fbpx

BethanieHansen.Com

Helping Educators Thrive while Teaching Online, so They Can Help Students Develop Their Potentials and Promote Resilience and Lifelong Learning in Their Communities

Dr. Bethanie Hansen 

Strategic Educational Leader and Coach

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

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

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

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

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

Listen to the Episode:

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

Read the Transcript:

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

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

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

Tips for Preparing Your Classroom for Sickness or Time Away

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

Be Proactive

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

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

Keep an Organized Classroom

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

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

Create an Emergency Contact Card

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

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

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

Provide Students with a Secondary Contact in Case of Emergency

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

Maintain Healthy Habits to Keep You Well

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

Classroom Policies to Develop Ahead of Illness or Unexpected Absences

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

Develop a Communication Plan for Students

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maintain a Clear and Quality Grading Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips on How to Handle Emergencies or Illnesses

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

Issue an Instructor Availability Announcement to Students

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

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

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

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

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

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

Communicate with Supervisors, Colleagues and Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips for Supervisors to Manage Faculty Emergencies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#103 Podcast: Insight from Leading the Way in Online Higher Education

#103 Podcast: Insight from Leading the Way in Online Higher Education

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com. 

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education and
Dr. Jan SpencerDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education and
Dr. Kate Zatz, Acting President, American Public University

The pandemic accelerated the prevalence of online higher education. While offering online education was a new endeavor for many institutions of higher learning, American Public University has been delivering online, or distance, education for 30 years. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen and Dr. Jan Spencer talk to Dr. Kate Zatz, who served as a university board member for 17 years before becoming Acting President in 2021. Hear insight about navigating rapid growth, the challenges of continuous improvements to technological systems and processes, and the work being done to connect and assist students in an online environment.

Listen to the Episode:

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

Read the Transcript:

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

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. This is Bethanie Hansen, and I am so excited to be with you today. We have two special guests, Dr. Jan Spencer and Dr. Kate Zatz. We have just celebrated our hundredth episode on the Online Teaching Lounge, so we’re very excited that we’ve been running this podcast for almost two straight years, helping online educators and other professionals in online education understand students, meet their needs, and really get things going. So I’m going to pass it to you, Dr. Spencer, and, Jan, can you just give us a little bit of an introduction to you, and then go ahead and introduce our guest?

Dr. Jan Spencer: Yes. Thank you so much, Bethanie. It’s a privilege to be here. I serve as the Department Chair for Educational Leadership. That’s in the K-12 arena. And then also I have two programs in higher education, one in student affairs and the other one in higher education administration.

And when I first began this role, I was in a meeting with Dr. Kate Zatz, and found out that she has degrees in these areas. And I thought that would be perfect to ask her to come on and interview her about higher education, and her understanding and her wisdom in terms of student affairs and higher education administration. Since she’s now the President of our university, what a privilege it is that she immediately said, “Yes, I would love to do it.” And so I want to just ask her to introduce herself, and so glad to have you here, Dr. Zatz.

Dr. Kate Zatz: Thank you so much for inviting me, Dr. Spencer. Is it okay if I call you Jan? You can call me Kate.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Call me Jan, I’ll call you Kate. Great.

Dr. Kate Zatz: It’s a deal. I’ve been of American Public University since November 4th, 2021. I’m currently the acting president, but prior to that, I served on the board for the last 17 years. And when I came onto the board of APUS, I was a Dean of Students at the College of Aeronautics at LaGuardia Airport. And that was right after I had finished my doctorate at Columbia University. I hold an EDD in Higher Education Administration, a Master’s degree in Education Administration, and a Master’s in Student Personnel Administration from Teachers College.

Teachers College was the first institution to actually have a degree in Student Personnel Administration, started by Sarah Sturdivant in 1921. It was out of the need for integrating what happens inside a classroom with what happened outside of the classroom, and the need for developing a cadre of people who could help run institutions and focus on student personnel in areas of student activities, deans’ offices, international students, career services, student activities, the whole plethora of what happens in a higher education institution. So, I’m one of those lucky people who figured out very young in life what I wanted to do, which was basically go to college, figure out how to be paid to be there, and never have to leave.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Kate, you are a treasure to all of us here, and you’re delightful to speak with. One of the things that I added to our questions from our original consideration of this was getting your perspective, since you have a longevity of experience with the university. Now you’re the President. That’s a different place of observation of what’s going on. What do you see differently now that you’re the President?

Dr. Kate Zatz: I’m having the time of my life. I always thought when Wally Boston was doing this, it had to be the best job on the planet. And apparently, I was right. It is an amazing experience being the President. We have just so many things in the hopper about moving the institution forward.

The big difference, I think, between being the board chair of the last 17 years—I’ve spent at least 12 years being the Chair of the Board of American Public University, sitting with my colleagues as a board member, you think you know what’s going on, on the inside. You think that you’ve done your homework to advise the management and the administration about the best practices and the best things to do. But being on the inside, it’s really interesting when it comes to actually deploying, or implementing, or figuring out how to do that vision that you’ve heard, and the disjointed parts of it, but also the seamless points of it.

And the unifying fact is how mission-driven American Public University has been ever since I came on the board in 2004, serving those who serve, and how we go about every day trying to improve how we do that, that no matter where you sit, whether or not it’s the board or in the President’s chair, how we really try to focus on the student experience and making it better all the time. And how we go about trying to make it a better institution, serving more students, serving students better, making education affordable, keeping it affordable, and all the time, working on the quality of what we’re providing, that we’re pretty much in sync.

The big differences for me between being on the board and being the President are that I have made a commitment to myself to be a President in residence. It may sound really old school in considering that the pandemic’s going on, but I’m actually sitting in 111 West Congress Street here in Charles Town, West Virginia, where it has been the hub of who we are and what we do for the last 20-some years. We had moved out of here for a while, but we’re back in the building, and it’s really a hub of activity right now. Dr. Smith is downstairs, one flight away from me. Dr. Cottam is in this building. Accreditation is in this building. And the idea that we’re here and we’re able to just walk up and down the stairs to talk to each other about what we’re focusing on and how we’re going to serve students, it’s really a pretty amazing place.

Dr. Jan Spencer: When I got the gist some time ago that you spend a lot of time there in your office, I was very impressed by that. It shows a depth of commitment, if you don’t mind me saying that. I like that. With regard to student affairs in higher education and higher education administration, during your tenure with this university, you have seen an enormous level of changes going on in the online space particularly.

It is during these last 17 years of your involvement that the university has grown very large and very influential in higher education. This is a changing world. Can you enlighten us a bit about what we should be aware of in the changes that are going on in this space?

Dr. Kate Zatz: When I became board chair in 2004, we had 7,000 students, and at that point we were still mailing out books every month. And here we are, and we’re close to a 100,000 students. And boy, have things changed. The one constant is change.

I can only reflect on how many different iterations of what we do, we’ve gone through. In terms of course development, for example, it’s a good thing that we’re on a three-year cycle for updating all our courses, because with technology changing as fast as it does, sometimes when you take a course and look at it once, it could be three years before you update it, things have really changed by then.

So what has changed? Years ago, back in 2004, when we introduced the Partnership at a Distance (PAD), there were some assumptions that we made about students and their ability to be self-sufficient and navigate the online universe on their own with very little support. And perhaps that was true for some students.

But it wasn’t too long after that, that we started in with realizing that there was a space related to student affairs where career development, and advising support, and the ability to talk to people who were in the field that a student was studying. So, very early on, by 2007, we had started the process of actually chartering student groups here at APU, which is, at that time, it was really pretty cutting edge.

That coupled with, somewhere around 2007, 2008, 2009, we started applying for and earning Sloan and Gromy awards for excellence in online education, which meant that for us, our learning outcomes of how we were able to verify what we were teaching was what people were learning, and then taking the information on how to improve courses and reflecting that into the curriculum and improving.

So we went through a whole series of that, while at the same time working toward our initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission. It was pretty monumental when we hit that milestone.

And then, as time has gone on, there is no doubt about it that we continue to be a leader in student learning outcomes, program outcomes. One of the things that is just truly amazing to me is how library services and information has changed to the point that obviously we no longer send books out to people. What we do is that we subscribe and make available some of the best online reference platforms there are, period, point blank. The fact that regardless of where you are in any one of the 24 time zones, that 24 hours a day, you can do things like log into the library and get help with something that you’re studying. So the changes have been ever increasing.

And for the future, what I see happening is, as we were a pioneer in online learning, oftentimes when we would put up a system, it would be not necessarily a smooth transition to the next part. For example, if you applied, how your application got transitioned to financial aid, or how we took information about you and your interests, and lined you up with the right curriculum. Some of these processes would take longer than we would wish. So automation has been one of the hallmarks of one of those things that we continue to work on. Where we’ve been able to automate something, we’ve pretty much done it.

And where I see still some benefits for students in the future are being able to automate things that are currently manually done on their behalf, where some of those big questions about when one is applying to come to APU, about if you decide you want to take a program or you want to study something, you still have to figure out how you’re going to pay for it, and how many credits you’re going to be able to transfer here.

So, some of these things, the accuracy of how that happens, but also the speed by which we’re able to give a student the answer of how many credits we’re going to take, and how much it’s going to cost, and how much aid they’re going to get, are still critical issues that we can always continuously improve upon. And that’s one of the really cool things about this place is that we learn from doing, and then we take the information, and we turn around and improve the processes. And it’s one of the things that I’m really very proud of that we do that because we’re always striving to be better.

