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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

#96: Student Retention Strategies in Online Education

#96: Student Retention Strategies in Online Education

This content originally appeared on APUEdge.Com.

Every year, a large number of students across the country leave college and fail to complete their degree. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks about what educators can do to improve student retention numbers. Learn ways to help students address academic difficulties, resolve academic or occupational goals, and help them gain a sense of belonging and connection during their education.

Listen to the Episode:

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

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m Bethanie Hansen, and I’m happy to be with you here today talking about student retention. Student retention is a phrase that you might hear a lot in online higher education. Every year a large number of students all across the country leave college and fail to complete their degree. So as professionals in online learning, we’re especially concerned about this number.

What are Student Retention Rates?

Now there’s a place called the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, and in 2019, they reported that nearly 29% of students who entered college in the fall of 2017 at four-year public institutions did not return to those institutions for a second year. That was well before the pandemic ever began. So we know it’s not specifically because of the pandemic. Retention of our online students is particularly low for those who are attending part-time. So nearly half of them are retained, and that means nearly half of them leave.

There’s a lot of data on this and when we think about why students enroll in college in the first place and why they may drop or choose not to return, there are many reasons. There are of course, personal issues, financial issues, family, work-related stress, interruptions, all kinds of things that come into the mix.

But there is a lot that we can do and these things we try to do to help students stay the course or persist and keep going to college, those are called retention strategies. When we do our retention strategies, then we start watching our students to see what they do. Are they staying? Are they enrolling in another class? Are they sticking around for the next semester or the next session? And when they do, we call that student persistence. So retention is what we do as the educators and higher education professionals to try to retain those students in class. And persistence? That’s what the students do.

Retention Strategies to Improve Student Persistence

Today, I’m going to speak with you about retention strategies. Things that we can try in working with our students to really encourage them to persist, to finish the class they enrolled in and continue on to the next one.

Most educators I know, and likely you might be the same way, we get into education because we really want to make a difference with our students. We want to help them reach their potential. We want to make a difference in this world by helping people better themselves through the transformative power of education.

That can’t happen if students are quitting their educations. When they don’t finish and they don’t keep going from class to class, they have a lot less opportunity available to them. Having that degree, whether it’s an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, or even a doctoral degree, those things are so encouraging, but they also qualify our students for specific career fields and jobs.

So it’s very motivating for us as the teacher or a faculty member to encourage that student, to help them along. We’re going to talk about things we can do. We’re also going to talk about some things that inadvertently might affect our students’ desire to continue.

As a faculty director for seven years, I had a lot of experiences where I got occasional complaints about this or that faculty member. It did seem like there are certain behaviors that tend to push students away. And if we were together during a face-to-face class, and we did those very same things with a smile on our face, or with a bit of conversation around them, they would not have the same impact at all.

So, we’re going to talk a little bit about things that tend to push students away, as well as those strategies for helping them continue. I hope you’ll find some value in this podcast today, and at least one strategy you can try this coming week with your students. And hopefully continue so you can help them continue as well.

Model of Institutional Departure

There’s a well-known model created by Vincent Tinto. It was created in 1993 after his first published work in 1975. And it’s been used for a lot of years by many institutions. This model is called the Model of Institutional Departure. This model is all about three main areas that impact student persistence. These areas can easily be the reason why students leave the institution and don’t continue with their degree programs.

Academic Difficulties

The first one is academic difficulties. Think about what could enable the success of a student who is having academic difficulties. One thing I’ve seen in online education is a bit of flexibility when a student initially struggles academically. Some faculty will allow a redo. They’ll direct the student to a tutoring center, someone who can help them with their studies or their essay writing. And they’ll start to strengthen that student.

When we see that happen, sometimes the student will gain confidence, persevere through those academic difficulties, and start learning the hard stuff—they’ll really persist. Some will not. But academic difficulties are one of the major sources of student departure.

Challenges in Resolving Educational and Occupational Goals

A second area of students departing an institution is challenges in resolving educational and occupational goals. Now I experienced that myself at one time when I was completing a certificate at an institution. I was trying to change my major from this one area to this graduate certificate. And somehow just in the system itself, my records got stuck. My GPA went to 0 from all the credits that I did have, and I couldn’t figure out who to talk to or get help from. It was so discouraging, I didn’t feel like there was any way to resolve those goals that I had.

Challenges in resolving educational and occupational goals for our students can literally appear like a brick wall. So, the student does not feel like there’s any way forward to get where they really want to go. And, of course, that could be discouraging enough that they stop altogether.

Failure to Connect with the Institution

And third, failure to become academically and socially connected with the institution. When we think about this one, it’s really interesting because we have a variety of college age young people between the teen years and around 25 years old, which we would call traditional learners. And we also have adult learners who are over 25, all the way up to 80, 90 or so years old. We have a wide range of people going to college, especially online.

If you think about this wide range of age groups and demographics, failure to become academically and socially connected with the institution is an interesting obstacle to overcome. What does the student really want through academic connection? And what does the student want through social connection? Not every student is going to want the same thing. So, there are a variety of things that might attract the student to really get engaged and stay.

The bottom line in that academic and social connection is that the student feels a sense of belonging. They feel like they’re part of that college community and they want to be part of it. Some of us love it so much we become professional educators and we just want to stay forever because that sense of belonging was so rich and so inviting.

Think about your online class. If we just look from the lens of the single educator teaching one course with students in it, how can you help the student become connected to the academic life of that institution? What can you do to really build cognitive presence throughout the experience so the student feels richly involved? And what can you do to help them feel socially connected with the institution?

We had an example in the fall of 2021. We had an event that was about two hours long called World Philosophy Day. This event was recorded. So any student who could not attend could watch it after the fact. Simply knowing that it’s there, makes a lot of students feel socially connected and academically connected too. Attending the event really boosts that level. We had many students attend live and they stayed through the question and answers section at the end and asked a lot of questions. That did a lot for social connection in that group of students. Anything we do to help them feel like they’re part of a community is going to really go a long way.

Academic and Social Connection Support Students’ Goals

Now there are a lot of people who have done research on retention strategies. These three areas that I’ve mentioned from Tinto’s Model of Institutional Departure are really good, broad areas to be thinking about as faculty members, as teachers of our courses, and as members of this academic community. We can also think about how students need significant interactions with other members of the college.

That could be other departments. It could be faculty members. It could be the Dean, the President, the Provost. There are a lot of ways that students can have significant interactions, but they must be significant. Simply seeing someone’s name on a website is not going to check that box. So, as you’re thinking about different things you might do in your teaching throughout the session or term that you’re teaching your students, consider what might constitute a significant interaction with other members of the college.

What can you do to get students working with each other and connecting with different departments as they need to for your subject matter? How can you get your students to really get involved in the institutional library? Some online institutions have live librarians they can connect with and students can go there and talk to a real person. They can go to the advising department and connect with real people there.

We have student accommodations and a whole department associated with that. There are many different departments filled with live people that can speak with them and with whom they can really gain relationships. These are going to be significant interactions that help them feel part of the community and like they belong. Really integrating our students into this community is what’s going to help them want to stay.

The Role of Mentoring

Think about this point: Mentoring has been mentioned a lot in recent years in higher education, but particularly in online higher education. Mentoring has a lot of potential to help students feel like they’re connected to the institution and that they’re having significant interactions. Mentoring can go a lot of different ways. For example, mentoring might have to do with helping the student prepare for their career field. It might have to do with help guiding them in the subject matter, helping them to balance their life, get their study skills down.

There’s a wide range of areas that could fit into mentoring. But particularly for students who are isolated and don’t have a really clear way to connect to the institution, mentoring can go a long ways towards helping that student feel like they really do have a space there and a person that’s their go-to person.

Now, another variation of mentoring could be group work throughout a class. If you can get your students combined into groups of some kind and work together for projects and things, and yet grade them on their own contributions, not dependent on those other people. If they can work together, but still be individually accountable, that’s going to be a form of peer support that can be especially rich and supportive during a course.

Anything we can do to share what’s happening in the institution with our students, especially if there are events happening, webinars, if there’s a commencement ceremony, even if the student isn’t graduating that year, for them to know about it, to hear about it, to see it coming up, they’re going to be able to imagine themselves participating sometime in the future.

So there are those three big areas that tend to push students toward departure. And there are a lot of things we can do that helps students to really feel anchored and like they belong in the community to prevent those things from happening.

Now, on the flip side, I mentioned that I occasionally get student complaints and although I’m no longer a Faculty Director, I am a Department Chair, so I still have my finger on the pulse of what students are experiencing in my department. And when they have an experience with a faculty member that is not friendly, not inviting, not supportive, I hear about it.

A good example of this would be just a slow and abrupt response. If a student has a reason to ask for support with an assignment or clarity about a topic, and maybe the instructor is feeling like “this is a question I get all the time and I’m tired of this question,” the comment may come back slow and it might be a little terse or abrupt. And that can be incredibly rejecting to the student who’s asking for help.

Many students do not want to ask for help. And when they finally do, they’ve thought about it a really long time. So it could do us a lot of good to think about what that student is experiencing when they’re coming to us for help? What their experience with us in the class might be? What our impact is before we think about what their question is?

Educators Can Improve Engagement and Interactions

So, we can see things through the eyes of our students a lot better when we ask questions, when we pause and notice the tone, the question, the words that the student is using. And what we choose to focus on in our engagement with another, whether it’s virtual or a face-to-face engagement, that’s going to grow. So if we focus on the unkind part or the abrupt part of it, we’re going to continue to have that kind of an interchange with that person.

Likewise, if we focus on curiosity and patience and understanding, we’re going to grow that side of our teaching as well. Once we slow down and we pause and we notice where the student’s coming from, ask a lot of questions, and really try to understand, then we can be really present with what they need. And we can focus on that one thing and just give them that presence and that support that’s going to help them keep going in their studies and be really capable of exercising the grit that they need and the resilience that they need to continue.

