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#114: Using Video to Provide Feedback to Online Students

This content first appeared on APUEdge.Com.

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenAssociate Dean (Interim), School of Arts, Humanities and Education and Dr. Sylvia Nemmers, Faculty Member, STEM

It can sometimes be easy for online educators to “hide behind a keyboard.” In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks to STEM professor Dr. Sylvia Nemmers about how she uses video to engage her students, provide information and feedback, and build a stronger connection. Learn how she overcame fears of recording herself and realized that using video actually saves her time and makes her more efficient.

Listen to the Episode:

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Read the Transcript:

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

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. We are here with my guest, Dr. Sylvia Nemmers from the school of Science, Technology, Engineering & Math at American Public University. So excited to have her today. And I would like to just welcome her, and we’ll jump right in. Sylvia, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Dr. Sylvia Nemmers: Well, it’s really great to be here today. And I guess if I were to introduce myself, I would say I’m a person that’s always loved learning. I have a Bachelor’s and Master’s in biochemistry and a Ph.D in environmental chemistry, but I’ve also loved teaching. Of course, I’ve taught at the university level and at the graduate level, but I also homeschooled my kids. And a lot of my kids’ homeschooling happened when we lived overseas and it was distance or remote. So, I’ve really spent time trying to understand remote education as both the instructor, the parent, and I’ve taken courses online too, as the student. So, a broad look at different ways of learning and teaching.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Fantastic. Sylvia, thank you for giving us that little bit of background so our listeners know something about your orientation here to online. You really have a lot of experience and we’re so happy to have you today. Thank you for being with us.

Dr. Sylvia Nemmers: Thank you for having me.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Absolutely. I’m wondering, in your experience with online education, what is something that you see as a helpful tool that, say, the instructor could use to work with students?

Dr. Sylvia Nemmers: Well, when I think about online education, or even starting from distance, because my kids, we lived in Greece and they were doing homeschooling in Greece through a U.S. program. So it was always engagement. And then we come to online and there is a better way to engage because you can have discussions with other students, or you can have assignments that get graded and feedback in faster than three weeks with the mail system across the ocean.

So, as we make these advances in technology, we have new ways of engaging. And, I think that in the last three to five years with COVID and everything that’s happened, our level of engagement and our technology has even advanced further. So, my theory on getting the most on education in an online environment is trying to stay as current as I can with what’s available and try to see how that can make the experience more fluid and more connected, because I think it’s connection to your students.

I mean, you’ve got to love your material, but you also have to know and enjoy your students. So, I have always tried to say, “Well, what’s new?” And, for me, video has been the thing. So, if I can make an announcement to my students using video, I can connect with them. They can see that there’s a person behind the screen and behind the keystrokes. And I can say in a video announcement in 30 seconds more than I would probably ever type, and I can deliver it with some perspective and some connection.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: That’s fantastic.

Dr. Sylvia Nemmers: And then beyond a video announcement, I actually really love doing video replies on discussion. So, a lot of online learning is based on discussion boards. In fact, for a while there, when we designed courses, we were feeling that it was really necessary to have a discussion every week. This may or may not be the case going forward for the courses that different people teach or design, but discussion boards are a big part of a very typical online course.

So, when I’m in a discussion, I even do my replies using video. Again, a short video can say a lot. I can do more than critique, but I can pull threads in how this, whatever I’m talking about, might relate to their life if it’s a Gen Ed course, or to their career, if it is one of the more advanced courses.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: All right. And in what you’ve shared here, I heard three different things that I think I’d just like to circle back to you, if that’s okay? The first one was that you mentioned how important it is to really engage with online students. And I’ve had that experience too, both on the faculty side, on the student side, and really there’s no substitute for that sense of connection. Whatever’s going to bring it. So, I appreciate you bringing that out and that this is a tool for helping that to happen.

And second, you mentioned the announcements. Announcements might be an area that some of our faculty would be a little bit more comfortable, like a little blurb in an announcement video might be short, right? Two or three minutes talking about the week. Then when you mentioned discussions, I thought, “Oh, this could be a new area for many online faculty.” So, I’m wondering if you could tell us a little bit more about how those work in discussions and maybe what your response has been.

Dr. Sylvia Nemmers: Absolutely. So, to be honest, we all need to have the balance of keeping our students engaged and keeping them successful and also we have our work-life balance. So, part of what I do with discussions is for my own benefit. In that, I can generally reply to discussion boards so much faster using a video reply. And, like I said, I feel like I’m getting more value for my minute, as well. But, what I’m really trying to do when I do those replies is let that student know. Let’s say they have a challenge in their work that needs to be addressed.

In addition to telling them, I would like to see you add this. I can also say, because doing that will give you a chance to find out this or gain this skill. So, rather than taking a long time, and it takes me a long time to type and proofread because as the instructor, I’ve got to have better grammar and put-together format than my students do, because I’m that role model. So, this gives me the efficiency, it gives me the depth of communication and the whole, I think, it makes for a better experience.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: It does sound like it would do that. And, I’m curious, from the instructor side. If we were not thinking about engagement alone and we were thinking just about efficiency, maybe how fast we can give that feedback to make sure we get to everyone. I know we have some faculty in my school who use Dragon Speech dictate. So, it’s Naturally Speaking, I think it’s called. And they’ll type something but if they use the dictation software, they’re going to have three paragraphs versus a couple of sentences and it’s still going to be faster. But then the video could also be used for that purpose. And, I’m curious, what would be maybe pros and cons of those two, if someone was considering those?

Dr. Sylvia Nemmers: Well, I’m actually legally blind. I use more speech to text than most people do, to be honest. And one thing with speech to text is you got to remember to speak your punctuation. And, sometimes you’re saying the word two, like to, and it’ll give you another form of the word to, so you got to still edit that because it’s not always going to get exactly what you mean. Whereas, the video is pretty fidelic in having that fidelity to what you’re saying so I think that’s an advantage to the video. But, like I said, also the connection to your student, actually seeing you there is a big plus for this. And, I actually teach my students. The system I use does have the facility for students to create videos. So, I teach my students to reply on discussion boards using video as well.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Beautiful. And then they can see each other. That sounds like a great perk of doing that.

Dr. Sylvia Nemmers: Absolutely.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: A little more sense of who we all are. Have you ever been able to compare courses where you’ve done this with those maybe where you haven’t? And do you notice anything if you’ve had a chance to do that?

Dr. Sylvia Nemmers: Definitely, anecdotally from students and from end-of-course surveys. I often hear students tell me that they have never had a faculty member do this before and how much they appreciated the connection. A couple of courses that I do this in also have a team-project aspect, which is a conversation for another day. But, by having teams be able to video each other and leave those video notes, it’s really improved the engagement.

I think it lessens any potential concerns that students have about an assignment when they actually hear the instructor speaking to them and knowing they’re dealing with a human. A lot of it is about connection. And while I don’t have any data that I’ve collected, numeric data, I definitely have that anecdotal response to the students that they really enjoy it.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: I can imagine, especially when the rest of the space is a bunch of texts and images. It’s not as engaging as a real person. I’m just curious. We might have some people listening today to the podcast who are super nervous about getting on video.

