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#126: Tips for Educators Starting a New Online Class

#126: Tips for Educators Starting a New Online Class

This content first appeared on APUEdge.edu.

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

Focus on Communications in the Online Class

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ways to Get to Know Students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#121: Three Interactive Platforms to Consider Using in the Online Classroom

This content first appeared on APUEdge.com.

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

Want to increase engagement in the classroom, but not sure where to start? In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares three interactive platforms to add a creative approach to student engagement. Learn what platforms work best for asynchronous, synchronous and hybrid classes.

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 Online Teaching Lounge. I’m Bethanie Hansen your host, and I’m here to talk with you today about three interactive platforms to try in your online teaching. With so many things to try out there, it can be very difficult to decide what will work for you and for your students when you’re teaching online.

Today, we’re going to look at three interactive platforms. The first one is called Knovio: K-N-O-V-I-O; you can learn more about it at Knovio.com. And I’ll talk about it here today. The second one is called Vimeo: V-I-M-E-O and, of course, you can look this one up at vimeo.com. It’s a little bit like a YouTube-style hosting platform, but with some additional interesting features. And thirdly, we’ll look at Mentimeter M-E-N-T-I-M-E-T-E-R, at mentimeter.com. This one can have interactive slide presentations, and quizzing features, and all kinds of different questions and polling that you can include.

Each one has its own place in your online teaching. And some of these work well asynchronously. Some work well synchronously, but still online. And some can work for both. So, we’ll check out all three of these interesting interactive platforms and give you some ideas of things you might want to try in your next online class.

What to Know about Knovio

First, if you’re interested in helping your students create their own interactive presentations, where they can video record themselves next to some slides that they are also presenting, a great platform would be Knovio. Knovio.com has a lot of different options. There is the educator pricing and the educator platform. But more specifically, today I want to talk about the student version of this product. So, this is an opportunity for your students to create presentations that they are featured in with video and slides side by side.

It’s easy to use; they can narrate their slides, or they can record the videos side by side, or they can just do audio with no video and those slides. They can share it with their friends, they can share it with the entire class, send it to their professor for grading. It can be featured on a web page in your online classroom as part of a showcase when you have students submit projects. It’s mobile-friendly and, of course, there’s a free version. So, students can make a seven-minute video, and it’s free. Or for a longer video or more of them, they can have a very inexpensive student plan, I think it’s something like $5 per month.

So, there’s student pricing. And there’s the opportunity for students to save these and share them. And of course, they can continue to edit them and work together with others in a group if they’d like to do that. So, the Student Edition gives all the Knovio Pro features, but at an inexpensive price your students would be able to invest in, it gives the five hours of storage for students, unlimited video presentation lengths, up to like a five-hour presentation. And also high-definition video exports. So, they can either export the entire video, or they can share just through a link.

When students use Knovio to make presentations, they’re much more interactive than just a simple PowerPoint alone. They can have that live video next to it and it’s really engaging, just like being in a presentation in a live classroom. So, it brings that personal touch into the presentation.

They can use different languages and have it translated. Or you can have it narrated and just in English, whatever works for your students. So, if you’re doing another language, like teaching a Spanish class, it might be interesting to have the translation there. And you can also post these online, upload them to your favorite hosting service.

You can also check out the statistics to see whether they’ve been viewed, how many times they’ve been viewed. And you can also give it a bookmark so that you can move from slide to slide and each one will play the narration and then just stop there so you can skip around. So, there are a lot of options available in the student version here and its very user friendly.

I myself first was exposed to Knovio years ago through a colleague at American Public University. After I first tried it out at the time, I was also teaching at the local community college, so I brought it into my face-to-face music appreciation class. And I had students make their presentations using Knovio. And then in the web version of our class where we had our grading, and we could also store things, I had students upload their Knovios in there so there was sort of this showcase. And between class sessions, students could look at all the different presentations and share their comments and study more than they would get in the live class.

So, there are a lot of options here with Knovio. It works great in live classes, hybrid classes, and asynchronous classes. Now, what if you want to use Knovio as the faculty member? There is also this ability to put quizzing in between your narrated sections. So, you can have yourself on video talking through parts of a lecture, and you can have a slide up there with the different pieces of information, then you can have your students pause and take the quiz questions in between and then move on to the next slide. So, if you like it enough to try the teacher version, you’ll find there are a lot more features, especially if you try the pro version. And it might be worth keeping and using over and over.

And, of course, you can save your work and use it in the next session of that class. So, once you’ve invested the time to build this big presentation and put your video up there, you can use it repeatedly. So that’s one option to you, Knovio. It’s an interactive slide presentation type of application. And we’ll go on to the second option for you today, which is Vimeo.

