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Helping Educators Thrive while Teaching Online, so They Can Help Students Develop Their Potentials and Promote Resilience and Lifelong Learning in Their Communities

Dr. Bethanie Hansen 

Strategic Educational Leader and Coach

#106: Mapping the Learner Journey to Enhance Curriculum

#106: Mapping the Learner Journey to Enhance Curriculum

This content initially appeared at APUEdge.com.

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

Understanding the students’ experience from beginning to end can help educators enhance curriculum and help students be successful. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides steps to map a learner journey including understanding students, designing pathways, mapping the skills gap and establishing a clear goal.

Listen to the Episode:

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Read the Transcript:

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

Welcome to the podcast. As an online educator, you are probably already familiar with the concept of curriculum design. Even though we might all plan our courses differently, there are a few main ideas that make up the final result of course curriculum.

The curriculum is the sum total of the subjects taught and the student’s experiences in the learning process. It can refer to the readings, any other resources, videos, lectures, podcasts, and other content, in terms of the material that will be used in the class. But much more than that, curriculum considers the idea that students will work with new information, gain knowledge and skills, and have knowledge and mastery of that by the end of the class.

Well, today, we’re going to take a new look at curriculum from the marketing perspective. And this means that we’re going to think about the learner’s journey, or we might even describe this as creating an experience map for the student’s experience. And right from the beginning of this description, I love where we’re going with this idea, because the transformative nature of education is like a living and breathing entity—not just a list of topics in a textbook.

What is the Customer Journey?

Just to give you a little more awareness of the marketing perspective I mentioned a moment ago, I want to tell you about a marketing idea called the customer journey. Let’s say that you sell skateboards, and you would like to attract new customers to sell your skateboards. If no one sees your skateboard shop, and they have never heard of you, you have to begin somewhere.

And in the example I’m using here of selling your flashy new skateboards, you will need to begin first with the awareness stage of the customer journey. Before anyone will buy from you, they need to know you exist. That you sell skateboards. And what that’s about. And unless they are already in the market to buy a skateboard, you will need to create awareness over time to help them learn that you sell skateboards, and the awareness that they NEED to buy their next skateboard from you.

And in this particular customer journey, someone who isn’t ready to buy a skateboard could be exposed to your business as a friendly part of the neighborhood. Or as one that gives back to the kids in that neighborhood by reinvesting your profits into the community. Or something like that. Along with this awareness stage of the journey, you can consciously cultivate your brand and your reputation to build a relationship with customers on the general level that helps them get to know you and establishes trust.

The next part of a customer journey might be the offer of education. Perhaps your skateboard shop offers safety tips or something for after-school skate park activities. Or personal safety programming for children taking the skateboard to school. All kinds of free educational materials will provide value to your potential customer who is on this journey with you.

Along the way, you might have a few specific campaigns that connect with your customer. These could be phone calls, emails, flyers in the mail, or other ways in which you contact them to share upcoming events and information.

Eventually, your customer journey is going to include an invitation to purchase the skateboard and the ongoing relationship when working with your parts and repairs department. Or, if the customer never buys, the customer journey will be shorter, and it will end at some point.

One of the reasons marketing campaigns think about customer journeys and customer experiences is that they want to see their customers from within the experience of that individual customer. What does this person actually experience from the first contact with your company all the way through to the purchase and the use of your product? And even beyond that?

Mapping the Learner’s Journey

Back to your curriculum. Mapping the learner journey is a similar concept. What does this person who will take your class next session experience? From the first moment that person became aware that the course was available to them and through the decision they made to enroll in the course, all the way through the moment when the final course grade is posted, and even to the day the diploma is handed out, this student might be on a very specific journey with your curriculum and the class you teach.

What I’m going to share in today’s breakdown of the learner journey concept comes from an article in E-Learning Industry written by Helen Gray in January of 2021.

Step 1: Understand Your Audience

First, consider the students who will take your class, and the objective facts or observations you can learn about them. Gray calls this “your audience.”

When you know who is taking your class, then you are in a much better position to design learning experiences that will help them get started and begin learning right away. Remember, this first step is only descriptive. We’re not planning anything yet.

Here are some questions you might ask about your students to give you clarity about the learning journey:

What are your students hoping to achieve?

What are their goals?

Where are your students coming from in their lives, their work, and experiences when they take your class?

What challenges, limitations, or barriers do your students have?

What level of technical expertise do your students bring into the course?

Although not every student is the same, you will notice some trends in your student population. For example, you might have a lot of younger people taking the class who are new to college. Or maybe you have a lot of older adult learners with some life and work experience to bring in. As you answer these questions about your students, you will get a sense of who they are and begin understanding the starting point of the learner journey.

Step 2: Design Pathways to Help Students Achieve Their Goals

Second, with a clear picture of the people who take your class or enroll in your program, consider what you really need to do to design pathways from their starting point to the goal. This might sound simple, but it could end up both creative and complex.

For example, I once interviewed an educator who mentioned that she had integrated some competency-based teaching practices into her classroom. I got curious and learned that she offered students the opportunity to pre-test any chapter content before the learning experiences began. And any student who demonstrated mastery of the content was not asked to complete the typical learning experiences she had designed.

This makes sense, because if we consider that those learning experiences were created to teach the content itself, then the students who have already mastered it would have a redundant experience. We would even get inflated grades at the end demonstrating that students learned very well, when in fact they already knew the material in the first place.

With this in mind, the educator had an alternative pathway for students who demonstrated mastery on those pre-tests. They engaged in projects and applied learning experiences at a completely different level designed to integrate concepts into the course, rather than teaching ideas for the first time.

Basically, there was a standard pathway and an enriched or advanced pathway in the course, and this was flexible but accessible to all students.

Perhaps this gives you an idea of what you might do in your own subject matter, your own program, or your class. Knowing your students and their needs, objectives, and challenges, you can decide whether they all need one single learning pathway, or whether you might offer other pathways that consider pre-existing knowledge, career experience, interests, or other aspects? At the simplest level, Gray suggests we consider basic, intermediate, and advanced.

Step 3: Map Your Skills Gaps

Third, map your skills gaps. You started out by getting to know your students and where they are when taking your class. And you identified whether more than one path is needed to teach them in the class, and now you’re in search of anything they will need intentional support to learn or accomplish. It’s time to dig deeper.

Digging deeper means you are going to consider what experience they might bring with them into the course. If they might have work experience, could it be relevant to the class? What kinds of challenges do your learners face coming into the course that already put them at a disadvantage? And, knowing this, what can you do to help them navigate in the first week or more to gain confidence?

Your course and the content that you will teach could be introductory, and your students first need a bit of context to relate to the subject. In a course I wrote many years ago about digital information literacy, I used a metaphor of baking bread to illustrate a concept in one of the lessons. Something that is generally familiar with your students can become that introduction to bring them from where they are starting out to where they need to be in order to dig into the experiences you are giving them.

On the other hand, maybe it isn’t just the subject matter. Instead, it might be the technology. Let’s say that you want your students to create a PowerPoint presentation as part of a project because in their chosen degree area, they are likely to pursue career options where they have to give a lot of presentations. You know that the university provides the Microsoft Office suite to all students, and you want to help them get started on the right foot. What experience does your typical student have coming into your class? And what kind of learning experience might you design in their journey to explore this area?

This might be a workshop on using PowerPoint. For example, if you have a lot of adult learners who are coming into college for the first time, depending on their professional backgrounds, they might need support using a specific program. With this skills gap in mind, you can dig deeper into your students’ needs before planning the experiences to get them where they want to go, and where they need to go.

Thinking only about your subject matter, it might be easy to find some of your student’s barriers or challenges to learning. In marketing, we call these “pain points.” For your skateboard business, one of the pain points is going to be the price of new bearings and wheels. Or maybe it’s the worry that a child’s mother has about their possible bruises and scrapes from falling off the skateboard. There will be many.

For our students, and your students, the pain points could be very different. Map your skills gaps between where students are coming into the class and where they need to be when they have mastered the curriculum at the end of their learning journey. This mapping will help you decide what experiences they will need in their learning, but also whether it can be accomplished in one class alone. You can use this to check back on your pathways, to make sure that whether students move along one or multiple learning pathways they still have the opportunity to build needed skills along the way.

Step 4: Get Clear on Your Goal

This means that if you are setting out to teach people how to make soup, by the end of the class, you’ll all be looking into a big pot of soup. Talk about learning activities along the way with the vision of the end-result in mind. This will help you design these smaller experiences that move from basic awareness into learning, committing, engaging with the topic, and digesting it when the soup is finally made.

If you are clear on your goal with students and help them be clear about it too, you become a guide in the student’s learning journey helping them navigate through it together. This approach builds confidence for everyone and promotes cognitive presence.

Step 5: Create a Seamless Experience

This part of the learner journey means that we consider everything that our students will do along the pathway to the main goal as part of that journey. These are not separate, disjointed elements. Thinking about a seamless experience provides a nice visualization of keeping the experience within a theme, rather than a series of discussions and quizzes.

Perhaps our students enter the class with an awareness activity in the subject matter. Then, they are guided by video to learn about what a practitioner in the field might do every day. And the next thing they know, they are using the same tool, checklist, or other methods a practitioner might use in their work, and this is a formative check for evaluation purposes on the way to the bigger product.

Ultimately, when thinking about learner journeys or maps, we are taking on the perception of what our students experience before, during, and after the classroom. And we create a whole new set of possibilities in designing curriculum learning experiences through doing this.

And our learners will begin to learn better than they have before. From within the content, instead of as an outsider observing from afar. This is an exciting and new adventure—designing learner journeys. I hope you’ll start out on this trail to give it a try. And I wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week.

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

#99: Student Affairs in Online Education: Creating Opportunities for Interaction

#99: Student Affairs in Online Education: Creating Opportunities for Interaction

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education and
Dr. Jan SpencerDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education and
Dr. Scott Kalicki, Faculty Member, American Public University

Providing guidance and assistance to students during their online academic journey is very different than in traditional, on-ground educational experiences. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen is joined by Dr. Jan Spencer and Dr. Scott Kalicki to discuss student affairs in online education. Learn why it’s so important for faculty to reach out to students and create more opportunities for interaction so there’s a dynamic and flexible educational experience. Also learn the value of mentorship, the importance of reflection, and more.

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
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Read the Transcript:

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

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. I’m so excited about this episode. This is episode number 99. Can you believe it? We’ve been sharing online teaching tips, strategies and ideas with you for 99 episodes. So this is a special day, we have a couple of guests with us. I have Dr. Jan Spencer from American Public University. I know you’ve met him a couple of times in our podcasts. I’m going to let Jan introduce our guest, Dr. Scott Kalicki. Go ahead, Jan.

[Podcast: Helping Educational Leaders Build Skills in Administration, Student Affairs, and Online Education]

Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you so very much, Bethanie. It is a pleasure and a great treat to be on the podcast with you, and today especially with Dr. Scott Kalicki, who is one of our professors in the higher education area, particularly as it has to do with student affairs.

When we brought Scott on, when he came to our university a couple years ago, it was as a student affairs professional, but because of his higher education experience, he teaches also higher education administration and one of the reasons for that is, when he retired, it was from being a community college president. So I want to introduce my colleague, Dr. Scott Kalicki. Scott, tell us about yourself and some other facts that we would like to know that would help us get to know you.

