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#40: Benefits of Using the WOOP Tool

#40: Benefits of Using the WOOP Tool

This content was initially posted at APUEdge.Com

Do you want to improve your time management or adopt a new habit? In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares the WOOP tool to help you change behaviors, create new healthy habits, and take a fresh approach to online teaching or online learning. Listen to hear the four steps that were developed using neuroscience and motivation theory to help you become more focused, more productive, and more successful in your online teaching and learning goals.

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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.

Teaching online and learning online can happen anytime, anywhere. For this reason, it may be challenging to set boundaries, to manage time, to prioritize the tasks to be done, and to manage everything else in life.

Perhaps there are aspects of your online work that you have tried to change, but you find that you keep returning to less effective strategies. In today’s podcast, I’ll give you a new tool to help you with time management. It will also help you focus on what you would like to accomplish in your online teaching or, if you’re an online learner, in your online schooling.

You can also use it to change habits and behaviors, so it can easily be applied to other areas of your life. This tool will help whether your task is big or small, you might be teaching one class or have to write one assignment, or you might be teaching five classes and need to grade 120 essays. Either way, this tool is based on neuroscience, motivation theory, and it will give you more of what you want and help you spend your time wisely.

If you need to get through circumstances you cannot control like having to self-quarantine or having children at home when they would normally be at school and other unexpected challenges you are facing, this tool will help.

What Challenges Are Keeping You from Being Productive and/or Effective?

Before I share it, think about three things that keep you from being focused in your online learning or teaching right now. And if focus is not really your concern, think about three things that keep you from being successful or effective as you would like to be, in your online learning or teaching right now.

I asked this question to faculty, students, and academic leaders a few months after the pandemic erupted and significantly impacted the way people lived and worked. And I’d like to share some of their answers with you.

  • First, we have the relationships in the home environment. Kids, having children at home, homeschooling children, children wanting to be in the office space, wanting to play. A husband, wife, or partner wanting to talk while they are home. Other family issues, dogs, cats, or other pets, maybe the dog needs to go out, go for a walk or something like that.
  • Next, we have health areas. They could be health issues, allergies, fatigue, or getting sick.
  • And then of course we have the environment we work with. TV might be on. Distractions. Being easily distracted, maybe our own ability to concentrate or our own stress levels.
  • Perhaps it’s just the unknown, feeling anxious or worrying.
  • The internet speed and connectivity, the office setup, or lack of an office space.
  • And, lastly, we have areas of productivity, expectations and work-related tasks. These could be texting, constant email interruptions, maybe you hate grading papers, multitasking, difficulty finishing one project before starting other commitments, taking on too much, not enough time to complete these tasks and personal commitments, or maybe you find it difficult to say “no.”

Many of these challenges are really just a normal part of working from home and teaching and learning online, or even normal parts of life. They can become even more significant when other circumstances have changed, like family members being present when they normally might be at school or work. When there is more going on like political unrest and pandemic concerns.

And some of these challenges really are unique to the conditions faced during the pandemic. As you think about these challenges, consider the experiences you have when you face these challenges. What is the impact on you?

You might have less sleep or irregular sleep. Your energy could be impacted. If you typically exercise and are more active, you can’t always do that now or you don’t feel like getting started. Your enthusiasm is reduced. You may have begun your approach enjoying and wanting to teach online and as these things have continued to impact you, you’re “want to” moved down to the “should” level and then should may have become “need to” and that became even less compelling when it became “have to.”

Anything we approach with the belief that we should do it, we need to do it, or we have to do it is beyond our control it seems. It’s as if there’s this demand placed on us from outside us that now controls our time and our mental space as well.

Whenever we perceive something this way, another impact is that we find it difficult to find solutions or even find our focus and we lose our creativity. Long-term, these impacts on our health and wellbeing are very significant. And the challenges of managing these things that impact our online learning or online teaching also impact our relationships, our sense of purpose in the work, and our life satisfaction. We can see that changing things might help. We’ll bring these ideas back later in the podcast when I share the tool with you.

How the WOOP Tool May Help

The good news is that I’m sharing a tool with you today that can help you turn things around; this tool is called WOOP, or W-O-O-P. It’s a simple tool I discovered recently that I think you’ll find simple and powerful. Well, what is WOOP?

First, I’ll tell you what WOOP is. It’s a tool that uses two different types of strategies. These are mental contrasting and implementation intentions. The tool helps change behaviors and achieve goals. It’s based on neuroscience and theories of motivation and goal attainment.

If you get really excited about this tool and want to dig deeper into these areas, I suggest reading the book, “Rethinking Positive Thinking” by Gabriele Oettingen. Each letter of the strategy stands for one step and the steps are “Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, and Plan.” Now I’m going to break these down for you to walk you through the WOOP process.

Step One: Wish

What are you trying to accomplish? In this step you’re going to state your goal. It should be something challenging, but realistic. If you include aspects that seem compelling to you, this will make it even better. But choosing something out of reach and unrealistic when you use this tool will actually make the process more difficult and completely unmotivating.

The timeline of your goal does not really matter, it could be goal that you want to achieve today, tomorrow, next year or five years from now. For the topic we are addressing today in this podcast, I suggest choosing a specific goal in your online teaching and learning. It could be a teaching task, another aspect of working online, your self-care or family areas.

Here are a few examples from online professionals that have shared their goals with me:

  • staying focused during work time or completing work in a timely manner
  • delegating to others more effectively or providing clearer guidance to people who are waiting for my step on a project
  • writing or updating an online course
  • seeing a project through to completion
  • completing grading, getting grading done on time, grading more efficiently, or establishing a consistent schedule in relation to student grading
  • checking some smaller tasks off the to-do list that have piled up
  • writing for publication or planning scholarly activities
  • reading more academic articles instead of watching TV
  • prioritizing various work activities and priorities
  • working on school studies more regularly or working in your online teaching more regularly
  • making self-care a priority
  • reducing stress
  • taking time for exercise in the morning, and
  • setting boundaries with family members when it’s time for online work

Think about what you would like to accomplish. Is it something you would like to change or improve? Is it a habit you would like to begin? After hearing the many examples I’ve shared with you, you can see that something big or small would work and it can be short-term or long-term. Just take a moment to choose one goal that you’re trying to accomplish for this first step and write it down.

Step Two: The Outcome

What is the best possible outcome that would result from accomplishing your goal? Yes, you might consider the immediate outcome, like the fact that your grading would be done, or you would finish the project.

And let’s take that outcome even further. What’s it going to do for you? For example, here are three example outcome statements I really like, maybe four.

  • “I have more energy and feel better about myself.”
  • “I am relieved and feel proud of myself.”
  • “It gives me sense of accomplishment and pride and I’m happy that I’m using my time wisely.”
  • “I have a positive feeling that I’m taking care of my students.”

As you consider the best possible outcome that would result from accomplishing your goal, write this in the present tense as if it’s already happening. This step is going to give your brain some visualization to begin anticipating what you will feel or experience.

You already know that accomplishing this goal is going to be important to you and it’s going to help you. The outcome takes it to the next level by helping you give it even more purpose and meaning. Take a moment to craft your outcome for this second step and write it down.