Considerations for Using Vimeo

Now, what is Vimeo you might be wondering? Vimeo is an all-in-one video hosting platform. So, you can make, manage and share your videos, you can have live virtual events that you engage your audience with. And you can also send out these videos, keep track of the statistics and know who’s watching them. You can password protect them, you can have them listed or unlisted, you can put them as part of a showcase, you can embed them anywhere.

There are a lot of ways to use Vimeo. And there are a lot more personal controls that you can employ in your Vimeo hosting. One of the reasons people use Vimeo now, of course, is for all kinds of video marketing and video monetization. But, as an educator, you can see that there would be a lot of benefit to tracking the views of your videos and adding captions and different things.

You can use them to teach a lesson, you can also embed them in your LMS. So, if you compare this to YouTube, there’s just a little bit more in terms of control and features. I encourage you to take a look at Vimeo and see whether it might be something that you want to try out. There are various levels of plans, and it just might be something that your students connect well with.

Now, why would you want to try Vimeo instead of YouTube? That is an interesting question that really depends on the user. Some people use YouTube and like to use either private or unlisted videos. Unlisted is probably the best way to go, because then you can use those videos that you’ve created and you can do them without the whole web finding them. The problem with unlisted videos on YouTube is that the date that you created them, and the number of watches is public. And if you try Vimeo, you can hide a lot of that information, you can hide the branding, you can hide the statistics.

And you really can choose how much about the video other people can see. So, there’s a little more control there. And as I mentioned, you can embed it anywhere, link it anywhere and use it whenever you see fit. So, all kinds of great things can happen with your Vimeo videos. And, even though, there is a small cost associated with that, you might find that it’s helpful for interactive things, screen recording, and also editing videos in a professional way with very little learning required.

It’s user friendly, easy to learn. And you can also with the same link, if you decide you want to change out the video or or add an updated version, you can have the same link to the video but replace it with a newer version of your video without changing the URL or the address of that video. So, that’s a bonus of Vimeo, it preserves that address for you and allows you to use it over and over, even when you’ve subbed out to a new version of the video.

So, Vimeo is worth trying in your online education experience. It’s especially good for asynchronous learning where you’re building a class and putting lots of different videos in there that you have created. And it’s also good for hybrid situations if you’re teaching some live and some of the work they’re going to be doing at home. So, look at Vimeo and see if it’s a video solution you might want to try in your online teaching.

What is Mentimeter?

And lastly, today we’re talking about Mentimeter. Mentimeter is a fun way to interact with your students either synchronously or asynchronously. Mentimeter is a platform where you build presentations. You can build your entire presentation on this platform, you can prepare it to be interactive, you can use the online editor to add questions, polls, quizzes, slides, images, GIFs, and all kinds of exciting things. And you can make these really engaging presentations that your students will view.

Additionally, you could just use it for one or two slides to create a poll that you insert into your classroom. Now, your audience, your students, are going to use their smartphones to connect to the presentation and answer the questions. So, if you send it out for the engagement feature alone, you could just post the link or embed the Mentimeter presentation in your online class. You can send the link in your announcement, or you can put it in there as an actual piece of content. They can see their responses coming together as more and more students respond. So, when one student adds information, they’re going to see in real time, the interactive responses pop up there. And the more students come in throughout the week and participate asynchronously in this engagement, the more those answers are going to change.

For example, if you have a word cloud on one slide, and Sarah goes in on Monday and adds her answers, and Johnny goes in on Tuesday, the existing parts of the answer will be there. And the next student’s answers will be added to it. And it’ll become more and more rich, engaging and interesting for everyone, as the week goes on. Then at the end of the week, you can close out the Mentimeter and it’ll save all those responses. So, you could send that out as a follow up that everyone can view and see the collective contributions to that presentation.

So, it’s a very interesting way to get people to interact, whether it’s synchronously or asynchronously throughout the week. And then you can just close that off and have everybody take a look together and have a fun closing product. So that’s mentimeter.com. And I really believe that it works well for both synchronous and asynchronous audiences. And I encourage you to try it for the fun interactivity that it might provide to your online students.

So, today, we’ve just looked at three different media applications. The first one was Knovio. A great way for students to create presentations that have live-looking video next to their slide presentation narrated or faculty members can also do that, and even embed quizzing in the middle.

Secondly, we have Vimeo, which also allows you to add some interesting interactivity, including quizzing, if you have one of the paid versions of that plan. And then lastly, Mentimeter, which also provides a lot of different types of interactivity in a slide-based application that you can either share the link, you can use it on a smartphone or you can embed it in the classroom, and it can collect all kinds of responses. And you can use a creative approach to share this engagement with your students.

