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#134: What Makes a Great College Instructor?

#134: What Makes a Great College Instructor?

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

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

Educators must constantly evaluate their teaching style to ensure students are learning. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses the strategies of great teachers based on the book “What the Best College Teachers Do.” Learn what questions teachers should ask themselves when planning their next course and other tips to be effective in the online classroom.

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

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. Thanks for joining me today to talk about online teaching in today’s world. We’re going to just touch on “What the Best College Teachers Do.” This is a book by Ken Bane, and I highly recommend it. This book was based on a study of 100 educators. And the question asked (in the inner flap of this book) is, “What makes a teacher great?”

Have you thought of this? I’ve wondered this too. Are there certain characteristics that great teachers share? Well, the answers are kind of surprising. It’s not what teachers do, it’s what they understand. According to Ken Bane, it’s not about the lesson plan or lecture notes, it’s about the special way teachers comprehend the subject, and the way they value human learning.

It doesn’t really matter whether the best teachers are historians, or physicists, or English teachers, or band teachers. And it doesn’t really matter where they’re located. The best teachers know their subjects inside and out. But they also know how to engage and challenge students and to provoke impassioned responses. Most of all, according to Bain, they believe two things fervently: that teaching matters, and that students can learn.

Now, interestingly enough, I’ve talked to a lot of online educators about their philosophy of education. And it’s interesting that we can have a philosophy of teaching in the live face-to-face classroom. And for some reason, it feels a little fuzzier when we’re teaching online. And it’s not, it’s still just as effective, and can be even more wonderful in a lot of ways depending on what we choose to do, and how we approach it. I’d like to just share some ideas today about that belief that students can learn.

Develop a Belief that All Students Can Learn

Imagine what it can do for us, when we think about all students being able to learn. There are sometimes occasions where we have a challenging student in our class, and we might think that person is there, not really interested in learning. Or maybe they’re not capable of learning what we’re teaching.

For some reason, there’s some resistance on the part of that student that we’re sensing from them. Or maybe we’re even experiencing it, like there’s a little pushback.

Or, another way that might show up is an online student might just disappear. They might appear invisible. Their name is there on the roster, you don’t see them in the discussion, and they kind of hit or miss in turning in assignments. Maybe they have fallen off in their activity completely. And there are a lot of reasons why those things happen.

But this belief that all students can learn will invite us to reach out to that student to connect to that student, and try to bring them back in. To figure out what has made them disengage? What could help them get more interested or overcome a personal setback in their life? What could help bridge the gap between whatever’s going on with them right now, and that online class that they signed up for with all the good intentions of completing it?

Try Creative Approaches to Reach All Students

That idea that all students can learn in the online setting also invites us to do a lot of different things. Maybe we’re going to create some kind of learning asset, a handout, a guide, a screencast, or a screen share where we walk them through things.

If we start to notice a lot of poor scores showing up on assignments across the board for many of our students, maybe we’re going to refilm that presentation we put in there, or try a totally different approach to get the content through where the students can learn it. Sometimes things don’t always translate in the online space.

We might try the common lecture-style video in a class just replicating a face-to-face setting and find that that isn’t as engaging, and it doesn’t work as well to describe the subject or engage students in the subject matter. So maybe we’ll have to replace that video lecture with something else, something more interactive, something that invites students to click, or engage with that content, or apply it in some way.

So that idea that all students can learn and just assuming that that’s the case, can really energize us. It can push us to be more creative, and it can invite our best efforts to re-engage any disengaged student.

Act With Compassion for Students

In terms of the stories that you’ll read about in this book, “What the Best College Teachers Do,” you’re going to see some great examples of compassion on these educators’ part. There’s a lot of compassion coming through from the great teachers, and compassion goes a long ways towards bridging the gap between where you want students to be and where they’re starting out, or where they could be, and where they’re starting out.

So, that idea that students can learn is where the compassion can best be applied. I’ve heard a lot of folks in my institution refer to this as empathy. Compassion and empathy are very similar things, seeing the other person’s perspective, understanding what our students are facing, where they are starting out, and kind of meeting them there. Asking a lot of questions when we’re not really sure what’s going on.

That compassion and that empathy can go a long way to invite our students in, to help them really get excited about what’s going on, or even just get started. So, that’s the first tip that we’re taking away from this book today, is understanding that students can learn and bringing empathy and compassion in the approach we use.

Believe that Teaching Matters

The second thing is that teaching matters. And the understanding that teaching matters invites us to use our ingenuity, our creativity, some interesting strategies, some insights, some inspiration, and some ideas that others may do that maybe are new to us. This can work for us whether we’re in our very first year teaching online or we’ve been doing this for 10 or 20 years.

Either way, we need some kind of approach to reach people better if it’s not working for us. And if it is, maybe we can tweak it a little bit to make it interesting across the board and keep staying interesting. After all, we want our teaching and the quality of our teaching to be enjoyable for our students and to convey what is needed, but also to keep us happy while we’re engaging in that online space day after day.

In writing this book, “What the Best College Teachers Do,” the author looked for, or in the study they looked for faculty members who can make something great out of very little, basically, who help their students do far better than anyone might expect. They also looked at what students were learning. Now, they say this was tricky because it involved judgments about a variety of disciplines. Of course, the great teachers are not just in one field, they’re in many fields, right?

Learn What Highly Successful Teachers Do

Most of the highly successful teachers in this study actually broke traditional definitions of courses. And they convinced the researchers that success, helping their students learn even some core material, benefits from the teacher’s willingness to recognize that human learning is a complex process. So, they had to apply a sweeping sense of educational worth that stemmed not just from one discipline, but from a broad tradition that values the liberal arts, including natural sciences, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, curiosity, concern with ethical issues, and a breadth and depth of specific knowledge, and of various methodologies and standards of evidence used to create the knowledge.

So this study had teachers who showed strong evidence of helping and encouraging students to learn in ways that would usually win praise and respect from both disciplinary colleagues and the broader academic community. And they also included educators who were operating on the fringes of current norms, like they were defining learning wealth in important new ways. So, they studied some people who were highly successful with some classes, and less with others. And some teachers achieved wonderful results with large or small classes, advanced or beginning classes, but not both. So, it was interesting for them to make some comparisons between what worked and what did not.

And in studying those teachers who had a sustained influence on their students, they found a lot of interesting evidence that shared some of those brilliant strategies about believing students can learn, and that teaching is important.

Take What Highly Successful Teachers Do into Online Education

I’d like to share some of the specific takeaways of the study that are just presented in this book about great college teachers. And I’d like to invite you to think about how this is done in the online setting.

So, the first point was that these great educators all knew their subject matter extremely well. And that’s, of course, not surprising, because you need to know your subject matter to teach it very well. But the second point was about how they prepared to teach it. And I’m just going to read a little bit to you from this book.