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Great, Jan, it’s nice to be here with you and Bethanie. I’ve had the privilege of being a career higher educational professional, literally starting my career as I left the University of Hartford and never looked back, trying to be a jack of all trades, probably a master of none, but enjoying a long career path in higher education as an administrator. Along the way, I was able to begin to teach. I learned about American Public University and you were kind enough to bring me on board as a graduate faculty member.

Dr. Jan Spencer: That has been a real treat to have you because of your experience. One of the things I know about you is that when you retired from higher education in a full-time role, it was as a community college president. Please tell us a little bit about your trajectory to that role and the significance it applies to you in working with students today.

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Sure, Jan. I was fortunate enough to have a number of good mentors as I began my career. I actually began my career as a residence hall director. I was challenged to learn about as much as I could in the profession, which meant learning about housing, student activities, wellness, public safety, athletics, everything. And I simply took a career path that allowed me to move from being an assistant dean to an associate dean to a vice president along the way, as I mentioned, learning about a number of the different offices in the division of student affairs.

When I became the chief student affairs officer as a dean of students and then chief student affairs officer later with the title of vice president, I was challenged to not stop there, but given my well-rounded background to lead an institution, and an opportunity presented itself in New Hampshire, and I became interim president. The Community College had a failed search, they asked me to step in and be an interim. It was so much fun for me and I guess good enough for them that they invited me to stay as the full-time president and I did that for six years.

Dr. Jan Spencer: That is great. That brings a lot of different kinds of circumstances of experience to our students who you teach. Talk to us a little bit about the difference between working with students in an on-ground circumstance and now that you work online. What is different about student affairs that you can identify as being significant to what you’re up to now?

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Sure. When we’re on a traditional campus, we always play with the model that says there are very few hours in the context of an entire week that a student is in the classroom. When you do the subtraction, we say about 80 hours a week a student is not in class, not sleeping, not eating, which means it’s the student services staff that are around supporting a student that has that level of contact to have interaction. On a traditional campus, we see students all the time, whether it be in a dining center, an athletic field, a student center, whatever.

The challenge on the online environment is, we see a student and interact. When they’re in class, we have to be much more intentional finding opportunities that we can connect with the student because literally they’re not walking by or we’re not in the same physical space.

So we need to create virtual opportunities that we can interact with the students in the classroom, but more importantly, outside of the classroom, where it’s oftentimes more comfortable to have casual conversations, perhaps more intimate conversations in terms of the coursework, someone’s career, putting together the dynamics of a career and a personal life.

Dr. Jan Spencer: It sounds to me from what you’re saying that online development of relationships with students, you use the word intentional, it takes some thought and forethought about doing that. I know one of the things that we always want to see take place is a development of those relationships and even establish a culture, a graduate kind of a culture.

Can you speak more to this issue of moving from face to face to an online space and what you personally have done to make that happen at a higher degree than simply students showing up online, completing their work, and then disappearing? What specifically would you recommend and how are you dealing with that?

Dr. Scott Kalicki: I think, Jan, one of the things that is key, I should say, to making sure that students want to seize intentional opportunities is making sure that we are truly telling students that we want to be engaged with them, that there is no, as the cliché goes, no dumb question except for the one not asked.

So early on in the classroom setting, and I know that you often emphasize this with reminders to us, to reach out to the students, to be present, to invite them to ask questions, to go beyond the conversation that may be taking place on a given topic in a given week.

I think the more presence we have, the more, dare I say, friendly and approachable demeanor that we establish in the classroom, the more it’s inviting for a student to want to get in conversations a little bit beyond the general conversation, to gain and take advantage of opportunities that the learning platform allows us.

There’s a student lounge, to encourage students to chat in the student lounge, to chat offline in other opportunities, whether it be clubs or organizations that are virtually set up. Or, I know that APU has mentorship opportunities and that’s another great way for students to engage with very talented faculty members beyond the classroom, sometimes better as a fit doing it one on one than in a classroom setting.

Dr. Jan Spencer: One of the things that your experience gives to me is a sense about a whole journey that online education has been on because you’ve been involved with online education for a period of time, a good period of time now, and before that it was on-ground education. So now you have seen the change-over from only on-ground to now online as well. What significant changes are you still seeing in this current emphasis on online education that you, as a professor, you as an administrator, you as a faculty member, have to deal with to make things work?

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Well, I think one of the obvious things Jan is when you’re in student affairs, we know on a traditional campus that though many offices operate 9 to 5, student affairs simply does not work that way, that we need to be available for students in non-traditional times and non-traditional locations. I think part of that challenge also exists in the online environment. Many of the online environments are asynchronous so we have to make sure that we are available and present at times when students are looking to have more immediate feedback.

We need to be conscious of logging in and being in the classroom so the responses are a little bit more timely when a student is in fact engaged in the learning platform. It’s a much more dynamic experience if we are also present at that same time. So, I think as an online instructor, we need to think about not getting ourselves stuck in a set schedule, if at all possible, to be around at times that the students are more likely to be locked in, focusing on the class or focusing on the topic or have that available time to chat more close to I’ll call it real-time or live time.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you very much. I want to make sure that we give our hostess an opportunity to speak into this process because in working with Bethanie, she has got a very active part in all of what we’re doing at APU. So I want to give it over to you, Bethanie.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thank you, Jan. Scott, you were talking about something just near and dear to my heart, which is this whole responsiveness idea and not being just scripted about that. One of the things I have coached online faculty about in the past is to figure out how to be responsive and yet not exhaust themselves. If a person is responding to their messages all the time, then they’re never away from the online classroom. How do you think someone could balance that and still really meet the students’ needs?

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Sure. In any profession, but certainly higher education, in student affairs, we’re never off. We’re always on because we’re trying to provide support services for students. We’re trying to help them develop as young adults or maturing adults. I think we need to model the way for them, that they’ve got to have a good professional balance, a good personal balance. To your point, for them to be on all the time means that they’re not taking the personal time to reflect, to process the material, to let it sink in a little bit.

That often requires stepping away from the course or stepping away from the learning platform, stepping away from the students. But, at the same time, as you said, it’s a balance. I don’t want you to simply log in for your one hour a day or an hour and a half a day. You’re not taking advantage of all the opportunities to engage with your fellow students, as well as with the instructor.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wonderful thoughts. Thank you, Scott. Varying that, as you mentioned, seems like it would keep your job fresh, too. So you don’t feel like you always have to be on at the same time, could kind of change it up. I’m curious, what kind of perspective did you gain from being a university president that would really give insight to the daily faculty experience?

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Probably the best thing that I learned coming up and finding mentors or them finding me was to take the approach that to be an effective leader, one has to remember what it was like to be the subordinate. To be an effective teacher, one must always be willing to be the student.

So as I was a community college president or a CEO, there was a lot that I thought I knew, but there was an awful lot that I didn’t know. And it needed to really be a learning experience for me that though I could offer a lot as an administrator with a lot of experience and as a leader, I needed to be a good student and I needed to listen. I needed to have an open mind.

I think as we go into the classroom, there’s a new generation of higher education professionals coming in with new perspectives that we haven’t experienced. It’s important for us to listen to those experiences, listen to those perspectives and shape what we know, given our experience and our knowledge with that, and to make it a good, healthy experience for the students, and at the same time, realize that higher education continues to evolve because of the students coming in and because of the world around us. We only need to look at the last two years to see how we’ve needed to change the way that we’ve approached higher education simply because of a pandemic.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wow. Truer words were never said. Thank you so much, Scott. Jan, do you have a few more questions for our guest?

Dr. Jan Spencer: Yes. I have talked with Scott in meetings and personally about student affairs and the role of it in an online environment. Scott, you’ve gone to a good distance of describing some of the differences there. I want to talk about value because even though the online student affairs approach is more flexible in terms of time management and input into students’ lives, at the on-ground space where you’re like 9 to 5, or other hours similar to that, there still could be perceived a greater intensity of help.

Here at APU, we have student services, we have mentorship that we’re developing, different kinds of approaches, but it’s not specifically one kind of student affairs. So I ask you, what is the value of getting a student affairs degree in today’s market?

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Sure. Well, first thing, Jan, as we know, the world is getting more complex for students. It’s not getting easier. It’s getting more complex. Student services does two important things. We provide the support services for students to excel in the classroom, services, whether it be career services, advising, creating a supportive, safe environment for a student to study, to have access to offices and personnel on a given campus. We’re also educators. As I call it, we have more opportunities, I said before, 80 hours a week to capture an educational moment with our students.

So student affairs personnel, because of all the opportunities for interaction, really have more than a faculty member in the classroom to be educators because we have moments that others do not. So for me, that’s the real value added. If you believe in higher education and want to have an impact on those individuals trying to develop their careers and hopefully careers in higher education or student affairs, we’ve got more of those opportunities than anyone else.

The other thing that student affairs really does is we really have an opportunity to build a broad skillset. We’re advisors, we’re counselors, we’re budget managers, we’re personnel managers. There are so many things that we do that prepare us to move in and out of different departments, different areas that really allow us to go into any number of trajectories. If I look back on my career and why I was able to move up the ladder, hopefully successfully, it was because I was able to get involved in so many different things, I was not limited to just being an academic advisor or I wasn’t limited to just being a counselor.

There were so many things that I could do because they were available in the division of student affairs, through committee work, through working with colleagues, through connecting with individuals who could be mentors for us to simply describe different roles and different functions in student affairs.

So, I think that’s really the value-added that there’s truly an opportunity to be an educator and you get such a great depth of skill development that it really allows you to go into so many different directions in higher education, but again, transferable skills outside of education.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Scott, I really appreciate your responsiveness to these questions. I want to ask you for a summary answer and I’m going to throw kind of a curve ball at you just a little bit. You teach in student affairs here at APU and so you are developing these student affairs professionals in the classroom.

Given the fact that we are wanting to raise up people who understand student affairs and apply it in any kind of a context, you are encountering people who are already interested in being a resource for others, already interested, in most cases, of helping other students through the process.

So how do you keep students on track if you see there’s a variance taking place? What is it you do to reinforce the values of student affairs, the importance of student affairs, to keep students going forward, to keep them on track, help them achieve the goal of completing your class in an effective and successful way?

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Boy, that’s a good question, Jan. Well, the first thing is to make sure that we’re engaging the students, we’re making the process an exciting one, that they’re eager to learn, they want to stay engaged. They themselves see the value added because we’re treating them as a valued asset.

One of the things that I like about APU is that the faculty treat the students as though they are colleagues. Now, colleagues in the context that they bring to us, as graduate students, a rich background and rich experience and we want them to feel comfortable sharing their perspective, sharing what their interests are.

I think that does a lot to help motivate the student. I think in some ways, you’re suggesting and I think you’re right, that we need to be motivators and coaches to remind students about how important our work is, and to think back on who may have helped them, it could have been a family member, or it could have been a colleague, it could have been an earlier instructor that inspired them and kept them going, that, in fact, they have the opportunity to do the same and it is truly an honor and a privilege to work with students in that capacity.