This coming week, I hope you’ll try at least one of these new and interesting ways to engage and find a way to liven up your online teaching and increase the engagement through an interesting media app. Best wishes to you 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.

#120: How to Apply Project-Based Learning in Online Teaching

This content first appeared at APUEdge.com.

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

Applying classroom learning to the real world can help keep students engaged. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses project-based learning. Hear about this student-centered learning practice that’s designed to teach concepts using real-world problems and challenges. Learn three steps to apply this in any subject area.

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 today. If you’re looking for a new and interesting approach to working with your online students, you are in for a real treat! Today we’ll be talking about project-based learning. You might have heard of applied learning, real-world learning, civic learning. There are a lot of things in these categories that can be a little bit ambiguous, and we know it would be great to include them. But we’re not exactly sure how.

Today, we’ll talk about that project-based learning in a three-step process to keep it very simple, using some guidelines put out by Jennifer Jump in her “50 Strategies for Your Virtual Classroom,” and a few other resources as well. So, relax and enjoy the next few minutes while we talk about project-based learning, and you can think about how you might apply these in your own online teaching this coming year.

What is Project-Based Learning?

Project-based learning is really for everyone, even when teaching online. In fact, teaching online when you use project-based learning, you’re helping your students do things that are going to apply to the real world. Project-based learning is sometimes abbreviated PBL. So, if you’ve ever heard of that acronym, it’s a student-centered learning practice designed to teach concepts using real world problems and challenges.

A lot of people use it to create a situation where critical thinking skills can grow. And students can produce something that’s very high-quality, deeply engaging, and very much connected to what’s going on out there in the world. For adult learners, this is especially important because we’re thinking a lot about the career field that we’ll be using that learning in. So, project-based learning can be an excellent choice for online adult learners.

Now, if you think about various types of project-based learning, you could think about, let’s just say the elementary school that plants a garden. I used to teach music at an elementary school in Boise, Idaho, where there was such a garden, there were all kinds of plants, a lot of variety, a lot of choices, and the students cultivated them throughout the year. And, at some point, they had a harvest and would celebrate and enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Another opportunity for project-based learning that I experienced when I was a young person was Junior Achievement. We would go into the business, study the business, learn about the business, walk around and be involved in the very real actions of that business, while we were in high school.

Maybe filming a documentary and sharing it out would be another example of project-based learning. There are a lot of ways to use project-based learning in your subject area, you think about what would be real world and applied and you bring in those opportunities.

If you think about it, students are going to be really turned on by this idea, because they’re going to know that this is really going to help them get where they want to go with what they’re learning, especially if these are courses in their major subject area. Project-based learning can be done well, it can also be done in a messy way that doesn’t really help your students very much. So, we want to make sure that you use these three ideas that are quite simple to help you think through your process.

Step 1: EXPLORE: Allow Students to Research Ideas for Projects

The first one is that you’re going to help your students EXPLORE. So, at this level students are going to research. They’re going to explore the information that they’ll need for the project, maybe they’re going to do some reading, some interviewing, some observing, some analyzing of pictures, viewing videos, discussing with others, and walking through whatever the environment is, or the ideas are.

Set Clear Expectations and Guidance

At this level, you would want to make very clear expectations for your students, you can do this in your online course through either written text, through a live synchronous meeting, or through some kind of asynchronous content, maybe that’s going to be an explainer video that you create to guide them through the steps of creating their project that they’ll be doing.

Whatever it is, you want to give them as much clarity as you possibly can. So, they have a lot of guidance to know when they have met the requirements, and what they’re supposed to be learning through doing this stuff. So, give them some guiding questions to help them think through their options and whether things will fit the project.

Provide Plenty of Practice and Discussion Time

And then lastly, give them a lot of practice time and discussion space to toss these ideas around and explore them and interact with each other and with you to get some feedback. The students will be discovering, questioning, gathering, identifying, navigating, responding and doing a whole lot more. So, they’ll be very engaged in the exploration phase as they select their project.

Step 2: EXPLAIN: Students Share Learning and Thinking

On the second phase of project-based learning, this is the EXPLAIN space. And this is where students will share what they’ve learned. So, they’re going to be doing some things in that explore phase, but in the EXPLAIN phase, they’re going to share out their thinking. This might be some kind of a presentation. Maybe it’s a summary that they write up or some kind of tutorial or video or guide that they’re going to create and give other people.

It could be some kind of, as I mentioned before, like a documentary, or another type of walkthrough. So, maybe it’s even a guided experiment, that would especially work well in some of your science-based classes. So, think about how students will explain out what they’re learning.

