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#48: How to Build Community with Online Faculty Teams

#48: How to Build Community with Online Faculty Teams

This content first appeared at APUEdge.com. 

Online faculty often feel disconnected from the institution and fellow faculty members. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides tips and strategies for building community among faculty members to help them feel connected, informed and engaged. Learn how department leaders can focus on building relationships through consistent weekly messages, interactive team meetings, one-on-one time, peer mentoring and coaching opportunities, collaboration sites, and much more.

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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 podcast. Thank you for joining me today to talk about building community with online faculty teams. You can employ a variety of strategies to build community with your online faculty and work to really create a sense of being there.

Online education, as we know, is very distance-oriented and it can tend to make us feel very disconnected, especially if we’re not normally comfortable teaching online. Even if we are, that sense of distance can grow and grow, and prevent us from feeling connected to the institutions we work for and the people with whom we work.

In this podcast today, I’ll be talking with you about how to communicate clearly and consistently to keep your faculty informed, and how to build community so they get to know each other and build camaraderie and rapport and feel a lot of support.

Strategies to Build Faculty Community

So let’s jump in. As I mentioned, there are many strategies you can employ to build community with your online faculty. If you are a faculty lead, a faculty mentor, maybe a department chair, or a director of some kind at an academic institution, chances are you either mentor, guide, support, or even supervise faculty who teach online.

Communication

It’s really important to communicate clearly, effectively and consistently to keep your faculty informed and connected to your department. In online education, quality teaching and learning is part of student retention, student success, and student satisfaction.

Of course, because teaching online is so solitary and in many places, asynchronous, our online faculty who teach alone are often disconnected from the institution and they may be physically distant from the home campus as well.

In the institution where I teach and also manage online faculty teams, many of these people that I’ve hired, supervised, coached, and worked with live all over the country. We may have never met face-to-face. In fact, I hired them all virtually and we worked together virtually as well. Building community with your online faculty members can really help them have reasons to feel invested, be part of the team, and be a significant contributor to student success long-term.

And now, as you’re thinking about this process of connecting with your faculty, connecting with faculty individually, in groups, and together as a team allows you to model expectations and empower your faculty to more fully drive their teaching quality and their overall teaching experience. This can also help your faculty really enjoy what they’re doing as teachers, as instructors, and feel that they’re making a difference and having an impact with their students.

If you’re wondering what steps you can take to build community with your online instructors, I’d like to suggest that you will need to be developing a set of online specific strategies to build community with your faculty who might be teaching at more than one institution or across the country. Maybe they’re working at home while someone else is working at home who normally would be leaving to go to the office. Perhaps they’re even homeschooling children at the present time.

For them, time is at an all-time premium. They might feel disconnected due to this remote work, as I’ve mentioned several times already, and their geographic separation from you and the rest of the team can prevent real connections.

Focus on Relationship-Building

But you can build community by developing solid relationships. If you make relationship building your goal with remote faculty, you can succeed. Consider this question, what can you do to make your faculty feel like part of the team, part of your department, and part of the entire institution? Maybe consider providing weekly electronic communications specific to your team and your department’s needs.

One example to build relationships through these electronic messages is something I like to call The Monday Message. This could be a newsletter with announcements or faculty information, updates and teaching reminders. Or one faculty member called it a “Mid-Week Missive” sent on Wednesdays. Another person I know sent them out as “Friday Funnies.” These started with humor and proceeded with news.

Consider Sending Weekly Updates and Information

When I was first hired as a director, my Dean asked me how I would bring together our diverse group of 150 faculty, most of whom were part-time, and they were located all over the country. My first thought was that I would send a weekly message with all my news and updates and information all at once.

Some of the things that related to me personally, my leadership goals, and other things really came together in that weekly message every single a week. As I started to do this, faculty responded very well. In fact, they started looking forward to “The Monday Message” as their definitive source of information about the entire department and what I cared about as their faculty manager.

You might think you want your messages to come out at different times of the week or sporadically, organically, et cetera, but I’ve found that this approach of being consistent really helps. Inconsistency makes faculty wonder when they’re going to hear from you next and they don’t always know where to find the information they need.

For these reasons, I suggest selecting a day and time that you’d like to send that message. Make it regular, make it predictable and dependable and your faculty will benefit from the community you can provide in that message.

One year, I included a spotlight section as well, which I’ll mention again in just a couple of minutes to highlight individual faculty. Another example you might consider to build relationships is to host and record monthly virtual faculty meetings to keep everyone informed and included.

Some examples of interactive and engaging virtual faculty meeting ideas could include using video. You could ask faculty to do the same. Invite faculty who manage a course or lead a course to make a slide and present it at the faculty meeting to share updates is also a great strategy.

Celebrate Achievements

Whether it’s at a faculty meeting or through email or other means, it’s a great idea to celebrate achievements. Ask your faculty to send these to you in advance and talk about them during the meeting. You can highlight high-performing faculty based on some performance standard you might have at your institution. You can recognize those who have presented recently at a conference or published something. Or maybe a student gave you a comment about positive things a faculty member has recently done. Either way, celebrating achievements has a lot of power, especially remotely. You can also celebrate small successes like readiness preparations, engagement increases, or other things that are achieved in the department itself.

It could even be creative and fun to host remote celebrations during your meetings. For example, if a faculty member has a child born that month, perhaps you might mail out a little confetti and ask people to toss it during the meeting as part of that celebration. Faculty also love to receive electronic happy grams. For example, when faculty all prepare their courses on time, you can send out a message to the entire team to thank them and let them know about the win.

Create a Faculty Spotlight

Now, whether you use these in your weekly messages or in your virtual faculty meetings, I really like the idea of using a faculty spotlight in working with your online faculty. When I started doing these about six years ago, I solicited my faculty in advance so they could feel special and have the time to prepare what I would write about them.

My faculty spotlights consisted of a photo that the faculty member provided to me, something they would be happy sharing, and also some things about that faculty member, like what they enjoy most about their online teaching, what their favorite class to teach is, where they have traveled, what their hobbies are.

We tried to personalize this for each person so we could build connections and actually get to know some of these other people that we might never see face to face. It’s also important to include both full-time and part-time faculty to truly build a real community.

This is especially important for your adjunct faculty and part-timers because they really don’t know others in the department. They need the same kind of connection to their colleagues and this helps them understand who their colleagues are, who they can go to with questions. Highlight your full-timers as well as your part-timers and it will bring everyone together.

Offer Voluntary Service Opportunities

Another way to build relationships is to offer voluntary service opportunities like serving on committees, peer coaching, and brief curriculum content reviews. These can go on faculty members’ vitaes or resumes and really enhance them professionally, as well as giving them the opportunity to influence courses that are developed.

Develop Collaboration Sites

You can develop collaboration sites where faculty members can share their practices, as well as collaborating on this curriculum I’ve mentioned. Ask questions to colleagues teaching the same subject or courses and learn about curriculum updates, or post errors in the courses and then have them repaired.

Collaboration sites are a great way for all of these ideas to come together. In my teams, we have used a space in the learning management systems set aside for the team. We’ve also used online collaboration tools and Microsoft Office 365 email groups for this. Each one was effective in its own way. I also recommend using photos and videos whenever possible to create identity and presence.

There is an unspoken sort of stigma about sharing photos or personal details with others you work with entirely online. Faculty might really hesitate to do this. They might have serious concerns about it. Work to develop identity and community in non-threatening ways, but also be sensitive that some faculty may have this tendency to feel this way.

Through all of these methods, your collaboration, promotion, your monthly faculty meetings, your emails, your celebrations, and all these ways of getting connected, take the opportunity to communicate.

Highlight and focus on the mission and vision you have for your team and the mission and vision of your institution. Be positive and set the tone upfront for your leadership and management of your faculty by focusing on one of the university’s mission points each time you meet. All of the vision points can come through. You can also make connections to real-life contexts, students’ stories, and the big picture regularly. And be sure to communicate consistently and clearly.

Now, when you have faculty meetings, your tools can be updated regularly and other resources you have, like collaborations sites or the site the university stores all of the team information, these can also be regularly updated.

Schedule Monthly Meetings

Monthly meetings would then, of course, be held monthly. Faculty really love to be part of all of these things when they have the time and when they can contribute something. So let your faculty know in advance so they can arrange their schedules to be there. Record them for all the part-timers if these are meetings who really cannot attend live, or full-timers who may be on vacation and send those links out so they can view them remotely and be up-to-date on your policies and procedures and announcements.