So, I think we’ve got to pump them up and let them know that A, we value them as students, B, we value them as the next generation and C that we truly need them. I need somebody to stand on my shoulders and be the next person to build the profession and meet the needs of our students at a level greater than I ever did. So, I think as we talk about that, we get students excited to keep going.

[Podcast: Student Affairs: Teaching Skills in Mental Health and DEI]

At the same time, we’ve got to make sure that, as Bethanie was talking about, we walk the talk, so to speak, that there’s a time to be a student and to be engaged and at the same time they need to do it in a healthy way that they take good breaks, keep their enrollment continuous, I think that’s always important, but at the same time, find time to enjoy life, find time to enjoy their classmates, take time to go over and reflect on what’s going on and have that good healthy student work-family life balance. I think we’ve got to keep reminding folks about that because, as I said earlier, it’s a complex world and it gets out of balance when we get out of balance with it.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Scott, I love all that you have said so far, and especially this comment you just made about how it’s motivating for students to be seen, treated as equals and to have faculty who approach the experience as fellow learners. That’s a difficult mindset to adopt for some of us who teach.

Sometimes when you have a lot of experience or advanced degrees, it’s hard to remember that we’re all still learning, even if we’re at that terminal-degree space. I’m wondering, if you were to give someone a little piece of advice about how to stay in that ontological humility idea, where we’re never going to be an expert on everything, what would be a little bit of advice to kind of get back into that zone or begin living in that space?

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Again, for someone to be a successful leader, they need to be humble. Someone’s only a leader if they have followers. So they have to be humble and say, “What do I need to do to get you to give in essence the power that you possess to follow me?” I do that by remembering what it was like to be in your shoes, to be the person who had to take direction or to be so instructed, to be so guided.

If I can remember what it was like to be in those shoes, I’m going to be much more successful. I want to carry that over to what I had said earlier. I think to truly be a good teacher or instructor, we have to be open and committed to always being students, that all around us, there are opportunities to learn. As I said earlier, we can learn from our students if we are simply open-minded and if we demonstrate that we in fact are learning from them. It’s going to make the students feel more valued and it’s a reward to them and I think it’s a motivation.

So, remembering that I can be successful as an instructor if I am truly a lifetime student and so committed to being a lifetime student, that’s going to come across to my students that they’ll want to be the same and do the same and everyone will be a little bit more successful as a result.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Beautiful advice, Scott. Thank you so much. One other thing you’ve mentioned a couple of times throughout this interview that we’re having today, I’d like to just draw this out a little bit, because I personally believe highly in this idea and you’ve mentioned take time to reflect. You’ve said it a couple of times. I’m curious if there’s any helpful way to do that if someone does not have reflective practice or a habit of reflecting on what they’re doing? Where would one start?

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Well, that’s a good question. I can tell you, one of the things that I do in my classroom, “I post in my forum, what’s your weekly ‘aha moment,’ what’s something that jumped out at you in the material that we’re engaged with, whether it be a conversation or something that happened in your life that you can connect with what we’re talking about generally, in terms of the topic or about life in general?”

I think it’s important for us to say to students that it’s one thing—and I think this goes back to student affairs in terms of how we’re educators—there’s one thing to have that book knowledge or that online knowledge. It’s important that you let it sink in. You process it. You take that knowledge and try to integrate it into your life.

I think that’s what student affairs has the opportunity to do that you may be learning about some management principles or you may be learning about some budgeting principles or interpersonal dynamic principles. Give yourself opportunities to try what you’ve read, what you’ve learned, what you’ve heard in your work world, in your personal life, in your family life. One of the ways you simply do that is just hit the pause button and try to make the those connections.

All right, I heard Jan say this was really important. Let me think about how that may be useful to me in my world, or how would that apply to me in my world. So, it’s a challenge of telling and reminding students that you’ve got to find time to let the information percolate a little bit in your connection from theory to practice, or as we say, praxis, that you take the opportunity and the time to take the principles and to really apply them. Sometimes we do it in our mind. Sometimes we actually do it with our actions in work or in our actions with the family. But that’s a good challenge. I’m not sure that we emphasize that as much as we should.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: You might be right about that. Something that occurred to me when you made that suggestion about how to take time or begin reflecting more is that this is really something that fuels resilience for human beings, right? The world we’re living in today, there’s nothing more important than resilience, the ability to just pick up and keep going when things are hard. They may not feel like they’re going to get better in the future, but we have to have some way to keep going.

That idea of reflecting could involve something like deciding either what I gained from an experience or what I could learn from an experience, or if that experience had been specifically designed for me to learn something, what would that be, so I can try to figure that out and move on and not keep repeating that lesson over and over.

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Bethanie, if I could jump in, I think you’re making another good point in terms of the value of reflection. There are things that we go through. In the classroom we may have had a struggle understanding something, or we may have had an exchange.

Reflection also allows us to bring closure to something and then move on to the next thing. Maybe we’re building on top of it, or maybe we’re just saying, “Okay, that was a struggle for me. Or it was an experience that I’m not sure that I want to go through again. It’s time to let go of it.”

The way that I’m able to let go of it is processing it, putting in its good place, closing the lid on it and moving on. I think, given the challenges that we’ve been facing these last number of months, I think that’s equally of value to extract what we can out of it, but at the same time, it’s time to close it and move on. Don’t let it haunt us. Don’t keep, as I call it, pulling out that DVD and replaying it. You’re done with it. Move on.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Absolutely. I love that idea of “Don’t replay it.” Just kind of name it, think about it and close it off. Whether there’s a lesson there or not, if we can close the experience and just be done. Sometimes that’s also resilience. Beautifully said, Scott. Thank you. So, if you were going to leave our listeners today with some key points you’d really like to make sure that they have gotten from you and your experience and expertise, what would those be?

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Well, I have to give a plug for APU. The faculty members that I have met really are committed to the student and the student learning experience. I would encourage students not to hold back, to challenge, to question, to want to get in dialogue with their instructors as well as their classmates. There’s a great opportunity there. That’s one of the good things, I think we’re getting more comfortable with the online environment and that dynamic and taking advantage of it.

We’ve mentioned the term “mentorship” a couple of times. I think whether it be your instructor, or whether it be an administrator that you met, a student personnel, student affairs staff member, find people that you can make a connection with, someone who can advise you, who can be a confidant, someone you could bounce something off of, someone you could test an idea or simply ask for some guidance. I was originally a public administration major, and, unfortunately, I did my internship very late in my academic career.

I had individuals I didn’t know at the time that they were going to be mentors, that I could talk to, that actually steered me into a career that I knew nothing about called student affairs in higher education, I would’ve been a very dissatisfied public employee someplace working for a town or a county. So, I could speak firsthand the importance of recognizing people that we could use as mentors either for a period of time or for long periods of time in our life. So, those would be the two points that I would hope that I could share with students going forward or young professionals I should say going forward.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Fantastic. Thank you so much, Scott.

Dr. Scott Kalicki: My pleasure.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Jan, what about you? Any final comments for our listeners today?

Dr. Jan Spencer: Well, I guess my comment today would be Dr. Scott Kalicki represents the best in teaching and leading and influencing students and fellow faculty members, and me, too, in taking the right steps forward. I hope that anybody who’s listening to this will take to heart the wealth and the depth of expertise that Scott has offered us today.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wonderful. Well, thank you all for being here, Jan and Scott. We’ve been listening to Dr. Scott Kalicki and Dr. Jan Spencer talking about student affairs and a lot of topics to help all of our listeners in mentorship, reflection, reflective practice, online teaching, engagement and more. We thank you for being here, celebrating our 99th episode with us. We wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week.

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

#97: Tips on Teaching Writing: From Essay Maps to Critiquing

#97: Tips on Teaching Writing: From Essay Maps to Critiquing

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education and
Dr. Jaclyn Fowler, Department Chair,  English and Literature

Being an effective writer is a foundational skill but teaching students how to write can be both challenging and overwhelming for educators. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks to author and educator, Dr. Jaclyn Fowler about her strategies for teaching writing. Learn how she uses writing workshops to teach writing through the eyes of a reader and a writer, and why it’s so important to teach students how to properly critique each other’s work. Also learn about the building-block and essay-map concept she teaches to help students outline their papers as well as tips for grading and assessing student writing effectively and efficiently.

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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. Today you’re in for a special treat. We have a guest with us, Dr. Jaclyn Fowler. She is the Department Chair over English and Literature at American Public University. Jackie, welcome to the podcast. For our listeners, would you mind telling us a little bit more about your background?

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Sure. Thank you, Bethanie. And thanks for having me on the podcast. I have spent the last three years at APUS and loving every minute, teaching and also being an administrator in the department. So, I’m the Chair of the English Department, as you said.

And before that I spent about four and a half years in the Middle East as a professor in Canadian University Dubai. And the way I like to say it, is I was an American woman of Irish descent living in Dubai and teaching at Canadian, pretty multicultural background right there. And I’m a writer. So, I write novels and I write memoirs and short stories, and I’m excited to be here.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Fantastic. Well, just to help you know a little bit about our audience here. We have online educators all over the world that listen to our podcast. So, they are in for a treat hearing from you. I’m just curious what one of your areas of focus might be in teaching writing online, specifically?

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Well, the funny thing is, Bethanie, I write, I teach writing, I coach writing. Truly, I need maybe to get another exciting habit or hobby, but it’s one of the things I really love. And I think one of the ways I like to teach writing is through the eyes of a reader and the eyes of a writer. And I think so often we don’t do that. We teach writing as teachers and we forget that there’s an audience and that there’s somebody who’s doing it. So, one of the things I like to bring to my classes is the idea of writing workshops.

Even in an online atmosphere, it’s really fun, I teach the students how to critique each other’s writings. And by that I don’t mean give criticism, but actually critique the structure of what’s being put on a page. And what do I mean by that? Well, I want to know how the thesis statement works, how it flows when you read it, how somebody’s turn of a phrase works. So, we give writers the opportunity to see their writing through the reader’s eyes. And that’s an unusual thing. Usually, we put our writing out there before we understand how the readers will view it, and so it’s a really nice addition to an online classroom.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: I love the way you said this critique was more about structure. And what I heard when you said that was artistry, it made me think about an art critique.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Exactly. What I say to students all the time is, “Look, they’re words on a paper, don’t get overly focused on them being your words on the paper. They’re just words. And so, if somebody has a critique for you, if somebody says, “I’m not sure what that word means, and I’m not sure it’s helping the sentence,” for instance, don’t be defensive about it. Have an open mind, look at it the way the reader is seeing it and say, “Well, maybe it doesn’t belong there. Maybe I need to do something that reshapes that area so that it does read more fluidly for a reader.”

And the idea is, you want to write for an audience. You want to make sure your writing is understood by an audience, so be open, be flexible. And then, in the end, remember, you’re the artist. So, as a writer, you’re painting with words. That’s what you’re doing.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yeah. That’s beautiful.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: So, it’s your choice on what paint colors and the texture and everything you use, but as any good artist would, they would open up to the critique from those who are looking at or reading the art.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Speaking of the critique. So, many of our educators that are hearing this podcast are not writing teachers. And I’m curious, what advice would you give them to get better at helping students in that area?