I remember when I used to make videos for my courses, maybe 10 years ago. I would make a take, I would edit it. I would really get all dressed up for this video and it was a big deal to me. Now, maybe not so much and I’m wondering how we might coach someone or encourage someone to start doing this without all that stress and worry.

Dr. Sylvia Nemmers: That is such a good point. That is really a great point. I think for me, we’re doing this podcast right now, you and I. We’re having a conversation just like the good old days when we used to sit together and have conversations.

I think of my videos in this framework, in the good old days, actually I think these are the good old days. I really love distance education and reaching to students I would never be able to reach before. But, we used to know that we needed to teach at a particular time of day. And we had our hair brushed and we had some clothes on and we went and taught. We didn’t have a script, usually. We had a frame of concepts that we wanted to cover and we did that and it wasn’t recorded. I kind of keep that mindset.

So, when I’m doing my videos, I actually put myself in the mindset that I’m sitting and talking to my student, as if we were just in the classroom and I was giving them the same feedback. I don’t script it and I don’t over critique it once I’ve said it. As long as the message I was trying to convey got there. I mean, a kind of a plus, because I could hit restart and say it again and I do that occasionally, if I really missed my mark. How nice to have that option as opposed to when it’s directly face to face and you don’t have that “Whoops, can I repeat that?”

So, you’ve got the plus of being able to restart if you need to, but I wouldn’t be over critical. And I wouldn’t think of it as a production of a commercial, but more of a conversation that you’re having that’s going to have some bobbles and imperfections in it. And that helps me a lot.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wonderful. I appreciate that. And as you were describing this idea of just imagining having a conversation. It also reminded me of sort of a theme in media right now, where a lot of people are putting their own businesses online. And in selling those things, one of the themes is authenticity and showing their humanness. So, you’ll see a person who started an online business with a picture of their family or their dog or whatever. And if there are mistakes in a video, they just leave them, so everyone knows they’re a real person and it’s not just some canned thing that’s kind of generic.

So, I love the fact that you’re thinking of it as that conversation. No conversation’s going to be perfect and it’s going to be more authentic. And hopefully, that helps our listeners to relax a little bit as they’re making videos and not be quite so worried about the perfect presentation. I appreciate those comments, Sylvia.

Dr. Sylvia Nemmers: I would say rather than thinking of it as a video, think of it as a communication tool.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Beautiful. And are there needs for worrying about the captions on those videos? What would you suggest there?

Dr. Sylvia Nemmers: Yes. And this is particularly sensitive to me because I have struggled in my life to achieve certain goals due to some barriers and accessibility that I’ve been able to overcome. So, definitely wanting to make sure that your videos are closed captioned is very important. If you are using an online classroom, many of them have video capture available inside of them, with the ability to close caption.

Certain things like Zoom or other commercially available things are also having closed captioning as a part of it. Because as we moved into this brave new world and using these types of things became more necessary, and we knew that we all needed to be able to meet these ADA expectations for closed captioning. And on that, just real quickly, a lot of people think that, well, the ADA captions have to meet a certain percentage to meet the rules for ADA.

And, in fact, I’m not an expert on this, I’m not saying it from that point of view, but my knowledge does extend to the point that what we need to do to make sure that our videos are compliant with ADA and actually useful for our students is that we’re using the most advanced technology available.

So, if you are using one of the larger providers of online classrooms or you’re using Zoom or YouTube or whatever is the major provider of these closed captionings, that is what is needed. If you used a particularly complex terminology and you want to ensure that it’s good that’s a great thing to review those captions, they all have that facility.

But, for the most part, relying on the advanced technology we have available will get you where you need to go. And I don’t want us to not embrace the facilities and the advancements we have in fear of not being able to achieve certain expectations because we can do both.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: That’s very encouraging. And I appreciate you mentioning all that. Now, of course, some LMSs, or some learning management systems, have embedded video recorders. Our system we’re using at American Public University has Kaltura and it also has this space where you could record it outside the platform and upload it, and then there’s the video-note feature. Do you have any ideas about how someone might include a video if their platform doesn’t have a really great way to do it, or they need to think about bringing it in from outside their platform?

Dr. Sylvia Nemmers: Absolutely. This is not my area of expertise.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: That’s okay.

Dr. Sylvia Nemmers: So, the best thing I can do is point you to the direction of our major providers, like YouTube and Zoom and the equivalence to these. Because they are doing this en masse and so they have very high standards that they’re holding themselves to.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yes. And actually, now that you’ve mentioned YouTube, I’m thinking of an instructor I noticed that was traveling, used a cell phone to create the video and then they uploaded it to YouTube and YouTube has pretty good captioning now. Might need an occasional edit, but it’s so much better. It’s come a long ways. So that’s another place where captioning could be automatic, but it does need to be proofed. So, yeah, good. Are there other ideas you have around video that you want to share with our listeners today?

Dr. Sylvia Nemmers: I just would say, I think videoing as communication with your students is kind of like riding a bicycle. We all, at some point, we’re using our voices and our faces to communicate with our students in some form or another. And I think over time we’ve gotten pretty comfortable with our keyboards, but if we move ourselves back, you can do a recording with only audio. You can. It’s possible too, if that’s what you’re more comfortable with. But it’s like riding a bicycle. Once you get started with it. I was a bit hesitant at first, but once I got started, I just don’t go back. I actually, one last thing, I do my grades, if I have detailed grade feedback that I need a student to refocus, I do that with video too.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: That’s wonderful. We haven’t really talked about grading feedback by video and I’ve seen a lot of different approaches to that. So, I want to just mention those for a minute. I did have a world language faculty member talking to the student, correcting a lot of pronunciation, because students submitted the video, so, he made videos in return that were quite effective in helping students figure out how to speak. It was a Japanese class, very, very helpful.

I’ve also seen people put the essay on the screen and use a screen recorder that also recorded the audio so they could walk through it and touch things with the mouse. And I’m curious, do you think that the assignment needs to be there? Is it enough just to have that video talking, what would be really the concern or the benefits or thoughts around that?

Dr. Sylvia Nemmers: I think the answer is it depends, as usual. Because, for example, we also, in our programs in STEM, we have had problems that students, they understood the concepts and the vocabulary. But, like you said, not the pronunciation because maybe they haven’t heard it. So, the more we can talk to our students using the language of the topic that we’re teaching, that helps them.

But, I think it really depends on the particular assignment that is being worked on. And the best thing is to just jump in and see what works. You may say, “Oh, that didn’t go as well as I want.” But guess what? The next time you do it’s going to go much better.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Absolutely. Well, Sylvia, I want to thank you for being here with us today as our guest, talking about videos and using them in your online teaching. And, we’re going to have you back for a few more episodes in the future, which our listeners should return for and look forward to hearing from you. And as we close out, I just wanted to give you one more chance, if you have any final message for our listeners before we close our episode.