If you have additional opportunities for your faculty to get together, to collaborate, be sure to communicate these regularly just as if you were with a live team. Even if you send out a weekly message, you might have an intermittent message here and there in between with a update about one specific thing. Maybe it’s a training webinar, a teaching and learning opportunity, or other kinds of professional developments you’d like to recommend. Be sure to send things out in a timely manner and your team will learn to trust you and connect with each other as well.

Coaching and Peer Mentoring

One other idea about helping your faculty really connect online is coaching and peer mentoring. Coaching can focus on connecting people, but also giving them the space to teach each other. Faculty coaching might be faculty led with follow-up actions to get together and just to review each other’s teaching.

When you’re hiring new faculty, consider providing one-on-one coaching to review specific faculty approaches at your institution or recommendations and just get to know each other. You can conduct this by phone in a live webinar presentation, like in Zoom or some other kind of virtual platform.

You might do this yourself or bring on other faculty members to begin building that community right away. You can ask and answer questions with your new faculty members so they’re clear on exactly what your department or your institution emphasizes, and so that they can share any concerns or questions right up front.

Connect Your Faculty with Other Departments

Additional ideas you might consider using with your faculty could involve bringing in different departments to meet with them. These could of course be done during virtual faculty meetings or they could be prerecorded and sent out or used in the email communications.

One group I really love to include is the library team. They can talk to your faculty about specific questions, resources available, ways to cite things, what kind of writing help might be available in the library, and other things specific to where you work.

By doing this, we generate a lot more resources for faculty. We give them a lot of strength and support and better communication with different departments. Faculty feel more connected and have a greater sense of community with the big university identity as well through having these special guests.

You might consider having someone from the assessment team or the accreditation team speak with them. You might invite your Dean or other school officials to the meetings to bring their own insights and perspectives.

The more you do this, the more faculty feel like they’re really part of the institution. They feel validated, valued, and supported. They also show up and help each other and really connect with each other because they have such a network of support and a lot of people to interact with.

Another idea in terms of coaching faculty could be developing a short series of personalized messages, like e-coaching messages, to guide your instructors through different strategies or different approaches.

Share Teaching Strategies

You might consider sharing different methods of providing quality online grading feedback. Perhaps some faculty are not sure what this could look like or should look like to give students enough information. You could model how to produce this feedback, especially on written assignments and the ways that might be most valuable to students. You can do it in an attachment, in a video, in a screencast, or in a live meeting where some collaboration can occur online.

Online faculty always love to see each other’s ideas about using different types of questioning strategies or discussion strategies, interaction and engagement methods for forum discussions. And tips about sending out welcome messages or announcements or various types of wrap-up and summary activities. If you can enlist your faculty members to help each other with messages or give each other shared tutorials to help their peers, this builds community because they can see each other. They also feel less pressured to perform just for you and can really see each other’s ideas and start to come up with more innovation and more creativity.

This is a great way for the whole group to support each other with teaching excellence and also to aim for the best ways to support their students. If you develop and schedule regular methods for them to coach each other and for you to support them through your own coaching, this will refresh everyone by bringing in new ideas on a pretty regular basis.

To help your online faculty most, you might consider formalized methods of sharing these strategies. Perhaps there is an annual online conference in your department or some kind of share space, as I’ve mentioned before. When you share student testimonials, pictures, screencasts, screen clips, some positive comments from student, and of course, survey or evaluation feedback, this can really support positive and effective teaching and learning online.

It’s very common for a lot of observers to stop into online classrooms and faculty who are used to teaching in live universities or institutions might really be surprised at this, if someone pops into their class and observes. If this is going to happen, be sure to let them know upfront who these people might be, whether it’s some kind of peer observer or an academic support team member so they’re prepared when an observation might occur.

Be Available for Faculty to Meet with You

For checking in one-on-one with your faculty, I can suggest providing a calendar. Maybe you use a Setmore or TimeTrade or Calendly scheduler to give faculty opportunities to get on your schedule at their own convenience. You might set up times in 15-, 30- or 45-minute increments so that faculty are able to connect with you and speak whenever they need to. This will give you an opportunity to visit with faculty about their questions and give them guidance on whatever they’re seeking, and also just to connect from time to time.

It’s really helpful to be approachable and available to your faculty, especially if you’re a lead, a director, a chair, or in some kind of role like that where faculty are looking to you for support and guidance.

One way to provide this support if you don’t want to do individual appointments or even to enhance that is to provide a weekly office hour when any instructor can stop by and just check in. It’s nice when your faculty have a place to go to just connect and be heard. And when you can post that office hour so that it’s available to everyone and they can find the link, it makes it even easier.

And lastly, you might consider scheduling one-on-one small group or large-group sessions where faculty can share these practices, review course setup procedures, or conduct observations, or just talk about what they’re thinking and feeling right now. It’s helpful to arrange space and time where others can feel heard and seen, and really get back in touch with each other and with you.

Providing Faculty Support Contributes to Strong Performance

In closing, when you plan and consistently find ways to connect your faculty to each other and connect with them yourself, you’re going to help your faculty be supported and build a great sense of community throughout your entire department and support your team well.

These strategies can really help faculty members take more initiative and positively influence each other, giving everyone a more connected and positive experience when teaching online. Especially if online teaching is new to them, this is essential and critical to their success.

Thanks for being with me today to talk about building community with online faculty. I hope you’ve found these ideas valuable and enhancing your practice. Please stop by bethaniehansen.com/request anytime you’d like to share your feedback, or perhaps suggest a strategy that we can include in this podcast to support each other when we’re working and teaching online. And with that, I wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week.

#37: Own Your Impact in Online Education

#37: Own Your Impact in Online Education

This content was first published at APUEdge.Com.

Sometimes faculty members feel like they play a very small part in the overall operation and success of the university. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen encourages online educators to step back and look at the big picture to see how their contribution is actually really significant and important. She encourages online educator to better understand the inner workings of the university, including all the various departments that are also making small but meaningful contributions to student and faculty success. Also learn why its so important to understand course data to evaluate your teaching strategy, assess your relationship with students, and help you identify areas for improvement.

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge

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Read the Transcript:

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

Welcome to the podcast today. Thank you for joining me for this episode of the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m very excited to share with you this topic. We’re going to talk about your impact in online education.

Just to give you a little backstory, I once was a part-time faculty member teaching online, then I became a full-time faculty member teaching online. I also have a background in K-12 education of 20 years, and then I became a faculty director; I’ve been doing this role for the past six years.

When I became a faculty director, I saw things very differently. At first, I really did not know all of the inner workings of the university or the various impacts of my role in my teaching.

I want to share all this with you today for two reasons. First, when you know your impact, you can control the outcome a lot more and you can focus your energy to have a better impact.

And second, when you understand the impact of a lot of different smaller parts, you can also understand how critically important you are. It brings meaning to your teaching and it gives you a lot more context to enjoy your role. So let’s jump in.

Understand the Big Picture of How Your Institution Works

The first thing is about the big picture. If you’re in public education or private education K-12, I’m not going to be very specific here for your role in your institution. I’m going to outline the higher education landscape idea, the big picture in a university operation setting. I hope you’ll liken this to your own situation so that it can benefit you most.

This first idea is the university has a lot of different departments. For example, there’s a registrar’s office and also a huge group of folks that are dedicated to enrollment services. There’s a student services department, some of this has to do with academic support. There’s a booklist team, a librarian team. There are also all kinds of student clubs and organizations. There is a career services department and in the career services realm, students are looking for how to take their degree further, what they can do next and how to get a job in the field that they just graduated in.

There’s an appeals department, there’s a conduct department that handles student behaviors that might be inappropriate or escalating. There’s also a plagiarism and originality group. It might be an entire department, or it might be within another department.

There’s a classroom support group. This would be your tech folks who are really skilled at helping you in that learning management system. Beyond that, they have incredible gifts for creating things. They might help you find multimedia or create some kind of interactive role play activity, storyboard, decision matrix where students can have choice and engage in the content in a formative way.

There is a center for teaching and learning, some kind of group that’s going to give resources and increased professional development opportunities as well as skills that you can gain over time.

There are a whole host of other faculty. Many of these people have immense experience teaching or in professional fields, or both. You can reach out to them. Lean on them. Learn from them. They all bring their own unique set of offerings to the table. Each faculty member comes with a rich set of skills that you can also connect to.