Step Three: The Obstacle

What are the obstacles that prevent you from achieving your goal? What’s standing in the way between you and your goal? Earlier I asked what three things were keeping you from focusing or being as successful as you would like to be in your online teaching and learning and then I shared many ideas other online professionals have mentioned about their work.

Now we can take those things and turn them into a more detailed idea. Here are some examples:

  • “I don’t feel motivated or excited to exercise in the morning.”
  • “I procrastinate and get distracted by Facebook or other social media.”
  • “I’m tired when I get home from work and just don’t feel like reading.”

As you think about your obstacles to reaching the goal, just list one specific thing that is tangible, as an obstacle that comes up for you. As in the previous step, visualizing the obstacle is going to give your brain that connection to what you’re thinking about, and it will anchor your thinking in the process. The obstacle will come up again for you in the future and it’s important as part of this process to write it down. So take a moment to identify one specific obstacle you are personally facing related to your goal and write it down.

Step Four: The Plan

What are you action would help you when this obstacle shows up? The plan will be one sentence, structured like an “if–then” statement or a “when–then” statement. You will be able to create this plan and visualize it your mind. The sentence starts with: “When ____ (that would be the obstacle), then I will ____ (and that’s the action to overcome the obstacle).”

An example might be that “When I wake up, then I will see my exercise clothes and shoes I’ve set out the night before, put them on and exercise anyway. Even if I’m tired and don’t feel like exercising.”

This of course is my own example, my own scenario. I learned that I never feel like exercising in the morning, but I really want to. It takes time to get out the clothes and put them on or set up what I’m going to do. Because of that I actually started planning ahead the night before, and I put my exercise clothes and the shoes on the bathroom counter so I see them when I first get up and go into the bathroom.

I don’t have to make any decisions. I don’t have to look through my closet for exercise clothes. That resistance is totally eliminated. I also set out my exercise equipment, like my hand weights, my workout video DVD, my headphones, or any other items where I go to do the exercise. Again, this reduces decision-making and the time it takes to get ready, and it makes the habit a lot more obvious for me. Having everything set out the night before helps me overcome the feeling of not wanting to exercise because things are just ready to go and it’s a lot simpler getting started.

We know that the best way to establish a new habit is to imagine the obstacle and then do the action to reduce the obstacle and make the habit more obvious and easy to do. In the WOOP tool that we’re using today, the idea is that we visualize the obstacle, and we anticipate it being there. And we condition ourselves to respond to that obstacle with the behavior or activity we want to do instead.

Here are a few examples:

  • “When I get up in the morning then I will immediately put on my exercise shoes and go for a run, even if I don’t feel like it.”
  • “If I get distracted from my work, then I will block all distracting websites with Focus Assist, and get back to work.”
  • “When I get home from work, then I will immediately log into my Brightspace classroom and start reading.”

Take a moment to design your “if–then” plan, or your “when–then” plan and write it down. As you create the sentence, visualizing it and imagining it happening is going to help you prepare to activate your plan.

WOOP Can Help You Overcome Obstacles, Adopt New Habits

Now using WOOP can really help; it can help you create new habits, change behaviors, and take a fresh approach to your online teaching and learning. You’ll find that you can use this tool to overcome any obstacle to creating a big project or completing a big project. It can help you master a difficult situation.

You can also use it to handle time management, set up self-care routines, and confidently adopt new priorities.

The mental contrasting strategy includes taking your current situation, visualizing what it could look like as an ideal state, and visualizing obstacles that you will encounter.

While you might have created goals and plans in the past, the key here is to identify and anticipate those obstacles. This makes the difference in pushing through them.

In implementation intentions, these are the triggers that you set up for the “if then” and the “when then” relationships to create new actions you’re going to take.

The tool is simple but powerful. It really does help you target one area of your online teaching work or your life and make a change. You can complement this strategy with additional ideas like using checklists, taking a planned breakreflecting at the end of the week to acknowledge your progress, and then adjusting your plan for the coming week.

Thank you for being with me today to explore this tool and consider trying something new. Remember that if you write things down and reflect on how they’re working for you, it makes the process clearer and helps you think about your thinking, as well.

Writing your steps to this plan and writing your reflection on how it worked for you, these are great places to start. Best wishes to you this coming week in your online teaching and in trying out the WOOP strategy.

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 and your online teaching journey.

5 Tips to Prepare for an Online Teaching Position Interview

5 Tips to Prepare for an Online Teaching Position Interview

This content was originally published at APUEdge.com

Five Tips to Help You Prepare for an Online Teaching Position Interview

If you have traditional, face to face teaching experience and want to teach online, you’ll need to know how to prepare for an online teaching position interview. Online education is a growing field, and getting hired to teach online is increasingly more competitive. It can also be difficult to focus your interview comments toward online education specifically, when you have focused on live classes throughout your career. I’ve interviewed hundreds of prospective faculty in recent years and share these tips from my experience, to help you stand out in your next online teaching interview and hopefully land the job you’re looking for.

Do Your Homework

Before you interview for an online teaching position, do your homework to learn about the institution. Each school, college, and university is unique in its mission and philosophy. Many cater to specific populations or have focused programs that distinguish them. Knowing about the specifics of the job for which you’re being interviewed gives you an advantage during the conversation. And, your insight about the programs or populations for which the interviewer is responsible can be included in your interview responses thoughtfully.

Interviewers will want to know how your skills and expertise will be a good fit for their reality. Most educational institutions have informative websites, where the mission and vision of the institution is provided. Take the time to read and understand these areas. Also explore the specifics in the program for which you have applied. You might be able to find details about the student population most likely to enroll in the program, such as whether they are mostly adult learners, military and veteran students, or within other demographic groups. Use the information you find to help tailor your approach when answering interview questions to help you stand out among others interviewed.

Learn What Matters About Online Education

If you are not familiar with online education practices, learn about the Community of Inquiry model, andragogy, and strategies specific for your subject area. There are many well-known “best practices” in online education, and applicants for online teaching positions are expected to know about these practices. As you learn about what matters in online education, find practices you already use that align to these practices. Then, practice explaining how your present strengths and abilities work well online.

Even if you have little experience, knowing how to move your teaching online will prepare you for an interview much better than guessing. As you learn about what matters in online teaching, you can think about the potential job expectations for the role you’re considering in light of what you already know about the academic institution, its priorities, and its student population. Mentally connecting these areas can help you generate a list of questions you might ask during the interview, if you need more information about the job expectations to decide whether it’s a good fit for you.

Get Clear About Your Strengths and Weaknesses Teaching Online

Regardless of your online teaching experience, interviewers want to know about your strengths and weaknesses while teaching online. The first way to explore your focus is by taking the “Teaching Perspectives Inventory.” The TPI identifies teaching priorities and can help you get clear on your goals for teaching generally. Once you’ve identified your focus, you can describe your teaching strengths and focus together—something few teachers are able to do concisely.

After you’ve thought about your teaching priorities, connect these to what matters in online education, as well as what works well for you and what doesn’t. Decide how you stand out uniquely through your strengths and teaching approaches, personality, teaching philosophy, and the ways in which you help students learn. Likewise, identify your weaknesses. No one can be good at everything, and being clear about where you’re still growing ads validity to what you say in your interview. It’s a bonus if you also have a plan about how you address your weaker areas or a plan to regularly improve these areas.

