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#117: Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning

This content first appeared on APUEdge.Com.

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

The goal of culturally responsive teaching is to help students feel more comfortable, connected and understood in the classroom. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides guidance to help educators invite students to share more about themselves, their background, and their culture to create a more inclusive learning environment.

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

Welcome to the podcast. Today we’re going to be talking about culturally responsive teaching and learning. Have you ever heard of this term? It’s sometimes abbreviated CLR, which would be “culturally and linguistically responsive” teaching. There are many different kinds of approaches and there’s a lot of information out there. So, I would just like to share a few tips and tidbits with you today, just to get you started on this topic.

The first tip is coming from a book by Shell Education called “50 Strategies for Your Virtual Classroom,” by Jennifer Jump. And in her book, she has a section called culturally responsive learning, if you have that book, it’s page 13. And I’m just going to quote her here. She says:

“Culturally and linguistically responsive teaching expert Dr. Sharroky Hollie (2020) defines a culturally responsive mindset in the following way: ‘Being culturally responsive is an approach to living life in a way that practices the validation and affirmation of different cultures for the purposes of moving beyond race and moving below the superficial focus on culture.’ When educators use culturally responsive teaching strategies, students are more engaged, which in turn helps them to be more successful, academically.”

So, there’s our start today, to be thinking about and talking about. The goal is to bring out students’ real identities and who they really are, to help them feel more comfortable, more connected, and more understood in the classroom. But I think it goes a little bit beyond this. And that is how we can appreciate and understand our students from whichever place they come from, and whatever beliefs they have, and whatever understandings they have. And we can also show up ourselves.

We, too, have an identity and a background and a culture that may be part of sharing. Maybe it’s part of our social presence; maybe it’s part of our invitation, to invite our students to bring in who they are and be themselves in the classroom as well.

And when we talk about culturally responsive teaching and learning, there’s an article out there by Laura Rychly and Emily Graves in the magazine, “Multicultural Perspectives,” volume 14, number one from 2012. I realize that’s about 10 years ago, but these concepts are very much relevant today. And I’m going to just read from the summary here some pertinent ideas you might care about.

“Culturally responsive pedagogy, as defined by one of the most prominent authors in the field. Geneva Gay (2002), is, ‘using the cultural characteristics, experiences, and perspectives of ethnically diverse students as conduits for teaching them more effectively.”

Cultivate Four Practices to Implement Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning

So, we’re understanding that culturally responsive teaching and learning means that we are using some “teaching practices that attend to the specific cultural characteristics that make [our] students different from one another, and from their teacher.” Cultural characteristics might be things like our values, our traditions, and our language.

And those are kind of on one level, then if we go a little bit deeper here, we’re going to also can include the concepts of how we communicate, what we communicate, learning styles we might have; things that are traditionally done in our method of learning, culturally, might even include group versus individual work, for example. And also relationship norms. There are a lot of specifics from one culture to the next about how various relationships speak to each other, whether it’s teacher-to-student, student-to-peer, student-to-other leaders, etc.

Culturally responsive pedagogy means that our main objective is that we’re going to be able to reach everyone and educate everyone in the way that we can reach them best. So, in this chapter that I mentioned by Laura Rychly and Emily Graves, this is actually a literature review about a lot of different research that’s been done on multicultural or culturally responsive pedagogy. And there are four practices that come out, which I’d like to highlight for you here.

Being Empathetic and Caring

And that is first, that the teacher is empathetic and caring. And of course, that means that when we hear our students, when they communicate to us, we’re going to be able to validate their experiences, different from our own or similar to our own, it doesn’t matter. We can validate. Validating is just affirming and legitimizing that someone else’s experience is every bit as real as our own experience or someone else’s. So, all those experiences are valid, valuable and worth contributing. And, of course, we can give a lot of upfront instruction and guidance to communicate that empathy and that caring to all of our students and help them to know how to engage.

Be Reflective about People from Other Cultures

The second point that comes out from this article is that they are reflective about their beliefs about people from other cultures. And this one’s particularly important, it’s a pretty obvious point that we might have implicit bias about groups of people or cultures. Interestingly enough, we might even have biases about our own.

For example, if we find a student from our own cultural background, we might assume we know how they think and feel or what they might understand. And that’s really not true. We didn’t grow up with these people, we’re not in the same household, or even the same person that they are.

And as clear as that may sound, we want to question our assumptions about groups, about individuals and even about our own, when we run into students who come from similar backgrounds. There can be areas on which we can connect to students, but there can also be assumptions that are not correct, that become barriers if we believe these things. So, reflecting on our beliefs about people from other cultures is a solid practice that will help us with culturally responsive teaching and learning.

Be Reflective about Assumptions Regarding Culture

Third, they are reflective about their own cultural frames of reference. Again, looking at our own world from the inside out, and then trying to be objective looking from the outside in so that we can understand how we might present ourselves to others, and what assumptions we have.

Be Knowledgeable about Other Cultures

And lastly, that they are knowledgeable about other cultures. This requires a little bit of learning on our part. Those of you who have been to many places in the world, interacted with people of many cultures and backgrounds, you have already some helps in this direction. And if we’ve really developed over time in a single place, and we haven’t traveled much, or known very many cultures outside our own, this could be an area for growth. Something we need to stretch into and learn more about others.

There’s some data shared in this article about teacher characteristics for culturally responsive pedagogy that might be useful to you. There is a diverse student population across the United States that needs more education and education that reaches them where they are, especially our adult learners. Many people grow up into adulthood, and when they come to college, they’re already wondering, should they even be there? They’re wondering, is it a good fit for them? Can they do it? Can they make it?