And then, of course, there’s the bigger community. And the community might be your department, your school, a college, the entire university, and so forth. All of these departments have their own roles. And on the day-to-day side of things, people who work in every single department may feel that their jobs are small. Keep in mind that by small means, huge things come about.

Each person contributes a small part to the bigger picture of successful university operations. A lot of the things that people in these other departments do really support you in your online teaching and your role as a faculty member. For example, if you’re struggling with your learning management system, you can very quickly reach out to your classroom support team for help within a short timeline.

You can also build your goals for growth, your skills and all these other things that will help you be even more powerful in that learning management system in the future. You can connect to the center for teaching and learning for those kinds of skills. You can connect to other faculty members and the bigger community.

Why am I telling you about this big picture? My own experience was that as an online faculty member, I did not engage with very many of these departments. Occasionally, I might get an email from one or hear about something, but I did not really understand the inner workings of the teams. When I became a faculty director, very quickly, I was able to meet a lot of people on all of these teams. And I realized the obvious, we are all in this together. They were supporting the students; I was supporting the students.

When we see everyone else as members of our own team, we can reach out much more quickly when we need help. We can connect. We can get support. Things become a lot easier. Just think about the chaplain department.

Our university has a chaplain department. When we have a student who is struggling, maybe they are having a depression experience, maybe it’s even more extreme and they have expressed extreme distress. Maybe there are some issues with post-traumatic stress disorder. Whatever the situation, the chaplain department is one of our first lines of communication. The team that we connect with in the chaplain’s office is incredibly supportive. They offer resources, ideas. They give us a lot of support and they can make suggestions that will help us engage in our jobs a lot better as a faculty member.

Just as each member of these departments that I’ve mentioned makes our jobs a lot easier and they contribute to the success of the university as a whole, what I do has an impact as well. What you do has an impact. As a faculty member, it’s really important to know how we impact these other departments.

For example, when we are really encouraging, supportive and helpful with a student, when we share the resources like career services as they’re ending their degree program, or even in the middle, we support the career services and the student services departments by directing students the right way.

We send them to the people that can help them most who have all the information to connect them to career support. We further the educational goals of our students. Again, I mentioned as a faculty member, I was not always aware of all of the different departments and services and how they work together.

Once I became a faculty director, I realized I could serve students a lot better as a faculty member teaching in the classroom if I help them connect to different services and different departments when needed. But also, if I reached out as the faculty member to connect.

For example, when I notice a student in distress, or a student who has disclosed to me they have a disability and they really do need accommodations, but they haven’t asked for them, I can suggest to the student that they reach out to the chaplain office or the DSA, disability services department. I can also connect to those departments for tips and strategies and ideas. And I can also reach out to the center for teaching and learning for additional skills. There are so many ways these departments support me as a faculty member, and they can support you too.

What services exist in your institution? What can you do to connect with these different departments? And how can you learn your impact on these departments, on the people who work there? How does this broaden your awareness to think about your institution having so many different people there to support you? I hope you’ll think on that and consider how what you do every day is so connected to the bigger picture, the mission of your institution and the direction everyone’s going in this educational journey. As you do that, you’re going to be able to think about how the small things really add up to a big thing.

How to Broaden Your Perspective

The second area I want to talk about is our own class. And I’m just talking about an individual section that we are teaching. Chances are, you’re teaching more than one class at a time. Let’s just think about one class.

To broaden your perspective in this area, I would like to talk about the past, present and future focus. When we’re focused on the present, we are thinking about the lesson to be taught, the topics we’re investigating. We’re thinking about how an assignment fits into the bigger picture. And we’re focused on the day-to-day checking in of our students, ensuring that what they’re doing is on par for an academic in this subject.

When we’re focused on the present, many times it makes our job easier to do because we can see just this small piece. And of course, as I’ve mentioned, by small things, large things come about. We can help promote our students’ understanding in the entire class, just from each small thing along the way. The bigger picture has us thinking about the past and the future as well.

The past would be: what courses did these students take before my class that got them here? What is their prior learning? What is their life experience? Thinking about the past in our course gives us a huge amount of perspective. What do we need to add? What kinds of concepts do we need to include? How can we stair-step them from where they were to where they need to be?

The future focus is also important. Thinking about the bigger objectives in your course, the learning objectives. Basically the outcomes. What should they know and be able to do when they leave this class? This is the bigger picture of future focus.

Every small thing within your class ties into those bigger things. As a faculty member, when you connect those things for your students as you’re writing your announcements, as you’re teaching your class, you help your students to understand the big picture as well.

Not all of us make those connections, of course. Not all of us look at the class and think, “Man, I’m so excited that I’m learning this because it’s going to help me understand this big concept.” In fact, most students don’t think that way.

Part of our job as faculty members is to tie the small things that they’re doing into that bigger picture. Why are we doing this? It’s going to help you with X, Y, Z. It’s going to give you skills, knowledge. It’s going to prepare you for this career adventure. It’s going to prepare you for the next class you’re going to take. It’s going to apply in your life. We can also turn that around and ask students, how do you see this small piece of our course tying into this bigger goal? How does it work for you in your professional goals? Asking students these questions helps you do your job better because when they make the connections, they learn more. It’s amazing to see those connections happen throughout a course.

Why It’s So Important to Understand Course Data

Let’s also think about past, present and future in terms of data. When I became a faculty director and I was no longer just teaching courses all the time, but I was also supervising faculty, coaching faculty, onboarding faculty, and all of those things that go with that role, one of the things I learned about was the data.

There is a lot of data in an online course. For example, we might have an average grade report. As a faculty team member, I can do this on my own. I can look at the final grades of all of my students. I can see, did all of them get A’s? If that happens, chances are I’m not really critically evaluating because I’m not really sure all of my students would just ace the class or naturally get A’s.

And while I’m not suggesting that we deflate grades in any way, the final course grades can give us a lot of information. We can learn about our own grading process. We can also learn, is the rigor of the class too low? Have we not asked enough of our students in learning this subject? What can we do to really prepare them in this intellectual area, in the career field and in the academic area? So final course grades are one piece of data that as a faculty member I can look at, and so can you.

A second one is this percentage thing, and it comes from the withdrawal, incomplete, and D and F grades. At our institution, it’s been called many different things. But the goal here is to look at those final percentages of how many students withdrew from your course during the first week? How many had to drop it somewhere after the first week? And how many just stopped engaging and disappeared?

Occasionally when you’re teaching an online class, that happens. If you look for trends in your own teaching, it yields a lot of data. This data is just feedback. It’s not a personal judgment of you. It might give you great feedback about your teaching approach, your teaching strategies, your relationships with students, and so forth.

Think about the way the drops and failures in your courses layout and start looking for indicators leading up to that. This will help you to always improve your teaching and get more connected to what your students really need. Another piece of data is student appeals and complaints. If there are student appeals and complaints happening often, chances are communication is low. Often, we can change or improve the communication we have with our students to clarify things right up front.

Most complaints and appeals that I have seen as a faculty director came about because the instructor simply did not communicate clearly. A lot of times, students just glossed over something and missed a detail, or they questioned. Could they resubmit or revise because they really did learn something and wanted to fix an assignment? And the instructor said, “No.”

Decide upfront, will you let your students revise things and resubmit? There’s a whole department of people who get these complaints and appeals. And as an instructor, we don’t always see that. Think about the times you may have heard about a complaint a student has had. And also consider, have you ever had a student appeal a final course grade? If you get information like this, again, it’s data for you. It’s very helpful. It helps us to consider our impact as educators.

Are we communicating well? Do we have clear, consistent expectations? And do we maintain those with people over time? But it also helps us to look at that survey data over time. We can learn about our impact on students, our effectiveness in teaching the subject matter aside from the actual assessments that students do. We can also learn the trends. If we have areas to improve and we’re working on it, we can see whether or not we’re being successful or having an impact based on what students tell us.

There is also the informal feedback students give us by way of comments, emails and notes. These are worth collecting over time. As an educator throughout your career, it is incredibly helpful to reflect on the comments your students give you. These can help you in validating what you’re doing, know when to change and also understand your impact even more.

As you think about your impact, consider all of the different ways that your impact spreads throughout the institution, your student group and over time. This will strengthen our teaching to consider the impact in how the small things we do all the time in the classroom really do lead to these bigger picture ideas.