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Well, we can’t expect students to just critique. They don’t know how to do it, so it’s part of teaching. So when I teach writing, I’m also teaching critique. And for those of you who think that’s a really hard job, it is. But in the end, you’re also teaching writing by teaching critique because we’re giving the writers the opportunity to learn how to critique themselves by critiquing others first.

So, our students come to the classroom knowing how to give criticism. So, something like, “I don’t like that. I don’t think it sounds good. It’s not really good.” Or the perennial favorite for students, “Yeah, it’s good.” And what does that say to the writer? Nothing. None of those criticisms say anything to the writer.

So, a critique is more focused. You learn the building blocks of writing: a thesis statement, a paragraph, how to write a topic sentence, how to be creative, how to join sentences together so it makes a variety, and it makes it interesting.

And then, you allow the reader to say, “I’m not sure if this paragraph is flowing the way it should? It sounds a little funny. Maybe you need some transitions. Let me give you an example of what I would say. I might put, for example, here.”

The difference is as a writer you know what you want to say, and you know what you have in your head, but we often time short circuit that we just put enough for us because we have it all in our head. As a reader, the reader is saying, “I get where you’re going, but I need a little bit more.”

And so, to teach critique to a student, to teach them how to critique, it requires the teacher to model it. So, in an online classroom, everything is written, and so one of the things I do is write out critiques for every student the first few weeks of my classes, for every student, for every building block.

And what I find is that students start to mimic what I’m doing in the classroom. They come up with their own ideas, but I use a lot of different colors. When I’m talking about a thesis statement, for instance, I say, “You need a topic, you need an argument, and you need a three-point essay map.” And I put them in different colors so that students can see the critique right away.

And what I find after a couple weeks is students begin to use colors in the same way too. Or they begin to look at, for instance, how punctuation works. I know it sounds like just punctuation, but semicolon makes a big difference sometimes, or a comma might make a difference, and so students begin to mimic the way I’m teaching them to critique. And they recognize early on, because I’m really clear about it, it’s not about the author, it’s not about the writer, it’s about the words on the page.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: I hear that. And you said something that I was going to ask a question about, I’m sure listeners probably wondering this too, you said something about building blocks and then I heard you say, “topic, argument, three-point essay map.” Could you explain a little bit what some of those things are?

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Sure. So, the thesis statement, which is the English teacher’s favorite, favorite thing to teach. In my life I’ve maybe taught it 110 million times, but it’s important for every new group of writers—and now we’re talking academic writing—for every new group of academic writers, they have to learn how to write a thesis map. It is a thesis statement. It is exactly what it says. It’s giving the topic.

So, in a thesis statement, the way I teach it is I say, “You need a topic, you need an argument, and you need a three-point essay map.” An essay map tells us how we’re going to argue the argument. And each of those points become the topic for the body paragraphs. So, once you write a good thesis statement, you have your whole essay mapped out, which is cool. I remember in college writing my first paragraph and thinking, getting through it after hours and saying, “Oh gosh, that was great. I’m done. Oh no, I have more paragraphs to write, what am I going to write next?”

Well, if you spend the time on one of the building blocks, which is a thesis statement, you know exactly where you’re going for the whole rest of your paper. So that’s why we talk about building blocks, one would be a thesis statement. Remember, the thesis statement has three parts, topic, argument, three point-essay map.

My next building block would be to take the three-point essay map and then to use that to build the three topic sentences for the three body paragraphs. And that’s how we teach it, one step at a time, one step at a time.

So, once you break up an essay into steps, students can start to see the critique. “Oh, this would work better if you did three points in your essay map instead of two, or this would work better if you used your essay map to write your topic sentences.”

So, once you take it from the big elephant in the room, the essay, down to its smaller components, students will find it easier to create them—essays—and also students will find it easier to critique them.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Fantastic. That sounds like a really easy flow to work from. And I was playing in my head as you’re explaining this to me and to our listeners, I was thinking, “Okay, maybe I could just throw out a thesis idea and you could tell me how I could make this better.”

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Sure.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Just because at the time of this recording it’s winter, and, of course, our listeners might listen to this at any time of year, but that just jogged the idea for me of snowmobiling, right?

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: So, I was thinking, well, let’s just say, for example, I’m going to write my essay on snowmobiling.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: So that’s your topic.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: And I’m thinking, everyone should ride a snowmobile to work in the winter because it’s exhilarating, it’s gas efficient, which is probably not true, but we’re going to pretend, and then because it will renew your zest for life.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Okay. They’re your three essay map points, right?

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yeah.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: So now you have your topic, which is snowmobiling to work. So, you narrowed your topic a little bit, snowmobiling to work, and your argument is everybody should do it. So, you’re going to prove that everybody should do it. Now, one of the things I would say to a thesis writer is “Are you sure you want to say everyone? So, what about the guy in Fiji who doesn’t have snow?”

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yeah, I think he’d wreck his snowmobile.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: So, we always talk about, in academic writing, narrow your audience, because if your audience is everybody, your audience is nobody. So, narrow your thesis statement. So those who live in winter climates, do you see how it narrows it down?

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Where there’s a snow floor, yeah.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Where there’s a snow floor. Now you have your argument, your topic and your three-point essay map is great, because what you’ve done is each of those become the topic of your body paragraphs. So, the first would be all about it being exhilarating. The first body paragraph would be all about it, it being exhilarating. I forget what the second one, oh, it’s gas efficient. The second paragraph would be all about being gas efficient. And it gives you a zest for life would be the third body paragraph. So, with one sentence you’ve outlined your whole essay.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: I like that. That’s nice. And then, I’m curious about how one would come to that thesis in a concluding paragraph without simply just saying it exactly the same way.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Oh, Bethanie, I think you might be a budding English teacher over there.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thank you.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: So, what we always say is, you paraphrase yourself. In your concluding essay, you want to take your thesis statement and you want to restate it in a way that captures the topic and the argument. And if you want, the essay map, but you don’t have to, but you want to do it in a way that the reader doesn’t recognize the words.

English has 800,000 words to choose from, and you could put them together in so many different ways. You don’t have to use the same words that you used in your original thesis statement to say some of the same things. And so, the idea is to just turn the phrase, paraphrase yourself in a way that concludes your essay. Can you imagine if I say to a student, “If you write a good thesis statement, you have your concluding sentence for your whole essay.”

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: I love that. And that simplifies it, I think, for the student too, especially, who’s not feeling confident about the writing.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Yes.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: So, Jackie, we were talking about how to help a student learn to write an essay, how to lay it out. I’m wondering if there are any other tips about the writing part before we go on to maybe the evaluating, grading that many of our listeners are also wondering on about.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Sure. So, one of the things that I always say to students is “Variety is the spice of life.” If you’re an American, you know that saying, “Variety is the spice of life.” In other words, the more things change up, the more exciting they are. And it’s the same with writing. Variety is the spice of writing.

So, you can write a simple sentence, you can write a complex sentence, you can write a compound sentence, you can put sentences together and build one long sentence out of two or three or four shorter sentences, the idea is you work with all of those in one essay.

What that does, let me give you an example, one of the best novels I’ve ever worked with that showed this is Elie Wiesel’s “Night.” And what he does beautifully is he moves from short, choppy sentences where your heart is beating, to longer, more sonorous sentences where you feel relaxed.

And then he comes in again with the short, choppy sentences and you’re taken off guard and your heart starts to beat again. And so, that’s the kind of stuff you want to do in writing. Even in academic writing, you could write these long, beautifully, complex sentences, follow it up with something really short and to the point so it wakes up your reader. You want to have that kind of variety in your sentences.

And one of the ways I talk to primarily American students, because students who learn English from other languages don’t have the same problem, but grammar is such a beast for students in the United States. And one of the reasons is, because they just don’t understand that the words that we’ve chosen to name our grammar, nouns, and verbs, it’s all from Latin. And it used to be that we all learned Latin in university, but not anymore.

So, our students, they have a hard time with the words. And so, one of the things I do in any writing class is I start at the very beginning. So, I explain to them what each of the Latin words means so that they can finally get a grasp on grammar. And then I say to them, “Hey, let me tell you this, if you are writing, 85% of what your words say is the important part of an essay. 15% is the grammar. Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t worry about the grammar, but that shouldn’t be the only worry.”

And this is the way I like to tell my students, “If you were lucky enough to go by a beautiful Monet painting, you flew to France and you bought the Monet and you came home and you went to put it on your wall and you realized you didn’t have a frame for it, and you went down to Walmart and you bought a 99 cent frame to put your beautiful Monet painting in, the Monet will not have changed because of the frame, but it will detract from the Monet because of the frame.”

And that’s the same with grammar, you want to put your writing, your words, the painting with your words in a beautiful frame, which is grammar. And the frame allows the beautiful words, the painting with words to be enhanced rather than the frame taking away from the understanding of the words. Does that make sense?

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Absolutely. And it sounds like you have to craft with the grammar what supports it to flow well, or to show the beauty of what you’re saying.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Right. You want your words, the words that you’re painting into a beautiful picture to mean the same coming from your mind into the mind of the reader. And the way we do this is we have this shared structure, this shared format. And we use nouns, and we use verbs, and we use punctuation and they only account for 15% of the final overall painting, but it’s an important 15% because it puts us all on the same page. We all know, reader or writer, what you’re doing with a period, what you’re doing with a verb, what you’re doing with a noun. And so, that’s why it’s important.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Beautiful. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to just shift gears a little bit to the evaluating part, the grading. One of the complaints online faculty sometimes have is that grading writing takes so long, it’s so involved. And I want to just make a confession right here that when I was first teaching online, I would bleed all over the essay. I would be doing what I’m sure you’re going to say we should not do, and that it was editing. So, I’d be making a comment here, there, everywhere. Since then, I totally approach it differently, but I would prefer listeners hear from you about what they should do, what your suggestions might be.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: There’s a couple ways to go at this. What I say to my faculty members, “Remember, English we grade 500 to 600 pages of writing every single week. And so we need to teach. That’s why we do assessments, to teach through assessments, but we also have to be reasonable with our time so we can teach in the classroom.”

And so, I always say, “If you spend more time writing than the students spent writing, you’re doing it wrong. You’re not engaging a paper for a long-term affair. This is speed dating. You want to be thorough, but you don’t want to be in there all day long. So, you’re not making a commitment to the paper, you’re going through it.”

And here’s the first thing that we do wrong as academics, as teachers in general, we correct every single mistake. And that’s a mistake, because we’ve done the work and now we understand how, for instance, grammar works, but we’ve done all the work for the students and so therefore they haven’t learned anything.

So, you’re not an editor. You’re right, we often edit. What you want to do is you want to read through the paper. If you see that there’s issues, for instance, with grammar, you want to pinpoint about three big pieces of grammar, the things that you think, if they were cleared up, the paper would be more intelligible.