Send a Welcome Note to Invite Students into the Class

Now you might be thinking that you’ve heard a lot about retention programs at your institution. Maybe there’s been an initiative rolled out that everyone needs to do a certain thing a certain way, and that’s going to help students persist in their classes. There are a lot of things that work incredibly well for retention purposes.

And if you’re doing them and you’re watching the results and you’re approaching them with a true desire to help your students keep going, they’re going to be more effective. One of those things is communicating to your students before the session begins. And that could be a few days before the class begins. It could be a week before the class begins.

When you do that primary outreach before the course has started, you introduce yourself, you start building a connection with your student and you build a bridge before the first day of class, your student is more invited and they’re feeling less nervous, less anxious about showing up in your classroom. They have a little bit of a sense of safety already before the first day of class.

Set Expectations Early to Help Students Plan Ahead

Another thing that we can do that helps students to persist is to share with them what our expectations are and what the assignments are early in the session. Maybe they even get a copy of the syllabus before the first day of class. Whatever it is, they need to know what they’re going to have to do that whole time so they can plan their time accordingly.

If students don’t know that they’re going to have a large number of pages to read every night and several essays, they will likely drop the class when they get too busy to do those things. But if they know it going into the class, they can plan ahead and set the time aside and manage it.

Some students even decide when to take certain courses, whether to take only one course at a time, or to take two or three courses at a time, based on the perceived workload they think that course will have. Mine’s a really common one that students like to pair with at least one other class, because they think it’s going to be super easy. It’s music appreciation and they think they’re going to just listen to music all day long.

They are very surprised when they learn they have to write an essay, they have to read a lot, listen to a lot, discuss a lot in the discussions. But it’s a lot more helpful when they know on the very first day of class or even a couple days early in that welcome message that I’m going to send out. That gives them the chance to decide, should I move my courses around? Am I going to be able to take two or three classes at a time? And they can judge for themselves.

Communicate with Kindness to Build Relationships

So, even if there’s no big strategy at your institution, you can do some of those things to give students advanced information. Be very patient and kind in your communications even if you have to say no to something. And, help students feel like they belong, that they have some connection in your course and connection to the bigger university setting.

So be thinking about academic difficulties your students could have in your subject area and in your particular class. Think about what could present a challenge to them in resolving their goals while they’re trying to get through your class. And think about how they can become academically and socially connected to the institution. With those three things in mind, you’re more likely to help your students finish the class and persist to enroll in the next one and eventually graduate with that degree.

I hope you’ll think more about that this week and try one of those strategies. Maybe you’ll come up with one that I haven’t mentioned here. If you’d like to share it back, please visit my site, bethaniehansen.com/request, even though that form is set up for you to request specific topics. I’ve also gotten communications of all kinds and even feedback about our podcast at that address. And I would love to hear from you.

So let us know what’s working for you in retention strategies that really helps your students to persist and what keeps it from happening. And, just so you know, we’re almost to episode number 100 in this podcast. We have some special guests coming up in just a few weeks and I hope you will enjoy all of the student affairs topics we’ll be talking about. We even have a special appearance from our university president at American Public University, Dr. Kate Zatz coming up. So definitely tune in each week. Don’t miss an episode and share it with a colleague or a friend. Here’s to you and wishing you all the best 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.

#95: Student Affairs: Addressing Student Mental Health and Wellness

#95: Student Affairs: Addressing Student Mental Health and Wellness

This content first appeared on 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. Sean BogleFaculty Member, American Public University

With the shift to online learning, student affairs professionals have had to become more adaptable and agile in how they reach and connect with students. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks to Dr. Jan Spencer and Dr. Sean Bogle about the need for student affairs professionals to be increasingly dynamic in order to assess the needs of students. Learn tips on identifying students who may be dealing with mental health issues, how to reach students regardless of their location, and working to make connections with students whether they’re online or on-campus.

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. Today, you’re in for a real treat. We have two special guests, Dr. Jan Spencer and Dr. Sean Bogle. Welcome and let’s have you each introduce yourselves and we’ll start with you, Dr. Sean Bogle, tell us about you.

Dr. Sean Bogle: Yes, greetings everyone. As I’ve been introduced by Bethanie, thank you. My name is Dr. Sean Bogle. I am currently serving as a part-time faculty for American Public University. I’ve been in this role for almost two years now, and I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to engage with students who are pursuing their Master’s degree with a focus on student affairs.

Speaking of student affairs, I spent most of my career in higher education working as a student affairs administrator at various universities across the country. Most recently, I served as the Dean of Students at the Yale School of the Environment. And prior to that, I worked at a community college as a Dean of Student Affairs and Activities. At Stanford University as an Assistant Dean, and various other roles. And I found my passion for working in student affairs after actually being a public schools teacher for language arts. And I enjoyed that environment and wanted to pursue administration, initially, in the secondary environment.

That being said, I found that higher education fit my skillset and personality more. And upon getting my first role at University of Louisville as a residence-life coordinator, living in with 300 co-ed, it certainly wasn’t dull. But it was also very exciting to see that I could match my personality with supporting and developing undergraduate students, and also helping to lead those who were interested in engaging with students and supporting their needs. So, over 12 years of experience has really led me to serve in a role with American Public University that I’m very proud to be in.

Outside of that, I currently also work at Kuali. Kuali is a software company that supports institutes of higher education. And, specifically, I help partner universities across the country with research administration tools that we use so that schools that are seeking federal grants can execute their research in an efficient manner. So, this is my day-to-day role. And outside of that, I live in Connecticut. I’ve been here for over two years now. I enjoy it. I enjoy the full four seasons. And yeah, that’s just a little bit about me.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Fantastic. Thank you so much, Sean. And how about you, Dr. Spencer?

Dr. Jan Spencer: Hi, I’m Dr. Jan Spencer and I am the Department Chair for Educational Leadership and Student Life. And that incorporates three different programs: Educational Leadership in the K12 space, and then Higher Education Student Affairs, and Higher Education Administration.

And we are so very blessed to have Dr. Sean Bogle be on our team of faculty. He has brought a lot to the table, a lot of experience, a lot of depth. And, as he greatly explained, some of the journey he had, I so appreciate what that does for integrating in an educational environment with students who need to have answers to the variety of questions that they have. So, Sean, I’m so glad that we’re getting to work together and I’m so glad you’re on this interview.

Since you’ve really shared your journey and some of the institutional work that you’ve done, and your current role that you serve, you probably have a great view of a variety of environmental changes that have happened in student affairs. So, what significant changes can you see have happened, and are happening in our current educational environment and particularly as it relates to student affairs?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Absolutely. Thank you, Jan. And I think that when I look at some of the biggest challenges for students, it’s: how do we support students in multiple ways? The environment is certainly different than, say, what it was 10, 12 years ago, where there was this traditional college experience where we knew sort of how to support students, either on campus, or off campus. And many universities were very good at just doing one or the other.

And, now, when we look at student affairs, there’s more hybrid activity going on, where students may be engaged to a different level, on campus or off campus. And they need both. They need resources for both.

So, we need more dynamic student affairs professionals who can really reach students no matter what their environment is. Knowing that students are more familiar with the online setting, knowing that students need to be able to access their support, their student affairs administrators in various different settings. So, we have to be comfortable with the tools to engage with students outside of the on-campus environment.

We also need to be more cognizant that wellness is certainly at the forefront of what students are dealing with now, whatever wellness may be. Whether it’s mental health issues, home sickness, imposter syndrome, we have to be more prepared to support students with their needs for wellness.

Dr. Jan Spencer: One of the things that’s amazing about what you just said, and the context of our conversation today, is that you, Bethanie, and I are in three completely different locations in the United States. And mentioning the whole virtual aspect of student affairs, it seems to me, that’s going to create a bigger hurdle for you, as a professional, to be able to really address an individual student. That you can’t just sit down with face-to-face, and work through their issues. How do you accomplish that given the reality of the virtual challenges that we all face?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Yeah, I think a great example is recently in one of the courses that I was teaching, I had a student who was located in South Korea, and needed to reach out to me multiple times throughout the course. And as I mentioned earlier, Jan, I think it’s very important that administrators and teachers are able to adapt to the times. We need to be able to align ourselves and familiarize ourselves with the resources that are out there to make us more accessible to students.

So, I started using Calendly, which is essentially a tool where you can plop it into an email. It’s a link that allows for students to see your schedule, and be able to plug in a time that works. This is a lot more, for me, efficient than going back and forth with a student who may be in need, and have questions and need support.

I can just say, “Hey, here’s my Calendly link. Pick a time that works for you because I know it’s going to work for me if you pick it because it’s based on my availability.” And here I am reaching out to the student in South Korea. Now, it may be 11:30 or close to midnight for that student, but it worked enough for that student and our schedule to align for support.

Dr. Jan Spencer: So, you have capabilities then, to address the gap in terms of distance. What about the actual depth of conversation? Is the tool of, let’s say, a Zoom, or a similar technology, is that sufficient to be able to allow you to accomplish your goals in conversing with the students in order to support them?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Absolutely. That being said, I want to be adaptable as possible. So Zoom is my go-to for virtual meetings with students. That being said, I’m cognizant of the fact that some students may feel more comfortable with, say, Microsoft Teams or Google Meet. So, I want to make sure that I have access and know how to use all of those tools. They’re all very similar, but then there may be unique differences to them as well.

I just, again, want to reiterate how important it is for me to be adaptable. So, I want to make sure that when I’m meeting with a student that I’m doing so in a space that is similar to if they walked into my office, where there’s a level of privacy, where the student can feel like I’ve created a safe space, a comfortable space. I do have a seven-year-old daughter, so I try to make sure that I’m in a space that I am now where she can run and play. And I can also have the space that I need to give that student that one-on-one attention. If I’m, for example, in an environment where the background may be distracting, I’ll blur that background just so that that student understands that I’m mindfully engaged with whatever we’re discussing.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Okay, let me just press that just a little bit further. In talking about the value of student affairs in today’s market, one of the big words that we hear in online education is the word retention. And how does a professional in your field work with keeping students on track for the sake of keeping them in school? How does student affairs accomplish that? What are some of the insights that you utilize when you’re engaging the students?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Yeah, so, I think I’m looking at two different routes here. One of which is if I’m dealing with a student who is wanting and seeking a career in student affairs, I’m always looping them to, here are the possible routes for you upon graduation, upon completion of your program here’s what’s available. So, almost with every discussion, post, or assignment, I’m linking it to understanding what it is that they want to do.