“Exceptional teachers treat their lectures, discussion sections, problem-based sections and other elements of teaching as serious intellectual endeavors as intellectually demanding and as important as their research or scholarship. That attitude is probably most apparent in the answers the subjects gave to the simple question: What do you ask yourself when you prepare to teach?”

That’s a great question that we can think about as we’re preparing our online courses, even if they are standardized online courses and we didn’t write them.

Consider these questions in planning your next course:

What do we ask ourselves when we prepare to teach them?What do we really want to think about?What matters to us in teaching that course?What do we expect of our students?

The best teachers in this study expected more, they wanted to really get more depth, more engagement, and more from their students.

And what do we do when we teach? Well, there’s some interesting stuff shared here about challenging but supportive conditions of teaching, collaboration, interesting methods, and a variety of methods. Maybe there’s a lecture, a discussion, a case study, other learning opportunities that build a truly cognitively rich environment.

Consider these additional questions in planning to teach online:

And how can we do that online?What kind of strategies are working for you to create a deep, rich, applied and rewarding experience?What kind of assumptions are we bringing into that space?And how do we treat our students?What do we do that helps our students engage, come out and think about things in a realistic way, and really dive into and grapple with the subject matter?How do we check our students’ progress and evaluate their efforts? This is an important question that all the great teachers are thinking about.

Try a Systematic Approach with Strategy and Reflection

And lastly, there are some takeaways from the study that we can consider in our own online teaching. Basically, there’s a reason to be systematic about our teaching, to take it seriously, and be reflective about the teaching approaches and the strategies we use in our online teaching.

Consider these reflective questions to look back on past online teaching experiences:

Why do some things work?Why do we choose certain activities?What evidence about how our students learn is driving the way we teach?What can we do to help them engage even more fully, and be more interested in it?Are we doing the things that we’re doing online simply because others have done them, or because they actually work in engaging our students?

These and many other questions are going to drive us to the more innovative, more creative, resourceful and compassionate approaches that the best college teachers are using. And it can all be done in online education, too. I hope that you’ll think about these ideas and check out the book “What the Best College Teachers Do,” by Ken Bain. Best wishes 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.

#134: What Makes a Great College Instructor?

#133: Improving Student Engagement Using Metrics and Data

This content initially appeared at APUEdge.com. 

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

Student engagement is a critical part of learning. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses how to improve student engagement in the online classroom using available metrics and data. Learn how educators can use that information to adjust assignments to help improve student engagement.

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
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Read the Transcript:

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

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m here to talk with you a little bit about student engagement in online education. The word “engagement” is commonly known when you’re in love with someone, you’re thinking about marrying them. And engagement means you’re connected; you have a goal of doing something together. It also means maybe a military encounter between two different forces.

Now, something that engages people online is sort of along those lines: We’re coming together, we’re interacting, we have plans of doing something together, and we want it to be meaningful. The online education definition of engagement isn’t really the formal agreement to get married, or just an arrangement to do something, or go somewhere at a certain time. It’s not even a battle plan. Really, engagement in online education is about the ways in which students and faculty members engage with—or interact with—the content, each other, and the ideas.

There can be student engagement with the textbook, the videos that you put in your online class. There can be student engagement with each other; so, there’s some kind of dialogue or maybe there’s even live chat happening or live video happening.

There could be student-to-faculty engagement, or faculty to student. So, we’ve got messaging, we’ve got discussion areas, we’ve got live video or live chat. All of these different things fall into the category of engagement in online education. Engagement really is kind of this buzzword that we use a lot in online education because we need some way of talking about people showing up.

In a live class, in a face-to-face setting, you can walk into the room and see people there. You can also look at the gradebook and see whether students have submitted work, what their scoring is. You can find out how often or how much the faculty member has lectured or taught in that class. And all of those would be live engagement in a face-to-face setting.

Using Metrics and Data to Assess Student Engagement

Online education is a little bit different because we can look at metrics, we can actually look at login data, we can look at the number of times people have accessed particular content. We can look at how many times, how frequently, and how substantially they have posted in that discussion forum. All of those things help us to know about the engagement in online learning.

Now, in online learning, student engagement is all about figuring out what’s working, whether people are learning, and whether they’re really being taught and transformed in that experience. There are some kinds of engagement statistics online educators should know about. And if you’re teaching online right now, these could be very interesting to take a look at. On the very basic level, something in your learning management system will track or measure the days and the length of time that your students have logged into the platform.

If they’re going to read things offline, like if they have a physical textbook, of course, you can’t track that, you don’t know exactly how much time they’re spending in that content. But you can see when they’re in the classroom, how many times they’ve clicked into the classroom, during the week, and how many minutes they have spent.

Some learning management systems will also let you know which parts of the content students have accessed. So, maybe you can see, did they open the lesson? Did they open the test? Did they go into a quiz? Did they go into the discussion? Did they reply first and then post that initial response or post the initial response and then come back? A lot of this information, as an online educator, helps you get a sense of where your students really are spending their time, and how engaged they are in the class itself.

As you look at these trends of students clicking in and spending time, you can get a sense for what’s working, what kind of content you’ve put into that class, and whether or not something might need to be modified. Or maybe there needs to be more material added or too much material.

Looking at those on a very basic level just helps you understand the quality of the course and the quality of your teaching at kind of at a basic level. Now, as students start to engage in the discussion or interact in the discussion space, reading what they’ve written, you can also see things like what they’re understanding, the degree to which they can use some of the terms in the course, you can notice those things in the discussion. And notice how they’re using the words and start to know whether or not they’re really understanding the concepts.

How as this helps you? As an online faculty member, you can look at what students have posted in that discussion and start to ask a lot of questions. You can give some additional guidance or examples. And if you really participate throughout the week and read what they’re writing, they’ll come back, and they’ll respond to you again and again.

So, it helps to notice the real time or asynchronous, somewhat real-time engagement, throughout the week and see what’s happening in that discussion and be part of it and respond to it and interact with it. This will help students engage with each other a lot more, engage with the content more, and engage with you. And they’ll even get to know you a little bit, which will help them to trust you, and feel confident turning in those assignments.

How Understanding Engagement Levels Can Help with Course Design

Now, another thing that you can do to look at engagement in an online course, is to look at the way they’re filling out their assignments and submitting them. Sometimes you’ll get a student who really is off the mark on their assignment. And then looking at that first type of engagement, just how much they’re in the course, what they’re accessing, what they’re reading, you can kind of tell, have they gone through the parts of the course where they should have learned that? Have they spent the time there?

Some students will just misinterpret instructions and some will find helpful things on the internet, and just scoop those up and translate them into their assignments without really processing them. So, it’s helpful to notice the pattern of how they participated in the class, and then what’s going on in their assignments.