And then you clearly correct it and give a comment that says, let me give an example, “This sentence is a run-on sentence, that means you have two or more sentences smashed together without the correct punctuation. Let me show you how to fix it.” Fix it. Then you fix it. And then you say in a comment, in the end of your comment, “I want you to go through your paper and find all of the run-on sentences and correct them. Next time I grade your papers, I’m going to be looking for the fact that you corrected your run-on sentences.” Do you see what I mean? You tell them what it is, you define it, you show them how to fix it, you tell them that’s how they’re being evaluated in their next piece of writing.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: That sounds like a wonderful approach. It’s going to save us lots of time and energy. So, I’m hearing you say that we should ask for a second submission.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: So, a lot of times in writing we do a second submission in English papers, but I’m also comfortable if it’s a single paper and the next time they’re doing a paper on something else, I make it clear, “When you write your week five paper, I’m looking for this.” So, it doesn’t necessarily have to be another paper or resubmission. You hope that they take your feedback and rewrite all the run-on sentences, but they may not. I don’t think I did when I was in college, but you hope. But you make it clear that you’re looking for them in the next paper.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: That makes a lot of sense. And then if you’re just telling the student to just apply this, you don’t necessarily have to track each one, follow up, see that they did it, you’re just advising, basically.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Exactly. You’re not the police. You’re there to give support, to teach, to help. And you don’t want to forget the lesson that you taught in the first assignment. You want to make sure that that lesson was understood.

Because sometimes they don’t understand what you’ve said. You may think you put the most time into your comments on a paper and you find that nothing’s changed in the next paper. Well, maybe they didn’t understand. And so, you want to give another opportunity for them to succeed.

So, the idea in writing is you want people to succeed. So, you point it out, you define it, you correct it, you show them, you tell them what you want them to do for the next paper. And if they don’t do it, you do it again.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Gain confidence.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Gain confidence. You don’t let it die. You’re right, Bethanie, gaining confidence is important when you see it done well. The students in my class laugh because I teach the semicolon rule, an easy way to fix a run on sentence is to take the period, where you would put a period, for two sentences and put a semicolon in. It’s the easiest rule. And so, when I see it on papers, I make a big deal out of it, “Semicolon, this is great.”

And so, they get the idea that I’m looking to see what they do well, as well as what they don’t do well. And I think that’s important because all of us sometimes accidentally do something well. And so, if a teacher points out, “This was perfect, this was so well said, this was so well done,” if it was one of those moments when it was accidental, you’ve gelled, “Hey, I did this, right and I didn’t even know I did it right, but I’m going to do it like this forever now.” That’s the hope.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: I love that you’re pointing out a positive as well, because I think when you’re working online, oh, maybe you’re doing this eight hours a day, all week-long kind of thing, if it’s your full-time gig, you’re really spending a lot of time. And I know it’s easy to get fed up with the same problem you see, and have a difficult time being positive. Sometimes you see that same thing over and over, especially if you’re correcting it or stating the problem and explaining and it’s not getting fixed. So, bringing out the positive probably helps balance it for the student too and ensure that you’re not just getting stuck in that negative zone.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: No. And I don’t think corrections in writing should ever be a negative. I think it’s support. It’s a writing workshop where I’m saying, “Let me give you some advice on how to make this even better.” Years ago, I gave up using a red pen. Years ago. And it’s because people saw red pen and panicked. So even if I wrote something nice with a red pen, students weren’t seeing that.

And so now I just dialogue, I consider it a dialogue. So even when I say this is a run-on sentence, this is what it means, okay, a run-on sentence isn’t good, but I don’t make the student feel like, “She found a mistake, I did something wrong.” No, of course you’re going to make mistakes. You’re human. Welcome to the human race. And so, it’s okay. Make a mistake. I’m going to define it and teach you how to not make that mistake. If you want to learn how not to make that mistake, I’m going to give you that opportunity.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: So, I know we’re getting short on time for our session here or our episode, I’m wondering if we were to pull all this together for some key points that we really want listeners to take away, what would those be?

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Well, I would say the first thing is that writing is never a punishment. So, for anyone out there who thinks I’m going to make you write a theme for doing something wrong, please don’t do that. Writing is the articulation of your innermost heart and your innermost thoughts. And so, what a beautiful gift to give to our students, to teach them how to write in a way that the reader can understand, fully understand, the expression that’s coming from their heart and minds. That’s the first thing.

The second thing is if you think about teaching writing, instead of, one of the things I always say to students is how do you eat an elephant? It’s overwhelming. Think about eating an elephant. It’s about 26,000 Big Mac’s if you sit down to eat an elephant. How do you do it? And eventually someone will say one bite at a time, and that’s it.

So, if you think about the essay like the elephant, how do you do it? It’s one bite at a time. So, you teach the building blocks. Let’s start with a simple thesis statement, it’s one sentence. One. We can write that. And when they do it, well done, let’s go on the next building block until they get to the essay. It doesn’t take that long to do it that way.

And then, finally, as we’re looking over it and providing feedback, remember feedback is not a “gotcha.” It’s not a moment of “you made a mistake and I’m going to point it out.” That’s not what it’s for. A feedback is to help the student improve. I’m going to give you the key that if use it you can unlock a more fluid, more interesting, more understandable writing style. And as teachers of writing, you’re not editors. So, when you are grading it, your feedback is a dialogue between you and the student. You’re not an editor, save that for the publishing companies.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Nice. I think that’s going to help a lot of our listeners relax a little bit, realizing they don’t have to catch every little thing that’s wrong with someone’s writing.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Bethanie, some of the things that are wrong is what makes the writing good. So, we teach the rules all the time, but I always say to students, “When you’re really good at writing, when you learn all the rules, then you could break the rules, and that makes your writing special.”

So sometimes, when I write, I know what a fragment is, an incomplete sentence, but when I write creatively, I use a lot of fragments in my writing. And it’s not a mistake there. It’s intentional. And the reader knows that I know how to write a complete sentence. So, when I write a fragment, it’s for reason, it’s to pay attention here, I’m breaking the rules. And so, I think if we look at the idiosyncrasy that everybody brings to their own specific writing, I think, in the end that ends up being beautiful.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yes, it does. Well, Dr. Fowler, I want to thank you for being with us today. It’s been a true pleasure to hear your thoughts about writing, but also your enthusiasm. You’re really inspiring to speak with because you have this energy about writing and it’s not this overwhelming thing, when you’re sharing all these points, it’s very encouraging. And I hope our listeners today will take that away and be able to apply that in their online work and their online teaching with students and just spread the wealth about how much fun this can be and how not overwhelming it can also be.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Bethanie, writing is always hard, even when you love to do it. The hardest part is starting. But once you start, you move.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Sounds so true. Thank you again for being here. And we’re going to say goodbye to our listeners and wish them all the best in their 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.

#96: Student Retention Strategies in Online Education

#96: Student Retention Strategies in Online Education

This content originally appeared on APUEdge.Com.

Every year, a large number of students across the country leave college and fail to complete their degree. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks about what educators can do to improve student retention numbers. Learn ways to help students address academic difficulties, resolve academic or occupational goals, and help them gain a sense of belonging and connection during their education.

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
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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. I’m Bethanie Hansen, and I’m happy to be with you here today talking about student retention. Student retention is a phrase that you might hear a lot in online higher education. Every year a large number of students all across the country leave college and fail to complete their degree. So as professionals in online learning, we’re especially concerned about this number.

What are Student Retention Rates?

Now there’s a place called the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, and in 2019, they reported that nearly 29% of students who entered college in the fall of 2017 at four-year public institutions did not return to those institutions for a second year. That was well before the pandemic ever began. So we know it’s not specifically because of the pandemic. Retention of our online students is particularly low for those who are attending part-time. So nearly half of them are retained, and that means nearly half of them leave.

There’s a lot of data on this and when we think about why students enroll in college in the first place and why they may drop or choose not to return, there are many reasons. There are of course, personal issues, financial issues, family, work-related stress, interruptions, all kinds of things that come into the mix.

But there is a lot that we can do and these things we try to do to help students stay the course or persist and keep going to college, those are called retention strategies. When we do our retention strategies, then we start watching our students to see what they do. Are they staying? Are they enrolling in another class? Are they sticking around for the next semester or the next session? And when they do, we call that student persistence. So retention is what we do as the educators and higher education professionals to try to retain those students in class. And persistence? That’s what the students do.

Retention Strategies to Improve Student Persistence

Today, I’m going to speak with you about retention strategies. Things that we can try in working with our students to really encourage them to persist, to finish the class they enrolled in and continue on to the next one.

Most educators I know, and likely you might be the same way, we get into education because we really want to make a difference with our students. We want to help them reach their potential. We want to make a difference in this world by helping people better themselves through the transformative power of education.

That can’t happen if students are quitting their educations. When they don’t finish and they don’t keep going from class to class, they have a lot less opportunity available to them. Having that degree, whether it’s an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, or even a doctoral degree, those things are so encouraging, but they also qualify our students for specific career fields and jobs.

So it’s very motivating for us as the teacher or a faculty member to encourage that student, to help them along. We’re going to talk about things we can do. We’re also going to talk about some things that inadvertently might affect our students’ desire to continue.

As a faculty director for seven years, I had a lot of experiences where I got occasional complaints about this or that faculty member. It did seem like there are certain behaviors that tend to push students away. And if we were together during a face-to-face class, and we did those very same things with a smile on our face, or with a bit of conversation around them, they would not have the same impact at all.

So, we’re going to talk a little bit about things that tend to push students away, as well as those strategies for helping them continue. I hope you’ll find some value in this podcast today, and at least one strategy you can try this coming week with your students. And hopefully continue so you can help them continue as well.

Model of Institutional Departure

There’s a well-known model created by Vincent Tinto. It was created in 1993 after his first published work in 1975. And it’s been used for a lot of years by many institutions. This model is called the Model of Institutional Departure. This model is all about three main areas that impact student persistence. These areas can easily be the reason why students leave the institution and don’t continue with their degree programs.

Academic Difficulties

The first one is academic difficulties. Think about what could enable the success of a student who is having academic difficulties. One thing I’ve seen in online education is a bit of flexibility when a student initially struggles academically. Some faculty will allow a redo. They’ll direct the student to a tutoring center, someone who can help them with their studies or their essay writing. And they’ll start to strengthen that student.

When we see that happen, sometimes the student will gain confidence, persevere through those academic difficulties, and start learning the hard stuff—they’ll really persist. Some will not. But academic difficulties are one of the major sources of student departure.

Challenges in Resolving Educational and Occupational Goals

A second area of students departing an institution is challenges in resolving educational and occupational goals. Now I experienced that myself at one time when I was completing a certificate at an institution. I was trying to change my major from this one area to this graduate certificate. And somehow just in the system itself, my records got stuck. My GPA went to 0 from all the credits that I did have, and I couldn’t figure out who to talk to or get help from. It was so discouraging, I didn’t feel like there was any way to resolve those goals that I had.

Challenges in resolving educational and occupational goals for our students can literally appear like a brick wall. So, the student does not feel like there’s any way forward to get where they really want to go. And, of course, that could be discouraging enough that they stop altogether.

Failure to Connect with the Institution

And third, failure to become academically and socially connected with the institution. When we think about this one, it’s really interesting because we have a variety of college age young people between the teen years and around 25 years old, which we would call traditional learners. And we also have adult learners who are over 25, all the way up to 80, 90 or so years old. We have a wide range of people going to college, especially online.

If you think about this wide range of age groups and demographics, failure to become academically and socially connected with the institution is an interesting obstacle to overcome. What does the student really want through academic connection? And what does the student want through social connection? Not every student is going to want the same thing. So, there are a variety of things that might attract the student to really get engaged and stay.