So, for example, if it’s a student development course, and they’ve identified a certain theory that they associate with, I may say, “Wow, based on your understanding of that theory and the way you feel, you resonate to that theory, I think you’d be a really good residential life professional in supporting students.” So, that sort of gets the ball rolling and, “Wow, that’s a career field within student affairs that I could seek.” So, again, in trying to link a student affairs student to a possible career in student affairs is one aspect.

The other aspect is just a student in general, who may not necessarily have an interest in student affairs, but talking about the work of an administrator. I think it goes back to letting them know that I care, that I’m treating them as an individual and not as a number.

Oftentimes, particularly at large universities, students may feel lost. They may feel like one person in a class of 30. And they may need some guidance there. Oftentimes, I’m listening to their needs and sort of configuring my conversation to whatever it is that they need. And also, looking at their background, what it is about them that I can link to, to help give them support for where they come from.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you so much. I want to change the direction just a little bit and talk about equity, diversity, and inclusion. These are huge issues in student affairs today, in a general sense across universities and colleges. How do we address these kinds of issues? And maybe I should actually step back and say, where are we at with that? How do you interpret the progression of overcoming some of the hurdles associated with equity, diversity, inclusion, so that we see ourselves working together rather than working and tearing ourselves apart from each other? How do we work to bring ourselves together? How are we doing with that? And how does an online education, how does student affairs help? I know, that’s a huge question.

Dr. Sean Bogle: No, I think it’s an important question. Thank you for asking it. I think the work is ongoing. I think that it is something that we have to continue to embed into our day-to-day practices as teachers, as professionals, as human beings. I think those that, ultimately, have a care for others, and educators tend to do that, have a care for others, have a greater lens of support on what to look for. Because when we talk about diversity, and equity, and inclusion, we’re talking about being able to identify individuals, and to embrace their differences. And educators already have experience doing this. Good educators, I should say.

We know that students are at different points of their learning. We know that students are at different points of things that are going on outside of the classroom, such as socioeconomic status. We know that students may be facing learning challenges, and may need various different level levels of support to overcome those learning challenges. So, educators are already in a great space for this.

Specifically, with online learning, every time I send a student an audio feedback, I make sure to insert captions because I don’t want to assume that I have created an inclusive environment. So, I want to do everything that I can. And the inclusive part of DEI work is so important because as long as we’re giving everyone the opportunity to say, “You are welcome. I have thought about what may be needed for you to be in this space,” we are really achieving what we need for diversity and equity as well, because we’re doing everything that we can to create an opportunity for a student to see a little bit of themselves within our community.

That’s why it’s so important that we have a staff that represents diversity. We have staff from various socioeconomic, religious, sexual orientation, gender, all of that is into play. So, students can see a little bit of themselves within the faculty. That resonates with them. And I think that makes them feel inspired.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: I’m so intrigued by what we’re talking about here. And I know our listeners are too. You’ve said a couple of times here, Sean, that educators are already primed for this, to think about the individual, to consider what their needs might be. And I’m wondering, if someone is feeling a little bit less inclined, like they really want to do this, but they don’t really know how, is there some suggestion you have for expanding their approach a little bit?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Yeah. I think that there are so many opportunities out there for professional development that really do not cost anything. I think that just using the tools at hand, whether it’s something like LinkedIn, there’s so many articles and resources that are available that can just be absorbed on one’s own time.

I think the other thing is to correlate experiences. No matter the classroom setting, there is always going to be diversity. The diversity may not always look like race, but the correlation can be there. So, for example, if a teacher is working in an environment where there’s a high socioeconomic status, it doesn’t mean that every student in that environment has a high socioeconomic status. How have you related, or resonated, to that student?

Or a student in a high socioeconomic status may have a learning deficiency, how have you met that gap? That same approach of embrace, how do I include them? How do I customize and align my lesson? That’s the same thing that all students need. So, it’s a heterogeneous environment in terms of race, ethnicity, culture. It’s that same lens of how do I include them? How do I acknowledge their differences that creates that inclusive environment?

Dr. Jan Spencer: Great. Sean, one of the things I appreciate about working with you is that you bring a breadth of experience also from the marketplace, and that’s where you’re at right now in working in the marketplace, as well as teaching. So, help me understand, help our listeners understand the transition away from only focusing on campus instruction, and now being a part of the marketplace as well, with what your present role is. Help us understand how that fits into your overall approach to student affairs.

Dr. Sean Bogle: Absolutely. So, working primarily as a student affairs administrator for over 12 years, it gave me a very broad base in how to support students in the trenches, if you will, on the grounds, whether that is crisis management and support, nonclinical support, having conversations, planning large-scale events, or helping to plan large-scale events, such as orientation and graduation. These are sort of, as I mentioned, being in the trenches with students.

That being said, as I have sort of grown my own skillset, completed my doctorate work, it’s allowed me to take a more 30,000-foot view, if you will, of how the issues of a university impact students. So beyond that one-on-one support or that in-the-trenches support how do I, as a professional working in student affairs, look at the larger scale?

So now that I work at Kuali in my specific role as community engagement coordinator, focusing on partnering universities that are doing research with software tools, I’m looking at the scope of how does research impact students?

Many universities across the globe are doing research and, ultimately, it’s going to impact students. So, whether that research is on COVID-19, whether that research is on clean-water initiatives, or environmental issues, these are things that our students are doing.

Oftentimes, when a faculty member is conducting research, they’re using student participants to conduct the research and/or they’re using students to help guide that research. The students are often helping the faculty as assistants in those research projects.

So it allows for me to have a more holistic view, if you will, of what it takes to be a student beyond the student being in crisis, or planning a party, or their day-to-day outside of the classroom. I think it’s important for a student affairs professional to have an idea of what students are doing in the classroom or in the lab.

Dr. Jan Spencer: That’s great. One last question for you from me. And one of the things that you have mentioned in your comments throughout our conversation has to do with dealing with student mental health. And I know that as a professional on ground, that’s pretty obvious that you’ll be face-to-face with a student to help them through a scenario. Whereas an online environment, it’s a little bit more difficult to get into their head, you might say, and to deal with their issues.

So, can you talk a little bit about student affairs in the on-ground environment versus the online environment, and how does student affairs overall present an increased role in supporting students with mental health issues?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Sure. So, the first thing that I should note is that one of the quotes I’ve always sort of guided myself in terms of wellness for student support, is that the absence of a mental health illness is not the presence of mental health wellness. And what I’ve taken that to mean is that, we know that there are students that may actually suffer from a condition such as bipolar disorder. And many campuses, whether it’s online or on-campus are set up to support that student.

But just because a student may not have a mental health clinically diagnosed illness doesn’t mean that they are well. So, every student needs wellness, whether that’s on campus, or in a virtual environment. It can be easier if you will, to put eyes on a student who may not look well, a student that may be aloof from the community, who may have an appearance that’s melancholy, we can look at those signs on-campus.

It certainly can be more challenging when in a virtual environment. That being said, I think the link there is the absence. When a student on campus is not around their friends, not going to class, those things are noticed.

But they also can be very much noticed in a virtual environment, too. A student that started off on fire in discussion boards, asking questions, posting a lot and then, they go absent, that could, in fact, be symptomatic that there’s something going on there in terms of wellness. And, oftentimes, when I’m able to reach out, I’m able to find out the student had a hard week.

I remember within American Public University, a student had lost a parent. And it, certainly, explained why they were so engaged and then they just sort of went absent. So, looking for those little signs and being able to reach out.

I try to be very mindful that when I’m not hearing from a student, it very well could be something going on with their wellness. And wellness is a very general term, and it should be, because many things can affect, and be variables to wellness. So, I try to reach out and say, “Is there anything that I can do?” That’s always part of the initial message that I try to have to a student when I notice that there’s been an absence.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Wonderful. Bethanie, I’ll throw it over to you in case you have any questions you want to bring to Dr. Bogle.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: I do. I’m more curious about that area of student wellness and what you just shared. This is something I coach faculty on. Occasionally, notice when a student disappears. Reach out when they disappear. Ask them how you can help and be supportive. Aside from the student disappearing, what other things could help a faculty member know that they should ask, or should be curious about that? What do you think?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Yeah, I think it’s important for me to look for context within even discussion posts. So, when a student is engaging with their peers, what are they saying? I remember having a discussion with students in a discussion post, and it was about the value of a graduate degree. And a student said something to the effect of, “I’m not even sure what I’m doing in this program.” So they weren’t absent, but their words within itself, gave me a little bit of pause for concern to be able to reach out on the side, or at least monitor what they were saying. Oftentimes, I’ll look for a pattern, if you will.

Sometimes even if a student is submitting work, I can notice that the quality of work has fluctuated from perhaps what they have submitted in the past. So, it’s not that they aren’t showing up, but maybe the way that they’re showing up is inconsistent.

So, oftentimes, when I see a student who is able to put together an assignment, and really follow the APA guidelines, and really have a structured approach. And now their next assignment, there’s typos everywhere, it’s rushed. So, they turned something in, they’re present, but they’re not present in a way that I’m used to them being present. To me, that strikes the sign that this is behavior that I should be cognizant of. So, again, not just when someone’s absent, but how they’re showing up when they show up.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thank you so much for sharing those ideas. I love that when you’re looking for patterns, or noticing something unusual. I’m also kind of wondering how an online faculty member can be more supportive of people in student affairs? How can they really connect with that department in an institution?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Yeah, I think that one of the things that can be done is knowing the name of the local, or the primary liaison. Most departments at universities, or schools, will have someone that is the liaison. It can be a Residence Dean, Assistant Dean. These titles are oftentimes different, but they oftentimes, do the same type of work, which is that they serve as the person of contact when a student may be in need or have concerns.