And then you’re going to give them a framework to share that material. So maybe you’ll have a week that’s set aside just to share that learning. Maybe it’s a showcase, or some kind of an event. If it’s asynchronous, you especially want to be careful to hype it up, make it exciting, and help students know when they will share this out, and in what way they will be evaluated. Encourage them to discuss it with each other and also collaborate with each other. Some project-based learning can be done really well in groups. So, you might think about this as a type of group opportunity.

And then students are going to take action in this phase by filling in the gaps for others, bringing all the information together that they’re thinking about, and sharing it out, organizing the information in some way, and teaching it or telling it to others or presenting it.

Step 3: APPLY to Other Activities or Projects

The last step in this project-based learning cycle is APPLY. So here, students are going to take what they learned and apply it to additional activities or projects. Now, it could be that this is the phase where they’re going out and doing some kind of civic engagement or service learning. So as the instructor, you want to set clear expectations for this part of the application activity, give some evaluation tools before they get started. Help them to know when they’ve done enough or met the requirement or done things in a way that helps further their learning.

Then give some feedback, find a way for them to get peer feedback, get feedback from you. And if they’re doing something out in the world with employers, maybe they’re going to get some kind of employer feedback on what they’re doing.

Students at this stage are going to create a project or maybe a creation of some kind, they’re going to do an experiment or collect data and share it out or respond creatively. If you’re in an arts class, for example, maybe this is where they’re going to write their song and perform it or get into that performance situation and then report back. If it’s a business class, maybe this is where they’re going to go shadow someone in the workplace and learn through doing that and they’re going to share that back.

Whatever it is, these three different stages of the project, the explore, explain and apply, will help you to kind of come full circle and help your students use project-based learning effectively. This is just one way to really engage your students in their online learning. It takes it home for them, it makes it real. So, they’re not just learning about it in the online space, but they’re taking it out into the real world and they’re applying whatever it is they’re learning from you.

It’s a great instructional strategy, helps your students to explore what they’re learning at a much deeper level, and figure out if it works for them how they’re going to actually do something with this learning. It also helps you to see the connection between your classroom and the rest of the world, especially the students’ worlds where they want to go out and get their careers or enhance their careers. I highly recommend trying project-based learning. As I mentioned before, there are a lot of ways we could refer to this. It could be applied learning. It could be service learning; a lot of things are really similar to this.

There are some websites out there that might give you some great ideas. If you’re teaching younger folks, if you’re teaching elementary, junior high and high school students PBL works.org has a section on remote learning. There’s a hyperlink in the notes from today, so check it out.

There’s also a really great section on the edX courses site with some project-based learning courses that you can try for professional development. You could poke through those and find some ideas as well. A great project they have there as an example is to create an iOS app from start to finish, excellent project-based learning opportunity.

There might be an opportunity to use project-based learning with big data, or analytics, deep learning in some kind of a capstone project, or machine learning. There are a lot of opportunities in the sciences and technology fields for project-based learning.

What about in your communication or writing courses? Maybe you want to have students go out and apply those skills by creating a campaign or writing a summary of something they’ve experienced or interviewing someone and writing it up, there are a lot of opportunities there as well.

So, regardless of your subject matter, many different opportunities could emerge that you could apply in the classroom and have your students go out and try on. I hope that this is a great area for you to explore and expand for your students and try in the online space.

I look forward to hearing back from you about how it goes. Maybe you already have some experience here that you can share out with us or maybe you’re going to try this for the first time. Either way, feel free to stop by my website, BethanieHansen.com/request, and share some comments about how it’s going for you in your journey towards project-based learning. And in the year ahead, I want to encourage you and invite you to try this out at least once in one of the courses you’re teaching and see how it goes for you and your students.

Thanks for being here. Thanks for taking this journey with us to find some application that will make learning relevant for our students and connect us to the real world and help the learning to come to life. Best wishes in your best wishes in your online teaching this coming week.

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

#118: Using Explainer Videos in Online Classes

This content first appeared on APUEdge.Com.

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

Explainer videos are a great way to share information with students in a highly engaging way. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides insight into tools to create explainer videos, content options, video length, and more.

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

Explainer videos are becoming more and more common across the Internet and the world wide web. And we want to talk about these today and figure out how to do them. This is an interesting thing to explore.

First of all, what is an explainer video? And what is it not? And then, how do you do it? The first thing about what an explainer video is, is that this is a tool often used in marketing areas. In fact, it’s a very common thing in marketing one’s products. You might be wondering, “how does that connect to online education?”