Dr. Sylvia Nemmers: I just want to thank you for having this opportunity to speak with all of you. And I think we’re an interesting bunch as educators because we love our topics and we love our students. And I love to be involved in helping everyone learn new ways to do it and listening to the rest of your podcasts, where I get to learn so much from all of your other guests. Thank you so much.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thank you. Thank you again for being here. We appreciate the message you’ve shared today and look forward to more. We’ve been here with Dr. Sylvia Nemmers from American Public University and we wish you all the best this coming week in your online teaching.

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

#110: How to Bring Creativity into Your Online Classroom

#110: How to Bring Creativity into Your Online Classroom

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

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

Creativity fosters learning so it’s important for online teachers to find ways to encourage creativity among students. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares ways to integrate creative approaches in the online classroom. Learn about designing open-ended assignments, being creative with assessments and more.

Listen to the Episode:

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Read the Transcript:

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This is Episode Number 110: How to bring creativity into your online classroom. 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 your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and we’re going to talk about one of my favorite subjects today, creativity in your online classroom. I love creativity. In fact, one of my favorite things is coming up with new ideas and trying them out.

We have to be careful about creativity. As instructors, if we’re too creative, we create a classroom situation that is not coherent for our students. Limited creativity on our part, when we’re putting the course materials out there, can be helpful. Use some creativity all the time in your teaching. Just don’t overdo it. Help things to have a focus so your students know where they are and what they’re doing.

Emphasizing Creativity in Students

How can we bring creativity out in our students? Let’s think about that. The first thing is to look at your classroom as an area where students meet each other and get together. How could you use that online classroom in a way that really fosters collaboration and creativity? Is there easy access to all of the materials? Is there a great way to put that out there that students will naturally navigate? What could you do that is a little bit different to make this even clearer in the next class you teach?

There are a lot of creative ways to do this. Some people do it through a roadmap that students follow where you just click the next thing and the next thing, and it sort of navigates, maybe there’s even a hyperlink that goes directly into the discussion and a hyperlink that goes directly to the announcements, the assignments, and all those things. Think about, likewise, how you navigate that with your students whether it’s through videos, announcements, or little things along the way to help them move from one thing to the next.

What about those students who love to choose the order in which they learn things? Is there a way for that week’s content to be a buffet from which they can choose instead of a sequential order? Some lessons do make sense that way. In fact, some courses can even be taught that way.

When there are themes or topics that don’t necessarily have to be sequential and they don’t necessarily build on each other, they could be chosen in any order. Then an assignment could be based on some of the basic principles, not on the content itself but on the skills.

So, think about your classroom as this communal area where people can access all of the things, and what kind of creativity can make that utilized in a new way? You can also ask your students what they think about your organization. Perhaps they’ll give you some suggestions and ideas that will really be wonderful and you can try out in your next class or in the next week of class.

Building Community in the Classroom

There’s another approach to this community that you can just view in the online classroom. That is to find ways for students to really kick off the week together. There might be an opportunity for you to have everyone do an icebreaker activity on the subject matter or some kind of an asynchronous game.

There’s an online app called Kahoot! where everyone can click on their answers in real time. There are other apps out there that do the same thing asynchronously. Mentimeter does that through the slide presentation and so does Poll Everywhere. I encourage you to check out creative apps and solutions that might allow you to have more community and also more creativity in the classroom generally.

Design Open-Ended Assignments

Another suggestion for building creativity in your online classroom is to leave your assignments open-ended. Now, that sounds a little wild and crazy, doesn’t it? Now, if you actually have your assignments open-ended, this means that students can choose the mode of expression. They don’t have to necessarily write an essay. You could give them several suggestions or several links to ways they could present the assignment, and then students could choose the mode that speaks to them the most.

Some might use the essay. Some might make a video. Others might record their own podcast episode. Perhaps they’ll create a slideshow. Maybe they’ll create something else that we haven’t even thought of here yet. Whatever it is, if you leave the mode of expression open-ended, then you can have the requirements of the content being demonstrated through that assignment and also how much they need to include and whether they need to discuss their sources or give personal opinions or things like that.

I always like to give examples of various formats of assignments whenever it’s open-ended, but there’s this danger when you do that. Some students will just copycat what you put in there. I’ve heard some instructors actually don’t give examples. They just leave it open-ended and list a few suggestions without showing what that might look like. For the creative students in your group, that’s going to be a real invitation, and they’re going to love that.

Change How You Think About Creativity

Third, think about creativity itself in a new way. Some people think creativity means it’s unclear, it’s hard to define, and it’s really just ambiguous and people are invited to invent things. I don’t think that’s really true. In fact, there’s some research out there that describes characteristics of creativity. They are fluency, flexibility, elaboration, and originality. It could be helpful to teach your students when you’re using creative approaches what creativity means to you.

Fluency

Fluency itself is a person’s ability to generate a lot of ideas, solutions, or responses. So, you might have an assignment or a discussion where that is the goal, to come up with a lot of potential solutions and a lot of ideas about a particular topic that you’re studying. Inviting fluency of this nature can really help students get outside of the normal line of thinking, stretch the boundaries, and seek additional learning on the topic. That’s something we would all love our students to do.

An example is when I used to be a music teacher live, face-to-face, I played a lot of recordings of actual performing artists on various instruments. For the jazz kids, I would play actual jazz artists like Wynton Marsalis and Miles Davis and different people. I would encourage my students to find good examples out there and bring them into the class.

Pretty soon, my students were listening to jazz at all hours of the day, skimming through examples, finding selections, and bringing in new and different artists that we hadn’t met before, virtually, or on their MP3 players. So, the more you can help students develop fluency on the topic, the more they’re really learning and inventing new areas that they’d like to learn about within that subject matter.

Flexibility

Another characteristic of creativity is flexibility. This is a person’s ability to look at a situation from a different point of view. This is a really helpful skill in life, in business, in professional endeavors, in relationships, and in studying your academic content. The more you can see things from different point of views, the more you can see things with greater insight and greater perspective.

Elaboration

A third aspect of creativity is elaboration. Elaboration is a person’s ability to modify or expand an existing idea. This is known in the Clifton Strengths as the maximizer trait. Basically, we have an idea that we’re learning about and we could stretch it in some way, make it better, expand on that idea. Maybe we can apply it to something new or improve the quality of it. Whatever we’re going to do with elaboration, we’re really helping students to stretch their thinking and become, of course, more creative in the process.

Originality

Lastly, originality. Originality is a trait of creativity. In fact, most people think that’s what creativity is. It’s the ability to come up with a unique idea or a unique solution. So, this framework is going to help us teach our students to be more creative.

Believe it or not, creativity can be taught. It’s a skill that can be learned. I know some people think they are naturally creative. They grew up creative. Maybe they are not creative, something like that. Everyone has a belief about their own level of creativity or their ability to be creative. When you start to add more options about creativity in your online classroom, you help your students to grow not only in the subject matter, but in the ways they think about everything and the ways they live. So, bringing creativity in has so many benefits, and it really speaks to the whole purpose of education.

Now, here’s an example from an article in a book called “Teaching Strategies for the Online Classroom” by Magna Publications. This example is a chemistry instructor who could have students explain an oxidation reaction from the point of view of an electron, for instance. A history instructor could choose to focus on the elaboration aspects of creativity and have students outline a debate that argues both sides of a controversial topic.

