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#128: What Fuels You as an Educator?

#128: What Fuels You as an Educator?

This content first appeared on APUEdge.com.

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

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

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
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Read the Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#116: Online Classroom Management: Boss or Leader?

This content first appeared on APUEdge.Com.

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

Do you manage the classroom like a boss or leader? In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares the difference between being a boss and a leader. Learn how being a leader can help develop students, drive motivation and inspire students to success.

Listen to the Episode:

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

Read the Transcript:

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

Welcome to the podcast. This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen your host, and I’m very excited to meet with you today for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. We are on an episode today that will really help you connect to the business world a little bit, which is a stretch for those of us who see through the lens of higher education and education in general. We’re going to talk about what would happen if you handled classroom management in your online class as a boss, or a leader.

Using a “Boss” Approach to Managing the Classroom

These two terms come together quite a bit when we’re managing people in any business setting. The idea of managing your environment like a boss means that you drive your employees, you’re pushing them to achieve the goal. Some people consider that a boss uses employees as resources to meet the demand of whatever the situation requires. Also, a boss may be dictatorial or commanding.

This is kind of like seeing the leadership or the direction coming from the top. It’s a top-down approach. This person who’s the boss is going to tell you what needs to be done by when and it’s your job to step up and comply.

Often a boss depends on their authority for your listening. So, the fact that they have the title and they have the authority in that position means that they’re in charge and it’s just part of your job to listen to them. And then bosses sometimes are known for managing people at the micro level, we call that micromanagement. It means that there might be a lot of follow up and a lot of checking on your work, and really making sure that you get it done.

There is sometimes a sense that a boss might generate fear through this commanding presence. And this demand for results. I might be sounding a little negative here; what I’m saying to portray a boss versus a leader, but the boss is more the manager. In this role, we’re demanding respect. And sometimes people experience this and on the other end, they’re feeling a little bit inferior when they’re led by a boss versus a leader.

So, that image of a boss can sometimes be the way that teachers come across in a classroom. After all, the old model of the lecture up front, giving all of their knowledge to students and filling that vessel that needs to be filled, is sort of like the idea of being a boss.

If we think about our students more as people that come to us with existing information and knowledge that we want to connect to, then we may be less inclined to the boss model. And there’s a lot of ways to connect to what our students already know, who they already are. They’re certainly not completely empty vessels to be filled. That’s not really a helpful analogy for today’s student, or any student for that matter.

But the boss idea is really that we are in charge of that classroom, we’re going to tell students what to do, how to do it, when to turn things in, and how to get an A in this class, or a B or whatever. And we are going to be that ultimate authority. And we’re going to make sure students know it. And we’re going to reinforce that through our communication, through our approach to the deadlines and the grading, and we’re going to kind of use that approach throughout the entire class experience. If you’ve ever had an instructor that taught their class like a boss, then maybe some of this relates for you. Maybe it sounds familiar.

This kind of teaching approach can work for people. I had an elementary school teacher myself who was very much a boss. And in that class, students were assigned 15-minute increments of after-school detention for missing little infractions in their work. So, if you didn’t write your last name, your first and your last name, so if your last name was missing on the paper, you got 15 minutes of detention after school. If you did not finish one of the items on the paper, another 15 minutes, if you were talking when you should not be talking in class. So, each of these things was stacked up and I believe that this teacher hoped that by doing this, she would help us improve our self-discipline and eventually eliminate the problems we were having and be more conscientious and stop getting detention.

I didn’t find that a very healthy approach for me, because for some reason, I often got a lot of detention in that class, I missed a thing here or there. And it was overwhelming to have a teacher who approached that classroom like a boss. So, again, if you’ve had that experience, you can understand the approach. If you haven’t, I want you to just imagine a boss managing a classroom who’s very commanding, authoritative and direction oriented.

Using a Leadership Approach in the Classroom

Now, we’re going to slip to the other side and look at the leader view. Now, if we didn’t just approach it, like a boss or manager, but we took that business leader mindset into the online classroom, what would that look like?