Dr. Jan Spencer: That’s great, Kate. Thank you so much for that. As you’re speaking and sharing about some of the changes that are happening, one word that came to me is the word “challenge.” Because I am overseeing the higher education administration program and student affairs, there are some left curves that may be up ahead for somebody who’s going to be entering that field.

What are some of the challenges that we may encounter in working and preparing students for a degree in higher education that we may not be aware of even yet in terms of it being right in front of us? Help me understand some of the challenges that you now see as the President.

Dr. Kate Zatz: So, student affairs, I think has always been a passion, and it is an area that causes people to think holistically about students. And I think one of the challenges for people going into this field is, as COVID has certainly impacted us, we’ve been teaching online, we’ve been a remote institution for the last 30 years.

What has not caught up is how we educate people to be in student services and student affairs. In some ways, it’s been a field without an epistemology. The closest you can find perhaps is Chickering or some of the work of Knefelkamp. And those issues of student development theory and how they apply in an online environment, they’re not always as easy to see.

And what happens is, I think that one of the things that we’ve lost is our connection to students. We have to really work at it. And what I see as a challenge is people who go into the field not realizing that a lot of the work that they’re going to end up doing is online. It’s going to be remote. It’s going to be individualized, and it may not be on a traditional campus.

And what I’m really seeing is traditional campuses, nonprofits who have decided to go online, who don’t have the staff support infrastructure to do a really good job teaching online. What they’re trying to do is, they try to poach people who know what they’re doing.

So here at APUS, one of my challenges has been working on retaining our very creative, dedicated staff and student advisement, for example, financial aid, admissions, making sure that we are at least where other institutions are in the market in terms of pay.

But, we have a different quality of employee because many of them not only understand the theory and the practice, but have taken the time to learn how to do that in an online environment, which is not an easy thing to do. So learning how to navigate online for the current student affairs professional or the student in student affairs, coupled with the challenges of doing this online, I think, are part of what faces us.

Dr. Jan Spencer: I have in our programs sought to establish things like a Student Union where students would come together every month. We encourage mentorship. It’s hard, though, to get students to buy into that. Even though our professors are willing, sometimes it’s difficult for the student who is signed up to have a remote education because they basically don’t want to deal with people so much. Can you help me with that?

Dr. Kate Zatz: Some of the fun that I’ve been having is I’ve showed up at the orientation for doctoral students, but we have some really active groups on different platforms like Quill and Scroll, Saber and Scroll, that I’ve been invited to. There are so many different student groups that are meeting. And I don’t know how to get this across to students that are studying student affairs, but how you go about networking with each other. There’s some positions I’m looking for to fill here at APU, and I’ve been able to use my network to go, “Hey, we’re hiring here. This is what I’m looking for. Is there anybody you can nominate?”

And the thing is, is that’s done because I’ve got a very large network of people who have worked in student affairs. And that, along with doing things like getting involved in the National Association for Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) where there’s different groups within NASPA that focus on different topic areas and different service areas within the field, it’s really worth somebody’s while if they’re new to the field or are looking to be promoted.

There’s only so many years you want to spend at an entry-level position, but there are opportunities to move your career forward by getting involved with the professional organizations that are out there that are specifically related to student affairs administration, and it’s really worth one’s while.

For years, I was a vice president for student affairs and would attend NASPA as a chief student affairs officer and as a senior student affairs officer, and those networks are invaluable to me now.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you so very much. I’m going to throw this back over to Bethanie for some follow-up questions before we move ahead.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thank you, Jan. Kate, I really appreciate all of the expertise you’ve been sharing, and especially some background about how the university has developed over time, and some of the things that have changed, and some of the things that may need to still change in the field of student affairs.

I’m thinking myself a little bit about the part-time faculty who teach with us. I’ve just heard a lot from them that they learned how to teach online by teaching at APU. And when the pandemic came along and they needed to, at their full-time jobs, help others, they had the skills, they had some things they could share.

And we have listeners all over the world that listen to this podcast. Many of them are listening to it to get some of those ideas. If you had some suggestions for things that online professionals, whether they’re the faculty members or student affairs professionals could do to just step it up and really provide good quality online help to those that they teach and work with, what would you recommend as some real tips?

Dr. Kate Zatz: When one is looking at teaching part-time online, before you sign off on that contract, there’s a couple things that you’re going to want to look at, like, for example, who owns your content? Pretty simple. How much of your course do you personally need to put together? Is there a requirement that you know how to write HTML? Or is that something that the institution that’s hiring you is going to do?

Because these days, when a course goes live online, there’s some expectations that are built into how that course is going to operate. Is it compliant with ADA? Does it meet the student learning outcomes for a particular course program? And how does it fit into the overall curriculum for a degree?

So if somebody is just going to pass off a fully developed course to you, before you sign off on it, make sure that those bells and whistles are already in place so that you’re not doing it yourself. Take a look at what you’re getting in terms of remuneration, or what you’re contributing that is original to that.

Also, the whole phenomenon of learning about open resources that can be used in coursework. To what extent do you need to become an expert on what’s out there that you can put into your course as you’re doing that? One would hope that there is support for looking at those kinds of things.

So, it’s one thing to get your course up and running, but when you get to the end of the first week, and you certainly have students that have not logged in, or you see that people are struggling, those kinds of interventions that you can do as a faculty member by reaching out, even before you get there, some of the best practices go like this. We’re going to get to the point at APU where a student can log into a course before the course starts. I think it’s really important, and it’s one of the better practices to be able to log in and see what is on that syllabi, what the due dates are, what the breadth and depth of the expectations are for a student.

Later into 2022, I’m really hoping that that goes live, because what I’ve found is that if a student is able to plan their life around due dates, and understands what the expectations are for them in that particular course, they’re more likely to enroll and stay enrolled. Because what happens is, is that it’s not a Sunday when they’re figuring out what it is that they’re going to have to do. So let’s say you’re a faculty member, and your course, before it goes live, a student looks at it.

Well, I would hope that a faculty member does some outreach, acknowledges the students in their class, and does things like sends an email out to the class, or figures out different ways to interact with them before the class even starts. And then after the class starts, are those students participating in the way that you would want them to? Those kinds of things that help push people along, keep them engaged, go directly to retention and persistence in what students end up doing. And it’s really important that that gets done.

So, I know that for American Public University, there are nearly 2,000 people who teach for us part-time, are folks that are expert in their field, they’re practitioners. And they’re some of the most interesting people there are because we could never replicate that kind of knowledge and direct application of what they’re doing out in the field if we tried to get them all to come to Charles Town. But what we can do is value what they’re doing for our students all over the world, because we have faculty members and students in all 24 time zones, and it’s really pretty cool.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Agree. I agree completely. And I appreciated you mentioning some of those strategies that really help engage students, like sending the message before the class begins. We have an episode about welcome messages that I just want to refer our listeners to in case someone wants a few tips about how to do that, what that could look like. And in the transcript from this podcast, there will be a link that listeners can click on just to check out that episode.

I love also the variety of faculty that you just mentioned. We do have a lot of experts in many fields that you wouldn’t find anywhere else. Thanks, Kate. I’m going to pass it back to you, Jan, and any other questions you have.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you, Bethanie. And two questions I was going to ask you next, you’ve really already referred to, and that’s the importance of retention, keeping students on track, innovations to assist the university to help students to get an edge. And I think that the whole idea of classroom access is a part of that.

My other question really has to do with the value of an education that focuses on higher education administration. You’re an expert in that. How can I encourage our students to have a high value of expectation about what it can create for them? We are in an online environment. I want to presume that online education is proliferating in the world. What’s the value we can give to higher education leadership in today’s marketplace?

Dr. Kate Zatz: That’s a really good question. I think the sky is the limit for people who are seeking to have a career in higher education right now. And the reason why is because everything is up in the air. We’re a really solid institution. We know what we’re doing. But I had been doing consulting work off and on and where small institutions that are tuition driven, are really struggling, and will continue to struggle because they can’t afford the infrastructure to go online. And students aren’t necessarily gravitating toward that kind of an education.

What I see is almost unlimited opportunity in the field of higher ed if you figure out things like the value of continuous improvement, organizational behavior, doing things like learning how to do coaching. And if you keep current in practice, one’s career could go pretty doggone far.

Dr. Jan Spencer: That is great. One last question I have for you, Kate, and it’s really off the script here of the things I wanted to ask you. But it has everything to do with what we as a world and a nation have gone through in the last couple of years. And as a university, we haven’t had public graduations for two years; twice we’ve had to miss. Now this coming summer, we plan to have a public graduation. You’ll be the President.

What are you thinking about as you look forward to that time when we’re all going to come together for the first time, many of us who work, like me, who work remotely, the first time in nearly three years we’ve been together. What’s your level of expectation for that? What’s going to be happening in you as we build up to that time?

Dr. Kate Zatz: There is no doubt about it in my life, the commencement day at APU is my favorite day of the year. I’ve only missed, I think, one since 2004. So, frankly, I’ve been working on the strength in my right hand so that I can shake hands. And I’d like to be funny and say I’ve already started signing off on diplomas because there’s over 30,000 of them.

