affairs officer and as a senior student affairs officer, and those networks are invaluable to me now.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you so very much. I’m going to throw this back over to Bethanie for some follow-up questions before we move ahead.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thank you, Jan. Kate, I really appreciate all of the expertise you’ve been sharing, and especially some background about how the university has developed over time, and some of the things that have changed, and some of the things that may need to still change in the field of student affairs.

I’m thinking myself a little bit about the part-time faculty who teach with us. I’ve just heard a lot from them that they learned how to teach online by teaching at APU. And when the pandemic came along and they needed to, at their full-time jobs, help others, they had the skills, they had some things they could share.

And we have listeners all over the world that listen to this podcast. Many of them are listening to it to get some of those ideas. If you had some suggestions for things that online professionals, whether they’re the faculty members or student affairs professionals could do to just step it up and really provide good quality online help to those that they teach and work with, what would you recommend as some real tips?

Dr. Kate Zatz: When one is looking at teaching part-time online, before you sign off on that contract, there’s a couple things that you’re going to want to look at, like, for example, who owns your content? Pretty simple. How much of your course do you personally need to put together? Is there a requirement that you know how to write HTML? Or is that something that the institution that’s hiring you is going to do?

Because these days, when a course goes live online, there’s some expectations that are built into how that course is going to operate. Is it compliant with ADA? Does it meet the student learning outcomes for a particular course program? And how does it fit into the overall curriculum for a degree?

So if somebody is just going to pass off a fully developed course to you, before you sign off on it, make sure that those bells and whistles are already in place so that you’re not doing it yourself. Take a look at what you’re getting in terms of remuneration, or what you’re contributing that is original to that.

Also, the whole phenomenon of learning about open resources that can be used in coursework. To what extent do you need to become an expert on what’s out there that you can put into your course as you’re doing that? One would hope that there is support for looking at those kinds of things.

So, it’s one thing to get your course up and running, but when you get to the end of the first week, and you certainly have students that have not logged in, or you see that people are struggling, those kinds of interventions that you can do as a faculty member by reaching out, even before you get there, some of the best practices go like this. We’re going to get to the point at APU where a student can log into a course before the course starts. I think it’s really important, and it’s one of the better practices to be able to log in and see what is on that syllabi, what the due dates are, what the breadth and depth of the expectations are for a student.

Later into 2022, I’m really hoping that that goes live, because what I’ve found is that if a student is able to plan their life around due dates, and understands what the expectations are for them in that particular course, they’re more likely to enroll and stay enrolled. Because what happens is, is that it’s not a Sunday when they’re figuring out what it is that they’re going to have to do. So let’s say you’re a faculty member, and your course, before it goes live, a student looks at it.

Well, I would hope that a faculty member does some outreach, acknowledges the students in their class, and does things like sends an email out to the class, or figures out different ways to interact with them before the class even starts. And then after the class starts, are those students participating in the way that you would want them to? Those kinds of things that help push people along, keep them engaged, go directly to retention and persistence in what students end up doing. And it’s really important that that gets done.

So, I know that for American Public University, there are nearly 2,000 people who teach for us part-time, are folks that are expert in their field, they’re practitioners. And they’re some of the most interesting people there are because we could never replicate that kind of knowledge and direct application of what they’re doing out in the field if we tried to get them all to come to Charles Town. But what we can do is value what they’re doing for our students all over the world, because we have faculty members and students in all 24 time zones, and it’s really pretty cool.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Agree. I agree completely. And I appreciated you mentioning some of those strategies that really help engage students, like sending the message before the class begins. We have an episode about welcome messages that I just want to refer our listeners to in case someone wants a few tips about how to do that, what that could look like. And in the transcript from this podcast, there will be a link that listeners can click on just to check out that episode.

I love also the variety of faculty that you just mentioned. We do have a lot of experts in many fields that you wouldn’t find anywhere else. Thanks, Kate. I’m going to pass it back to you, Jan, and any other questions you have.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you, Bethanie. And two questions I was going to ask you next, you’ve really already referred to, and that’s the importance of retention, keeping students on track, innovations to assist the university to help students to get an edge. And I think that the whole idea of classroom access is a part of that.

My other question really has to do with the value of an education that focuses on higher education administration. You’re an expert in that. How can I encourage our students to have a high value of expectation about what it can create for them? We are in an online environment. I want to presume that online education is proliferating in the world. What’s the value we can give to higher education leadership in today’s marketplace?

Dr. Kate Zatz: That’s a really good question. I think the sky is the limit for people who are seeking to have a career in higher education right now. And the reason why is because everything is up in the air. We’re a really solid institution. We know what we’re doing. But I had been doing consulting work off and on and where small institutions that are tuition driven, are really struggling, and will continue to struggle because they can’t afford the infrastructure to go online. And students aren’t necessarily gravitating toward that kind of an education.

What I see is almost unlimited opportunity in the field of higher ed if you figure out things like the value of continuous improvement, organizational behavior, doing things like learning how to do coaching. And if you keep current in practice, one’s career could go pretty doggone far.

Dr. Jan Spencer: That is great. One last question I have for you, Kate, and it’s really off the script here of the things I wanted to ask you. But it has everything to do with what we as a world and a nation have gone through in the last couple of years. And as a university, we haven’t had public graduations for two years; twice we’ve had to miss. Now this coming summer, we plan to have a public graduation. You’ll be the President.

What are you thinking about as you look forward to that time when we’re all going to come together for the first time, many of us who work, like me, who work remotely, the first time in nearly three years we’ve been together. What’s your level of expectation for that? What’s going to be happening in you as we build up to that time?

Dr. Kate Zatz: There is no doubt about it in my life, the commencement day at APU is my favorite day of the year. I’ve only missed, I think, one since 2004. So, frankly, I’ve been working on the strength in my right hand so that I can shake hands. And I’d like to be funny and say I’ve already started signing off on diplomas because there’s over 30,000 of them.

I am so looking forward to seeing people in person, I can’t tell you. There is a list of people that I need to get some hugs from, and a list of people I need to give hugs to. There are people who have been working so hard here at APU. Halfway through this last year, we did a major switch around about fixing some things that were going on in enrollment and in admissions, and people worked double time to do a roll out of a new customer relation management system. And people here at APU have been working so hard that coming together and celebrating at the National Harbor, I am so looking forward to it. I can’t tell you. I hope you’re there.

Dr. Jan Spencer: I plan to be there. Kate, it is a delight to have you as our guest. Before we conclude this session. Is there anything else you can give us in terms of insights, or just what you’re feeling about, or things that you know we need to be thinking about as your team?

Dr. Kate Zatz: We need to keep up the good work that we’re doing. We really do. And we need to make sure that people have the support that they need to work with their students and get done what they need to get done. I’m just really honored and grateful to be here. And like I said, being the President of American Public University is the best job on the planet. It just is. And we just need to keep on serving those who serve the best we can.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you Dr. Zatz. Bethanie?

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: I echo that. Thank you, Dr. Zatz, for being here. And for our listeners today, we’ve been privileged to hear from Dr. Kate Zatz, current President at American Public University, and Dr. Jan Spencer, a Department Chair in the School of Arts, Education, and Humanities.

Thank you both for being here, and thank you to our listeners for tuning in today. We 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.

#102: Preparing to Teach Your Online Class with Peak Performance, Part 2

#102: Preparing to Teach Your Online Class with Peak Performance, Part 2

This content first appeared at APUEdge.com.

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education

Teaching online can be a challenging experience, and without strong wellbeing habits, teachers risk exhaustion and burnout. Approaching the work with a foundation of specific habits and routines will promote your teaching success and help you approach your work with energy and enthusiasm and a state of peak performance. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares tips to help you plan ahead for wellbeing as you teach online in your next class.

Listen to the Episode:

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Read the Transcript:

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.

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. We all know that preparing to teach is a worthwhile practice. In fact, as I mentioned last week in part one of this two-part mini-series, preparing has been compared to “sharpening the saw,” by Steven Covey in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective people.”