Well, leaders are often described as inspiring and leading employees, or, in this case, students to manage themselves from within, instead of being driven or pushed from the outside, the person might be a little bit ahead of the student or the employee, and be encouraging them to come along. The leader brings others with them. One of the things that a leader loves doing, or tries to do all the time, is develop the employees, help them build their capabilities, increase their capacity, and believe in their own ability to do what is being asked.

So, developing employees and developing students means that the student might come into the classroom thinking, they’re not sure they can do this, they might be filled with a lot of self-doubt, and worry. And through their work with that teacher, as a leader, that teacher is going to help them develop the capacity to persevere, maybe a skill set to get through that subject matter. They might even get a little coaching, through the teaching approach that helps them to know how to prepare for the next test, how to manage their time a little better, and how to chunk things a little bit so they’re not so overwhelming. There’s a lot that a teacher as a leader can do to help those students just like a business leader helps employees to manage themselves and develop.

Another interesting thing a leader does is invite or ask others to do things where the boss might command or direct people, the leader asks and invites. I’ve seen some instructors who have taught their online classes in a very inviting way. They are encouraging, they treat their students like equals, and they just encourage them to try things. And when given that kind of approach, a lot of students respond very well.

They’re willing to take risks, they’re willing to try new things, and get outside their comfort zone, to risk, to learn something new. And we know that psychological safety in the online classroom requires a lot of risk. And we’re going to try discussing things, maybe terms we’re not familiar with. And we’re going to risk looking bad or looking ignorant, but we’ve got to get out there and we’ve got to start discussing it in the discussion, or turning in a paper that we’ve written about it. So, the more we ask and invite our students, from a leader perspective, the more we’re going to get a response.

And a lot of times students are going to begin driving themselves from within, instead of being driven like a boss from outside. Another thing that we have from the leader perspective, is that the leadership of the individual depends on a sense of goodwill with those people they’re working with, where the boss depends on the authority of their role.

I think there have been a few times where I’ve spoken with online students that are talking about other instructors. And the students have said they really loved a certain faculty member because they were inviting, they were kind, they were encouraging, and they treated their students with respect.

In contrary situations, I’ve occasionally heard a student complaint about a faculty member who was less than kind to their students, perhaps overly critical rather than helpful. And, at times, students perceive that as a lack of goodwill, it’s more authority-based and a little less helpful in the students’ viewpoint.

So, when you think about having goodwill between you and your students, that can be a leader trait and much more directional for the student. Another thing a leader would do instead of a boss is earning respect, instead of generating fear. Again, anything we can do within our students to invite them to move forward and be self-motivated is going to be helpful.

Earning their respect means that we are consistent. We treat them with respect. We are in the online classroom regularly when we say we will be, and we let our students know what to expect, like a timeline of when to get grading back, when their questions can be answered, and all sorts of other things. We earn their respect by the way we treat them and the way we behave. We also make people feel valued.

Where business leaders make their employees feel valued, educational leaders make their students feel valued. Perhaps they’ve shared something in a discussion, and we’re referring back to them by name to draw on that expertise that was shared. Or maybe we give a gentle nudge in the new direction, if a student needs correction, because they’re way off base. Whatever it is we’re doing, we’re making that human being feel important and valued, while we’re guiding the ideas. And, lastly, we trust that our students will perform their work well, we expect them to succeed, and we believe that they can.

So, when we give our students trust, and we assume the best intent, the positive intent from our students, just like a business leader, we’re going to get trust in return and our students are going to meet our expectations the best they possibly can.

When we approach it like a boss, instead, we might have a lot of doubt about our students, we might believe that they don’t have good intents or that they want to do the minimum amount or maybe even use unoriginal content in their writing.

Whatever we assume about students will come through in the way we treat them and the way we speak to them. So, if we are going to approach like a business leader, instead of like a boss, we want to trust that the students will perform their jobs well in the classroom, just like a business leader trusts their employees will perform well.

This comparison between a boss and a leader in the world of business, just like in education, is pretty striking. I think I can find more than just a handful of teachers I experienced who were true leaders. Many of them, I left their course and I thought I wanted to be just like them in the future.