And having some culturally responsive approaches in our teaching, meeting students where they are and learning what their needs are to best connect with them and help them engage in the discourse or the academic content, that’s going to help them a lot. So, we have some ideas around who we can be as teachers, what we can do to help reach students best through a culturally responsive approach, and then we also have some specific strategies we can use.

Try Strategies to Become More Culturally Responsive

The first one I already mentioned, validating our students. A second one would be affirming. Affirming means that we are just giving some acknowledgement to the student’s experience and allowing them the space to be who they are. We don’t necessarily need to correct them on what is right or wrong, based on their own background, but we do need to teach the content in a way that they can connect to it, use it, and grow from that content and from that experience.

Through validating and affirming students throughout the classroom and our activities, we’re going to be building relationships with them by showing them we care—that’s that empathy and caring that was mentioned in the teacher traits. And we’re also going to be able to build bridges from where we are or where our students are to where we are. So, we’re going to be able to help them connect to things that might be outside their norm, or outside their realm of experience.

Now, what we know about adult learners is that they want to bring their own experiences into the classroom. If we come at our teaching with a culturally responsive approach to teaching and learning, we will be expecting that and inviting it. And the more we can invite our students to be who they are to share their own experiences and we can be more aware of our attitudes, our cultural understanding, and also what our students may need to be invited out and share those things, the more we’re going to be able to build those relationships that support students’ learning and success.

Whether or not you already have the experience with culturally responsive teaching and learning, we can all start now and take the step to invite students to share. It’s something we can do through sharing our own background, through using culturally responsive language and the way we communicate that is inviting and open to sharing across students, and students to faculty, and faculty to students as well.

And we can also include resources, images, videos, from a variety of cultures. In selecting the materials that we put before our students, we can use largely diverse groups of people in those materials, and diverse approaches to give plenty of examples and things that students can connect to. The more we do this, the more we can celebrate the uniqueness of each person in our classroom and we can meet them where they really are.

Now, the more we think about multicultural teaching, or culturally responsive teaching, the more we can think about the invitation to have confidence and be oneself. There’s sort of a motivational framework that exists, whether you’re motivated to have a job, motivated to take a class, motivated to do anything, really. And the motivational framework has to do with being able to contribute, first of all, so you have some kind of special value there or meaning in the experience. And that would be a great foundation for culturally responsive teaching.

If students are asking the question, is this work meaningful to me? And if they’re able to say yes to that, then that means we’ve bridged that gap in some way or helped them to do so.

Secondly, is this experience going to give me a chance to develop? So, when we’ve reached our students in a way that connects to what they already know, and what they like to continue learning, and is somewhat in a context that meets them where they are, then they will continue developing and they will have that opportunity. So, we want students to be able to say yes to that question.

Third, am I going to learn new things? Which is different from developing, right? Developing means I’m going to grow as a human being. Learning new things could be skills, facts, information, schema, academic vocabulary, any of those things that they need to continue in depth, or breadth throughout their academic experience.

Fourth, will I have an opportunity for recognition and achievement? And that question speaks to their achievement in the course and their long-term connection to their career. Will students be able to pass this class? Is there enough information they can access that’s going to meet them where they are and bridge the gap for them, so that they can be successful?

If we find that students, for example, need some kind of vocabulary database, where they can look up the terms or some kind of tutor to help them revise their essays, or whatever it is. If we provide those things or give them connections to those things at the institution, then they’re going to have the opportunity to achieve in that course, to successfully complete the course, and have some internal and external recognition for their work.

And then lastly, am I going to be given responsibility? We never want a student to have the experience of just showing up and passively listening and walking away. We want to expect rigor and high performance from all of our students. If students are given responsibility for their learning and also expected to achieve at a high level, we maintain those expectations but scaffold the steps to get there. Now we’ve given students a really satisfying experience where they are expected to have some responsibility there and to work for what they’re doing, and to come away with a sense of satisfaction and achievement.

So, we have all these things that come together in culturally responsive teaching. And, in closing, whatever approaches you’re using to encourage your students to discuss their experiences and connect to their backgrounds and the depth of who they are, always remember to invite. Inviting is the best approach possible. The more you invite students to share these things and affirm and acknowledge them and validate them when they do share, the more open and accepting and inviting your classroom is going to be. And that’s going to be a positive experience for our students. That’ll get us a good start on the path of culturally responsive teaching and learning. Thank you for being here today. I wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week.

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

#115: Why It’s Important to Know What Online Students Are Thinking

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

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

Many students have self-doubt and concerns about taking online classes. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares insight she recently learned from talking to a recent graduate at Commencement. Learn why it’s so important for faculty members to understand what causes students to have self-doubt and worry about pursuing an online education.

Listen to the Episode:

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Read the Transcript:

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

Welcome to the podcast. This is Bethanie Hansen, your host, and I’m going to share with you a thought about what students are thinking when they’re taking your online class. Especially your adult learners who are working full time, or perhaps they’re serving in the military, but online learning is not the only thing in which they’re engaged.

This experience I had recently took place at the APU commencement. Now, our university has a sister institution, we have American Public University and American Military University. I happened to be at the commencement weekend, and I met one of our students at the evening reception where we welcome our students and celebrate with them in between the convocation day, and the commencement exercises.

[Podcast: Voices From Commencement 2022]

I met this student at the buffet table. He was getting some hors d’oeuvres, and we happened to see each other. I just greeted him and said, “Hello,” and then we struck up a conversation. And I learned two important things about what our online students are thinking a great deal of the time. I want to share them with you today to just provide insights from this one student’s perspective and also to generate a little conversation around these two ideas.