Share Your Key Ideas Clearly and Concisely

Find ways to express the unique and authentic details about yourself concisely, without jargon. I’ve been in many interviews where time was limited, and interviewees were asked to share their most important thoughts in just a few minutes, yet many were not able to do it. As you prepare for an interview, aim for a response that shares the best details up front, so that you get out what is most important to you and those interviewing you without running out of time.

It’s obvious when an interviewee has previously written responses prepared for an interview that they are trying to fit into the questions they have been asked, only to fail to answer the actual question that has been posed. Think about potential interview questions and practice your responses, and also be flexible enough to answer clearly and concisely during the interview. Your ability to adjust in this area helps a potential employer see how you might also be able to say a lot in a short space, to show that you can adapt when needed.

Listen and Respond Well

After you’ve taken the time to do your homework about the institution you’re interviewing at, learn what matters about teaching online, increased your self-awareness of your strengths and weaknesses, and prepared yourself to respond clearly and concisely, give yourself the time and energy to listen and respond well. When listening to those who are interviewing you, take the time to consider what they are asking. If you’re unsure what is meant, ask for a bit of detail or clarification.

Once you’ve fully grasped what you’re asked during the interview, take a breath, and respond confidently. If you’re anxious, close your eyes a moment, and bring your awareness to the present moment before answering. You’ve done your homework and are prepared. You have much to share. And you will be able to do it clearly and concisely.

Hearing your interviewers and connecting with them during the interview allows you to build a rich conversation that sets you apart as a potential faculty member. You’ll notice things you might have otherwise missed if you are anxious, jump in too quickly, or don’t catch the meaning of your interviewers’ questions. By slowing down and being intentional during the interview, you will be able to leave the experience feeling great about the way you presented yourself and your unique expertise, and you’ll have the best chance of being considered for the role you are seeking.

#35: Setting Professional Goals as an Online Educator

#35: Setting Professional Goals as an Online Educator

This content appeared first on OnlineCareerTips.Com

What areas do you want to improve as an online educator? In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides tips and strategies about how to set achievable goals for your professional growth and development. Learn about four areas to consider focusing your teaching goals, as well as how to stay motivated and remain accountable so you can achieve your goals.

Read the Transcript:

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

Welcome to the podcast. Today we’re going to talk about setting professional goals as an online educator. Today, it’s just a few weeks before the new year begins at the time of this recording. However, you could be listening to this at any time of year, and this would still apply to you.

There are so many times when we might set goals. I’m going to talk about different times of year when you might choose to set goals as an educator. We also talk about the why. Why does it matter? Why is it so important to have goals and to set goals?

I’ll ask you a few questions to get you thinking about the kind of areas you’d like to work on. Give you some examples of the kinds of goals you might consider in education and in your professional life. And lastly, we’ll look at your motivation, develop some kind of action plan and accountability steps to help you succeed with the goals that you choose to set.

Be Strategic in How You Set Goals

Starting off, I want to talk about what times of year we might choose to set goals. Sometimes we set them around the academic year. If you’re teaching at the kind of institution that has semesters or a school year, it might make the most sense to set your goals around that kind of a system. Maybe there’s a vacation period, a few breaks, some semesters. Naturally, you might choose your goals around those times.

At the institution where I’m teaching online, we really don’t have an academic year that is official or formal. Classes begin every month of the year, they are eight weeks long and so I set my goals on the calendar year. And I might set shorter term goals by eight week segments of classes that I’m teaching. Whatever it is for you, you want to think about the short term, the longer midterm type of goals, and the bigger, longer career goals.

It used to be that we might get evaluated by a manager. If you’re teaching in secondary or primary school, it might be a principal. If you’re in a university setting, it might be another kind of administrator. Someone comes along and evaluates us on a periodic basis, whether it’s once a year, once every other year. Whatever it is, we receive a periodic evaluation. And in this process, the person evaluating us just might tell us what they think we should work on. Naturally, we tend to take those on as our goals. We want to improve to avoid having a negative situation.

The kind of goals I’m suggesting here are all about your own growth and development as a professional to take matters into your own hands rather than having a leader of some kind dictate what those goals should be. By doing this, you will own the goals and you’ll own your own success. Furthermore, you’ll own your entire career direction much more fully, as you begin to embrace setting your goals and achieving them.

Why Should You Set Goals?

Just for a moment, I’m going to get into the why of goal setting. The first one comes from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we can think about the four levels of deficiency needs starting with our physical needs: the food, water, sleep, warmth, nutrition, air, temperature regulation, all those things that we need in our lives to be physically taken care of. Then we have our safety needs: security, control and order in our lives. And after that, we have the social needs of love and belonging, and esteem or societal needs.

In these areas, it’s widely known that when we are meeting these needs, we’re really trying to make sure that we are having enough in these areas. And the sense of meeting these needs comes from a place of lacking or deprivation, so that’s why they’re called deficiency needs.

We want to avoid the unpleasant circumstance of missing out on these things. Certainly, no one wants to be living without food or shelter. We don’t want to be living in unsafe conditions. Those sorts of things.

Now, when we set goals, a lot of times the goals are in these four areas. We might want a better house, a more secure job. We might want to be in a better long-term relationship, or maybe we want better relationships with our colleagues. Maybe we want to achieve something, present somewhere, do something professionally that builds our esteem, gets some accomplishment and we get appreciation from that.

What I want to propose is that goal setting often moves us into the next level, which is self-actualization. And when we’re working on self-actualization, we’re getting away from what we lack and we’re growing so we can become a better version of who we are. It’s sort of a balance of what we want to do, our free will and our dreams, and what’s going to fit in with our possibilities. We get to accept who we are, and also maximize what we’re actually capable of.

As we’re thinking about professional goals, this drive that Maslow talked about, where people just are driven to want to become the better version of themselves or maximize their potential, that can really help us out in thinking about what goals we’d like to achieve. What we’d like to strive for. Where we might want to stretch, and where we want to grow that professional career as an online educator.

Another reason to be working on goals is that as we’re continuing to learn and strive and grow as educators, it keeps us moving. It gives us something to look forward to and be excited about, gives us something to do, and it also avoids stagnation.

It’s going to help us to be confident in the things we’re good at and we’re experienced at, but also stay connected to the role of the learner, because we’re always going to be learning something new and working on something.

As professional educators and especially online, where we tend to be a little bit more disconnected, there is a lot of great value in setting goals and working to achieve them. What kind of goals should we work on?

Identify Areas to Focus Your Goals

Now, if I were to draw a pie graph of some kind, I could divide this into four areas, four quadrants, if you will. And I would talk about these in terms of:

  • relational goals, as a professional
  • technological goals in the online environment and with the computer and the internet
  • teaching goals, which are more about methods and strategies
  • And then lastly, the contributing or growing goals about the bigger professional endeavors, the creation and the learning that we do as educators.