I am so looking forward to seeing people in person, I can’t tell you. There is a list of people that I need to get some hugs from, and a list of people I need to give hugs to. There are people who have been working so hard here at APU. Halfway through this last year, we did a major switch around about fixing some things that were going on in enrollment and in admissions, and people worked double time to do a roll out of a new customer relation management system. And people here at APU have been working so hard that coming together and celebrating at the National Harbor, I am so looking forward to it. I can’t tell you. I hope you’re there.

Dr. Jan Spencer: I plan to be there. Kate, it is a delight to have you as our guest. Before we conclude this session. Is there anything else you can give us in terms of insights, or just what you’re feeling about, or things that you know we need to be thinking about as your team?

Dr. Kate Zatz: We need to keep up the good work that we’re doing. We really do. And we need to make sure that people have the support that they need to work with their students and get done what they need to get done. I’m just really honored and grateful to be here. And like I said, being the President of American Public University is the best job on the planet. It just is. And we just need to keep on serving those who serve the best we can.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you Dr. Zatz. Bethanie?

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: I echo that. Thank you, Dr. Zatz, for being here. And for our listeners today, we’ve been privileged to hear from Dr. Kate Zatz, current President at American Public University, and Dr. Jan Spencer, a Department Chair in the School of Arts, Education, and Humanities.

Thank you both for being here, and thank you to our listeners for tuning in today. We 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.

#96: Student Retention Strategies in Online Education

#96: Student Retention Strategies in Online Education

This content originally appeared on APUEdge.Com.

Every year, a large number of students across the country leave college and fail to complete their degree. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks about what educators can do to improve student retention numbers. Learn ways to help students address academic difficulties, resolve academic or occupational goals, and help them gain a sense of belonging and connection during their education.

Listen to the Episode:

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

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

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m Bethanie Hansen, and I’m happy to be with you here today talking about student retention. Student retention is a phrase that you might hear a lot in online higher education. Every year a large number of students all across the country leave college and fail to complete their degree. So as professionals in online learning, we’re especially concerned about this number.

What are Student Retention Rates?

Now there’s a place called the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, and in 2019, they reported that nearly 29% of students who entered college in the fall of 2017 at four-year public institutions did not return to those institutions for a second year. That was well before the pandemic ever began. So we know it’s not specifically because of the pandemic. Retention of our online students is particularly low for those who are attending part-time. So nearly half of them are retained, and that means nearly half of them leave.

There’s a lot of data on this and when we think about why students enroll in college in the first place and why they may drop or choose not to return, there are many reasons. There are of course, personal issues, financial issues, family, work-related stress, interruptions, all kinds of things that come into the mix.

But there is a lot that we can do and these things we try to do to help students stay the course or persist and keep going to college, those are called retention strategies. When we do our retention strategies, then we start watching our students to see what they do. Are they staying? Are they enrolling in another class? Are they sticking around for the next semester or the next session? And when they do, we call that student persistence. So retention is what we do as the educators and higher education professionals to try to retain those students in class. And persistence? That’s what the students do.

Retention Strategies to Improve Student Persistence

Today, I’m going to speak with you about retention strategies. Things that we can try in working with our students to really encourage them to persist, to finish the class they enrolled in and continue on to the next one.

Most educators I know, and likely you might be the same way, we get into education because we really want to make a difference with our students. We want to help them reach their potential. We want to make a difference in this world by helping people better themselves through the transformative power of education.

That can’t happen if students are quitting their educations. When they don’t finish and they don’t keep going from class to class, they have a lot less opportunity available to them. Having that degree, whether it’s an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, or even a doctoral degree, those things are so encouraging, but they also qualify our students for specific career fields and jobs.

So it’s very motivating for us as the teacher or a faculty member to encourage that student, to help them along. We’re going to talk about things we can do. We’re also going to talk about some things that inadvertently might affect our students’ desire to continue.

As a faculty director for seven years, I had a lot of experiences where I got occasional complaints about this or that faculty member. It did seem like there are certain behaviors that tend to push students away. And if we were together during a face-to-face class, and we did those very same things with a smile on our face, or with a bit of conversation around them, they would not have the same impact at all.

So, we’re going to talk a little bit about things that tend to push students away, as well as those strategies for helping them continue. I hope you’ll find some value in this podcast today, and at least one strategy you can try this coming week with your students. And hopefully continue so you can help them continue as well.

Model of Institutional Departure

There’s a well-known model created by Vincent Tinto. It was created in 1993 after his first published work in 1975. And it’s been used for a lot of years by many institutions. This model is called the Model of Institutional Departure. This model is all about three main areas that impact student persistence. These areas can easily be the reason why students leave the institution and don’t continue with their degree programs.

Academic Difficulties

The first one is academic difficulties. Think about what could enable the success of a student who is having academic difficulties. One thing I’ve seen in online education is a bit of flexibility when a student initially struggles academically. Some faculty will allow a redo. They’ll direct the student to a tutoring center, someone who can help them with their studies or their essay writing. And they’ll start to strengthen that student.

When we see that happen, sometimes the student will gain confidence, persevere through those academic difficulties, and start learning the hard stuff—they’ll really persist. Some will not. But academic difficulties are one of the major sources of student departure.

Challenges in Resolving Educational and Occupational Goals

A second area of students departing an institution is challenges in resolving educational and occupational goals. Now I experienced that myself at one time when I was completing a certificate at an institution. I was trying to change my major from this one area to this graduate certificate. And somehow just in the system itself, my records got stuck. My GPA went to 0 from all the credits that I did have, and I couldn’t figure out who to talk to or get help from. It was so discouraging, I didn’t feel like there was any way to resolve those goals that I had.

Challenges in resolving educational and occupational goals for our students can literally appear like a brick wall. So, the student does not feel like there’s any way forward to get where they really want to go. And, of course, that could be discouraging enough that they stop altogether.

Failure to Connect with the Institution

And third, failure to become academically and socially connected with the institution. When we think about this one, it’s really interesting because we have a variety of college age young people between the teen years and around 25 years old, which we would call traditional learners. And we also have adult learners who are over 25, all the way up to 80, 90 or so years old. We have a wide range of people going to college, especially online.

If you think about this wide range of age groups and demographics, failure to become academically and socially connected with the institution is an interesting obstacle to overcome. What does the student really want through academic connection? And what does the student want through social connection? Not every student is going to want the same thing. So, there are a variety of things that might attract the student to really get engaged and stay.

The bottom line in that academic and social connection is that the student feels a sense of belonging. They feel like they’re part of that college community and they want to be part of it. Some of us love it so much we become professional educators and we just want to stay forever because that sense of belonging was so rich and so inviting.

Think about your online class. If we just look from the lens of the single educator teaching one course with students in it, how can you help the student become connected to the academic life of that institution? What can you do to really build cognitive presence throughout the experience so the student feels richly involved? And what can you do to help them feel socially connected with the institution?

We had an example in the fall of 2021. We had an event that was about two hours long called World Philosophy Day. This event was recorded. So any student who could not attend could watch it after the fact. Simply knowing that it’s there, makes a lot of students feel socially connected and academically connected too. Attending the event really boosts that level. We had many students attend live and they stayed through the question and answers section at the end and asked a lot of questions. That did a lot for social connection in that group of students. Anything we do to help them feel like they’re part of a community is going to really go a long way.

Academic and Social Connection Support Students’ Goals

Now there are a lot of people who have done research on retention strategies. These three areas that I’ve mentioned from Tinto’s Model of Institutional Departure are really good, broad areas to be thinking about as faculty members, as teachers of our courses, and as members of this academic community. We can also think about how students need significant interactions with other members of the college.

That could be other departments. It could be faculty members. It could be the Dean, the President, the Provost. There are a lot of ways that students can have significant interactions, but they must be significant. Simply seeing someone’s name on a website is not going to check that box. So, as you’re thinking about different things you might do in your teaching throughout the session or term that you’re teaching your students, consider what might constitute a significant interaction with other members of the college.

What can you do to get students working with each other and connecting with different departments as they need to for your subject matter? How can you get your students to really get involved in the institutional library? Some online institutions have live librarians they can connect with and students can go there and talk to a real person. They can go to the advising department and connect with real people there.

We have student accommodations and a whole department associated with that. There are many different departments filled with live people that can speak with them and with whom they can really gain relationships. These are going to be significant interactions that help them feel part of the community and like they belong. Really integrating our students into this community is what’s going to help them want to stay.

The Role of Mentoring

Think about this point: Mentoring has been mentioned a lot in recent years in higher education, but particularly in online higher education. Mentoring has a lot of potential to help students feel like they’re connected to the institution and that they’re having significant interactions. Mentoring can go a lot of different ways. For example, mentoring might have to do with helping the student prepare for their career field. It might have to do with help guiding them in the subject matter, helping them to balance their life, get their study skills down.

There’s a wide range of areas that could fit into mentoring. But particularly for students who are isolated and don’t have a really clear way to connect to the institution, mentoring can go a long ways towards helping that student feel like they really do have a space there and a person that’s their go-to person.

Now, another variation of mentoring could be group work throughout a class. If you can get your students combined into groups of some kind and work together for projects and things, and yet grade them on their own contributions, not dependent on those other people. If they can work together, but still be individually accountable, that’s going to be a form of peer support that can be especially rich and supportive during a course.