Building Confidence in Online Students

The first idea is this sense of self as a learner. A lot of our online students approach online learning with a complete lack of self confidence. Many of them are coming into their first class, their second class, even their 10th class, wondering what they’re doing there.

Their inner thinking is about self-criticism. So they are doubting their capacity to complete the courses successfully. They might even be wondering if they are college material, especially your adult learners who have been away from school for a long time. This student that I met had just completed a two-year associate’s degree.

He was super excited. And he told me that when he began the degree program, he wondered if it would even be possible for him to do this. After all, he had not been in college for several years. Now the person I was talking to happened to be serving in the military. And every time he wanted a new challenge, he would take the new challenge and move up in rank and move up in opportunity. He was out there doing things that I personally would consider very difficult.

I have not personally served in the military. I admire people who do. And I believe that is a very challenging pursuit. It takes a lot of self discipline, a lot of courage, and a lot of motivation to keep at it every day, day in and day out. And I respect greatly our nation’s military servicemembers.

This person was confidently serving in the military and did not find that too difficult. But his choice to return to school and take college classes while serving in the military, this brought a lot of fear for him and a lot of self-doubt. He said each time he took a class, he wondered, “Could he do this?” And as he got through another course, then signed up for another and took another course and signed up for another one, he would say to himself, “I think I can do this. I’m going to try my best to do this.”

And pretty soon, he learned that he could do it. And he reached the end of that two-year degree, and looked back at it and said, “Wow, look what I accomplished, I did it.” He was thrilled with himself and I could see this in his face, hear it in his voice, in the things we talked about. It was a huge sense of accomplishment in an area he did not previously think he could accomplish something. Many of our college students working online with us think the exact same things.

I have read in many research studies, many online learner tip magazines, from faculty who have engaged with students saying these very same things. And I’ve heard it from students myself, time and time again. Our online students are afraid of taking classes online. It’s a big challenge. And one thing that makes it such a big challenge is that we don’t have that sense of camaraderie that we get from classmates when we’re a student taking a class.

We’re not entering the space where we can maybe make a casual connection with someone else who we could study with or maybe feel like we have a friend or two who are going through this with us. Nope, it’s just us and that online class with those people who are also virtual, who we never really get to see in real life. And when you think about it, approaching an online class with that sense of disconnectedness and fear, can already put the odds against you, as an online student.

As online teachers, it’s our job to be thinking ahead, to understand what our students are thinking. That there is this huge sense of self doubt, some worry, some fear, taking an online class. And for some students, it happens every single time they take the class, the next one and the next one.

So, I’m bringing this to your attention to just share the experience I had speaking with this student. It was my first time meeting him and he had no reason to be bragging or self doubting or any of those things in front of me, he was just being honest and sharing his story. And it was very exciting to see him celebrate at the end of that degree.

The insight that I personally gained is about working with students when I’m teaching my next online class. I’m thinking, “How can I put them at ease? How can I review the way I write my commentary in the announcements, and the way I set up my course, to really invite them into that space?”

Sure, they signed up for the class, and they’re there. But there’s a lot I can do to invite them into the space, reassure them that they belong there, and offer a helping hand as they’re trying to learn the ropes of getting through that course.

This does not mean that we water down our content or lower the rigor of the environment. What it does mean is that we show that we’re human beings, too. That we understand what they’re going through, and that we want to help. I can do that, through my words, through my actions, the quick way that I respond, my responsiveness. I can do that through the way I explain things in my grading comments, and in my discussion board interactions. And, I can also do that in this another way, which is the second thing I learned from the student I spoke with.

Consider Online Weekly Zoom Office Hours

His suggestion across the board for every single one of his teachers was that he would have liked to have a weekly Zoom call or weekly web call of some kind. He suggested this, because many times students have lots of questions they want to ask, and they feel very awkward reaching out with an email or even a message, just to ask that one question. And even when they do, apparently, a lot of students ask the question, and they wait and wait for several days before they get an answer.

So, to solve that problem, if students know what day and time that they can just drop by and ask all their questions, they can come to that space, ask their questions, or even listen to their classmates who are also asking questions, and learn the little tips and tricks to get through that class. Maybe someone will ask a question about the next assignment. And that student will be able to understand through hearing the answer to that other student. This student’s suggestion was a weekly 30-minute call, which really is not that long. You’re not going to sit there for a whole hour staring at the screen, you’re not going to do this four or five times a week, just once a week.

A good suggestion would be to look at your students and where they are located in the world and decide on a common time zone. Like what seems to be a range in which they could potentially meet you. If you have a lot of students on the East Coast, and you live in Hawaii, then you might need to do it earlier in your day to catch them while they’re still awake.

Whatever it takes to get your students at a day and time that seems to fit everybody, if you extend that invitation, and you just regularly present yourself on video, then you’re inviting your students even more into a conversation, something sort of informal. And, if nothing more, you could just talk about what the lesson material is for the day.

You could come with a few points you just want to share. Or you could open it up to Q&A. And remember your students are adults, they are human beings, they might even want to hear about what you’re thinking about doing in the coming week. You know, if you have a dog, or if there are things coming up for you. Anything that will bring authenticity to your teaching, as you think about the very human things that would be common and normal to share, generally speaking, maybe you’ll have conversations about that.

For example, if a holiday is coming up and you’re looking forward to a special meal, you’re going to cook or something, you can always have a little bit of small-talk conversation, and get to know your students even better when they share their own thoughts. It can even go farther, if those kind of side comments and social connection commentary goes with some of the content.

Like, for example, if you’re a Spanish teacher, and you’re going to make a special dish that comes from Spanish culture, and share it at your next holiday, maybe that’s something you just want to chit chat about during your 30 minutes of live connection.

