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Teach Online With Confidence

Helping Educators Engage More Online Students with Less Stress through Simple Strategies

Dr. Bethanie Hansen 

Teaching Excellence Strategist

#58: Helping Online Students, an Interview with Dr. Doris Blanton

#58: Helping Online Students, an Interview with Dr. Doris Blanton

This content was first posted on APUEdge.Com

Helping students succeed in the online classroom requires a student-centric approach from attentive and skilled faculty. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks to APU faculty director Dr. Doris Blanton about training faculty to help students access and use virtual tools for research. She also provides teaching tips like the importance of providing timely feedback and focusing on both areas of improvement as well as noting what students have done well in their research and writing.

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Read the Transcript:

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

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. With me today, we have a guest, Dr. Doris Blanton. You’re in for a real treat. Doris has a lot to share with us, and I’m so pleased that she was able to join us today.

You know on the Online Teaching Lounge podcast, we focus on students, on best practices, on engaging media, and your life and your work online. You’re going to get a lot of those areas today, as we focus on Doris’s expertise and what she can help us with in our online teaching and our online work with students.

Very excited to have you, Doris. Thanks for being with us. Doris, can you tell us a little bit about yourself so we can get to know you and how you came into your online role?

Dr. Doris Blanton: Hi. Thanks, Dr. Hansen. Thank you very much for having me join your podcast to talk a little bit about student and faculty success, more so, helping faculty aid in our student retention. A little bit about myself. Unknown to many of my peers, I was a high school dropout. I quickly discovered as adults were bowing their head in a sort of disappointment, because at the time when I was a high school dropout, that was back in the 70s, and what you did was you got married. So it was unlikely for a teen mom to return to high school after I dropped out.

But after overhearing a lot of these adults that were pretty important in my life, and what I’d overheard them saying as they bowed their head was, “Oh, another statistic.” I was never a bad student, but I couldn’t just quit high school. I had to manage this new season in my life. So I quit school, but I actually went back to night school about six months after having my son. And I actually finished high school six months before my original graduating class. So I knew that it was just a season of change.

What I did after I finished my high school diploma was I enrolled at the local JC. I had to do something with my time. And it wasn’t long after starting junior college that my then husband and I realized, as two young adults, we weren’t even young adults then. We really didn’t have the skills to equip us for being parents, let alone being partners. And so, that ended quickly, but I learned that school was my only legitimate thing that was mine. And it was something that I got to work for and learning wasn’t hard for me. I liked it.

But after this unexpected journey that took me from my teens through my twenties, I finished my bachelor’s by the time I was 30. Of course, working two and three jobs, which is like a lot of our students now, I ended up pursuing my Master’s by the time I was in my middle 30s. And I pursued my doctorate by my late 40s. School has always been a staple, that constant for me. And I did enjoy learning, so it was something that I’ve maintained as a lifelong learner.

I landed my job in academia by total accident. Prior to working in academia, I had worked for a large grain cooperative in the Dakotas, but I returned to California as my folks needed some help. And I transitioned from agriculture into a new industry in banking, which was really interesting.

My background prior to banking had been almost 20 years in various service or hospitality industries. I did have a really fun stint in radio, which is how I landed the job at The Elevator, which allowed me to learn how to buy and sell commodities.

While at The Elevator, I also created a scholarship program for the cooperative members there, and a communications plan, which I was able to diversify for the 13 different communities that The Elevator operated in.

Landing a job at the bank when I returned to California, it was fine, but really a slow pace from having a phone on each ear when I was buying and selling commodities to a banking job where it was Monday 9-5, so to speak, and it was a little slower. But I discovered at that bank, they had tuition assistance. So I immediately, after I finished my probationary period, that’s when I enrolled in my master’s program. And I finished that master’s in about 15 months because like I said, learning was fun. I enjoyed it. And it was something that worked really well for my schedule.

While I was going to school and still working at the bank, I was actually asked by the college if I would apply for an academic role as an academic counselor. And I thought, “What the heck?” So I landed the job. And that’s when I discovered that I had a little bit more academia in me than I realized. I loved it.

I stayed at that gig for 15 years and it ran its course. I took a break due to some life changing events, and I went to care for my then 99 year old grandmother, which was probably the best two and a half years of my life. I was decompressing from 15 years of heavy-duty work and higher education. And another life changing event transitioned me to where I am now, where my primary role now is teaching.

But I have just over 100 faculty that report directly to me, for whom I coach. I mentor them with a consistent goal, a constant goal, of helping other peers like myself develop stronger classroom excellent strategies.

So classroom excellence for me comprises of just a few faculty standards and they fall into either social, teaching, or cognitive presence in the classroom. And what that means in a social presence is how faculty flex that social muscle. How do they develop their student-centric behaviors of getting to know their students early on, meeting them in the first few days of the online class, and then maintaining that welcoming environment, that tone throughout their term in the semester, that teaching presence?

Well, that’s what we do as faculty. How are we teaching students or providing those nuggets of learning? It’s not necessarily content driven, but it’s definitely a way for faculty to teach students by way of how faculty contribute to student learning in the faculty’s feedback.

That cognitive presence is where faculty are asking students those probing questions, often times bringing their content expertise from the industry back to the classroom where faculty are nudging the students to just take that extra step, add to their layer of learning.

I love working with faculty, especially who are newer to online teaching, just to help them get their little online sea legs going. But working with those seasoned faculty who need assistance, primarily in an online environment where more seasoned faculty might need help adapting to new online skills, I’ve discovered that one of the key things for those faculty that are more seasoned is to remind them you’re not just a content expert, but remember when that class was new to you?