Anything we can do to share what’s happening in the institution with our students, especially if there are events happening, webinars, if there’s a commencement ceremony, even if the student isn’t graduating that year, for them to know about it, to hear about it, to see it coming up, they’re going to be able to imagine themselves participating sometime in the future.

So there are those three big areas that tend to push students toward departure. And there are a lot of things we can do that helps students to really feel anchored and like they belong in the community to prevent those things from happening.

Now, on the flip side, I mentioned that I occasionally get student complaints and although I’m no longer a Faculty Director, I am a Department Chair, so I still have my finger on the pulse of what students are experiencing in my department. And when they have an experience with a faculty member that is not friendly, not inviting, not supportive, I hear about it.

A good example of this would be just a slow and abrupt response. If a student has a reason to ask for support with an assignment or clarity about a topic, and maybe the instructor is feeling like “this is a question I get all the time and I’m tired of this question,” the comment may come back slow and it might be a little terse or abrupt. And that can be incredibly rejecting to the student who’s asking for help.

Many students do not want to ask for help. And when they finally do, they’ve thought about it a really long time. So it could do us a lot of good to think about what that student is experiencing when they’re coming to us for help? What their experience with us in the class might be? What our impact is before we think about what their question is?

Educators Can Improve Engagement and Interactions

So, we can see things through the eyes of our students a lot better when we ask questions, when we pause and notice the tone, the question, the words that the student is using. And what we choose to focus on in our engagement with another, whether it’s virtual or a face-to-face engagement, that’s going to grow. So if we focus on the unkind part or the abrupt part of it, we’re going to continue to have that kind of an interchange with that person.

Likewise, if we focus on curiosity and patience and understanding, we’re going to grow that side of our teaching as well. Once we slow down and we pause and we notice where the student’s coming from, ask a lot of questions, and really try to understand, then we can be really present with what they need. And we can focus on that one thing and just give them that presence and that support that’s going to help them keep going in their studies and be really capable of exercising the grit that they need and the resilience that they need to continue.

Send a Welcome Note to Invite Students into the Class

Now you might be thinking that you’ve heard a lot about retention programs at your institution. Maybe there’s been an initiative rolled out that everyone needs to do a certain thing a certain way, and that’s going to help students persist in their classes. There are a lot of things that work incredibly well for retention purposes.

And if you’re doing them and you’re watching the results and you’re approaching them with a true desire to help your students keep going, they’re going to be more effective. One of those things is communicating to your students before the session begins. And that could be a few days before the class begins. It could be a week before the class begins.

When you do that primary outreach before the course has started, you introduce yourself, you start building a connection with your student and you build a bridge before the first day of class, your student is more invited and they’re feeling less nervous, less anxious about showing up in your classroom. They have a little bit of a sense of safety already before the first day of class.

Set Expectations Early to Help Students Plan Ahead

Another thing that we can do that helps students to persist is to share with them what our expectations are and what the assignments are early in the session. Maybe they even get a copy of the syllabus before the first day of class. Whatever it is, they need to know what they’re going to have to do that whole time so they can plan their time accordingly.

If students don’t know that they’re going to have a large number of pages to read every night and several essays, they will likely drop the class when they get too busy to do those things. But if they know it going into the class, they can plan ahead and set the time aside and manage it.

Some students even decide when to take certain courses, whether to take only one course at a time, or to take two or three courses at a time, based on the perceived workload they think that course will have. Mine’s a really common one that students like to pair with at least one other class, because they think it’s going to be super easy. It’s music appreciation and they think they’re going to just listen to music all day long.

They are very surprised when they learn they have to write an essay, they have to read a lot, listen to a lot, discuss a lot in the discussions. But it’s a lot more helpful when they know on the very first day of class or even a couple days early in that welcome message that I’m going to send out. That gives them the chance to decide, should I move my courses around? Am I going to be able to take two or three classes at a time? And they can judge for themselves.

Communicate with Kindness to Build Relationships

So, even if there’s no big strategy at your institution, you can do some of those things to give students advanced information. Be very patient and kind in your communications even if you have to say no to something. And, help students feel like they belong, that they have some connection in your course and connection to the bigger university setting.

So be thinking about academic difficulties your students could have in your subject area and in your particular class. Think about what could present a challenge to them in resolving their goals while they’re trying to get through your class. And think about how they can become academically and socially connected to the institution. With those three things in mind, you’re more likely to help your students finish the class and persist to enroll in the next one and eventually graduate with that degree.

I hope you’ll think more about that this week and try one of those strategies. Maybe you’ll come up with one that I haven’t mentioned here. If you’d like to share it back, please visit my site, bethaniehansen.com/request, even though that form is set up for you to request specific topics. I’ve also gotten communications of all kinds and even feedback about our podcast at that address. And I would love to hear from you.

So let us know what’s working for you in retention strategies that really helps your students to persist and what keeps it from happening. And, just so you know, we’re almost to episode number 100 in this podcast. We have some special guests coming up in just a few weeks and I hope you will enjoy all of the student affairs topics we’ll be talking about. We even have a special appearance from our university president at American Public University, Dr. Kate Zatz coming up. So definitely tune in each week. Don’t miss an episode and share it with a colleague or a friend. Here’s to you and wishing you all the best this coming week in your online teaching.

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

#95: Student Affairs: Addressing Student Mental Health and Wellness

#95: Student Affairs: Addressing Student Mental Health and Wellness

This content first appeared on APUEdge.com

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education and
Dr. Jan SpencerDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education and
Dr. Sean BogleFaculty Member, American Public University

With the shift to online learning, student affairs professionals have had to become more adaptable and agile in how they reach and connect with students. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks to Dr. Jan Spencer and Dr. Sean Bogle about the need for student affairs professionals to be increasingly dynamic in order to assess the needs of students. Learn tips on identifying students who may be dealing with mental health issues, how to reach students regardless of their location, and working to make connections with students whether they’re online or on-campus.

Listen to the Episode:

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

Read the Transcript:

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

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. Today, you’re in for a real treat. We have two special guests, Dr. Jan Spencer and Dr. Sean Bogle. Welcome and let’s have you each introduce yourselves and we’ll start with you, Dr. Sean Bogle, tell us about you.

Dr. Sean Bogle: Yes, greetings everyone. As I’ve been introduced by Bethanie, thank you. My name is Dr. Sean Bogle. I am currently serving as a part-time faculty for American Public University. I’ve been in this role for almost two years now, and I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to engage with students who are pursuing their Master’s degree with a focus on student affairs.

Speaking of student affairs, I spent most of my career in higher education working as a student affairs administrator at various universities across the country. Most recently, I served as the Dean of Students at the Yale School of the Environment. And prior to that, I worked at a community college as a Dean of Student Affairs and Activities. At Stanford University as an Assistant Dean, and various other roles. And I found my passion for working in student affairs after actually being a public schools teacher for language arts. And I enjoyed that environment and wanted to pursue administration, initially, in the secondary environment.

That being said, I found that higher education fit my skillset and personality more. And upon getting my first role at University of Louisville as a residence-life coordinator, living in with 300 co-ed, it certainly wasn’t dull. But it was also very exciting to see that I could match my personality with supporting and developing undergraduate students, and also helping to lead those who were interested in engaging with students and supporting their needs. So, over 12 years of experience has really led me to serve in a role with American Public University that I’m very proud to be in.

Outside of that, I currently also work at Kuali. Kuali is a software company that supports institutes of higher education. And, specifically, I help partner universities across the country with research administration tools that we use so that schools that are seeking federal grants can execute their research in an efficient manner. So, this is my day-to-day role. And outside of that, I live in Connecticut. I’ve been here for over two years now. I enjoy it. I enjoy the full four seasons. And yeah, that’s just a little bit about me.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Fantastic. Thank you so much, Sean. And how about you, Dr. Spencer?

Dr. Jan Spencer: Hi, I’m Dr. Jan Spencer and I am the Department Chair for Educational Leadership and Student Life. And that incorporates three different programs: Educational Leadership in the K12 space, and then Higher Education Student Affairs, and Higher Education Administration.

And we are so very blessed to have Dr. Sean Bogle be on our team of faculty. He has brought a lot to the table, a lot of experience, a lot of depth. And, as he greatly explained, some of the journey he had, I so appreciate what that does for integrating in an educational environment with students who need to have answers to the variety of questions that they have. So, Sean, I’m so glad that we’re getting to work together and I’m so glad you’re on this interview.

Since you’ve really shared your journey and some of the institutional work that you’ve done, and your current role that you serve, you probably have a great view of a variety of environmental changes that have happened in student affairs. So, what significant changes can you see have happened, and are happening in our current educational environment and particularly as it relates to student affairs?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Absolutely. Thank you, Jan. And I think that when I look at some of the biggest challenges for students, it’s: how do we support students in multiple ways? The environment is certainly different than, say, what it was 10, 12 years ago, where there was this traditional college experience where we knew sort of how to support students, either on campus, or off campus. And many universities were very good at just doing one or the other.

And, now, when we look at student affairs, there’s more hybrid activity going on, where students may be engaged to a different level, on campus or off campus. And they need both. They need resources for both.

So, we need more dynamic student affairs professionals who can really reach students no matter what their environment is. Knowing that students are more familiar with the online setting, knowing that students need to be able to access their support, their student affairs administrators in various different settings. So, we have to be comfortable with the tools to engage with students outside of the on-campus environment.

