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#134: What Makes a Great College Instructor?

#134: What Makes a Great College Instructor?

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Develop a Belief that All Students Can Learn

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

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

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

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

Try Creative Approaches to Reach All Students

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

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

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

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

Act With Compassion for Students

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

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

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

Believe that Teaching Matters

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

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

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

Learn What Highly Successful Teachers Do

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

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

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

Take What Highly Successful Teachers Do into Online Education

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

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

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

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

Consider these questions in planning your next course:

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

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

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

Consider these additional questions in planning to teach online:

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

Try a Systematic Approach with Strategy and Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

#134: What Makes a Great College Instructor?

#133: Improving Student Engagement Using Metrics and Data

This content initially appeared at APUEdge.com. 

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

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

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
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Read the Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using Metrics and Data to Assess Student Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Understanding Engagement Levels Can Help with Course Design

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#130: 8 Teaching Strategies to Improve Efficiency and Connection

#130: 8 Teaching Strategies to Improve Efficiency and Connection

This content initially appeared at APUEdge.com.

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

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

Listen to the Episode:

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

Read the Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The eight areas I’ll mention today include:

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

1. Adult Learners

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

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

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

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

2. Students with Disabling Conditions

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

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

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

3. Communication Plans

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

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

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

4. Reach Out to Missing Students

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

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

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

5. Guide Students with Time and Task Management

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

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

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

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

6. Notice Students New to the Subject Matter

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

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

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

7. Plan Ahead to Accommodate Potential Interruptions

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

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

8. Expect Challenges and Misunderstandings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#129: How to Write a Conference Proposal

#129: How to Write a Conference Proposal

This content first appeared at APUEdge.com.

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

Part of learning and stretching is sharing your knowledge with others. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses the benefits of presenting at a professional conference. Learn tips on selecting an engaging topic, writing a conference proposal as well as what mistakes to avoid.

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

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge today, I’m Bethanie Hansen. And I want to talk with you about how to write a conference proposal. As an online educator, you may be thinking, you need some professional development, and it’s a great idea to go to a conference. There are so many kinds of conferences you could attend. If there’s one locally in your area, it’s especially good to set aside the time and go attend that conference: Low cost, local area, fast access.

But something across the country or across the state, that’s a different story altogether. Now we’re talking about spending money to attend that conference. And it’s a lot easier to justify spending that money if you’re also going to be presenting at that conference. Or, if your institution is considering sponsoring you, chances are the only way they’re going to do that is if you are presenting at the conference. So how do you write a conference proposal?

Well, before we talk about that, I just want to dive into how we can tap into your genius about what you might present at a conference. First, I’ll tell you a little story about myself.

I used to go to professional development conferences as a band director in California. I would go to the State Music Educator National Conference conventions that were for the state of California. These would rotate between Sacramento and San Diego or Los Angeles, every other year. As I went to these, and I noticed others presenting on topics of interest to me, one day, I realized I had that same knowledge. A woman stood up there and shared some exercises that she used with her band and she taught us all how to use them and talked around them.

And I thought to myself, I could be the person presenting this workshop, I know that same stuff. And suddenly it dawned on me, not everybody knows what I know. And, just like me, not everybody knows what you know, either. And so, in my next step, I wrote up a proposal about what was most important to me as a band director. And, as a band director, and still, as an educator today, the very most important thing to me was recruiting and retention.

Recruiting is a whole process of giving awareness to other people, helping them to notice you notice your band program and get interested in joining it in the future. And then there’s those actions about having them join your band this year. And, all of the steps that have to do with that like getting a band instrument, convincing your parents that you should be in the band, figuring out how you’re going to get started. And all of those things that are part of joining the band, the very first year you’re thinking about it.

There’s also the recruiting at different ages. So, if your school district’s band program starts in sixth grade, maybe in seventh grade, someone has moved in from somewhere else, and they didn’t have that chance, and they still want to join band. So, there’s several different processes to recruiting. There’s even high-school level recruiting, where you might be recruiting people to twirl a flag in your marching band, or play cymbals in your percussion section, or even be a beginner on a band instrument. So, there’s a lot of levels to this and I had experience and passion for all of that.

So, I wrote that proposal. And I drafted it up for that State California conference.