The other thing that I think is important is to invite conversations with student affairs professionals. It could be the Vice President of Student Affairs or Dean of Students about, what language should I be including, even if it’s brief, in my syllabi, my syllabus, to set the tone for the particular term?

So, for example, is there something about wellness? Is there a line, is there something that I should be embedding into my syllabus knowing that this may not be my field of expertise, but how do I let students know that I care about their holistic being on campus, or in the virtual campus environment, so that here’s an email address, or phone number, or person to contact? So, I think faculty being able to reach out and make that linkage, it also displays something to the student.

And then, if there is an opportunity, and I know that the term can be tight and we certainly want it to be academically focused, but I’ve always appreciated when, as a student affairs professional, faculty have said, “Can you come talk to my class for two minutes at the beginning of the term?” Or when they feel like, it’s amazing how much intersectionality there is between so many lessons and student affairs. So, if there’s something that feels like there could be intersection there with student affairs, invite me in for a two or three minute spot. And I’m happy to speak with students. So, just showing that intersectionality.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wonderful. Thank you so much. I have to just tell you, Sean, that you just jogged a personal memory for me that I had no idea this person was a student affairs professional. But it’s bringing full circle the ideas we’re talking about here.

My freshman year of my undergraduate degree, I went to a large university with 30,000 students, but I happened to take a class from the Dean of Student Life. And that person went to the marching band performance at the football game, looked for me, wrote me a letter to tell me what they thought about the performance. And really paid attention to who I was. And in a university that large that, to me, was remarkable. I had no idea that is student affairs. That’s just beautiful.

Dr. Sean Bogle: Yeah. It’s that person-to-person approach.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yeah. I was one of those anomalies where I came from a single-parent family, and a certain demographic where I probably was definitely a person you’d think might slip through the cracks somehow. So, it was nice this person noticed me, yeah. Thanks for mentioning some of those roles. And also, for the tips on how faculty can get involved. I’m going to pass it back to you, Jan, on any final comments, or questions you’d like to add here?

Dr. Jan Spencer: Well, we are very excited that our student affairs program here at APU is really a cutting-edge kind of a thing. And our faculty, such as Sean and some of the others, have said to me, “Jan, this is a cutting-edge program. This is some of the finest material that we have seen.” So, we’re very excited. The program is growing slowly. And we invite those who are interested in being a part of learning more about student affairs, if that’s where they sense their direction is going, we are here to serve any way we possibly can, answer any questions, and be a support to our students who are considering that direction with their studies.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Beautiful. And how about you, Sean? Any final comments you’d like to add?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Well, I just want to thank both of you for allowing me the opportunity to engage with you. This has been wonderful and a privilege for me to be able to speak to my experiences. These opportunities are, I think, what makes student affairs so special, the opportunity to connect with others in a meaningful way.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Beautiful. So, thanks for being here, Dr. Jan Spencer and Dr. Sean Bogle, and we really appreciate your ideas and all that you’ve taught us today. To our listeners, we want to thank you for listening, and 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.

#94: Strategies for Applying Andragogy, Constructivism, and Heutagogy

#94: Strategies for Applying Andragogy, Constructivism, and Heutagogy

This content first appeared on APUEdge.com

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

Online teachers must know and apply the principles of andragogy because many of their students are adult learners. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses some other critical teaching theories including pedagogy, which suits younger learners, constructivism, and a new concept called heutagogy, which focuses on self-directed learning. Becoming familiar with each theory and related teaching strategies can provide insight and new approaches for online educators.

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Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m excited to speak with you today about andragogy. This is a buzzword in online education and one of the reasons we hear this word so much is that many of our online students are adult learners. The traditional college age would be considered 18 to 25, those would be your learners who leave high school and go directly to college or within a year or so, go to college and then complete their degree in the young adult timeframe.

An adult learner is anyone 25 or older who has a gap in there, some life experience. And the term
“andragogy” was created to describe adult learning theory. Now, we have some ideas in the field of education that come from pedagogy, which now is considered the methods of teaching children or young people. And then we have andragogy, which is adult learning theory or the methods for teaching adults.

There are two other phrases you’re going to hear me talk about today. One of them is constructivism. This is a theory in education as well. And another one is a new word that I learned recently, heutagogy. Heutagogy spelled H-E-U-T-A-G-O-G-Y. Heutagogy is self-directed learning. It’s sort of a combination of andragogy and constructivism with some other thoughts thrown in there and I’m going to introduce that to you today as well.

So we’re going to begin by taking a look backwards at pedagogy, and that is now considered a description of young people’s learning. And then we’re going to take a dive into constructivism, which sort of bridges between pedagogy and andragogy. Then we’ll talk about andragogy and finish it all up with heutagogy and some ideas for you to take away in your online teaching this coming week, semester, or year.

Understanding Pedagogy: Teaching Students how to Learn

So here we go. Pedagogy in education is really this idea that the learner is dependent on you as the teacher for the knowledge and information and all of the learning in this process. We look at the learner as somewhat dependent. They need to be directed, they need to be guided, they need to be given the what, the how and the when, about whatever they’re going to be learning.

The learner’s going to get some resources from the teacher. They have few resources of their own. And the teacher is going to create some method to help store the knowledge in the learner’s mind and make it part of who they are.

So the teacher might suggest or offer opportunities to practice, to share the knowledge, to write about it, to memorize it. Whatever those strategies are, the instructor’s going to be crafting a method for the learner to use them.

And as you think about it, we’re really teaching people how to learn in pedagogy. We’re giving them the introduction to the methods, the strategies, and the ideas about how to memorize information, how to retain information and even how to apply it.

The reason to learn is often that you have to have this knowledge before you can move to the next step. So this knowledge is critical in your development, and you need to master this before you can move on. This is a core concept in pedagogy. We focus on the subject. It’s prescribed in the curriculum. We have a sequence for the information, and there’s some kind of logic to the subject matter. And this focus of the learning, really the methods of learning, are often dictated by our perception of the subject and what is needed to teach it well.

When we think about pedagogy, motivation is usually given by parents, teachers, a sense of completion, achievement, things like that. Children and young people may have internal motivation, but a lot of those external sources are also part of the motivation.

As the educator or the parent who’s designing this instruction, it’s your role to design the learning processes, the methods of learning it, the order in which things will happen, and you deliver the material, or you impose the material in some way for your learner. And you assume, and others in this situation assume, that you know the best way to do this. You are the expert in how to teach it as well as what needs to be taught.

This is a really common way to approach education in the K-12 system. If you’re teaching elementary, primary, secondary school, pedagogy is really strong in the methods of our teaching the content and the way we deliver the information. We might even have sets of standards that come from our professional organization, or they come from some national standards bank that we’ve created. And we’ve got these standards for different grade levels, different ability levels, different subjects. Those go really well with the idea of pedagogy.

As you’re teaching online, it’s important to be aware of what pedagogy includes when you’re working with learners who don’t know enough about how to direct their own learning. And you can also give them a lot of little mini lessons on how to become more self-directed in their learning. Developmentally that may or may not be suited for your learners. Be thinking about that as you decide how much to deliver and when.

Constructivism: Engaging the Student in Learning

At the next level, just want to talk a little bit about constructivism. Constructivism is an interesting idea that is still used in many parts of education today. Constructivism is the idea that a learner needs to be actively engaged in the process, not just a passive consumer. So the opposite of constructivism would be a person lecturing and expecting the recipients to just soak it up and learn it and remember it.

Constructivism means that the people doing the learning have to do something to construct their own knowledge. The assumption in constructivism is that the person has some background, some life experiences, some existing knowledge, and all of that’s going to come together as they formulate new knowledge. The reality is that their experiences shape their learning and what you’re going to teach them needs to connect that in some way, even if you don’t consciously guide people to do this, they are going to do it for themselves.

Constructivism influences the way all of our students learn. It’s really a learning theory that we have to get familiar with because constructivist learning theory tells us that students bring those unique experiences they have, and that their background and previous knowledge really does impact how they are able to learn.

This is a great concept for linking to issues like poverty or specific racial groups that may have specialized knowledge or lack specialized knowledge. When we think about the situation of poverty, for example, a person comes to the classroom with certain assumptions when they grow up in a poverty situation. That’s critical to know. I can remember one time, a long time ago when I was a junior high teacher, we were all given this book about poverty, the experience of poverty and the mindsets that are created there. And that was a helpful framework to understand many of our students: their backgrounds, how to connect with them, how to help them tie their previous learning and knowledge from life into the classroom and how to bring that classroom knowledge into their real lives. We didn’t want students to leave the school learning these academic things, but seeing them as completely disjointed and disconnected from reality. So bridging that gap for someone who has grown up in a poverty situation is critical, but really any situation.

We have to understand the basic principle of constructivism to know that students are going to put the knowledge together in their own ways, and they’re going to connect with their experiences, their beliefs, their insights. This is all what helps them learn and helps them cement their learning and bring it along for the next step.

The other thing about constructivism is that the meaning and systems of meaning are individually created. An idea of this would be, if you learn something new and you have some existing knowledge about it, you sort of relate those things and connect them to the things you already know. So if we’re going to teach something that is abstract and it’s really disconnected from your everyday knowledge, we have to find a way to anchor that and help build a new web of information in the mind.

The other idea is that in constructivism, learning has to be an active process. There’s some sensory input in the process and the learner really has to do something in order to truly learn. We can’t sit there passively consuming the knowledge like watching a YouTube video. We have to be thinking about a question to answer at the end or the way we’re going to respond to the knowledge or apply the knowledge in a new way or do something with it that will take it from the sterile information central into the more rich applied, active learning area of the brain.

Andragogy: Adult Learners

So, thinking about constructivism, we jump into our third area and that third area, andragogy, is really what we’re looking for when we’re talking about online learning. The reason I care so much about andragogy is that when you think about an adult learner being someone over 25 years old in the college system, that’s a lot of our students. Online education is so available now that adult learners are highly prevalent in the population we’re teaching. If we’re not familiar with andragogy, we may be approaching our teaching in a way that really does not give the space for the learner to do anything with it. Instead, we’re still thinking about distilling information or teaching people how to learn.