We also need to be more cognizant that wellness is certainly at the forefront of what students are dealing with now, whatever wellness may be. Whether it’s mental health issues, home sickness, imposter syndrome, we have to be more prepared to support students with their needs for wellness.

Dr. Jan Spencer: One of the things that’s amazing about what you just said, and the context of our conversation today, is that you, Bethanie, and I are in three completely different locations in the United States. And mentioning the whole virtual aspect of student affairs, it seems to me, that’s going to create a bigger hurdle for you, as a professional, to be able to really address an individual student. That you can’t just sit down with face-to-face, and work through their issues. How do you accomplish that given the reality of the virtual challenges that we all face?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Yeah, I think a great example is recently in one of the courses that I was teaching, I had a student who was located in South Korea, and needed to reach out to me multiple times throughout the course. And as I mentioned earlier, Jan, I think it’s very important that administrators and teachers are able to adapt to the times. We need to be able to align ourselves and familiarize ourselves with the resources that are out there to make us more accessible to students.

So, I started using Calendly, which is essentially a tool where you can plop it into an email. It’s a link that allows for students to see your schedule, and be able to plug in a time that works. This is a lot more, for me, efficient than going back and forth with a student who may be in need, and have questions and need support.

I can just say, “Hey, here’s my Calendly link. Pick a time that works for you because I know it’s going to work for me if you pick it because it’s based on my availability.” And here I am reaching out to the student in South Korea. Now, it may be 11:30 or close to midnight for that student, but it worked enough for that student and our schedule to align for support.

Dr. Jan Spencer: So, you have capabilities then, to address the gap in terms of distance. What about the actual depth of conversation? Is the tool of, let’s say, a Zoom, or a similar technology, is that sufficient to be able to allow you to accomplish your goals in conversing with the students in order to support them?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Absolutely. That being said, I want to be adaptable as possible. So Zoom is my go-to for virtual meetings with students. That being said, I’m cognizant of the fact that some students may feel more comfortable with, say, Microsoft Teams or Google Meet. So, I want to make sure that I have access and know how to use all of those tools. They’re all very similar, but then there may be unique differences to them as well.

I just, again, want to reiterate how important it is for me to be adaptable. So, I want to make sure that when I’m meeting with a student that I’m doing so in a space that is similar to if they walked into my office, where there’s a level of privacy, where the student can feel like I’ve created a safe space, a comfortable space. I do have a seven-year-old daughter, so I try to make sure that I’m in a space that I am now where she can run and play. And I can also have the space that I need to give that student that one-on-one attention. If I’m, for example, in an environment where the background may be distracting, I’ll blur that background just so that that student understands that I’m mindfully engaged with whatever we’re discussing.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Okay, let me just press that just a little bit further. In talking about the value of student affairs in today’s market, one of the big words that we hear in online education is the word retention. And how does a professional in your field work with keeping students on track for the sake of keeping them in school? How does student affairs accomplish that? What are some of the insights that you utilize when you’re engaging the students?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Yeah, so, I think I’m looking at two different routes here. One of which is if I’m dealing with a student who is wanting and seeking a career in student affairs, I’m always looping them to, here are the possible routes for you upon graduation, upon completion of your program here’s what’s available. So, almost with every discussion, post, or assignment, I’m linking it to understanding what it is that they want to do.

So, for example, if it’s a student development course, and they’ve identified a certain theory that they associate with, I may say, “Wow, based on your understanding of that theory and the way you feel, you resonate to that theory, I think you’d be a really good residential life professional in supporting students.” So, that sort of gets the ball rolling and, “Wow, that’s a career field within student affairs that I could seek.” So, again, in trying to link a student affairs student to a possible career in student affairs is one aspect.

The other aspect is just a student in general, who may not necessarily have an interest in student affairs, but talking about the work of an administrator. I think it goes back to letting them know that I care, that I’m treating them as an individual and not as a number.

Oftentimes, particularly at large universities, students may feel lost. They may feel like one person in a class of 30. And they may need some guidance there. Oftentimes, I’m listening to their needs and sort of configuring my conversation to whatever it is that they need. And also, looking at their background, what it is about them that I can link to, to help give them support for where they come from.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you so much. I want to change the direction just a little bit and talk about equity, diversity, and inclusion. These are huge issues in student affairs today, in a general sense across universities and colleges. How do we address these kinds of issues? And maybe I should actually step back and say, where are we at with that? How do you interpret the progression of overcoming some of the hurdles associated with equity, diversity, inclusion, so that we see ourselves working together rather than working and tearing ourselves apart from each other? How do we work to bring ourselves together? How are we doing with that? And how does an online education, how does student affairs help? I know, that’s a huge question.

Dr. Sean Bogle: No, I think it’s an important question. Thank you for asking it. I think the work is ongoing. I think that it is something that we have to continue to embed into our day-to-day practices as teachers, as professionals, as human beings. I think those that, ultimately, have a care for others, and educators tend to do that, have a care for others, have a greater lens of support on what to look for. Because when we talk about diversity, and equity, and inclusion, we’re talking about being able to identify individuals, and to embrace their differences. And educators already have experience doing this. Good educators, I should say.

We know that students are at different points of their learning. We know that students are at different points of things that are going on outside of the classroom, such as socioeconomic status. We know that students may be facing learning challenges, and may need various different level levels of support to overcome those learning challenges. So, educators are already in a great space for this.

Specifically, with online learning, every time I send a student an audio feedback, I make sure to insert captions because I don’t want to assume that I have created an inclusive environment. So, I want to do everything that I can. And the inclusive part of DEI work is so important because as long as we’re giving everyone the opportunity to say, “You are welcome. I have thought about what may be needed for you to be in this space,” we are really achieving what we need for diversity and equity as well, because we’re doing everything that we can to create an opportunity for a student to see a little bit of themselves within our community.

That’s why it’s so important that we have a staff that represents diversity. We have staff from various socioeconomic, religious, sexual orientation, gender, all of that is into play. So, students can see a little bit of themselves within the faculty. That resonates with them. And I think that makes them feel inspired.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: I’m so intrigued by what we’re talking about here. And I know our listeners are too. You’ve said a couple of times here, Sean, that educators are already primed for this, to think about the individual, to consider what their needs might be. And I’m wondering, if someone is feeling a little bit less inclined, like they really want to do this, but they don’t really know how, is there some suggestion you have for expanding their approach a little bit?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Yeah. I think that there are so many opportunities out there for professional development that really do not cost anything. I think that just using the tools at hand, whether it’s something like LinkedIn, there’s so many articles and resources that are available that can just be absorbed on one’s own time.

I think the other thing is to correlate experiences. No matter the classroom setting, there is always going to be diversity. The diversity may not always look like race, but the correlation can be there. So, for example, if a teacher is working in an environment where there’s a high socioeconomic status, it doesn’t mean that every student in that environment has a high socioeconomic status. How have you related, or resonated, to that student?

Or a student in a high socioeconomic status may have a learning deficiency, how have you met that gap? That same approach of embrace, how do I include them? How do I customize and align my lesson? That’s the same thing that all students need. So, it’s a heterogeneous environment in terms of race, ethnicity, culture. It’s that same lens of how do I include them? How do I acknowledge their differences that creates that inclusive environment?

Dr. Jan Spencer: Great. Sean, one of the things I appreciate about working with you is that you bring a breadth of experience also from the marketplace, and that’s where you’re at right now in working in the marketplace, as well as teaching. So, help me understand, help our listeners understand the transition away from only focusing on campus instruction, and now being a part of the marketplace as well, with what your present role is. Help us understand how that fits into your overall approach to student affairs.

Dr. Sean Bogle: Absolutely. So, working primarily as a student affairs administrator for over 12 years, it gave me a very broad base in how to support students in the trenches, if you will, on the grounds, whether that is crisis management and support, nonclinical support, having conversations, planning large-scale events, or helping to plan large-scale events, such as orientation and graduation. These are sort of, as I mentioned, being in the trenches with students.

That being said, as I have sort of grown my own skillset, completed my doctorate work, it’s allowed me to take a more 30,000-foot view, if you will, of how the issues of a university impact students. So beyond that one-on-one support or that in-the-trenches support how do I, as a professional working in student affairs, look at the larger scale?

So now that I work at Kuali in my specific role as community engagement coordinator, focusing on partnering universities that are doing research with software tools, I’m looking at the scope of how does research impact students?

Many universities across the globe are doing research and, ultimately, it’s going to impact students. So, whether that research is on COVID-19, whether that research is on clean-water initiatives, or environmental issues, these are things that our students are doing.

Oftentimes, when a faculty member is conducting research, they’re using student participants to conduct the research and/or they’re using students to help guide that research. The students are often helping the faculty as assistants in those research projects.

So it allows for me to have a more holistic view, if you will, of what it takes to be a student beyond the student being in crisis, or planning a party, or their day-to-day outside of the classroom. I think it’s important for a student affairs professional to have an idea of what students are doing in the classroom or in the lab.

Dr. Jan Spencer: That’s great. One last question for you from me. And one of the things that you have mentioned in your comments throughout our conversation has to do with dealing with student mental health. And I know that as a professional on ground, that’s pretty obvious that you’ll be face-to-face with a student to help them through a scenario. Whereas an online environment, it’s a little bit more difficult to get into their head, you might say, and to deal with their issues.

