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#137: How Radical Depersonalization Can Improve Your Teaching

#137: How Radical Depersonalization Can Improve Your Teaching

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

Have you ever felt attacked or offended by a student’s feedback about your teaching? It’s hard not to take it personally. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses the concept of radical depersonalization and strategies to help teachers listen differently to feedback and criticism. Learn how radical depersonalization can help teachers better understand the needs of students and even help teachers get to know their students better.

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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 podcast. I’m your host, Bethanie Hansen. I’m very happy to speak with you today about one way we can reach our students even better. There are so many opportunities to connect with the people we are working with in online education. And one group that we seek to connect with the most is our students.

Our students need us. They really need to feel a sense of our presence. They also want to know who we are. They want to know that they are in safe hands, that they have someone who knows a lot about the subject matter and is capable of helping them get where they need to go. One of the things that makes this really hard—to be responsive to students, to connect with students, and to really help them feel that sense of safety—is when we take things personally.

There’s a lot that happens in that online classroom. And for various reasons, we might get the experience of an angry student coming at us. Or we might feel over time like because we’re working online, that we don’t get seen, we’re not valued or appreciated by enough people. Maybe we really crave some kind of appreciation or attention and it’s really difficult to find that when we’re teaching online exclusively.

If that’s been your experience, I know where you’re at; a lot of us have gone through those feelings of being insignificant or disconnected in our online work. But that is not how we have to continue. In fact, your students may be having a much better experience with you than you realize.

They might be leaving your class feeling like they know you. They love you, they want to learn from you more, they want to come to you for letters of recommendation. Pretty soon, you’re going to hear of these things and wonder what led to that, how did they know you so well? Well, it’s in the way you show up in your classroom, the way you write things to them, or the videos you create, or whatever you’re doing to put yourself more personally in that online education space.

And even though your students don’t tell you directly, they’re getting a lot from you. They’re benefiting so much from what you have to offer, especially when you bring what you’re best at. Whatever makes you uniquely you. Whatever really is your special flair for teaching, or your special passion about your subject matter, that is helping your students connect with you, even if you don’t know it.

There are some ways you can find this out, but what I want to talk about more specifically today is how to stay in the best space possible. And the best space possible would be your best teacher self. Your best educator space. Your most responsive, feel-good place where you’re motivated to do really great work in your online teaching and share a lot, really openly about the subject matter, about yourself. About whatever will help your students connect and learn what you’re hoping to teach them. In my experience, that is difficult to do when you’re online and you don’t always get responses that you hope for.

If you ask questions in a discussion, for example, and students don’t respond back, you can feel pretty invisible. I’ve played with that myself a little bit, to ask questions in different ways, to try different kinds of responses that might provoke more engagement. And some things work better than others. Truly, you can get some of the results you want if you want a lot in return. But today’s focus is more about how you can show up, your best self as a teacher anyway, even if you’re not always getting that payoff that you’re hoping for.

What is Radical Depersonalization

The concept I’d like to share with you today is called “radical depersonalization.” I know that’s a bit of a mouthful, but when you’re feeling especially isolated or ineffective, you’re not really sure you’re making a difference, and it’s really hard to get motivated to get in there and do your teaching again, or it’s hard to be motivated to do a lot of grading. Whatever it is you’re struggling with today or this week, radical depersonalization can help you detach enough to see it in a new light, come back at it fresh, and engage with your students again. After all, when you connect with your students, that’s one of the best things about being an educator and it’s the best way to know what they’re getting out of this experience.

The more you can connect with your students and get some insight back from them, the more you’ll be motivated on this journey. I’ll show the steps for radical depersonalization and talk a little bit about each one.

Reassessing Other People’s Statements About You

The first step for radical depersonalization, and this is about the way we see what other people are doing or not doing—it’s not about disconnecting on purpose from other people. So, the first step in radical depersonalization is to see the other person as a separate being and realize that what they’re saying is about them. You may have a colleague or a supervisor or a student criticize something that you’re doing or say something that seems like a character attack, when really, it’s just them voicing their need for what they need to see in the classroom.

People will say all kinds of things about us. Not all of it is true. If we take it personally and accept it as fact immediately when it is said, it’s going to be debilitating. It will make it difficult for us to enjoy our work every day and really hard to consider that feedback, even if we do need to change. So, that first step to radical depersonalization is to remember that people will say all kinds of things about me, my leadership, and my decisions, and to remember that what they say isn’t about me, even if it sounds like it is.

Listen Differently to Hear What Other People Need

The second step to radical depersonalization is to now tune into listening to the other person. If someone feels like attacking or criticizing, that is the hardest thing to do. It’s difficult to want to get closer to someone who seems abrasive or who seems to be pushing us away. However, when we can remember that what they’re saying is really about them and their needs, and turn towards them and listen more, we’re going to hear what they really care about. We’re going to hear what they really need from us, and we’re in a better position to help meet those needs.

It’s especially useful when we depersonalize the comments and say, it’s not about me, it’s about what they need. They’re trying to tell me something. And then when we keep listening, we’re able to hear an entire story unfold.

We can even cultivate a lot of compassion and empathy for the other person when we’re turning towards them, we’re listening more, and we’re hearing what they care about. Now we can consider from that space, what does that person really need?

If it’s a student complaint, or a student concern, and they’re being somewhat aggressive or even seem attacking in the way they share it with you, and if you turn towards that person to get more insight, to listen more, and to seek out more meaning from what they’re saying, you will have all kinds of ideas come into your mind.