And the other half is retention. Once you recruit kids into your program, or students into any class, you have to help them want to stay there. There’s this whole idea that band directors used to have all over the place where they just assumed kids would stay because band is worth doing all by itself, right? Well, that’s not the case. In fact, when kids join your band, you have to work just as hard to keep them there, as you do to get them there in the first place.

There is so much that competes for your students’ time when you’re a band director. You have to really work with them on balancing all those activities they might be in, what if they’re in sports and band at the same time or different clubs, like debate or going on field trips for academic decathlon? There’s just so much. So that topic of recruiting and retention, it’s kind of two different things that goes nicely together. And that’s what I decided I wanted to present on at a conference. So, I wrote up my proposal and I submitted it. And it was accepted. And it was my very first time presenting at a professional conference.

So, I prepared, I made my PowerPoint slides, created a packet of handouts. And I went to this conference. And this session was in a huge theater. And it was full, totally full of about 200 people. I was amazed at how many people came to that conference session that I presented. I ran out of handouts, I had to give them email copies later. But it was a huge success for me, the very first time out.

Other conferences I have presented at have had varying degrees of interest and attention. I have sometimes presented a session to five people, sometimes 35. So, even when you’re accepted to present at a conference, you can never really know exactly what you’re going to get in terms of who shows up, and what you need to deliver it with success. But what you can assume is that someone will want to hear it, even if it’s just one or two people. So, writing that proposal, I suggest thinking about number one, what you know about.

Determine Your Area of Interest to Present On

What is your area of expertise in your academic discipline? What subject matter do you really want to share something about? It could be a teaching strategy, or like my example of recruiting for band directors, it could be a problem-solving strategy. It could be some kind of community-building, like how you could use labs in your virtual science class. It could be some kind of a networking idea, how you’re going to collaborate with other teachers. And maybe you’re going to present a model of how to do that. There are so many ideas of things you are good at, that you could potentially share at a conference.

If you’re not really sure what would be appropriate for a conference, I suggest looking up the website for a conference you might consider attending and looking at last year’s topics. Many of the websites out there for conferences have a list of the topics and the titles of the presentations for the last several years. These can give you a good idea of what might be interesting to conference attendees, or what might suit the audience, generally.

One example for the online teaching space is the Online Learning Consortium. They have two conferences a year one is in the spring, and it’s called OLC Innovate. And when is in the fall, it’s called OLC Accelerate. And as of right now, at the time of this recording, they have a virtual and a live option. So, even if you could not travel to attend that conference, you could still present, even if it’s virtually.

Tips to Writing a Successful Proposal

So, as you think about the topic, there are some tips to help you get this written well and have a greater chance that your proposal will be accepted. The first one is of course to have a suitable topic, the best way to have a suitable topic for a conference, once you’ve decided on your area of interest, whether it’s a subject matter or a strategy, the best way is to think about the tracks and the topics that conference is requesting.

In the case of the OLC Accelerate conference, there are certain tracks and they are all aimed at different audiences. I’ll just give you an example of what these tracks might be, so you have an idea of the type of variety that conferences can have.

The track descriptions for OCLC Accelerate are:

  • access, equity, and open education
  • blended learning strategy and practice
  • engaged in effective teaching and learning
  • instructional design
  • leadership and institutional strategy
  • research, evaluation and learning analytics
  • student support and success
  • technology and future trends

And often there will be some big ideas that have lots of sessions connected to them. And if you can propose something to a less-popular area, where what I mean to say is where there are likely to be fewer proposals, but there is still interest in the audience that even increases your chances of getting accepted more.

So, one example would be that a lot of people at that particular conference, propose things in the category of engaged and effective teaching and learning. After all, most things we’re going to think about in online education are about the teaching and learning, right? Now, if you have something specific about the way you set up the classroom, or a method of the instructional design itself, it makes a lot more sense to tailor it to that instructional design topic, where there are fewer proposals. So, yours will be stand out and it gives you a greater likelihood of being accepted.

Now, in terms of your audience, you want to think about the types of audiences that typically attend those conferences. So, in this situation, where I mentioned one in particular, which is OLC Accelerate, the audiences range from K-12, educators, higher ed educators, to the tech people who designed the classroom itself, you might have instructional designers, tech support, all kinds of people who are really good at focusing on the way the classroom is set up.