Some of the engagement in assignments will give you a lot of insight about what could be altered in your course. And also, what’s working in your course. I know one of my approaches in a class was to really zero in on the academic vocabulary. So, as I was teaching the students, I teach music appreciation, so as I’m teaching them the music terms, I’m looking for the way they use those terms in that discussion. And then the feedback I’m giving them is specifically about the kind of way they’re using the terms. How they’re using them in a sentence, what they’re describing in the music, whether it’s true, whether it’s accurate, whether they’re using those terms knowingly or just kind of throwing them all into a sentence together without any examples.

So, as I look at assignments, I also look at those terms and how they’ve engaged with the concepts. Are they able to demonstrate what they know? Are they able to talk about it in an intelligent or informed way? Online student engagement can be demonstrated in a lot of different ways. There are indicators in the quality of their responses, the frequency of their responses, and their access to the course. And, also, the depth of cognitive presence that they’re demonstrating.

Whatever metrics are available for you in your learning management system, I encourage you to take a look at those and to review them and determine which of these metrics helps you to fully understand what students are actually doing in the class, and which seem related to their performance on the actual assignments and in the discussions.

Once you’ve done that, the next place you can look to see after the fact how students have engaged or how they experienced this, is in their end-of-course evaluations. That little bit of data might have some free response answers. I know in my case, I used to use end-of-course survey data to evaluate my own teaching. And sometimes students would give me suggestions about modifying an assignment, or comments about whether or not they liked particular assignments. And I would look at those scores and comments, and then look at my class and find interesting and creative ways to make modifications for future sections.

Over time, that allowed me to create a group project. And as that group project played out, session after session, I would change little things about it based on student feedback, to see them engage even more and engage better and interact with each other better. For example, their end-of-course survey comments prompted me to intentionally design the groups in certain ways.

I would choose to make sure there was someone in the group that knew something about music coming into it, so they could kind of support the others, and that there was a diversity of student voices represented. In my university, there are a lot of military students and not as many civilian students. And so, I would kind of group those accordingly. I would have a little mixture in each group so we had some diversity of thought and diversity of experiences, so they could also learn from each other.

I also tried this with random groupings. And I got a lot of feedback from students about that, too. It seemed like the intentional grouping was the way to go. So, noticing their feedback, and then looking in on how they actually participated in the group project was a really helpful way to modify what I was doing as the faculty member.

In your own work, I encourage you to look at end-of-course survey feedback if you have that available. If you don’t, get those responses and if the institution you work at does survey students, perhaps there’s someone you can ask, maybe an assessment department or a data department that can share it with you. Your end-of-course survey feedback is going to give you a lot of insight into the way students engage and also what they loved and what they learned from, and what they didn’t love and didn’t learn from in your class.

All of these different pieces of data, the logins, the performance on assessments, just the observations in the discussion space, and the way they use terminology, and also your end-of-course surveys, all of these are data points for you as a faculty member, to help you refine your teaching and understand your students even better and connect to them better.

And lastly, I want to just encourage you to add a few metacognitive questions throughout your course that help you gather even more insights from your students. One that I really like to use is just a question of “how does this apply to your life or work right now? How might it apply to your life or work in the future?” It’s a fairly generic question but it can yield a lot of insight where students can find ways to connect with their learning right now with what they’re doing today or will do in the future. That can really help students engage more fully more deeply in the content and find connections to what they want to do or are doing.

Perhaps you have some ideas about ways to enhance student engagement, ways you can look at metrics to see what it is, or ways that you might measure it. I’d love to hear from you. Stop by my website, BethanieHansen.com/request, and let us know what’s working for you, what you’ve tried, what we should add to this list of student engagement information. And I hope that you’ll try something new in terms of looking around and seeing what students are doing, and how they’re interacting. Maybe a new space you haven’t explored like a piece of data, or revisit those end-of-course surveys. Thank you for considering student engagement with me today here on the Online Teaching Lounge. I wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week.

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

#131: Benefits of Offering Choices in the Online Classroom

#131: Benefits of Offering Choices in the Online Classroom

This content initially appeared at APUEdge.com.

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

Providing students with choices in assignments can add excitement and increase student creativity. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks about ways teachers can add more choices in the online classroom.

Listen to the Episode:

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

Read the Transcript:

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

Welcome to the podcast, today. I want to talk all about choices and the choices I’d like to share with you are especially for online students. You know, when we have choices, there’s something about that that’s just tantalizing and exciting. In fact, it makes it a little bit more fun. Now, I’m going to give you a little bit of an analogy. But, before I do, I want to encourage you to open your mind and think about choices in your own online teaching.

And we’re going to introduce this with this analogy. So, I have the Fitbit app, and I wear a Fitbit wrist device that measures my steps. I’ve worn this device for many years. And for the longest time, I have weekly challenges with my sister.

I have had these challenges with my sister, oh, for at least five years, almost every single week. And we used to do this thing called the workweek hustle. You can set your Fitbit device to measure your steps every day for the five days of the workweek. And then, you’re competing against one or more other people; you can invite a whole group of people. And it’s kind of fun because every day when you upload your steps, or you sync your device, you can see where you stand compared to the other person or the other people.

As you do this, the main idea is that it’s going to encourage you to get out and be active. And being active is definitely something we as online educators need to consciously think about, because we sit around a lot. Now, that’s not the point of this story, of course, the analogy is a lot about choice.

Now, I have a choice of what kind of activities I’m going to do to win the workweek hustle. And the more I do the workweek hustle, the more I want to win it. Well, once in a while, it gets a little boring because all I’m doing is counting my steps for five days at a time. And, if I’m doing this every week, year in year out, once in a while I’m going to skip it. It might get old, it might get boring, and maybe I’m not very active that week so I don’t really want to participate.

But, introduce the premiere version of this app. So, in the premiere version, there are different kinds of challenges that make it so much more fun. When I discovered this using a trial version of the premiere version of Fitbit, I discovered that we could play bingo. Now when we’re playing bingo, we’re trying to complete a certain pattern, instead of just a certain number of steps during the week. Now we’ve got active minutes, numbers of miles and numbers of steps. And we compete using these different things.

There’s a little bit of strategy to it. It takes some critical thinking. And as I’m planning out what I’m going to do for the day to be active, I might be thinking about maybe I want to make sure I hit that two mile mark so I can check that box on my bingo sheet. Or maybe I want to spend 60 minutes or 35 minutes or whatever it is that I need to fill in on my bingo page. I have choice in terms of what I’m looking for and what I’m doing and that makes it all the more exciting.

But it gets even better. Because when I click certain squares on the bingo sheet, it gives me fun options. Like it’s going to cut one of my little tokens in half, or it’s going to give me a bonus number of steps that adds to my total, or it’s going to give me a free flip. So, I have all of these different options available when I’m playing the bingo game. Now, I want to liken this to our online students’ experience in our classes.

Our online students come into our classes knowing they’re going to learn something about the subject matter. They probably have the assumption we’re going to have some discussion forums, we’re going to have some major assignments, we’re going to have some readings. And, in general, most online classes are designed with these basic structural elements. And, of course, there are some kinds of assignments in the end that demonstrate their learning.