Preparing to teach means to approach an upcoming class with a balanced plan for peak performance in your teaching, while also focusing on healthy wellbeing in your physical, social-emotional, mental, and spiritual self. By preserving your greatest asset—yourself—you can be at your best in your teaching and keep fresh to adapt as needed.

Last week, we explored the practical ways in which you can get your class in order before you begin to teach. In today’s episode, we’ll take a look at part two of this two-part topic. We’ll take a deeper look at the personal preparation it takes to really “sharpen the saw.” That will include healthy wellbeing through daily habits, like taking the time to care for your body, mind, spirit, and social and emotional areas, to set you up for peak performance in your online teaching.

Healthy Wellbeing Through Daily Habits

Peak performance means that you’re in a state where you can perform at your best. You feel more confident, like the work is effortless, despite the fact that it is challenging work. You find yourself deep in total concentration on the work that you’re doing, and you’re able to gain some satisfaction from being in the work. While this kind of performance requires preparation, skill, and expertise for the work itself just like elite athletes and masterful musicians invest over time, there is also another investment that sets the foundation.

And that investment is a set of habits that get your body, mind, spirit, and social-emotional selves into a condition most likely to promote peak performance. We’ll look at preparing your body for peak performance in your online teaching. And in each area we cover today, I’ll share tips to help you commit to focus on this area and take action.

Preparing Your Body

Getting enough sleep is the first and most important part of preparing your body for peak performance. If we were to treat the brain as an elite athlete treats the body in preparation for competition, focusing on sleep would make a lot of sense. Sleep helps your body and your brain work properly. But even better than that, sleep improves your learning, memory, decision-making, and creativity. And a state of peak performance definitely requires agile use of learning, memory, decision-making, and creativity.

On the flip side, failing to get quality sleep can make you cranky and makes it difficult to focus and take in new information. It presents a whole host of potential health implications, but more importantly it can sap your motivation. And when you’re teaching online, you’re going to be sitting a lot and looking at a computer monitor, which will require energy and focus, both of which are depleted when you are not getting enough sleep.

Drinking enough water. Getting enough water every day is important for your health. Drinking water can prevent dehydration, a condition that can cause unclear thinking, result in mood change, cause your body to overheat, and lead to constipation and kidney stones. Water helps your body keep a normal temperature.

One of the most important reasons to drink plenty of water throughout the day is that water boosts energy. It’s difficult to know when we are running low on water, because we might feel depleted and think that we are hungry, tired, or something else. Drinking water in those moments refreshes the body by feeding cells, especially muscles, and it helps body systems function like digestion.

Exercising daily is the third tip I’m sharing today to help you prepare your body for peak performance in teaching online. Just like sleep and drinking enough water, exercise helps your body function effectively. It also helps you process emotions and regulate your mood by getting active and moving your body. Even going for a walk is exercise and can help you with the regulation your body needs.

Physical exercise is also effective to help you keep your thinking, learning, and judgment sharp over time. And in a state of peak performance, clear thinking is necessary with the ability to change directions quickly.

Preparing Your Mind

One way to prepare your mind to function in a flow state or at peak performance is to regularly plan alone time. This time can be used to rest, to reflect on your day, to think about ideas, to consider new possibilities, or just to be still. This time is an important part of your development and allows you to focus on your own thoughts or needs for a time, so that you can be ready to help others again when you’re with them.

Some people use alone time to mediate or pray, and others use alone time to recharge their energy levels by reducing input. Whatever seems to fit you best, you can schedule time alone for yourself and remember that it’s one of many essential ways to prepare yourself for a high level of performance in your online teaching.

Develop a reflection habit, whether daily or weekly. Reflection on your thoughts and experiences helps you continue learning. And when you reflect on your performance as an online educator, you can also make adjustments while teaching your class. You might notice something small that concerns you, think about it, consider it, and then try a sight adjustment in your next approach.

Regularly reflecting makes you the master of your own thoughts. With so many voices speaking to us throughout the day, and the many people and priorities that beg our attention, giving yourself space to consider what you think makes prioritizing and decision-making easier. A reflection habit helps you to make meaning out of the chaos you encounter. And when you also reflect on what is going well or where you are grateful, it can also increase your happiness and optimism over time, which are more likely to lead to peak performance. To take this idea up a level, add some kind of journaling. Write down your ideas and insights, it makes them last longer.

And the third tip I’m sharing today around preparing your mind for peak performance is to keep learning. Let’s go back to imagining the elite athlete who is competing. This person reflects on their recent performance or even their performance during the warm-up. Perhaps a coach provides observations as well. The entire point of talking about these things is to keep learning to perform better. And to perform well in online work, we too need to keep learning.

Continuous learning makes mistakes less significant. It opens the mind and lifts the attitude. When you keep learning, you’re able to build on what you already know and keep getting better. You can gain a sense of accomplishment through your continued learning and this boosts your confidence, which has a direct impact on how you show up in the online classroom for your students.

Preparing Your Spirit

As we think about “sharpening the saw” to build a solid personal foundation of health and wellbeing for peak performance, it might seem unusual to prepare spiritually. However, your spirit includes having a clear purpose and direction. And seeking a level of clarity and focus in your online teaching to help you manage it well and enjoy it most. It means that you’re aiming for that level of excellence we’ve been calling peak performance.

It’s not just something you do once in a while. Peak performance is a way of thinking and a mindset that guides your choices, decisions, and actions every day. It is an inner commitment that helps you work effectively and efficiently, setting boundaries around this time so that your non-work time is refreshing and protected from overwork. In this way, it requires a sense of purpose, and a direction.

Have hope and optimism. Hope means that you believe in good things to come in the future. And optimism means that the challenges and setbacks are viewed as temporary, localized, and not personal while the positives and rewards are viewed as permanent, pervasive, and personal. To continue learning and developing excellence in your teaching performance online, hope and optimism have to become part of the way you think. Constant doubt and negative expectations will have an entirely different energy and outcome.

Another way to prepare your spirit to fully engage in your online teaching is to serve, contribute, or give back to others. I’m not talking about teaching them online. Yes, that is a kind of service, but it is typically a paid service. The serving, contributing, and giving back I’m referring to here is all about giving freely without expectations. That kind of service to others, to your community, and to people who need help, turns our attention to the needs of others and helps us open up to them. It’s another way to learn to tolerate ambiguity and not have to know everything.

Service reduces stress. It also helps us develop social trust and connection with other people more naturally. It can feed your spirituality by giving you a sense of purpose and meaning that is separate from your professional work and energizing to your life.

Preparing Your Social-Emotional Self

The last area of personal preparation to achieve peak performance in your online work is to build a support network of people you trust, and then set aside ample time to spend with those who are important to you. Learn to receive from others. Surround yourself with people trying to be at their best.

Social connection can lower anxiety and depression, help us regulate emotions, boost mood, and lead to higher self-esteem and empathy. It can also improve our immune systems. To bring your mind and body into alignment for peak performance, you need to be able to regulate emotions well and control your mood.

Tying it all together, we focus on two areas when preparing to teach online. One is the classroom itself, which we reviewed on episode 101. This includes the specific preparations you put in place to make things run smoothly, and the ways in which you “sharpen the saw” by preparing your body, mind, spirit, and social-emotional self for the work you will do.

To bring it into your daily habits and make it last throughout your teaching, it’s a good idea to design tiny habits that are simple, small, and achievable, in the foundation areas to maintain healthy wellbeing and balance. This will give you the encouragement you need to avoid overwork and to set boundaries that help you enjoy your online teaching and your life away from work.

Thank you for listening today, and for your work with students online. If you’ve heard something useful today, please share this episode with a friend or colleague. Please, join me again next week for episode 103, an interview with Dr. Jan Spencer and our special guest, University President Dr. Kate Zatz. Until then, 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.

#101: Preparing for Peak Performance in Online Teaching: Part 1

#101: Preparing for Peak Performance in Online Teaching: Part 1

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education

Teaching online can be a challenging experience, especially if you are new to the technology or much more experienced with face-to-face teaching. Even if you are experienced at teaching online, a few specific preparation methods before the class begins will promote student success and renewed teacher satisfaction throughout the course. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares tips to help you prepare to teach online before your next class begins, aiming for peak performance in your online teaching.