For example, if a student criticizes the way you have graded their assignment, if you turn towards them and get more curious and learn about what they really need, you might find that actually, your feedback was good, but it didn’t land because the student needed you to bridge the gap a little bit more between what you were trying to say, and where their current understanding is.

They might have no idea what you were referring to in your comments, it might really seem difficult for them to digest. So, if you can break it down a little bit more, give them examples and scaffold the path from where they are to where you need them to be, they will take it personally less, and you will take it personally less as well. They’ll also be more teachable. So, turning towards the other person that might seem difficult, will give you all of the information you need, as long as you keep listening.

The third idea, just to review, the first thing is to remember it’s not about you, it’s about them and what they need. Secondly, is to get closer to that person and keep listening and really find out what they need through listening.

Radical Depersonalization Can Bring You Closer to People

The third idea is that radical depersonalization can bring you closer to other people in a way that trying to intentionally be personal with them will not. I’ll say what I mean here just to explain that a little bit.

When we’re intentionally trying to get closer to other people and get to know them, sometimes we have automatic thoughts that come into our mind that are assumptions or judgments that make it difficult to actually get to know them openly. But when we’re depersonalizing, or we’re doing this radical depersonalization approach to remember it’s not about us, we’re more likely to be objective and ask questions about things we would have assumed before or taken for granted before.

Now we’re going to be thinking about what they might mean in a certain phrase, what their understanding of a certain concept is. Whereas before, we assumed that we both were on the same page. So, radical depersonalization can allow us to get curious in ways we might miss otherwise.

The Benefits of Radical Depersonalization

The win in the end is ultimately that we’re going to be able to hear our students more, our colleagues more, our bosses more. We’re going to be capable of coming up with fresh new ideas to help meet their needs and we’re also going to learn more about them. And we’re going to get to know them in ways we otherwise would not.

I hope that thinking about this interesting concept of radical depersonalization allows you to get a little bit of distance in the future, in a situation where you might feel like something’s very personal, or very confronting or attacking. Get some distance and be able to come back at it more resourcefully, and using the gifts, talents and abilities you have, to really build instead of being distant and fearing the encounter with that other person.

Especially if that’s a student, that’s a win-win for both of you, because you’ll be helping yourself overcome a challenging scenario a little easier while building that student’s ability to come back and keep learning as well. So, you’ve helped two people in one situation through this process.

Thanks for being here in the Online Teaching Lounge to learn this one strategy for connecting better with students and avoid taking things personally. I wish you all the best in trying it out this coming week and 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.

#135: Gratitude and Its Role in Online Learning

#135: Gratitude and Its Role in Online Learning

This post first appeared at https://apuedge.com/gratitude-and-its-role-in-online-learning/, 

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

In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen delves into the many facets of gratitude and how to reach and teach online learners about gratitude.

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 and thank you for taking this time out of your busy day to listen. The topics in our podcast focus on online education best practices, strategies to reach and teach online learners, video and media in your online class, and work-life balance while teaching online. Today, we look squarely at gratitude.

Gratitude is a best practice, and it is also a great way to reach and teach online learners. When someone approaches us with gratitude, we feel invited into their world. Gratitude is also a key element in work-life balance, in so many ways. Today we will look at what gratitude does for us and for others, and how to express appreciation in the online world.

What Does Gratitude Do?

Gratitude is an attitude or feeling of appreciation. It can be an affective trait, which is the general characteristic of having a grateful disposition. It can also be a mood, where gratitude is generally felt throughout the day. And, it can be an emotion, which comes from receiving what others offer to us.

When we feel gratitude, we view other people or circumstances in a positive light. We appreciate an opportunity, a sacrifice made, generosity, time, kindness, gifts, and help. And this appreciation may lead us to thank others for what we experience.

Feeling gratitude can improve self-esteem, reduce stress, and enhance relationships. It can go far to promote positive effects because it consciously turns attention away from what is missing toward something that is going well. Gratitude is a healing element that inspires us to bring our energy to a relationship or situation and let go of resistance and defensiveness.

In online education, where we might often feel alone, disconnected, or distant, gratitude connects us. Gratitude might look like thanks or recognition, and it can also come through respecting others and being responsive. When others express gratitude for our actions or characteristics, we might even feel that our impact is greater than we otherwise might believe. Gratitude helps the receiver to know they are making a difference. That they matter.

When we give gratitude to others and express appreciation, we build relationships and rapport. We enhance others’ experience and let them know that they make a difference for us. Gratitude has this wonderful way of taking perspective about the daily work and routines and bringing a different perspective to everything. When gratitude comes through showing respect and being responsive, it is a habit of making connection a priority and building trust.

According to the Dali Lama, “When we feel love and kindness towards others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace.”

The field of positive psychology tells us that gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.

How Can We Express Appreciation in the Online World?

Feeling gratitude lifts us and improves our sense of wellbeing, and it is a feeling that invites us to share with others. You might be wondering what effective ways might be to express gratitude online, especially when you know a co-worker or a student virtually and have no other connection outside of that space.

One way to express gratitude is to say or write the words. This might be through a note or a letter. It might be through a creative expression of some kind. Another expression might be by giving a gratitude gift. Some people express gratitude with a face-to-face visit or by sincerely asking about others and listening. These are universal ways to thank others in any setting.