An animation application, like GoAnimate. You can go to goanimate.com to check it out. Students could demonstrate their understanding of the course concepts while showcasing their creative approach. So, there are a few of the examples there from the article I’m looking at, and I encourage you to check out more options for bringing creativity into your online classroom.

Be Creative with Assessments

One area that we haven’t talked about is in the assessment area. Assessments don’t always have to be tests, and they don’t always have to be essays. Assessments are the opportunities for your students to tell you what they’ve learned. They need to demonstrate they understand the subject and they can utilize it in some way. So, they’re going to synthesize it, or they’re going to get creative with it, or they’re going to apply it. Whatever that is, the assessment should show their true understanding.

When you’re teaching online, sometimes we focus on objective assessments that are simply easy to grade. Online quizzes are like that. They can be automatically graded if you use multiple choice options. So, it’s easy to design modes like this, and it’s easy to automatically give the feedback, it reduces the instructor grading time.

However, when we use those options, we really reduce student learning down to some very basic modalities. If we include instead creative options, like students creating a video, building a mock interview, having a multimedia presentation, animating it in some way, creating an emoticon that describes it with some prose, some words that talk about it, or some other artistic work, we can really bring out more creativity in our students, and they can have fun while they’re doing it.

Be Mindful of Creative Elements

In closing, while you’re thinking about bringing more creativity to your online classroom, I want to caution you to be careful about your own exploration and what you included in the class. As I started with at the beginning of this episode, it’s really easy to make your online class so creative that it becomes a little chaotic for your learners. So, as you’re including creative elements, review it for cohesiveness as well and the learner’s experience.

You might have someone walk through that course and give you some feedback. Does it look easy to follow? Are the instructions clear? Can students tell what they’re supposed to be doing? Can they follow step one to step two and so forth? Can they figure out what they’re supposed to be clicking on and learning about and watching and doing, whatever that is?

If it’s super clear to your students, then you’re all set for a good experience, and you can run it and have students complete the course and take a look at their feedback. Of course, I always recommend getting student feedback along the way, asking them what they like, what they suggest improving, and what their experience really is so you can adapt. But for many of us, that can be challenging if you have a course that is completely written before you launch it. It’s very difficult to change that along the way, but you can modify it, make small changes, give it increased guidance through videos and announcements, and communicate with your students regularly to help them have an even better experience.

If you think about creativity as simply a method to help your students become owners of their learning, this becomes a really fun tool to use in your teaching. I hope you’ll think about it and explore what it might do for you and what it might do for your students. I wish you all the best this coming week, thinking about creativity 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.

#109: How to Develop Your Instructor Presence in the Online Classroom

#109: How to Develop Your Instructor Presence in the Online Classroom

This content first appeared at APUEdge.com.

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

Building your presence and persona as an instructor is incredibly important in an online classroom. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks about several ways to build your instructor presence. Learn about getting feedback to understand the perception of your personality, actively sharing elements of your personality with students, and making sure you are consistent with your established persona to make students feel comfortable with you.

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
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Read the Transcript:

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

Welcome to this week’s episode of the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m going to share with you three reasons we should care about our instructor presence in the online classroom, and also give you some tips on how to do it.

What is Instructor Presence?

The first idea is just to give you some sense of what instructor presence is. This is basically how you present yourself to your students when you’re in the online classroom. It’s a lot like getting into the live classroom. If you think about your presence as a person in the life classroom, you can consider things like how loudly do you speak? Do you come in, start class a certain way? Do you speak a certain way? Do you connect with students, use their names or address the whole group? Do you talk slow, fast, loud, soft, all those things?

When you’re doing this online, we don’t have what some might call that performative aspect of teaching. So instructor presence is the way you present yourself to your online students in the online classroom. We need to go through the steps of what that is just to make sure we know what the target is and how we can build it.

Now you should care about this for three important reasons. One of those is a category of things that everyone in online education cares about, from the faculty to the administrators, to the enrollment department and everyone across the university, and that is student retention.

Building Presence Helps with Student Retention

So, the first reason to care about your instructor presence is that when you have a clear and approachable instructor presence and one that students can connect with, you are more likely to help your students stay in class, keep coming back to the class, and persevere throughout the course. After all, we want our students to succeed and complete the class and keep going on to complete their college degree. If they feel like you care about them, and they get a sense that you’re approachable and able to work with them, they care to stay in the class. This can push them through tough times.

As an online faculty member myself, I’ve had that experience where a student disappeared in the middle of a class, and I sent a message to them to invite them back in, ask them if they were struggling, check in with them, and they came back. So, I know this can happen for you, it doesn’t always 100% happen, but when we have a presence that is intentional and inviting, we can help those students get back into the classroom, should they be struggling.

Enhance Community and Collaboration

The second reason we should care about this is really the sense of why we teach, and that is when you have a clear presence and you are present, you can pull your students together. You can encourage this collaboration, this cooperation, and this academic community that builds cognitive presence in your online classroom. And by cognitive presence, I mean, the work everyone is focused on in that online classroom really is aimed at the subject matter, the experience, the learning, and it’s not just a boredom experience for students jumping through hoops. There’s a real sense of focus and purpose in your online class. So, that academic community is the second reason we should care about instructor presence.

Build Trust with Students

Third, we want to build trust, and that is really a preventative situation. When you’re building trust with your students by having a clear presence, if something should go awry, if something should become unbearable for your student and they start to have problems when you’re present regularly and have a good, clear presence they can approach, they will reach out to you, and you can address problems immediately, quickly and successfully.

I have been a faculty supervisor for many years, and I could attest to the fact that when students knew their faculty members, they seemed much more likely to contact them when they had a misunderstanding about an assignment or about grading or things like that. And where there was less clear faculty presence, those comments instead often came to the complaints department or the appeals department, or somehow escalated to my desk. So, we can prevent that and help build trust, when we have a clear instructor presence. It’s a really good goal to be aiming for, for retention, academic community, and building trust.

How to Build Instructor Presence

Now, let’s talk about how to build an instructor presence. First, you want to figure out who you are as an instructor, as an educator, and then you need to decide what do you want to share with your students to connect with them, and how do you want to do that sharing? Last, find a way to make it part of your regular teaching routine.

There are some people who do this through videos and photos; some do it through sharing their personal and professional expertise; maybe they do video feedback, audio feedback, different approaches.

I know some faculty members who use other apps outside the learning management system like Smore, whatever it is that you want to do, you want to have a routine for that, and it will help you to build it into part of your day, and it won’t be so challenging to build that presence that is so critical to helping build relationships and developing success with students.

Let’s talk about the first one, and that is what your teaching persona really is. So you may not know who you are as an instructor. You know who you mean to be and who you are as a person, likely, but what do students actually experience when they’re in the class with you?

Get Feedback from Students

To know this, we need feedback from a variety of sources. When you’re teaching a live class, you can actually ask your students many times throughout the session or the semester, what their experience is. You can ask them what you should start doing, stop doing, or continue doing, what they like about your class, what they dislike about your class, what’s useful to them, helpful to them, or unhelpful.