Bringing that back to that entry level every class is something that I enjoy. It allows faculty to kind of slow things down because we can often expect a little too much from students at a lower level when we are definitely content experts. We need to make sure that we’re bringing it back down every term, to the beginning. And every class needs to be fresh and new for the students, even though it’s not fresh and new for the faculty. So that’s kind of where I’ve landed here.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wow, that’s quite a journey, Doris. Thank you for sharing all of that. So Doris, it occurs to me that when you introduced yourself and kind of share this background of all the diverse paths that brought you to where you are right now, that you have this recurring theme throughout this time in your life, from your youth all the way to now of helping people and of education.

You mentioned you were an advisor, and I know you’re a life coach also. And I’m curious. When you talk about helping faculty remember, “Oh, this isn’t the first thing” or refreshing understandings, what do you think about this part of you that is so helpful to other people? How do you orient yourself to thinking that way?

Dr. Doris Blanton: That’s a great question, Bethanie. I think discovering early on, and I think I really discovered it when I was in my Master’s program was I’m a servant leader. And accepting that and embracing it and not fighting it has allowed me to develop skills in other areas, not only in the classroom. But when dealing with faculty, if I can serve them, I can also lead them. And it’s a nice harmony for me.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yeah. Thanks so much again for sharing all that. Now, what might you share with our listeners today about working with online students?

Dr. Doris Blanton: Great question, Bethanie. Honestly, working with online students really isn’t different than working with students that are attending brick and mortar institutions. And what I mean is, students no longer have textbooks, even at the brick and mortars. And that was a huge shift for me in the first three years of higher education, because I had had textbooks throughout my undergraduate and graduate. And then we went to no textbooks. So that was kind of a transition for me, but something I embraced.

So what I discovered for working with students online or face-to-face was teaching students how to use virtual tools, their virtual books, the virtual libraries. Teaching students how to do their research the same as for both face-to-face classrooms, as well as our virtual classroom. I was the student that walked across the quad to the library and pulled out all the books. That’s not necessary anymore. Assisting how to use tools that are available to everyone is invaluable.

Teaching faculty how to use those tools is equally important. Unfortunately, there’s always going to be a handful of students who spend just as much time looking for ways to circumvent finding credible resources, helping faculty discover where those students are finding these ill-advised or plagiarized sources is a way for faculty to develop their researching skills. But to also help students discover you’re not using credible research when you’re gleaning a little here or gleaning a little there, helping faculty develop their skills on how to research helps them to coach students on how to research.

Because I think a good majority of our students come in thinking that well, “I found it online, it must be good.” Teaching how to research is very, very important and helping faculty develop those skills first allows them to further help our students online.

Another thing that I share with faculty when I work with them is that a good majority of our students already feel that imposter syndrome when they walk into the classroom. “I’m not worthy of being in school. I’m not academically ready for school. I’m not even mentally up for the challenge.”

And all of that is pretty bogus. We know those things are untrue. We’ve all felt those things. Reminding faculty that they too probably had those imposter syndromes, and to aid faculty in allowing those conversations to happen. And I do it upfront. I do it early on in the classroom so that students can let that guard down and let it be known maybe I am where I’m supposed to be even though it feels off is a way to help disarm students and allow them. That’s when the learning can begin. Over the past year, especially in COVID, a good majority of institutions have transitioned to an online environment.

The beauty of APUS is, of course, we’ve always been online, so our faculty were really able to help embrace a new student population that were impacted and forced into an online environment without making the choice, as our students make that choice upfront. And over the past year, I’ve actually read an awful lot of student feedback, especially students that were formerly in traditional environments, who shared that they felt really liberated in their learning. No longer forced to be in a class at a certain time.

It kind of reaffirmed that the student, number one, made the right choice going online. But they discovered for the first time, those students that were traditionalist before, school fit into their life at a more convenient time. It affirmed their online choice.

I think that our students are pretty acclimated to the online groove after about weeks two or three, but when they’re not, faculty are provided with the freedom and the autonomy to meet with those students. Our faculty are stewards of the classroom and they are the ones that can ensure that students are in the right place, at the right time.

Faculty have the freedom and are encouraged to meet with them one-on-one, have Zoom meetings, let the students call you. They need that reassurance that where they are is at the right place at the right time. And that’s some of the keys that the faculty can help unlock for the student.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Doris, I really appreciate all that you have shared so far, especially this idea about imposter syndrome. And when you were talking about this for our students, it occurred to me that even faculty have imposter syndrome at times, depending on what the context is and what we’re talking about.

And I’ve also coached some folks who are in the business world, who also experienced that. I think that’s a very frequent thing to have the experience personally with. And we may not realize others feel the same way at times. So I appreciate you bringing that out.

Now, as you mentioned, students have needs, and they’re not all the same. So I’m wondering what are some of your strategies for meeting their individual needs?

Dr. Doris Blanton: Wow, Bethanie, that is a great question. I like it. Well, some of the strategies for meeting our various online students can be some of the things that I do. I host a new-student orientation. I bring together newer students sharing with them who their programmatic experts are; who can they contact about content? I bring in librarians and they get a library tour. A lot of students are completely unfamiliar with it. They might know where the library is, but how to use it? The beauty of our librarians is they’re available for students almost 24/7 to help them get acclimated with library tours, I like to call them.

There are various ways for faculty to assist students through their writing, their citing, perhaps sharing with students who’ve been enrolled a little bit longer, some of the extracurricular or honor society, student clubs, student activities. Those are things that further aid in student retention, their persistence in the classroom.

But most of all, I think what I really bring to students is that they have academic advocates and their greatest academic advocate is themselves. And so I think that further allows students to feel empowered, but it also allows students to feel confident in saying, “Wait a minute, I have a question. Wait a minute, I need some help.” We possess the knowledge of where the resources are pointing them to it is without a doubt what we can do as faculty in the classroom. It’s help them find the resources that they need.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Oh, that’s super helpful. If our listeners notice that a student is ignoring the help, especially something really standard like grading feedback. And maybe our listeners get frustrated about that as the teacher or the faculty member. What kind of suggestions would you give them to help them stay focused while they’re trying to re-communicate and somehow get that through?