There’s a whole audience that is interested in alternative or accessibility strategies. So, if you have a really good handle on universal design for learning, or accommodation strategies for diverse learners, then you could tailor your proposal to that angle. If you are in leadership, or you think your idea is great for an institutional-level strategy, or the leadership team over an organization, then you might tailor your presentation to that. And, if you really want to stretch, you could have a topic that you tailor one way for the leadership group, and a totally different way for the instructional design group and that would give you two different proposals.

Determine the Type of Presentation to Create

Now, as you’re fleshing out your topic, you also want to think about what kind of presentation it’s going to be. And those kinds of presentations vary, there are the virtual poster sessions where you create some slides, they play automatically, and a person watches it like a mini-web presentation. There’s also the education session, which is like your typical lecture style presentation. There are short workshops that are hands on where you expect people to bring a device and play along with you. There are gamified sessions. And there are larger workshops, which would be 90 minutes to 2 hours in length. So, if your topic takes more than just that 45-minute window, maybe it has a Part A and Part B or something that builds on that initial stuff, then you’re going to propose it as a larger workshop.

Proposal Writing Tips

As you write up your proposal, some interesting things that stand out are to have a creative title that conveys exactly what it’s about; to have an abstract that tells participants what they would walk away with if they attended this session. And then in the deeper part of your proposal, where you really flesh out what it’s about, what you will do, and how you will engage the audience that comes to be part of this presentation, two helpful tips seem to work all the time.

One is to use references. Support your approach with some scholarly research and some sources that do support your idea. This adds credibility to what you’re submitting.

And second, detail exactly what participants will leave with at the end of the session. Is it an idea? Is it curiosity? Is it a handout? Is it a template? Whatever it is, your participants will be able to leave with, make it very clear, explain it. And, if appropriate during the proposal process, even include a copy.

Most proposals are intended to be entirely anonymous, and you would need to leave your name off of them. You should not mention your school or your institution. And you want to look over these to make sure they are grammatically correct and well written. I know that seems to go without saying, but I’ve been a reviewer for conference proposals myself for many years now. And, every once in a while, I’ll see one where the person just forgot to use spellcheck and forgot to use the right punctuation, like maybe they dictated it and didn’t check it afterwards. So, be sure to check those things because at the very least, you want it to look and sound professional when you submit it.

And then submit it before the deadline, turn everything in that you need to do and then you wait and you’ll hear back at whatever time they tell you you’ll hear back. I always put that date on my calendar so I can check and find out whether something has been accepted. And the more you practice it this, the more likely you are to get presentations accepted to present at conferences.

Then your next steps would be to plan the presentation around your audience so they definitely get out of it what do you say they’re going to get out of it. One of the biggest mistakes is to prepare a proposal, get accepted, show up, and then present on something different than what you said you were going to present. I’ve sat through presentations like that myself, and perhaps you have also, where we’re sitting there thinking we’re going to learn something, and we never get that out of that session. And it seems to be a huge disappointment. Like, why did we sit through that if we were not going to get what we came for? So, addressing the topics that you say you’re going to address is a really important part of this when you come full circle and actually give the presentation.

The bottom line of all of this is that you have a lot of expertise, you know a lot, and you have areas that you can share with other people who are just learning. It’s time to get up and present those things and share them with your professional community. I want to encourage you to do that. And if you’re listening to this around the time of the recording where this podcast is produced, there are proposals right now being accepted for the OLC Innovate conference coming up in the Spring of 2023. And I would encourage you to submit a proposal to that, and stretch, figure out what you can share with the online community.

And if you’re listening to this later, after the initial publication, you can just check the OLC’s website to see when the next conference is coming and when the next set of proposals will be accepted. I want to encourage you to grow and stretch and share because that’s what helps us to stay motivated and keep learning ourselves. I wish you all the best in writing up your proposal and submitting it this coming month or even this coming week.

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

#128: What Fuels You as an Educator?

#128: What Fuels You as an Educator?

This content first appeared on APUEdge.com.

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

What motivates you to keep teaching? In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses tools to assess your true drive and how to track the impact you’re having as an educator.

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
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Read the Transcript:

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

Welcome to the podcast. Today, I want to talk about some motivation we have to show up for work, why we’re in this game of teaching in the first place. And that question on my mind is, “What fuels you?”