There are a lot of ways to get that feedback. When you’re online, you can also use informal surveys during the class several times to get the same feedback. You could do this in the discussion area, if you’re comfortable with it. Say in week one or two, you could ask students to include, with whatever their topic is, some idea of how the course is going for them, how they feel they’re doing learning this subject matter, and what you could do as an instructor to help them all the more.

So, a lot of feedback will help you to determine what your teaching persona will be or what it already is. You can ask yourself, “How do my students describe my teaching? How do they describe their experience with me?” Talk to your students. Find out what they think about your teaching and the feedback you give, read your evaluations at the end of the course, those formal evaluations, encourage students to complete those.

There are so many ways to get feedback. You could also ask peers, supervisors, other people who are informed about online teaching to take a look around your classroom and give you some feedback and help you to focus on identifying what people experience with you.

Of course, peers and instructors that might observe you might do things differently than you will, and that’s okay. But the feedback really should be aimed at identifying your style, your persona, and helping you to know what that is, and then start doing it more intentionally.

A lot of online instructors that I know personally would like to describe their own approach as warm, welcoming, supportive, inviting, inclusive, approachable, fair, and clear. I’ve heard those terms a lot, and if that’s what you’re aiming for, getting this kind of feedback will help you to know if you’re on the right track.

When students give you informal feedback in a message or an email, that’s also really helpful in determining this. So, take a look at all this feedback, collect it over time, and keep looking at it to make sure you’re on the track that you personally want to be. There’s no right answer to this. There are also faculty who want to be very concise, direct, businesslike, and, in doing so, clear with everyone and equitable to everyone. So, there’s no perfect way to be a persona online. You just need to know what it is and think about that. Then you’re going to intentionally share this a little bit more.

Share Your Persona with Students

Once you have the clarity around how you appear in your online classroom and what your persona really is, you can state it upfront in week one. In doing that, you’ll be able to rely on the fact that it’s true. If your students tell you’re very accommodating, you’re very patient, and they love working with you. You can say that in your week one message, the next time you’re teaching online.

You can also continually reinforce it on purpose because you know, it’s part of who you are and who you show up as in the online classroom. You can add to this with videos where you’re talking about things in this way, photographs of whatever you’re doing, teaching or in your profession, maybe those things that you’ve shared that helps students get to know you. Like, if you love fly fishing, and you’ve mentioned it in week one, you could always put a picture of that in there. That helps you to appear like a real person, like the real person you are, and also to be vivid for your students so they get a sense of a human being behind the name.

Audio and video work really well, and of course, whatever tone that you like to use in your speaking, carefully convey that through the words that you use as well. Not everything comes through as well when you’re typing it online, of course. But if you can do those things that help your personality to come through students will get to know you through your words and through the media that you include. I love the approach of using a welcome video on day one or week one. Many people do that now, it’s becoming a pretty standard practice across the board.

When you share a video and introduce your students to you as the faculty member and then walk up around that classroom a little bit, it can really take the edge off for students. It builds trust right away because you’re giving them an introduction to you and the classroom, and it also helps students know how to get started from that very first day.

If you do this, I also suggest telling them where to begin in the classroom with their week one materials and also a general overview of what they’re going to learn in the class. What the main goals are of that class? If it’s a gen-ed class, general education, you might even consider discussing the category of general education that it fills and how it fills that category.

Anything you can do to tie what they’re learning to the big picture at the university, and the degree program and other places, you will be able to help your students to do that for themselves as they move through the course.

We occasionally hear complaints from students that they don’t understand why a particular assignment or approach is used in your online class. You can set that up in the beginning by giving those overviews of the subject matter in the classroom, and then reinforcing it throughout in your own way, with your own persona.

Consider the Font You Use

Another part of the way you show up is the font that you use when you’re typing. Now, this is an interesting thing. Handwriting when people are writing by hand, whether you print or use cursive, tells something about a person. There are handwriting analysts who look at your handwriting and can say things about your personality just by seeing it on paper.

For example, they say, when you’re writing in cursive, if the letters lean to the right, you’re a future-thinking, positive-optimistic person, thinking about possibilities. If they’re straight up in the middle, you’re a deliberate, thoughtful person that likes to consider things deeply, and if they lean a little bit to the left, the handwriting experts out there say that you might be looking towards the past a lot more. That might make sense for certain subject matters like maybe history. Maybe we’re reviewing the past a lot and that’s part of who we are.

Your handwriting says a lot about you, and so does the font that you use when you’re typing. If you change fonts often, it can be difficult to read, and you’ll want to test this out to see if the font that you choose comes up in every situation or if they have to be on a certain browser or something for that font to really come out. And also, how readable is that font? How large is it? How close together are the letters and the lines? Taking a look at that can help you to convey your personality in a specific way by using the kind of fonts that speak to you as well.

Create a Strategy for Conveying Your Personality

Lastly, I want to suggest that you consider a strategy for how you will convey your persona throughout your course. It’s kind of strategic planning in a business setting, thinking through however many weeks your class is, what things will you do in week one? What things will you do every week? What approaches will you take in discussions and grading that will convey your personality?

As you consider these things, write them down, make a plan, and then you don’t have to suffer from repeatedly making decisions about your personality or what you’re going to include. It will also help you to be more consistent because when you consult your plan, it will remind you of the approaches you want to take to convey that consistency to your students.

Wrapping it all up for you, caring about your online persona in your online classroom is very important to conveying to your students who you really are, who you want them to see, that warm, approachable, or direct, no-nonsense person. Whatever your approach, when you bring it intentionally to your online teaching, it can be a lot clearer and it can support all those goals that we care about. The retention, we want to see our students complete the course, their ability to connect with us when they are concerned, and we need trust, a foundation of trust, and also that sense of academic community that can really thrive when we have a clear teaching and social presence.

I have another episode that touches on this topic lightly. It’s episode number 108 on authenticity. I invite you to check it out when you have a minute, and thank you for being here and all that you do for your online students. I wish you all the best in thinking about your online persona, 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.

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

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

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

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

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

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

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

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

Tips for Preparing Your Classroom for Sickness or Time Away

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

Be Proactive

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

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

Keep an Organized Classroom

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

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

Create an Emergency Contact Card

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

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

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

Provide Students with a Secondary Contact in Case of Emergency

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

Maintain Healthy Habits to Keep You Well

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

Classroom Policies to Develop Ahead of Illness or Unexpected Absences

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

Develop a Communication Plan for Students

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maintain a Clear and Quality Grading Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips on How to Handle Emergencies or Illnesses

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

Issue an Instructor Availability Announcement to Students

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

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

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

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

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

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

Communicate with Supervisors, Colleagues and Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips for Supervisors to Manage Faculty Emergencies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights from Our First 99 Episodes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Counting Down the Top 5 Listener Favorites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How We are Celebrating our 100th Episode

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As we close this 100th episode, I wish you all the best in your online teaching this week, and I invite you to keep listening as we continue to bring you tips, topics, and strategies to help you in your online teaching for many more episodes to come. This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge Podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.