Dr. Doris Blanton: Bethanie, this has to be one of the greatest frustrations faculty across disciplines and institutions share. How do I get students to read the thorough detailed feedback I spent so much time providing for them? I remind faculty all the time. We can certainly lead a horse to water. We can even push their head into the water, whether they drink is entirely up to them. It’s sad, but true. One strategy that I encourage faculty to do is to ensure that their feedback is timely.

Nothing is worse than getting feedback from a faculty the day that I’m submitting my next assignment. That is neither timely, nor helpful. So being timely in their feedback is critical. The sooner I can get feedback to a student, the sooner they will be successful in their next written assessment, whatever that might be.

Another strategy that I recommend to faculty is if they’ve taught the class a few times and they can see where students tend to experience that muddy point, create a little mini-lecturette prior to the assignment being due so that you can walk students through that muddy point, to help them get to it before they submit the assignment. So that what they submit to you is more in aligned with the quality work that you’re expecting.

Another tip that I provide faculty is I encourage faculty to pick one or two items. If they’re turning into an editor, that’s definitely not anything that a student wants to read. Their paper, in some instances may look like the faculty bled all over it.

So I encourage faculty pick one or two things that you can focus on. And then in their paper, one of my pet peeves is contractions, so I might point out a few contractions and maybe I’ll point out a few syntax or grammar areas. But then I go look for the content.

And I think we can definitely summarize what the student has missed in their paper and what their shortcomings are. But if we’re not highlighting what they’ve done well, why would they read their feedback? If all I did was something wrong, they didn’t even notice what I did right. It’s important for us to tell students not only where you have opportunities to make improvements, but look at all the things you did right.

And there’s a nice, delicate balance. And I think it’s important that faculty embrace not only where they can help students make corrections, but there’s no reason to edit an entire paper. Pick a few things. Students are pretty consistent with their errors. I don’t need to point them all out.

Focus on the ones that are important so that they can make those improvements and then focus on something different the next time. But ensuring that you are identifying both the good and the opportunity is invaluable for students to be affirmed. “Yes, I’m doing some things right. And okay, I don’t mind making those improvements where I have opportunities in areas where I missed the mark.”

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Doris, that sounds like great encouragement to help faculty and instructors who are teaching online to really strategize preventative ways of reaching students. So by giving that positive, as well as the critical feedback, you’re giving them a complete relationship with you and a reason to keep looking back for your comments and your communication. That’s just beautiful. Thanks for sharing that.

And thanks for all that you’ve shared with us about working online and working with online students. Is there anything more you’d like to leave us with today to help us in our online teaching?

Dr. Doris Blanton: Thanks, Bethanie. Maybe a couple of things. I thought about this for some time. And I think one thing that’s important to leave our listeners with, is that in every class we teach, especially those classes that we’ve taught repeatedly, we know the content inside and out. We know the assignments. We know the rhythm of the course. I remind faculty that students don’t. Students don’t know the class. To be student-centric, we need to keep in mind that when students enter our classroom, they do not possess the knowledge of the course.

Every time we teach, we have to be mindful of our learner. For example, I’ve had some of the most brilliant faculty who teach at the doctorate or master’s level. They’re phenomenal. But those are the same faculty who I might ask to teach one or two classes at the undergrad level. Unwittingly, they expect those undergrad students who are just diving into like-content as the masters or doctorate level,  they don’t have that level of experience, and faculty sometimes are unwittingly expecting undergrad students to possess those same skills and knowledge and ability that they come to expect from their master level students.

So ensuring that when faculty start every class, it needs to be rinsed and then repeated. So bring it back to the beginning every term. Being student-centric is a behavior we work on. It’s leaning in. It’s working with students and being mindful that not all students need that additional nudge. It can almost be like the Pareto principle where 20% of your class needs 80% of your time.

Preparing every class by the way of reviewing the materials as if it was fresh and new will further ensure that your classes are playing on a level field. It comes down to being mindful of your learner and their learning level.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Doris, thank you again for being here with us. You’re very student-centric and I am certain that your faculty and your students really benefit from your approach. And I could tell also that you care about them and that you have a lot of warmth in what you do and how you communicate. I just appreciate you sharing with us today. It’s been a pleasure to meet with you.

Dr. Doris Blanton: Thank you, Dr. Hansen. The pleasures been mine. Have a great day.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: You too. So thank you for all of our listeners also for being here. Joining me for this interview with Dr. Doris Blanton, who is a faculty director at American Public University. We hope you’ve enjoyed all that she shared today and wish you all the best in your online teaching this week.

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

#52: Effective Feedback in Your Online Teaching

#52: Effective Feedback in Your Online Teaching

This content originally appeared on APUEdge.com.

Feedback is an important part of online learning. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides tips and strategies about how to provide effective feedback to students. Learn how to garner feedback based on students’ work, tips on giving effective feedback to help students, and why feedback is a critical part of the learning process for both students as well as teachers.

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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.

It is hard to believe it’s been an entire year since we started this podcast, and thank you for being on this journey with me. It’s exciting to finish with episode 52 today, and we’re looking forward to the coming year with plenty of guests, new topics, and a lot of help and support for you as an online educator. I hope you’ll keep with us for the journey, and again, thank you for joining us today and over the past year.

What is Feedback?

Today, we’re going to talk about effective feedback in your online teaching. What is feedback? Well, feedback is the process of taking the invitation to respond. Student’s assignments are a response to what we’re teaching. This gives us some feedback about what they can do with what they learned, and whether they learned anything from us. And our comments to them throughout the discussions can challenge them, prompt them, and help them think in new ways.