But what about when students are presented with a choice? There are several kinds of choices we can include in our online classes. But that element of choice takes the whole thing up a level, it becomes less mundane, less boring and less routine, and much more engaging for our students just like that premiere version of the Fitbit app makes me want to play. It makes me want to get out and be active and to be active in more creative ways, even using the strategies to win the bingo game.

Offer Discussion Choices

Our students want to have a better experience also. One of the things we can give them choice with is the discussion area. If we have a discussion area in our online class, we might offer several different choices of prompts to which they can answer and engage with the class. So maybe I have two or three different choices. And you can do this in several different ways. You can have entirely separate discussion spaces, where students can read the different prompts and only see and engage in that discussion.

Or you can have a single discussion that lists the three prompts all within that one introduction. And they just choose one for their initial posts, but they can engage on any of those topics throughout the week. I like the second option, where all of the choices are presented at once. Because then the students are more likely to engage in a variety of discussions; they’re going to get more of a picture of the subject matter. And they’re going to get a little deeper in some of those areas they care more about. We’re going to expose them to more of the topic and generate a richer cognitive discussion. I love that option of giving students choices.

And when you go to grade this, how hard is it to grade those choices? Well, if you have a fairly generic rubric that you use to grade your forum discussions, content can be a percentage of it. And then whenever the content changes, it’s not a very big deal, you’re still grading on the same type of criteria. If you don’t have a single rubric, I would encourage you to build one. That way, you’re able to always look at the discussion posts for certain types of things. Maybe 60% of it is the content. The other 40% would be peer replies, formatting, grammar, timeliness, or whatever you’re going to grade on. So, whenever you’re doing your choices with your students, think about what’s going to give them variety, in terms of what they’re most interested in.

Offer Assignment Choices

The assignment space is a second area where you might offer students an element of choice. One university where I used to teach part time, five or more years ago, this university always had choices between three different assignments. These were graduate classes, and the students were in the education degree program. And when the choices were presented, they were typically all looking to achieve the same end result, that the student would demonstrate a certain type of knowledge. But the method of demonstrating it was widely varied.

For example, in one choice, a student could write a traditional essay, informative or persuasive, about the subject matter. In another, the student could design a speech and deliver the speech and record it. And then in the third one, the student could create some kind of a Prezi, where there are slides, there’s a little narration, and there’s some movement in between. So, we’ve got totally different presentation modalities, but a very similar outcome. We’re able to measure what the student knows, and what the student can do with the information.

In terms of grading these kinds of choices, again, you could have a fairly generic rubric that has the formatting, the grammar, the structure, the citations, and all those things as different parts of your grading. And then the content itself could be either broken down into the pieces you need, or a more general category of a certain percentage. So, your grading rubric does not have to be different for each of these modalities. You could create one that works for all three of the modalities. So, modality choices are one way to give assignment options to your students, but what about completely different assignments?

Let’s think about, say, music history class, because that’s my specialty area. I’m kind of thinking about demonstrating that we have a mastery of who the composers are and what period they lived in, and what their musical genres were. As we’re thinking about these kinds of things, one thing that comes to mind that I love to do is the Knovio project. I like to have my students do a composer biography, highlight a few pieces of music that are exemplars of that composer, that would be music that a lot of people have heard maybe they’re commonly known in movies, or they’re used in a lot of popular media. And then there are some YouTube links in the slides that they’re going to include. And it’s a traditional presentation uploaded into Knovio and then narrated on video by the student. So, it’s both a slideshow and a spoken presentation.

Another thing I could do is have the student write a mini screenplay, maybe a story of a day in the life of that composer that weaves in some of these same elements to show that the student understands who this person is, and what their impact was in society and in music.

And then, a last thing could be they’re going to stage an interview. And they’re going to do this mock interview where two different people could be sitting down having the conversation, and one of them is the composer telling all about their life and capturing it on video. Now all three of these types of assignments are very different. But all three of them could be equally interesting ways to demonstrate one’s learning. These kinds of choices, just like the Fitbit bingo game, make learning so much more fun for our students.

They help our students to get creative, to think about how they could really apply the knowledge and think through what they would like to demonstrate best in that final assignment. As we create options for our students, what comes to mind for you, what kind of games or gamified situations would really light up your students, when you think about your subject matter? What kinds of demonstrated ways of knowing are common in your field?

Of course, as I’ve shared my examples, something might come to mind for you. But maybe other things would work better. For example, if you’re in a science class or something more applied, you might have an experiment students are going to carry out. Perhaps they have to go out into the community and document the adventure and their learnings throughout that experience. Maybe there’s some kind of reflection at the end and that could be one opportunity.

And perhaps there’s a choice of doing a whole different kind, maybe it’s a review of presentations other people have given in the past, or reviews of websites. Or maybe you even want them to write a Wikipedia article using all the information that’s out there about the subject, but rewriting it based on scholarly sources and actually submitting it to Wikipedia to revise an entry there.

There are so many options you could choose, all the way from the essay to the purely applied project-based learning. Offering your students choice brings excitement and zest to your online classroom. And finding a way to evaluate these with some kind of a rubric that can loosely be applied to all of the choices will make your job easier in the long run as you’re helping your students enjoy their learning. I want to encourage you today to think about offering choice and how much fun it’s going to be for your students online to try something new, and not all have to do the exact same project. I wish you all the best trying out these elements of choice either in your discussions, or your assignments or both 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.

#130: 8 Teaching Strategies to Improve Efficiency and Connection

#130: 8 Teaching Strategies to Improve Efficiency and Connection

This content initially appeared at APUEdge.com.

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

Efficiency is important, but online educators must be mindful not to sacrifice student relationships for the sake of efficiency. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares eight strategies to consider when working to improve your efficiency while also building relationships and connections with students.

Listen to the Episode:

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

Hello, there, I’m Dr. Bethanie Hansen. And I’m here to talk with you today about a common online teaching dilemma. That is the difference between efficiency strategies and personalization in online teaching. I’ll cover that pair of topics that seem to be in opposition, and then I’ll offer eight ideas to help you streamline special student populations and strategies.

We all know that online teaching can be done anytime and anywhere. And for that reason, many people actually do take their computer just about everywhere they go. Perhaps we’ve got that laptop open while the family is watching TV for the night or hanging out together. Maybe we take it with us or use our smartphone to access the university or school app. And we probably post in discussion forums, answer questions, and meet students’ needs at all hours of the day and night. I’ve been there myself having taught online for 12 years, I have experienced that kind of feeling where it’s great to have the freedom to take your devices everywhere and really be prompt in your responses. And it certainly cuts down on the workload when you’re back in that online classroom. Who wouldn’t want that, right?