Questions to Consider Before Setting Goals

Before I dive into some details about these four types of goals, I’m going to ask you a few questions just to get you thinking. And here they are:

  • What are the five things you spend most of your time doing during your workday as an online educator?
  • What kind of tasks take the most energy?
  • Where is the stress coming from when you feel stressed in your online education work?
  • What kind of people are you interacting with most in your online education career?
  • If there are any conflicts in your work, what kind of conflicts are they? What do you face?
  • On the flipside, what is the most fulfilling aspect of your online education work?
  • What is the most challenging or stressful part of your work?
  • What excites you most about what you do professionally?
  • What strengths and skills do you have that are immediately usable and could benefit others?
  • And what resources are missing that you feel are necessary for you to be successful in your online educator role?

Now, as you think about those questions alone, some things might come into your mind about areas where you might want to be thinking about trying something new, connecting with other people and learning something, having an influence, trying a new habit. There are so many ways we can set very small and very large goals for short-term, mid-term, and long-term.

I’m going to go back to these four areas I started with a moment ago on the “what” of our goals. And I’ll give you some examples that you might consider for your own professional goals.

Relational Goal Setting

Now, in the relational area, we have the connection with our students. And I would say that most of our day is probably spent connecting with our students, whether we’re typing to them or talking to them in live synchronous meetings, or engaging in some way toward our students or with our students. There are so many ways we can set goals about the relational aspect of our work, insofar as connecting with students is concerned.

We can also set goals and be growing in the way we connect with our colleagues and maybe our peers in the professional community, as well as the larger professional development community we’re part of. This might be our school site, even if we’re virtual, they all belong to our same organization. Maybe they are in our networking group.  Maybe they are people we got our degree with, but we don’t necessarily work with them.

There are all kinds of ways we can think about goal setting in relationships and that could have to do with the quality of the relationship or how often we check in with these people, how we maintain that relationship, and what we do around those connections with people.

And then the third area I would suggest in relational goal setting is introspection and reflective practice. This one really is about ourselves and our relationship with ourselves. It’s sort of that metacognitive reflective piece about what we think about what we’re doing.

We are there the whole time and we really are alone there in our teaching role. We typically don’t have other educator peers watching us all day long or giving us feedback. And in a sense, we’re really the best person to give ourselves some feedback about how we see our own performance.

But in order to do that, we need to reflect regularly so that we can become somewhat more objective about what we’re doing. It’s very difficult to evaluate our own teaching when we are the person doing the teaching. But when we do it more regularly, we become more able to do that.

Setting Technological Goals

The second area of goal-setting that I mentioned was technological. There are a lot of us online these days, and so many using learning management systems. If you’re using a learning management system, whether it’s Blackboard or Brightspace, Desire2Learn, Canvas, it could be one of many, you might be using Schoology.

Whatever it is, there are a lot of basic ways to use the learning management system, and there are also a lot of advanced ways to do that. If you have areas you want to learn to do differently, one of those goals setting spaces could be about the technology in your learning management system. Perhaps you want to find new ways to use it, or more fully get to know the system that you’re with. Either way, that’s one area.

Another technology-based area for goal setting could be apps, media, video creation, and ways to convey lessons and content. I have some foreign language teachers, or world language teachers, that I know who are always trying new things. They use an external program called Flipgrid that many of you might be familiar with. They also use VoiceThread.

There are always new tools coming up in the conversation. So if you’re not sure what kind of tools you’d like to try, chances are you have a colleague somewhere you could ask and simply start exploring.

And then thirdly, in the technology area, one might set goals in how they use the technology to grade students’ work, specifically. Like, are we putting reviewers comments on a Microsoft Word document? Or are we typing a question or a comment on an essay? How do we return that feedback? How do we write the feedback? Where does it go in a physical, technological sense, of the presentation of the feedback? That could include using your plagiarism detection software, learning how to do that or fully, figuring out how to note plagiarism, give comments about it, address lack of originality.

Developing Teaching Goals

We have the relational goals, we have the technological goals, and then thirdly, we have teaching goals. And I’ve just broken down three examples here for you that you might think about. One of them is the way we evaluate students’ work in terms of our approach, the quality. Previously, I mentioned the technology piece. Well, this would be more about the philosophical elements.

What is most important to you in your feedback? What kinds of feedback would you like to give students? Would you like to take a different approach? Do you want to focus more on content and less on the structure? Would you like to include more formatting elements in your feedback? Whatever it is you’d like your focus to be, that’s a whole area right there.

And a second teaching area might be methods, approaches, and framing. About how to share the content, how to get students talking to each other, even in the online space. How to have the interactivity that is needed in terms of practice, repeat, mastery, formative, summative, evaluation strategies.

A lot of the methods and approaches we use tend to be through text. Like, we’ve typed it. Or we want our students to read something. But there are many, many ways out there. We can use video. We can use different types of web sources where they can click and do a scavenger hunt to find things. There are just a lot of possibilities. And so methods and approaches are a huge area of goal setting.

And the last teaching area I would suggest is the community piece. The way students engage with each other and the way you engage with students. How do we do that better? Or where might we try some new strategy there? It can be a small thing. It can be a large thing. It could grow over time. We’ve got technological, relational and teaching-oriented goals. And the fourth area is contributing or growing.

Goals to Help you Contribute or Grow

In this area, I have considered to be the most fun. While these other areas are all very important and can be a lot of fun as well. This one is fun because really, there’s no set of norms or established criteria, you really get to invent your path here.

One area is writing. Maybe you’d like to write blog articles for other instructors who teach online. Maybe you’d like to write a book. Maybe you want to write curriculum. Maybe you want to create new lesson content, maybe create some new material for students or for the bigger professional community. Maybe you want to write a text book.

There are so many ways you can write as a professional educator that contribute a lot to the field. There are many things that you know that you might take for granted, that other people don’t know. And if you start writing about that, it’s going to be a really great contribution to your community.

Another thing you might consider in this avenue is attending. This could be attending a class, all up way up to getting an advanced degree or trying a secondary subject area. Maybe it’s not going to be academic subjects, maybe it’s going to be online teaching strategies.

There are all kinds of online trainings out there. Maybe your institution has one, or maybe you want to look outside of your school community for the professional community, like the Online Learning Consortium. There are a lot of different places you can go to get certifications, training and leadership potential. And so I would consider classes, trainings, and different kinds of things like that in this attendance arena, as well as professional conferences.

You might consider attending a professional conference in the coming semester, the coming year.  Making a regular habit of attending professional conferences. Even in the virtual world that is having an impact at the time of this recording, there are a lot of online conferences to attend. Whether you can go live in person or attend online, this is another place where you might consider setting a goal.

And lastly, presentations. Even if you are not an extroverted person, or you don’t really like speaking to groups, you might consider stretching by giving presentations. You might create a webinar if you’re doing it online or consider presenting at a professional conference.

My very first presentation was motivated by the fact that I saw someone similar in my field presenting to our audience. I saw her. I watched her presentation. I thought, “I know those things. I do those things. Maybe I have other ideas people would like to learn about.” And then I created my own presentation on a different topic, and I shared it. And sure enough, a lot of people came and learned things and even reached out to me afterwards.

You might have information that you know, or skills you have or knowledge about how to teach or how to teach online, and other people could learn from you. Think about what you might present and share and start looking for possibilities where you can contribute and grow, and add to the professional culture at a conference.