Grading online assignments is not just about marking a score, giving a letter grade to your students. It’s one thing for you as the educator to recognize what is A level work and what is not, and how to rate or rank your students on the work they’ve given you.

But it’s something else altogether to tell your students what they did well, where they needed to do something differently, and how they can improve. This effective feedback helps them successfully meet their course objectives, as well as knowing if you have taught them accordingly.

Feedback Can Help Students Improve and Reduce Complaints

With this second type of grading, your feedback is something that helps students improve. It helps them stay motivated and your feedback can even help students perform better on their next assignment. So, why should you care about the quality of grading feedback that you provide?

First, there is the practical reason that when students receive a score or a grade with no feedback to help them, they don’t understand the basis for that grade, they complain. Student complaints can raise your anxiety and stress levels and student complaints take more time to address. They also impact your job satisfaction as an educator, and they are preventable much of the time.

You can prevent student complaints most of the time by communicating well with your students about their work. After all, no one likes to be given some kind of score or rating without the idea of how to fix it or improve, especially if they took the time and really put their best effort into that project or that assignment.

Second, the quality of your grading represents part of your teaching. As an educator, you’re more than just a person who tells other people about the subject matter you teach. Although, sometimes we have this idea that a teacher stands in front of the room and lectures about a subject matter and eager students are sitting there taking notes, drinking it all in. There’s much more to effective teaching than just this idea of lecturing in a one-way direction.

Teaching and learning work together, it’s a two-way street. Whatever your teaching methods are, students provide you with an essay, an assignment, or other items and they help you know what they’re learning, and your feedback is part of that exchange. It’s where you keep teaching and it keeps the conversation going back and forth.

And third, feedback in your grading provides you and your students the ability to adjust on this learning journey together. Your students learn about where they are related to the objectives they need to achieve in your class. And you, as the instructor, learn what you need to do to alter your approach so that your teaching is much more effective.

And as you provide feedback, you can see some feedback to you about your teaching approach and your students’ work. This is really one of the most important parts of revealing your students’ work, and one that we often overlook when we’re teaching online.

Ways to Get Feedback from Your Students’ Assignments

When you’re evaluating students’ online assignments, how can you get this feedback about your teaching? Well, you can review students’ work to identify the ideas you taught and see where they appear. For example, are your students able to comfortably use any of the special vocabulary that goes with your subject? And, do they communicate about the ideas with some clarity? Second, in the work they have submitted, do most of your students seem to be learning what you’re teaching?

Based on your teaching methods and your subject matter, you can look for even more evidence of learning in your students’ work, and you can directly connect their work with the course objectives to determine where they stand in relation to where they should be by the end of the class.

Robin Jackson, who wrote, “Never Work Harder Than Your Students and Other Principles of Great Teaching,” said, “It’s one thing to collect feedback about your students’ progress, but if you simply collect the feedback and never use it to adjust your instruction, then you’re collecting it in vain. The data you receive will give you feedback about the effectiveness of your own instruction.”

It’s important to remember that feedback is information about how we’re doing in our efforts to reach a goal. If we’re teaching other people, we’re putting effort into the goal of educating them. I’ll give you an example of this whole idea in action. When I was a freshman in high school, my chemistry teacher, Bruce Fowler, returned the results of our assignments at the end of a learning unit.

He spoke to us pretty candidly and told us we all failed that assignment. And he realized that he wasn’t really teaching it well, it wasn’t possible for every single person to fail if he had taught it effectively. So, he scrapped his plans for the coming week and he retaught all of that material in a totally different way, and then he reassessed us.

He expressed a lot of care for us as human beings, and he focused on his own continuous improvement in teaching throughout the year. It was pretty obvious, this was a man who focused on feedback for both of us. He gave us the feedback to help us know where we were as learners in our own performance, and he used our performance to give himself feedback about his teaching. Now, this chemistry class was many years ago and obviously not an online class, but we can use the same principle in our online teaching, even if the course is standardized and designed by someone else.

Adapting Your Teaching Based on Feedback

I’ll give you some examples of how this might be done. As a faculty director, observing the teaching of many online educators, I’ve noticed that some instructors adapt after evaluating students’ work by creating videos to address the entire class. And in this whole class feedback, a few of the instructors I’ve seen have mentioned some of the bigger errors students have made in their assignments. Then they give their students additional explanations, guidance, and teaching on those areas to help them adjust so they can move forward for the next unit or topic.

I’ve also noticed some other faculty members have done the same thing in a course announcement, and still, others have added resources and documents with tips, additional information, and reteaching. Whatever the format, you can give your students guidance and feedback to help them understand what they all seem to miss or what a great majority of them seem to miss. And this is a great way to use your students’ work as feedback in your own teaching, and then respond in ways that help your students keep moving forward.

Ways to Give Effective Feedback

What kind of feedback do students need in your grading and your comments? A well-known education writer, Grant Wiggins, shared seven keys to effective feedback. And these keys are:

  1. That it is goal referenced
  2. It’s tangible and transparent
  3. Actionable
  4. It is user-friendly
  5. Timely
  6. Ongoing
  7. Consistent

For online teaching specifically, I’m going to focus on four of these areas today, which are even more important and I’ll share some special ideas with you.

Goal-Referenced Feedback

First, let’s talk about goal-referenced feedback. Goal referenced feedback means that it’s tied to the course objectives. We have some kind of clear goal to be achieved in what students are learning, and when they complete the assignment, it’s tied to this goal. Then the feedback comments we give them about their work while we’re grading it, should also relate to the goal.