Well, of course it connects. Your students are watching YouTube, they’re on the internet all the time, and they’ve seen good explainer videos. So, they’re familiar with this mode of conveying information. And an explainer video is just a short, concise way of describing something, telling what it is, what it isn’t, and then how to do it or why it’s important.

Options to Make Explainer Videos

There are a lot of resources available to you on the internet about how to make them. And there are many different platforms you can use, such as TechSmith’s tools. They have Camtasia. They also have the Snagit application. You could try either one of those. Canva also has a great way to make explainer videos. And then again, you could make a standard video of yourself talking at the camera, with or without any kind of animation. It could be you talking for just a few minutes. And it can be that simple.

Or you could take it to the far end of animated complexity, where you have animated screens and animated explainer components and different words popping in and out and a lot of things moving at once.

It’s up to you how simple or complex an explainer video will be. I want to talk a little bit more about why explainer videos can be so effective. And it’s this idea that great communicators are also great explainers.

Explainer Videos Help You Communicate Well with Students

As online educators, we all want to be great communicators. We want to speak effectively to our students, teach them effectively, and guide them to use this subject matter in their lives and in their careers. There’s an article in “Harvard Business Review” by John Bell Dhoni in 2009, called “Great Communicators are Great Explainers.” And in this article, he simplifies the process as I’ve already explained it, three ways to be an effective explainer. And I’m proposing here that these are the three main parts of an explainer video.

Step 1: Define “What it Is”

The first one is defining what it is. So, the purpose of your explanation is to describe an issue, an initiative, a concept, a problem, something that students need to know about or understand in your online class. For example, if you’re pushing for cost reductions, explain why they are necessary and what they will entail. That’s the example used in the “Harvard Business Review” article.

You could also be telling about a concept, such as in the music appreciation class, an explainer video might easily teach the term tempo and discuss that it is the speed of the music, how fast or slow it is, comparatively, tempos can change, etc. So, we’re going to define what it is in that first part of the explainer video.

Step 2: Define “What it is Not”

The second part, as we learned in the “Harvard Business Review” article, is to define what it is not. And this is where you go into that advanced level of thinking. Never assume anyone understands exactly what you mean by what you have said. Define exclusions. And, in the example from the article I referenced here, it is returning to our cost reduction issue. If you’re asking for reductions in cost, not people, be explicit. Otherwise, employees will assume they’re being terminated. Don’t leave any room for assumptions. It’s just not true for potential layoffs, but for any business issue, or teaching issue, for that matter.

So, if I were doing that same example from the music appreciation class of what tempo is and what it isn’t, I would then say tempo is not the steady beat, the pulse alone. It’s not the color of the sound. It’s not the texture. It’s not going to be that single melody that’s popping out to us, that we can hear on top of everything. There are a lot of things I could say tempo is not. And then in defining what it is, I can circle back to that if needed.

Step 3: Define What to Do or the “Call to Action”

And lastly, we need to define what we want people to do. This is the opportunity to give them a call to action. And in an online class, it is the opportunity to engage them in what they’re going to do, to demonstrate their learning or practice their learning. Establishing those expectations with others is absolutely critical, otherwise, your video is useless.

Now, in that example from the “HBR” article, cost reduction means employees will have to do more with less. And you’re going to explain what that will include in clear and precise terms. You can also use the expectations step as a challenge for people to think and do something different. Your explanation becomes more broadly significant when you do that.

And another tip is to not overdo the details, especially in what, it is what it isn’t, and what you want them to do all three of these components. Really, hitting all three points should not take a very long time, we want to do it clearly, concisely and in a way that grabs our listeners’ attention.

You will have many students who don’t want to sit for more than a five-minute video, so I would suggest that that’s your cap for any explainer video. Keep them small, brief, concrete and under five minutes.

In defining what you want people to do, you could give them a task to take outside of the classroom and try out their learning. You could also introduce an assignment and discuss what you want them to do on that; you could also use this explainer video approach to define the assignment itself. And define what it is not, what it should not look like, and what students should not do. And also define what they should do to submit it at the end.

So, initially, you might give them an overview of the assignment, maybe it’s an essay, maybe it’s a PowerPoint discussion that they’re going to put together. Whatever it is, you want to define it and give some clarity to that so you’re really guiding people. And then, of course, define what it isn’t. We’re going to describe what that would be.

And then, lastly, what you want them to do. You want them to attach it, submit it by a certain day, whatever that is. So, explainer videos can be used for a lot of things, and they can be very simple. You’re just telling what it is, what it isn’t, what you want them to do.