Whatever it is, students need to need to know that you’re there for them. They need to see you as a real person and feel like you have a reliable pattern of being approachable and of responding to them. This suggestion the student made about the 30 minute, I guess, office hour, for lack of a better term there, it really sounded a lot more like his suggestion was more about having regular, open communication and responding quickly to students than it was about the video.

Of course, video is always a good thing. It helps your students to see you and trust you. There is so much more students get from a short video of you, especially a live one than they will ever get from a paragraph of your words. You’ve heard that saying, “A picture’s worth 1,000 words.” Definitely true in the online space.

So think about how you might integrate a live video connection with your students no matter how short. Or if that’s not feasible for you, how you could do some kind of videos on a regular basis where students can at least help bridge that gap and make connections to get to know you. If you think about those two things that the student shared with me, you’re going to have a lot more ideas, even beyond those that I’ve shared here.

And hopefully the ideas that you come up with are going to work for you in your online class. And perhaps you’ll share those out and tell us about how they worked for you. You can do that by visiting BethanieHansen.com/Request, and just putting a comment on that form to let us know what’s working, what’s not working. What would you suggest we try?

I love speaking to our students, especially at the end of a program when they really are thinking about what went well for them, and what could have been better. That kind of advice is priceless. And I feel very fortunate to have heard it, and to be able to share it with you here today. I hope you’ll think about it and have a great week in your online teaching coming up and also share some thoughts that you’re having about what’s working for you and we can talk about it on our upcoming episodes.

Thank you again for being here and for being loyal listeners of the Online Teaching Lounge at American Public University. It’s been a great year having you and celebrating, at the time of this recording very recently, our commencement and convocation weekend.

I hope that you have the time to pause and reflect on the past school year, what you’ve learned, what you’ve taught, what you’d like to celebrate, and what you hope your students will take away. And make note of some of those milestones that have occurred over the past year for you.

And then begin thinking about ways to refresh throughout the coming season, and hopefully take a small break or even a larger one if you’re one of those folks who has a summer vacation. Either way, it’s a great time to pause and reflect on your teaching practice. And also consider your students’ input when you’re doing that. Again, thanks for being here. And I wish you all the best this coming week in your online teaching or whatever adventure awaits you.

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

#114: Using Video to Provide Feedback to Online Students

This content first appeared on APUEdge.Com.

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

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

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
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Read the Transcript:

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

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

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

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

Dr. Sylvia Nemmers: Thank you for having me.

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

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

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

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

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: That’s fantastic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Sylvia Nemmers: Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: That’s okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#112: A Guide to Dealing with Challenging Students in the Online Classroom

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com. 

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

Online educators sometimes face challenging students who disagree with a grade or are argumentative in the classroom. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses ways to help online educators deal with such conflicts. Learn how to implement de-escalation tactics to meet in the middle, work with colleagues or administrators to get additional support, and finding ways to recover after a stressful situation.

Listen to the Episode:

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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 your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen. I’m very happy to be with you today to talk about difficult students online. There are a variety of situations in which you might find yourself working with a student you might describe as “difficult.” And by difficult, I’m talking about a variety of things. It could be that student is challenging a grade and persisting after you have provided additional feedback. Or the student might be arguing throughout the class, creating a tense atmosphere. This might seem like it is escalating. It might seem as though your student doesn’t like you and resists the teaching approach or even your personality. And with a lot of tense events are happening in our world, so it’s likely that you’re going to encounter challenging students more often in the future, as our students face unexpected stressors, trauma, world events, natural disasters, and uncertainty.

While you’re working with challenging students in your online teaching, your own stress level increases. The experience might drain your energy and might make it harder to notice the students who are having a good experience in your class, and all the positive moments happening. We can easily become defensive when a student reacts poorly or challenges us, and our own response might add fuel to the fire.

To address all of this, in today’s podcast we will first look at ways to meet the student in the middle. To focus on de-escalating the tension to find a potential step forward.

Then, we will look at options available to you when a solution is not reached. This might include other departments at your educational institution, members of your team, or colleagues. Although we may teach alone, we are not alone in managing serious challenges, and we can reach out for support.

And last, we will explore supportive habits that can help you to get through the stressful time you’re experiencing and to recover from what might be a traumatic experience. When a serious challenging experience occurs in the online classroom, it can shake your confidence and make you feel depleted. Focusing on your wellbeing and recovery from the stress can give you the space to regain energy and zest for teaching. And we will close with those ideas.

Focus on De-Escalation and Meet in the Middle

A lot of times, students escalate quickly when they don’t understand, or when we’ve made a comment to them that they have taken as a judgment instead of an evaluation of their work. While it might surprise us when this happens, especially if it happens quickly, it also makes sense that not all our students will immediately understand what we say to them.

As you face a challenging student in your online class, I recommend looking backwards. Consider your past teaching moments and any challenges you might have faced. How did you work through those challenges? When we reflect on our past challenges, we can identify key skills we developed that are now available to us in present challenging situations. Looking at past teaching challenges can also help us consider new perspectives about the current problem. There is a lot we have already learned from working with difficult students in the past, and we can draw on what went right in those previous scenarios, as well as what we would have wanted to do differently.

To meet students in the middle, we can draw upon the skills we have learned from our past challenges. And we can try to understand our student’s perspective. From their vantage point, what might have been more helpful in the assignment instructions, or in my grading feedback? And where they are sitting right now, what will be most helpful to move them forward in the class?

Meeting someone in the middle suggests that I consider how I might be part of the problem, so that I can be part of the solution. One way to learn about the student’s perspective in order to meet in the middle could be to have a phone call or video chat and ask them: “What is you understanding of the situation?” or “What might help you most right now?”