For example, if students are supposed to write an argument paper, our feedback might remind them that the argument paper needs to cover how well they take a position and effectively support it with evidence and commentary. And then we’re going to give feedback about the degree to which they did this and how they could do it even more effectively.

Actionable Feedback

Actionable feedback means that it’s concrete, specific, and useful. Wiggins said that effective feedback is concrete, specific, and useful. It provides actionable information, thus “Good job,” and “You did that wrong,” and “B+.” These are not really feedback at all.

We can easily imagine that the learners are asking themselves in response to these comments, “What specifically could I do more or less of next time, based on this information? I have no idea.” They don’t know what was good or wrong about what they did. This includes feedback about what they specifically did right and what they did well. This feedback is objective, rather than your opinion or your judgment of them.

User-Friendly Feedback

User-friendly means that feedback can be easily understood by the person who’s receiving it. It’s not highly technical or confusing and it is focused. Wiggins tells us an example that’s really good at illustrating this: “Describing a baseball swing to a six-year-old in terms of torque and other physics concepts, will not likely yield a better hitter. Too much feedback is also counterproductive. Better to help the performer concentrate on only one or two key elements of the performance, than to create this huge buzz of information coming at them from all sides and at too high of a level.”

Timely Feedback

Lastly, timely feedback. Timely feedback means fast feedback. The sooner our students get the feedback from us about their work, the more they can adjust and improve. If there’s another assignment coming up and students are busy preparing for that, they can’t really do this effectively without getting feedback from the previous assignment. And even more difficult, if several weeks pass before their feedback is received. By that time, they have moved on.

Giving helpful feedback can really take time on your part and it might be a large part of what you do when teaching online, but it’s also still part of teaching, not just support for the grade. So, to keep teaching in a way that helps your students the most, giving timely feedback is essential.

Make Sure Students Receive Feedback

Now, how can you help your students see this feedback and actually stay connected in this cycle of teaching and learning? After getting some feedback about your teaching, through your review of students’ assignments, and then giving them feedback about what they demonstrated in those assignments, the process completely fails if students cannot see the feedback you gave them. And online, it’s entirely possible students will miss your feedback completely.

To help you make your feedback have an impact, we’ll close today’s podcast with some practical tips about making sure your students can find it and how they can keep moving forward because they’ve received this feedback.

Tell Students to Expect Feedback on their Work

First, before the assignment starts, before it’s even launched, give your students help to prepare to complete this assignment successfully. This help might include guidance about what to expect, what to include in their work, and then how to submit the assignment.

I suggest also stating exactly how this assignment relates to the course objectives and how it relates to the real world so students can have more context and more buy-in. You might provide this guidance in a course announcement or in an email to the class. Either way, you want to ensure that everyone receives it.

Announce When Feedback is Available and How to Find it

Second, when you’ve evaluated students’ assignments, send out an announcement to let them know your feedback is available to them. You can include screenshots of where they will find this feedback in your online classroom and what it looks like. If your feedback is outside the platform, like maybe it’s in Turnitin GradeMark viewer, you might even need to include a short video showing them what to click on to get to the viewer. And when they get there, what to click on to make the feedback visible.

Be Receptive to Requests for Feedback

Never assume that students know where to find this feedback. And throughout this whole process, third, always be open to students who reach out, asking for more feedback. As Errol Craig Sull wrote in his faculty focus article on the subject, even if the student’s primary reason for asking is to receive a good final grade in the course, this gives you an opportunity to teach a bit more. So, be sure to respond to the student in a timely manner by email, audio message, or phone.

Sull reminds us that when students ask for clarification or more feedback, it’s not about you or whether your feedback is good enough. It’s about the students being interested in improving their work. If we keep this in mind, we’re going to be able to have the space to respond enthusiastically and not take it personally.

So, there you have it. What is good feedback? What should it include and how do you take this to improve yourself and your teaching, as well as how do you ensure your students find all of this feedback so they can use it and keep learning.

I hope that as you move forward in your online teaching this week, you’ll think about feedback in all of these ways and use one of these strategies to improve your practice. Thank you, again, for being with me for the past 52 episodes, this first year of the Online Teaching Lounge. Come back again for the coming year when we’ll have guests and new topics that will help you continue working and teaching online and achieving balance in your work and life. Best wishes in the coming week and the exciting year ahead.

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.

#31: Teaching Military and Veteran Students Online

#31: Teaching Military and Veteran Students Online

This content was first published on OnlineLearningTips.Com.

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Military students, especially those on active duty, are a unique segment of the online student population who have specific needs. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides advice and recommendations for instructors about teaching military students including encouraging them to ask questions, making accommodations for unexpected deployments, focusing on real-world connections with learning material, helping them with time management strategies, and much more.

Transcript:

Dr. Bethanie Hansen:

Welcome to episode number 31, teaching military and veteran students online. 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 episode today. Thanks for joining me for the podcast. I’m happy to work with you on teaching students who are either currently serving in the military active duty or perhaps they are veterans students. Either way, we have a special population who needs a little bit of attention and understanding.

I work at a university where we have a very high percentage of military and veteran students. And I personally have really enjoyed what these students bring to the experience.

By definition, for today’s discussion, student veterans or military students are either currently serving, they have served in the past. They could be undergraduate or graduate students. They might be active duty, National Guard in the Reserves, separated from the military, or retired.

This is a broad definition, and for today, I’m just going to talk about these individuals as all being in the veteran population. We’re going to get started with a little bit of understanding to help out if you’re new to teaching military and veteran students, or if you’d like a little grounding on what I’m going to talk about.

Military Students are Highly Disciplined, Structured, and Team Players

The first thing is, veteran students understand roles and hierarchy. In the military, you might understand that there is a chain of command. There is a military commander who has the authority in a given situation. There is a tradition of receiving and obeying orders of various kinds. They are followed, and they dictate a lot of one’s work, one’s existence in the military structure itself.