The bottom line in that academic and social connection is that the student feels a sense of belonging. They feel like they’re part of that college community and they want to be part of it. Some of us love it so much we become professional educators and we just want to stay forever because that sense of belonging was so rich and so inviting.

Think about your online class. If we just look from the lens of the single educator teaching one course with students in it, how can you help the student become connected to the academic life of that institution? What can you do to really build cognitive presence throughout the experience so the student feels richly involved? And what can you do to help them feel socially connected with the institution?

We had an example in the fall of 2021. We had an event that was about two hours long called World Philosophy Day. This event was recorded. So any student who could not attend could watch it after the fact. Simply knowing that it’s there, makes a lot of students feel socially connected and academically connected too. Attending the event really boosts that level. We had many students attend live and they stayed through the question and answers section at the end and asked a lot of questions. That did a lot for social connection in that group of students. Anything we do to help them feel like they’re part of a community is going to really go a long way.

Academic and Social Connection Support Students’ Goals

Now there are a lot of people who have done research on retention strategies. These three areas that I’ve mentioned from Tinto’s Model of Institutional Departure are really good, broad areas to be thinking about as faculty members, as teachers of our courses, and as members of this academic community. We can also think about how students need significant interactions with other members of the college.

That could be other departments. It could be faculty members. It could be the Dean, the President, the Provost. There are a lot of ways that students can have significant interactions, but they must be significant. Simply seeing someone’s name on a website is not going to check that box. So, as you’re thinking about different things you might do in your teaching throughout the session or term that you’re teaching your students, consider what might constitute a significant interaction with other members of the college.

What can you do to get students working with each other and connecting with different departments as they need to for your subject matter? How can you get your students to really get involved in the institutional library? Some online institutions have live librarians they can connect with and students can go there and talk to a real person. They can go to the advising department and connect with real people there.

We have student accommodations and a whole department associated with that. There are many different departments filled with live people that can speak with them and with whom they can really gain relationships. These are going to be significant interactions that help them feel part of the community and like they belong. Really integrating our students into this community is what’s going to help them want to stay.

The Role of Mentoring

Think about this point: Mentoring has been mentioned a lot in recent years in higher education, but particularly in online higher education. Mentoring has a lot of potential to help students feel like they’re connected to the institution and that they’re having significant interactions. Mentoring can go a lot of different ways. For example, mentoring might have to do with helping the student prepare for their career field. It might have to do with help guiding them in the subject matter, helping them to balance their life, get their study skills down.

There’s a wide range of areas that could fit into mentoring. But particularly for students who are isolated and don’t have a really clear way to connect to the institution, mentoring can go a long ways towards helping that student feel like they really do have a space there and a person that’s their go-to person.

Now, another variation of mentoring could be group work throughout a class. If you can get your students combined into groups of some kind and work together for projects and things, and yet grade them on their own contributions, not dependent on those other people. If they can work together, but still be individually accountable, that’s going to be a form of peer support that can be especially rich and supportive during a course.

Anything we can do to share what’s happening in the institution with our students, especially if there are events happening, webinars, if there’s a commencement ceremony, even if the student isn’t graduating that year, for them to know about it, to hear about it, to see it coming up, they’re going to be able to imagine themselves participating sometime in the future.

So there are those three big areas that tend to push students toward departure. And there are a lot of things we can do that helps students to really feel anchored and like they belong in the community to prevent those things from happening.

Now, on the flip side, I mentioned that I occasionally get student complaints and although I’m no longer a Faculty Director, I am a Department Chair, so I still have my finger on the pulse of what students are experiencing in my department. And when they have an experience with a faculty member that is not friendly, not inviting, not supportive, I hear about it.

A good example of this would be just a slow and abrupt response. If a student has a reason to ask for support with an assignment or clarity about a topic, and maybe the instructor is feeling like “this is a question I get all the time and I’m tired of this question,” the comment may come back slow and it might be a little terse or abrupt. And that can be incredibly rejecting to the student who’s asking for help.

Many students do not want to ask for help. And when they finally do, they’ve thought about it a really long time. So it could do us a lot of good to think about what that student is experiencing when they’re coming to us for help? What their experience with us in the class might be? What our impact is before we think about what their question is?

Educators Can Improve Engagement and Interactions

So, we can see things through the eyes of our students a lot better when we ask questions, when we pause and notice the tone, the question, the words that the student is using. And what we choose to focus on in our engagement with another, whether it’s virtual or a face-to-face engagement, that’s going to grow. So if we focus on the unkind part or the abrupt part of it, we’re going to continue to have that kind of an interchange with that person.

Likewise, if we focus on curiosity and patience and understanding, we’re going to grow that side of our teaching as well. Once we slow down and we pause and we notice where the student’s coming from, ask a lot of questions, and really try to understand, then we can be really present with what they need. And we can focus on that one thing and just give them that presence and that support that’s going to help them keep going in their studies and be really capable of exercising the grit that they need and the resilience that they need to continue.

Send a Welcome Note to Invite Students into the Class

Now you might be thinking that you’ve heard a lot about retention programs at your institution. Maybe there’s been an initiative rolled out that everyone needs to do a certain thing a certain way, and that’s going to help students persist in their classes. There are a lot of things that work incredibly well for retention purposes.

And if you’re doing them and you’re watching the results and you’re approaching them with a true desire to help your students keep going, they’re going to be more effective. One of those things is communicating to your students before the session begins. And that could be a few days before the class begins. It could be a week before the class begins.

When you do that primary outreach before the course has started, you introduce yourself, you start building a connection with your student and you build a bridge before the first day of class, your student is more invited and they’re feeling less nervous, less anxious about showing up in your classroom. They have a little bit of a sense of safety already before the first day of class.

Set Expectations Early to Help Students Plan Ahead

Another thing that we can do that helps students to persist is to share with them what our expectations are and what the assignments are early in the session. Maybe they even get a copy of the syllabus before the first day of class. Whatever it is, they need to know what they’re going to have to do that whole time so they can plan their time accordingly.

If students don’t know that they’re going to have a large number of pages to read every night and several essays, they will likely drop the class when they get too busy to do those things. But if they know it going into the class, they can plan ahead and set the time aside and manage it.

Some students even decide when to take certain courses, whether to take only one course at a time, or to take two or three courses at a time, based on the perceived workload they think that course will have. Mine’s a really common one that students like to pair with at least one other class, because they think it’s going to be super easy. It’s music appreciation and they think they’re going to just listen to music all day long.

They are very surprised when they learn they have to write an essay, they have to read a lot, listen to a lot, discuss a lot in the discussions. But it’s a lot more helpful when they know on the very first day of class or even a couple days early in that welcome message that I’m going to send out. That gives them the chance to decide, should I move my courses around? Am I going to be able to take two or three classes at a time? And they can judge for themselves.

Communicate with Kindness to Build Relationships

So, even if there’s no big strategy at your institution, you can do some of those things to give students advanced information. Be very patient and kind in your communications even if you have to say no to something. And, help students feel like they belong, that they have some connection in your course and connection to the bigger university setting.

So be thinking about academic difficulties your students could have in your subject area and in your particular class. Think about what could present a challenge to them in resolving their goals while they’re trying to get through your class. And think about how they can become academically and socially connected to the institution. With those three things in mind, you’re more likely to help your students finish the class and persist to enroll in the next one and eventually graduate with that degree.

I hope you’ll think more about that this week and try one of those strategies. Maybe you’ll come up with one that I haven’t mentioned here. If you’d like to share it back, please visit my site, bethaniehansen.com/request, even though that form is set up for you to request specific topics. I’ve also gotten communications of all kinds and even feedback about our podcast at that address. And I would love to hear from you.

So let us know what’s working for you in retention strategies that really helps your students to persist and what keeps it from happening. And, just so you know, we’re almost to episode number 100 in this podcast. We have some special guests coming up in just a few weeks and I hope you will enjoy all of the student affairs topics we’ll be talking about. We even have a special appearance from our university president at American Public University, Dr. Kate Zatz coming up. So definitely tune in each week. Don’t miss an episode and share it with a colleague or a friend. Here’s to you and wishing you all the best this coming week in your online teaching.

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

#95: Student Affairs: Addressing Student Mental Health and Wellness

#95: Student Affairs: Addressing Student Mental Health and Wellness

This content first appeared on APUEdge.com

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education and
Dr. Jan SpencerDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education and
Dr. Sean BogleFaculty Member, American Public University

With the shift to online learning, student affairs professionals have had to become more adaptable and agile in how they reach and connect with students. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks to Dr. Jan Spencer and Dr. Sean Bogle about the need for student affairs professionals to be increasingly dynamic in order to assess the needs of students. Learn tips on identifying students who may be dealing with mental health issues, how to reach students regardless of their location, and working to make connections with students whether they’re online or on-campus.

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. Today, you’re in for a real treat. We have two special guests, Dr. Jan Spencer and Dr. Sean Bogle. Welcome and let’s have you each introduce yourselves and we’ll start with you, Dr. Sean Bogle, tell us about you.

Dr. Sean Bogle: Yes, greetings everyone. As I’ve been introduced by Bethanie, thank you. My name is Dr. Sean Bogle. I am currently serving as a part-time faculty for American Public University. I’ve been in this role for almost two years now, and I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to engage with students who are pursuing their Master’s degree with a focus on student affairs.

Speaking of student affairs, I spent most of my career in higher education working as a student affairs administrator at various universities across the country. Most recently, I served as the Dean of Students at the Yale School of the Environment. And prior to that, I worked at a community college as a Dean of Student Affairs and Activities. At Stanford University as an Assistant Dean, and various other roles. And I found my passion for working in student affairs after actually being a public schools teacher for language arts. And I enjoyed that environment and wanted to pursue administration, initially, in the secondary environment.

That being said, I found that higher education fit my skillset and personality more. And upon getting my first role at University of Louisville as a residence-life coordinator, living in with 300 co-ed, it certainly wasn’t dull. But it was also very exciting to see that I could match my personality with supporting and developing undergraduate students, and also helping to lead those who were interested in engaging with students and supporting their needs. So, over 12 years of experience has really led me to serve in a role with American Public University that I’m very proud to be in.

Outside of that, I currently also work at Kuali. Kuali is a software company that supports institutes of higher education. And, specifically, I help partner universities across the country with research administration tools that we use so that schools that are seeking federal grants can execute their research in an efficient manner. So, this is my day-to-day role. And outside of that, I live in Connecticut. I’ve been here for over two years now. I enjoy it. I enjoy the full four seasons. And yeah, that’s just a little bit about me.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Fantastic. Thank you so much, Sean. And how about you, Dr. Spencer?

Dr. Jan Spencer: Hi, I’m Dr. Jan Spencer and I am the Department Chair for Educational Leadership and Student Life. And that incorporates three different programs: Educational Leadership in the K12 space, and then Higher Education Student Affairs, and Higher Education Administration.

And we are so very blessed to have Dr. Sean Bogle be on our team of faculty. He has brought a lot to the table, a lot of experience, a lot of depth. And, as he greatly explained, some of the journey he had, I so appreciate what that does for integrating in an educational environment with students who need to have answers to the variety of questions that they have. So, Sean, I’m so glad that we’re getting to work together and I’m so glad you’re on this interview.