#97: Tips on Teaching Writing: From Essay Maps to Critiquing

#97: Tips on Teaching Writing: From Essay Maps to Critiquing

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education and
Dr. Jaclyn Fowler, Department Chair,  English and Literature

Being an effective writer is a foundational skill but teaching students how to write can be both challenging and overwhelming for educators. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks to author and educator, Dr. Jaclyn Fowler about her strategies for teaching writing. Learn how she uses writing workshops to teach writing through the eyes of a reader and a writer, and why it’s so important to teach students how to properly critique each other’s work. Also learn about the building-block and essay-map concept she teaches to help students outline their papers as well as tips for grading and assessing student writing effectively and efficiently.

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

Welcome to The Online Teaching Lounge podcast. Today you’re in for a special treat. We have a guest with us, Dr. Jaclyn Fowler. She is the Department Chair over English and Literature at American Public University. Jackie, welcome to the podcast. For our listeners, would you mind telling us a little bit more about your background?

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Sure. Thank you, Bethanie. And thanks for having me on the podcast. I have spent the last three years at APUS and loving every minute, teaching and also being an administrator in the department. So, I’m the Chair of the English Department, as you said.

And before that I spent about four and a half years in the Middle East as a professor in Canadian University Dubai. And the way I like to say it, is I was an American woman of Irish descent living in Dubai and teaching at Canadian, pretty multicultural background right there. And I’m a writer. So, I write novels and I write memoirs and short stories, and I’m excited to be here.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Fantastic. Well, just to help you know a little bit about our audience here. We have online educators all over the world that listen to our podcast. So, they are in for a treat hearing from you. I’m just curious what one of your areas of focus might be in teaching writing online, specifically?

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Well, the funny thing is, Bethanie, I write, I teach writing, I coach writing. Truly, I need maybe to get another exciting habit or hobby, but it’s one of the things I really love. And I think one of the ways I like to teach writing is through the eyes of a reader and the eyes of a writer. And I think so often we don’t do that. We teach writing as teachers and we forget that there’s an audience and that there’s somebody who’s doing it. So, one of the things I like to bring to my classes is the idea of writing workshops.

Even in an online atmosphere, it’s really fun, I teach the students how to critique each other’s writings. And by that I don’t mean give criticism, but actually critique the structure of what’s being put on a page. And what do I mean by that? Well, I want to know how the thesis statement works, how it flows when you read it, how somebody’s turn of a phrase works. So, we give writers the opportunity to see their writing through the reader’s eyes. And that’s an unusual thing. Usually, we put our writing out there before we understand how the readers will view it, and so it’s a really nice addition to an online classroom.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: I love the way you said this critique was more about structure. And what I heard when you said that was artistry, it made me think about an art critique.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Exactly. What I say to students all the time is, “Look, they’re words on a paper, don’t get overly focused on them being your words on the paper. They’re just words. And so, if somebody has a critique for you, if somebody says, “I’m not sure what that word means, and I’m not sure it’s helping the sentence,” for instance, don’t be defensive about it. Have an open mind, look at it the way the reader is seeing it and say, “Well, maybe it doesn’t belong there. Maybe I need to do something that reshapes that area so that it does read more fluidly for a reader.”

And the idea is, you want to write for an audience. You want to make sure your writing is understood by an audience, so be open, be flexible. And then, in the end, remember, you’re the artist. So, as a writer, you’re painting with words. That’s what you’re doing.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yeah. That’s beautiful.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: So, it’s your choice on what paint colors and the texture and everything you use, but as any good artist would, they would open up to the critique from those who are looking at or reading the art.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Speaking of the critique. So, many of our educators that are hearing this podcast are not writing teachers. And I’m curious, what advice would you give them to get better at helping students in that area?

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Well, we can’t expect students to just critique. They don’t know how to do it, so it’s part of teaching. So when I teach writing, I’m also teaching critique. And for those of you who think that’s a really hard job, it is. But in the end, you’re also teaching writing by teaching critique because we’re giving the writers the opportunity to learn how to critique themselves by critiquing others first.

So, our students come to the classroom knowing how to give criticism. So, something like, “I don’t like that. I don’t think it sounds good. It’s not really good.” Or the perennial favorite for students, “Yeah, it’s good.” And what does that say to the writer? Nothing. None of those criticisms say anything to the writer.

So, a critique is more focused. You learn the building blocks of writing: a thesis statement, a paragraph, how to write a topic sentence, how to be creative, how to join sentences together so it makes a variety, and it makes it interesting.

And then, you allow the reader to say, “I’m not sure if this paragraph is flowing the way it should? It sounds a little funny. Maybe you need some transitions. Let me give you an example of what I would say. I might put, for example, here.”

The difference is as a writer you know what you want to say, and you know what you have in your head, but we often time short circuit that we just put enough for us because we have it all in our head. As a reader, the reader is saying, “I get where you’re going, but I need a little bit more.”

And so, to teach critique to a student, to teach them how to critique, it requires the teacher to model it. So, in an online classroom, everything is written, and so one of the things I do is write out critiques for every student the first few weeks of my classes, for every student, for every building block.

And what I find is that students start to mimic what I’m doing in the classroom. They come up with their own ideas, but I use a lot of different colors. When I’m talking about a thesis statement, for instance, I say, “You need a topic, you need an argument, and you need a three-point essay map.” And I put them in different colors so that students can see the critique right away.

And what I find after a couple weeks is students begin to use colors in the same way too. Or they begin to look at, for instance, how punctuation works. I know it sounds like just punctuation, but semicolon makes a big difference sometimes, or a comma might make a difference, and so students begin to mimic the way I’m teaching them to critique. And they recognize early on, because I’m really clear about it, it’s not about the author, it’s not about the writer, it’s about the words on the page.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: I hear that. And you said something that I was going to ask a question about, I’m sure listeners probably wondering this too, you said something about building blocks and then I heard you say, “topic, argument, three-point essay map.” Could you explain a little bit what some of those things are?

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Sure. So, the thesis statement, which is the English teacher’s favorite, favorite thing to teach. In my life I’ve maybe taught it 110 million times, but it’s important for every new group of writers—and now we’re talking academic writing—for every new group of academic writers, they have to learn how to write a thesis map. It is a thesis statement. It is exactly what it says. It’s giving the topic.

So, in a thesis statement, the way I teach it is I say, “You need a topic, you need an argument, and you need a three-point essay map.” An essay map tells us how we’re going to argue the argument. And each of those points become the topic for the body paragraphs. So, once you write a good thesis statement, you have your whole essay mapped out, which is cool. I remember in college writing my first paragraph and thinking, getting through it after hours and saying, “Oh gosh, that was great. I’m done. Oh no, I have more paragraphs to write, what am I going to write next?”

Well, if you spend the time on one of the building blocks, which is a thesis statement, you know exactly where you’re going for the whole rest of your paper. So that’s why we talk about building blocks, one would be a thesis statement. Remember, the thesis statement has three parts, topic, argument, three point-essay map.

My next building block would be to take the three-point essay map and then to use that to build the three topic sentences for the three body paragraphs. And that’s how we teach it, one step at a time, one step at a time.