The goal is to change our perspective by stepping back a little bit, seeing the trends in our own teaching, seeing the bigger departments in our institution, seeing the impact of our efforts on students’ completion of the course, on their persistence getting through the class and their degree program, and of course, on whether or not they actually appear to know the content in the subject matter itself.

Think about all those departments at your institution and how they can support you, and how what you do every day supports them. And also think about the past, present and future focus of your teaching. By doing these things, we’re all going to have a better impact in our online educational roles. We can connect better with what we’re doing every day, and we can gain meaning and purpose in our work.

I wish you all the best this coming week in your online teaching, and I hope this data that you may find will serve you well. Thanks for listening.

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.

#35: Setting Professional Goals as an Online Educator

#35: Setting Professional Goals as an Online Educator

This content appeared first on OnlineCareerTips.Com

What areas do you want to improve as an online educator? In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides tips and strategies about how to set achievable goals for your professional growth and development. Learn about four areas to consider focusing your teaching goals, as well as how to stay motivated and remain accountable so you can achieve your goals.

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 podcast. Today we’re going to talk about setting professional goals as an online educator. Today, it’s just a few weeks before the new year begins at the time of this recording. However, you could be listening to this at any time of year, and this would still apply to you.

There are so many times when we might set goals. I’m going to talk about different times of year when you might choose to set goals as an educator. We also talk about the why. Why does it matter? Why is it so important to have goals and to set goals?

I’ll ask you a few questions to get you thinking about the kind of areas you’d like to work on. Give you some examples of the kinds of goals you might consider in education and in your professional life. And lastly, we’ll look at your motivation, develop some kind of action plan and accountability steps to help you succeed with the goals that you choose to set.

Be Strategic in How You Set Goals

Starting off, I want to talk about what times of year we might choose to set goals. Sometimes we set them around the academic year. If you’re teaching at the kind of institution that has semesters or a school year, it might make the most sense to set your goals around that kind of a system. Maybe there’s a vacation period, a few breaks, some semesters. Naturally, you might choose your goals around those times.

At the institution where I’m teaching online, we really don’t have an academic year that is official or formal. Classes begin every month of the year, they are eight weeks long and so I set my goals on the calendar year. And I might set shorter term goals by eight week segments of classes that I’m teaching. Whatever it is for you, you want to think about the short term, the longer midterm type of goals, and the bigger, longer career goals.

It used to be that we might get evaluated by a manager. If you’re teaching in secondary or primary school, it might be a principal. If you’re in a university setting, it might be another kind of administrator. Someone comes along and evaluates us on a periodic basis, whether it’s once a year, once every other year. Whatever it is, we receive a periodic evaluation. And in this process, the person evaluating us just might tell us what they think we should work on. Naturally, we tend to take those on as our goals. We want to improve to avoid having a negative situation.

The kind of goals I’m suggesting here are all about your own growth and development as a professional to take matters into your own hands rather than having a leader of some kind dictate what those goals should be. By doing this, you will own the goals and you’ll own your own success. Furthermore, you’ll own your entire career direction much more fully, as you begin to embrace setting your goals and achieving them.

Why Should You Set Goals?

Just for a moment, I’m going to get into the why of goal setting. The first one comes from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we can think about the four levels of deficiency needs starting with our physical needs: the food, water, sleep, warmth, nutrition, air, temperature regulation, all those things that we need in our lives to be physically taken care of. Then we have our safety needs: security, control and order in our lives. And after that, we have the social needs of love and belonging, and esteem or societal needs.

In these areas, it’s widely known that when we are meeting these needs, we’re really trying to make sure that we are having enough in these areas. And the sense of meeting these needs comes from a place of lacking or deprivation, so that’s why they’re called deficiency needs.

We want to avoid the unpleasant circumstance of missing out on these things. Certainly, no one wants to be living without food or shelter. We don’t want to be living in unsafe conditions. Those sorts of things.

Now, when we set goals, a lot of times the goals are in these four areas. We might want a better house, a more secure job. We might want to be in a better long-term relationship, or maybe we want better relationships with our colleagues. Maybe we want to achieve something, present somewhere, do something professionally that builds our esteem, gets some accomplishment and we get appreciation from that.

What I want to propose is that goal setting often moves us into the next level, which is self-actualization. And when we’re working on self-actualization, we’re getting away from what we lack and we’re growing so we can become a better version of who we are. It’s sort of a balance of what we want to do, our free will and our dreams, and what’s going to fit in with our possibilities. We get to accept who we are, and also maximize what we’re actually capable of.

As we’re thinking about professional goals, this drive that Maslow talked about, where people just are driven to want to become the better version of themselves or maximize their potential, that can really help us out in thinking about what goals we’d like to achieve. What we’d like to strive for. Where we might want to stretch, and where we want to grow that professional career as an online educator.

Another reason to be working on goals is that as we’re continuing to learn and strive and grow as educators, it keeps us moving. It gives us something to look forward to and be excited about, gives us something to do, and it also avoids stagnation.

It’s going to help us to be confident in the things we’re good at and we’re experienced at, but also stay connected to the role of the learner, because we’re always going to be learning something new and working on something.

As professional educators and especially online, where we tend to be a little bit more disconnected, there is a lot of great value in setting goals and working to achieve them. What kind of goals should we work on?

Identify Areas to Focus Your Goals

Now, if I were to draw a pie graph of some kind, I could divide this into four areas, four quadrants, if you will. And I would talk about these in terms of:

  • relational goals, as a professional
  • technological goals in the online environment and with the computer and the internet
  • teaching goals, which are more about methods and strategies
  • And then lastly, the contributing or growing goals about the bigger professional endeavors, the creation and the learning that we do as educators.

Questions to Consider Before Setting Goals

Before I dive into some details about these four types of goals, I’m going to ask you a few questions just to get you thinking. And here they are:

  • What are the five things you spend most of your time doing during your workday as an online educator?
  • What kind of tasks take the most energy?
  • Where is the stress coming from when you feel stressed in your online education work?
  • What kind of people are you interacting with most in your online education career?
  • If there are any conflicts in your work, what kind of conflicts are they? What do you face?
  • On the flipside, what is the most fulfilling aspect of your online education work?
  • What is the most challenging or stressful part of your work?
  • What excites you most about what you do professionally?
  • What strengths and skills do you have that are immediately usable and could benefit others?
  • And what resources are missing that you feel are necessary for you to be successful in your online educator role?

Now, as you think about those questions alone, some things might come into your mind about areas where you might want to be thinking about trying something new, connecting with other people and learning something, having an influence, trying a new habit. There are so many ways we can set very small and very large goals for short-term, mid-term, and long-term.

I’m going to go back to these four areas I started with a moment ago on the “what” of our goals. And I’ll give you some examples that you might consider for your own professional goals.

Relational Goal Setting

Now, in the relational area, we have the connection with our students. And I would say that most of our day is probably spent connecting with our students, whether we’re typing to them or talking to them in live synchronous meetings, or engaging in some way toward our students or with our students. There are so many ways we can set goals about the relational aspect of our work, insofar as connecting with students is concerned.

We can also set goals and be growing in the way we connect with our colleagues and maybe our peers in the professional community, as well as the larger professional development community we’re part of. This might be our school site, even if we’re virtual, they all belong to our same organization. Maybe they are in our networking group.  Maybe they are people we got our degree with, but we don’t necessarily work with them.

There are all kinds of ways we can think about goal setting in relationships and that could have to do with the quality of the relationship or how often we check in with these people, how we maintain that relationship, and what we do around those connections with people.

And then the third area I would suggest in relational goal setting is introspection and reflective practice. This one really is about ourselves and our relationship with ourselves. It’s sort of that metacognitive reflective piece about what we think about what we’re doing.

We are there the whole time and we really are alone there in our teaching role. We typically don’t have other educator peers watching us all day long or giving us feedback. And in a sense, we’re really the best person to give ourselves some feedback about how we see our own performance.

But in order to do that, we need to reflect regularly so that we can become somewhat more objective about what we’re doing. It’s very difficult to evaluate our own teaching when we are the person doing the teaching. But when we do it more regularly, we become more able to do that.

Setting Technological Goals

The second area of goal-setting that I mentioned was technological. There are a lot of us online these days, and so many using learning management systems. If you’re using a learning management system, whether it’s Blackboard or Brightspace, Desire2Learn, Canvas, it could be one of many, you might be using Schoology.