Since you’ve really shared your journey and some of the institutional work that you’ve done, and your current role that you serve, you probably have a great view of a variety of environmental changes that have happened in student affairs. So, what significant changes can you see have happened, and are happening in our current educational environment and particularly as it relates to student affairs?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Absolutely. Thank you, Jan. And I think that when I look at some of the biggest challenges for students, it’s: how do we support students in multiple ways? The environment is certainly different than, say, what it was 10, 12 years ago, where there was this traditional college experience where we knew sort of how to support students, either on campus, or off campus. And many universities were very good at just doing one or the other.

And, now, when we look at student affairs, there’s more hybrid activity going on, where students may be engaged to a different level, on campus or off campus. And they need both. They need resources for both.

So, we need more dynamic student affairs professionals who can really reach students no matter what their environment is. Knowing that students are more familiar with the online setting, knowing that students need to be able to access their support, their student affairs administrators in various different settings. So, we have to be comfortable with the tools to engage with students outside of the on-campus environment.

We also need to be more cognizant that wellness is certainly at the forefront of what students are dealing with now, whatever wellness may be. Whether it’s mental health issues, home sickness, imposter syndrome, we have to be more prepared to support students with their needs for wellness.

Dr. Jan Spencer: One of the things that’s amazing about what you just said, and the context of our conversation today, is that you, Bethanie, and I are in three completely different locations in the United States. And mentioning the whole virtual aspect of student affairs, it seems to me, that’s going to create a bigger hurdle for you, as a professional, to be able to really address an individual student. That you can’t just sit down with face-to-face, and work through their issues. How do you accomplish that given the reality of the virtual challenges that we all face?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Yeah, I think a great example is recently in one of the courses that I was teaching, I had a student who was located in South Korea, and needed to reach out to me multiple times throughout the course. And as I mentioned earlier, Jan, I think it’s very important that administrators and teachers are able to adapt to the times. We need to be able to align ourselves and familiarize ourselves with the resources that are out there to make us more accessible to students.

So, I started using Calendly, which is essentially a tool where you can plop it into an email. It’s a link that allows for students to see your schedule, and be able to plug in a time that works. This is a lot more, for me, efficient than going back and forth with a student who may be in need, and have questions and need support.

I can just say, “Hey, here’s my Calendly link. Pick a time that works for you because I know it’s going to work for me if you pick it because it’s based on my availability.” And here I am reaching out to the student in South Korea. Now, it may be 11:30 or close to midnight for that student, but it worked enough for that student and our schedule to align for support.

Dr. Jan Spencer: So, you have capabilities then, to address the gap in terms of distance. What about the actual depth of conversation? Is the tool of, let’s say, a Zoom, or a similar technology, is that sufficient to be able to allow you to accomplish your goals in conversing with the students in order to support them?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Absolutely. That being said, I want to be adaptable as possible. So Zoom is my go-to for virtual meetings with students. That being said, I’m cognizant of the fact that some students may feel more comfortable with, say, Microsoft Teams or Google Meet. So, I want to make sure that I have access and know how to use all of those tools. They’re all very similar, but then there may be unique differences to them as well.

I just, again, want to reiterate how important it is for me to be adaptable. So, I want to make sure that when I’m meeting with a student that I’m doing so in a space that is similar to if they walked into my office, where there’s a level of privacy, where the student can feel like I’ve created a safe space, a comfortable space. I do have a seven-year-old daughter, so I try to make sure that I’m in a space that I am now where she can run and play. And I can also have the space that I need to give that student that one-on-one attention. If I’m, for example, in an environment where the background may be distracting, I’ll blur that background just so that that student understands that I’m mindfully engaged with whatever we’re discussing.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Okay, let me just press that just a little bit further. In talking about the value of student affairs in today’s market, one of the big words that we hear in online education is the word retention. And how does a professional in your field work with keeping students on track for the sake of keeping them in school? How does student affairs accomplish that? What are some of the insights that you utilize when you’re engaging the students?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Yeah, so, I think I’m looking at two different routes here. One of which is if I’m dealing with a student who is wanting and seeking a career in student affairs, I’m always looping them to, here are the possible routes for you upon graduation, upon completion of your program here’s what’s available. So, almost with every discussion, post, or assignment, I’m linking it to understanding what it is that they want to do.

So, for example, if it’s a student development course, and they’ve identified a certain theory that they associate with, I may say, “Wow, based on your understanding of that theory and the way you feel, you resonate to that theory, I think you’d be a really good residential life professional in supporting students.” So, that sort of gets the ball rolling and, “Wow, that’s a career field within student affairs that I could seek.” So, again, in trying to link a student affairs student to a possible career in student affairs is one aspect.

The other aspect is just a student in general, who may not necessarily have an interest in student affairs, but talking about the work of an administrator. I think it goes back to letting them know that I care, that I’m treating them as an individual and not as a number.

Oftentimes, particularly at large universities, students may feel lost. They may feel like one person in a class of 30. And they may need some guidance there. Oftentimes, I’m listening to their needs and sort of configuring my conversation to whatever it is that they need. And also, looking at their background, what it is about them that I can link to, to help give them support for where they come from.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you so much. I want to change the direction just a little bit and talk about equity, diversity, and inclusion. These are huge issues in student affairs today, in a general sense across universities and colleges. How do we address these kinds of issues? And maybe I should actually step back and say, where are we at with that? How do you interpret the progression of overcoming some of the hurdles associated with equity, diversity, inclusion, so that we see ourselves working together rather than working and tearing ourselves apart from each other? How do we work to bring ourselves together? How are we doing with that? And how does an online education, how does student affairs help? I know, that’s a huge question.

Dr. Sean Bogle: No, I think it’s an important question. Thank you for asking it. I think the work is ongoing. I think that it is something that we have to continue to embed into our day-to-day practices as teachers, as professionals, as human beings. I think those that, ultimately, have a care for others, and educators tend to do that, have a care for others, have a greater lens of support on what to look for. Because when we talk about diversity, and equity, and inclusion, we’re talking about being able to identify individuals, and to embrace their differences. And educators already have experience doing this. Good educators, I should say.

We know that students are at different points of their learning. We know that students are at different points of things that are going on outside of the classroom, such as socioeconomic status. We know that students may be facing learning challenges, and may need various different level levels of support to overcome those learning challenges. So, educators are already in a great space for this.

Specifically, with online learning, every time I send a student an audio feedback, I make sure to insert captions because I don’t want to assume that I have created an inclusive environment. So, I want to do everything that I can. And the inclusive part of DEI work is so important because as long as we’re giving everyone the opportunity to say, “You are welcome. I have thought about what may be needed for you to be in this space,” we are really achieving what we need for diversity and equity as well, because we’re doing everything that we can to create an opportunity for a student to see a little bit of themselves within our community.

That’s why it’s so important that we have a staff that represents diversity. We have staff from various socioeconomic, religious, sexual orientation, gender, all of that is into play. So, students can see a little bit of themselves within the faculty. That resonates with them. And I think that makes them feel inspired.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: I’m so intrigued by what we’re talking about here. And I know our listeners are too. You’ve said a couple of times here, Sean, that educators are already primed for this, to think about the individual, to consider what their needs might be. And I’m wondering, if someone is feeling a little bit less inclined, like they really want to do this, but they don’t really know how, is there some suggestion you have for expanding their approach a little bit?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Yeah. I think that there are so many opportunities out there for professional development that really do not cost anything. I think that just using the tools at hand, whether it’s something like LinkedIn, there’s so many articles and resources that are available that can just be absorbed on one’s own time.

I think the other thing is to correlate experiences. No matter the classroom setting, there is always going to be diversity. The diversity may not always look like race, but the correlation can be there. So, for example, if a teacher is working in an environment where there’s a high socioeconomic status, it doesn’t mean that every student in that environment has a high socioeconomic status. How have you related, or resonated, to that student?

Or a student in a high socioeconomic status may have a learning deficiency, how have you met that gap? That same approach of embrace, how do I include them? How do I customize and align my lesson? That’s the same thing that all students need. So, it’s a heterogeneous environment in terms of race, ethnicity, culture. It’s that same lens of how do I include them? How do I acknowledge their differences that creates that inclusive environment?

Dr. Jan Spencer: Great. Sean, one of the things I appreciate about working with you is that you bring a breadth of experience also from the marketplace, and that’s where you’re at right now in working in the marketplace, as well as teaching. So, help me understand, help our listeners understand the transition away from only focusing on campus instruction, and now being a part of the marketplace as well, with what your present role is. Help us understand how that fits into your overall approach to student affairs.

Dr. Sean Bogle: Absolutely. So, working primarily as a student affairs administrator for over 12 years, it gave me a very broad base in how to support students in the trenches, if you will, on the grounds, whether that is crisis management and support, nonclinical support, having conversations, planning large-scale events, or helping to plan large-scale events, such as orientation and graduation. These are sort of, as I mentioned, being in the trenches with students.

That being said, as I have sort of grown my own skillset, completed my doctorate work, it’s allowed me to take a more 30,000-foot view, if you will, of how the issues of a university impact students. So beyond that one-on-one support or that in-the-trenches support how do I, as a professional working in student affairs, look at the larger scale?

So now that I work at Kuali in my specific role as community engagement coordinator, focusing on partnering universities that are doing research with software tools, I’m looking at the scope of how does research impact students?

Many universities across the globe are doing research and, ultimately, it’s going to impact students. So, whether that research is on COVID-19, whether that research is on clean-water initiatives, or environmental issues, these are things that our students are doing.

Oftentimes, when a faculty member is conducting research, they’re using student participants to conduct the research and/or they’re using students to help guide that research. The students are often helping the faculty as assistants in those research projects.

So it allows for me to have a more holistic view, if you will, of what it takes to be a student beyond the student being in crisis, or planning a party, or their day-to-day outside of the classroom. I think it’s important for a student affairs professional to have an idea of what students are doing in the classroom or in the lab.

Dr. Jan Spencer: That’s great. One last question for you from me. And one of the things that you have mentioned in your comments throughout our conversation has to do with dealing with student mental health. And I know that as a professional on ground, that’s pretty obvious that you’ll be face-to-face with a student to help them through a scenario. Whereas an online environment, it’s a little bit more difficult to get into their head, you might say, and to deal with their issues.

So, can you talk a little bit about student affairs in the on-ground environment versus the online environment, and how does student affairs overall present an increased role in supporting students with mental health issues?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Sure. So, the first thing that I should note is that one of the quotes I’ve always sort of guided myself in terms of wellness for student support, is that the absence of a mental health illness is not the presence of mental health wellness. And what I’ve taken that to mean is that, we know that there are students that may actually suffer from a condition such as bipolar disorder. And many campuses, whether it’s online or on-campus are set up to support that student.

But just because a student may not have a mental health clinically diagnosed illness doesn’t mean that they are well. So, every student needs wellness, whether that’s on campus, or in a virtual environment. It can be easier if you will, to put eyes on a student who may not look well, a student that may be aloof from the community, who may have an appearance that’s melancholy, we can look at those signs on-campus.

It certainly can be more challenging when in a virtual environment. That being said, I think the link there is the absence. When a student on campus is not around their friends, not going to class, those things are noticed.