So, once you break up an essay into steps, students can start to see the critique. “Oh, this would work better if you did three points in your essay map instead of two, or this would work better if you used your essay map to write your topic sentences.”

So, once you take it from the big elephant in the room, the essay, down to its smaller components, students will find it easier to create them—essays—and also students will find it easier to critique them.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Fantastic. That sounds like a really easy flow to work from. And I was playing in my head as you’re explaining this to me and to our listeners, I was thinking, “Okay, maybe I could just throw out a thesis idea and you could tell me how I could make this better.”

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Sure.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Just because at the time of this recording it’s winter, and, of course, our listeners might listen to this at any time of year, but that just jogged the idea for me of snowmobiling, right?

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: So, I was thinking, well, let’s just say, for example, I’m going to write my essay on snowmobiling.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: So that’s your topic.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: And I’m thinking, everyone should ride a snowmobile to work in the winter because it’s exhilarating, it’s gas efficient, which is probably not true, but we’re going to pretend, and then because it will renew your zest for life.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Okay. They’re your three essay map points, right?

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yeah.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: So now you have your topic, which is snowmobiling to work. So, you narrowed your topic a little bit, snowmobiling to work, and your argument is everybody should do it. So, you’re going to prove that everybody should do it. Now, one of the things I would say to a thesis writer is “Are you sure you want to say everyone? So, what about the guy in Fiji who doesn’t have snow?”

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yeah, I think he’d wreck his snowmobile.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: So, we always talk about, in academic writing, narrow your audience, because if your audience is everybody, your audience is nobody. So, narrow your thesis statement. So those who live in winter climates, do you see how it narrows it down?

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Where there’s a snow floor, yeah.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Where there’s a snow floor. Now you have your argument, your topic and your three-point essay map is great, because what you’ve done is each of those become the topic of your body paragraphs. So, the first would be all about it being exhilarating. The first body paragraph would be all about it, it being exhilarating. I forget what the second one, oh, it’s gas efficient. The second paragraph would be all about being gas efficient. And it gives you a zest for life would be the third body paragraph. So, with one sentence you’ve outlined your whole essay.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: I like that. That’s nice. And then, I’m curious about how one would come to that thesis in a concluding paragraph without simply just saying it exactly the same way.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Oh, Bethanie, I think you might be a budding English teacher over there.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thank you.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: So, what we always say is, you paraphrase yourself. In your concluding essay, you want to take your thesis statement and you want to restate it in a way that captures the topic and the argument. And if you want, the essay map, but you don’t have to, but you want to do it in a way that the reader doesn’t recognize the words.

English has 800,000 words to choose from, and you could put them together in so many different ways. You don’t have to use the same words that you used in your original thesis statement to say some of the same things. And so, the idea is to just turn the phrase, paraphrase yourself in a way that concludes your essay. Can you imagine if I say to a student, “If you write a good thesis statement, you have your concluding sentence for your whole essay.”

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: I love that. And that simplifies it, I think, for the student too, especially, who’s not feeling confident about the writing.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Yes.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: So, Jackie, we were talking about how to help a student learn to write an essay, how to lay it out. I’m wondering if there are any other tips about the writing part before we go on to maybe the evaluating, grading that many of our listeners are also wondering on about.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Sure. So, one of the things that I always say to students is “Variety is the spice of life.” If you’re an American, you know that saying, “Variety is the spice of life.” In other words, the more things change up, the more exciting they are. And it’s the same with writing. Variety is the spice of writing.

So, you can write a simple sentence, you can write a complex sentence, you can write a compound sentence, you can put sentences together and build one long sentence out of two or three or four shorter sentences, the idea is you work with all of those in one essay.

What that does, let me give you an example, one of the best novels I’ve ever worked with that showed this is Elie Wiesel’s “Night.” And what he does beautifully is he moves from short, choppy sentences where your heart is beating, to longer, more sonorous sentences where you feel relaxed.

And then he comes in again with the short, choppy sentences and you’re taken off guard and your heart starts to beat again. And so, that’s the kind of stuff you want to do in writing. Even in academic writing, you could write these long, beautifully, complex sentences, follow it up with something really short and to the point so it wakes up your reader. You want to have that kind of variety in your sentences.

And one of the ways I talk to primarily American students, because students who learn English from other languages don’t have the same problem, but grammar is such a beast for students in the United States. And one of the reasons is, because they just don’t understand that the words that we’ve chosen to name our grammar, nouns, and verbs, it’s all from Latin. And it used to be that we all learned Latin in university, but not anymore.

So, our students, they have a hard time with the words. And so, one of the things I do in any writing class is I start at the very beginning. So, I explain to them what each of the Latin words means so that they can finally get a grasp on grammar. And then I say to them, “Hey, let me tell you this, if you are writing, 85% of what your words say is the important part of an essay. 15% is the grammar. Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t worry about the grammar, but that shouldn’t be the only worry.”

And this is the way I like to tell my students, “If you were lucky enough to go by a beautiful Monet painting, you flew to France and you bought the Monet and you came home and you went to put it on your wall and you realized you didn’t have a frame for it, and you went down to Walmart and you bought a 99 cent frame to put your beautiful Monet painting in, the Monet will not have changed because of the frame, but it will detract from the Monet because of the frame.”

And that’s the same with grammar, you want to put your writing, your words, the painting with your words in a beautiful frame, which is grammar. And the frame allows the beautiful words, the painting with words to be enhanced rather than the frame taking away from the understanding of the words. Does that make sense?

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Absolutely. And it sounds like you have to craft with the grammar what supports it to flow well, or to show the beauty of what you’re saying.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Right. You want your words, the words that you’re painting into a beautiful picture to mean the same coming from your mind into the mind of the reader. And the way we do this is we have this shared structure, this shared format. And we use nouns, and we use verbs, and we use punctuation and they only account for 15% of the final overall painting, but it’s an important 15% because it puts us all on the same page. We all know, reader or writer, what you’re doing with a period, what you’re doing with a verb, what you’re doing with a noun. And so, that’s why it’s important.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Beautiful. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to just shift gears a little bit to the evaluating part, the grading. One of the complaints online faculty sometimes have is that grading writing takes so long, it’s so involved. And I want to just make a confession right here that when I was first teaching online, I would bleed all over the essay. I would be doing what I’m sure you’re going to say we should not do, and that it was editing. So, I’d be making a comment here, there, everywhere. Since then, I totally approach it differently, but I would prefer listeners hear from you about what they should do, what your suggestions might be.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: There’s a couple ways to go at this. What I say to my faculty members, “Remember, English we grade 500 to 600 pages of writing every single week. And so we need to teach. That’s why we do assessments, to teach through assessments, but we also have to be reasonable with our time so we can teach in the classroom.”

And so, I always say, “If you spend more time writing than the students spent writing, you’re doing it wrong. You’re not engaging a paper for a long-term affair. This is speed dating. You want to be thorough, but you don’t want to be in there all day long. So, you’re not making a commitment to the paper, you’re going through it.”

And here’s the first thing that we do wrong as academics, as teachers in general, we correct every single mistake. And that’s a mistake, because we’ve done the work and now we understand how, for instance, grammar works, but we’ve done all the work for the students and so therefore they haven’t learned anything.