So, can you talk a little bit about student affairs in the on-ground environment versus the online environment, and how does student affairs overall present an increased role in supporting students with mental health issues?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Sure. So, the first thing that I should note is that one of the quotes I’ve always sort of guided myself in terms of wellness for student support, is that the absence of a mental health illness is not the presence of mental health wellness. And what I’ve taken that to mean is that, we know that there are students that may actually suffer from a condition such as bipolar disorder. And many campuses, whether it’s online or on-campus are set up to support that student.

But just because a student may not have a mental health clinically diagnosed illness doesn’t mean that they are well. So, every student needs wellness, whether that’s on campus, or in a virtual environment. It can be easier if you will, to put eyes on a student who may not look well, a student that may be aloof from the community, who may have an appearance that’s melancholy, we can look at those signs on-campus.

It certainly can be more challenging when in a virtual environment. That being said, I think the link there is the absence. When a student on campus is not around their friends, not going to class, those things are noticed.

But they also can be very much noticed in a virtual environment, too. A student that started off on fire in discussion boards, asking questions, posting a lot and then, they go absent, that could, in fact, be symptomatic that there’s something going on there in terms of wellness. And, oftentimes, when I’m able to reach out, I’m able to find out the student had a hard week.

I remember within American Public University, a student had lost a parent. And it, certainly, explained why they were so engaged and then they just sort of went absent. So, looking for those little signs and being able to reach out.

I try to be very mindful that when I’m not hearing from a student, it very well could be something going on with their wellness. And wellness is a very general term, and it should be, because many things can affect, and be variables to wellness. So, I try to reach out and say, “Is there anything that I can do?” That’s always part of the initial message that I try to have to a student when I notice that there’s been an absence.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Wonderful. Bethanie, I’ll throw it over to you in case you have any questions you want to bring to Dr. Bogle.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: I do. I’m more curious about that area of student wellness and what you just shared. This is something I coach faculty on. Occasionally, notice when a student disappears. Reach out when they disappear. Ask them how you can help and be supportive. Aside from the student disappearing, what other things could help a faculty member know that they should ask, or should be curious about that? What do you think?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Yeah, I think it’s important for me to look for context within even discussion posts. So, when a student is engaging with their peers, what are they saying? I remember having a discussion with students in a discussion post, and it was about the value of a graduate degree. And a student said something to the effect of, “I’m not even sure what I’m doing in this program.” So they weren’t absent, but their words within itself, gave me a little bit of pause for concern to be able to reach out on the side, or at least monitor what they were saying. Oftentimes, I’ll look for a pattern, if you will.

Sometimes even if a student is submitting work, I can notice that the quality of work has fluctuated from perhaps what they have submitted in the past. So, it’s not that they aren’t showing up, but maybe the way that they’re showing up is inconsistent.

So, oftentimes, when I see a student who is able to put together an assignment, and really follow the APA guidelines, and really have a structured approach. And now their next assignment, there’s typos everywhere, it’s rushed. So, they turned something in, they’re present, but they’re not present in a way that I’m used to them being present. To me, that strikes the sign that this is behavior that I should be cognizant of. So, again, not just when someone’s absent, but how they’re showing up when they show up.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thank you so much for sharing those ideas. I love that when you’re looking for patterns, or noticing something unusual. I’m also kind of wondering how an online faculty member can be more supportive of people in student affairs? How can they really connect with that department in an institution?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Yeah, I think that one of the things that can be done is knowing the name of the local, or the primary liaison. Most departments at universities, or schools, will have someone that is the liaison. It can be a Residence Dean, Assistant Dean. These titles are oftentimes different, but they oftentimes, do the same type of work, which is that they serve as the person of contact when a student may be in need or have concerns.

The other thing that I think is important is to invite conversations with student affairs professionals. It could be the Vice President of Student Affairs or Dean of Students about, what language should I be including, even if it’s brief, in my syllabi, my syllabus, to set the tone for the particular term?

So, for example, is there something about wellness? Is there a line, is there something that I should be embedding into my syllabus knowing that this may not be my field of expertise, but how do I let students know that I care about their holistic being on campus, or in the virtual campus environment, so that here’s an email address, or phone number, or person to contact? So, I think faculty being able to reach out and make that linkage, it also displays something to the student.

And then, if there is an opportunity, and I know that the term can be tight and we certainly want it to be academically focused, but I’ve always appreciated when, as a student affairs professional, faculty have said, “Can you come talk to my class for two minutes at the beginning of the term?” Or when they feel like, it’s amazing how much intersectionality there is between so many lessons and student affairs. So, if there’s something that feels like there could be intersection there with student affairs, invite me in for a two or three minute spot. And I’m happy to speak with students. So, just showing that intersectionality.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wonderful. Thank you so much. I have to just tell you, Sean, that you just jogged a personal memory for me that I had no idea this person was a student affairs professional. But it’s bringing full circle the ideas we’re talking about here.

My freshman year of my undergraduate degree, I went to a large university with 30,000 students, but I happened to take a class from the Dean of Student Life. And that person went to the marching band performance at the football game, looked for me, wrote me a letter to tell me what they thought about the performance. And really paid attention to who I was. And in a university that large that, to me, was remarkable. I had no idea that is student affairs. That’s just beautiful.

Dr. Sean Bogle: Yeah. It’s that person-to-person approach.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yeah. I was one of those anomalies where I came from a single-parent family, and a certain demographic where I probably was definitely a person you’d think might slip through the cracks somehow. So, it was nice this person noticed me, yeah. Thanks for mentioning some of those roles. And also, for the tips on how faculty can get involved. I’m going to pass it back to you, Jan, on any final comments, or questions you’d like to add here?

Dr. Jan Spencer: Well, we are very excited that our student affairs program here at APU is really a cutting-edge kind of a thing. And our faculty, such as Sean and some of the others, have said to me, “Jan, this is a cutting-edge program. This is some of the finest material that we have seen.” So, we’re very excited. The program is growing slowly. And we invite those who are interested in being a part of learning more about student affairs, if that’s where they sense their direction is going, we are here to serve any way we possibly can, answer any questions, and be a support to our students who are considering that direction with their studies.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Beautiful. And how about you, Sean? Any final comments you’d like to add?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Well, I just want to thank both of you for allowing me the opportunity to engage with you. This has been wonderful and a privilege for me to be able to speak to my experiences. These opportunities are, I think, what makes student affairs so special, the opportunity to connect with others in a meaningful way.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Beautiful. So, thanks for being here, Dr. Jan Spencer and Dr. Sean Bogle, and we really appreciate your ideas and all that you’ve taught us today. To our listeners, we want to thank you for listening, and 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.

#94: Strategies for Applying Andragogy, Constructivism, and Heutagogy

#94: Strategies for Applying Andragogy, Constructivism, and Heutagogy

This content first appeared on APUEdge.com

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

Online teachers must know and apply the principles of andragogy because many of their students are adult learners. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses some other critical teaching theories including pedagogy, which suits younger learners, constructivism, and a new concept called heutagogy, which focuses on self-directed learning. Becoming familiar with each theory and related teaching strategies can provide insight and new approaches for online educators.

Listen to the Episode:

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

Read the Transcript:

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m excited to speak with you today about andragogy. This is a buzzword in online education and one of the reasons we hear this word so much is that many of our online students are adult learners. The traditional college age would be considered 18 to 25, those would be your learners who leave high school and go directly to college or within a year or so, go to college and then complete their degree in the young adult timeframe.

An adult learner is anyone 25 or older who has a gap in there, some life experience. And the term
“andragogy” was created to describe adult learning theory. Now, we have some ideas in the field of education that come from pedagogy, which now is considered the methods of teaching children or young people. And then we have andragogy, which is adult learning theory or the methods for teaching adults.

There are two other phrases you’re going to hear me talk about today. One of them is constructivism. This is a theory in education as well. And another one is a new word that I learned recently, heutagogy. Heutagogy spelled H-E-U-T-A-G-O-G-Y. Heutagogy is self-directed learning. It’s sort of a combination of andragogy and constructivism with some other thoughts thrown in there and I’m going to introduce that to you today as well.

So we’re going to begin by taking a look backwards at pedagogy, and that is now considered a description of young people’s learning. And then we’re going to take a dive into constructivism, which sort of bridges between pedagogy and andragogy. Then we’ll talk about andragogy and finish it all up with heutagogy and some ideas for you to take away in your online teaching this coming week, semester, or year.

Understanding Pedagogy: Teaching Students how to Learn

So here we go. Pedagogy in education is really this idea that the learner is dependent on you as the teacher for the knowledge and information and all of the learning in this process. We look at the learner as somewhat dependent. They need to be directed, they need to be guided, they need to be given the what, the how and the when, about whatever they’re going to be learning.

The learner’s going to get some resources from the teacher. They have few resources of their own. And the teacher is going to create some method to help store the knowledge in the learner’s mind and make it part of who they are.

So the teacher might suggest or offer opportunities to practice, to share the knowledge, to write about it, to memorize it. Whatever those strategies are, the instructor’s going to be crafting a method for the learner to use them.

And as you think about it, we’re really teaching people how to learn in pedagogy. We’re giving them the introduction to the methods, the strategies, and the ideas about how to memorize information, how to retain information and even how to apply it.