In the book “101 Ways to Say Thank You,” by Kelly Brown, we learn several ways to say thank you and appreciate others online. First, Brown states that e-mail is the least preferred way to send formal thank-you notes and that in today’s tech-savvy world, a handwritten note is always greatly appreciated because it makes an impact and has a lasting personal impression. I’ll start with a few tips for handwritten notes and then follow with some tips for e-mails.

First, regardless of whether you’re writing or e-mailing, send a thank-you message immediately so that you don’t forget. If someone has done you a favor or sent a gift, a thank you message should be sent within two weeks of the event or the gift. If you have received a message from the other person connected with whatever you’re grateful or appreciative of, you might set it on your desk or print it and tape it to the mirror to avoid forgetting to send the thank-you message. Another option would be to add a reminder to your electronic calendar or mobile device that will help you send the note in a prompt timeline. According to Brown, even if you offer appreciation with a phone call, a follow-up message is still important to send with your written message.

Second, write out the date. For example, if it is December 1st, you should write the whole word “December,” then the 1, a comma, and the four-digit year. After the date, write a salutation or greeting. It’s ok to begin with the word “dear” on this if you like.

Third, write the body of your thank-you message. And Brown advocates the use of glowing superlatives and energetic adjectives. These are words like amazing, extraordinary, marvelous, outstanding, and splendid. And last, write a closing. This might be something like “sincerely,” or “gratefully,” followed by your signature.

The most effective and personal way to write a handwritten thank-you note is to do it in your own handwriting. This might take a bit of practice if you’re used to typing all day in your online work and do not spend much time writing or using cursive. It might even be helpful to write a draft before putting it onto the note or onto the card you’re sending.

If you cannot send a handwritten note and plan to use e-mail, Brown tells us that this is a good method when thanking someone in casual business and casual personal communications. For example, if someone shares something online, in an e-mail, or even in the online classroom, a thank you note sent electronically works well. While this is true, I’ve received hand-written thank you notes from others with whom I work online, and I have found them to be memorable and meaningful because that person took the time to consider a note away from the computer. It made a huge impression on me.

Sending an e-mail thank-you note is simple and doesn’t have to be formatted as formally as a hand-written note. After you’re sure that you have the right e-mail address, include a few words in the subject line to let the person receiving it know what your message will be about. Then, in the body of the message, begin with a salutation like “dear,” or you could even begin with “good morning” or “good afternoon.”

In an e-mail, the body of your message can look a lot like what you might write in a handwritten, classic thank-you note. Be brief, check spelling and grammar, avoid acronyms and profanity, and end with a closure and your name, even though it’s an e-mail. If it’s less formal, emojis and GIFs might be fun to add, with exclamation marks and lots of expressive words like brilliant, excellent, generous, fabulous, surprising, unbelievable, and vibrant. It can also add depth to your e-mail when you include an image related to the appreciation and mention it in the message so the person you’re thanking doesn’t miss it.

The main idea today is the incredible power of gratitude and expressing appreciation. It can bring positivity and connection in your online work. In my own experience, I’ve received a few handwritten cards from colleagues that I’ve mostly worked with at a distance through the online university where I teach. This kind of note surprised me and made me feel seen and valued. And one single message like that lasts a long, long time.

So, who would you like to appreciate today? It could be a course developer who spent countless hours getting your online class set up just so. Or an online leader who regularly cultivates an inviting, caring culture at your institution. Perhaps there is someone you regularly work with who you have not yet had a moment to stop and appreciate. Today’s the day. Thank you for being with me for this episode of The Online Teaching Lounge, and for the part you play in our online education profession. I’m grateful for the incredible colleagues I’ve worked with over time, the students who choose this type of learning, and the amazing miracle that we are all able to connect anytime, anywhere—all over the world. And with gratitude, we at American Public University wish you all the best this coming season.

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.

#125: Three Steps to a Great Online Teaching Routine

This content first appeared on APUEdge.com.

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

Teaching online can be time consuming and seep into instructors’ personal time. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides insight into how to plan a strong work routine. Learn about the importance of surveying your workload ahead of time, writing it down and tracking it, and reflecting and adapting to improve your time management.

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.

Thank you for joining me here today on the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. I’m very excited to share with you some ideas to help you plan your online teaching routine. If you’ve taught online before, you already know this can expand to fill every inch of available time. It can become something that takes more and more time all the time, because there is so much more we can do when we’re working online.

The other reason this can expand to fill all of our space is that when we teach online, many times we succumb to interruptions and diversions and other courses of action. So, we might be in the middle of writing discussion responses to our students when a child comes in and wants our attention. So, we’ll get up and go attend to that. And then a lot of time has passed. And when we get back in the room to do more of our online teaching, we’ve lost our train of thought. We have to back up and get started all over again. Examples like this, and many others, are very much reality for all of us who teach online.

Even though my children are fully grown, and they’re not going to walk into the room and ask for my attention while I’m teaching, I do know exactly what it’s like because I’ve been there. And in my experience, planning ahead and sticking to that plan can help everyone function better while you’re an online educator, and expect when you’ll be free, and spend time with you later.

So, today, I’m going to share three tips with you for some good planning of your routine when you’re teaching and working online. And those are to survey ahead of time, write it down, and reflect and adapt, no matter what.

Survey Your Activities and Needs

So, we start out with surveying, and surveying is simply looking ahead to see what our tasks are going to be and how long they’re going to take. I know, we don’t always know exactly how much time it’s going to take. But we can give it our best guesstimate.