The problem is when we’re working anytime, anywhere, the other people in our life get the message that they’re no longer important to us, because while we’re with them, we’re working. Even if we’re sitting next to someone on the couch chatting and we just happen to glance at our smartphone and see a message from a student and answer it. That’s just interrupted the relationship at hand. An unanticipated outcome might be that our lives fall apart because we’re teaching anytime, anywhere or all the time and everywhere. And really, it’s about the work life balance and strategies to maintain efficiency so that we can do a great job, to meet our students needs and really help them along their path of learning without overwhelming ourselves or destroying all of the time outside the workday.

The idea that online education can kind of permeate everything we do, it makes me a big fan of efficiency strategies. I’ve also presented several sessions at conferences and university webinars at my institution about this. And in my full-time job, I have in the past led large teams of online faculty and coached many of them on efficiency strategies.

One of the tips I regularly offer is to always have at least one day of the week where you do not check your messages or go into that online classroom, because we need to refresh. That that gives us renewal, and we need the space away from the classroom.

While we need work-life balance and presence in our personal lives, there are many strategies and tools now available to help us to become more efficient in our online teaching and do things in ways that reduce the time we spend doing it. At the same time, the most important part of any kind of education is connecting with the learner himself and herself, connecting with that person that we’re teaching, and the whole group. And ensuring that those people are having a transformative experience, that they’re learning, that they’re growing, and that they’re feeling connected to us as their mentor and teacher, and really getting somewhere with their education. That flies in the face of setting limits and using efficiency because efficiency by its very nature can often use strategies that sort of depersonalize our online teaching approach.

And efficiency is all about speed and effectiveness, running through things quickly. So, I advocate efficiency strategies with relationships in mind, those relationships we have with our students who are critical. And we should not sacrifice the relationships in the name of efficiency.

When I talk about relationships with students, what I’m referring to is the connection in the classroom, but also the availability we have outside of the class. And where does that availability show up online? It can often show up in the message area of a learning management system, it can show up in your email, it can show up in a question area. It might also be that we’re picking up the phone to speak with a student or while we’re video chatting, or maybe we have an open office hour where we have the video open, whether it’s Zoom or some other platform.

So, there are a lot of ways we can connect with our students well formally and informally. The critical element is that they feel they can trust us and know who we are. They’re feeling guided by us. And we’re taking the time to actually learn what their needs and challenges are and see them as people not just names flying through the classroom.

Now, if you moved a live class online recently, you might already have a physical, face-to-face relationship with your students. Unless you have a super large class like a lecture-style class. So, if you have a small group, even up to 30 people, chances are you know who they are and you may already have that rapport. But what if you’re just teaching online for the first time, and have never met those people in person? That takes a little bit more effort.

Some of those things that we do to get to know our students in those circumstances are going to happen entirely in that online space. We might have like an icebreaker discussion or an introductory discussion during the first week, where people can share things about themselves. And we can get to know them better. In situations throughout the class, we want to look back over that discussion and remember who they are, where they’re living, what their situations are.

In a class I’m teaching right now, I made a list of my students in a notebook and added comments to help me remember their preferred names and other details that might be relevant like where they are living, whether they mentioned that they are working or serving in the military, and what they are majoring in for their degree.

And if a student comes to us with a special circumstance, like an illness, or an emergency, that’s something I would take the time to make a note of that. So, I can be more sensitive in the way that I follow up about assignments or outreach efforts.

Balancing the personal connection we make with people, and the efficiency strategies is really kind of the happy medium, the teeter totter of online teaching.

Now that we have touched on this basic area, I’m going to share a few things about working with special kinds of students or special situations. And some of this is based on my own teaching experience and expertise as an online educator, as well as my years of supervising and observing online faculty.

So, a lot of times in my previous supervisory role, I would occasionally receive a student complaint about something and through the investigation of that complaint, it might have come to light that maybe the student misunderstood, or the faculty member was not clear, or something happened in between. It regularly seemed like a lot of those things could be alleviated with a proactive approach to meet people where they’re at, recognizing that not all students are at the same stage of life or readiness for the online class. In fact, there are eight special situations that might each require a different type of response in order to more effectively work with the student in a positive relationship and also manage your educator’s efficiency strategies, these range from special student populations to teacher practices.

The eight areas I’ll mention today include:

  • Adult learners
  • Students with disabling conditions
  • Communication plans
  • Reaching out to missing students
  • Guide students with time and task management
  • Notice students new to the subject matter
  • Plan ahead to accommodate potential interruptions
  • Expect challenges and misunderstandings

1. Adult Learners

Adult learners are actually a lot different than younger students. When we have a population of say, 18- to 20-something-year-old students that we would call our traditional students, these people typically come right out of high school and go to college, or they might come just within a few years. They’re fairly young. And often they’re already in the mindset for learning. So, they know what to expect about schooling because they’ve recently been involved in school. And maybe they’ve even prepared for college and set a goal to get there. Now, of course, that’s not everyone, but that’s kind of a general understanding.

An adult learners, in contrast, are 25 and up. But we find that like the average is usually in the mid-30s and older. The university where I teach, we do have a large population of adult learners. So, I have a lot of experience with the stories they bring and the ways they learn and also their chief concerns, when they have concerns, about teaching and learning in the online classroom.

To help adult student online learners, first, I would make a screencast to walk through all of the critical parts of the classroom before the first day. There are a lot of free apps out there, such as Screencastify and Loom. Both of these have free options and are worth exploring to help you record classroom video walkthroughs and to show students where discussions will be held, where announcements might be, where assignments can be found, and the main way to contact you. All students really want to know how to contact you and what they need to turn in for credit and for a grade, not only adult learners. But creating a video guide is especially helpful for this group.

Another thing I suggest throughout all the classes you teach, if you do have adult learners in your classroom, is to provide step-by-step instructions for everything, so they understand exactly what the process is going to be as well as the purpose of the assignment. Explaining the learning goals and objectives and how the assignment will meet their own goals is important because adults want to know the value of every activity. They really don’t want to do anything that would be considered busy work or work without a clear purpose. It is a waste of time for them and to make it meaningful and to get their buy-in, all you need to do is tell them what it’s for and what it’s all about. It’s really that simple. So, helping them out by seeing their needs and giving them those step-by-step instructions and video guides will go a long way towards helping adult learners.

2. Students with Disabling Conditions

Students who have disabling conditions or need accommodations vary in their needs, and some students will come to you with accommodation requests from a Disability Compliance Office. Or maybe a student will just tell you they need something broken down into steps, they need an example, they need additional help. But either way, you will have students who might need this kind of help because either the student will tell you or a disability office representative will tell you.

One way to help them is to get to know them and what their needs actually are. Another way to help a student with a disability is to observe the way they’re participating in learning activities and the way they show up in your classroom. Do they log in every day? Do they participate in dialogue? Do they post close to the end of the week? Do they seem like they need a little additional time with things? The more observant you are about all of your students, the more you can connect with them and help them. And students with disabilities especially need your help because you’re the first point of contact and noticing what kind of help they might benefit from. And, also, they’re expecting you to be kind, kind and alert to their needs especially if they’ve communicated those things. So definitely work to be aware and observant.