Setting Personal Goals

We’ve talked about the what of goal setting. And if you’re still thinking, “Yeah, I’d love to set some goals, but none of that appeals to me,” there are of course goals you could set in other areas that would still have a very positive impact on your online teaching. Maybe there are unresolved matters in your life that you’d like to focus on as a goal. Maybe you have something you need to take care of in your family life or your home life. A lot of people right now are focusing on decluttering, minimalism, cleaning up their homes.

Sometimes professional communication training can be useful. Maybe learning how to manage email better, how to be more prompt and responsive. There are all kinds of things that could be thought about in terms of health and emotional balance, financial goals, career development goals, relationship building in personal matters, life planning for the long-term, and the development of special projects you’re interested in.

There are so many possibilities for you. And if you are not interested in your academic type of professional goals, teaching strategies, or technology areas, you might consider ways that you can throughout the online teaching day, reduce stress, or ways that you might integrate exercise intermittently throughout the week.

Maybe methods that you’ll approach students to help them be more responsible, more accountable and more proactive. There are all kinds of things you might consider about career growth, like additional training, the way you approach the work day, time management. The path of your bigger picture career, whether you’d like to be in a different leadership role in the future, or if you’d like to change lanes and go in a slightly new direction in the future. Or maybe you’d like to upgrade your professional standing. As I mentioned before, with a different degree or an advanced degree.

How to Stay Motivated to Achieve Your Goals

And then lastly, of course, some type of ideas around retirement in the long-term, in the future. Long-term plans, as far as would you like to be mentored? Would you like to mentor others? Would you like to integrate some kind of vision into your long-term planning as well as your career growth?

As you think about your goals and the way you’d like these to shape up, motivation comes up a lot, right? We think about, ‘Yes, I’d like to do these things, but then the day-to-day kind of gets in the way.” We get busy and it could be very difficult to meet the goals that we set for ourselves.

Think about the motivation that you bring to that goal. Is it exciting? Is it in an area you’re already interested in and you do it well? Are there things you don’t do well or dislike and you’re trying to set a goal there?

In those kinds of areas, I would suggest starting very small for some quick wins so that you can start to make progress in areas you don’t like as much, or you’re not as good at. Then you can start setting bigger goals. If you’re already doing well at something, and you like the activity, you might be able to set bigger goals, slightly more ambitious goals, aspirational goals, even. Think about your level of motivation as you’re considering the goals that you’re going to land on.

Now, lastly, we’re going to talk about how to move from setting the goal to actually achieving the goal. You’ve probably heard of setting smart goals and these have to do with being specific, reasonable, achievable, and timely, and all of those sorts of details. Those are the kinds of things that are going to bring you success.

We want to think about what success will look like. When you’ve reached this goal, what will it look like? What will it feel like? What will become easier in your professional life because you’ve gone down this path? What will the big payoff be for this change that you’re bringing about, or this goal you’re going to achieve?

What will happen if you don’t do your goal? Is there a negative consequence that’s going to keep happening if you don’t learn the thing or grow in that area? What strategies will you use to make your success happen over time or regularly look back on your goal?

And can you think about someone in your life who has made some progress in this area, who is working towards the same goal, or who has already achieved it? And if you can, what can you learn from them? Or what tips could you ask them for that would help you?

Develop an Action Plan by Identifying Steps, Setting Deadlines, Staying Accountable

In your action plan, think about what small steps you will need to take first and what the next step will be afterwards. And jot down three action steps you can take between now and next week, as you think about the goal.

Think about the most important step to help you move forward towards that goal, and also set a timeline. You can add it to your planner, your calendar. If you have an online calendar, you can set alerts and alarms and reminders to get back to the goal and to be checking in on it. If you’re looking at it regularly and taking steps towards it regularly, chances are you’re going to achieve it.

And then lastly, do you need some accountability to help yourself reach your goal? There are a lot of professional groups, especially online that you could join. People who are making progress in the same direction that you’re looking at. If you want to be with online educators and work on technology goals or methods, you could probably find a group for that and be checking in on those steps you’re going to take.

If you’re setting a personal goal, that’s not necessarily teaching related, such as weight loss, time management, something like that, there are groups for that too. Or maybe you want to find a mentor or a coach or a peer to be accountable to. So you can check in with that person regularly, share your progress, and celebrate.

Whatever you’re going to need, knowing yourself and the accountability level you’d like, think about what’s going to help you be most successful, and write that down and note it as part of your plan.

As we draw to a close today, I encourage you to think about setting professional goals as an online educator, both short-term and long-term, to help you stay excited about what you do, to help you keep growing and to help bring energy to your day-to-day work and your long-term direction.

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

#34: Developing Leadership in Online Higher Education

#34: Developing Leadership in Online Higher Education

This content appeared first at Online Learning Tips.Com

Educators should always be thinking of ways to develop and enhance their own leadership skills. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen presents strategies for leadership development including improving communication skills, finding new ways to collaborate, understanding how to develop a strategic plan, finding a mentor, and much more.

Read the Transcript:

Speaker 1 (00:01):

APU. American Public University is proud to present Online Teaching Lounge.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This is episode number 34, Developing Leadership in Online Higher Education. 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, and thank you for joining me for this chat about developing leadership in online higher education. Some of us think that people are just born natural leaders. In fact, this is a really common belief. This is called the trait-based leadership model, and of course, this is a theory from the 1700 and 1800s. It’s very old and outdated.

Since then, many leadership theories have come along and primary in those theories is the skills-based leadership theory. Under the skills-based leadership theory, we believe that the skills needed to be an effective leader can actually be taught. Some of these are technical skills; some of these are conceptual skills.

Now, when we have skills-based leadership in place or training to help people grow in this way, that really means that anyone can aspire to become a leader, can learn what it takes to become a leader, and can really fulfill their dream or desire to move up in an organization if they want to.

Now, if you’ve been teaching for very long, chances are you have some fantastic ideas you could share with other people. An initial way to become a leader is, of course, simply share your knowledge with others in your profession.

You could, for example, present at professional conferences. You could write blog articles or write journal articles. Or if mentorships exist in your organization, you could do some professional mentoring and help others who are newer to the profession or where you have special expertise in your skillset and they don’t.

There are lots of opportunities to gain more leadership experience, but this idea of learning skills and gaining conceptual understandings that will help you succeed as a leader, it’s so important and critical to a true leadership development pathway.

Brian Eastwood wrote a blog called Eight Essential Traits for Effective Leadership in Higher Education earlier this year, and he shares that there are some specific skills that you need to succeed as a leader in higher education.

Now today, of course, we’re talking primarily about online higher education. In online higher education, there’s also the need to be connected, significantly connected, to the people that you’re working with. This can be very difficult, but strategies, again, can be learned to make it happen.

Leaders Need Financial Acumen

Regardless of the type of higher education you’re engaged in, the number one skill that Brian has written in this article is that you need financial acumen. The idea is that at some point in your leadership journey, the more you rise in the ranks of leadership at a university, the more you’re going to need to know how to get donors, how to use fundraising, how to do budgeting, how to fund research, capital projects, and maybe even how to be involved in student financial aid.

Now, I’ll tell you, I’ve been in higher education for 14 or 15 years at this point, and I’ve been a leader for the past six or so years. I’ve been a faculty director, where I lead a faculty team and I coach them on teaching excellence. I have never once in that position needed to have financial acumen. However, if I were in a different role, that would be the case and I would have budgets and I would need to do that.