There’s also a lot of discipline that military individuals bring to their studies and to their work. And they’re used to working on teams and interacting with others and having their results also depend on other people as well.

Encourage Military Students to Ask Questions and Provide Them Clear Instructions

Because of this, there are a lot of things we do as online instructors, where we might catch military or veteran students off guard just a bit, and we might need to let them know they can approach us with questions. They can ask questions to clarify things. They don’t need to take things just on face value and walk away and try to guess.

If requirements are not very clear, we want to encourage them to reach out, communicate, ask questions. If they have a special situation or a circumstance that takes them out of class, we also want to reach out to them to communicate that we’ll be flexible with them and we’ll work on things.

Some communication basics that will help you in working with military and veteran students are to be clear and concise with all of your communications and your instructions. Be direct. Keep it brief.

Act first and ask questions later is a mantra for a lot of veteran students. So giving a lot of information up front will help them because they might not ask first.

Apply Andragogy Theories to Teaching Military Students

They give respect and we want to demonstrate respect in our teaching toward them as well. As I mentioned, there’s a chain of command that exists in the military. So there’s this understanding of the hierarchy of the top-down leadership. You as the instructor, they might be perceiving in that way.

Some of the work and life experiences that military and veteran students bring to their learning really center on the principles of andragogy, which is adult learning theory. And Malcolm Knowles is widely known for this theory as are many others.

Some of those things about the art and science of adult learning really apply here. Our military students are self-directed, autonomous, and they need to be able to control a lot of things in their learning experience.

For example, they might want to plan their own learning. They might need to work ahead. They might want to decide their project, based on the parameters, and just jump in. Their learning experience is the main resource in who they’re going to become as a student. If they have life experience that you can tap in to the work they’re doing in the online classroom, this is going to really help drive home the concepts they’re learning. It’s also going to really personalize it for them.

Help Students Make Real-World Connections to Classroom Learning

If students in the military and veteran population understand why they’re learning something, they just show up ready to learn, and they have intrinsic motivation, for the most part, to get it done.

An example of this life experience and work tying into online learning comes from the course that I taught. I did a research experiment with students who were in a music appreciation class and also in an art appreciation class. In this course, during week one of the forums, I specifically asked them: What was their life experience with the music or art of other cultures? Had they been to other countries? Had they seen the art or heard the music of other people who were maybe new to them?

I had students with the whole barrage of different experiences. Some had served in Japan, some in Korea, some in various countries in Europe. Some had served in the Middle East, some in Africa. They were able to draw on those experiences before the class really started rolling along. And as they were learning different musical things and artistic things, they were also able to make more connections because we had tapped into that experience early on.

Then at the end of the course, I asked them the questions again. How does this help them frame the experiences they have had with other cultures, and what might they do in the future? Some students even said they wished they had had a course like this before serving in those other countries, so they could value the culture more and really taste of the different offerings, different cultures, and different countries provided to them.

Anything that we can do to tap into their existing knowledge, their life experiences, and their learning is going to really help the military and veteran student, and for that matter, even the whole adult learner population.

Familiarize Yourself with the Language of the Military

There is some special vocabulary you might encounter when you’re working with military students. For example, there are common military terms. You might hear the words TDY, or the abbreviation TDY. TDY stands for a Temporary Duty Assignment. There’s also TDA, and it could be called TDT, Temporary Duty Travel. It could be TAD, which is Temporary Additional Duty in the Navy and the Marine Corps, or TDI, which Is Temporary Duty under Instruction. And that refers to a training assignment.

All of these kinds of things are going to take a military or veteran student out of the classroom. They’re going to be on an assignment where they may or may not have internet. There might need to be some flexibility with due dates, with the weeks where they’re actually showing up in the forum discussion; and there might need to be some either opening assignments early or giving them flexibility to complete the work when they get back from those temporary assignments.

Now, there are also some different phrases that might be interesting and new. For example, the phrase “embrace the suck” is a phrase that a lot of my students used to throw around in class. It means to love it when work gets tough, because when it’s over, you will better appreciate the not so tough work that you’re going to do.

It could be referring to a class they didn’t really want to take. Maybe it’s a Gen Ed class, something like that, but they’re going to just power through it and do the best they can to get the tough work done.

Another one is Lima Charlie, that means loud and clear, or in other words, I heard and understood what you said. Another phrase might be “to nug it out,” which is to get it done. Also, there’s a WARNO, W-A-R-N-O, which means a heads up that a project is coming soon. Literally, it’s a warning order.

So military students do have a lot of jargon they might use. In the transcript notes from this podcast, I’ve given you some links to translations and glossaries so that if you are not experienced in the military, and if you do teach a lot of military students, you can meet them where they’re at. You might look up some phrases you might see in discussions or in messages that they send you.

Disruptions or Challenges Facing Military Students

Now, back to this idea of disruptions. Students who are actively serving in the military or in the reserves might be called away unexpectedly. They might not be able to tell you that they are now out of the classroom.

When you see them missing, definitely reach out in the messages or the email, whatever your method is, so you can connect with them and reassure them that when they get back in the course, you’re going to be there for them and able to help them catch up or get back on track.

They might have longer work hours. They might be using government-issued computers, which is an issue when you’re using something like YouTube videos. There are certain kinds of videos and media that might actually be blocked on government-issued computers.

So they might be using a common or shared computer with other students, with other people in the military, or with others in a government organization. In those shared computers, they may or may not have different software or permissions. This is something important to be aware of.

They’re likely taking more than one class online at a time. A lot of military students that I’ve worked with, as I’ve taught online, have been taking three or four classes simultaneously. They’re out of the country, away from their family. They’re filling their free time with learning to take advantage of it, whether it’s to advance their career, prepare for time after the military, make a rank advancement. There are lots of reasons that students will do that.