Whatever it is, there are a lot of basic ways to use the learning management system, and there are also a lot of advanced ways to do that. If you have areas you want to learn to do differently, one of those goals setting spaces could be about the technology in your learning management system. Perhaps you want to find new ways to use it, or more fully get to know the system that you’re with. Either way, that’s one area.

Another technology-based area for goal setting could be apps, media, video creation, and ways to convey lessons and content. I have some foreign language teachers, or world language teachers, that I know who are always trying new things. They use an external program called Flipgrid that many of you might be familiar with. They also use VoiceThread.

There are always new tools coming up in the conversation. So if you’re not sure what kind of tools you’d like to try, chances are you have a colleague somewhere you could ask and simply start exploring.

And then thirdly, in the technology area, one might set goals in how they use the technology to grade students’ work, specifically. Like, are we putting reviewers comments on a Microsoft Word document? Or are we typing a question or a comment on an essay? How do we return that feedback? How do we write the feedback? Where does it go in a physical, technological sense, of the presentation of the feedback? That could include using your plagiarism detection software, learning how to do that or fully, figuring out how to note plagiarism, give comments about it, address lack of originality.

Developing Teaching Goals

We have the relational goals, we have the technological goals, and then thirdly, we have teaching goals. And I’ve just broken down three examples here for you that you might think about. One of them is the way we evaluate students’ work in terms of our approach, the quality. Previously, I mentioned the technology piece. Well, this would be more about the philosophical elements.

What is most important to you in your feedback? What kinds of feedback would you like to give students? Would you like to take a different approach? Do you want to focus more on content and less on the structure? Would you like to include more formatting elements in your feedback? Whatever it is you’d like your focus to be, that’s a whole area right there.

And a second teaching area might be methods, approaches, and framing. About how to share the content, how to get students talking to each other, even in the online space. How to have the interactivity that is needed in terms of practice, repeat, mastery, formative, summative, evaluation strategies.

A lot of the methods and approaches we use tend to be through text. Like, we’ve typed it. Or we want our students to read something. But there are many, many ways out there. We can use video. We can use different types of web sources where they can click and do a scavenger hunt to find things. There are just a lot of possibilities. And so methods and approaches are a huge area of goal setting.

And the last teaching area I would suggest is the community piece. The way students engage with each other and the way you engage with students. How do we do that better? Or where might we try some new strategy there? It can be a small thing. It can be a large thing. It could grow over time. We’ve got technological, relational and teaching-oriented goals. And the fourth area is contributing or growing.

Goals to Help you Contribute or Grow

In this area, I have considered to be the most fun. While these other areas are all very important and can be a lot of fun as well. This one is fun because really, there’s no set of norms or established criteria, you really get to invent your path here.

One area is writing. Maybe you’d like to write blog articles for other instructors who teach online. Maybe you’d like to write a book. Maybe you want to write curriculum. Maybe you want to create new lesson content, maybe create some new material for students or for the bigger professional community. Maybe you want to write a text book.

There are so many ways you can write as a professional educator that contribute a lot to the field. There are many things that you know that you might take for granted, that other people don’t know. And if you start writing about that, it’s going to be a really great contribution to your community.

Another thing you might consider in this avenue is attending. This could be attending a class, all up way up to getting an advanced degree or trying a secondary subject area. Maybe it’s not going to be academic subjects, maybe it’s going to be online teaching strategies.

There are all kinds of online trainings out there. Maybe your institution has one, or maybe you want to look outside of your school community for the professional community, like the Online Learning Consortium. There are a lot of different places you can go to get certifications, training and leadership potential. And so I would consider classes, trainings, and different kinds of things like that in this attendance arena, as well as professional conferences.

You might consider attending a professional conference in the coming semester, the coming year.  Making a regular habit of attending professional conferences. Even in the virtual world that is having an impact at the time of this recording, there are a lot of online conferences to attend. Whether you can go live in person or attend online, this is another place where you might consider setting a goal.

And lastly, presentations. Even if you are not an extroverted person, or you don’t really like speaking to groups, you might consider stretching by giving presentations. You might create a webinar if you’re doing it online or consider presenting at a professional conference.

My very first presentation was motivated by the fact that I saw someone similar in my field presenting to our audience. I saw her. I watched her presentation. I thought, “I know those things. I do those things. Maybe I have other ideas people would like to learn about.” And then I created my own presentation on a different topic, and I shared it. And sure enough, a lot of people came and learned things and even reached out to me afterwards.

You might have information that you know, or skills you have or knowledge about how to teach or how to teach online, and other people could learn from you. Think about what you might present and share and start looking for possibilities where you can contribute and grow, and add to the professional culture at a conference.

Setting Personal Goals

We’ve talked about the what of goal setting. And if you’re still thinking, “Yeah, I’d love to set some goals, but none of that appeals to me,” there are of course goals you could set in other areas that would still have a very positive impact on your online teaching. Maybe there are unresolved matters in your life that you’d like to focus on as a goal. Maybe you have something you need to take care of in your family life or your home life. A lot of people right now are focusing on decluttering, minimalism, cleaning up their homes.

Sometimes professional communication training can be useful. Maybe learning how to manage email better, how to be more prompt and responsive. There are all kinds of things that could be thought about in terms of health and emotional balance, financial goals, career development goals, relationship building in personal matters, life planning for the long-term, and the development of special projects you’re interested in.

There are so many possibilities for you. And if you are not interested in your academic type of professional goals, teaching strategies, or technology areas, you might consider ways that you can throughout the online teaching day, reduce stress, or ways that you might integrate exercise intermittently throughout the week.

Maybe methods that you’ll approach students to help them be more responsible, more accountable and more proactive. There are all kinds of things you might consider about career growth, like additional training, the way you approach the work day, time management. The path of your bigger picture career, whether you’d like to be in a different leadership role in the future, or if you’d like to change lanes and go in a slightly new direction in the future. Or maybe you’d like to upgrade your professional standing. As I mentioned before, with a different degree or an advanced degree.

How to Stay Motivated to Achieve Your Goals

And then lastly, of course, some type of ideas around retirement in the long-term, in the future. Long-term plans, as far as would you like to be mentored? Would you like to mentor others? Would you like to integrate some kind of vision into your long-term planning as well as your career growth?

As you think about your goals and the way you’d like these to shape up, motivation comes up a lot, right? We think about, ‘Yes, I’d like to do these things, but then the day-to-day kind of gets in the way.” We get busy and it could be very difficult to meet the goals that we set for ourselves.

Think about the motivation that you bring to that goal. Is it exciting? Is it in an area you’re already interested in and you do it well? Are there things you don’t do well or dislike and you’re trying to set a goal there?

In those kinds of areas, I would suggest starting very small for some quick wins so that you can start to make progress in areas you don’t like as much, or you’re not as good at. Then you can start setting bigger goals. If you’re already doing well at something, and you like the activity, you might be able to set bigger goals, slightly more ambitious goals, aspirational goals, even. Think about your level of motivation as you’re considering the goals that you’re going to land on.

Now, lastly, we’re going to talk about how to move from setting the goal to actually achieving the goal. You’ve probably heard of setting smart goals and these have to do with being specific, reasonable, achievable, and timely, and all of those sorts of details. Those are the kinds of things that are going to bring you success.

We want to think about what success will look like. When you’ve reached this goal, what will it look like? What will it feel like? What will become easier in your professional life because you’ve gone down this path? What will the big payoff be for this change that you’re bringing about, or this goal you’re going to achieve?

What will happen if you don’t do your goal? Is there a negative consequence that’s going to keep happening if you don’t learn the thing or grow in that area? What strategies will you use to make your success happen over time or regularly look back on your goal?

And can you think about someone in your life who has made some progress in this area, who is working towards the same goal, or who has already achieved it? And if you can, what can you learn from them? Or what tips could you ask them for that would help you?

Develop an Action Plan by Identifying Steps, Setting Deadlines, Staying Accountable

In your action plan, think about what small steps you will need to take first and what the next step will be afterwards. And jot down three action steps you can take between now and next week, as you think about the goal.

Think about the most important step to help you move forward towards that goal, and also set a timeline. You can add it to your planner, your calendar. If you have an online calendar, you can set alerts and alarms and reminders to get back to the goal and to be checking in on it. If you’re looking at it regularly and taking steps towards it regularly, chances are you’re going to achieve it.