The first thing to think about is: what kind of leadership position you might be looking at and what kind of degree of financial acumen would be required in that kind of position?

The Importance of Collaboration

The second point from Brian’s article is collaboration. Collaboration is critical. In higher education we have so many subject matter experts and people have varying experiences, backgrounds, and expertise. Collaborating with those people involved is going to really help your leadership to succeed. Learning how to collaborate now with peers is the best type of preparation.

Collaborating with stakeholders will also be critical in a leadership role, and as you collaborate across the institution with other schools, other departments, with your faculty, and with other people in the leadership team, collaboration skills will be critical for your success.

Focus on Building New Leaders

Building new leaders is the third skill mentioned, and building new leaders means that you continue to foster people in your organization who can continue to move up in leadership themselves.

When I first became a faculty director six or so years ago, I did not really envision doing that role. I was happy to teach and I was happy to do what I was doing, but someone else in a faculty director role kind of adopted me in a mentor fashion. That person called me and coached me on setting my sights high and developing more leadership and having a long-term objective.

Pretty soon I was very interested in working with a large team with helping other faculty members and with coaching them. Even if you’re not right now thinking about leadership, this is something that could be on the horizon for you. And thinking about how to build other people’s leadership potential would be a great way to think about a leadership role yourself.

Value of Communication

The fourth tip shared in the article is communication. Now, there are five steps to good communication listed here and I’m just going to read them to you:

  • start with what’s most important,
  • set expectations up front about what you need,
  • actively listen and take body language into account,
  • provide constructive and specific feedback, and
  • address concerns immediately, and if possible, in person.

Of course, when you’re working online, leading or teaching online, it’s very difficult to address problems in person, and sometimes we can’t really see anyone’s body language because we’re communicating by telephone. Or maybe we’re on a virtual conference and they’re not showing themselves on video.

There are a lot of things we need to adapt and plan around, but, overall, listening is one of the most important things we can ever do in good communication. Understanding that we don’t need all of the answers immediately and can go ahead and think about it, come back with good examples and good answers, those are going to be critical skills. To not feel overly pressured to say something right now, and to listen carefully and really connect with those people who are speaking you.

Creating a Strategic Plan

Skill number five is strategic planning. Now, strategic planning is a phrase that may sound like a very complex and challenging process. Basically, strategic planning means you’re using data and evidence to think about the present situation, review the past, and project into the future.

You might be making a timeline of steps, you might be setting goals for short term—six months, one year—all the way up to 10 years or 20 years down the road.

You’re going to consult some of the stakeholders like your faculty members, maybe you’ll talk to some students about their experience. You’ll also coordinate with other departments and create a plan for the future.

A lot of data is going to help you in this regard, so you want to learn how to read reports and data of various kinds and also ask about these things, especially if you’re currently in a teaching role but you’d like to gain more experience to advance further.

The kinds of data that people look at in online education, especially regarding student performance, might start with enrollment numbers and the demographics:

·     What type of students are interested in this program?

·     What is the composition of our faculty team?

·     Do we need more perspectives or diversity there?

·     We might look at drop and withdrawal data to determine how we can help our learners better succeed.

·     We can look at course and program outcomes.

There’s literally a hundred different things we can look at when we are strategic planning, and all of that data is going to influence your planning and help you work together with other people to create plans and lead your department and your programs and your students into success.

Develop Skills for Change Management

The sixth area suggested is the skills for change management. Now, change is a constant, especially today in online education. Things that used to work might totally be outdated and much more engagement is now needed.

Regardless of the institution you’re currently teaching with, change in higher education can be incredibly slow, but it can also come quickly and happen constantly over time. Basically, as in life, change is inevitable in pretty much any role you’re in. If you’re aware of good change management strategies, this is going to help you achieve change when you’re working with teams.

One of the most important things to think about when you are conducting some change management is to collaborate with the people involved to determine how it’s going to impact them, and to actually hear them. Listen to them. Let them have a voice. Ask for feedback from students, from faculty. And take them all into consideration when you’re making decisions.

The more you can do that, the better off you’re going to be when you’re planning the steps for strategic growth over time, and you’re going to have a better chance of communicating effectively when you’ve already primed the pump by talking to people and listening to them.

Be Committed to Diversity

The seventh skill is commitment to diversity. Now, committing to diversity not just talks about your student body and recruiting students from all different types of groups, but also your faculty. You want faculty that reflect the student body, but also reflect a lot of diversity that simply exists in the world.

You want lots of inputs, lots of backgrounds, lots of levels of expertise, various races, cultures, and genders. We want to include everyone who is qualified to be there and can share something of benefit to our students. We’re really going to get a lot of great perspective from diverse groups. This can be part of your hiring practices, it can be considered in terms of where you’re recruiting and also your long-term planning.

Feed Your Intellectual Curiosity

Then lastly, this is intellectual curiosity. Of course, a lot of us got into higher education because we love to learn, or maybe we had great learning experiences ourselves when we were in our younger educational years. Many of us can list several instructors we had that really made a difference in our lives.

If you’re intellectually curious, that’s a bonus. If you’ve stopped learning for a while and need to rekindle the flame, it doesn’t take much to really get your fire burning again. You could try a new discipline, take a class, learn something new, get into a study group, a book club. You could create a club with a student group, and that might even be more exciting because you’re helping the learners who are students right now continue to grow in your area.

Focus on Leadership Skill Development

Be thinking about how you might improve in your educational leadership skills, not just in these eight areas, but also in creative ways that appeal to you. You can develop the skills to become a great leader and thinking about continuing to be more of a leader in the future is always a good thing.

Now, I was at a workshop just recently called Cultivating Leaders: If You Build It, They Will Come. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn about how Stephanie Hinshaw, the Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs, and Natalie Pelham, the Senior Director of Training and Development, from the American College of Education, run some of their leadership preparation.

Some of the things that these ladies were sharing with us was that they have some very specific initiatives in their organization that intentionally grow future leaders. That way, faculty members who are interested in growth for the future, further development, and future leadership roles, have a chance to talk about leadership ideas, develop ideas, explore them, and consciously grow their leadership skills.

Consider Forming a Leadership Growth Book Club

One of the best things that they shared in their workshop, and one that I really liked, was this idea of having a book club. They had a book club that was focused on breaking away from the day-to-day normal teaching duties and committee work. It focused intentionally on growing the leadership practice. Putting time toward the book club, as a university, also gives the participants the idea that developing their leadership skills is very important.

The tone of the book club shared in this workshop was an open, inquisitive one, allowing people to answer questions about lessons learned in a book and apply it to their lives. And then they held it on a flexible basis. The advice given was that a quarterly book club works best and then you rotate the book as you go. This was a safe environment to discuss their leadership thoughts, lessons, concerns, and practice the ideas and be intentional about developing leadership as human beings, not just an afterthought.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m very familiar with the idea that some people believe leaders are born. That’s the older, archaic idea that I mentioned before of trait-based leadership. Of course, it helps if you have traits that naturally lead to leadership, but everyone can learn leadership skills.