As we hear what students will tell us, the most important part of this conversation is to listen with a true desire to understand their viewpoint or their perspective. As this begins to take shape, it is tempting to jump in with comments or assume that we’re ready to make a compromise of some kind. However, I would encourage us to keep listening to ensure that we have the full story from our student. And then, we can summarize or paraphrase what we heard to make sure that we understand. Only then, the student feels fully heard are we able to take a step forward to resolving the situation.

Be Authentic and Present

Now, if you have a problem that you can’t de-escalate with a student, and you really do feel like you’ve put in the steps needed but things are not improving, authenticity can be one additional resource available to you. Authenticity is a combination of awareness, behavior, relational orientation, and unbiased processing.

When we think about being authentic in a moment of tension or conflict with a student online, we might find that to be just the opposite of what is possible for us. But, if we can stay grounded to our personal values, what we care most about, and the humanity of that other person we are dealing with, we can bring ourselves back down emotionally and become mindful of the moment that we’re in and be able to let those really tense thoughts just stream on by.

The most important thing we can do in a tense situation with students is to think clearly and to be able to be back in the moment that we’re living in. By doing this, you can be authentic, you can present yourself as your best self, even when there’s a tension there. Most people that we’re engaging with, even if they have a complaint, will be less aggressive when they feel that we’re being non-judgmental towards them and inviting them.

Pause to Refocus

If you start to feel inflexible, resistant and defensive towards the student, I want to encourage you to pause, take a step back and see if you can understand what the student is experiencing. Just giving that pause can give you a little bit of space to see it in new light and understand if the student has missed something along the way, then a simple clarification can help get things right back on track.

Of course, not all students are going to respond openly when they initially are defensive about something. Again, if you sense yourself tensing up and resisting the student or starting to argue back and forth, a pause or silence to breathe and refocus can help. Letting go of that sense of resistance may be the tone that invites your student to do the same. And once we are meeting in the middle and understanding what is going on, we can take a step forward towards solutions, no matter how small.

In my experience, I notice that when someone is being challenging or difficult, it’s like I’m being invited to get defensive in return. It’s like an unwritten invitation to get defensive right back. And if we’re not careful, we’re going to be sucked in quickly. It’s easy to do that when we’re not seeing the people face to face that we’re teaching, and if we read the question or complaint in an email. If we take the invitation and get defensive back with a student who’s having a challenge experience, it becomes very difficult to see the student in a positive light or present ourselves in a positive way. And we might invite more of what we don’t want.

Another problem that we might face is feeling that we need to be right. If we have seen the situation from an objective viewpoint, and we feel that we’ve communicated very well with a student, we might feel like we know the answer, we are right and the student just needs to accept it. The problem with that is that the firmer we get, the more we’re sort of inviting that fight in return. If we’re willing to hear the person out and be a little bit softer in our presentation, and really listen, sometimes that alone will de-escalate the situation and invite your student into a discussion.

Some things we can do to invite the other person to de-escalate and join us at the table for a conversation are to ask open-ended questions and just wait. And listen. If we’re able to do that, and just give silence and take it in, then another thing we could do is to restate back to the student what we’re hearing. To validate that, yes, they must be frustrated with that understanding, whatever that is, and to ask them what they’re hoping that we can do together to resolve the situation. Sometimes it really is a small thing that’s just a huge misunderstanding. If you find yourself in this situation, slow down, and see if you can get yourself present in the moment to be your more authentic self and invite that student to the table with you.

After focusing on de-escalation strategy, slowing down, listening, and learning about what the student is experiencing, and working toward a solution, we might find that this student continues to challenge. In some cases, it begins to seem as though everything in the class starts a new challenging conversation, and the student is not interested in working with us to resolve it. When this happens, there are options available to you when a solution is not reached. This might include contacting other departments at your educational institution, members of your team, or colleagues. Although we may teach alone, we are not alone in managing serious challenges, and we can reach out for support.

Consider a Partner or Department to Support You

One helpful partner we can contact might be a department chair, a manager, a partner teacher, or another team member who can be on the phone or on a Zoom call with us and our student. Having a second party there can bring in neutrality to help us to have the conversation in a less emotional manner than we might otherwise have. The team member can add value to the conversation by sharing additional ideas or perspective that can help both you and your student to move forward. And after the call has ended, this person might be able to share perspective with you that you’re not seeing, because you’re very close to the situation.

In any challenging situation, whether we are alone in the conversation or with a team member on the call, we can listen to the student’s story, their experience, and their complaint, and then let the student know we need some time to think about what they have said, and a second conversation to respond. It’s like we’re scheduling two different meetings, that first one will be to hear this student and really understand their situation. And the second conversation will take place after we have had the time to consider how we want to address the complaint or concern.

And be sure to respond in a prompt manner as much as possible. The wonderful thing about this approach is that it takes all pressure off you. In that first call, you can be open, a good listener, and just focused on learning as much as you can about the student’s perspective and experience. You don’t have to give any answers during the first conversation, and you can have time to think before responding.

If you work with another department, the representative from that department might be able to suggest alternatives and additional solutions to help you and your student. Some departments you might consider contacting include the student conduct department, a faculty advocate, a student services or advising team member, the university chaplain, or the disability services and accommodations office. Each of these teams has a slightly different approach when meeting the students’ needs, and you may find that aligning your approach with one or more of these teams gives you strength and perspective to respond well. If you have any suspicion that your student could use these services, you can even recommend them to your student, that they reach out to those departments. And of course, you can as well for a little more insight and support in dealing with a very challenging situation.

We know that online teaching can itself be challenging at times and a bit isolating. But with these ideas, we hope that you’ll be able to reach out to your students make some personal connections, feel that you’re able to really reduce the tension in a situation that might otherwise escalate and help your students to get right back on track.