Have you ever had that experience where you took a class from someone and you felt like they brought out the good in you, they inspired you, they motivated you? Or in some way, they led you to believe that you could be like them in the future? Or maybe you just wanted to? Some people that I’ve had as educators, I’ve even thought “I want to be connected with that human being the rest of my life.”

I had an elementary school band director named Joe Lynch. He was exactly like that. When he retired, and I was in eighth grade, I just started writing letters to him. And I continued writing letters to him through his entire life until he passed away from lung cancer just a few years ago. It was a very long relationship and it was because this man was a leader, not a boss.

He managed teaching and students like he loved every one of them. He earned our respect every single time he showed up. He invited us to do things. He challenged us to reach beyond our abilities and developed us into better musicians, better students, and better people.

What kind of educator would you like to be? Are there elements of the boss or the leader role that you would like to try out in your online classroom and think about? Maybe there’s something you’re already doing that’s working really well for you? How could you take that a little further and maybe add one of these additional ideas to it?

In the coming weeks, I encourage you to think about what you might try from either of these roles, how it could impact or help your students to gain confidence and to persevere in their learning, and how you might share it with others so they can learn from your experience and also become better educators.

If there’s something you have found useful today in our Online Teaching Lounge podcast, please share the podcast with someone you know. It’s always wonderful to share good resources with other educators, especially folks who are teaching online.

All the people that I know who teach online, welcome new ideas, and perhaps your colleagues will too. Thank you for being here for being an audience member of our online teaching lounge podcast and thank you for the great work you do day in and day out teaching your students online. I wish you all the very 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.

#113: How Reflective Practices Can Help Students Learn More Deeply

This content first appeared on APUEdge.Com.

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

There are many ways to help students retain information, but one of the most successful ways is through reflective practices. Learn how reflective practices can help students “think about their thinking” and include strategies like journaling, blogging, and other self-directed methods to think more deeply about what they’re learning in the online classroom.

Listen to the Episode:

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

Read the Transcript:

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

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m Bethanie Hansen, your host, and I want to talk with you today about a simple tip to help your students learn more deeply. You may already be familiar with the needs of adult learners, and one of those needs is that they have some kind of ownership of their learning. They are somewhat self-directed. They also need to know what the application of their learning will be, how it’s going to connect to their career, their real life, the real world. This simple tip today is all about helping your students take charge and self-direct their learning to a greater degree.

Ways to Help Students Learn and Retain Information

When learning more deeply, there are a lot of different options available to us. One option is repetition. We can teach the same thing in a lot of different ways, and that is going to help the learner move it from short-term to long-term memory over time.

We can also do action learning, some kind of applied work outside of the online classroom. Students can get out and do something in the real world to help it stick, to be more permanent and more lasting. We can also scaffold the learning and repeat the content while we do it.

For example, in the first week of class, you might introduce a concept, come back in the second week of class, test, quiz and assess that first concept along with the week two concept and cumulatively build the information testing and assessment over the course of the class.

All of these are great options, and they might be strategies that you would like to try with your online students, and especially your adult learners, to help build some retention of the information and increase the likelihood of student success in their learning.

How Reflective Practice Helps Students Learn

But the tip I’m going to give you today is even more simple than all of those strategies, and it is the simple idea of using reflection. Reflective practice, journaling, blogging, self-assessment all of those things fall into that bucket of reflection.

There are some things students can do when they’re preparing for the assignment or the work, during the learning itself, and afterwards that will use reflection in ways to cement their learning and help them learn more deeply. This first tip that I’m sharing today about reflection is really intended to get your students to be more in charge and more autonomous about their own learning.

You don’t need as many crazy strategies or methods in your teaching, or at least not those that take so much of your time to create, if you’re using a lot more student reflection. And the reason for this is that as your students are using that reflective practice, they’re thinking about their thinking. They’re taking that step one step removed from the learning process, and they’re starting to analyze how they learned, how they incorporated the information, how they worked with it, depending on the type of reflection you’re going to use.