For example, if we’re going to grade papers, and we have some kind of estimate about how long it takes to grade an essay, then we can look at how many papers we could logically expect to grade that week and divide it up over how much time. And pretty soon, we know exactly how much time we need to spend.

Perhaps we’re going to plan ahead to do it all in one day. Or we’re going to break it up to do over several days. But it involves surveying and looking ahead in a way that I’ve heard of called pragmatic prospection. I know, that’s a little bit of a mouthful. But pragmatic prospection is about being practical. And looking ahead.

The pragmatic part is, “What’s it really going to look like?” Am I really going to read a lot of messages from students? Am I going to answer a lot of questions? Will I need to make some kind of asset, like a video or a handout to post in my class? Will I have a lot of things to grade? How much do I expect to engage in that discussion?

And as I’m looking pragmatically about the realities of my particular online course, I’m also looking ahead. That’s the prospection part. I’m thinking, “What do I want that to look like?”

What does the quality of my comment need to be? What do I really want to invest for it to be good quality, but not take up more and more and more time? So, as you’re looking ahead, you can start to envision what the workload is going to look like, what you’re going to need to do, and what the rest of your life will be like when you’re teaching that online course.

As part of doing this habit of surveying, or looking ahead to the different types of tasks and the time it’s going to take, don’t forget to include all of the things that you do outside of work. So, we’re going to look at the online teaching first and write it down and think about it. And then we’re going to look at the rest of our life.

If there’s some kind of family obligation happening, I want to be able to plan for that. And so, I want to set aside the time for those things as well. And maybe I need to prepare for that by going shopping or calling some of my relatives, getting some of that done. So, I’m surveying all that I need to do. And I’m thinking ahead. I might also be surveying what it’s going to look like when I’m doing some grocery shopping, if that falls on me this week, and if I’m doing any household chores, and how much rest I want, and all of those sorts of things.

So, the survey is kind of like an overview, where I’m just thinking through my day, and my week, and I’m thinking about what it needs to look like, what it’s got to include, and where I want to be at the end of the week.

Write it Down and Schedule Your Time

Step two is to write it all down. Now after I’ve taken the initial survey, I’m going to start writing down the actual plan.

When we’re taking the time to write things down that we’re working on, like a calendaring habit or a schedule for online teaching, the goal is to realistically write down exactly what is expected to happen. And, yes, that might be painstakingly writing every 15 to 20 minutes of activity, and then tracking it while you’re doing it. So, not only will you write down what you expect to do, you want to make little notes about when you had to modify, spend more time than expected, or spend less.

Writing it down is going to help you realize how much time you actually spend in your online teaching. And that will also help you know if you are over anticipating how much time it will spend, or under budgeting the time. Writing it down could be every single day for a week, and then reassess. Or it could be every day for an ongoing duration. You have to decide what will work best for you in terms of tracking this, but the goal is that once you write it down ahead of time, that you stick with that schedule, no matter what.

I don’t know about you, but many times in my experience, I will sit down and think about grading some essays. And sometimes my mind will just be not very focused for grading essays. And I’ll think, “You know, I’m going to do something else. And I’ll come back to this in a little while when I’m a little bit more focused for that.”

And in doing this plan, the way I’m suggesting today, surveying ahead of time, writing it down, scheduling your time in advance, and then reflecting afterwards, we have to stick to that plan to know if it’s going to work. So, if I’m going to approach it from a mindset of not really being focused and wanting to delay the work that I’ve planned for myself, I’m going to have to do something to get myself in a mental frame of mind to do the work, not just when I’m in the mood to do the work.

So, if that’s your experience, I want to suggest thinking about a time when you were focused on doing that work, and figuring out what it’s going to take to get your brain back in gear in the moment that you need to do it now. So, whatever it takes to help you reframe your mental energy, and your focus and concentration, you can kind of play with that and try a lot of different approaches to help yourself get back in the game, and do the thing that you wrote down that you would do.

Reflect on Your Time, and Adapt as Needed

And then step three, this is reflect and adapt. Looking back on the week, we’re going to look over what worked and what didn’t work. Were there some things that took a lot of mental energy that were hard to do late in the day? Do they need to be scheduled earlier in the day? Did something take a lot longer and need to be scheduled for a longer duration with breaks in the middle?

As you’re reflecting on what works and what didn’t work in planning your routine, you’re going to get better and better at planning your online teaching routine. Reflection isn’t just about what didn’t work, it’s also about what did work. If you notice that certain tasks go really well together, make a note of that, and notice it so that you can plan it ahead and do it again next time.

Adapting means that you’re going to take the plans you made this week, and you’re going to change them a little bit based on what your reflection has turned up. If, when you’re reflecting, you happen to notice that something was really hard to do at a certain time of day, adapting would mean you’re going to do it differently next time.

And maybe instead of a specific task, and maybe you want to give yourself a choice between two certain tasks at one time of day and the same two tasks later in the day. Whichever one seems most challenging, do it first when your mental energy is at its best. And then you can come to the easier one later when that same window of time comes around.

As you’re reflecting, celebrate some of the growth and achievement that you’ve attained. If grading essays or posting in discussions is particularly troublesome for you, if it takes a lot of time and energy, but you were able to get it a little faster, or streamline it a little bit, maybe you could celebrate that success and notice what’s going really well.