In andragogy, we assume four different things, these are important things to remember:

  1. Adults need to know why they need to learn something. This is a lot like sharing your objectives up front in a lesson, but more than just listing the objectives, you want to tie them into what is about to happen. Talk about them, draw back to those objectives throughout the process. And, in a degree program, it would be especially important to tie the courses and the activities back to the goals of that degree and also forecast forward to be thinking about how they will be applied in the career field. Very important reasons to learn something and helpful to bring out for our learners.
  2. Adults need to learn experientially. That’s where the constructivism comes in. There must be something happening when we’re learning. Just clicking through some videos and reading text on a screen is not enough for us to learn that through experience. Going out into our community, our family, our workplace, using the knowledge in an applied way, then coming back and sharing that, that’s going to be an experience. Something interactive, that’s going to be an experience. Whatever we can do in our online teaching to help our adult learners have experiences and learn in their experiences, that’s going to satisfy an andragogy principle and help them learn in the best ways possible.
  3. Adults approach learning as problem-solving. Think about what problem solving includes and consider how problem solving is a basic need for adult learners. We need to be able to have some independence, some critical thinking, some autonomy. Whenever we have a problem to solve, now we are important and we matter, and we’re going to show up differently to that experience thinking about it as problem solving. So, consider that as you’re developing online lessons, online activities, online assignments, and online classes.
  4. Adults learn best when the topic is of immediate value. Anything we can do to help our learners reflect on their learning and find ways to apply it right away in real life, that’s going to satisfy our fourth principle of andragogy. The topic is of immediate value. It could even be that this topic we’re teaching is going to lead into the next item, the next lesson, or the deliverable—the items that the person needs to submit for their class.

So, whatever that is, adults need to know why they’re learning it, have an experience learning experientially, approach learning as problem solving and have immediate value in the topic that they’re learning.

Heutagogy: Self-Directed Learning

Now, moving on to the last area, I did a little research here, and as I was looking for a nice side-by-side comparison of pedagogy and andragogy, I noticed this third term on the University of Illinois Springfield Center for Online Learning Research and Service website, and that is the word heutagogy. Never heard of that one myself. So I’m sharing my new learning with you today. And heutagogy is listed here as self-directed learning. That’s something that I personally have associated with andragogy and adult learning, but I find it interesting that it’s separated out here. And I’m just going to read through the website and I have linked it in the podcast transcript in case you’d like to visit it and check it out.

Heutagogy, self-directed learning means that the learners are interdependent. They identify the potential to learn from novel experiences as a matter of course. They’re able to manage their own learning. In this kind of learning, it appears that the resources are some given by the teacher and some decided by the student. So the learner’s going to choose the path where they’re going do the learning.

Some of your competency-based education might revolve around this concept of heutagogy, self-directed learning. The learning isn’t necessarily planned or linear. It doesn’t have to go from point A to B to C. It’s not based on need. It’s based on the identification of the potential to learn in new situations.

So just to reflect back on pedagogy, the reason that a student in that bracket would be learning is, they need to learn something to advance to the next stage. Whereas andragogy tells us that adults learn when they experience a need to know or to perform more if effectively. And in heutagogy, the learning is not necessarily planned or linear. It’s not based on need, it’s based on the identification of the potential to learn in new situations.

Now when we think about the focus of the learning, where pedagogy has learning focused on the subject itself and a planned curriculum, and andragogy, the adult learning theory, is task or problem-centered, in heutagogy, it appears that the learner can go beyond problem solving and become much more proactive. They’re going to use their own experiences and other people’s experiences, and their own thoughts, reflections, the experiences they have in the environment, their discussions with other people, their interaction, a lot of different methods to apply some problem-solving, but also self-direct their learning.

Now we might see heutagogy applied really well in a capstone course where a student chooses the resources they’re going to study, the path for their learning, and the final project. That’s a great application of this idea of heutagogy.

And, lastly, the teacher. The teacher in a heutagogy situation is developing the learner’s capability to learn. And when facilitating this kind of learning, we’re focusing on helping the student know how to learn, be creative, be independent, have self-efficacy, apply their competencies in new and familiar situations and work well with other people, cooperate with other people. This could also be a really great concept to bring into an internship, an applied learning situation like student teaching if you’re going to become a future teacher. It’s just a new concept. And it’s one worth considering.

How Do Teaching Theories Apply to Online Learning?

The other idea is if we were to take that adult learning theory, constructivism, and heutagogy and kind of combine all of those to take the best of all and decide how might we approach online learning differently? How could we give our students more freedom to apply what they’re learning and be creative, be more independent in learning the material and apply things in new and familiar situations, working with other people, what might be possible? When we’re thinking about those questions, we can come up with all kinds of new strategies.

We can bring in new technologies to facilitate conversation. We can bring in new options for organizing the course material so it’s not necessarily sequential, A to B to C. We can add some flexibility where students could do some independent research and bring it back to the classroom outside of the course materials. I’ve seen that one applied when faculty members, teachers, have their students create new lists of open educational resources that could be used in the class. Or faculty or teachers who have their students write new Wikipedia posts or edit Wikipedia posts, and actually submit them in the real world, to correct Wikipedia entries.

There are a lot of ways to use heutagogy in online learning. And I want to encourage you not just to think about andragogy this coming week, and really breaking away from the assumptions of pedagogy, but also to think about heutagogy. How we can give much more autonomy to the learner and stretch the limits of what’s possible in online learning.

I want to thank you for being here. I also am really grateful for the University of Illinois Springfield website, their Center for Online Learning Research and Service, where they placed this chart, introduced me to a new term, heutagogy. And I hope you’ll think about these four concepts, pedagogy, andragogy, constructivism and heutagogy as you’re designing learning experiences for your students and considering the future ahead as you teach online.

I wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week. And I also hope you enjoy some new creative approaches along the way. 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.

#82: Be Present: Best Practices for Authentic Teaching Online

#82: Be Present: Best Practices for Authentic Teaching Online

Be Present: Best Practices for Authentic Teaching Online

This content first appeared at APUEdge.com.

Being present is one of the most important elements driving success in the online classroom. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares two practices that help online educators establish trust and set the tone for faculty and student success. Learn how instructors can establish their presence, share their personality and expertise with students, and build relationships with students so that everyone has a great experience in the class.

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

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. We’re going to talk today about being authentic. We talk a lot in higher education about faculty success and student success. These two best practices I’m going to share with you today are part of both of those endeavors.

Being authentic in your online teaching is absolutely critical to your success. And the challenges of bringing your authentic self into your online teaching are great.

We’ll start with talking about those challenges, what comes up when we teach online that may not be obvious in the live classroom, and then I’ll give you the first best practice on helping students get to know you and the second about you communicating with them. Let’s dive in.

Best Practice #1: Be Present in the Online Classroom

The first best practice that I emphasize in my own teaching, as well as with all of the faculty who I work with, this best practice is to be present. Well, what does it mean to be present?

Being present means that you literally are logging into the course regularly. It could be every day during the week. It could be every day during the week plus a weekend day. It could be seven days a week. It could be every other day; maybe you go in there four days a week. Whatever you do, you literally are present in that online space regularly and you are there often.

When we talk about being present, there’s a lot more to presence than then just showing up. One of those things is that you help students get to know you early in the class so they can feel like they know who you are. They trust you and they can go to you with problems when you have questions. One of the things that comes up in my job, I’m a faculty director at American Public University, I often have fantastic faculty. Occasionally, I’ll get a compliment about a faculty member. Many times, they share that comment with the faculty member who then passes it on to me.

Just today, I got an email where classroom support sent me a compliment about a faculty member that a student sent them. That was really a joy to get. Unfortunately, we usually hear about the complaint faster than we ever hear about a compliment, and probably for every one person that complains there are 20 very happy customers and you don’t hear from a lot of those.

But the one thing that prompts the complaint is that there is a low instructor presence or that the faculty member is there, but the student doesn’t have a sense of who they are, they don’t really know them.

There are some beautiful things you can do to establish your presence, your unique personality, your expertise and your position as the instructor.

The first thing I would recommend is to put a picture of yourself in the course. Make it a professional one. Help them understand who you are, what you look like. You don’t have to love the picture, just pick a good one. And as they see you, they’ll start to get a sense of you. Who are you?

And then put some kind of introductory thing, whether it’s on the homepage, a brief summary of your academic background and one or two personable things about you. You could put this in the forum discussion area if there’s a place where people are introducing themselves.

You can make a video. I’ve seen several faculty do this, where they’ll put themselves in the video they’ll talk, they’ll introduce themselves, they’ll greet the students. Very personable. Really nice.

And, of course, you’re going to write announcements, especially that first week. I want to put a word of caution in here. When you’re creating this beautiful instructor presence so critical to your online teaching, be careful not to stack the deck against your students that first week.

So those first announcements you put in your course should be friendly, encouraging, and welcoming. Give them step-by-step, some guidelines about how to begin participating and engaging in the course. Avoid giving lots of warnings or criticism early on during the first week about how to use citations, how to format their papers. You can give all that information along the way, but the very first day of class is probably not the best time. It’s off-putting and it can create sort of a confrontational feeling between your students and you.

As part of your presence, another thing is showing your personality, your passion for teaching and your expertise in your subject matter. If your online teaching is relatively new to you, if you haven’t done a lot of this, might feel kind of weird to tell your students anything personal about yourself.

We like to encourage safe sharing, so something that you would tell just anyone on the street. Not of something especially private. For example, I like to tell my students, because I teach music appreciation online, I like to tell them that I went to Brazil once, and I bought a pandeiro there. I might be saying that wrong but it’s basically a Brazilian tambourine. And I’ll put a little link to the video, maybe an image of me playing it in that first week’s announcement.