During the conflict, it’s possible that you will feel unable to relax and consider the student’s perspective if this student has approached you in a hostile way or a threatening manner. If that happens, don’t wait to reach out to others for help and support. It’s difficult to know what to do in such a situation, and other team members and departments will be able to help you.

If the challenge is a tough one, but it does not seem that you’re being threatened or treated in a hostile way, it might still push you a bit. You can know if you’re feeling stress if you start to firm up your grading practices in response or if you feel like suddenly becoming strict with grading timelines when you were previously more flexible. If you start to notice yourself getting into more strict absolutes, which we call all-or-nothing thinking in terms of your deadlines and your grading, this serves as a red flag to let you know that you’re under a lot more stress than usual. And you might unintentionally invite more resistance from students, instead of less. When you notice these kinds of red flags in your approach, I encourage you again to pause, step back, and continue to treat that challenging student as you would any student in your class as much as you can. And at the same time, contact other colleagues, a manager, or one of the departments available to help you, and ask for back up.

If you need a break from your classroom, you can also talk to a partner teacher, a manager, or a leader in your institution, a department chair, a principal, or wherever you’re working for some backup for some help. Perhaps there might be a day or two, you could be out of that class to get some space if the situation has escalated.

Take Care of Yourself and Recover from Stress

For the final topic we explore today, we look at supportive habits that can help you get through the stressful time you’re experiencing and recover from what might be a traumatic experience. When serious and challenging experience occurs in the online classroom, it can shake your confidence and make you feel depleted. Focusing on your wellbeing and recovery from the stress can give you the space to regain energy and zest for teaching.

And you might truly experience stress and trauma when you’re working with very challenging students. Especially if there’s been a traumatic event. There is a resource one of my wonderful colleagues shared with me from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which is linked here in the podcast transcript. And from it, we are taking some helpful tips to notice normal and natural reactions you might experience when dealing with a traumatic event or a disaster, and emotions you might have. Physical reactions you might also have, and then some suggestions on how you might manage your workload afterwards.

For example, one of the suggestions is that if you realize you’ve been injured, you need to seek medical treatment, of course, and if you’re not injured, focus on completing only one task at a time, just slow down in your work. And that will help you feel like you’re getting some control back and getting on top of things as you’re getting back in the game of working with your students.

Pause and take deep breaths. Take the time to gently stretch to calm yourself before you tackle each task. And plan to do something relaxing after work. Be patient with yourself if you notice that you’re having trouble remembering things, difficulty thinking clearly, worrying a lot, of experience more difficulty making decisions. All of these can be normal effects of stress or trauma. So do your best to exercise self-compassion.

And look at those tips for survivors of traumatic events. Talk with others who can understand you and understand what you’re going through. Listen to uplifting music, music that can help you relax and calm yourself. Of course, use what you know to be good coping skills, healthy coping skills that work for you.

As you work with challenging students, you know, because you’ve been teaching online, that there are many types of students that we work with, a lot of different people with a lot of different backgrounds. Hopefully you’ll be able to get through that experience and take the skills you have gained in the challenge to apply in other scenarios in the future. And if you’re not able to finish the class with that student, you will still be able to care for yourself and work through the stress and trauma of the significant challenge you might be experiencing. Regardless of how the situation ends, taking the time to focus on your wellbeing and recovery from the stress is important. And adopting habits to sustain your wellbeing will help you regain confidence after the conflict.

The ideas we have considered today around working with challenging students have focused on de-escalation efforts to meet in the middle, working with colleagues and other departments to get support if the challenge isn’t improving, and finding ways to recover once the stress has subsided. Although these ideas are a good start, there is no substitute for your own experiences and intuition about how to resolve challenging situations and relying on your own insight can be helpful throughout the process.

Thank you for being here today and for your desire to help challenging students get back into learning in your online class when possible. We wish you all the best in resolving tough situations in your online teaching and in your work 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.

#111: Building Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Online Classroom

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com. 

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

Online classrooms offer little information about a person’s background and it can be hard to get to know students. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks about ways to naturally build diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, into the classroom structure. Learn about the importance of psychological safety, the concept of unconditional positive regard, and being aware of “ingroups” and “outgroups” and more.

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
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Read the Transcript:

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

Welcome to the podcast today. We’ll be talking about D.E.I. in online higher education classrooms. D.E.I. means diversity, equity and inclusion. And at different educational institutions, it may be phrased differently. For example, one that I’m most familiar with calls it E.D.I., which is equity, diversity and inclusion and it’s really the same idea, that all people are important. Everyone matters. They need to be able to have psychological safety in the climate, and be themselves, and understand that they will be accepted and valued and included fully just as everyone in the group.

Why is DEI So Important in Higher Education?

So D.E.I. is an important topic in pretty much any industry that you’re in. But especially in higher education, where we are educating others interacting, and we need to be open, able to relate to the material, feel safe to explore, take risks, and experiment, and find relevance in what we’re learning.

In higher education, this is especially important, we cannot overstate this. So many of our students come from varied backgrounds, with which we ourselves may not be familiar. And online, this is not readily apparent. We don’t see people online and immediately know their whole background. We don’t know all about their cultural makeup or their orientation, or where they’ve come from, or who they are. And so, getting to know them, and also designing learning experiences for them that they will benefit from, those are both very important things.