And then lastly, do you need some accountability to help yourself reach your goal? There are a lot of professional groups, especially online that you could join. People who are making progress in the same direction that you’re looking at. If you want to be with online educators and work on technology goals or methods, you could probably find a group for that and be checking in on those steps you’re going to take.

If you’re setting a personal goal, that’s not necessarily teaching related, such as weight loss, time management, something like that, there are groups for that too. Or maybe you want to find a mentor or a coach or a peer to be accountable to. So you can check in with that person regularly, share your progress, and celebrate.

Whatever you’re going to need, knowing yourself and the accountability level you’d like, think about what’s going to help you be most successful, and write that down and note it as part of your plan.

As we draw to a close today, I encourage you to think about setting professional goals as an online educator, both short-term and long-term, to help you stay excited about what you do, to help you keep growing and to help bring energy to your day-to-day work and your long-term direction.

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

#34: Developing Leadership in Online Higher Education

#34: Developing Leadership in Online Higher Education

This content appeared first at Online Learning Tips.Com

Educators should always be thinking of ways to develop and enhance their own leadership skills. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen presents strategies for leadership development including improving communication skills, finding new ways to collaborate, understanding how to develop a strategic plan, finding a mentor, and much more.

Read the Transcript:

Speaker 1 (00:01):

APU. American Public University is proud to present Online Teaching Lounge.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This is episode number 34, Developing Leadership in Online Higher Education. This podcast is for educators, academics, and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun. Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics, and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.

Welcome to the podcast today, and thank you for joining me for this chat about developing leadership in online higher education. Some of us think that people are just born natural leaders. In fact, this is a really common belief. This is called the trait-based leadership model, and of course, this is a theory from the 1700 and 1800s. It’s very old and outdated.

Since then, many leadership theories have come along and primary in those theories is the skills-based leadership theory. Under the skills-based leadership theory, we believe that the skills needed to be an effective leader can actually be taught. Some of these are technical skills; some of these are conceptual skills.

Now, when we have skills-based leadership in place or training to help people grow in this way, that really means that anyone can aspire to become a leader, can learn what it takes to become a leader, and can really fulfill their dream or desire to move up in an organization if they want to.

Now, if you’ve been teaching for very long, chances are you have some fantastic ideas you could share with other people. An initial way to become a leader is, of course, simply share your knowledge with others in your profession.

You could, for example, present at professional conferences. You could write blog articles or write journal articles. Or if mentorships exist in your organization, you could do some professional mentoring and help others who are newer to the profession or where you have special expertise in your skillset and they don’t.

There are lots of opportunities to gain more leadership experience, but this idea of learning skills and gaining conceptual understandings that will help you succeed as a leader, it’s so important and critical to a true leadership development pathway.

Brian Eastwood wrote a blog called Eight Essential Traits for Effective Leadership in Higher Education earlier this year, and he shares that there are some specific skills that you need to succeed as a leader in higher education.

Now today, of course, we’re talking primarily about online higher education. In online higher education, there’s also the need to be connected, significantly connected, to the people that you’re working with. This can be very difficult, but strategies, again, can be learned to make it happen.

Leaders Need Financial Acumen

Regardless of the type of higher education you’re engaged in, the number one skill that Brian has written in this article is that you need financial acumen. The idea is that at some point in your leadership journey, the more you rise in the ranks of leadership at a university, the more you’re going to need to know how to get donors, how to use fundraising, how to do budgeting, how to fund research, capital projects, and maybe even how to be involved in student financial aid.

Now, I’ll tell you, I’ve been in higher education for 14 or 15 years at this point, and I’ve been a leader for the past six or so years. I’ve been a faculty director, where I lead a faculty team and I coach them on teaching excellence. I have never once in that position needed to have financial acumen. However, if I were in a different role, that would be the case and I would have budgets and I would need to do that.

The first thing to think about is: what kind of leadership position you might be looking at and what kind of degree of financial acumen would be required in that kind of position?

The Importance of Collaboration

The second point from Brian’s article is collaboration. Collaboration is critical. In higher education we have so many subject matter experts and people have varying experiences, backgrounds, and expertise. Collaborating with those people involved is going to really help your leadership to succeed. Learning how to collaborate now with peers is the best type of preparation.

Collaborating with stakeholders will also be critical in a leadership role, and as you collaborate across the institution with other schools, other departments, with your faculty, and with other people in the leadership team, collaboration skills will be critical for your success.

Focus on Building New Leaders

Building new leaders is the third skill mentioned, and building new leaders means that you continue to foster people in your organization who can continue to move up in leadership themselves.

When I first became a faculty director six or so years ago, I did not really envision doing that role. I was happy to teach and I was happy to do what I was doing, but someone else in a faculty director role kind of adopted me in a mentor fashion. That person called me and coached me on setting my sights high and developing more leadership and having a long-term objective.

Pretty soon I was very interested in working with a large team with helping other faculty members and with coaching them. Even if you’re not right now thinking about leadership, this is something that could be on the horizon for you. And thinking about how to build other people’s leadership potential would be a great way to think about a leadership role yourself.

Value of Communication

The fourth tip shared in the article is communication. Now, there are five steps to good communication listed here and I’m just going to read them to you:

  • start with what’s most important,
  • set expectations up front about what you need,
  • actively listen and take body language into account,
  • provide constructive and specific feedback, and
  • address concerns immediately, and if possible, in person.

Of course, when you’re working online, leading or teaching online, it’s very difficult to address problems in person, and sometimes we can’t really see anyone’s body language because we’re communicating by telephone. Or maybe we’re on a virtual conference and they’re not showing themselves on video.

There are a lot of things we need to adapt and plan around, but, overall, listening is one of the most important things we can ever do in good communication. Understanding that we don’t need all of the answers immediately and can go ahead and think about it, come back with good examples and good answers, those are going to be critical skills. To not feel overly pressured to say something right now, and to listen carefully and really connect with those people who are speaking you.

Creating a Strategic Plan

Skill number five is strategic planning. Now, strategic planning is a phrase that may sound like a very complex and challenging process. Basically, strategic planning means you’re using data and evidence to think about the present situation, review the past, and project into the future.

You might be making a timeline of steps, you might be setting goals for short term—six months, one year—all the way up to 10 years or 20 years down the road.

You’re going to consult some of the stakeholders like your faculty members, maybe you’ll talk to some students about their experience. You’ll also coordinate with other departments and create a plan for the future.

A lot of data is going to help you in this regard, so you want to learn how to read reports and data of various kinds and also ask about these things, especially if you’re currently in a teaching role but you’d like to gain more experience to advance further.

The kinds of data that people look at in online education, especially regarding student performance, might start with enrollment numbers and the demographics:

·     What type of students are interested in this program?

·     What is the composition of our faculty team?

·     Do we need more perspectives or diversity there?

·     We might look at drop and withdrawal data to determine how we can help our learners better succeed.

·     We can look at course and program outcomes.

There’s literally a hundred different things we can look at when we are strategic planning, and all of that data is going to influence your planning and help you work together with other people to create plans and lead your department and your programs and your students into success.

Develop Skills for Change Management

The sixth area suggested is the skills for change management. Now, change is a constant, especially today in online education. Things that used to work might totally be outdated and much more engagement is now needed.

Regardless of the institution you’re currently teaching with, change in higher education can be incredibly slow, but it can also come quickly and happen constantly over time. Basically, as in life, change is inevitable in pretty much any role you’re in. If you’re aware of good change management strategies, this is going to help you achieve change when you’re working with teams.

One of the most important things to think about when you are conducting some change management is to collaborate with the people involved to determine how it’s going to impact them, and to actually hear them. Listen to them. Let them have a voice. Ask for feedback from students, from faculty. And take them all into consideration when you’re making decisions.

The more you can do that, the better off you’re going to be when you’re planning the steps for strategic growth over time, and you’re going to have a better chance of communicating effectively when you’ve already primed the pump by talking to people and listening to them.

Be Committed to Diversity

The seventh skill is commitment to diversity. Now, committing to diversity not just talks about your student body and recruiting students from all different types of groups, but also your faculty. You want faculty that reflect the student body, but also reflect a lot of diversity that simply exists in the world.

You want lots of inputs, lots of backgrounds, lots of levels of expertise, various races, cultures, and genders. We want to include everyone who is qualified to be there and can share something of benefit to our students. We’re really going to get a lot of great perspective from diverse groups. This can be part of your hiring practices, it can be considered in terms of where you’re recruiting and also your long-term planning.