And then the other thing to celebrate is if you really did make yourself stick to the plan you made. When you write your schedule and you stick to it no matter what, even if you’re not in the mood, you can celebrate that afterward because you pushed through that mental challenge or that energy-level challenge.

Another tip about all three of these things, surveying, writing it down, reflecting and adapting. These steps can be used with family members, if you have family members living in the home with you. You could share your planned schedule and ask for their input. Is there anything that they suggest adding to your work schedule that maybe you didn’t notice that you spend time on? Or is there something in your family and personal life that they’d like to make sure goes on your calendar at a certain day and time?

All of those suggestions and ideas can be really useful to you in getting a very realistic sense of what your routine should be like when you’re working and teaching online. And, of course, when you’re reflecting on the week and deciding what did work for you, you can also run that by family members, or those people that live with you, and ask them for input in that case as well. Maybe they will have noticed that certain things worked really well and certain things need to change.

Anytime you write up a schedule, and you’re really trying to stick to it, it also helps to post that schedule, so other people know exactly what to expect and when you’re going to be available. If they want to spend time with you in the middle of the day and they’re used to interrupting you, but now you’re going to take a break at a certain set time, they’re more likely to leave you alone until that time, when they know when it’s coming up and what exactly they can expect. So, share that information with your family members or people who live with you.

And I say “people who live with you” because not everyone is living with a spouse and children. Some of you may have roommates. Or you may live with other extended family members, whoever is important to you in your life. Include them in your planning, and the survey of all that is involved in your online teaching time, and all the things that are important in your life outside of that. And get their help when you’re reflecting. The more eyes you get on your plan, the more refined it’s going to be. And the better it’ll be.

Wrapping it up today, I want to just share my own experience planning the routine and sticking to it. Whenever I do this, and I share it with my family members, it’s so much easier for me to have a rewarding life, in my workday and outside of it. My family members are ready to spend time with me and really excited to see me at the end of the day. And also, they know what they can expect when I’m working. And they know what my schedule is. It’s super helpful to me to plan it ahead of time and also to communicate out.

And, on the flip side, when I failed to do that, and I’m trying to get it going, I might start and stop two or three different tasks without completing any of them. If I’m not aware of what I need to do and what my timeline is. And pretty soon my work is going to fill up all of the available time, including the family time after work. So, I know firsthand from experience how important it is to plan and keep track of the time spent.

It can also help me feel really great about all that I accomplished during the workday and realize that I really did get a lot done, and I contributed to my students and all of the other people that I’m working with. I hope you’ll try this out, doing the survey, writing it down, then reflecting and adapting and see what works for you. Let’s get some input. There’s a form on bethaniehansen.com/request where you can share your experience and let us know what works in terms of scheduling your online teaching, and what doesn’t. Stop by and give us a note.

If this podcast has been valuable to you, and you enjoy what you hear, share it with your colleagues. We would love to extend our audience and also help other people teach well online. There’s so much we can do to improve our practice and make this a better experience for everyone. Thanks again for being here and best wishes in your online teaching this coming week.

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

#122: Find Your “Why”: What Drove You to be an Educator?

This content first appeared on APUEdge.com.

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

What motivated you to be an educator in the first place? How do you find meaning in your life and work? In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides guidance on how to identify your “why” and how that information can help you get through challenging times.

Listen to the Episode:

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Read the Transcript:

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

Welcome to the online teaching lounge today, I’m glad you’re with me. And, likely, you have an interest in teaching online, or perhaps you’ve been doing it a very long time. Either way, this podcast is typically targeted or focused on those of you who are out there doing the good work of teaching online.

This can be a very challenging profession and professional endeavor. And it can sometimes be just downright discouraging. There are times where we have to really pick ourselves up and push hard to get through the toughest times in online teaching. And if you’ve been doing this very long, you know exactly what I’m talking about. So, today we’re going to talk about what fuels you. Or in other words, what is your “why” behind what you’re doing, as you’re teaching online?

The more clarity and the more direction we can get around the why behind what we’re doing, the easier it’s going to be to continuously push through those tougher times that tend to discourage or be disheartening to us all as we’re teaching online.

What kind of things might come along that could put us in a funk or in a space where we need that connection with our why behind what we’re doing? Really, it could be anything. It could be some kind of outside situation in the world, something happening, clear across the world that, for some reason, really impacts us personally, or for which we emotionally feel quite invested in.

It could be something in the organization for which we teach, maybe things are becoming difficult in that organization. Or we might be suffering from lack of resources, lack of time, overwork, overburdened workloads, lots of different things can create stress in the work situation that we have.

Maybe we teach for more than one institution, and we’re struggling to balance deadlines, timelines, the deliverables we need to turn in, or all that work we need to grade for our students.

Or, maybe it’s something totally personal. Some of the things that impact us personally could be our own health, our mental, physical or emotional health, our ability to connect with other people, or the frequency of connecting with others to enrich ourselves. Maybe we’re feeling lonely, isolated, detached from those around us. Other things that could happen might be in our home situation or our relationships. Maybe we’re struggling with a child that’s having challenges or a spouse.

Whatever it is, there are so many reasons why it’s powerful and useful to find the why behind everything we’re doing in our online work. So today, think about what led you to become an educator, first of all, and let’s start with all those things that easily pop into your mind.

What Drove You to be an Educator?