Listen to the Episode:

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

Read the Transcript:

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.

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. We all know that preparing to teach is a worthwhile practice. In fact, preparing has been compared to “sharpening the saw,” by Steven Covey in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective people.” Preparing to teach means to approach an upcoming class with a balanced plan for peak performance in your teaching, while also focusing on healthy wellbeing in your physical, social-emotional, mental, and spiritual self. By preserving your greatest asset—yourself—you can be at your best in your teaching and keep fresh to adapt as needed.

In today’s episode, we’ll take a look at part one of a two-part topic. This first part will take you through the practical preparations to teach an online class, including preparing the online classroom, anticipating students’ needs, scheduling your daily work, and focusing on results and outcomes.

Next week, come back for part two, when we’ll take a deeper look at the personal preparation it takes to really sharpen the saw. That will include healthy wellbeing through daily habits, like taking the time to care for your body, mind, spirit, and social and emotional areas.

Peak Performance in Your Online Teaching

Peak performance is a state in which you are able to perform at your best, when you’re feeling confident, wrapped up in the flow of engaged work. You might compare this to the state at which an athlete is performing well with their game, or the way in which a musician is immersed in their performance, feeling the activity to be both natural and effortless, despite the work they are putting in. Where athletes and performers naturally seek out peak performance experiences, people can actually achieve this state in any professional field, including teaching.

You might be thinking that teaching is a learned skill or something that just anyone can do. And, both of these ideas could be true. To enjoy the work, do it well, and feel confident, educators can learn to teach at their own peak performance threshold. Peak performance is highly desirable because it can result in feelings of happiness, fulfillment, and consistent success. And when we teach at, or close to our own peak performance level, everything can seem easier, with greater impact.

The basic building blocks of peak performance include consistent practices in the way we manage time, resources and energy. There is a heavy focus on Covey’s 7th habit of “sharpening the saw” to first cultivate personal wellbeing and inner resources. And there is also a heavy focus on rituals and routines, consistently doing the work now, and focusing on excellence as a habit.

While building a personal foundation for wellbeing and inner resources comes first, the rituals, routines, and consistent work and focus on excellence include preparing well in the work itself. And, this is where our topic today comes in. We’re looking at the personal foundation part of peak performance in next week’s episode, which you’re not going to want to miss.

Preparing your Online Classroom

Preparing your online classroom can become a routine. There are basic steps you can take to ensure that everything is set up to guide your students effectively, and that you are ready for the first day of class.

First, prepare your syllabus, and post it in your online classroom where students can easily see it. If the class is built by someone else, read through the syllabus to refresh your ideas around the goals for the class, the weekly topics, and the assignments.

Next, review the assessments and assignments, including discussions and things students will submit to demonstrate their learning.

As you do this, consider the student perspective to decide whether the instructions and guidance are adequate to help students complete their work, or whether a little revision is needed. And include a scoring breakdown, a grading rubric, or some other clear indication of how students are evaluated, so that they are able to plan for success.

Once you have checked your syllabus, assessments, assignments, and discussions, review your content. If needed, add it to the online classroom. As you review the content and reading materials you’re providing students, again, try to take the student’s perspective. And as you do, ask whether these materials clearly prepare students to demonstrate mastery with their assignments and their assessments, and whether the content supports the course goals.

If some of those areas are not represented in the content, you might need to add a reading, a video, an instructor note or recorded lecture, or some other content to more fully support what students will learn and need to be able to do by the end of class.

And once you’ve reviewed these areas, consider your course announcements and introduction to you, as the instructor. I personally prefer images, videos, and intermittent written materials to guide students in the course announcements and in my introduction as well. Breaking up your content with images and other engagement can help students interact and remember what they are seeing.

As you finish preparing your online classroom, look for a student view. Many LMSs have the ability to transition to student view so that you, as the instructor, can see everything as your students will see it. As you do this, note anything that is not visible or needs adjustment, and make those adjustments.

As you walk through your own classroom preparation routine and write down your steps, you can add to your process and adjust over time to make preparations more efficient. Writing your routine can also give you the space to reflect around what works, what doesn’t, and where you can take the quality up a level. This routine and repetition loop is where you can focus on excellence and set yourself up for peak performance in your online teaching before you hit day one of the class.

Anticipating Students’ Needs

Before class begins, learn about your students, and try to anticipate their needs. You might be able to tell whether your students are in their first semester, whether they have taken classes before, or whether they are repeating the course after a previous attempt. If you cannot learn these details before class begins, you can set up your first week’s discussion to ask students more about their backgrounds, their experience with the subject matter, and their comfort level with online classes.

With information about your students’ needs individually and collectively, you’re in a good position to anticipate their needs throughout the course. For example, if you have students who are in their first semester and new to online learning, you might create a screencast to walk them through the classroom in the first week.

And, you might consider a topic organizer to help them think about their project, as well as a video-walkthrough of the technology they will need to complete their project. As you anticipate students’ needs, ask yourself, “What would help me most, if I was the student?” And considering the background, experience, and other information your students have shared, you’ll be in a good position to help your students make progress in their learning and handle the technologies of the online classroom. The more you learn about your students and prepare to help them with their needs and challenges, the more capacity you will have to teach well at peak performance.

Scheduling Your Daily Work

When preparing the online classroom and then teaching the class, scheduling your daily work will give you the consistency to build on for peak performance. After all, planning your time makes you the master of your work and your schedule. And you will be able to avoid feeling overwhelmed and crushed by what can seem like a heavy load when teaching online classes.

One idea to help you schedule your online classroom preparation work is to stop by the course each day to complete one readiness task per day, leading up to the first day of the class. Using the process of preparing a class I mentioned earlier, you might first review or prepare your syllabus.

And the next day, review assignments and discussions. And each day, tackle one task. Not only does this give you power over your time and help you to pace yourself, but it also helps your subconscious brain realize that you’re getting ready to teach the course, so that you’re making mental space to get into your peak performance teaching mode when class begins.

Just as you might break down your course preparation tasks into a routine that happens consistently each day, scheduling your daily work for teaching the class will help keep you moving on schedule and make your teaching time a regular, routine part of your day. As you create a habit, or a routine, around scheduling your daily work, you can build in learned optimism to think about each day as a fresh start, let go of temporary setbacks or challenges with students, and push forward to keep improving your experience.

Focusing on Results and Outcomes

Focusing on results and outcomes is an important part of continuous improvement and developing peak performance. If you were a ski racer, just imagine, you would be able to use the timing of your race and other factors to gauge whether your performance is at the level you want and whether you keep improving.

In a similar way, you can use data to help you see the results in your teaching. Planning ahead to think about this data before the class begins may help you further plan for your students’ needs, so that you get the information you really want at the end of class, to see your own teaching performance better.

One obvious source of data for results and outcomes is your students’ performance in formative discussions and in course assessments. You might be able to look at your students’ average course grades, assignment grades, the level of their engagement in discussions each week, and other statistics that give you data to interpret and from which you can take action.

Another source of data could be your own records of daily and weekly teaching work, the time you’re spending, and the reflections you have about where you’re confident and performing well, and where you feel like additional attention and growth might help you.

If you’re tense, anxious, and restless about different parts of your teaching, these feelings suggest that you’re not in the peak performance space. Focusing on specific areas will help you know what is influencing your experience, so that you can adjust the one or two areas where you have room to grow, and you can recognize where you are doing well.

Peak Performance Tips

As you prepare your online class and your habits for peak performance in your online teaching, keep in mind that you can find flow every day at work. Flow means that you get the most reward from what you’re doing, and you can even learn to love those parts that you have to do by focusing on excellence in your routine or your delivery of that aspect of your work. Finding flow in your work will always require skill and challenge, and it feels like the state of being completely focused, immersed in the activity, and absorbed in what you’re doing.

Preparation is one key to teaching well, and focusing on what you can control and do gives you the space to take action and prepare for an excellent class. As you prepare, consider which parts of your online teaching can become routines to be consistently used and improved over time, and consider where you might need some positive self-talk or conversations with other people to maintain motivation and mastery over your time.