Feed Your Intellectual Curiosity

Then lastly, this is intellectual curiosity. Of course, a lot of us got into higher education because we love to learn, or maybe we had great learning experiences ourselves when we were in our younger educational years. Many of us can list several instructors we had that really made a difference in our lives.

If you’re intellectually curious, that’s a bonus. If you’ve stopped learning for a while and need to rekindle the flame, it doesn’t take much to really get your fire burning again. You could try a new discipline, take a class, learn something new, get into a study group, a book club. You could create a club with a student group, and that might even be more exciting because you’re helping the learners who are students right now continue to grow in your area.

Focus on Leadership Skill Development

Be thinking about how you might improve in your educational leadership skills, not just in these eight areas, but also in creative ways that appeal to you. You can develop the skills to become a great leader and thinking about continuing to be more of a leader in the future is always a good thing.

Now, I was at a workshop just recently called Cultivating Leaders: If You Build It, They Will Come. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn about how Stephanie Hinshaw, the Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs, and Natalie Pelham, the Senior Director of Training and Development, from the American College of Education, run some of their leadership preparation.

Some of the things that these ladies were sharing with us was that they have some very specific initiatives in their organization that intentionally grow future leaders. That way, faculty members who are interested in growth for the future, further development, and future leadership roles, have a chance to talk about leadership ideas, develop ideas, explore them, and consciously grow their leadership skills.

Consider Forming a Leadership Growth Book Club

One of the best things that they shared in their workshop, and one that I really liked, was this idea of having a book club. They had a book club that was focused on breaking away from the day-to-day normal teaching duties and committee work. It focused intentionally on growing the leadership practice. Putting time toward the book club, as a university, also gives the participants the idea that developing their leadership skills is very important.

The tone of the book club shared in this workshop was an open, inquisitive one, allowing people to answer questions about lessons learned in a book and apply it to their lives. And then they held it on a flexible basis. The advice given was that a quarterly book club works best and then you rotate the book as you go. This was a safe environment to discuss their leadership thoughts, lessons, concerns, and practice the ideas and be intentional about developing leadership as human beings, not just an afterthought.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m very familiar with the idea that some people believe leaders are born. That’s the older, archaic idea that I mentioned before of trait-based leadership. Of course, it helps if you have traits that naturally lead to leadership, but everyone can learn leadership skills.

There are so many ways to do this. In the book club method, you might consider some of these books recommended, Leaders Eat LastBring Your Human to WorkDare to LeadThe Leader You Want to BeGive and TakeExtreme OwnershipThe Culture CodeStart With Why, and Small Acts of Leadership.

In addition to this list that was shared by the team I attended their workshop for, I would add to that a book called Positive Academic Leadership. It has a lot of great ideas about how you can lead with a positive tone, even when times are difficult and we need to really dive into some troubling situations so we can still be optimistic at appropriate times and help motivate our team.

Develop a Mentoring Program

Another idea is to create mentors. Now, mentoring is a beneficial practice across an organization. In fact, it’s known that 71% of Fortune 500 companies offer employee mentoring programs and 76% of employees think mentors are important, but only 37% have one.

If you don’t have a mentor and you’re thinking you want to grow the leadership skills, find someone in your academic community who can serve as a mentor for you. And consider offering your services as a mentor to someone else younger in your field or less experienced.

The more we give our services to others, the more those come back to us. Really, as we build our leadership through one-on-one relationships and reciprocal mentorship and things like that, we’re going to have a lot more confidence. Of course we’re going to grow our skills, and best of all, we’re going to keep growing future leaders throughout the organization.

Now, you would never want to find yourself in a situation where a critical leader at your institution is no longer able to come to work and must immediately be replaced, but no one seems prepared to take that role. That does happen, believe it or not. Sometimes a person becomes seriously ill, someone might pass away, for some unforeseen reason someone resigns abruptly, or maybe there’s even an accident.

I’ve seen all of those things happen in organizations, but also in my faculty team. In my case, we merely just need to get a new instructor to finish teaching a course. But what if that is one of the leaders in your organization?

There’s someone that will need to step into that leadership role to keep it going. As we continue to nurture future leaders in higher education, we’ll have a lot more success with that, there’ll be a more positive energy because people continue to grow, and we ourselves will continue to think about our leadership skills all the time because we want to live what we expect others to learn.

Thank you for being with me today for thinking about cultivating leadership. I hope you’ll consider some of these ideas, and of course, check out the links in the transcript for this podcast to all of the books mentioned. And also the link to the original presentation that was shared for some additional ideas and strategies, and of course if you’d like to contact those presenters from the American College of Education.

I, myself, just want to attest to the fact that when we’re talking specifically about leadership, I personally am always thinking about growing my leadership, focusing on certain aspects, setting goals, rotating through them, and reflecting on my practice. I truly believe that the more we think about growing leaders and helping others along the way, the more we’re going to continue growing ourselves.

All right. Well, thank you again for being here. I wish you all the best in your online teaching this week and your leadership development over the next year to come.

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

#29: How to Make the Most of an Online Conference

#29: How to Make the Most of an Online Conference

This content was first published on Online Learning Tips. 

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a major change in the way that instructors, ranging from elementary schools to colleges and universities, taught their classes. Out of necessity, many instructors adapted their classroom material for an online format, using tools such as Zoom and Google Classroom, and have used technology for additional purposes, such as meetings with other instructors and administrators.

Attending an online conference is a new experience for many teachers. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses the benefits of attending an online conference and tips to get the most out of it. Learn how to find professional events, strategies for attending sessions, how to engage and interact with presenters and attendees, and ways to network in a virtual setting.

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Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This is episode number 29, how to make the most of an online conference. 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.

Why Attend a Virtual Professional Conference?

You might be thinking, “What is an online conference?” An online conference is your typical professional development or industry conference that is presented virtually. Right now, during the time of the pandemic and many other things going on in the world, some of the things that normally would be live attended as conferences face-to-face are being rescheduled to online events.

I myself have attended several of these events. And so I’d like to talk today a little bit about how to make the most of your online conference attendance, how we can do it online, what we should do to prepare and how to maximize our attendance.

And one reason we go to professional conferences is to be part of our professional community. There are so many professional community conferences I have attended in the past. I’ve been to music educator conferences, online leader conferences, online educator conferenceshigher education leader conferences, and all kinds of things in between, as well as those in the tech field.

Because I teach primarily online and worked online for a long time, I have been very interested in various modalities, various platforms. And sometimes, I’ll go to Adobe conferences or other things like that. So there are a wide variety of conferences that you might consider attending as an online educator in your field, in online education itself or in industries.

When you attend an online conference, this might seem like an awkward experience, compared to your face-to-face events. At a face-to-face event you’re going to meet people, you’re going to get to know someone in the hallway, maybe have a brief conversation.

You might exchange a business card and follow up for future conversations. You attend a presentation, and you see that person face-to-face. They might make a real impression on you, and you might have a side conversation after they’re done presenting.

Or maybe you’re the presenter. And you see the people that you’re presenting to live in that room or auditorium, and you make real connections there as well.

There are, of course, those networking opportunities and the big speaker, some kind of keynote. Things like that really strike us and they come with us afterwards and stay part of our memory. They also become part of our long-term learning and growth. The question is, how can we do this effectively online?

Search for Upcoming Online Conferences and Register

Well, first I’d like to suggest looking around and seeing what is available online as a virtual conference. If you were to conduct a brief Eventbrite search, you would see there are a lot of virtual conferences already listed there that are in a variety of industries.

For example, there’s a Data Science go virtual, there’s a tech summit, there’s an AI and the Future of Work conference, there are things like Courageous Conversations About Raceschool anti-racist strategy. There’s the 2020 virtual One Health conferenceAPI World 2020TEDxMileHigh and so forth.

So there are a lot of different kinds of conferences you’ll find on Eventbrite, and you might also find a listing of virtual events or virtual conferences in your professional areas. If you attend normal, live face-to-face conferences, those same organizations might be having a virtual event this year, next year, and you can find that information on their website.

When you find out about a virtual event, some of these are free, some of these have a registration fee. Either way, you’ll want to register for the event. Once you register for the event, you’ll receive some kind of confirmation email.

Just like with a live event, you’ll want to take that confirmation email and save it, print it, or do something to note it so that you don’t lose it. Not all of these events are going to send you reminders or calendar invitations.