Because I teach a lot of military students, I’ll occasionally run across someone who has been there and has seen one. And they love connecting to that. I also presented at a conference in Scotland and saw some guys on the street playing bagpipes. So, I took a small video of that, one guy even had bagpipe with an attachment on the end of the pipes where flames were coming out. It was pretty neat. I like to tell them about that, show pictures, and again if I have any students who have served in the military in that part of the world or have lived over there or have ever visited, they like to connect to that as well.

That’s one way I share my personality online. You can also share your expertise. For example, I’ve seen occasionally we’ve had another music faculty member who is a classical performing musician, and they’ll put a short video clip of themself playing.

I knew one here locally at the community college who is a concert pianist. She would invite her students to attend her live piano recitals, the ones who were in her online class, so they would get to come and see her and meet her, meet each other. It was quite a wonderful experience because the school was local and many of the students were too, even though they were taking it online.

So, in your instructor presence, you want to establish this early. Help them get to know you. Post regular course announcements every week of class. You might even consider a second announcement midweek with some reminders, some last-minute advice. Any announcements you want to share. And then of course, participate in the discussions.

Discussions are a really great way to have your students practice their learning and talk to each other; but you should be there. Not to give them the right answers, but to engage. To talk. To discuss the subject. To ask them questions that are thought-provoking; and really to just help that discussion unfold. That is the first best practice that if you had nothing else going for you in online teaching, that instructor presence could really carry you well.

Best Practice #2: Communicate Early and Often

The second one, I chose this as number two out of two for this podcast because it is so critical and it will solve a lot of problems too, so that second best practice is to communicate regularly and effectively. And some of the things I suggest you communicate are norms and expectations.

Norms are standards of behavior. So a norm would be something like, “When you’re posting in a discussion forum, I want you to sign your name at the bottom; if you’re replying to somebody else, please put their name in the post,” etc.

And when you suggest that students do these things, don’t dock their grade for little errors that have to do with netiquette or norms. Grades should be based on the content itself, not habits or behaviors or little nitpicky thinks like that. But these are definite protocols we should teacher online students.

We want to communicate norms for how to reach out if they need help, how to contact you if they have an emergency, what they should do if they have to submit a late assignment, how to ask questions, a lot of different things have norms and you want to communicate all of these to your students.

And then you also should communicate due dates, assignment expectations and learning goals very clearly upfront. If you’re new to teaching online, it’s possible this first go round that you might have to adjust the assignments a little as you go, once you realize how the students are responding. So, you could have a more general syllabus the first time you teach the course and then a more clear, well set-up program the next time. Either way, definitely communicate the expectations to your students clearly and effectively, and with kindness.

A detailed syllabus is the best way to go. Include due dates and the schedule and assignment directions, and also how to find things. If you want to make it clear like a video a screen cast to clarify where things are in the classroom, how to find your grading comments you are going to give them, where they can find all of the assignments and learning materials, definitely point them around.

Prioritize the Two Best Practices

So, you don’t have to be perfect especially if you’re brand-new to teaching online and if it’s short-term for you and your just trying to get by till you can get back to the live class. Whatever you do, be present and communicate often and professionally as much as possible with your students.

Once you establish that you are responsive, trustworthy and present, your students are going to come to you with their questions. They’re going to have a relationship with you. It’s a good thing, and you’ll be able to follow up if there’s a change. If you need to change or adjust something.

That communication channel you have established early on is going to really help everyone get through this experience and have a really good experience with you. Online teaching does not need to be overwhelming or super difficult. If you focus on being present and communicating often, you’re going have a good experience.

As we close out today’s episode, I’d like to thank you for being with us for the Online Teaching Lounge. We’ve had this podcast going for the past year and a half, and it’s been a pleasure to be with you sharing teaching excellence tips, strategies, some ideas for balancing your work and your life while you’re teaching online, and also ways to connect with your students for their success. As well as best practices.

Take a look at our past episodes and you’ll learn a lot of things about forum discussions, professional development and other areas. We also have an episode that highlights courses and degree programs in the teaching area in the School of Arts, Education and Humanities at American Public University. If you’d like to get some professional development or take certificate program, or even an entire master’s degree, come check it out. It’s worth your time, and it will help you get even more skills and confidence under your belt while you’re teaching online. Again, thanks for being here for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. Best wishes 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.

#81: Enhancing Online Discussion Forums to Improve Student Learning

#81: Enhancing Online Discussion Forums to Improve Student Learning

Enhancing Online Discussion Forums to Improve Student Learning

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

Discussion forums are where most interactions happen in the online classroom, so it’s critical that educators use this area strategically. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides insight into enhancing discussion forums to encourage student engagement, foster connections, exercise critical thinking skills, and offer further learning into the topic at hand. Learn how to improve discussion forums by writing open-ended questions, clearly setting expectations with students about when and how often they should participate, and more.

Listen to the Episode:

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

Welcome to today’s podcast. We’re going to talk about forum discussions. Discussions, discussion forums, they’re called a lot of things, but these are the places in the online classroom where students and faculty, peer-to-peer, peer-to-self, peer-to-content, peer-to-faculty, this is where everyone is going to speak about the content and interact. This is the main conversation space.

Forum discussions can be used as a place for pure discussion, basically it’s about the academic content. It could be a place where you have students place their graded work or they’re going to put it there and have something like a peer review. Or they’re going to post a blog and it’s got to be graded. They could be assignments posted to share and discuss before their due date, to be a draft for peer review.

They could be assignments shared after the fact just to share, say, it’s a PowerPoint presentation. And talk about concepts together. It could be a space where students teach each other. Whatever it is, forum discussions in my opinion are an optimal thing to really engage formative assessment strategies. Help students through learning and get them really engaged in the class.

Franklin D. Roosevelt said that “If a civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships.” This is a great place to do it. There are different places in the typical online classroom for these other elements. There’s usually, in a learning management system, there is an assignment space to submit essays and blogs and things like that.

There are also other tools in certain learning management systems where you can have students write a journal and submit it privately. For that reason, today I’m going to discuss only conversational elements of discussion forums. I’m going to give you a few strategies, some tips you can use, some best practices, some based on research, some based on experience and observation.

Why Should You Care About the Discussion Area?

First, every learning management system comes with a space for conversations. Many of them, and some of the older models especially, called them a forum. And a forum is a space where conversations can occur. If you change that name to discussions, it makes it even more specific to what you’re hoping to achieve in that space. A discussion is back and forth, it isn’t one person setting everyone else straight, and it is an opportunity for varying levels of engagement and participation in that discussion.

This is a great space where students can have some formative practice with learning the material that you’re teaching. It is also a place where they can have guided practice, which anyone new to the subject area is going to need, to develop their thinking, to develop their descriptive abilities for terms that are going to be used, to develop their analytical abilities, and so forth. They’re the best locations where students can try on new ideas. Try on new terms and concepts and write about them to further develop and adjust their thinking.

You should care about discussion forums not only because there’s a space to do them in an online class, but more because when you have students learning from you and from the content, you want to see the results of the learning. One of the best things we can do as educators is see the result and determine if our strategies are working. The discussion is a space where we can help nudge people in the right direction, help them explore those ideas more fully and learn from each other and us as the teacher so that we can get them to a place where they’re ready to do more.

The discussion could be excellent preparation for an assignment. For example, if you had an essay you wanted a student to do, to write about their understanding on a particular subject, that discussion the previous week could’ve been focused on the topic to explore ideas. Test them out. Apply them in a soft way. Then, in the following week, if the student writes the essay, they can be prepared because they had a chance to talk through their ideas.

General purposes of a discussion space are to foster this connection between people and give people a space to check in, converse. Most online classes are asynchronous in many universities, which means that a student goes in, participates, does their work, and leaves, and then you as the faculty member might be in that classroom at a different time.

If your courses are synchronous–meaning that they’re taking place in real time–then maybe a discussion is just a space where you might have a little follow-up conversation to whatever happens in that live space. And in that kind of situation, it makes sense that maybe the faculty member is checking on the discussion and facilitating it, but less active.

When there’s an asynchronous situation where students are to guide themselves through the learning material, through the lesson content, a more active role for the faculty member or teacher is super helpful to help the students stay on track.

In an online class, forum discussions can serve as the space where students have a voice for initial comments. Every single student has a voice. Now, if you think about your typical university lecture class, you might have one faculty member at the front of the room, lots and lots of students especially if it’s a general education class, you might have 300 students in there. Unless you give the students time to talk to each other during part of that class to discuss the ideas, many times students really don’t have a voice at all during the class. There’s this learning cycle where we take in information, we think about it, we talk about it, we write about it, and eventually we’ve formed our understanding of the content. Simply hearing it doesn’t really help us to change our ideas, be transformed by them or deeply learn things.

In the forum discussion unlike the live lecture class, you’ve got this opportunity for students to really have their own voice, have a choice about what they contribute to the dialogue. It’s a super huge benefit of online education and something that makes online learning unique and very special when you compare it to the live class with very little participation.

Now, if you’re a more active instructor and in your live classes you tend to engage people a lot, that’s normal and usual for you. I tend to do that as a strategy because of my background, but not everyone sees teaching that way, so this is the opportunity for a totally different experience that student’s going to have.

On the flip side, there are students who don’t want to participate in the discussion. They want to show up, they want to get the very minimum of what they need to do in that online class or that live class–whatever kind it is–they want to get a grade and move on. For these students that class is not a subject they particularly like, they don’t really want to learn it, they’re busy working and this is a part-time thing going to school, for whatever reason there are many students who just want to move as quickly through as possible.

But I want everyone out there to know there are also people who deeply want to learn the content. Many, in fact. It might surprise you how many students really do care and want to really understand what you’re teaching. So, this is the chance that they can contribute their ideas and they can engage with other people and they can get new insights and have a lot of different experiences. Caring about this matters because whatever attitude or perception or belief that you bring to the experience as the faculty member or the teacher, that predisposed disposition–that’s a little redundant–by your disposition about forum discussions, this is going to greatly influence the students’ experience.