And lastly, consider a performance routine. An athlete might have a lucky shirt to wear, or a chant before taking the field. A musician might have a particular warm-up method or visualization practice to get ready to step out on that stage. And an online educator might have a favorite mug or background music, an outfit that makes them feel like they are in the work zone, or an exercise habit before work that brings focus and energy. Whatever might work for you, the value of consistent routines can pave the way for an excellent online teaching experience.

Thank you for joining us today to talk about peak performance in your online teaching by preparing the classroom, anticipating your students’ needs, scheduling your daily work, and focusing on results and outcomes. When we start a course having thought through these areas and thinking about the goals to be achieved at the end, and we aim for peak performance. We can serve our students much better and maintain a high level of teaching quality throughout our time with them. If you’ve heard something valuable today, please share this episode with a friend.

And, of course, I wish you all the best in your online teaching this week and invite you to come back next week for part two on this topic.

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.

#100: Celebrating 100 Episodes with 5 Most Popular Topics for Online Teachers

#100: Celebrating 100 Episodes with 5 Most Popular Topics for Online Teachers

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education

Agility and continuous improvement are essential parts of online education to meet students’ needs now and in the future, and these attributes require a knowledge of online education best practices, awareness of students’ needs, goals, and challenges, and a regular habit of learning and reflection. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares highlights from the first 99 episodes of the Online Teaching Lounge podcast, a countdown of listeners’ top 5 favorite episodes, and ways in which we’re celebrating our 100th episode.

Listen to the Episode:

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

Read the Transcript:

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.

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. This is our 100th episode, and we’re celebrating!

Today, we will reflect on highlights from the first 99 episodes of the Online Teaching Lounge podcast, which began with its first episode in April 2020. We’ll dive into listeners’ top 5 favorite episodes, which help you to know about online teaching topics trending in our podcast and which listeners have chosen most often. And, we’ll close out our 100th episode today with some fun ways we’re celebrating this milestone.

Highlights from Our First 99 Episodes

Looking back, the Online Teaching Lounge podcast began April 15, 2020. I started the podcast to contribute some of my own experience and professional expertise to help educators and parents who were turning to online platforms to keep education moving forward during lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Schools and higher education institutions everywhere sent students home and taught them virtually, using a variety of methods. And, parents were also asked to teach their children remotely with lessons given by teachers or schools, which was a significant challenge. It was these circumstances that launched our podcast and why we continue to focus on five major topical areas in the podcast over time.

After those first 25 episodes, our talented team of professionals coordinated by American Public University began sponsoring and producing our podcast. This helped us to significantly increase the quality of each episode and provided transcripts so that you could also read the materials we produce every week. I’ll mention some of these skilled professionals at the end of today’s episode.

One of our main topic areas is 1) best practices. We also have four other main topic areas for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. These are: 2) reaching students, 3) using video and other technologies, 4) professional development for the online educator, and 5) wellbeing and work-life balance when teaching and working online. We have covered many topics win these five areas to get you teaching online, help you learn the basics and best practices, and learn how to transfer your face-to-face class into a great online course.

We have taken a deep dive into engaging your learners, with episodes that help you ask great questions and try creative approaches. We have explored the area of online discussions many times to help you keep these fresh and avoid the repetition of standard discussion approaches. A few episodes have specifically focused on the needs of military and veteran students, students who are new to online learning, and adult learners.

We have covered synchronous and hybrid online learning, as well as a heavy focus on asynchronous online courses. And, we have focused on K-12 education and higher education. We have walked through curriculum planning, adding videos and video conferencing, and integrating multimedia apps.

One area that I’m especially pleased to have brought you through the Online Teaching Lounge podcast is a focus on your wellbeing and your work-life balance. In this area, we have focused on your energy and managing your online teaching time. Some of the topics to help you enjoy your online work are these:

And, of course, we have even shared tips to help you with some of the tricky tasks everyone encounters when teaching online. These include giving effective essay feedback, handling academic integrity and plagiarism, managing course extension requests, and increasing student retention and success.

In the first 100 episodes of our podcast, you will find a wealth of tips, strategies, tools, and guidance to help you teach online effectively and enjoy your work. And, we invite you to send your feedback about any of these previous episodes, as well as your requests of topics for future episodes, through my website at BethanieHansen.com/Request. One of the best parts of our podcast is knowing that we support you in what you need and being able to present content that will keep you going.

Counting Down the Top 5 Listener Favorites

The topics we bring you come from a variety of sources, covering anything from tried-and-true experience and researched best practices to trending topics and issues. But you might be wondering what other online educators find most valuable and important. To help answer this question, we’re going to count down the top five episodes of our listeners, as shown in the listeners statistics:

#5: Episode 28, 5 Ways to Make Online Forum Discussions More Creative. In this episode, we took a deep dive into discussions that almost every online course provides, especially asynchronous online classes. The first and most important idea is that an educator who participates in the discussion early in the week sets the tone for students to get involved. And this tends to lead to much more engagement and a lively discussion.

Another tip is to be creative with your first week’s discussion to encourage students to interact with you and with each other, as well as to create psychological safety for your students. Additionally, you might consider scaffolding complexity in your discussions, from the early weeks of class toward the final week, to foster critical thinking and further develop psychological safety in your online class.

This episode also featured some creative approaches, like using case studies and alternative histories in discussions, and hosting debates. The goal here is that we all know discussions are a great way to connect students to each other and to their faculty member who is teaching the class, but we really want to get out of that rut of repetitive formats or using the same type of prompts all the time.

#4: Episode 2, “The Online Education Dilemma-Efficiency vs. Connection.” In this episode, we dove into some of the areas that tend to overload online educators, such as the need to be online all of the time to help us do a great job, meet our students’ needs, and still have time for life outside of work day.

Some of the tips from this episode include taking at least one day completely offline for a clear separation from work and an opportunity to refresh, finding ways to connect with individual learners to help them have transformative learning experiences, and communicating your availability to establish those expectations with your learners. This episode focuses on ways in which you can streamline your practices and yet focus on your relationships with students as a priority.

#3: Episode 1, “Time Management for Online Teaching.” In this episode, I mentioned the book I wrote on Teaching Music Appreciation Online, published by Oxford University Press. The topic of time management was covered in that book, and I shared tips from chapter 15. These include creating a master schedule to plan your daily management of online teaching, making a grid of your various teaching activities to schedule that out, and reviewing multiple obligations you might have.

This episode also shares suggestions for efficiency strategies, like using grading tools, dictation software, a grading toolbar like GradeAssist, a Microsoft Word add-in, to help you use time well and enjoy your online teaching. And, I want you to know that I use all of these strategies myself as well, and I find them especially productive for efficiency while promoting connection.

#2: Episode 38, Asking Great Questions Can Improve Student Engagement. In this episode, we explored how asking great questions can up level your teaching in the online environment. Many of us know that asking great questions can be a great practice, and it happens in discussions. Sometimes we ask questions in our feedback. We might ask questions during a live synchronous session.

There are many ways we ask questions when we’re teaching, but particularly when we’re teaching online. In this episode, we talk about why asking good questions is important, and even we also talk about how to create great questions, which can be challenging. And lastly, we use a strategy to turn any statement into a question to make your teaching even more effective.

#1: Episode 33, Andragogy in Online Education and Strategies for Teaching Adult Learners. Andragogy is an approach to teaching the adult learner that is quite different from pedagogy and in this episode I cover those differences.

We address why we should care about andragogy, how it helps our students, how it helps us. And then some ideas to help you apply it; some ideas from the presentation I attended at the Online Learning Consortium’s Accelerate conference in the fall of 2020, and also some from my own experience.

Adult learners are essentially different from our typical college-age population of the 18-to-25 year old group, and understanding this, we can reach them where they are. We can meet their needs much better, and we can be a lot more creative about the kinds of work that we guide them through so that they walk away with things that are relevant and that they can apply to their real life and their professional endeavors. They can learn it and use it immediately and keep using it into the future. And perhaps one reason that this particular episode is the #1 listener favorite at the Online Teaching Lounge is the fact that adult learners often seek out online education, and we need to be able to support them effectively.