You might have to take the time to schedule it manually on your own calendar and also save the access information. So the first step would be to find the conference, register and then save the registration details.

Identify the Structure of the Online Conference, and Determine How You’ll Attend

Once you’ve done that, you’ll find that most online conferences have a similar variety of things that you’d find in live face-to-face conferences. For example, some of these are orchestrated on a complex platform that includes places for keynote presentations where there’s a video frame. Maybe there are captions, maybe there’s text or somewhere to interact with other participants, or even with the presenter.

There might be education sessions. Education sessions are the type of session where you might have 30 to 60 minutes, or maybe even longer, where a subject is presented in your area or some topic where it’s more lecture style. And there’s a presentation and then an opportunity for Q&A afterwards.

There might be hands-on workshops where you might have something you’re doing while you’re engaging in the conference and watching the presentation, and it’s interactive. There might even be networking and social events or other additions like yoga and morning exercise, virtual coffee breaks, virtual coffee hours, cocktail parties, social networking opportunities, and other areas for vendors or exhibits, just like you might have with a live conference having an exhibit hall or an exhibition space.

The activities in a virtual conference might actually take place in real time synchronously. And if that’s the case, you would want to put those dates and times for all the sessions you’re going to attend on your calendar and block out the day that you’re going to attend the conference.

Alternatively, a conference might have on-demand sessions. These would be asynchronous. And that means that you can watch them at any time so you can look them up during your free time, after work, or block out the day and attend them all at once.

Or you might find that a conference has some combination of those two options, real-time and on-demand sessions. Either way, you’re going to find a rich opportunity to learn and grow, be part of your professional community, network with others, and get a broader vision of what’s happening in your field and where you’d like to go with it in the future.

Once you’ve registered and you’ve looked over the information about your professional conference, you will find that some tips could serve you well when you attend this virtual conference. The first tip is to focus on your perception or attitude about the conference itself.

Adjust Your Perception of What You Can Get Out of the Conference

We have this sort of subconscious belief that an online or virtual conference just isn’t as good as the face-to-face experience. That doesn’t necessarily have to be true. In fact, in some ways, that conference might be even more effective as you sit without the distractions of the environment and simply tune in to the content itself.

So an online session can be done very well. And of course, just like in a live conference setting, you might also have the session done poorly. It depends on the presenter, the topic, and how things have been organized. However, if you really approach this with your best attitude of getting something out of it, it’s going to just heighten that experience for you and make it a more positive one.

Schedule Time on Your Calendar to Attend Live Sessions

Secondly, calendaring and making this calendar a priority just as if you were attending live is critical to really engaging in that conference. In my own experience recently, I registered for one conference. I received the confirmation email. I got the login information. I did log in and watch one session at that conference. It was a free conference. I wasn’t really highly motivated to engage any further and I missed all the rest of the sessions, and I tried to do work when I should have been at the conference and I really just missed out.

So limiting distractions starts by putting those sessions on your calendar and blocking out your calendar, so that your time doesn’t become scheduled to do other things. Then when you cut your distractions out, you might even close your email, you might turn off the notifications on your cell phone and just really act like you’re just attending a conference, really focusing on the conference experience itself. When you do that for yourself, you’re going to get a lot more out of the experience.

If there’s an option to buy partial or full access to the conference, I highly recommend buying the full access, even though it is virtual, because you’re going to get a lot of background material, additional information and all that good stuff that’s going to make it a better experience for you.

If you need help turning off your distractions when you’re connected to the conference itself, you might consider putting up a Do Not Disturb. If you have something like Skype Business that tells whether you’re online or if you’re in Slack, you can use Focus Assist on your computer. This will stop the notifications that pop up on your screen. You can use an out-of-office responder for your email. You can also turn on Do Not Disturb on a cell phone.

Interact and Engage During the Online Conference to Cement Your Learning

And then when you’re in the conference itself, there should be at least some way to interact. If it’s like some of the online conferences I’ve investigated recently, there might be a platform where chat can happen. You can also post to Twitter and different places about different things you’re learning at the conference.

The more you interact, the more you’re going to really get something out of that experience. So use the interactive features that might be present in the conference platform. There might be the opportunity to raise your hand and ask a question, or a session might include a poll or some other kind of engagement opportunity with the session.

The more you actually participate in those things, the more you’re going to get out of it, and you’re going to be thinking about whatever is being presented. Especially if this is a topic of interest to you, engaging is worthwhile and it cements your learning.

It goes with that idea that neurons that fire together, wire together. As you’re thinking about the concepts that are being presented or shared, if you’re engaging and interacting at the same time, it’s going to help you form better connections in the brain and remember the experience.

Take Notes During Sessions for Later Reflection

Another thing I would recommend for a virtual conference is to take notes and review them and reflect afterwards. Not sure how you are at conferences normally, but my conference attention span is somewhat limited.

When I attend a few sessions that are of interest to me, I find that I need to slow down, take some breaks and review my notes and summarize what I got out of that. If I don’t do that, I end up with information overload. Too much information, too many details, and it starts to all blur together and become lost.

At the end of each day at a virtual conference, just like you might at a live conference, take a break, review your notes, think about what you gained that day, what insights you might have and how you might use that information. Any kind of thought and reflection you put into what your experience has been is going to really take it that much further for you in attending this virtual conference.

Network during the Virtual Conference to Grow Your Community

Another idea is to network at the virtual conference. Now a lot of people like to go to these conferences to meet people, to make new professional connections, and also get to know people that are in the field that they’re studying.

You can network in whatever kind of social media chatter might be going on at the conference. For example, if there are certain conference hashtags happening on Twitter and you want to post and engage, you can see what others are posting and also get more takeaways that you might’ve missed.

There’s often, as I mentioned, the chat feature in many webinars or presentations, and if you’re engaged in that chat, you’re going to be able to get to know what others are thinking, share your thoughts, and even react in real time with additional questions, comments, and things of that nature.

If you find that you really connect with other participants, you might even decide to invite them on LinkedIn to your community to pursue additional professional connections after the conference. I’ve met a few people in various online education chat areas where we’re at a webinar together and we’re all talking about the same thing, or maybe I’m at a coaching conference and we’re meeting each other and we want to follow up on some ideas we shared.

That has really surprised me, personally, and I hope it would be a pleasant addition to your virtual conference experience. Engage in the networking opportunities and grow your network.

Schedule Time to Watch Virtual Conference Sessions You Missed in a Timely Manner

Another thing that you can do at a virtual conference is you can also watch the replays of different sessions that you missed. Most of these events actually record their sessions and they’ll share that recorded material, but it’s best to schedule time on your calendar when you plan to watch those recordings so that you don’t just set it aside and never get back to it. And then get back to it in a pretty decent timeframe.

If you attended that conference this week and you wait five months to watch the replay, it’s often out of sight, out of mind, and we’ve forgotten completely about it. So if you put it on your calendar next week or the week after and follow up on any sessions you still wanted to watch, this is going to help you keep all that learning together and understand your takeaways better, and also apply it in whatever area that you’d like.

Attend After-Conference Social Events or Activities for More Connections

Lastly, some of these virtual conferences have interesting additional things like concert nights or virtual trivia, a game night, or virtual happy hour. It might be in Zoom, Google Meet or some kind of breakout room.

It’s an interesting opportunity to engage in those additional things you might be part of at a real conference, and so I highly recommend finding out what those additional things are to help you feel like you’re really at an event and engage with other people and feel the impact on your professional growth and your social abilities as well.

Dress Professionally to Improve Your Experience

Many people recommend that while you’re attending a virtual conference, that you dress as if you were attending that conference live. When you put on your professional attire, it can add to your focus and give you a better sense that you are doing something significant. And it will also help when you’re on Zoom if you should end up in a chat with other people and be on video so that you feel confident and look professional, too.

Overall, the online virtual conference option is a new trend this year, and I’m personally very happy to see it because there are a few events we can attend during the pandemic. So opportunities to go to teaching conferences, professional conferences in my field of music education, and also coaching conferences, these have all been really great opportunities for me, personally. And I hope you’ll check out the options that are available to you in your field as well.

Again, these are great chances to be part of your professional community, to disconnect from the daily routine that you have, to network with others, and have a bigger vision of what’s going on in your field, as well as learning and growing. It’s what keeps the passion alive and helps us to stay interested in our day-to-day work. All the best to you in your online teaching this week and your exploration of virtual conferences.

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.