For example, did you ever have an educator that you really admired? Did you have one that inspired you or made you feel like you really belonged? If you can think about an educator who promoted your value as a human being and really pushed you to become who you are today, perhaps you became an educator so you could give back or so you could be like that person. Think about that initial start that got you into teaching.

Maybe it’s the subject matter. Maybe it wasn’t a person at all, but more the topics, the interest, the path you took through college studying this stuff? Is there a bigger meaning behind all of that that really drives your passion to teach it to other people?

Is it the ability you have to make an impact? Do you see the value of your teaching on other people easily? Are you able to notice what they can glean from you? The somewhat-apprentice learning they get from you? The way they’re nurtured by you? Are you able to help people feel connected, like they have purpose and they have belonging? Let’s start thinking about all those deeper meaning type of feelings that we have about what we do.

How Do You Find Meaning?

There’s a man named Viktor Frankl who is well known for his philosophies that came out of his experience living in the concentration camp for a time. And he created this theory that we really gain meaning from three different things. We’re going to get meaning in life through our work, through love and through suffering. And sometimes the work we do every day when we’re teaching, whether we’re teaching face to face, or we’re teaching online, that work brings us a sense of meaning, like, we’re just contributing to the world.

We’re putting good out there, we’re giving every day, and we have the ability to get meaning from that very thing we’re doing. If you’re in that group, you’re not alone, a lot of people, their why is the work. You can lose yourself in the work, you can feel a great purpose in the work. And daily, if you get out of bed excited about doing the work, it’s very likely that the work of teaching itself really excites you, and you get meaning in life from this endeavor.

This idea of getting meaning in life through love. Now, this is the idea of those cherished personal relationships that are closest to you, the deep love that you have for others, and the way you want to be with them, and build relationships with them and connect with them. Is there something about your students that really brings out your love for humanity, for individuals, for other people? Do you feel this deeper feeling for them that drives your work? Is the meaning that you’re getting in your educating coming from that love?

And lastly, through suffering. Many times, if we suffer some very difficult thing, it could be an illness, or an accident or tragedy or any kind of external or internal suffering, there can be this constructed meaning through the suffering. One can decide to turn that suffering into transformative development and growth, and really find deep purpose and meaning in that suffering.

Sometimes in our online teaching work, we might be motivated through the work itself. And maybe at other times through the love. This last year, when our institution had its large graduation exercise, there were hundreds, even thousands of people there. And it would be very easy to connect to the students there, face to face and feel love for them, especially if you taught them in several courses over time. It’s also very easy to feel connected to this work by loving colleagues, really feeling like those relationships have developed over years. And there’s a deep love and respect for those that one works with.

And then, of course, there are those hard times where things just all come together into a horrible crucible of suffering. And it could be the late nights struggling through teaching a tough concept, grading hundreds of essays, and just pushing through when there are other things competing for our time as well. Or it could be even beyond that—the personal challenges, the health challenges, the world challenges, and all the suffering involved with those things.

So, looking at all three of those ways people find meaning in life and in work. What resonates most with you today? What seems to light your fire? What brings the why into what you do? Why did you decide to be an educator? And why do you keep doing it?

It might be easy to say, “Well, I do it because it’s a paycheck. Well, I have student loans, and I do it because I need to pay them off.” Or “I do it because, well that’s the job I have, or because I work here.” If any of those ideas come into your mind, I want to encourage you to just set them aside temporarily. Those are important ideas and worth thinking about. If we take it to a little bit of a deeper level, what beyond that keeps you showing up every day? Because you could work anywhere.

With your brain capacity, experience, intelligence and educational background, you could get a job anywhere, but you work where you work, doing what you do with your gifts, talents, attributes, and the ability to make your unique contribution. Why is it that you’re doing it?

What is it that you love about it, or that you get out of doing that? What motivates you to be there?

I encourage you to find a place where you can brainstorm these ideas, write them down and list everything that comes to mind. You’re not going to show it to anyone else. And it’s okay if some of the things that come out are things that you wouldn’t be proud to share. Like if you don’t really want to tell anyone that the main reason you do what you do is for the money. It’s okay to write it down. You don’t have to share it. It’s your business. But write all the different reasons why you’re doing online teaching.

Some people like this because they can reach a lot of people all over the world and really engage with many different cultures and people from different backgrounds and learn as well as teach at the same time. And some people do it for convenience, they could teach face to face, but they like the flexibility that comes from teaching online. Whatever comes to your mind, write it all, make a huge list—some people call this a “brain dump”—and sort it all out.

And once you’ve written down all the different reasons why you do what you do teaching online, sort them into different levels. So, we have the very practical, basic “why.” Maybe because it’s flexible, maybe because it brings us a good paycheck, or whatever that is.

And then start to look for those things that you might have listed, that go to a slightly higher level or a deeper level of thinking for you. Maybe you have a connection to your students that you can’t get any other way. Maybe you feel a huge reward in certain types of situations, when you’re teaching online. Whatever that is, let’s sort them into kind of levels to see what, ultimately, is your biggest “why.”

Does it really boil down to the practical arrangement? Does it hit your deeper level of getting the meaning through the work itself or through the love you have? Or through the suffering that it might involve?

And then we’ll take this one step further. Once you’ve made your list that creates your why behind what you do, what kinds of words and language do you use when you talk about your online teaching? “I have to go do this.” “Well, I’m late again.” I mean, things like this, do they come out?