The reason to learn is often that you have to have this knowledge before you can move to the next step. So this knowledge is critical in your development, and you need to master this before you can move on. This is a core concept in pedagogy. We focus on the subject. It’s prescribed in the curriculum. We have a sequence for the information, and there’s some kind of logic to the subject matter. And this focus of the learning, really the methods of learning, are often dictated by our perception of the subject and what is needed to teach it well.

When we think about pedagogy, motivation is usually given by parents, teachers, a sense of completion, achievement, things like that. Children and young people may have internal motivation, but a lot of those external sources are also part of the motivation.

As the educator or the parent who’s designing this instruction, it’s your role to design the learning processes, the methods of learning it, the order in which things will happen, and you deliver the material, or you impose the material in some way for your learner. And you assume, and others in this situation assume, that you know the best way to do this. You are the expert in how to teach it as well as what needs to be taught.

This is a really common way to approach education in the K-12 system. If you’re teaching elementary, primary, secondary school, pedagogy is really strong in the methods of our teaching the content and the way we deliver the information. We might even have sets of standards that come from our professional organization, or they come from some national standards bank that we’ve created. And we’ve got these standards for different grade levels, different ability levels, different subjects. Those go really well with the idea of pedagogy.

As you’re teaching online, it’s important to be aware of what pedagogy includes when you’re working with learners who don’t know enough about how to direct their own learning. And you can also give them a lot of little mini lessons on how to become more self-directed in their learning. Developmentally that may or may not be suited for your learners. Be thinking about that as you decide how much to deliver and when.

Constructivism: Engaging the Student in Learning

At the next level, just want to talk a little bit about constructivism. Constructivism is an interesting idea that is still used in many parts of education today. Constructivism is the idea that a learner needs to be actively engaged in the process, not just a passive consumer. So the opposite of constructivism would be a person lecturing and expecting the recipients to just soak it up and learn it and remember it.

Constructivism means that the people doing the learning have to do something to construct their own knowledge. The assumption in constructivism is that the person has some background, some life experiences, some existing knowledge, and all of that’s going to come together as they formulate new knowledge. The reality is that their experiences shape their learning and what you’re going to teach them needs to connect that in some way, even if you don’t consciously guide people to do this, they are going to do it for themselves.

Constructivism influences the way all of our students learn. It’s really a learning theory that we have to get familiar with because constructivist learning theory tells us that students bring those unique experiences they have, and that their background and previous knowledge really does impact how they are able to learn.

This is a great concept for linking to issues like poverty or specific racial groups that may have specialized knowledge or lack specialized knowledge. When we think about the situation of poverty, for example, a person comes to the classroom with certain assumptions when they grow up in a poverty situation. That’s critical to know. I can remember one time, a long time ago when I was a junior high teacher, we were all given this book about poverty, the experience of poverty and the mindsets that are created there. And that was a helpful framework to understand many of our students: their backgrounds, how to connect with them, how to help them tie their previous learning and knowledge from life into the classroom and how to bring that classroom knowledge into their real lives. We didn’t want students to leave the school learning these academic things, but seeing them as completely disjointed and disconnected from reality. So bridging that gap for someone who has grown up in a poverty situation is critical, but really any situation.

We have to understand the basic principle of constructivism to know that students are going to put the knowledge together in their own ways, and they’re going to connect with their experiences, their beliefs, their insights. This is all what helps them learn and helps them cement their learning and bring it along for the next step.

The other thing about constructivism is that the meaning and systems of meaning are individually created. An idea of this would be, if you learn something new and you have some existing knowledge about it, you sort of relate those things and connect them to the things you already know. So if we’re going to teach something that is abstract and it’s really disconnected from your everyday knowledge, we have to find a way to anchor that and help build a new web of information in the mind.

The other idea is that in constructivism, learning has to be an active process. There’s some sensory input in the process and the learner really has to do something in order to truly learn. We can’t sit there passively consuming the knowledge like watching a YouTube video. We have to be thinking about a question to answer at the end or the way we’re going to respond to the knowledge or apply the knowledge in a new way or do something with it that will take it from the sterile information central into the more rich applied, active learning area of the brain.

Andragogy: Adult Learners

So, thinking about constructivism, we jump into our third area and that third area, andragogy, is really what we’re looking for when we’re talking about online learning. The reason I care so much about andragogy is that when you think about an adult learner being someone over 25 years old in the college system, that’s a lot of our students. Online education is so available now that adult learners are highly prevalent in the population we’re teaching. If we’re not familiar with andragogy, we may be approaching our teaching in a way that really does not give the space for the learner to do anything with it. Instead, we’re still thinking about distilling information or teaching people how to learn.

In andragogy, we assume four different things, these are important things to remember:

  1. Adults need to know why they need to learn something. This is a lot like sharing your objectives up front in a lesson, but more than just listing the objectives, you want to tie them into what is about to happen. Talk about them, draw back to those objectives throughout the process. And, in a degree program, it would be especially important to tie the courses and the activities back to the goals of that degree and also forecast forward to be thinking about how they will be applied in the career field. Very important reasons to learn something and helpful to bring out for our learners.
  2. Adults need to learn experientially. That’s where the constructivism comes in. There must be something happening when we’re learning. Just clicking through some videos and reading text on a screen is not enough for us to learn that through experience. Going out into our community, our family, our workplace, using the knowledge in an applied way, then coming back and sharing that, that’s going to be an experience. Something interactive, that’s going to be an experience. Whatever we can do in our online teaching to help our adult learners have experiences and learn in their experiences, that’s going to satisfy an andragogy principle and help them learn in the best ways possible.
  3. Adults approach learning as problem-solving. Think about what problem solving includes and consider how problem solving is a basic need for adult learners. We need to be able to have some independence, some critical thinking, some autonomy. Whenever we have a problem to solve, now we are important and we matter, and we’re going to show up differently to that experience thinking about it as problem solving. So, consider that as you’re developing online lessons, online activities, online assignments, and online classes.
  4. Adults learn best when the topic is of immediate value. Anything we can do to help our learners reflect on their learning and find ways to apply it right away in real life, that’s going to satisfy our fourth principle of andragogy. The topic is of immediate value. It could even be that this topic we’re teaching is going to lead into the next item, the next lesson, or the deliverable—the items that the person needs to submit for their class.

So, whatever that is, adults need to know why they’re learning it, have an experience learning experientially, approach learning as problem solving and have immediate value in the topic that they’re learning.

Heutagogy: Self-Directed Learning

Now, moving on to the last area, I did a little research here, and as I was looking for a nice side-by-side comparison of pedagogy and andragogy, I noticed this third term on the University of Illinois Springfield Center for Online Learning Research and Service website, and that is the word heutagogy. Never heard of that one myself. So I’m sharing my new learning with you today. And heutagogy is listed here as self-directed learning. That’s something that I personally have associated with andragogy and adult learning, but I find it interesting that it’s separated out here. And I’m just going to read through the website and I have linked it in the podcast transcript in case you’d like to visit it and check it out.

Heutagogy, self-directed learning means that the learners are interdependent. They identify the potential to learn from novel experiences as a matter of course. They’re able to manage their own learning. In this kind of learning, it appears that the resources are some given by the teacher and some decided by the student. So the learner’s going to choose the path where they’re going do the learning.

Some of your competency-based education might revolve around this concept of heutagogy, self-directed learning. The learning isn’t necessarily planned or linear. It doesn’t have to go from point A to B to C. It’s not based on need. It’s based on the identification of the potential to learn in new situations.

So just to reflect back on pedagogy, the reason that a student in that bracket would be learning is, they need to learn something to advance to the next stage. Whereas andragogy tells us that adults learn when they experience a need to know or to perform more if effectively. And in heutagogy, the learning is not necessarily planned or linear. It’s not based on need, it’s based on the identification of the potential to learn in new situations.

Now when we think about the focus of the learning, where pedagogy has learning focused on the subject itself and a planned curriculum, and andragogy, the adult learning theory, is task or problem-centered, in heutagogy, it appears that the learner can go beyond problem solving and become much more proactive. They’re going to use their own experiences and other people’s experiences, and their own thoughts, reflections, the experiences they have in the environment, their discussions with other people, their interaction, a lot of different methods to apply some problem-solving, but also self-direct their learning.

Now we might see heutagogy applied really well in a capstone course where a student chooses the resources they’re going to study, the path for their learning, and the final project. That’s a great application of this idea of heutagogy.

And, lastly, the teacher. The teacher in a heutagogy situation is developing the learner’s capability to learn. And when facilitating this kind of learning, we’re focusing on helping the student know how to learn, be creative, be independent, have self-efficacy, apply their competencies in new and familiar situations and work well with other people, cooperate with other people. This could also be a really great concept to bring into an internship, an applied learning situation like student teaching if you’re going to become a future teacher. It’s just a new concept. And it’s one worth considering.

How Do Teaching Theories Apply to Online Learning?

The other idea is if we were to take that adult learning theory, constructivism, and heutagogy and kind of combine all of those to take the best of all and decide how might we approach online learning differently? How could we give our students more freedom to apply what they’re learning and be creative, be more independent in learning the material and apply things in new and familiar situations, working with other people, what might be possible? When we’re thinking about those questions, we can come up with all kinds of new strategies.