Now, as you look across the internet for different resources, I want to tell you to stop by the Canva site, canva.com. You’ll find a free explainer video maker. In fact, it’s very simple. You can put this together very quickly using their formula here. They walk you through a five-step outline of how to create an explainer video. And it starts with choosing a template, then customizing the video with stock images or recording yourself speaking or cropping the videos, whatever it might be. And third, you’re going to add text and captions. If you’ve written out what you’d like to say in advance, this part’s really easy. But you can also do it at this point in the creation. Fourth, you can add music voiceovers or animations. And lastly, download the video and share. When you download it from Canva website, you could then upload it into any LMS. And you could put it in your course announcements, and it’s pretty portable and very easy to do. So Canva is a great resource if you use.

If you use the TechSmith Camtasia product or the alternative, which is the Snagit–it takes pictures and screenshots, but Camtasia puts them together in like a longer video. So, you could use those things to grab videos, grab images, and then put them together in Canva. Or you could build the whole thing in TechSmith’s Camtasia platform. So, they have seven steps that they recommend.

And similar to the Canva site, they (TechSmith) suggest choosing a video style, which would either be a whiteboard, drawing a screencast video, or live action. They suggest then writing a script. So, you’re explaining something, focusing on your audience, solving a problem in some way through your explainer video and also telling them what they should do to get started at the end of the video.

And they actually suggest keeping your explainer videos one to two minutes in length, which is much shorter than the five minutes I recommended. So, you have a choice there, have a range of really short to moderate, and definitely be conscious of your student’s attention span.

Third, you’re going to record and edit the audio narration. Fourth, you will collect graphics, video and other assets and put those together for the video. And then, lastly, you’re going to edit and arrange the media. If you want to, you can of course do the bonus round, which is adding music, and then you’re ready to go. You can publish, share, or just share out from this area. You can download as a local file. You can upload it to screencast.com, YouTube, Google Drive or other places. So both of these are really great ways to share out an explainer video. And you have, of course, your three components that make a good explainer video. And, lastly, your call to action where you ask students to engage with you in some way afterwards or engage with the content.

You can share it with your students and track the views through some of these different platforms. For example, screencast.com and YouTube, you might be able to see how many views you’ve got. And then, of course, you also can take a look at what you’re doing with the students to really engage them over the course of your instruction through this method.

So, they’re going to retain what you’re teaching because they’re listening, they’re reading they’re watching. And you’ve covered also some of your accessibility areas by having a transcript on the screen or captions on the screen. By having visual and auditory components, you’ve got a lot of pieces that are going to reach a lot of learners. And it’s going to be a really high-level piece that you can put in your classroom.

Now, as I share the explainer video concept with you, I don’t recommend this everywhere throughout your class. I recommend this for some specific ideas that you think are most important, or some key assignments that you find students really struggle with. As you put those things together, you’re going to have a solid piece that you can use from course to course and your students are going to get more engaged and more information from you.

And then, of course, you can ask them for their feedback. Was it helpful? Did they like it? Would they recommend any changes? And you can always modify and improve your videos as you go. Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this discussion of explainer videos, and I especially hope you’ll try it out in your online class. I wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week.

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

#114: Using Video to Provide Feedback to Online Students

This content first appeared on APUEdge.Com.

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

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

Listen to the Episode:

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Read the Transcript:

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

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

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

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

Dr. Sylvia Nemmers: Thank you for having me.

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

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

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

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

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: That’s fantastic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Sylvia Nemmers: Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: That’s okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#109: How to Develop Your Instructor Presence in the Online Classroom

#109: How to Develop Your Instructor Presence 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

Building your presence and persona as an instructor is incredibly important in an online classroom. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks about several ways to build your instructor presence. Learn about getting feedback to understand the perception of your personality, actively sharing elements of your personality with students, and making sure you are consistent with your established persona to make students feel comfortable with you.

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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 this week’s episode of the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m going to share with you three reasons we should care about our instructor presence in the online classroom, and also give you some tips on how to do it.

What is Instructor Presence?

The first idea is just to give you some sense of what instructor presence is. This is basically how you present yourself to your students when you’re in the online classroom. It’s a lot like getting into the live classroom. If you think about your presence as a person in the life classroom, you can consider things like how loudly do you speak? Do you come in, start class a certain way? Do you speak a certain way? Do you connect with students, use their names or address the whole group? Do you talk slow, fast, loud, soft, all those things?

When you’re doing this online, we don’t have what some might call that performative aspect of teaching. So instructor presence is the way you present yourself to your online students in the online classroom. We need to go through the steps of what that is just to make sure we know what the target is and how we can build it.

Now you should care about this for three important reasons. One of those is a category of things that everyone in online education cares about, from the faculty to the administrators, to the enrollment department and everyone across the university, and that is student retention.