Encouraging Students to Journal

So, I’m going to just suggest a few different options to get your students journaling in your online course so they can learn more deeply and do this in a more simple way. Students who find a new concept to be especially difficult can benefit from a reflective practice before even starting the learning activities. There might be some questions to complete ahead of time to ask the student where they might have some connection to what they’re about to learn. You might, for example, ask what they already know about the subject matter, what they think they know, what they guess about it.

You could share a little bit of introductory material to get them curious, and also have them reflect on once they have this little bit of information what they now hope to learn about it, what they expect to know and where they might be most interested in gaining new knowledge.

Some kind of self-direction before the learning activities even begin gives your students the chance to reflect on what they’re about to do and take ownership right from the start. Now, during the learning activities, a student can have some kind of questions they’re going to reflect on, complete, write some narrative about, or even discuss with a peer partner in the discussion section of your online class.

And all of these questions along the way could be about how they’re learning, what they’re understanding, what they’re not, and any kind of reflections on the process they’re experiencing. I had some questions like this in a course I was teaching online in which I asked students about week four, maybe it was week three of an eight-week class how they were learning the content. I asked them what was going well, what they wanted to be more effective at in their learning and where they could use a little bit of support.

I was pleasantly surprised when students came back with all kinds of suggestions and ideas, and some even brought in examples from their own lives and their work to tie to the learning and asked questions to see if they were on the right track. Journaling midpoint and throughout the learning process can really bring those connections along in the process of the learning and help our students to see much more relevance, learning more deeply than they might otherwise do. And we have to admit that when our students are passive consumers just reading the content or just listening to the content or watching the content without doing any kind of activity, they’re much less likely to remember it.

It can go into short-term memory, but it takes a little bit of analysis or manipulating that information or applying it or reflecting on it, or even memorizing it if that’s necessary for it to go into long-term memory storage and later retrieval. So, a reflective practice can help with all of those things and help students take their learning into more long-term memory, where they’re more likely to remember it by the end of the class.

Journaling is a good practice you can use for reflection with students. If students have a journal and they’re writing in it each week about their learning, maybe they’re sharing what the new concepts are, what new applications they can see, what questions they have. I can recall this was used in an English class I took at the college level when I was already a teacher and I changed states for my credential to transfer over, I had to take a literature teaching course. It was basically how to teach literature in any subject area for secondary educators. And since my subject is music, I found that very interesting. We were going to talk about reading in music classes.

There was a journal attached that the professor used throughout our experience and we would write about the readings that we experienced or read in the class, questions, thoughts, applications, and then we would turn those in. At the end of each week, the instructor would give them back to us with kind of like a conversation. So, the instructor would answer questions or ask some in return, maybe write some statements to contribute to our understanding.

It was clearly very time consuming for that instructor to do, but incredibly helpful because it really gave each student the opportunity to reflect as we’re learning and even get some feedback on that reflective practice. So, there’s another thought that you could try in an online class.

Choosing a Method in the LMS

Now, no matter what learning management system you are using, online classes do all have places where you can use journaling, if you want to do it online. One method could be to set up the blog section of the online class, if that exists. I’ve also seen it done where discussion boards were created and groups were made so that each student had their own private group discussion board. That way the instructor and the student could engage back and forth and no other students could read it. So, if you’re concerned about privacy for your online students and the safety for them to really explore their thoughts, reflect on their learning and ask questions to you, that private group feature might be an excellent way to go.

One of the reasons journaling is especially good is that students can think through their opinions they might not otherwise share in a live discussion. Journaling can also help them think internally and really think about how things might unfold in their own life, and it’s not necessarily about everybody else. So, it can be very personalized and help the student also tie to some background knowledge, some things they already know, and try out new vocabulary that they aren’t yet comfortable using in the live discussion or the larger group discussion. So, this is something I’d highly encourage, to get your students to a deeper learning level, and also actually personalize the course quite a bit more.

There’s this idea that in a learning management system, you could do e-journaling. Of course, it’s a reflective practice like we’ve been talking about in this podcast so far, and it is a private entry between the student and the instructor. And it will take a little bit of careful design in your course to figure out how to create this private blog or this private discussion board. Because after all, we don’t want other students to see it, that defeats the whole purpose of a private space.