Anyone who does have a clear need for accommodations of some kind will benefit from your regular outreach and your follow ups. It’s not only going to help them academically, but it’s going to make a huge difference in their lives, as knowing you’re a person who cares about their wellbeing and cares about their learning. We all need that, don’t we? And then lastly, if there is a disability plan given to you, no matter what age level or grade, it is very important to follow that disability plan. It’s critical and can actually be a legal compliance issue.

3. Communication Plans

Communication is a third area when you’re trying to assist students who might need additional help in your online classes and get that personal connection so that efficiency strategies can work and not distance you from your students. Communication plans help you connect students to anything out there that’s going to help them be part of a community, and to give them support services, like tutoring and writing labs if they exist. If they don’t exist, there are a lot of things you might find on the internet you can refer them to. And it’s definitely worth your time to communicate those out. Now is a great time to think about different kinds of tools and things that students can benefit from and communicate those things to your students.

Another communication consideration is to provide coaching-style comments, in your announcements, in your messages, and in your feedback on assignments and other things. Every time you communicate with students, communicating with them as a coach will remind you to include tips on how to be a great student, how to plan ahead for the next assignment, how your students can check in with you about how they’re doing in the class, how to prepare for whatever they’re going to do with this knowledge, and many other topics.

Coaching type of behaviors can include addressing things we consider soft skills, whether it’s communication habits in the discussion area, or it could be professional skills like time management and how to format assignments for professionalism. But all these kinds of things you share with students will help them in life and work and definitely in your class. If you can share them in an encouraging way, it goes a long way. If it’s just critiquing and feedback, it kind of misses the mark. So, tone is very important in the way we communicate to all of our students and especially when they need our help.

4. Reach Out to Missing Students

A fourth thing to think about when assisting students online, is missing students. It’s a best practice to contact everyone individually during the first week of your online time together. If you’ve just recently moved a class online, and you haven’t had a chance to check in with everyone, now would be a great time to do that. If your class started out online, hopefully that happened during the first week of class. I know a lot of folks who would like to use the first week for an academic assignment and an academic topic in the discussion area. If you do that, you still might add something separate that allows people just to socialize, to get to know each other and share a little bit of something so that they feel kind of special and actually look forward to being with others in the class. Finding a way to connect everyone builds the community feeling and it sets the tone for the rest of your class.

After week one, some students may slack in their participation or disappear from your online class with their name still showing up on the roster. Another best practice is to reach out by email, message, or telephone to contact students if they disengage in the class. So, after the first week is the best time to begin looking for abnormal participation or missing students because online a lot of time can pass before we might otherwise notice a disengaged student or reach out. And when the student stops participating, they might feel like they are quickly falling so far behind, they lose hope about being able to catch up or complete the class. Any time you start seeing people disengage in a class online, that’s a critical time to reach out, whether it’s a message or a phone call. And this contact can make all the difference. And at lots of schools, there is an advisor somewhere to whom we can also forward that student’s details to ask for some backup, some support.

I’m currently teaching an online course that is in week 3 of the class. And it’s my habit to write down students’ names and a few notes that help me remember their unique situations. Along with that, I’ll write down whether I connected with each student during the week to be sure that every two or three weeks I’ve had a substantial connection, replied to their discussions, or had some other method of engaging. And in my current class, I noticed one student did not participate in the week 2 discussion. At the beginning of week 3, I sent her a note to tell her that I missed her in the discussion and ask if she needed help. Within a day, she replied with an explanation of some unexpected things that kept her from class and she committed to be more involved. And she did a very nice job of participating in the third week. I’m not sure what her participation might have been like without the outreach, but I feel good about helping her reengage and believe that the contact made a difference.

5. Guide Students with Time and Task Management

Another thing that we can do to help our online students in a personal way, while we’re coaching them and helping them, especially if they are new to online learning, is we can help them with their time and task management. Time management has to do with how students are regularly entering the online classroom, completing their learning activities, and managing their discussions and other assignments.

And task management is how students break down the things they need to do to get them done. An example of this might be when you have to read 100 pages, you might have to break it down over two or three days if you don’t sit well and read for hours. If you’re going to do a big assignment, you might have to break that task down and work on a draft, and then an outline, and then write the entire assignment. We can go a long way working with our online students in managing time and tasks.

In this area, I would suggest that you give a sample work plan in weekly announcements so that your students kind of know what to expect. At one institution where I was a part-time faculty member, I used to give them Monday through Friday outlines. On Monday, I suggest that you read this and take this quiz; on Tuesday, I suggest that you do this; by Wednesday, I suggest you post in your discussion forum and take the second quiz. And everything’s due by Friday. But I would give these suggested days to kind of break it down for them.

And I had a lot of students thank me and tell me that they really appreciated that kind of support and suggestions because they weren’t necessarily good planners. And it was very helpful to see how it could look. Other students didn’t need it and probably disregarded it and did it their own way and that’s okay too. But giving that kind of help for time, and task management is definitely a real benefit to help all types of students succeed.

6. Notice Students New to the Subject Matter

We also have, whatever the subject matter, students newer to the subject area and how they might struggle on the class. In my subject, music appreciation, I provide students who have absolutely no music background or experience with additional links and video guides to help them better understand terms like tempo, melody, and harmony. And in your subject matter, whatever it is you’re teaching, there are going to be folks that are familiar with the subject matter or very good at it. And there are always going to be people who are either anxiety riddled about what they’re going to learn, or they just are inexperienced in that subject matter. So, whatever it is, provide ample resources to define, illustrate, explain, and teach basic concepts in that academic discipline. In my case, I would give a lot of music examples to find the music terms and kind of give some idea of how to use and apply them.

Another way to help students who struggle more with the subject area would be to provide live lecture opportunities. These could either be replacements for the week’s discussion, whether you give them the grade for being at the live lecture, and don’t have the requirement for the discussion or make the discussion optional for those who can’t attend the live lecture. Or you could do the live lecture and record it so that everyone who can’t attend can still get the information.

If you do a live lecture, then you can explain further on the fly. And you can give a lot more detail that people are going to appreciate later. And they can rewind and rewatch that. Most video systems now create transcripts for your live lecture, like Kaltura, YouTube, and others. And you can always turn on a dictation program on a smartphone while you’re doing your live lecture and it will take some dictation as well. I encourage you to explore live lectures. They really don’t always work well as mandatory measures, especially when people live in multiple time zones. But they can be a great way to support what you’re doing and to give additional help to those who are interested.

7. Plan Ahead to Accommodate Potential Interruptions

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the students I taught were first responders, and so I expected that they might be intermittent with their participation and they might need extra time at the end of the class to finish. There might be interruptions where they’re not able to show up the way they would normally. But there are also other things, like there could be food or financial insecurity. A student might be a young person, if you’re teaching a lower grade group, they might just need a lot more help and be dependent on their parent or the others at home for their technology or for the time to get things done.