So, you’re not an editor. You’re right, we often edit. What you want to do is you want to read through the paper. If you see that there’s issues, for instance, with grammar, you want to pinpoint about three big pieces of grammar, the things that you think, if they were cleared up, the paper would be more intelligible.

And then you clearly correct it and give a comment that says, let me give an example, “This sentence is a run-on sentence, that means you have two or more sentences smashed together without the correct punctuation. Let me show you how to fix it.” Fix it. Then you fix it. And then you say in a comment, in the end of your comment, “I want you to go through your paper and find all of the run-on sentences and correct them. Next time I grade your papers, I’m going to be looking for the fact that you corrected your run-on sentences.” Do you see what I mean? You tell them what it is, you define it, you show them how to fix it, you tell them that’s how they’re being evaluated in their next piece of writing.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: That sounds like a wonderful approach. It’s going to save us lots of time and energy. So, I’m hearing you say that we should ask for a second submission.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: So, a lot of times in writing we do a second submission in English papers, but I’m also comfortable if it’s a single paper and the next time they’re doing a paper on something else, I make it clear, “When you write your week five paper, I’m looking for this.” So, it doesn’t necessarily have to be another paper or resubmission. You hope that they take your feedback and rewrite all the run-on sentences, but they may not. I don’t think I did when I was in college, but you hope. But you make it clear that you’re looking for them in the next paper.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: That makes a lot of sense. And then if you’re just telling the student to just apply this, you don’t necessarily have to track each one, follow up, see that they did it, you’re just advising, basically.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Exactly. You’re not the police. You’re there to give support, to teach, to help. And you don’t want to forget the lesson that you taught in the first assignment. You want to make sure that that lesson was understood.

Because sometimes they don’t understand what you’ve said. You may think you put the most time into your comments on a paper and you find that nothing’s changed in the next paper. Well, maybe they didn’t understand. And so, you want to give another opportunity for them to succeed.

So, the idea in writing is you want people to succeed. So, you point it out, you define it, you correct it, you show them, you tell them what you want them to do for the next paper. And if they don’t do it, you do it again.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Gain confidence.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Gain confidence. You don’t let it die. You’re right, Bethanie, gaining confidence is important when you see it done well. The students in my class laugh because I teach the semicolon rule, an easy way to fix a run on sentence is to take the period, where you would put a period, for two sentences and put a semicolon in. It’s the easiest rule. And so, when I see it on papers, I make a big deal out of it, “Semicolon, this is great.”

And so, they get the idea that I’m looking to see what they do well, as well as what they don’t do well. And I think that’s important because all of us sometimes accidentally do something well. And so, if a teacher points out, “This was perfect, this was so well said, this was so well done,” if it was one of those moments when it was accidental, you’ve gelled, “Hey, I did this, right and I didn’t even know I did it right, but I’m going to do it like this forever now.” That’s the hope.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: I love that you’re pointing out a positive as well, because I think when you’re working online, oh, maybe you’re doing this eight hours a day, all week-long kind of thing, if it’s your full-time gig, you’re really spending a lot of time. And I know it’s easy to get fed up with the same problem you see, and have a difficult time being positive. Sometimes you see that same thing over and over, especially if you’re correcting it or stating the problem and explaining and it’s not getting fixed. So, bringing out the positive probably helps balance it for the student too and ensure that you’re not just getting stuck in that negative zone.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: No. And I don’t think corrections in writing should ever be a negative. I think it’s support. It’s a writing workshop where I’m saying, “Let me give you some advice on how to make this even better.” Years ago, I gave up using a red pen. Years ago. And it’s because people saw red pen and panicked. So even if I wrote something nice with a red pen, students weren’t seeing that.

And so now I just dialogue, I consider it a dialogue. So even when I say this is a run-on sentence, this is what it means, okay, a run-on sentence isn’t good, but I don’t make the student feel like, “She found a mistake, I did something wrong.” No, of course you’re going to make mistakes. You’re human. Welcome to the human race. And so, it’s okay. Make a mistake. I’m going to define it and teach you how to not make that mistake. If you want to learn how not to make that mistake, I’m going to give you that opportunity.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: So, I know we’re getting short on time for our session here or our episode, I’m wondering if we were to pull all this together for some key points that we really want listeners to take away, what would those be?

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Well, I would say the first thing is that writing is never a punishment. So, for anyone out there who thinks I’m going to make you write a theme for doing something wrong, please don’t do that. Writing is the articulation of your innermost heart and your innermost thoughts. And so, what a beautiful gift to give to our students, to teach them how to write in a way that the reader can understand, fully understand, the expression that’s coming from their heart and minds. That’s the first thing.

The second thing is if you think about teaching writing, instead of, one of the things I always say to students is how do you eat an elephant? It’s overwhelming. Think about eating an elephant. It’s about 26,000 Big Mac’s if you sit down to eat an elephant. How do you do it? And eventually someone will say one bite at a time, and that’s it.

So, if you think about the essay like the elephant, how do you do it? It’s one bite at a time. So, you teach the building blocks. Let’s start with a simple thesis statement, it’s one sentence. One. We can write that. And when they do it, well done, let’s go on the next building block until they get to the essay. It doesn’t take that long to do it that way.

And then, finally, as we’re looking over it and providing feedback, remember feedback is not a “gotcha.” It’s not a moment of “you made a mistake and I’m going to point it out.” That’s not what it’s for. A feedback is to help the student improve. I’m going to give you the key that if use it you can unlock a more fluid, more interesting, more understandable writing style. And as teachers of writing, you’re not editors. So, when you are grading it, your feedback is a dialogue between you and the student. You’re not an editor, save that for the publishing companies.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Nice. I think that’s going to help a lot of our listeners relax a little bit, realizing they don’t have to catch every little thing that’s wrong with someone’s writing.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Bethanie, some of the things that are wrong is what makes the writing good. So, we teach the rules all the time, but I always say to students, “When you’re really good at writing, when you learn all the rules, then you could break the rules, and that makes your writing special.”

So sometimes, when I write, I know what a fragment is, an incomplete sentence, but when I write creatively, I use a lot of fragments in my writing. And it’s not a mistake there. It’s intentional. And the reader knows that I know how to write a complete sentence. So, when I write a fragment, it’s for reason, it’s to pay attention here, I’m breaking the rules. And so, I think if we look at the idiosyncrasy that everybody brings to their own specific writing, I think, in the end that ends up being beautiful.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yes, it does. Well, Dr. Fowler, I want to thank you for being with us today. It’s been a true pleasure to hear your thoughts about writing, but also your enthusiasm. You’re really inspiring to speak with because you have this energy about writing and it’s not this overwhelming thing, when you’re sharing all these points, it’s very encouraging. And I hope our listeners today will take that away and be able to apply that in their online work and their online teaching with students and just spread the wealth about how much fun this can be and how not overwhelming it can also be.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Bethanie, writing is always hard, even when you love to do it. The hardest part is starting. But once you start, you move.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Sounds so true. Thank you again for being here. And we’re going to say goodbye to our listeners and wish them all the best in their 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.

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