Assisting Them with Time Management Strategies

For you, and for your students who are in the military, time management is essential. You have many roles, instructor, developer, researcher, advisor, all kinds of things that you do in your online teaching job. And also some physical and time boundaries of work and home life to navigate. Just like you have this time management and boundary stuff to navigate, your students do too. They may be stretching to develop new strategies and be student while also serving. And you may need to coach them in planning their work and working their plan if it doesn’t show up automatically.

Some ways to limit distractions, there are several apps and programs that can help you out. There’s a limiting program called keepmeout.com and another called stayfocusedapp.me. Both of these are worth looking at to limit distractions, to really focus when you’re in your online space, and also to encourage your students to try new tools to help themselves get the work done quickly and get done.

You might consider, for both you and your students, using a timer, setting a work area with your ringer on your cell phone turned off. Maybe set “Do not disturb.” Establish the school working hours, set boundaries for work personal and family time. Let others know that you cannot be disturbed. And then, if you’re teaching at more than one institution or your student is taking more than one class, you might consider how they’re going to juggle the demands of various assignments and put those all on their calendar. Also, use a planner yourself to make sure that you’re on track and able to return grading in a timely manner, and stay engaged.

Ensure Assignment Instructions are Comprehensive and Clear

Some helpful adjustments as you’re working with military and veteran students, you might want to detail the development of the assignment itself. What are the steps to complete the assignment? What should it look like when it’s done? Make sure the assignment description stands alone. It doesn’t need to require you to give more explanation or send additional emails or announcements to help students figure it out

We want the assignment description to tell students how long the finished product should be. Is it going to be a written paper, a slide show? What is it? Whatever the approximate length is going to be, students need to know in advance.

They also need clear and specific requirements and invitations to contact their instructor and receive guidance should they need extra help. Some students might also need the opportunity to resubmit after they have revised the work, especially if they were unclear and acted before asking the questions, which might be common.

Lastly, we need a lot of tools for our military and veteran students to reach out for all kinds of help and support. For example, if there is a writing center at your online school, you want to give them that information. If there is some kind of tutoring or help improving the essay or the assignment, we want to give them that kind of stuff too. So definitely give your students tools for outreach of various kinds, whether it’s tech support, academic support, or other help.

If you have large class sizes or several classes you’re teaching at once, where you have more to read, more to grade, you want to communicate and personalize your messages to students.

I recommend trying Dragon, naturally speaking. It’s a product sold by Nuance, and it helps you to dictate the things you’re going to say into written documents. You can dictate into your announcements, your discussion forums, your other messages that you send students, and also into your grading feedback. This is going to give you a chance to be more personalized with all of your students and connect with them even better.

You might consider keeping a roster of each student and noting what background they have. For example, if they’re out of the country, if they might have internet issues, if they’re currently active duty serving somewhere.

When you make notes like this, you’re going to be able to adjust to your students’ needs much more quickly, and also anticipate the fact that they might have connection issues. Or they might have changes that come up during the semester or session that impact their ability to do the work and do it on time.

You also want to be aware that there might be different expectations, requirements, and standards that students need to learn when they’re in your course, that might not necessarily be the same everywhere.

Anticipate the Needs of Military Students

One thing I highly recommend when you’re working with military and veteran students is to anticipate what they’re going to need as much as possible. You can do this by giving them some screen overviews of your course.

You can use Screencastify, Screencast-O-Matic, or a paid app called Camtasia. You can record walkthroughs of the classroom to give them a guide around the place and where they need to engage, where they need to read things, where they’re going to find their assignments and all of that.

You also can give them a netiquette guide. I’m going to give you a sample netiquette guide in the transcript of this podcast as well. If you want to click on the hyperlink, you can visit the site that has the downloadable netiquette guide.

You can, of course, personalize this to work more for you. But when you tell students upfront how to dialogue in the forum, what you’re looking for and what you discourage, that’s going to help them show up the right way from day one.

Lastly, you want to guide them to shift their level of conversation from casual into academic conversation. Some students approach their online learning like they would texting. And so, language can be brief, abbreviated, and more concise than we would like.

Modeling forum posts, giving that netiquette guide, and sharing what makes a good reply, maybe in your announcements or other feedback that you share, that is going to help your military and veteran students know exactly what’s expected. It’s also going to empower them to meet your expectations much more quickly and more fully.

Think about these things that are going to work for you in working with your military and veteran students. Some of the things that I covered so far really are ways to adapt and help meet them where they’re at.

Think about also genuine teaching engagement when you’re working with them. How can you guide them to participate the most effectively that they can by launching things up front, proactively giving them some steps to do things, and giving them a lot of examples and guidance? Then when you give your grading feedback, how can you be as rich and informative as possible so students can really improve rapidly for the next assignment?

Recommendations for Instructor Tools

You might consider trying some automated grading tools that give you even more additional feedback space. One of those that I highly recommend is this add-in toolbar for Microsoft Word. If you download load your essays in Microsoft Word, and you like to give annotated comments on essays, this add-in toolbar is called GradeAssist. It’s sold by a company www.educo360.com. That’s spelled E-D-U-C-0 360.com. This allows you to create comments that you would normally give, for example, formatting style, quotations, grammar, a lot of those standard things. Then you can also add personalization because you can speed up the process of the more common feedback and give yourself the space and the time to give more personalized feedback as well.

I don’t really recommend using automated tools for all of your feedback. Students need personalization, and they need to know that you read their paper and you’re not just saying the same things to everybody.

Other efficiency tools that can help you meet their needs would be to try auto text expanding apps like TextExpander or ActiveWords, or TypeItIn. All three of these are great tools.