Or is it, “I get to go do this,” “I’m really fortunate to have this opportunity” and “I can’t wait to get back in that classroom”? The words we use can actually create meaning all by themselves for our thinking and for our brains. So, if we’re constantly saying things in somewhat a negative, pressured light, like a “have to,” that starts to make us feel like the meaning is very superficial, or maybe it’s less than it really is.

And if we use words that empower us to find that sense of meaning through what we’re doing, then as we go to the work, it gives us this subconscious desire to get that meaning out of it, to have a deeper purpose behind what we do.

I have thought about this a lot. I have a son who works in restoration work. And in his company, he goes into people’s basements when they’ve had a flood or some kind of disaster that has destroyed part of their home. And he is part of the crew that initially arrives when they’ve had this disaster and tears up and mucks out and cleans out whatever has overflowed or exploded or erupted underneath their home.

Sometimes it’s a very disgusting job that most people would not want to do, especially when something like a sewer has backed up. And when I was speaking to my son about what he does, and asking him why he does this job, he had a really positive why behind it.

He said, he works with people in their most desperate hour, in some pretty devastating circumstances through which they are suffering, and they can’t see a way out. And he is there, superhero in his way, able to completely block it off, make it a sterile environment, clean it out, tear it out and refresh it so that they can have the new materials put in and have their house back into a livable condition, even better than it was before. And, in this way, it is like being a superhero, saving people in their darkest hour.

As he thinks about his why, of course, there are some pretty bad experiences that he’s going to have in that job. The dirty work of restoration before it’s time to do the restoration itself, getting rid of the old stuff that’s there. That’s the hardest part. So, I admire that why, and I’m sure it comes in handy a lot of times when he’s thinking about the hard parts of the job.

Just like that job, as online educators we have wonderful things we can do for people meeting them wherever they are and helping them become educated when they might not otherwise have access to this kind of opportunity.

And during the hard times, if we can create a few statements like my son did about his restoration work and remind ourselves of those things when we are in our toughest moments, knowing the why behind what we do for our own selves and our own work will empower us and help us more than anyone else ever could. I hope you’ll think about your why and take it home today and write up a few statements that help you remember it.

Keep it in a place you can look at it often. And enjoy being the online educator that you are, through the hard times and through the good times.

Thank you for being here. We’re all in this together getting through the profession we have of being online educators. I wish you all the best and hope that you feel uplifted this week. And I wish you all the best in your teaching this coming week as well.

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.

#119: Managing Vacation Time While Teaching Online

This content first appeared on APUEdge.com. 

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

Is it possible to take a short break or vacation while also teaching an online class? In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares strategies for planning a short time away from the online class. Learn about the importance of communicating time away with students and colleagues, how to work ahead in preparation, and other tips for planning a short break away from the online classroom.

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
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Read the Transcript:

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

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. I’m Bethanie Hansen, your host, and I want to talk about managing vacation time while teaching online. At the time of this episode being produced, it is mid to late July of 2022, you’re of course welcome to enjoy it and listen to it at any time of the year and we hope it’ll be valuable to you.

This this idea, though, of managing vacation time while teaching online tends to come up at three specific times of year. One is in the summer. Traditional school districts, if you have children in school, are on summer vacation. And a lot of times, spouses, if they teach at a traditional on the ground campus also have vacation. Whether you have family members who are on vacation or not, it might just strike you that you want to go on vacation for a few days in the middle of the semester that you’re teaching.

If you’re teaching throughout the summer, it can definitely be challenging to want to continue teaching while you’re also having that urge to go on vacation and travel. So, we’re going to talk a little bit about how to navigate that.

We also have the fall, early fall, there are many holidays that happen, especially Thanksgiving in the United States. So, around that period, if you have courses that just continue through Thanksgiving week, it might also be challenging to navigate that period. And then the other thing is, we have the winter holidays at the end of December. So, a lot of people will have holidays, maybe you have Hanukkah, maybe you have Christmas, New Year’s, there are many other holidays also that happen in the winter. And many people have a tradition of taking vacations and traveling and seeing family. And above all else, celebrating during these periods.

No matter what kind of time of year you’re facing or looking at, managing a little vacation time around your online teaching is possible. It can be done thoughtfully, prepared ahead of time, and managed really effectively while your students continue to grow with you, and continue to learn with you. So, we’re going to talk about that. And we’ll just jump into three main elements to help you manage vacation time while teaching online.

Review the Pace and Structure of Your Class

And here’s tip number one: The first tip to managing your vacation time while you’re teaching an online class is to look at the pace of that class, the structure of it, and the time that you’re going to need to be away. This is really important because if your vacation is going to happen over a three-day period, right when your students are completing a major assignment, you might have tons of unanswered questions, leading to student frustration. And it’s also going to seriously impact your success as their educator leading them through that.

So, take a look at the big picture of your course. It has some ebbs and flows and some tense times and some less tense times. There are going to be some moments where you’re really preparing for an assessment, or engaged in a discussion that’s super relevant. And there are other times where you can be less present and just kind of check in and answer questions. So, take a look at the big picture of your online class, as well as your own needs and your plans for that travel or vacation you’re thinking about. And then plan your time accordingly.

As you do this, you might notice there are some things that come up for you. One thing is the grading timeline. Will you need to be grading 30 essays when you’re also driving down the road to California? Or will you need to be involved in a seriously detailed level of discussion while you’re flying across the country to New York City? Whatever it is, you want to just look at the load that you’re going to have and the needs that your students are going to have and plan the timing of that vacation the best you possibly can when you consider the course that you’re teaching.