There are so many ways to do this. In the book club method, you might consider some of these books recommended, Leaders Eat LastBring Your Human to WorkDare to LeadThe Leader You Want to BeGive and TakeExtreme OwnershipThe Culture CodeStart With Why, and Small Acts of Leadership.

In addition to this list that was shared by the team I attended their workshop for, I would add to that a book called Positive Academic Leadership. It has a lot of great ideas about how you can lead with a positive tone, even when times are difficult and we need to really dive into some troubling situations so we can still be optimistic at appropriate times and help motivate our team.

Develop a Mentoring Program

Another idea is to create mentors. Now, mentoring is a beneficial practice across an organization. In fact, it’s known that 71% of Fortune 500 companies offer employee mentoring programs and 76% of employees think mentors are important, but only 37% have one.

If you don’t have a mentor and you’re thinking you want to grow the leadership skills, find someone in your academic community who can serve as a mentor for you. And consider offering your services as a mentor to someone else younger in your field or less experienced.

The more we give our services to others, the more those come back to us. Really, as we build our leadership through one-on-one relationships and reciprocal mentorship and things like that, we’re going to have a lot more confidence. Of course we’re going to grow our skills, and best of all, we’re going to keep growing future leaders throughout the organization.

Now, you would never want to find yourself in a situation where a critical leader at your institution is no longer able to come to work and must immediately be replaced, but no one seems prepared to take that role. That does happen, believe it or not. Sometimes a person becomes seriously ill, someone might pass away, for some unforeseen reason someone resigns abruptly, or maybe there’s even an accident.

I’ve seen all of those things happen in organizations, but also in my faculty team. In my case, we merely just need to get a new instructor to finish teaching a course. But what if that is one of the leaders in your organization?

There’s someone that will need to step into that leadership role to keep it going. As we continue to nurture future leaders in higher education, we’ll have a lot more success with that, there’ll be a more positive energy because people continue to grow, and we ourselves will continue to think about our leadership skills all the time because we want to live what we expect others to learn.

Thank you for being with me today for thinking about cultivating leadership. I hope you’ll consider some of these ideas, and of course, check out the links in the transcript for this podcast to all of the books mentioned. And also the link to the original presentation that was shared for some additional ideas and strategies, and of course if you’d like to contact those presenters from the American College of Education.

I, myself, just want to attest to the fact that when we’re talking specifically about leadership, I personally am always thinking about growing my leadership, focusing on certain aspects, setting goals, rotating through them, and reflecting on my practice. I truly believe that the more we think about growing leaders and helping others along the way, the more we’re going to continue growing ourselves.

All right. Well, thank you again for being here. I wish you all the best in your online teaching this week and your leadership development over the next year to come.

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.

#29: How to Make the Most of an Online Conference

#29: How to Make the Most of an Online Conference

This content was first published on Online Learning Tips. 

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a major change in the way that instructors, ranging from elementary schools to colleges and universities, taught their classes. Out of necessity, many instructors adapted their classroom material for an online format, using tools such as Zoom and Google Classroom, and have used technology for additional purposes, such as meetings with other instructors and administrators.

Attending an online conference is a new experience for many teachers. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses the benefits of attending an online conference and tips to get the most out of it. Learn how to find professional events, strategies for attending sessions, how to engage and interact with presenters and attendees, and ways to network in a virtual setting.

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Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This is episode number 29, how to make the most of an online conference. 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.

Why Attend a Virtual Professional Conference?

You might be thinking, “What is an online conference?” An online conference is your typical professional development or industry conference that is presented virtually. Right now, during the time of the pandemic and many other things going on in the world, some of the things that normally would be live attended as conferences face-to-face are being rescheduled to online events.

I myself have attended several of these events. And so I’d like to talk today a little bit about how to make the most of your online conference attendance, how we can do it online, what we should do to prepare and how to maximize our attendance.

And one reason we go to professional conferences is to be part of our professional community. There are so many professional community conferences I have attended in the past. I’ve been to music educator conferences, online leader conferences, online educator conferenceshigher education leader conferences, and all kinds of things in between, as well as those in the tech field.

Because I teach primarily online and worked online for a long time, I have been very interested in various modalities, various platforms. And sometimes, I’ll go to Adobe conferences or other things like that. So there are a wide variety of conferences that you might consider attending as an online educator in your field, in online education itself or in industries.

When you attend an online conference, this might seem like an awkward experience, compared to your face-to-face events. At a face-to-face event you’re going to meet people, you’re going to get to know someone in the hallway, maybe have a brief conversation.

You might exchange a business card and follow up for future conversations. You attend a presentation, and you see that person face-to-face. They might make a real impression on you, and you might have a side conversation after they’re done presenting.

Or maybe you’re the presenter. And you see the people that you’re presenting to live in that room or auditorium, and you make real connections there as well.

There are, of course, those networking opportunities and the big speaker, some kind of keynote. Things like that really strike us and they come with us afterwards and stay part of our memory. They also become part of our long-term learning and growth. The question is, how can we do this effectively online?

Search for Upcoming Online Conferences and Register

Well, first I’d like to suggest looking around and seeing what is available online as a virtual conference. If you were to conduct a brief Eventbrite search, you would see there are a lot of virtual conferences already listed there that are in a variety of industries.

For example, there’s a Data Science go virtual, there’s a tech summit, there’s an AI and the Future of Work conference, there are things like Courageous Conversations About Raceschool anti-racist strategy. There’s the 2020 virtual One Health conferenceAPI World 2020TEDxMileHigh and so forth.

So there are a lot of different kinds of conferences you’ll find on Eventbrite, and you might also find a listing of virtual events or virtual conferences in your professional areas. If you attend normal, live face-to-face conferences, those same organizations might be having a virtual event this year, next year, and you can find that information on their website.

When you find out about a virtual event, some of these are free, some of these have a registration fee. Either way, you’ll want to register for the event. Once you register for the event, you’ll receive some kind of confirmation email.

Just like with a live event, you’ll want to take that confirmation email and save it, print it, or do something to note it so that you don’t lose it. Not all of these events are going to send you reminders or calendar invitations.

You might have to take the time to schedule it manually on your own calendar and also save the access information. So the first step would be to find the conference, register and then save the registration details.

Identify the Structure of the Online Conference, and Determine How You’ll Attend

Once you’ve done that, you’ll find that most online conferences have a similar variety of things that you’d find in live face-to-face conferences. For example, some of these are orchestrated on a complex platform that includes places for keynote presentations where there’s a video frame. Maybe there are captions, maybe there’s text or somewhere to interact with other participants, or even with the presenter.

There might be education sessions. Education sessions are the type of session where you might have 30 to 60 minutes, or maybe even longer, where a subject is presented in your area or some topic where it’s more lecture style. And there’s a presentation and then an opportunity for Q&A afterwards.

There might be hands-on workshops where you might have something you’re doing while you’re engaging in the conference and watching the presentation, and it’s interactive. There might even be networking and social events or other additions like yoga and morning exercise, virtual coffee breaks, virtual coffee hours, cocktail parties, social networking opportunities, and other areas for vendors or exhibits, just like you might have with a live conference having an exhibit hall or an exhibition space.

The activities in a virtual conference might actually take place in real time synchronously. And if that’s the case, you would want to put those dates and times for all the sessions you’re going to attend on your calendar and block out the day that you’re going to attend the conference.