You might consider investing in two computer monitors. When I’m working with my online courses, and especially when I want to give better feedback and more quality engagement, I’ll put part of the class on one monitor and part of the class on the other, so I can move between spaces. Having two computer monitors is going to make your online teaching just a lot more pleasurable and efficient.

If you grade early and handle things only once and return things quickly, it cuts down the overall time you’re going to spend giving feedback, because students can make the adjustments more quickly.

Also, you might have military and veteran students reaching out to you to extend the due date on something. If you’re pretty firm about due dates, and you’re going to move that due date for a student, be sure to give them a week at a time when you extend a due date, because they may not be in class the very next day or two.

So if you only extend a due date by one or two days, that’s not going to help them very much. Extending it by a week or longer, that’s going to be better, so they have a chance to get back into the classroom and see your communication, and then do the work. This is a great strategy in working with all kinds of adult learners, who just might not be logging in every day in addition to the military and veteran population.

Writing Assistance for Military Students

Military considerations that I want to bring to the forefront here, as I tie up these comments today, is that military personnel is often guided to be as succinct and direct as possible in their writing. If you’re working on quality writing with your military and veteran students, keep this in mind. You’re going to coach a lot and you’re going to give a lot of examples to help them grow.

When you’re grading their work, look for potential jargon use or excessive brevity, where guidance and coaching could be helpful in developing more complete ideas. Then make your feedback relevant, personalized, and helpful. They’re going to continue improving and learning and be very efficient at doing that as you give them that quality feedback.

So thank you for being here as we talk about working with military and veteran students online today. This is a wonderful population of students who are going to do a great job with you as you meet them and give them proactive strategies upfront, and also understand a little bit more about the culture they’re coming from. It will help you be more effective, and you’ll enjoy your work with military and veteran students all the more.

Best wishes to you in your online teaching this week. And definitely reach out using the request form on my website. If you would like to share any comments about this podcast or suggestions for future episodes.

 

Tips for Creative Alternative Assessments Online

Tips for Creative Alternative Assessments Online

Here are some tips for alternative assignments sure to add variety and relevance to your online teaching.

Students today tire easily of the typical discussion board and essay-style course design. And as an educator, these can tax your time and patience as well. Alternative assignments use creative topics, formats, and approaches to avoid this cookie-cutter approach.

Because alternative assignments use non-standard methods, they might at first catch your students by surprise. For this reason, it’s helpful to introduce the tools and ideas you will require in alternative assessments early, so that students can tackle the job one piece at a time.

One use of alternative assessment is for formative assessments. Dr. Major shares these helpful ideas in her article about Keeping Students Engaged:

  • Use a technology for students’ introductions, like Flipgrid or VoiceThread.
  • Use polls through LMS tools, Poll Everywhere, or a synchronous, live video meeting, to ask students to contribute their learning goals for the course or unit.
  • Use a quiz to check students’ understanding of course policies and syllabus items.
  • Use a scavenger hunt activity to guide students through the online classroom and give them a content preview.

Additional creative methods can take students’ creativity even further, as shared by Dr. Melanie Shemberger, of Murray State University, at the OLC Accelerate conference November 9, 2020:

  • Use infographics, created in Pictochart or Canva, so students can collect and present details from their learning.
  • Allow students to present their ideas through creating a podcast, by making a “how-to” video in which they propose what their final assignment will include, or by representing the details on a mind map.
  • Give students directions to present their assignment as a Pecha Kucha PowerPoint show. This makes the presentation concise, to the point, and an opportunity for prioritizing ideas.

Whatever creative approach you use, be sure to give clear instructions, tie the assessment directly to the learning objectives, and provide grading details to help students know exactly what to expect. These creative approaches open the door to creativity. And, your students will even have fun learning!

#11: Adjusting to Online Best Practices

#11: Adjusting to Online Best Practices

After quickly moving face to face classes online earlier this year, it may be a learning curve, adjusting to online best practices.

Just as there are many teaching standards and models well-known in face to face teaching, online education has a standard of excellence.

In a crunch, a face to face class might have moved online with just a few tools. For example, professors might have communicated through e-mail. Lecture courses might have continued with live sessions, hosted through video tools like Zoom.

But, now that educators look toward the fall’s online classes, there is time to learn online teaching approaches and practices that ensure a more complete online learning experience.

What are Online Best Practices?

Best practices are a set of guidelines, approaches, and standards known to work well. Just like live teaching has traditions and strategies that are effective, online teaching has its own set.

Some of these practices include presence, responsiveness, clarity, communication, norms, and feedback. When you take the time to communicate well with your students, they will grow to trust you. In this way, you will build relationships and establish a sense of community. Your presence and communication are two of many important practices online. Additionally, grading students’ assignments and providing specific feedback will help them continue to learn and make progress in the class.

You’ll learn about these tips and more, while we discuss some of the best practices in online education through today’s podcast.

For additional study and resources, visit these sources, which served as references in the podcast:

#9: A Strategy for Grading Essays in Microsoft Word Efficiently

#9: A Strategy for Grading Essays in Microsoft Word Efficiently

Where can I find a strategy for grading essays in Microsoft Word efficiently?

If this is your question, you’ve come to the right place! Using Microsoft Word for grading is easy with several specific tools, all built into the software. Enjoy the latest podcast for suggestions, tips, and strategies for using Microsoft Word to grade essays.

Autotext is an excellent tool for inserting chunks of feedback you might regularly use. Furthermore, in the Autotext feature, you can add entire rubrics and insert them on the document you’re grading with only one click.

Two images are included here. These images illustrate the process for using Autotext as a grading tool. And for more details, visit Teaching Music Appreciation Online, chapter 12.

 

Autocorrect is another great tool for inserting paragraphs of frequently used commentary by typing a few letters.

For more tips, listen to the podcast.