Today, we’re going to talk about creating some psychological safety for diversity, equity and inclusion in your online classroom. We will also talk about what this requires from us, and how we can be kind and compassionate to ourselves along the way. After all, if we’re going to create an environment where students can take risks, and learn and be themselves, we also need to give ourselves a little compassion when we’re not perfect at this. But we need to keep trying and keep learning about what’s going to be helpful to others. And what will help them to value what they’re getting out of their education, and to have those things included that would be most beneficial to the learners. So, to start with, I will talk about psychological safety, and what that is, and why it’s part of thinking about diversity, equity and inclusion.

Why is Psychological Safety Needed in the Online Classroom?

Psychological safety is the basic sense that you belong, that you are okay, that you can learn and you can take risks in the process. When you have a climate of psychological safety, everyone in the group feels that they can contribute. You understand that the examples and stories you might share with the group will be heard and not severely judged. No one’s going to stop participating with you because of what you have said or what your experiences are.

As an online educator, creating a climate of psychological safety involves a lot of different aspects that we can think about and we can discuss. One of those things is proactive, positive and helpful communication. Whenever an online educator gives the communication upfront that a student can benefit from, guiding them into how to engage in a discussion, for example, this invites the student into the discussion.

If there are some standards for the way you’d like your students to engage and you tell them this ahead of time before they start participating in that discussion, they’re much more likely to feel safe when they see those guidelines, and they follow them. And if they don’t follow them, you can use those guidelines as a reinforcement for your feedback, and you can help redirect your students. There’s a lot of comfort in having clear expectations that were communicated to you as a student. And again, that creates a sense of psychological safety.

Unconditional Positive Regard

Something else I really think contributes to psychological safety, especially in the online classroom is this thing called unconditional positive regard. This is a phrase that comes from the 1950s from a man named Carl Rogers. It’s known in the therapy world, and it’s basically this concept that we’re going to accept another person, even if they have attitudes, beliefs, or experiences and feelings that we might not normally like. We accept their experiences as all valid, we don’t need to judge that or criticize that or correct that. We’re just taking in the person and giving them our positive acceptance.

Unconditional positive regard can be cultivated. And that’s something we can do for our students to learn more and more about our students, without blocking ourselves to the people we’re with by judging it. It doesn’t mean that everyone gets an “A” all the time just by showing up, you still have your standards for what you’re doing in that classroom. But you also can accommodate the backgrounds and experiences of your students. And when you have a lot of adult learners in your classroom online, they really want to be seen for who they are, what they have experienced, and what they know. So, the more you can give them that unconditional positive regard and accept them and validate their experiences, the more they can apply the learning to their life, and it becomes real and alive and vibrant for them.

Consistency is Key

Psychological safety has to do with the way we communicate, and this unconditional positive regard. And it also has to do with the consistency that we demonstrate as human beings. That means that the way we communicate with our students, the timing, the speed, the attitude that we convey in all of our communications, and who we are as a person, those are all congruent. We aren’t super nice all the time and suddenly negative and angry and blowing up at a student that misunderstands. That consistency in our interactions with students across the online environment, gives them additional sense of safety. And they can trust us because they get to know us, and they get to know who we are. And then we get to know who they are as well, as they feel more and more comfortable participating.

Psychological safety is probably the most core thing to our diversity, equity and inclusion approach. Because we cannot really know our students well, or get to know our students well, if they don’t feel safe. That’s a bunch of negative terms there, right? So, students who feel safe, are more likely to allow us to get to know them. And the more we get to know our students, the more we can meet their needs. Now, I want you to think about a time where you felt as if you did not belong. I mean, a really confusing experience you had where you were what we would call in the out group.

Experiencing Being in the “Out Group”

I had one of those experiences. Just to tell you a little bit about my background. I grew up in California, I was born in San Jose, California. And this was a long time ago before the Silicon Valley was a real hopping place. It became more and more developed as I was growing up.

But, when I first was growing up in this area, there were fields everywhere, there was a lot of space. It wasn’t the crowded, citified place it became over time. And in this location, there were people of a lot of different cultures, national origins, backgrounds. And much later I found myself in another country with my husband. It was a professional conference and we were in Brazil. And again, I want you to go back to that time where you might have felt that you were in the out group. What was that? Like? What was your experience? How did you feel when that happened? What did you do in the moment that you felt that? And how does that inform your online teaching?

This moment I’d like to share with you comes from my trip to Brazil to present at an International Music Educators Conference. So, my husband and I were in Brazil, and he spoke Brazilian Portuguese. My husband went to Brazil when he was really young, 20, I think, on a church mission. And then after that trip, he took the time to continue learning the language even better. And 20 years later, he was very good at speaking Brazilian Portuguese. He practiced it regularly and even spoke to people in Brazil and kept up that study. When we went to this conference, I felt very confident I was in good hands. My husband spoke the language, he knew the culture. And I was not going to have any trouble navigating this country that I was not very familiar with at all.

And we rode the city buses all over town confidently, he was comfortable paying, getting on the bus, doing all of that stuff and I just stayed with him everywhere we went. And as I mentioned, he spoke the language fluently, and could solve the problems that we might face being in a country where English was not a common language at all.

We had this experience where we were riding the bus, and we got on the bus. And I’m taking for granted that my husband is managing the money and the admission to the bus, the bus fare. And you get on a bus in Brazil and you it starts going and as the bus starts going down the road, people are still going through the turnstile to put their money in and go to the back of the bus for their seat.

And there’s this little section at the front of the bus for pregnant women, obese people, senior citizens and handicapped people. And there’s a sticker on the window that illustrates these four conditions. I saw this sticker on one occasion and thought, “Oh my goodness, I am one of those people.” I was a large, obese woman with a very large body weight. And I saw myself in the picture and thought, “I hope I can still sit with my husband.” And everywhere we went on the bus, I was fine. I just kept going with him and wasn’t worried about it.