Many adult learners work while taking classes or may have unpredictable schedules. There are so many ways that things interrupt a typical online learner’s life. So, if possible, be flexible with your online learners, it doesn’t mean that you never have a late penalty and it doesn’t mean that you just let students do whatever. You can have guidelines and policies in the classroom and need to support academic rigor. But the more you can work with special situations, the more they’re going to learn that you’re human. And they’re going to get much more out of that experience with you. So, maintain some flexibility with students who have emergencies. And if needed, refer students out to their advisor, the counselor at the school you’re working with, or support services like the chaplain or advising or disability services, whatever seems appropriate and fits your situation.

8. Expect Challenges and Misunderstandings

And lastly, this should come as no surprise, but in any situation, there are going to be people who misunderstand us or take issue with what we’re doing. And I call those challenging students. So, a challenging student is someone who, in the teacher’s perspective, presents as being either argumentative or difficult, or maybe even hostile. And in my former role, as a faculty director, I saw students occasionally appear to be challenging. Based on my experience, the first thing a challenging student wants is to be heard and understood. Even if the message is coming across in a way that seems inappropriate. If we can focus on what they’re trying to say, before we address the hostility, then we can get somewhere because we’re seeing the student as a human being, and they know it. And we might learn something very helpful that de-escalates the entire situation.

Most of the time, I found that the student was very upset mainly due to one misunderstanding that continued over time and was never cleared up. When we focus only on the behavior, it’s very hard to turn that around and difficult to have a productive conversation. And it’s also difficult to make any changes. So even though it seems contradictory to what our instincts might tell us, I would suggest looking for the message first, worrying about the behavior second, unless it’s overly threatening. And then there might be other choices that need to happen.

I always recommend reaching out privately to a challenging student and not shaming them in a public discussion in an online forum form by calling them out in front of others, but actually sending like a private message, or just picking up the phone. And also model really professional and authentic responses and behavior. I see this kind of urge that online educators sometimes have when we feel threatened by someone’s hostility or disagreement or even just challenging a grade, it can be really easy for us to pull back and go in our box and get defensive. And then we’re no longer modeling what we want the student to be doing to us. So, it’s critical to not step back into that box and not get closed off. But really be open to still seeing the student as a human and really meeting them on that level so they can be heard.

And then consider your response before you send an email. Because especially if a student’s being very challenging, it can be difficult to think clearly. And something we might say that we think is coming across clearly actually could sound quite hostile from us. As you work with students who appear challenging, it’s also a good idea to involve your dean, principal, director, or whoever your manager or supervisor is, to seek support and advice. You have very likely a whole team of colleagues out there that you can reach out to. And if you don’t, and you want encouragement with what you’re doing, feel free to send me a quick email. You can reach me on my website at BethanieHansen.com and I’m happy to hear from you.

As we close out today’s podcast, remember that we don’t have to sacrifice connection and relationships for efficiency in our online teaching, and both efficiency and connection matter. When we plan ahead, what our strategies will be, we become much more efficient without losing sight of those we are teaching. And taking the time to get to know our students in the first week will help us carry that into the entire class. I thank you for being here today and I hope that you will share this podcast with your colleagues who teach online. We want to continue supporting online educators in their work and can’t do that without your help in sharing the podcast.

Take some time to subscribe for regular updates as our episodes come out each Wednesday. In the coming week, I wish you all the best in balancing efficiency and personalization in working with your students to ensure their needs are met and you are connecting with them on a personal level. I know it’s going to bring greater meaning and depth to what you’re doing in the online format and help you find more satisfaction connecting with those people you’re teaching. Best wishes 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.

#126: Tips for Educators Starting a New Online Class

#126: Tips for Educators Starting a New Online Class

This content first appeared on APUEdge.edu.

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

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

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
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Read the Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Focus on Communications in the Online Class

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ways to Get to Know Students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#117: Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning

This content first appeared on APUEdge.Com.

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

The goal of culturally responsive teaching is to help students feel more comfortable, connected and understood in the classroom. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides guidance to help educators invite students to share more about themselves, their background, and their culture to create a more inclusive learning environment.

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

Welcome to the podcast. Today we’re going to be talking about culturally responsive teaching and learning. Have you ever heard of this term? It’s sometimes abbreviated CLR, which would be “culturally and linguistically responsive” teaching. There are many different kinds of approaches and there’s a lot of information out there. So, I would just like to share a few tips and tidbits with you today, just to get you started on this topic.

The first tip is coming from a book by Shell Education called “50 Strategies for Your Virtual Classroom,” by Jennifer Jump. And in her book, she has a section called culturally responsive learning, if you have that book, it’s page 13. And I’m just going to quote her here. She says:

“Culturally and linguistically responsive teaching expert Dr. Sharroky Hollie (2020) defines a culturally responsive mindset in the following way: ‘Being culturally responsive is an approach to living life in a way that practices the validation and affirmation of different cultures for the purposes of moving beyond race and moving below the superficial focus on culture.’ When educators use culturally responsive teaching strategies, students are more engaged, which in turn helps them to be more successful, academically.”

So, there’s our start today, to be thinking about and talking about. The goal is to bring out students’ real identities and who they really are, to help them feel more comfortable, more connected, and more understood in the classroom. But I think it goes a little bit beyond this. And that is how we can appreciate and understand our students from whichever place they come from, and whatever beliefs they have, and whatever understandings they have. And we can also show up ourselves.

We, too, have an identity and a background and a culture that may be part of sharing. Maybe it’s part of our social presence; maybe it’s part of our invitation, to invite our students to bring in who they are and be themselves in the classroom as well.

And when we talk about culturally responsive teaching and learning, there’s an article out there by Laura Rychly and Emily Graves in the magazine, “Multicultural Perspectives,” volume 14, number one from 2012. I realize that’s about 10 years ago, but these concepts are very much relevant today. And I’m going to just read from the summary here some pertinent ideas you might care about.

“Culturally responsive pedagogy, as defined by one of the most prominent authors in the field. Geneva Gay (2002), is, ‘using the cultural characteristics, experiences, and perspectives of ethnically diverse students as conduits for teaching them more effectively.”

Cultivate Four Practices to Implement Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning

So, we’re understanding that culturally responsive teaching and learning means that we are using some “teaching practices that attend to the specific cultural characteristics that make [our] students different from one another, and from their teacher.” Cultural characteristics might be things like our values, our traditions, and our language.

And those are kind of on one level, then if we go a little bit deeper here, we’re going to also can include the concepts of how we communicate, what we communicate, learning styles we might have; things that are traditionally done in our method of learning, culturally, might even include group versus individual work, for example. And also relationship norms. There are a lot of specifics from one culture to the next about how various relationships speak to each other, whether it’s teacher-to-student, student-to-peer, student-to-other leaders, etc.