Alternatively, a conference might have on-demand sessions. These would be asynchronous. And that means that you can watch them at any time so you can look them up during your free time, after work, or block out the day and attend them all at once.

Or you might find that a conference has some combination of those two options, real-time and on-demand sessions. Either way, you’re going to find a rich opportunity to learn and grow, be part of your professional community, network with others, and get a broader vision of what’s happening in your field and where you’d like to go with it in the future.

Once you’ve registered and you’ve looked over the information about your professional conference, you will find that some tips could serve you well when you attend this virtual conference. The first tip is to focus on your perception or attitude about the conference itself.

Adjust Your Perception of What You Can Get Out of the Conference

We have this sort of subconscious belief that an online or virtual conference just isn’t as good as the face-to-face experience. That doesn’t necessarily have to be true. In fact, in some ways, that conference might be even more effective as you sit without the distractions of the environment and simply tune in to the content itself.

So an online session can be done very well. And of course, just like in a live conference setting, you might also have the session done poorly. It depends on the presenter, the topic, and how things have been organized. However, if you really approach this with your best attitude of getting something out of it, it’s going to just heighten that experience for you and make it a more positive one.

Schedule Time on Your Calendar to Attend Live Sessions

Secondly, calendaring and making this calendar a priority just as if you were attending live is critical to really engaging in that conference. In my own experience recently, I registered for one conference. I received the confirmation email. I got the login information. I did log in and watch one session at that conference. It was a free conference. I wasn’t really highly motivated to engage any further and I missed all the rest of the sessions, and I tried to do work when I should have been at the conference and I really just missed out.

So limiting distractions starts by putting those sessions on your calendar and blocking out your calendar, so that your time doesn’t become scheduled to do other things. Then when you cut your distractions out, you might even close your email, you might turn off the notifications on your cell phone and just really act like you’re just attending a conference, really focusing on the conference experience itself. When you do that for yourself, you’re going to get a lot more out of the experience.

If there’s an option to buy partial or full access to the conference, I highly recommend buying the full access, even though it is virtual, because you’re going to get a lot of background material, additional information and all that good stuff that’s going to make it a better experience for you.

If you need help turning off your distractions when you’re connected to the conference itself, you might consider putting up a Do Not Disturb. If you have something like Skype Business that tells whether you’re online or if you’re in Slack, you can use Focus Assist on your computer. This will stop the notifications that pop up on your screen. You can use an out-of-office responder for your email. You can also turn on Do Not Disturb on a cell phone.

Interact and Engage During the Online Conference to Cement Your Learning

And then when you’re in the conference itself, there should be at least some way to interact. If it’s like some of the online conferences I’ve investigated recently, there might be a platform where chat can happen. You can also post to Twitter and different places about different things you’re learning at the conference.

The more you interact, the more you’re going to really get something out of that experience. So use the interactive features that might be present in the conference platform. There might be the opportunity to raise your hand and ask a question, or a session might include a poll or some other kind of engagement opportunity with the session.

The more you actually participate in those things, the more you’re going to get out of it, and you’re going to be thinking about whatever is being presented. Especially if this is a topic of interest to you, engaging is worthwhile and it cements your learning.

It goes with that idea that neurons that fire together, wire together. As you’re thinking about the concepts that are being presented or shared, if you’re engaging and interacting at the same time, it’s going to help you form better connections in the brain and remember the experience.

Take Notes During Sessions for Later Reflection

Another thing I would recommend for a virtual conference is to take notes and review them and reflect afterwards. Not sure how you are at conferences normally, but my conference attention span is somewhat limited.

When I attend a few sessions that are of interest to me, I find that I need to slow down, take some breaks and review my notes and summarize what I got out of that. If I don’t do that, I end up with information overload. Too much information, too many details, and it starts to all blur together and become lost.

At the end of each day at a virtual conference, just like you might at a live conference, take a break, review your notes, think about what you gained that day, what insights you might have and how you might use that information. Any kind of thought and reflection you put into what your experience has been is going to really take it that much further for you in attending this virtual conference.

Network during the Virtual Conference to Grow Your Community

Another idea is to network at the virtual conference. Now a lot of people like to go to these conferences to meet people, to make new professional connections, and also get to know people that are in the field that they’re studying.

You can network in whatever kind of social media chatter might be going on at the conference. For example, if there are certain conference hashtags happening on Twitter and you want to post and engage, you can see what others are posting and also get more takeaways that you might’ve missed.

There’s often, as I mentioned, the chat feature in many webinars or presentations, and if you’re engaged in that chat, you’re going to be able to get to know what others are thinking, share your thoughts, and even react in real time with additional questions, comments, and things of that nature.

If you find that you really connect with other participants, you might even decide to invite them on LinkedIn to your community to pursue additional professional connections after the conference. I’ve met a few people in various online education chat areas where we’re at a webinar together and we’re all talking about the same thing, or maybe I’m at a coaching conference and we’re meeting each other and we want to follow up on some ideas we shared.

That has really surprised me, personally, and I hope it would be a pleasant addition to your virtual conference experience. Engage in the networking opportunities and grow your network.

Schedule Time to Watch Virtual Conference Sessions You Missed in a Timely Manner

Another thing that you can do at a virtual conference is you can also watch the replays of different sessions that you missed. Most of these events actually record their sessions and they’ll share that recorded material, but it’s best to schedule time on your calendar when you plan to watch those recordings so that you don’t just set it aside and never get back to it. And then get back to it in a pretty decent timeframe.

If you attended that conference this week and you wait five months to watch the replay, it’s often out of sight, out of mind, and we’ve forgotten completely about it. So if you put it on your calendar next week or the week after and follow up on any sessions you still wanted to watch, this is going to help you keep all that learning together and understand your takeaways better, and also apply it in whatever area that you’d like.

Attend After-Conference Social Events or Activities for More Connections

Lastly, some of these virtual conferences have interesting additional things like concert nights or virtual trivia, a game night, or virtual happy hour. It might be in Zoom, Google Meet or some kind of breakout room.

It’s an interesting opportunity to engage in those additional things you might be part of at a real conference, and so I highly recommend finding out what those additional things are to help you feel like you’re really at an event and engage with other people and feel the impact on your professional growth and your social abilities as well.

Dress Professionally to Improve Your Experience

Many people recommend that while you’re attending a virtual conference, that you dress as if you were attending that conference live. When you put on your professional attire, it can add to your focus and give you a better sense that you are doing something significant. And it will also help when you’re on Zoom if you should end up in a chat with other people and be on video so that you feel confident and look professional, too.

Overall, the online virtual conference option is a new trend this year, and I’m personally very happy to see it because there are a few events we can attend during the pandemic. So opportunities to go to teaching conferences, professional conferences in my field of music education, and also coaching conferences, these have all been really great opportunities for me, personally. And I hope you’ll check out the options that are available to you in your field as well.

Again, these are great chances to be part of your professional community, to disconnect from the daily routine that you have, to network with others, and have a bigger vision of what’s going on in your field, as well as learning and growing. It’s what keeps the passion alive and helps us to stay interested in our day-to-day work. All the best to you in your online teaching this week and your exploration of virtual conferences.

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.