How We are Celebrating our 100th Episode

Celebrating our 100th episode is an opportunity to express gratitude. There are many people who make this weekly series possible, and I’m taking the time to let you know who they are and to thank them for what they contribute.

At American Public University, Leischen Kranick is a leader in supporting and working with our podcast. Leischen brings excitement to her work and helps me develop helpful topics and ideas focused on what you, our listeners, need most in your online teaching and work. Thank you, Leischen, for the work you do to make our podcast happen, and for being a champion of all of our podcasts at American Public University and American Military University. And a big “thank you” to Andi Crowe, who manages scheduling and many other parts of our podcast effort as well.

At Harvest Creative Services, Mark Miller, Colleen Murray, and Bob Miller have been valuable contributors to the quality of our sound and final production. And Mark, thank you for the way you work and your ability to adapt at times and keep us rolling.

Our theme music is called “Lead the Way” and is licensed through Melody Loops. We appreciate Sascha Giebel who wrote the music.

During our first 100 episodes, we had several guests. Our guests have included faculty members Dr. Lisset Bird-Pickens and Dr. Greg Mandalas, Department Chairs Dr. Jan Spencer, Dr. Kathleen Tate, and Dr. Jackie Fowler. Faculty Directors. Dr. Doris Blanton and Dr. Craig Bogar, one of our university chaplains Kyle Sorys.

We also had recent guests who have worked in student affairs and other higher education leadership roles, and who are also faculty members with us at APU, including Dr. Barry Dotson, Dr. Sean Bogel, Dr. David Ferreira, and Dr. Scott Kalicki, each of whom were invited guests of my colleague Dr. Jan Spencer. We recognize our Dean, Dr. Grace Glass, and my colleague Dr. Bjorn Mercer who is also a podcaster here at American Public University, and our Provost Dr. Vernon Smith.

Thank you for being a listener of the Online Teaching Lounge, and for the important work you do changing lives through the power of education at a distance. This is great and challenging work, and we need committed educators to continue reaching students and helping them learn, grow, and develop their potential, especially when delivering education online. We appreciate you. And thank you for what you do!

As we close this 100th episode, I wish you all the best in your online teaching this week, and I invite you to keep listening as we continue to bring you tips, topics, and strategies to help you in your online teaching for many more episodes to come. 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.

#99: Student Affairs in Online Education: Creating Opportunities for Interaction

#99: Student Affairs in Online Education: Creating Opportunities for Interaction

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education and
Dr. Jan SpencerDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education and
Dr. Scott Kalicki, Faculty Member, American Public University

Providing guidance and assistance to students during their online academic journey is very different than in traditional, on-ground educational experiences. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen is joined by Dr. Jan Spencer and Dr. Scott Kalicki to discuss student affairs in online education. Learn why it’s so important for faculty to reach out to students and create more opportunities for interaction so there’s a dynamic and flexible educational experience. Also learn the value of mentorship, the importance of reflection, and more.

Listen to the Episode:

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

Read the Transcript:

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.

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. I’m so excited about this episode. This is episode number 99. Can you believe it? We’ve been sharing online teaching tips, strategies and ideas with you for 99 episodes. So this is a special day, we have a couple of guests with us. I have Dr. Jan Spencer from American Public University. I know you’ve met him a couple of times in our podcasts. I’m going to let Jan introduce our guest, Dr. Scott Kalicki. Go ahead, Jan.

[Podcast: Helping Educational Leaders Build Skills in Administration, Student Affairs, and Online Education]

Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you so very much, Bethanie. It is a pleasure and a great treat to be on the podcast with you, and today especially with Dr. Scott Kalicki, who is one of our professors in the higher education area, particularly as it has to do with student affairs.

When we brought Scott on, when he came to our university a couple years ago, it was as a student affairs professional, but because of his higher education experience, he teaches also higher education administration and one of the reasons for that is, when he retired, it was from being a community college president. So I want to introduce my colleague, Dr. Scott Kalicki. Scott, tell us about yourself and some other facts that we would like to know that would help us get to know you.

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Great, Jan, it’s nice to be here with you and Bethanie. I’ve had the privilege of being a career higher educational professional, literally starting my career as I left the University of Hartford and never looked back, trying to be a jack of all trades, probably a master of none, but enjoying a long career path in higher education as an administrator. Along the way, I was able to begin to teach. I learned about American Public University and you were kind enough to bring me on board as a graduate faculty member.

Dr. Jan Spencer: That has been a real treat to have you because of your experience. One of the things I know about you is that when you retired from higher education in a full-time role, it was as a community college president. Please tell us a little bit about your trajectory to that role and the significance it applies to you in working with students today.

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Sure, Jan. I was fortunate enough to have a number of good mentors as I began my career. I actually began my career as a residence hall director. I was challenged to learn about as much as I could in the profession, which meant learning about housing, student activities, wellness, public safety, athletics, everything. And I simply took a career path that allowed me to move from being an assistant dean to an associate dean to a vice president along the way, as I mentioned, learning about a number of the different offices in the division of student affairs.

When I became the chief student affairs officer as a dean of students and then chief student affairs officer later with the title of vice president, I was challenged to not stop there, but given my well-rounded background to lead an institution, and an opportunity presented itself in New Hampshire, and I became interim president. The Community College had a failed search, they asked me to step in and be an interim. It was so much fun for me and I guess good enough for them that they invited me to stay as the full-time president and I did that for six years.

Dr. Jan Spencer: That is great. That brings a lot of different kinds of circumstances of experience to our students who you teach. Talk to us a little bit about the difference between working with students in an on-ground circumstance and now that you work online. What is different about student affairs that you can identify as being significant to what you’re up to now?

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Sure. When we’re on a traditional campus, we always play with the model that says there are very few hours in the context of an entire week that a student is in the classroom. When you do the subtraction, we say about 80 hours a week a student is not in class, not sleeping, not eating, which means it’s the student services staff that are around supporting a student that has that level of contact to have interaction. On a traditional campus, we see students all the time, whether it be in a dining center, an athletic field, a student center, whatever.

The challenge on the online environment is, we see a student and interact. When they’re in class, we have to be much more intentional finding opportunities that we can connect with the student because literally they’re not walking by or we’re not in the same physical space.

So we need to create virtual opportunities that we can interact with the students in the classroom, but more importantly, outside of the classroom, where it’s oftentimes more comfortable to have casual conversations, perhaps more intimate conversations in terms of the coursework, someone’s career, putting together the dynamics of a career and a personal life.

Dr. Jan Spencer: It sounds to me from what you’re saying that online development of relationships with students, you use the word intentional, it takes some thought and forethought about doing that. I know one of the things that we always want to see take place is a development of those relationships and even establish a culture, a graduate kind of a culture.

Can you speak more to this issue of moving from face to face to an online space and what you personally have done to make that happen at a higher degree than simply students showing up online, completing their work, and then disappearing? What specifically would you recommend and how are you dealing with that?

Dr. Scott Kalicki: I think, Jan, one of the things that is key, I should say, to making sure that students want to seize intentional opportunities is making sure that we are truly telling students that we want to be engaged with them, that there is no, as the cliché goes, no dumb question except for the one not asked.

So early on in the classroom setting, and I know that you often emphasize this with reminders to us, to reach out to the students, to be present, to invite them to ask questions, to go beyond the conversation that may be taking place on a given topic in a given week.

I think the more presence we have, the more, dare I say, friendly and approachable demeanor that we establish in the classroom, the more it’s inviting for a student to want to get in conversations a little bit beyond the general conversation, to gain and take advantage of opportunities that the learning platform allows us.

There’s a student lounge, to encourage students to chat in the student lounge, to chat offline in other opportunities, whether it be clubs or organizations that are virtually set up. Or, I know that APU has mentorship opportunities and that’s another great way for students to engage with very talented faculty members beyond the classroom, sometimes better as a fit doing it one on one than in a classroom setting.