It is an asynchronous tool. So, just like the handmade or the written journal that I experienced in that college class, the private blog or private discussion board space, or whatever you choose to use for a student’s reflective practice, becomes a really great way to keep the thoughts in one space without having the whole community see it.

So, really the goal for the whole thing is that we’re just trying to give that student a space to really open up, think through their learning, reflect on their learning, make some applications and have the opportunity to connect that with the faculty member.

Adding Structure to the Reflective Practice

So, I would suggest giving some initial questions to your reflective practice for students. When you give them something to think about as they go through the work, go through the learning, or even after the learning is done and they’re doing this as an assessment, some questions can really help students get started thinking through their ideas.

One question could be what is something you’re learning that seems familiar to you, or you anticipate applying in your life or work? What is something that you noticed connects to other things you already know? What questions do you have about what you’re learning so far?

Remember that it’s meant to be reflective, so you don’t need a lot of questions here, but a few to get your students started could help them begin the practice, especially if they’re not already familiar with journaling or very comfortable with it. So, again, you can ask questions or you can have a prompt where it is sort of like a mini-assignment. The student reads the prompt where you ask them how to apply certain ideas from the lesson and they’re going to reflect on that afterwards.

You could give them a prompt asking them to review the concepts that they learned, find ways to connect the current learning to previous learning or last week’s learning, how it builds on itself. Or you could even ask students to write about how their new learning connects to the bigger theme that is being taught or learned in the course. All things that you include in a prompt or a series of questions can be personalized to the student, personalized to the course, the subject matter, or generalized, if you prefer to give students a lot of space.

Grading Considerations for Reflective Practices

Now, once you’ve given your students a good start in reflective practice before, during and after learning activities, how do you grade this? After all, students are going to do this when it’s evaluated and it’s less likely they will consistently do it if it’s not graded. So, one way you can do it is pass-fail based on their participation alone. If you choose to do that, it’s a non-threatening way to give credit and allow a lot of latitude for different types of reflection of varying lengths.

You could create a rubric for the reflective practice or journaling that might happen. And that rubric could be that it’s proficient or advanced, demonstrating solid ideas with detailed support and evidence or experiences or connections. You could have a second category that’s perhaps developing or approaching the standard. And you could have another one where this is missing completely. It’s not demonstrated at all.

And some of the things you might evaluate in student journaling would be the response connecting to the course materials, actually reflecting on learning and connecting to the learning, some coherence throughout their writing, and also application to life, work or other places.

The more you give clarity upfront, and also keep that conversation going with your students, the more they’re likely to benefit from this whole practice and know what to start with, what they’re really aiming for when they start writing. I believe in journaling. I’ve been a journal keeper my whole life and when I’ve seen this used in courses that I have taken as a student, it’s been incredibly beneficial. I notice that I’m thinking more deeply, and I’m also able to remember the experience years afterwards.

That course I mentioned earlier in this podcast was 20 years ago, for example, and I still remember a lot of those journal entries because they took some time to think about and there was a lot of conversation with the faculty member when I got that journal back. So, I want to invite you to consider how you might try reflective practice with your students, how it could naturally be weaved into the course you’re teaching and try it out, see if it works for you. And, of course, I would love to hear your feedback on what you’re trying and whether or not this is working.

Feel free to stop by my website, BethanieHansen.com. There’s a request form where you can add comments and just share your experience with reflective practice and using journaling in your online course with your students. Thanks for being a listener here at the Online Teaching Lounge. It’s great to have you with us and I really hope you’ll come back next week. We have a special guest coming up. It’s going to be a wonderful experience, so definitely check it out. I wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week and throughout the season ahead.

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

#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.

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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.

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

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

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com. 

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

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

Listen to the Episode:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you both for being here, and thank you to our listeners for tuning in today. We wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week.

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

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

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

Be Present: Best Practices for Authentic Teaching Online

This content first appeared at APUEdge.com.

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

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

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

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

Best Practice #1: Be Present in the Online Classroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Practice #2: Communicate Early and Often

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prioritize the Two Best Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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