It doesn’t really matter how the discussion is set up, what it’s prepared to do; if you are against doing discussions online, it’s going to be very difficult to utilize these to their full potential. Now if you really like to engage with students, love to hear what they have to say, love to challenge them and prompt them to think more deeply and share your insights, experience, and questions with them, then a forum discussion might come more naturally.

One of the ways to be most successful setting these up in your own attitude and thinking is to consider what you view the value of education, the core philosophy of what you’re doing. What you hope to accomplish by being a teacher. The big picture. Do you hope to change people’s assumptions? Do you hope to open doors for them so they can move in new directions? Do you hope to help them transform themselves as individuals? Are you trying to promote social change?

There are a lot of different roles that education can serve. Whatever your belief is about it, chances are, you’re going to find something you can really bring into that discussion in a way that’s going to be uniquely you and make a difference and really have somewhere to go with it.

The problem of online education is the lack of face-to-face, especially in asynchronous classes that don’t meet all at one time. In a synchronous class you’re still held back by this digital interface, but even then, you’re seeing people and you’re hearing them in real time. So, the problem of teaching online is partially overcome through that discussion, where we start to get to know each other, we start to dive into ideas.

Now why does that matter? If you have a disengaged student or have a lack of connection, it’s very difficult to feel like moving forward with the content. Many times, people need that connection to feel like they’re part of a school, part of a class, engaged in learning, moving forward on something. It’s going to matter to you long-term to learn how to develop discussions because these can serve you incredibly well and very soon in the online teaching side of things your interest in online teaching will increase if you will engage more fully in those discussions.

You can derive your own purpose and meaning of education and why you are a teacher from the way you participate and the way you approach your students’ participation. It can matter to your students deeply in the future because they need to connect to the concept to learn it and to move through whatever the purpose of your class is.

I have had a variety of discussions. Some of them are teacher-led forum discussions. Some of them are student-led. There have been some I’ve engaged in with courses I’ve taught online that have been group discussions, where maybe there were five or six people in the group and they were discussing or planning a project or something like that. There are a lot of different ways to set this up. I don’t propose that there is only one “right” way, but there are some guidelines that will help you be successful establishing solid discussion forums in your online teaching.

Considerations for Setting up an Online Discussion Forum

First, determine how many discussions you want to have and what is going to overload the student. There is no real perfect answer to how many discussions are optimal during an online class. If you consider how long the class is, for example, if it is a 14-, 15- or 16-week class, it would make sense to have one discussion per week. That keeps it manageable and helps students to stay focused on the topic during the week it’s happening.

If you have a shorter class, maybe you have a four-, five-, or eight-week class, this could be a little bit more difficult. It might cause you to think that you must cover a lot of topics in those discussions, and it might lead you to have many discussions going on at one time. You can either have two separate conversation spaces, two entirely different forum discussions, if you need more than one. Or you can have one discussion with the option to choose from many topics that you offer.

Again, if you approach forum discussions as a space to practice the ideas and to really manipulate them to understand them, then it does not require every student to discuss every topic, every week. Options on those topics can be very helpful.

Also, you’re going to need participation requirements. So, telling your students how often or how many times they should engage at a minimum for whatever you’re going to expect and, again, think about the topic. Will it require them to come back many times? Will it require them to give each other feedback? Will they need to come back a different day to do the feedback?

Whatever your desire is, be specific about how many times, how often during the week. And, should they have a day when their initial post is due and a different day when their peer replies are due? There’s often this idea that students are going to put an initial post in there of their ideas, and they are going to go back and respond to the ideas of their classmates.

During this whole process, of course, you can also put some initial posts to guide them. You can reply to the students just as the peers would reply, and converse just like you might in a live discussion. There are some other ideas like threaded forums, where you post that initial prompt and everyone responds along one single thread. They can be difficult to manage, they can also be interesting to see how the class unfolds along the idea. There are a lot of benefits to using what we call a threaded discussion.

There are also a lot of benefits to posting these separate discussions as individual posts students have. Whatever kind you want it to be, you want to tell students how it will unfold, how they should engage, how often.

As you design the form prompt that you put there telling students what they should write about or talk about, you want some different statements that will guide the content about what students are going to discuss. What qualities should the initial post include? How long should it be? How timely should it be? What are the directions you are going to include for sharing content and source materials? Will students need to refer to a source that they may have used in the form discussion? If so, can they give you a link? Can they simply mention it? Do they need to give you an actual formatted citation in MLA (Modern Languages Association), Chicago or Turabian or APA style?

Whatever those different details are, be specific with each forum that you post. And yes, I do advocate being repetitive on that part, including every week what the posting guidelines are. Keeping them fairly consistent can help students to engage better.

If you want your students to post in the normal font that appears, just remind them of that. You can also suggest that they use the spell check or grammar check. If you do use word counts for your forums, and if your learning management system does not give you a way to naturally do that, you can also suggest they type their forum in Microsoft Word, copy and paste it into the forum afterwards.

As you’re developing the prompt for the discussion, think about the qualities that students need to provide, whether they’re going to specifically give their take-away, their reflection, what they need to include in terms of the dialogue they’re sharing, and if they should ask each other questions. This can be a helpful way to get the discussion going. I have a little checklist that I’m going to share with you now that has six different elements and it comes from a book I wrote called “Teaching Music Appreciation Online,” (page 119), if you have a copy of that.

And this form prompt quality checklist is just to determine: Does the form prompt have the elements needed to help students know what to do and have the best chance of engaging well?

  1. The first question is, “does your forum prompt include a specific active verb indicating the action students will take developing their initial post in the discussion?” And some active verbs might be: define, describe, identify, compare, contrast, explain, summarize, apply, predict, classify, analyze, evaluate, critique, create, and design.
  2. Second question, “if guiding questions are included, are they written as open-ended questions that allow students to exercise critical thinking to create, to explore and otherwise apply their learning?” For example, does the question you have given students use the words “how” or “why,” and avoid closed ended yes/no questions, like did, do, where, or who? Closed ended questions make it very difficult to have a discussion, and most students will copy each other. There are only a few responses possible, so open-ended questions are much more useful, like “what,” “how,” and “why.”
  3. “Does the forum prompt specifically guide students to the content, concepts, topic and other elements to be included in their initial post?”
  4. “Does the form prompt state how many details or sources or what link is to be included in the student’s initial post?”
  5. “Does the forum prompt appear appropriate for the level of the course that you’re teaching?” For example, if you’re teaching a college level course at a 100 level, does the prompt address general elements and then draw students into deeper thinking. And at the 400 college-level does it identify complex ideas and analyses and different types of application you would want at that level?
  6. And lastly, “are clear posting instructions included, such as the due date for the initial post, the number of replies and the due date for those replies, and any other pertinent requirements?”

Think about these as you write forum prompts and examine the forum prompts that exist. If you’re teaching a standardized course. And as you’re looking at the forum prompt, if you’re teaching a course someone else has designed, it’s very easy to change the wording slightly to make it even more effective. And if you’re at a university where there’s some collaboration or the chance to improve the course, you can also suggest those changes to the course designer or the faculty member who has initially organized that class.

So open-ended questions can invite a lot more thought.

The last point I am going to share today is about how students should bring in their own ideas, reflections, opinions, and experiences. There are a lot of subjects where we’re working very hard to help students argue and analyze without opinion. In those subjects, I would suggest separating out the personal reflection, opinions, and experiences part to a second half of the forum post. Maybe you’re going to have them analyze and argue a point, and then come back and share their reflection about it or their opinion about it.

One reason I’m heavy on personal reflection, opinions and experiences is that these are the ways students personalize their learning, and this is what helps them to make something new out of it for themselves. It creates connections in the brain and soon the student’s going to care a lot about the subject, or at least have opinions on it and be able to think about it later. So those personal reflection elements are critical.

In future podcast episodes, I will discuss ways to apply critical thinking, interpretation, problem-solving, persuasion, and analysis, debates, and different topics so I hope you will join me again in the future for additional thoughts about discussion forums online.

Until then, I wish you all the best in starting your discussions, engaging with your students, and creating form prompts that really work for you. Best wishes teaching online 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.

#79: Three Steps to Stress-Free Online Teaching

#79: Three Steps to Stress-Free Online Teaching

Three Steps to Stress-Free Online Teaching Using Productivity Tools

This content first appeared at APUEdge.com.

Teaching online can bring stress in managing competing commitments, diverse teaching tasks, and multiple modalities. To free online educators from overwhelm and stress, productivity strategies provide structure to the work. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares three productivity tools that include a prioritization matrix, task batching, and time boxing to help online educators structure their work and keep time investment within limits. Learn how to simplify your approach to the daily work of teaching online and feel a sense of relief by reducing your stress.

#78: Simplify Your Online Teaching with a Learning Framework

#78: Simplify Your Online Teaching with a Learning Framework

Simplify Your Online Teaching with Learning Frameworks

This content first appeared at APUEdge.com.

Teaching online and developing online courses can be an overwhelming process without limits. Frameworks can keep these processes clear and reduce stress for the online educator. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares frameworks that help online educators provide quality learning experiences for their students, include a variety of approaches and strategies, and reduce stress through a structured approach.

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. I’m Bethanie Hansen, your host. And I’m here to talk to you today about how to simplify your online teaching.

You know when you’re writing a course, preparing to teach a course, or thinking about that class you’re going to prepare, it can be very complex. There is so much we could include that we want to teach our students, and there are of course many ways to approach designing a class or planning what you’re going to teach. How do you make those decisions?

One of the ways you can make the decisions about what you’ll include in the course, what you’ll teach your students, and what you can expect them to do and be learning in the class as well as what they can demonstrate afterward, is to use a framework.

One of the frameworks I really like that I want to start out with sharing with you today is Bloom’s taxonomy. If you’re not familiar with Bloom’s taxonomy, this is a framework that allows you to use different skill levels. Originally it was designed by some graduate students and Bloom, who put together this taxonomy as a framework to create banks of test questions with specific objectives to share. Those original three domains in Bloom’s taxonomy were the cognitive, psychomotor, and affective domains.