One particular occasion, we got on the bus and we’re walking through, and he put in the bus fare for both of us and walked through the turnstile. And the driver locked the turnstile and would not let me pass through. And instead, he pointed to this section for the disabled senior citizens, pregnant women and obese people and indicated that I was to stay there. I was very worried because my husband had passed through and was in the far back of the bus. And everyone around me spoke Brazilian Portuguese.

And I did not. I didn’t even know the first thing about speaking Brazilian Portuguese. And so, I went ahead to the front of the bus and sat down. And I felt in that moment completely alone on the planet. I felt like I did not understand, I did not speak. And I did not have any hope of navigating this language or this culture. And I could not see my husband at the back of the bus because it was very, very crowded during rush hour. And I wouldn’t know if he got off the bus or not. I was actually quite terrified in this moment.

And I realized that I had very few experiences in my lifetime, where I really felt like I was in the out group or did not understand anything about the cultural group in which I was living at the time. And in this moment, I felt like I was getting that experience and wasn’t really sure how to navigate it.

Fortunately, a few stops later, we had talked ahead of time, and I was pretty sure I knew where we were going. And I went ahead and got off where I thought we were going and my husband also got off the bus and we were able to connect with each other again.

But, in that experience, I had the thought, “this is what some of my students have felt in the past.” I had taught some students in live classes back when I was a band director in central California. And I had some students that came from Mexico having not learned any English yet. And they joined my band, and I needed to learn to communicate with them. And I thought in the moment on that bus in Brazil that I could somewhat relate in that moment, that I wasn’t really sure where I was or what I would do either.

And I appreciate the positive efforts that all of my students have made in the past regardless of their background, their cultural group, their learning preferences or differences and many other things that we bring that make us all unique. I’m so pleased that students I have worked with have just kept trying to navigate challenging things and doing their best. And as I tell my story about having been in Brazil, and having that rough experience on the bus, I wonder what comes to your mind?

What kind of experiences have you had as an educator? Or even before you were an educator in your previous parts of your life? When did you ever feel like an outsider? And how can you grab those experiences, and bring them into your teaching to inform what you’d like to do to help your students?

I know, in my case, I like to define even basic terms that I might use, assuming students all know what they mean, I want to illustrate concepts, I want to give some visual, I want to give a video walkthrough. And I also want to ask students about themselves and really learn who’s in my online class, I’d like to welcome them, and reassure them, and encourage them, and give them plenty of opportunities to try things and fail, and still be able to continue learning and succeeding along their time in this class, whatever will help me reach my students better.

That’s going to open up the space for diversity, equity and inclusion, I also have to check myself and ask what biases I might be bringing into those experiences. That’s especially difficult because as educators, and as human beings, really, we all have biases, we just have them, they’re kind of assumptions we have in our minds. And we’re not always aware of what our biases might be, we might assume certain students can do things or should know things. And that might not be true.

We might also need to branch out to include content that still teaches the concepts we’re teaching, but includes a lot more diverse perspectives, and a lot more cultural backgrounds, whatever it will take to help our students have the experience they need to have in that class. If we include those things, it will invite their success and invite people to join in the discussion, participate more fully and belong. Pychological safety sets that up and then our own experiences of a moment or many times where we might have felt like an outsider, in a group, those things can inform us further.

Now, when we think about focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion in distance learning, or in online education, we don’t have to be perfect. We don’t have to be experts at this concept. We can keep growing, we can just start focusing on it and incorporate more and more approaches that welcome our students and shift the focus off the instructor-led teaching and toward the student-centered learning.

The more we focus on our students, reaching them and teaching them and inviting them in, the more we’re satisfying the goals of a D.E.I. approach. And pretty soon, it will be very natural, if it’s not yet already, and we’ll be able to really invite students of any background, of any preference and be able to meet their needs all the more.

Student-Centered Online Education

Now, one thing that I just mentioned that a D.E.I. approach or D.E.I. focus in our online education requires of us is that we do focus on students and not just our teaching. Shifting to student-centered online education means that everything about our approach in that online classroom is focused on the learner experience.

What kinds of things do they already bring to this experience that we can tap into? And what do they need to experience to learn what they need to learn in this subject matter or in the concept area? The more we do this, the more we will be asking questions. And we will be connecting with our students and continue learning and growing along the way.

Now, as we close our podcast today focused on D.E.I. in the higher education online classroom, I want to encourage you. As you keep developing these skills, as we all continue to focus in this area, we don’t have to be perfect, we’re going to make mistakes. And that psychological safety we’re building for students applies to us too.

So, give yourself a little bit of space to try. Risk a little bit, potentially fail and just keep trying. As you learn these ideas and strategies, they will be more and more comfortable. And you will feel that you are reaching your students as you hear from them as you connect with them, and as you focus on what they need most.

Thank you for being with me today to discuss diversity, equity and inclusion in the higher education online classroom. And I wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week.

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

#110: How to Bring Creativity into Your Online Classroom

#110: How to Bring Creativity into Your Online Classroom

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

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

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

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Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This is Episode Number 110: How to bring creativity into your online classroom. This podcast is for educators, academics, and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun. Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics, and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and we’re going to talk about one of my favorite subjects today, creativity in your online classroom. I love creativity. In fact, one of my favorite things is coming up with new ideas and trying them out.

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

Emphasizing Creativity in Students

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

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

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

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

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

Building Community in the Classroom

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

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

Design Open-Ended Assignments

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

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

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

Change How You Think About Creativity

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

Fluency

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

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

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

Flexibility

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

Elaboration

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

Originality

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

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

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

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

Be Creative with Assessments

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

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

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

Be Mindful of Creative Elements

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

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

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

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

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

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