Dr. Jan Spencer: One of the things that your experience gives to me is a sense about a whole journey that online education has been on because you’ve been involved with online education for a period of time, a good period of time now, and before that it was on-ground education. So now you have seen the change-over from only on-ground to now online as well. What significant changes are you still seeing in this current emphasis on online education that you, as a professor, you as an administrator, you as a faculty member, have to deal with to make things work?

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Well, I think one of the obvious things Jan is when you’re in student affairs, we know on a traditional campus that though many offices operate 9 to 5, student affairs simply does not work that way, that we need to be available for students in non-traditional times and non-traditional locations. I think part of that challenge also exists in the online environment. Many of the online environments are asynchronous so we have to make sure that we are available and present at times when students are looking to have more immediate feedback.

We need to be conscious of logging in and being in the classroom so the responses are a little bit more timely when a student is in fact engaged in the learning platform. It’s a much more dynamic experience if we are also present at that same time. So, I think as an online instructor, we need to think about not getting ourselves stuck in a set schedule, if at all possible, to be around at times that the students are more likely to be locked in, focusing on the class or focusing on the topic or have that available time to chat more close to I’ll call it real-time or live time.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you very much. I want to make sure that we give our hostess an opportunity to speak into this process because in working with Bethanie, she has got a very active part in all of what we’re doing at APU. So I want to give it over to you, Bethanie.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thank you, Jan. Scott, you were talking about something just near and dear to my heart, which is this whole responsiveness idea and not being just scripted about that. One of the things I have coached online faculty about in the past is to figure out how to be responsive and yet not exhaust themselves. If a person is responding to their messages all the time, then they’re never away from the online classroom. How do you think someone could balance that and still really meet the students’ needs?

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Sure. In any profession, but certainly higher education, in student affairs, we’re never off. We’re always on because we’re trying to provide support services for students. We’re trying to help them develop as young adults or maturing adults. I think we need to model the way for them, that they’ve got to have a good professional balance, a good personal balance. To your point, for them to be on all the time means that they’re not taking the personal time to reflect, to process the material, to let it sink in a little bit.

That often requires stepping away from the course or stepping away from the learning platform, stepping away from the students. But, at the same time, as you said, it’s a balance. I don’t want you to simply log in for your one hour a day or an hour and a half a day. You’re not taking advantage of all the opportunities to engage with your fellow students, as well as with the instructor.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wonderful thoughts. Thank you, Scott. Varying that, as you mentioned, seems like it would keep your job fresh, too. So you don’t feel like you always have to be on at the same time, could kind of change it up. I’m curious, what kind of perspective did you gain from being a university president that would really give insight to the daily faculty experience?

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Probably the best thing that I learned coming up and finding mentors or them finding me was to take the approach that to be an effective leader, one has to remember what it was like to be the subordinate. To be an effective teacher, one must always be willing to be the student.

So as I was a community college president or a CEO, there was a lot that I thought I knew, but there was an awful lot that I didn’t know. And it needed to really be a learning experience for me that though I could offer a lot as an administrator with a lot of experience and as a leader, I needed to be a good student and I needed to listen. I needed to have an open mind.

I think as we go into the classroom, there’s a new generation of higher education professionals coming in with new perspectives that we haven’t experienced. It’s important for us to listen to those experiences, listen to those perspectives and shape what we know, given our experience and our knowledge with that, and to make it a good, healthy experience for the students, and at the same time, realize that higher education continues to evolve because of the students coming in and because of the world around us. We only need to look at the last two years to see how we’ve needed to change the way that we’ve approached higher education simply because of a pandemic.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wow. Truer words were never said. Thank you so much, Scott. Jan, do you have a few more questions for our guest?

Dr. Jan Spencer: Yes. I have talked with Scott in meetings and personally about student affairs and the role of it in an online environment. Scott, you’ve gone to a good distance of describing some of the differences there. I want to talk about value because even though the online student affairs approach is more flexible in terms of time management and input into students’ lives, at the on-ground space where you’re like 9 to 5, or other hours similar to that, there still could be perceived a greater intensity of help.

Here at APU, we have student services, we have mentorship that we’re developing, different kinds of approaches, but it’s not specifically one kind of student affairs. So I ask you, what is the value of getting a student affairs degree in today’s market?

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Sure. Well, first thing, Jan, as we know, the world is getting more complex for students. It’s not getting easier. It’s getting more complex. Student services does two important things. We provide the support services for students to excel in the classroom, services, whether it be career services, advising, creating a supportive, safe environment for a student to study, to have access to offices and personnel on a given campus. We’re also educators. As I call it, we have more opportunities, I said before, 80 hours a week to capture an educational moment with our students.

So student affairs personnel, because of all the opportunities for interaction, really have more than a faculty member in the classroom to be educators because we have moments that others do not. So for me, that’s the real value added. If you believe in higher education and want to have an impact on those individuals trying to develop their careers and hopefully careers in higher education or student affairs, we’ve got more of those opportunities than anyone else.

The other thing that student affairs really does is we really have an opportunity to build a broad skillset. We’re advisors, we’re counselors, we’re budget managers, we’re personnel managers. There are so many things that we do that prepare us to move in and out of different departments, different areas that really allow us to go into any number of trajectories. If I look back on my career and why I was able to move up the ladder, hopefully successfully, it was because I was able to get involved in so many different things, I was not limited to just being an academic advisor or I wasn’t limited to just being a counselor.

There were so many things that I could do because they were available in the division of student affairs, through committee work, through working with colleagues, through connecting with individuals who could be mentors for us to simply describe different roles and different functions in student affairs.

So, I think that’s really the value-added that there’s truly an opportunity to be an educator and you get such a great depth of skill development that it really allows you to go into so many different directions in higher education, but again, transferable skills outside of education.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Scott, I really appreciate your responsiveness to these questions. I want to ask you for a summary answer and I’m going to throw kind of a curve ball at you just a little bit. You teach in student affairs here at APU and so you are developing these student affairs professionals in the classroom.

Given the fact that we are wanting to raise up people who understand student affairs and apply it in any kind of a context, you are encountering people who are already interested in being a resource for others, already interested, in most cases, of helping other students through the process.

So how do you keep students on track if you see there’s a variance taking place? What is it you do to reinforce the values of student affairs, the importance of student affairs, to keep students going forward, to keep them on track, help them achieve the goal of completing your class in an effective and successful way?

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Boy, that’s a good question, Jan. Well, the first thing is to make sure that we’re engaging the students, we’re making the process an exciting one, that they’re eager to learn, they want to stay engaged. They themselves see the value added because we’re treating them as a valued asset.

One of the things that I like about APU is that the faculty treat the students as though they are colleagues. Now, colleagues in the context that they bring to us, as graduate students, a rich background and rich experience and we want them to feel comfortable sharing their perspective, sharing what their interests are.

I think that does a lot to help motivate the student. I think in some ways, you’re suggesting and I think you’re right, that we need to be motivators and coaches to remind students about how important our work is, and to think back on who may have helped them, it could have been a family member, or it could have been a colleague, it could have been an earlier instructor that inspired them and kept them going, that, in fact, they have the opportunity to do the same and it is truly an honor and a privilege to work with students in that capacity.

So, I think we’ve got to pump them up and let them know that A, we value them as students, B, we value them as the next generation and C that we truly need them. I need somebody to stand on my shoulders and be the next person to build the profession and meet the needs of our students at a level greater than I ever did. So, I think as we talk about that, we get students excited to keep going.

[Podcast: Student Affairs: Teaching Skills in Mental Health and DEI]

At the same time, we’ve got to make sure that, as Bethanie was talking about, we walk the talk, so to speak, that there’s a time to be a student and to be engaged and at the same time they need to do it in a healthy way that they take good breaks, keep their enrollment continuous, I think that’s always important, but at the same time, find time to enjoy life, find time to enjoy their classmates, take time to go over and reflect on what’s going on and have that good healthy student work-family life balance. I think we’ve got to keep reminding folks about that because, as I said earlier, it’s a complex world and it gets out of balance when we get out of balance with it.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Scott, I love all that you have said so far, and especially this comment you just made about how it’s motivating for students to be seen, treated as equals and to have faculty who approach the experience as fellow learners. That’s a difficult mindset to adopt for some of us who teach.