The cognitive domain is the one that we think about the most. What kind of thinking skills we need to be able to do in our courses there. There were six levels from the low to the high side of ordered thinking; that has been revised in 2001 and updated, and we’ve got several different areas.

So that the lowest level of Bloom’s taxonomy is remembering. This would be your basic factual recall where students are going to true or false, multiple-choice. They’re just going to regurgitate information and they are remembering what they learned basically.

The second level of Bloom’s taxonomy is understanding. In this level students actually determine the meaning of what they’re learning. It could be something oral, written, or graphic. And so in all these different modalities they are demonstrating some kind of understanding. Putting the pieces together. Connecting the dots.

The third level is applying. And in applying, students are going to carry out a procedure. Perhaps the use of evaluative tool to check off whether or not something can be used, something is going to be played out in a scenario, we are going to role-play, something like that. Applying can be a lot of fun and gets you away from the basic low-level factual thinking.

The fourth level is analyzing. When you’re analyzing, you can break the material down into little parts. Detect how the parts relate to each other and to an overall structure or purpose. Analyzing is definitely a higher order skill and analyzing is what we do in so many career fields. So this level is important to reach in our teaching.

The fifth level is evaluating. Students can make judgment based on criteria or standards.

And lastly is creating. This is of course the highest order. The students are to put things together to form something new. A complete whole. Or make something original. We love this in the various fields that we teach. When we’re creating or having students create something new it’s also more original. It’s not going to be as likely to hit the plagiarism spectrum. So things that hit the creating level of thinking are especially good.

Now when you’re writing your class and you are thinking about what you teach and how you teach it, Bloom’s taxonomy is a framework you can use from the beginning to the end of the course. When I say that, I’m suggesting that early in the course you hit those lower levels of thinking: remembering and understanding.

If you think about having students demonstrate remembering and demonstrate understanding, even open-book tests are helpful. Open book, small grade, low consequence, or low-stake quizzes can be especially effective to the remembering phase of learning. This is basic. If students cannot remember what they’re learning, they are not going to get very far.

Now once you get a little further into the course, applying and analyzing can happen more regularly because we’ve got the basic understanding down. And now we can move to the next level of thinking. And then of course, as you move into the higher levels of the subject matter and later in the courses, you’re going to have opportunities for evaluating and creating a lot more often. These are good things to remember when you’re thinking about designing a course or teaching specific content.

By the time you’re done with the course, if you look at your course learning outcomes and the way they hit Bloom’s taxonomy, some examples might be that at the basic level students will identify certain concepts, they might analyze the outcomes of certain historical situations, they might design a controlled experiment or design a case study. In this case, they are now creating. That is something we do very late in the course. They might present. They might share their research. They might collect and analyze the research. They might describe and discuss and synthesize the theories of various ideas.

If you’ll take a look at Bloom’s taxonomy it will help you to have a basic starting point for the different levels of knowledge. Learning. And can also help you make your discussions a little deeper.

Some faculty have real trouble designing forum discussions at first, because it seems that we want to stick to that factual or understanding level. The more you can add applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating, the more you’re going to have opportunities to get your students to think more deeply and demonstrate that they’re connecting the dots in higher ways.

The Yale Center for Teaching and Learning offers us several suggestions for using Bloom’s taxonomy. First, they suggest using it to write the intended learning outcomes for your class and for your assignments. This also works especially well if you’re using the backwards design technique. Secondly you can use Bloom’s taxonomy to design the activities and assessments. This will help you align things to your intended learning outcomes. Third, you can consider additional taxonomies that will help you develop learning at various levels. You might consider, they recommend, Marzano’s taxonomy and there’s also Krathwhol’s. I’ve got a link in the podcast transcript notes for the Bloom’s taxonomy download that Yale shares with the world, so check it out.

Student-Centric and Process-Oriented Frameworks

Now, aside from Bloom’s and other taxonomies that help you to think about the different levels of thinking that will be required of students, there are different kinds of teaching and learning frameworks. These are research-informed models that help you either design your course or consider learning goals and how you’ll layout the class and teach it.

Some of these models are really focused on the student. They are student-centric. They help you to create motivating and inclusive environments and integrate all kinds of assessment into the learning process along the way. One of those I’ve mentioned already is backwards design. If you are going to use the backwards design framework, this was made popular by Wiggins and McTeague in their book Understanding by Design (2005), the backward design process is three main parts.

First, you’re going to decide what you want students to do at the end of the class, or we call this “identify desired results.” Second, you’ll design the assessments. You will determine what evidence will really show that they have learned this. And only after these two things have been completed, then you’re going to back up and plan the learning experiences they will need to have to get there and the instruction you’ll need to provide as the instructor. This is the kind of learning that I like to guide, backwards design. I like to start with the end goals and then determine what kinds of activities will help students get to those goals. It’s also what I wrote about in my book “Teaching Music Appreciation Online,” which I hope you’ll check out.

There’s also another method which is called integrated course design, Integrated course design was developed by LD Fink in 2003, and it’s a sort of expanded backwards design. It is sort of an expanded backwards design framework that has a little bit more detail specific to higher ed. The main feature of integrated course design is that it’s a simultaneous planning strategy.

You don’t have to sequentially start at the end and move backwards. You can think about environmental and contextual factors as well. This means first, think of your situation and then you’re going to look at the integration between learning goals, feedback, and assessment, and teaching and learning activities, and you’re going to keep moving between those until you’ve planned the course.

Part of the methodology is that it is simultaneous so it sort of a holistic approach for those of you who really like to think big-picture. It also guides you through a 12-step process to create outline your learning outcomes, the activities, rubrics, assessments, and the syllabus, in light of whatever context you’re in and the challenges you might be facing.

A third framework you might consider is 5E. This model was developed by a biological sciences curriculum study in 2001. This is an interesting model that seems to go round and round, and it’s about “engage, explore, explain, elaborate, evaluate.” And evaluate is really happening all along the way during the engage section, the explorer section, the explain section, and the elaborate section. At the end of the class students are going to assess their own understanding and the instructor might also evaluate the learners on key skills or concepts.

This model is super good if you’re interested in scaffolding and prioritizing student learning rather than just what you believe needs to be taught. It’s got a lot of flexibility and it’s an interesting one to check out.

Another framework for learning is accelerated learning cycle developed by Alastair Smith in 1996. And, a lot like the 5E model, it can be used to structure single class sessions. So accelerated learning comes from Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences and it builds classrooms that acknowledge prior knowledge and learning habits.

This model is based on stages. You create the safe, welcoming environment. You build on the background knowledge of your learners to create a bigger context, and you describe what’s intended to be learned. Then you give some new information or content, facilitate an activity, enable discussion or a demonstration, or some kind engagement, and then you review and reinforce the information. So of course you do that for single classes and you can also think about it on the big scale of how the whole class is set up.

Another framework you might consider is called universal design for learning (UDL). This was developed in the 1990s as a model for meeting the needs of all learners, diverse learners of all kinds, and it can be applied to a course or a single class session, just as the accelerated learning cycle as well. So UDL operates under three principles.

The first one is the “why” of learning. You provide multiple means of engagement. And then the “what” of learning. You provide multiple means of representation. And lastly the “how” of learning, which is that you provide multiple means of action and expression.

The idea is that you’re going to be engaging different parts of the brain. Engagement, the representation, and the action and expression each hit these three different big chunks of the brain. They’re going to help people engage fully, deeply, and really reach people that think in different ways, learn in different ways, need visual, auditory, and all those different modalities, and designed to be flexible so that depending on the learner there are choices where you can balance the needs of the learner and give appropriate challenge and support.

Where to Start with Teaching and Learning Frameworks

One of the tips that I have for you today as we wrap up this discussion about learning frameworks is that using a framework can make planning your online teaching a lot easier. When you use a framework, that helps you to keep things within limits. It gives you structure for what you’re doing, and it helps you stop getting overwhelmed by all that you could do. I’ve seen some brilliant instructors design entire classes with one modality and one approach, missing a high number of learners. If we use a framework, we are more likely to integrate various approaches, because the framework suggests them. (See, for example, Frameworks for Digital Information Literacy.)

One of the bonuses of doing this is that using a framework is going to help make sure you don’t miss a lot of students. It’s also going to help you consider relevance. Some of these frameworks work for some subjects and styles, and some work better for others.

As you’re looking over frameworks and thinking about which one might suit you, consider which one really does suit the subject matter. This is not a one-size-fits-all experience. Then, create a course alignment map. As you design a map of what you’d like to teach, what you would like to assess, what students need to learn, what their prior knowledge is, it’s going to suggest to you perhaps one of these frameworks might fit a little bit better. It’s also going to give you insight into the variety that you need to include, both in terms of what and how you’re teaching, and also the different levels of thinking from Bloom’s taxonomy and other taxonomies I’ve mentioned.

Lastly, think about inventorying your practices. We can get stuck in teaching and learning through one channel or one avenue. The more we broaden our practices to include a lot of different approaches, the more we really are going to meet students needs in the best ways possible. So think about not only how you can use frameworks and taxonomies in planning your course to make it a simpler, less overwhelming project, but also how you can inventory yourself and what you’re bringing to that teaching. There’s always room to grow. But when you create an inventory for your own teaching and course design, you can just target one thing at a time and keep your own development simple as well.

Thank you for being with me today. I hope you consider using a teaching and learning framework, or taxonomy at the very least, in your teaching, and I wish you all the best 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.

#77: How to Say “NO” When You Teach Online

#77: How to Say “NO” When You Teach Online

How to Convey a Positive “No” When Teaching Online

This content first appeared on APUEdge.com.

Teaching online effectively takes time and energy, and to manage this well, educators must learn how to say “No.” This kind of focus helps with decision-making, time management, committing to extra projects, and everything else. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses the “Power of a Positive No,” by William Ury, to help online educators prioritize and thrive. Learn how to simplify online teaching, get better results, and feel a greater sense of satisfaction from your work.