Building Presence Helps with Student Retention

So, the first reason to care about your instructor presence is that when you have a clear and approachable instructor presence and one that students can connect with, you are more likely to help your students stay in class, keep coming back to the class, and persevere throughout the course. After all, we want our students to succeed and complete the class and keep going on to complete their college degree. If they feel like you care about them, and they get a sense that you’re approachable and able to work with them, they care to stay in the class. This can push them through tough times.

As an online faculty member myself, I’ve had that experience where a student disappeared in the middle of a class, and I sent a message to them to invite them back in, ask them if they were struggling, check in with them, and they came back. So, I know this can happen for you, it doesn’t always 100% happen, but when we have a presence that is intentional and inviting, we can help those students get back into the classroom, should they be struggling.

Enhance Community and Collaboration

The second reason we should care about this is really the sense of why we teach, and that is when you have a clear presence and you are present, you can pull your students together. You can encourage this collaboration, this cooperation, and this academic community that builds cognitive presence in your online classroom. And by cognitive presence, I mean, the work everyone is focused on in that online classroom really is aimed at the subject matter, the experience, the learning, and it’s not just a boredom experience for students jumping through hoops. There’s a real sense of focus and purpose in your online class. So, that academic community is the second reason we should care about instructor presence.

Build Trust with Students

Third, we want to build trust, and that is really a preventative situation. When you’re building trust with your students by having a clear presence, if something should go awry, if something should become unbearable for your student and they start to have problems when you’re present regularly and have a good, clear presence they can approach, they will reach out to you, and you can address problems immediately, quickly and successfully.

I have been a faculty supervisor for many years, and I could attest to the fact that when students knew their faculty members, they seemed much more likely to contact them when they had a misunderstanding about an assignment or about grading or things like that. And where there was less clear faculty presence, those comments instead often came to the complaints department or the appeals department, or somehow escalated to my desk. So, we can prevent that and help build trust, when we have a clear instructor presence. It’s a really good goal to be aiming for, for retention, academic community, and building trust.

How to Build Instructor Presence

Now, let’s talk about how to build an instructor presence. First, you want to figure out who you are as an instructor, as an educator, and then you need to decide what do you want to share with your students to connect with them, and how do you want to do that sharing? Last, find a way to make it part of your regular teaching routine.

There are some people who do this through videos and photos; some do it through sharing their personal and professional expertise; maybe they do video feedback, audio feedback, different approaches.

I know some faculty members who use other apps outside the learning management system like Smore, whatever it is that you want to do, you want to have a routine for that, and it will help you to build it into part of your day, and it won’t be so challenging to build that presence that is so critical to helping build relationships and developing success with students.

Let’s talk about the first one, and that is what your teaching persona really is. So you may not know who you are as an instructor. You know who you mean to be and who you are as a person, likely, but what do students actually experience when they’re in the class with you?

Get Feedback from Students

To know this, we need feedback from a variety of sources. When you’re teaching a live class, you can actually ask your students many times throughout the session or the semester, what their experience is. You can ask them what you should start doing, stop doing, or continue doing, what they like about your class, what they dislike about your class, what’s useful to them, helpful to them, or unhelpful.

There are a lot of ways to get that feedback. When you’re online, you can also use informal surveys during the class several times to get the same feedback. You could do this in the discussion area, if you’re comfortable with it. Say in week one or two, you could ask students to include, with whatever their topic is, some idea of how the course is going for them, how they feel they’re doing learning this subject matter, and what you could do as an instructor to help them all the more.

So, a lot of feedback will help you to determine what your teaching persona will be or what it already is. You can ask yourself, “How do my students describe my teaching? How do they describe their experience with me?” Talk to your students. Find out what they think about your teaching and the feedback you give, read your evaluations at the end of the course, those formal evaluations, encourage students to complete those.

There are so many ways to get feedback. You could also ask peers, supervisors, other people who are informed about online teaching to take a look around your classroom and give you some feedback and help you to focus on identifying what people experience with you.

Of course, peers and instructors that might observe you might do things differently than you will, and that’s okay. But the feedback really should be aimed at identifying your style, your persona, and helping you to know what that is, and then start doing it more intentionally.

A lot of online instructors that I know personally would like to describe their own approach as warm, welcoming, supportive, inviting, inclusive, approachable, fair, and clear. I’ve heard those terms a lot, and if that’s what you’re aiming for, getting this kind of feedback will help you to know if you’re on the right track.