Sometimes when you have a lot of experience or advanced degrees, it’s hard to remember that we’re all still learning, even if we’re at that terminal-degree space. I’m wondering, if you were to give someone a little piece of advice about how to stay in that ontological humility idea, where we’re never going to be an expert on everything, what would be a little bit of advice to kind of get back into that zone or begin living in that space?

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Again, for someone to be a successful leader, they need to be humble. Someone’s only a leader if they have followers. So they have to be humble and say, “What do I need to do to get you to give in essence the power that you possess to follow me?” I do that by remembering what it was like to be in your shoes, to be the person who had to take direction or to be so instructed, to be so guided.

If I can remember what it was like to be in those shoes, I’m going to be much more successful. I want to carry that over to what I had said earlier. I think to truly be a good teacher or instructor, we have to be open and committed to always being students, that all around us, there are opportunities to learn. As I said earlier, we can learn from our students if we are simply open-minded and if we demonstrate that we in fact are learning from them. It’s going to make the students feel more valued and it’s a reward to them and I think it’s a motivation.

So, remembering that I can be successful as an instructor if I am truly a lifetime student and so committed to being a lifetime student, that’s going to come across to my students that they’ll want to be the same and do the same and everyone will be a little bit more successful as a result.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Beautiful advice, Scott. Thank you so much. One other thing you’ve mentioned a couple of times throughout this interview that we’re having today, I’d like to just draw this out a little bit, because I personally believe highly in this idea and you’ve mentioned take time to reflect. You’ve said it a couple of times. I’m curious if there’s any helpful way to do that if someone does not have reflective practice or a habit of reflecting on what they’re doing? Where would one start?

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Well, that’s a good question. I can tell you, one of the things that I do in my classroom, “I post in my forum, what’s your weekly ‘aha moment,’ what’s something that jumped out at you in the material that we’re engaged with, whether it be a conversation or something that happened in your life that you can connect with what we’re talking about generally, in terms of the topic or about life in general?”

I think it’s important for us to say to students that it’s one thing—and I think this goes back to student affairs in terms of how we’re educators—there’s one thing to have that book knowledge or that online knowledge. It’s important that you let it sink in. You process it. You take that knowledge and try to integrate it into your life.

I think that’s what student affairs has the opportunity to do that you may be learning about some management principles or you may be learning about some budgeting principles or interpersonal dynamic principles. Give yourself opportunities to try what you’ve read, what you’ve learned, what you’ve heard in your work world, in your personal life, in your family life. One of the ways you simply do that is just hit the pause button and try to make the those connections.

All right, I heard Jan say this was really important. Let me think about how that may be useful to me in my world, or how would that apply to me in my world. So, it’s a challenge of telling and reminding students that you’ve got to find time to let the information percolate a little bit in your connection from theory to practice, or as we say, praxis, that you take the opportunity and the time to take the principles and to really apply them. Sometimes we do it in our mind. Sometimes we actually do it with our actions in work or in our actions with the family. But that’s a good challenge. I’m not sure that we emphasize that as much as we should.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: You might be right about that. Something that occurred to me when you made that suggestion about how to take time or begin reflecting more is that this is really something that fuels resilience for human beings, right? The world we’re living in today, there’s nothing more important than resilience, the ability to just pick up and keep going when things are hard. They may not feel like they’re going to get better in the future, but we have to have some way to keep going.

That idea of reflecting could involve something like deciding either what I gained from an experience or what I could learn from an experience, or if that experience had been specifically designed for me to learn something, what would that be, so I can try to figure that out and move on and not keep repeating that lesson over and over.

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Bethanie, if I could jump in, I think you’re making another good point in terms of the value of reflection. There are things that we go through. In the classroom we may have had a struggle understanding something, or we may have had an exchange.

Reflection also allows us to bring closure to something and then move on to the next thing. Maybe we’re building on top of it, or maybe we’re just saying, “Okay, that was a struggle for me. Or it was an experience that I’m not sure that I want to go through again. It’s time to let go of it.”

The way that I’m able to let go of it is processing it, putting in its good place, closing the lid on it and moving on. I think, given the challenges that we’ve been facing these last number of months, I think that’s equally of value to extract what we can out of it, but at the same time, it’s time to close it and move on. Don’t let it haunt us. Don’t keep, as I call it, pulling out that DVD and replaying it. You’re done with it. Move on.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Absolutely. I love that idea of “Don’t replay it.” Just kind of name it, think about it and close it off. Whether there’s a lesson there or not, if we can close the experience and just be done. Sometimes that’s also resilience. Beautifully said, Scott. Thank you. So, if you were going to leave our listeners today with some key points you’d really like to make sure that they have gotten from you and your experience and expertise, what would those be?

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Well, I have to give a plug for APU. The faculty members that I have met really are committed to the student and the student learning experience. I would encourage students not to hold back, to challenge, to question, to want to get in dialogue with their instructors as well as their classmates. There’s a great opportunity there. That’s one of the good things, I think we’re getting more comfortable with the online environment and that dynamic and taking advantage of it.

We’ve mentioned the term “mentorship” a couple of times. I think whether it be your instructor, or whether it be an administrator that you met, a student personnel, student affairs staff member, find people that you can make a connection with, someone who can advise you, who can be a confidant, someone you could bounce something off of, someone you could test an idea or simply ask for some guidance. I was originally a public administration major, and, unfortunately, I did my internship very late in my academic career.

I had individuals I didn’t know at the time that they were going to be mentors, that I could talk to, that actually steered me into a career that I knew nothing about called student affairs in higher education, I would’ve been a very dissatisfied public employee someplace working for a town or a county. So, I could speak firsthand the importance of recognizing people that we could use as mentors either for a period of time or for long periods of time in our life. So, those would be the two points that I would hope that I could share with students going forward or young professionals I should say going forward.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Fantastic. Thank you so much, Scott.

Dr. Scott Kalicki: My pleasure.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Jan, what about you? Any final comments for our listeners today?

Dr. Jan Spencer: Well, I guess my comment today would be Dr. Scott Kalicki represents the best in teaching and leading and influencing students and fellow faculty members, and me, too, in taking the right steps forward. I hope that anybody who’s listening to this will take to heart the wealth and the depth of expertise that Scott has offered us today.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wonderful. Well, thank you all for being here, Jan and Scott. We’ve been listening to Dr. Scott Kalicki and Dr. Jan Spencer talking about student affairs and a lot of topics to help all of our listeners in mentorship, reflection, reflective practice, online teaching, engagement and more. We thank you for being here, celebrating our 99th episode with us. We 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.

#98: How is ‘The Great Resignation’ Affecting Online Education?

#98: How is ‘The Great Resignation’ Affecting Online Education?

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education

Employment trends changed dramatically during the pandemic, leading to “The Great Resignation” with large numbers of people quitting or changing jobs. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks about how the quitting contagion has affected online higher education. Learn three concepts that can help educators stay invigorated in their teaching, and also help retain students in the online classroom.

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Read the Transcript:

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.

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m happy to be with you today talking about online education, one of my favorite subjects. We’re going to address a little bit about “The Great Resignation.” This is a term that was coined to talk about how many people are quitting their jobs, or have been quitting their jobs in the period near the end of the year 2021.

Regardless of when you’re listening to this, it’s informative to think about trends in the economy, employment trends and how those things impact higher education or online education. The Great Resignation is just a title, right? What we’re really talking about is the trend of people quitting their jobs.

There’s an excellent graphic at a link in the transcript to this podcast. If you take a look, you can see that in fact over a period of months, the number of people that are unemployed or leaving their jobs did increase significantly. It’s a huge departure from trends of the past, and people sit around talking about this and ask, “Well, was it triggered by the pandemic? Was it going to happen anyway?”

There were all kinds of factors of course that we could talk about: New vaccine mandates, there was a candidate’s market in the job force, and also other considerations that led to people being dissatisfied with the status quo and wanting to make changes.