We can bring in new technologies to facilitate conversation. We can bring in new options for organizing the course material so it’s not necessarily sequential, A to B to C. We can add some flexibility where students could do some independent research and bring it back to the classroom outside of the course materials. I’ve seen that one applied when faculty members, teachers, have their students create new lists of open educational resources that could be used in the class. Or faculty or teachers who have their students write new Wikipedia posts or edit Wikipedia posts, and actually submit them in the real world, to correct Wikipedia entries.

There are a lot of ways to use heutagogy in online learning. And I want to encourage you not just to think about andragogy this coming week, and really breaking away from the assumptions of pedagogy, but also to think about heutagogy. How we can give much more autonomy to the learner and stretch the limits of what’s possible in online learning.

I want to thank you for being here. I also am really grateful for the University of Illinois Springfield website, their Center for Online Learning Research and Service, where they placed this chart, introduced me to a new term, heutagogy. And I hope you’ll think about these four concepts, pedagogy, andragogy, constructivism and heutagogy as you’re designing learning experiences for your students and considering the future ahead as you teach online.

I wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week. And I also hope you enjoy some new creative approaches along the way. 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.

#82: Be Present: Best Practices for Authentic Teaching Online

#82: Be Present: Best Practices for Authentic Teaching Online

Be Present: Best Practices for Authentic Teaching Online

This content first appeared at APUEdge.com.

Being present is one of the most important elements driving success in the online classroom. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares two practices that help online educators establish trust and set the tone for faculty and student success. Learn how instructors can establish their presence, share their personality and expertise with students, and build relationships with students so that everyone has a great experience in the class.

Listen to the Episode:

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

Read the Transcript:

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

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. We’re going to talk today about being authentic. We talk a lot in higher education about faculty success and student success. These two best practices I’m going to share with you today are part of both of those endeavors.

Being authentic in your online teaching is absolutely critical to your success. And the challenges of bringing your authentic self into your online teaching are great.

We’ll start with talking about those challenges, what comes up when we teach online that may not be obvious in the live classroom, and then I’ll give you the first best practice on helping students get to know you and the second about you communicating with them. Let’s dive in.

Best Practice #1: Be Present in the Online Classroom

The first best practice that I emphasize in my own teaching, as well as with all of the faculty who I work with, this best practice is to be present. Well, what does it mean to be present?

Being present means that you literally are logging into the course regularly. It could be every day during the week. It could be every day during the week plus a weekend day. It could be seven days a week. It could be every other day; maybe you go in there four days a week. Whatever you do, you literally are present in that online space regularly and you are there often.

When we talk about being present, there’s a lot more to presence than then just showing up. One of those things is that you help students get to know you early in the class so they can feel like they know who you are. They trust you and they can go to you with problems when you have questions. One of the things that comes up in my job, I’m a faculty director at American Public University, I often have fantastic faculty. Occasionally, I’ll get a compliment about a faculty member. Many times, they share that comment with the faculty member who then passes it on to me.

Just today, I got an email where classroom support sent me a compliment about a faculty member that a student sent them. That was really a joy to get. Unfortunately, we usually hear about the complaint faster than we ever hear about a compliment, and probably for every one person that complains there are 20 very happy customers and you don’t hear from a lot of those.

But the one thing that prompts the complaint is that there is a low instructor presence or that the faculty member is there, but the student doesn’t have a sense of who they are, they don’t really know them.

There are some beautiful things you can do to establish your presence, your unique personality, your expertise and your position as the instructor.

The first thing I would recommend is to put a picture of yourself in the course. Make it a professional one. Help them understand who you are, what you look like. You don’t have to love the picture, just pick a good one. And as they see you, they’ll start to get a sense of you. Who are you?

And then put some kind of introductory thing, whether it’s on the homepage, a brief summary of your academic background and one or two personable things about you. You could put this in the forum discussion area if there’s a place where people are introducing themselves.

You can make a video. I’ve seen several faculty do this, where they’ll put themselves in the video they’ll talk, they’ll introduce themselves, they’ll greet the students. Very personable. Really nice.

And, of course, you’re going to write announcements, especially that first week. I want to put a word of caution in here. When you’re creating this beautiful instructor presence so critical to your online teaching, be careful not to stack the deck against your students that first week.

So those first announcements you put in your course should be friendly, encouraging, and welcoming. Give them step-by-step, some guidelines about how to begin participating and engaging in the course. Avoid giving lots of warnings or criticism early on during the first week about how to use citations, how to format their papers. You can give all that information along the way, but the very first day of class is probably not the best time. It’s off-putting and it can create sort of a confrontational feeling between your students and you.

As part of your presence, another thing is showing your personality, your passion for teaching and your expertise in your subject matter. If your online teaching is relatively new to you, if you haven’t done a lot of this, might feel kind of weird to tell your students anything personal about yourself.

We like to encourage safe sharing, so something that you would tell just anyone on the street. Not of something especially private. For example, I like to tell my students, because I teach music appreciation online, I like to tell them that I went to Brazil once, and I bought a pandeiro there. I might be saying that wrong but it’s basically a Brazilian tambourine. And I’ll put a little link to the video, maybe an image of me playing it in that first week’s announcement.

Because I teach a lot of military students, I’ll occasionally run across someone who has been there and has seen one. And they love connecting to that. I also presented at a conference in Scotland and saw some guys on the street playing bagpipes. So, I took a small video of that, one guy even had bagpipe with an attachment on the end of the pipes where flames were coming out. It was pretty neat. I like to tell them about that, show pictures, and again if I have any students who have served in the military in that part of the world or have lived over there or have ever visited, they like to connect to that as well.

That’s one way I share my personality online. You can also share your expertise. For example, I’ve seen occasionally we’ve had another music faculty member who is a classical performing musician, and they’ll put a short video clip of themself playing.

I knew one here locally at the community college who is a concert pianist. She would invite her students to attend her live piano recitals, the ones who were in her online class, so they would get to come and see her and meet her, meet each other. It was quite a wonderful experience because the school was local and many of the students were too, even though they were taking it online.

So, in your instructor presence, you want to establish this early. Help them get to know you. Post regular course announcements every week of class. You might even consider a second announcement midweek with some reminders, some last-minute advice. Any announcements you want to share. And then of course, participate in the discussions.

Discussions are a really great way to have your students practice their learning and talk to each other; but you should be there. Not to give them the right answers, but to engage. To talk. To discuss the subject. To ask them questions that are thought-provoking; and really to just help that discussion unfold. That is the first best practice that if you had nothing else going for you in online teaching, that instructor presence could really carry you well.

Best Practice #2: Communicate Early and Often

The second one, I chose this as number two out of two for this podcast because it is so critical and it will solve a lot of problems too, so that second best practice is to communicate regularly and effectively. And some of the things I suggest you communicate are norms and expectations.

Norms are standards of behavior. So a norm would be something like, “When you’re posting in a discussion forum, I want you to sign your name at the bottom; if you’re replying to somebody else, please put their name in the post,” etc.

And when you suggest that students do these things, don’t dock their grade for little errors that have to do with netiquette or norms. Grades should be based on the content itself, not habits or behaviors or little nitpicky thinks like that. But these are definite protocols we should teacher online students.

We want to communicate norms for how to reach out if they need help, how to contact you if they have an emergency, what they should do if they have to submit a late assignment, how to ask questions, a lot of different things have norms and you want to communicate all of these to your students.

And then you also should communicate due dates, assignment expectations and learning goals very clearly upfront. If you’re new to teaching online, it’s possible this first go round that you might have to adjust the assignments a little as you go, once you realize how the students are responding. So, you could have a more general syllabus the first time you teach the course and then a more clear, well set-up program the next time. Either way, definitely communicate the expectations to your students clearly and effectively, and with kindness.

A detailed syllabus is the best way to go. Include due dates and the schedule and assignment directions, and also how to find things. If you want to make it clear like a video a screen cast to clarify where things are in the classroom, how to find your grading comments you are going to give them, where they can find all of the assignments and learning materials, definitely point them around.

Prioritize the Two Best Practices

So, you don’t have to be perfect especially if you’re brand-new to teaching online and if it’s short-term for you and your just trying to get by till you can get back to the live class. Whatever you do, be present and communicate often and professionally as much as possible with your students.

Once you establish that you are responsive, trustworthy and present, your students are going to come to you with their questions. They’re going to have a relationship with you. It’s a good thing, and you’ll be able to follow up if there’s a change. If you need to change or adjust something.

That communication channel you have established early on is going to really help everyone get through this experience and have a really good experience with you. Online teaching does not need to be overwhelming or super difficult. If you focus on being present and communicating often, you’re going have a good experience.

As we close out today’s episode, I’d like to thank you for being with us for the Online Teaching Lounge. We’ve had this podcast going for the past year and a half, and it’s been a pleasure to be with you sharing teaching excellence tips, strategies, some ideas for balancing your work and your life while you’re teaching online, and also ways to connect with your students for their success. As well as best practices.

Take a look at our past episodes and you’ll learn a lot of things about forum discussions, professional development and other areas. We also have an episode that highlights courses and degree programs in the teaching area in the School of Arts, Education and Humanities at American Public University. If you’d like to get some professional development or take certificate program, or even an entire master’s degree, come check it out. It’s worth your time, and it will help you get even more skills and confidence under your belt while you’re teaching online. Again, thanks for being here for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. Best wishes in your online teaching this week.

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