Consider Your Students’ Needs

Secondly, look at your students’ needs. Specifically, we’re going to get into the details now. So, if, again, we’re going to grade 30 essays, what do students need to know for that to go well, for them and for you?

First of all, they’re going to need a lot of clarity going into that big assignment, especially if it’s around the time of you taking a few days of travel or vacation. They’re going to need some guidance. Maybe they’re going to need an explainer video. You could look at our previous episode number 118 for a Video Explainer, if you wish, a little guide on that.

You can also create some kind of guidance asset around walking them through that assignment. The steps needed, the materials included, what knowledge they’re demonstrating, and how this hits one of the points they’re trying to come away from this course with. So, think about what students are going to need in terms of the preparation for that assignment, so you can plan ahead to give them all of that structure, all of that scaffolding for success.

Secondly, give your students the information about yourself. That is, if you’re going to be offline for two or three days, you want to tell them that. That would be an announcement about instructor availability. In fact, I like to use that as the title of my announcements. It says, “Instructor availability” and then the dates. And in the body of the message, I just tell them, “I’m going to be off my usual routine” or “I’m going to be out of the classroom, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week, due to travel, I will answer all of your questions when I get back.”

I give that information to them ahead of time so they can look ahead, plan their own work, asked me those important questions before I’m offline for a few days. And then as soon as I’m back, I’m checking those messages and I’m reading my emails, and I’m making sure I follow up with any student who’s a little bit nervous, and who wants an answer to something. I also want to make sure that when I get back in that classroom, I’m diving into any discussions we’re having, and I’m making myself fully present to them.

Now, if you’re a person who takes your cell phone with you, everywhere you go, you might be able to answer those questions when you’re out of the office, or away from home. Perhaps you answer those questions on the fly, and you just give students what they need here and there when it pops up. Or perhaps you actually tell them, you’re going to be completely offline, and you just answer them when you get back. Either way, students need to know what to expect in the assignment coming up and in their communication with you.

And then when you come back, some reassurance of your presence would be a little different than the absence you had. So, they would want to see you more engaged and more present so they’re reassured that you’re back with them.

Consider Your Own Needs

Third, we want to look at you and your own needs, personally. This is the only way you can decide what’s the best approach for your short time out of the classroom. That approach might range from completely cutting yourself off to the internet during those few days you’re going to be away, to just having that phone close by where you can answer urgent questions, or even allow students to reach out to you through text or phone call, maybe even email.

So, your personal needs are very important when you’re taking time away from your online classroom, especially if it’s during a class and just for a few days. One thing that I would highly recommend is getting ahead on your teaching. So, if there’s anything sitting there waiting to be graded, if you can take care of it before you’re away for a few days, then you don’t return to a huge pile of grading that sets you behind even further.

Another thing you could do is proactively just engage a lot in whatever discussion is happening that week. So, you have a lot of presence, and you’ve connected with your students to whatever level you can and then you won’t feel quite so overwhelmed. Again, getting back and needing to jump in and connect with so many students.

But lastly, I would say when you’re considering your own needs, personally, how much do you really benefit from various types of de-stressing activities when you’re on a short vacation. Whatever those are, plan those into your vacation, thoroughly enjoy that short time. Really invest in yourself and those that you love that might be with you.

Engage in all those fun activities so that you feel like you’ve really had a time away, and relish it. And then when you come back, you’ll be fresh and rejuvenated and ready to go. Never cheat yourself when you have a couple of days away, thinking that you have to get back quickly and get back online. It’s always going to be there. And you’re always going to feel that drive to get back to your online classroom.

So, if you have prepared adequately and followed those three areas of looking at the pace of the class, and your planned time away, looking at the needs of your students and planning ahead for those needs and addressing them, and then also looking at your own needs and planning what you’ll do during your time out, then you can have a fantastic time on your short vacation while you’re still teaching online.

Make Colleagues Aware of Plans

As you plan a time to get out of the computer room, and possibly away from class for a couple of days or three days, be sure to loop in your team. Many of us work with organizations where we have peers, colleagues, managers. And if it’s truly unavoidable to be away from that computer and you’re going to have that time anyway, alert them to your absence. Alert them to your absence so that you can have colleagues looking out for you. Perhaps they could stop by the class, just in case there’s an urgent question or need your students have, and they can have your back should something happen and you’re not able to get back home as planned on time. Then there’s someone that will be aware of where you are and what you’re doing.

Perhaps you have a supervisor or a manager, or a department chair, or a dean, or a principal that you can inform. I had that experience recently myself. I was going to be taking a very early morning flight from Washington D.C., home to Idaho where I live. And both the car to the airport and the flight are canceled, independent of each other. There were not enough drivers for the car so I had to find an alternate method. And also the flight being canceled, I had to find a different flight. I ended up finding another flight the same day from a different airport. And then I could just take a taxi so it all worked out. But you never know when you’re on a vacation if things will work out exactly as you’ve planned, especially in the constantly changing travel environment we’re experiencing in the United States today.

So, make your plans, have backup plans, communicate out. And again, tell your students what to expect. When your students know what to expect and you’ve planned for them and communicated well with them, they respect that and they trust that and they’re fine until you come back the next day or two when you’re back online. So, enjoy your time away should you be out of a class for a few days and plan accordingly. Best wishes in your online teaching and a short vacation you might have while teaching online 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
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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. 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.

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