Some people quit their jobs and found other jobs, and it was just a shuffle and not necessarily a departure from the workforce. We also have other people who quit their jobs and started their own business, or started doing something online.

Whatever the trends are, we cannot ignore the fact that these also happen in education and in higher education. We want to know what the impact is to our students, but also long-term how this might impact us in the industry if we are education professionals.

Before we get into much of that, I do want to say that the statistics I’ve mentioned come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They began reporting the number of U.S. workers who quit their jobs in December of the year 2000, and they’ve been keeping track of it ever since. Well, the question on everyone’s mind is why is it happening and will it continue?

Differences in Employment Trends

An interesting thing about these trends is that it’s not in every industry across the board. In fact, some of the highest turnover or quitting that we noticed in the past few months according to the time of this podcast are in the sectors of accommodation and food services. These industries are such a relief to anyone during a pandemic where you might want to eat out or have some food delivered to break up the monotony of working from home if you’re in that situation.

When you consider that people may not want to work in those industries, because perhaps they too want to be at home, that’s really impacting the number of workers there are out there. Of course, we have healthcare, leisure and hospitality, professional and business services. We have a large number of people quitting in those industries that are leaving their jobs.

Now, what we want to know is are teachers quitting? Are they resigning or retiring early due to the pandemic or things happening? It appears that in some areas yes, and in some areas no. If you’re an educator, perhaps you can relate to this concept. Many people view education as a calling in life or a mission, and some of these other fields we also believe that about.

Depending on your sense of purpose in your job or your satisfaction in your job, you might feel more inclined to persevere and stay in a job that you’re not as happy with if you feel that you’re making a difference. But, on the other hand, you could also experience the influence of quitting contagion.

If there’s someone around you in a leadership role who has left and you really look to that person for guidance, direction, or an example, and other people around you start to leave your organization as well, pretty soon you feel like leaving. That quitting contagion is just what it sounds like, quitting is contagious. The more people start to leave, the more people start to leave.

As an educator and a life coach, I have coached many people who have stable jobs and have been in their industry for a long time, but they have asked how will I know if I should leave, too? One of the thoughts behind that question is: Will my organization be less and less valuable on my resume if I stay and more and more people leave? Will the quality of my organization go down and will I be sorry that I stayed? A person who shared those questions with me really got me thinking about the many facets of quitting contagion and The Great Resignation and all that’s happening around that.

Now, there are reasons for quitting and we call this churn. When people quit, we have to hire someone new, there’s a lot of turnover, but regardless of the reason, according to some recent research by industry education is the absolute lowest churn industry. State and local education had only a hire rate of 1.3% and a quit rate of 0.9% in September of 2001. That’s compared to the accommodation and food services industry where they hired at a rate of 8%, and we had a quit rate of 6.4%. That’s a huge difference.

Also down there in the very low churn industries, we have educational services. Educational services are a lot of the support staff and folks who are involved in education that are not directly the teachers in the classroom. Everyone else involved makes up educational services, and that group had a hire rate of 1.6% and a quit rate of only 1.7% in September of 2021.

So as you think about different industries and how The Great Resignation or quitting contagion are affecting them, know this, that these fields are not as heavily impacted by the churn, by the resignations, and by the quitting contagion that others may be experiencing.

But how does this impact our students? Online students can take their classes anytime, anywhere, but there are some things that help people stay committed.

In a previous recent episode, I talked about three areas that influence student retention. Today, I’m going to bring in three concepts that influence people staying in their jobs, and we’re going to sort of extrapolate some ideas from those three concepts and apply them to online higher education specifically.

As I mentioned, not every industry is experiencing as much churn and as much turnover in employment right now, at the time of this recording. We can learn a lot from the industries that are not experiencing that, and we can apply that to working with our students.

3 Ways to Help Retain Employees

Some lessons learned from those industries are that there are three elements that help retain employees or help retain people in organizations. Those three elements are: fun, meaning and belonging.

Remember, we want to think about these in terms of how they can apply to us, how they help us stay resilient in our jobs, but also how can we apply these to the students that we teach online?

Increasing the Amount of Fun

The first element of fun is how we do our work. It doesn’t make a lot of sense that we’re going to think about having fun all day long every day if we’re sitting in front of a computer, right? Not every class can be turned into a gamified classroom. But what could we do in our teaching online and in the routine of our work that really makes the way we work more fun?

Sometimes it comes through clarity or maybe the autonomy to create something or make our own decisions. When we give our students those same elements of clarity and autonomy, they too have a little fun with it. We get really impressed by what they might write in a discussion or how they might complete that assignment.

Another thing that brings fun is something that’s stimulating or interesting. There could be some fun in collaboration, group projects, and support for the work. Maybe an instructor video is going to have some fun elements. I know early in the pandemic, I remember coming across a few YouTube videos where the instructors were now teaching their students from home instead of in the classroom live, and there was a little artistry happening. One instructor I remember, in particular, was doing magic acts during the class he was teaching.

There are so many ways to bring fun into your online work and your online teaching. Think about what fun is for you, and what it might be for your students and start integrating some of those elements for more resilience and to combat that desire to quit.

Creating a Sense of Meaning

The second element is meaning. If fun is the way we’re working, meaning is why we’re doing it. As I mentioned before, sometimes the why is this greater sense of purpose or a calling in one’s career. If you have a clear sense of individual purpose in the work that you’re doing, you’re going to have a sense of meaning in your work. The more regularly you can find that, the more you can feel it every day, every week, every month and all year long till eventually you have a whole career filled with meaning.

Your students need to find meaning too. What can we do to bring a sense of meaning to everything that they’re doing? Well, on practical side, if you follow the Quality Matters habits, you know that meaning can be given to students by identifying the course objective that they’re going to fulfill.

You can also identify what career skill or applied principle is coming from their learning, or you could do something like asking the students what this learning means to them and how they’re going to use it. The more it comes from your students, the more that sense of meaning is deep and lasting.

The Importance of a Sense of Belonging

Lastly, a sense of belonging. Belonging is about who you are at work or at school. If you have a sense of belonging, you have permission to be yourself. We all know that regardless of our backgrounds or our life experiences, we know that there are times when we don’t feel like we belong, or when we get a sense that someone we’re with does not feel that they belong. This is an area worth being very sensitive about in terms of how we see others and how we invite them to be themselves.

We have some values that we share at work. The university has values, the school has values, the education industry has some general values, you have personal values as well. If you can live your values and your teaching and your students can live their values in their learning and who they are, we’re going to have the safety to be ourselves and to show up and to feel that we belong.

In some of the research on online higher education recently, we’ve learned that students want a sense of belonging by connecting to the college campus through which they’re taking the online classes. So, if you offer online classes all across the United States of America or all across the world, if students are not able to ever go to your campus and see it, they may not choose it. Increasingly, students taking classes online want to be able to visit the campus, have a connection to the faculty, and feel like there’s some sense of belonging by identifying with that school.

There’s also psychological safety involved with a sense of belonging. So if you show up as your whole self and you bring your values and you are being authentic in your work or your learning, you’re going to be accepted for who you are. That psychological safety is just the sense that it’s going to be okay to share your thoughts, your experiences, your stories, your elements of who you are, and you’re not going to be threatened in that way.

Those three things: fun, meaning and belonging, those are hallmarks of workplaces with low turn or low-turn industries right now, and they can also bring a lot of connection for our online students. Perhaps we could try this as an experiment, bringing in the fun and bringing in the meaning much more overtly and bringing in all that we can do to create a sense of belonging for all of our students. Let’s try that as an experiment and see what comes of it. We’re certainly going to have a more interesting experience and a little bit of a different perspective by getting creative and trying these new things.

I hope you’ll try them out and observe what happens, and then write to us and let us know what you experienced and what your results really are. You can send those messages to me at request on the bethaniehansen.com website, and we’d love to hear from you.

Think about it this coming week and consider your experience with what we’re calling The Great Resignation and how your students may be experiencing it, and what might come of our bringing that fun, meaning and belonging into the online classroom. I wish you all the best as you try these things out 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.