Culturally responsive pedagogy means that our main objective is that we’re going to be able to reach everyone and educate everyone in the way that we can reach them best. So, in this chapter that I mentioned by Laura Rychly and Emily Graves, this is actually a literature review about a lot of different research that’s been done on multicultural or culturally responsive pedagogy. And there are four practices that come out, which I’d like to highlight for you here.

Being Empathetic and Caring

And that is first, that the teacher is empathetic and caring. And of course, that means that when we hear our students, when they communicate to us, we’re going to be able to validate their experiences, different from our own or similar to our own, it doesn’t matter. We can validate. Validating is just affirming and legitimizing that someone else’s experience is every bit as real as our own experience or someone else’s. So, all those experiences are valid, valuable and worth contributing. And, of course, we can give a lot of upfront instruction and guidance to communicate that empathy and that caring to all of our students and help them to know how to engage.

Be Reflective about People from Other Cultures

The second point that comes out from this article is that they are reflective about their beliefs about people from other cultures. And this one’s particularly important, it’s a pretty obvious point that we might have implicit bias about groups of people or cultures. Interestingly enough, we might even have biases about our own.

For example, if we find a student from our own cultural background, we might assume we know how they think and feel or what they might understand. And that’s really not true. We didn’t grow up with these people, we’re not in the same household, or even the same person that they are.

And as clear as that may sound, we want to question our assumptions about groups, about individuals and even about our own, when we run into students who come from similar backgrounds. There can be areas on which we can connect to students, but there can also be assumptions that are not correct, that become barriers if we believe these things. So, reflecting on our beliefs about people from other cultures is a solid practice that will help us with culturally responsive teaching and learning.

Be Reflective about Assumptions Regarding Culture

Third, they are reflective about their own cultural frames of reference. Again, looking at our own world from the inside out, and then trying to be objective looking from the outside in so that we can understand how we might present ourselves to others, and what assumptions we have.

Be Knowledgeable about Other Cultures

And lastly, that they are knowledgeable about other cultures. This requires a little bit of learning on our part. Those of you who have been to many places in the world, interacted with people of many cultures and backgrounds, you have already some helps in this direction. And if we’ve really developed over time in a single place, and we haven’t traveled much, or known very many cultures outside our own, this could be an area for growth. Something we need to stretch into and learn more about others.

There’s some data shared in this article about teacher characteristics for culturally responsive pedagogy that might be useful to you. There is a diverse student population across the United States that needs more education and education that reaches them where they are, especially our adult learners. Many people grow up into adulthood, and when they come to college, they’re already wondering, should they even be there? They’re wondering, is it a good fit for them? Can they do it? Can they make it?

And having some culturally responsive approaches in our teaching, meeting students where they are and learning what their needs are to best connect with them and help them engage in the discourse or the academic content, that’s going to help them a lot. So, we have some ideas around who we can be as teachers, what we can do to help reach students best through a culturally responsive approach, and then we also have some specific strategies we can use.

Try Strategies to Become More Culturally Responsive

The first one I already mentioned, validating our students. A second one would be affirming. Affirming means that we are just giving some acknowledgement to the student’s experience and allowing them the space to be who they are. We don’t necessarily need to correct them on what is right or wrong, based on their own background, but we do need to teach the content in a way that they can connect to it, use it, and grow from that content and from that experience.

Through validating and affirming students throughout the classroom and our activities, we’re going to be building relationships with them by showing them we care—that’s that empathy and caring that was mentioned in the teacher traits. And we’re also going to be able to build bridges from where we are or where our students are to where we are. So, we’re going to be able to help them connect to things that might be outside their norm, or outside their realm of experience.

Now, what we know about adult learners is that they want to bring their own experiences into the classroom. If we come at our teaching with a culturally responsive approach to teaching and learning, we will be expecting that and inviting it. And the more we can invite our students to be who they are to share their own experiences and we can be more aware of our attitudes, our cultural understanding, and also what our students may need to be invited out and share those things, the more we’re going to be able to build those relationships that support students’ learning and success.

Whether or not you already have the experience with culturally responsive teaching and learning, we can all start now and take the step to invite students to share. It’s something we can do through sharing our own background, through using culturally responsive language and the way we communicate that is inviting and open to sharing across students, and students to faculty, and faculty to students as well.

And we can also include resources, images, videos, from a variety of cultures. In selecting the materials that we put before our students, we can use largely diverse groups of people in those materials, and diverse approaches to give plenty of examples and things that students can connect to. The more we do this, the more we can celebrate the uniqueness of each person in our classroom and we can meet them where they really are.

Now, the more we think about multicultural teaching, or culturally responsive teaching, the more we can think about the invitation to have confidence and be oneself. There’s sort of a motivational framework that exists, whether you’re motivated to have a job, motivated to take a class, motivated to do anything, really. And the motivational framework has to do with being able to contribute, first of all, so you have some kind of special value there or meaning in the experience. And that would be a great foundation for culturally responsive teaching.

If students are asking the question, is this work meaningful to me? And if they’re able to say yes to that, then that means we’ve bridged that gap in some way or helped them to do so.

Secondly, is this experience going to give me a chance to develop? So, when we’ve reached our students in a way that connects to what they already know, and what they like to continue learning, and is somewhat in a context that meets them where they are, then they will continue developing and they will have that opportunity. So, we want students to be able to say yes to that question.

Third, am I going to learn new things? Which is different from developing, right? Developing means I’m going to grow as a human being. Learning new things could be skills, facts, information, schema, academic vocabulary, any of those things that they need to continue in depth, or breadth throughout their academic experience.

Fourth, will I have an opportunity for recognition and achievement? And that question speaks to their achievement in the course and their long-term connection to their career. Will students be able to pass this class? Is there enough information they can access that’s going to meet them where they are and bridge the gap for them, so that they can be successful?

If we find that students, for example, need some kind of vocabulary database, where they can look up the terms or some kind of tutor to help them revise their essays, or whatever it is. If we provide those things or give them connections to those things at the institution, then they’re going to have the opportunity to achieve in that course, to successfully complete the course, and have some internal and external recognition for their work.

And then lastly, am I going to be given responsibility? We never want a student to have the experience of just showing up and passively listening and walking away. We want to expect rigor and high performance from all of our students. If students are given responsibility for their learning and also expected to achieve at a high level, we maintain those expectations but scaffold the steps to get there. Now we’ve given students a really satisfying experience where they are expected to have some responsibility there and to work for what they’re doing, and to come away with a sense of satisfaction and achievement.

So, we have all these things that come together in culturally responsive teaching. And, in closing, whatever approaches you’re using to encourage your students to discuss their experiences and connect to their backgrounds and the depth of who they are, always remember to invite. Inviting is the best approach possible. The more you invite students to share these things and affirm and acknowledge them and validate them when they do share, the more open and accepting and inviting your classroom is going to be. And that’s going to be a positive experience for our students. That’ll get us a good start on the path of culturally responsive teaching and learning. Thank you for being here today. I wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week.

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