What is it that motivates you to keep teaching, to reach out to help other people? They’ve studied this out. And the research tells us that there are a lot of different orientations we have, to come to teaching. On a practical level, that’s really nice and kind of helpful to figure out about yourself.

If you’re interested in the direction that you’re going with teaching, the Teaching Perspectives Inventory is an awesome tool to assess what your main driver really is, and whether or not you’re actually doing it. The teaching perspectives inventory is one way to see your primary motivation and the comparison between reality and fantasy. So, check it out.

Some people will be the apprenticeship type, some will be the social change type, and there are several others. I’m not an expert in the TPI, but I do know that this was the first thing that opened my awareness to the fact that we are not all educators for the same reasons. Some people are educators for reasons that really light their fire. And it makes them happy and excited to just do what they do. And some people are not as excited about the job that they do but the fact that they get to be with people.

Sometimes people are much more excited about just being involved in that subject area. Like maybe you teach geology and you just love rocks, you just love the mountains and all the different rock formations and everything you can talk about with rocks. If you get to talk about it all day long when you’re teaching, that’s going to bring you that joy and excitement, right?

As a musician myself and a creative, I really love teaching music. I especially loved teaching live music classes, when I was a band teacher, or when I was leading some choir group. It would be so much fun to take something that was very rough, and help people put it together until it was just absolutely beautiful and totally expressive. To me, that was so much fun.

But it was nothing compared to seeing the people that I was working with transform as human beings. And there’s a phrase that I like to bring into my role as an educator. And strangely, it comes from Napoleon Bonaparte. And I didn’t ever know until I looked it up who initially said this phrase. But the phrase is, “A leader is a dealer in hope.” That is so interesting to me. So not only is an educator a leader, by being an online educator, you’re out there creating new things. Helping people into whatever field it is. Helping them learn and grow and transform, and you’re also just leading the future.

So, a leader is a dealer in hope. And that is something we all have that we can do as educators. And hope is absolutely essential to a happy life, or a high-quality life. Hope is that idea that there is something better in the future. We can get through the tough times, because they won’t always be tough. We can look forward and we can look to what will be that hasn’t come to pass yet.

The leader’s hope really comes from the belief that a goal is attainable. We can teach people something new; we can help them to learn, grow and transform. It gives you the strength to take yourself through the tough times. It also helps you to use your own personal creativity. And to think more about ideas that have you stuck, too. You wrestle with them and come up with new possibilities.

And hope also brings the ability to be resilient, which means to get through the tough times, to bounce back, to keep going. When we face uncertain times in our life like the world we’re living in now, we need more inspiration. We need more creativity. And we need more resilience to get through and keep going. And hope can bring us all of those things.

So as a leader, as an educator, we are dealers of hope. We bring hope, we talk about hope. And we provide a frame of reference so others can have hope too. Beyond that, what is it that really does motivate you to teach? What is it that brings you into the arena every single day, to do what you do? If we can pause and just capture that, the fuel behind what you do every day, then we can make sure you have it in your life every day. We can actually be intentional about doing the kinds of things that are going to put that in its proper place.

One of the things that fuels me is the people and the joy of connecting with other people, but also wrestling with things and creating something that is transformed. It could be that we’re wrestling with a problem, a program, or trying to develop a musical number we’re going to polish and perform. It could be anything like that. But that wrestle and the transformative experience, and then the product at the end. That is such a beautiful bright spot in my life. And I look for that all the time when I’m an educator doing my educator thing.

What is it that you look for? Take a moment to just jot down some ideas for yourself. And if you have a reflective journal, this is a great idea to write about today. What is it that you deal in? As an educator primarily, we deal in hope. But what else? What is it for you?

Think about the last week of your life as an educator, just the last seven days. If you’re teaching a class right now, what is it that happened during your day that brought you a ray of sunshine, or made you feel really excited or look forward to doing it again? Whatever that is, I would write that down in your reflective journal. This is going to be a clue of the big picture ideas you need to be pursuing so that you have more satisfaction in your role and more happiness in your job.

One of the things I love most about that, wrestling with problems, is collaborating with other people. And right now, in my current role, I do a lot of collaborating with other educators, with colleagues and peers and leaders of all levels. And we might end the day with a conversation where we’re talking about something that is a challenge we’re working on. I love focusing on some of the wins of the past week. So often, I’ll try to choose a conversation for the end of the day that will bring a spark or a light into that day and end the day really well.