When students give you informal feedback in a message or an email, that’s also really helpful in determining this. So, take a look at all this feedback, collect it over time, and keep looking at it to make sure you’re on the track that you personally want to be. There’s no right answer to this. There are also faculty who want to be very concise, direct, businesslike, and, in doing so, clear with everyone and equitable to everyone. So, there’s no perfect way to be a persona online. You just need to know what it is and think about that. Then you’re going to intentionally share this a little bit more.

Share Your Persona with Students

Once you have the clarity around how you appear in your online classroom and what your persona really is, you can state it upfront in week one. In doing that, you’ll be able to rely on the fact that it’s true. If your students tell you’re very accommodating, you’re very patient, and they love working with you. You can say that in your week one message, the next time you’re teaching online.

You can also continually reinforce it on purpose because you know, it’s part of who you are and who you show up as in the online classroom. You can add to this with videos where you’re talking about things in this way, photographs of whatever you’re doing, teaching or in your profession, maybe those things that you’ve shared that helps students get to know you. Like, if you love fly fishing, and you’ve mentioned it in week one, you could always put a picture of that in there. That helps you to appear like a real person, like the real person you are, and also to be vivid for your students so they get a sense of a human being behind the name.

Audio and video work really well, and of course, whatever tone that you like to use in your speaking, carefully convey that through the words that you use as well. Not everything comes through as well when you’re typing it online, of course. But if you can do those things that help your personality to come through students will get to know you through your words and through the media that you include. I love the approach of using a welcome video on day one or week one. Many people do that now, it’s becoming a pretty standard practice across the board.

When you share a video and introduce your students to you as the faculty member and then walk up around that classroom a little bit, it can really take the edge off for students. It builds trust right away because you’re giving them an introduction to you and the classroom, and it also helps students know how to get started from that very first day.

If you do this, I also suggest telling them where to begin in the classroom with their week one materials and also a general overview of what they’re going to learn in the class. What the main goals are of that class? If it’s a gen-ed class, general education, you might even consider discussing the category of general education that it fills and how it fills that category.

Anything you can do to tie what they’re learning to the big picture at the university, and the degree program and other places, you will be able to help your students to do that for themselves as they move through the course.

We occasionally hear complaints from students that they don’t understand why a particular assignment or approach is used in your online class. You can set that up in the beginning by giving those overviews of the subject matter in the classroom, and then reinforcing it throughout in your own way, with your own persona.

Consider the Font You Use

Another part of the way you show up is the font that you use when you’re typing. Now, this is an interesting thing. Handwriting when people are writing by hand, whether you print or use cursive, tells something about a person. There are handwriting analysts who look at your handwriting and can say things about your personality just by seeing it on paper.

For example, they say, when you’re writing in cursive, if the letters lean to the right, you’re a future-thinking, positive-optimistic person, thinking about possibilities. If they’re straight up in the middle, you’re a deliberate, thoughtful person that likes to consider things deeply, and if they lean a little bit to the left, the handwriting experts out there say that you might be looking towards the past a lot more. That might make sense for certain subject matters like maybe history. Maybe we’re reviewing the past a lot and that’s part of who we are.

Your handwriting says a lot about you, and so does the font that you use when you’re typing. If you change fonts often, it can be difficult to read, and you’ll want to test this out to see if the font that you choose comes up in every situation or if they have to be on a certain browser or something for that font to really come out. And also, how readable is that font? How large is it? How close together are the letters and the lines? Taking a look at that can help you to convey your personality in a specific way by using the kind of fonts that speak to you as well.

Create a Strategy for Conveying Your Personality

Lastly, I want to suggest that you consider a strategy for how you will convey your persona throughout your course. It’s kind of strategic planning in a business setting, thinking through however many weeks your class is, what things will you do in week one? What things will you do every week? What approaches will you take in discussions and grading that will convey your personality?

As you consider these things, write them down, make a plan, and then you don’t have to suffer from repeatedly making decisions about your personality or what you’re going to include. It will also help you to be more consistent because when you consult your plan, it will remind you of the approaches you want to take to convey that consistency to your students.

Wrapping it all up for you, caring about your online persona in your online classroom is very important to conveying to your students who you really are, who you want them to see, that warm, approachable, or direct, no-nonsense person. Whatever your approach, when you bring it intentionally to your online teaching, it can be a lot clearer and it can support all those goals that we care about. The retention, we want to see our students complete the course, their ability to connect with us when they are concerned, and we need trust, a foundation of trust, and also that sense of academic community that can really thrive when we have a clear teaching and social presence.

I have another episode that touches on this topic lightly. It’s episode number 108 on authenticity. I invite you to check it out when you have a minute, and thank you for being here and all that you do for your online students. I wish you all the best in thinking about your online persona, 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.

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