That way, in my own role as an educator, no matter what challenges I’m facing during the day, I’m going to end the day in a way that really leaves me feeling great and having a sense of control over what I’m doing. After all, there is so little we can truly control in our world. And in our lives, we can control the attitude we have. And a great way to do that is to put people in your path that you know you can be positive with or who will celebrate with you, or who are willing to look at the hope and the bright side of things. So if you’re interested in that, that could be a way to end your day as well.

What else brings you a fuel for what you’re doing? What gets you through those hard times and helps you persevere, when things seem really, really difficult? It’s very easy to notice all that’s going wrong, we could list five things that are going wrong right now. But what’s going right for you?

If this is a bit of a struggle, and it’s difficult to know what lights your fire, I’d like to suggest one activity you could try every day for the next week. And pretty soon you’re going to be able to identify those things that do bring you a sense of satisfaction in your work. And then you’ll notice what really lights your fire, not just satisfaction, you’ll get to that next level of being really excited about what you do. This activity is to write three good things that are happening or did happen.

At the end of every day, schedule five minutes, just take a notepad and write down three good things. After you do that for a couple of days, turn them into three good things that you did. Things where you had an impact, where you contributed your strengths or your talents. Something where you had autonomy, or you benefited by collaborating with somebody else. Whatever it is, you want three distinctly different things every single day for one week.

And then at the end of the week, look back for patterns. What similarities do you see? Are there similar activities that were good in your opinion? Did these things bring you hope, satisfaction, happiness? Help you feel glad that you are doing the career field you’re in? Whatever you see in those patterns, you can then decide how to get more of that in your daily work. And that’s going to continue to light your fire.

As you think about what fuels you as an educator, and what really brings you excitement in your day and passion to your work, there are some things we can do to help light the fire of other people around us. This is especially important if we have friends, family members, peers and colleagues who are struggling to feel like the work they do makes a difference.

The first thing we can do to inspire hope in other people and light their fire is to show that we love and care for them. That could be we’re just listening, we’re just being there being present, just spending the time. Everyone needs to feel that they are important, and that others will listen to them and just care for them. So demonstrating the love and care we have for others can be a real bright spot that lights the fire.

Second, remember that everyone deserves happiness. And there are some simple things we can do to inspire happiness. While we may not be able to make anyone feel an emotion, we can definitely invite happiness through the things we do. Sometimes it’s through a thank you note, sometimes a phone call, there are a lot of things that can bring happiness. And if you think about what the person in your life might be most interested in, you can act on that and generate a little more happiness.

A third thing we can do is to help the other person figure out what lights their fire and motivates them most. And this could be a lot of talking about the past, what brought them excitement in the past, why they entered the teaching profession, what they have loved. Sometimes in courses they have taught in times when they’ve had a good experience professionally, or with students, happy memories they have during their career.

There are a lot of ways to get at that and really identify what someone’s passion is in their professional area. And if it’s really, really challenging for a person to get up to the space of finding that, we could also look at recreational interests and life areas, and find something that brings joy, excitement, passion, enthusiasm and happiness for that person. Simply having the conversation and exploring that with someone else can also demonstrate that love and care that was the beginning of this list. Anytime we spread that hope in others, and light the fire for them by identifying what they care most about, that will just bring more of the good that we’re trying to put out there in the world by being educators, teaching others and lifting them to the next level of whatever their career field is, or whatever their professional goal is or their personal development goal. So the more we help other people figure out what lights their fire, the more we’re generating a lot of that.

Alright, so think about what lights your fire. Notice it over the next week, and see if you can share and inspire others to do the same. And of course, I would love to hear from you and hear how you’ve made this a reality in your life and in your work. Go ahead and visit BethanieHansen.com/request, and you can share your comments there. And any tips and strategies you have in this particular area would be wonderful. We can share them with other educators in a future episode. Take care of yourself this coming week and enjoy your students. Now we’re wishing you all the best 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.

#126: Tips for Educators Starting a New Online Class

#126: Tips for Educators Starting a New Online Class

This content first appeared on APUEdge.edu.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Focus on Communications in the Online Class

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ways to Get to Know Students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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