But they also can be very much noticed in a virtual environment, too. A student that started off on fire in discussion boards, asking questions, posting a lot and then, they go absent, that could, in fact, be symptomatic that there’s something going on there in terms of wellness. And, oftentimes, when I’m able to reach out, I’m able to find out the student had a hard week.

I remember within American Public University, a student had lost a parent. And it, certainly, explained why they were so engaged and then they just sort of went absent. So, looking for those little signs and being able to reach out.

I try to be very mindful that when I’m not hearing from a student, it very well could be something going on with their wellness. And wellness is a very general term, and it should be, because many things can affect, and be variables to wellness. So, I try to reach out and say, “Is there anything that I can do?” That’s always part of the initial message that I try to have to a student when I notice that there’s been an absence.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Wonderful. Bethanie, I’ll throw it over to you in case you have any questions you want to bring to Dr. Bogle.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: I do. I’m more curious about that area of student wellness and what you just shared. This is something I coach faculty on. Occasionally, notice when a student disappears. Reach out when they disappear. Ask them how you can help and be supportive. Aside from the student disappearing, what other things could help a faculty member know that they should ask, or should be curious about that? What do you think?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Yeah, I think it’s important for me to look for context within even discussion posts. So, when a student is engaging with their peers, what are they saying? I remember having a discussion with students in a discussion post, and it was about the value of a graduate degree. And a student said something to the effect of, “I’m not even sure what I’m doing in this program.” So they weren’t absent, but their words within itself, gave me a little bit of pause for concern to be able to reach out on the side, or at least monitor what they were saying. Oftentimes, I’ll look for a pattern, if you will.

Sometimes even if a student is submitting work, I can notice that the quality of work has fluctuated from perhaps what they have submitted in the past. So, it’s not that they aren’t showing up, but maybe the way that they’re showing up is inconsistent.

So, oftentimes, when I see a student who is able to put together an assignment, and really follow the APA guidelines, and really have a structured approach. And now their next assignment, there’s typos everywhere, it’s rushed. So, they turned something in, they’re present, but they’re not present in a way that I’m used to them being present. To me, that strikes the sign that this is behavior that I should be cognizant of. So, again, not just when someone’s absent, but how they’re showing up when they show up.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thank you so much for sharing those ideas. I love that when you’re looking for patterns, or noticing something unusual. I’m also kind of wondering how an online faculty member can be more supportive of people in student affairs? How can they really connect with that department in an institution?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Yeah, I think that one of the things that can be done is knowing the name of the local, or the primary liaison. Most departments at universities, or schools, will have someone that is the liaison. It can be a Residence Dean, Assistant Dean. These titles are oftentimes different, but they oftentimes, do the same type of work, which is that they serve as the person of contact when a student may be in need or have concerns.

The other thing that I think is important is to invite conversations with student affairs professionals. It could be the Vice President of Student Affairs or Dean of Students about, what language should I be including, even if it’s brief, in my syllabi, my syllabus, to set the tone for the particular term?

So, for example, is there something about wellness? Is there a line, is there something that I should be embedding into my syllabus knowing that this may not be my field of expertise, but how do I let students know that I care about their holistic being on campus, or in the virtual campus environment, so that here’s an email address, or phone number, or person to contact? So, I think faculty being able to reach out and make that linkage, it also displays something to the student.

And then, if there is an opportunity, and I know that the term can be tight and we certainly want it to be academically focused, but I’ve always appreciated when, as a student affairs professional, faculty have said, “Can you come talk to my class for two minutes at the beginning of the term?” Or when they feel like, it’s amazing how much intersectionality there is between so many lessons and student affairs. So, if there’s something that feels like there could be intersection there with student affairs, invite me in for a two or three minute spot. And I’m happy to speak with students. So, just showing that intersectionality.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wonderful. Thank you so much. I have to just tell you, Sean, that you just jogged a personal memory for me that I had no idea this person was a student affairs professional. But it’s bringing full circle the ideas we’re talking about here.

My freshman year of my undergraduate degree, I went to a large university with 30,000 students, but I happened to take a class from the Dean of Student Life. And that person went to the marching band performance at the football game, looked for me, wrote me a letter to tell me what they thought about the performance. And really paid attention to who I was. And in a university that large that, to me, was remarkable. I had no idea that is student affairs. That’s just beautiful.

Dr. Sean Bogle: Yeah. It’s that person-to-person approach.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yeah. I was one of those anomalies where I came from a single-parent family, and a certain demographic where I probably was definitely a person you’d think might slip through the cracks somehow. So, it was nice this person noticed me, yeah. Thanks for mentioning some of those roles. And also, for the tips on how faculty can get involved. I’m going to pass it back to you, Jan, on any final comments, or questions you’d like to add here?

Dr. Jan Spencer: Well, we are very excited that our student affairs program here at APU is really a cutting-edge kind of a thing. And our faculty, such as Sean and some of the others, have said to me, “Jan, this is a cutting-edge program. This is some of the finest material that we have seen.” So, we’re very excited. The program is growing slowly. And we invite those who are interested in being a part of learning more about student affairs, if that’s where they sense their direction is going, we are here to serve any way we possibly can, answer any questions, and be a support to our students who are considering that direction with their studies.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Beautiful. And how about you, Sean? Any final comments you’d like to add?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Well, I just want to thank both of you for allowing me the opportunity to engage with you. This has been wonderful and a privilege for me to be able to speak to my experiences. These opportunities are, I think, what makes student affairs so special, the opportunity to connect with others in a meaningful way.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Beautiful. So, thanks for being here, Dr. Jan Spencer and Dr. Sean Bogle, and we really appreciate your ideas and all that you’ve taught us today. To our listeners, we want to thank you for listening, and wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week.

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

#94: Strategies for Applying Andragogy, Constructivism, and Heutagogy

#94: Strategies for Applying Andragogy, Constructivism, and Heutagogy

This content first appeared on APUEdge.com

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education

Online teachers must know and apply the principles of andragogy because many of their students are adult learners. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses some other critical teaching theories including pedagogy, which suits younger learners, constructivism, and a new concept called heutagogy, which focuses on self-directed learning. Becoming familiar with each theory and related teaching strategies can provide insight and new approaches for online educators.

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Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m excited to speak with you today about andragogy. This is a buzzword in online education and one of the reasons we hear this word so much is that many of our online students are adult learners. The traditional college age would be considered 18 to 25, those would be your learners who leave high school and go directly to college or within a year or so, go to college and then complete their degree in the young adult timeframe.

An adult learner is anyone 25 or older who has a gap in there, some life experience. And the term
“andragogy” was created to describe adult learning theory. Now, we have some ideas in the field of education that come from pedagogy, which now is considered the methods of teaching children or young people. And then we have andragogy, which is adult learning theory or the methods for teaching adults.

There are two other phrases you’re going to hear me talk about today. One of them is constructivism. This is a theory in education as well. And another one is a new word that I learned recently, heutagogy. Heutagogy spelled H-E-U-T-A-G-O-G-Y. Heutagogy is self-directed learning. It’s sort of a combination of andragogy and constructivism with some other thoughts thrown in there and I’m going to introduce that to you today as well.

So we’re going to begin by taking a look backwards at pedagogy, and that is now considered a description of young people’s learning. And then we’re going to take a dive into constructivism, which sort of bridges between pedagogy and andragogy. Then we’ll talk about andragogy and finish it all up with heutagogy and some ideas for you to take away in your online teaching this coming week, semester, or year.

Understanding Pedagogy: Teaching Students how to Learn

So here we go. Pedagogy in education is really this idea that the learner is dependent on you as the teacher for the knowledge and information and all of the learning in this process. We look at the learner as somewhat dependent. They need to be directed, they need to be guided, they need to be given the what, the how and the when, about whatever they’re going to be learning.

The learner’s going to get some resources from the teacher. They have few resources of their own. And the teacher is going to create some method to help store the knowledge in the learner’s mind and make it part of who they are.

So the teacher might suggest or offer opportunities to practice, to share the knowledge, to write about it, to memorize it. Whatever those strategies are, the instructor’s going to be crafting a method for the learner to use them.

And as you think about it, we’re really teaching people how to learn in pedagogy. We’re giving them the introduction to the methods, the strategies, and the ideas about how to memorize information, how to retain information and even how to apply it.

The reason to learn is often that you have to have this knowledge before you can move to the next step. So this knowledge is critical in your development, and you need to master this before you can move on. This is a core concept in pedagogy. We focus on the subject. It’s prescribed in the curriculum. We have a sequence for the information, and there’s some kind of logic to the subject matter. And this focus of the learning, really the methods of learning, are often dictated by our perception of the subject and what is needed to teach it well.

When we think about pedagogy, motivation is usually given by parents, teachers, a sense of completion, achievement, things like that. Children and young people may have internal motivation, but a lot of those external sources are also part of the motivation.

As the educator or the parent who’s designing this instruction, it’s your role to design the learning processes, the methods of learning it, the order in which things will happen, and you deliver the material, or you impose the material in some way for your learner. And you assume, and others in this situation assume, that you know the best way to do this. You are the expert in how to teach it as well as what needs to be taught.

This is a really common way to approach education in the K-12 system. If you’re teaching elementary, primary, secondary school, pedagogy is really strong in the methods of our teaching the content and the way we deliver the information. We might even have sets of standards that come from our professional organization, or they come from some national standards bank that we’ve created. And we’ve got these standards for different grade levels, different ability levels, different subjects. Those go really well with the idea of pedagogy.

As you’re teaching online, it’s important to be aware of what pedagogy includes when you’re working with learners who don’t know enough about how to direct their own learning. And you can also give them a lot of little mini lessons on how to become more self-directed in their learning. Developmentally that may or may not be suited for your learners. Be thinking about that as you decide how much to deliver and when.

Constructivism: Engaging the Student in Learning

At the next level, just want to talk a little bit about constructivism. Constructivism is an interesting idea that is still used in many parts of education today. Constructivism is the idea that a learner needs to be actively engaged in the process, not just a passive consumer. So the opposite of constructivism would be a person lecturing and expecting the recipients to just soak it up and learn it and remember it.

Constructivism means that the people doing the learning have to do something to construct their own knowledge. The assumption in constructivism is that the person has some background, some life experiences, some existing knowledge, and all of that’s going to come together as they formulate new knowledge. The reality is that their experiences shape their learning and what you’re going to teach them needs to connect that in some way, even if you don’t consciously guide people to do this, they are going to do it for themselves.

Constructivism influences the way all of our students learn. It’s really a learning theory that we have to get familiar with because constructivist learning theory tells us that students bring those unique experiences they have, and that their background and previous knowledge really does impact how they are able to learn.

This is a great concept for linking to issues like poverty or specific racial groups that may have specialized knowledge or lack specialized knowledge. When we think about the situation of poverty, for example, a person comes to the classroom with certain assumptions when they grow up in a poverty situation. That’s critical to know. I can remember one time, a long time ago when I was a junior high teacher, we were all given this book about poverty, the experience of poverty and the mindsets that are created there. And that was a helpful framework to understand many of our students: their backgrounds, how to connect with them, how to help them tie their previous learning and knowledge from life into the classroom and how to bring that classroom knowledge into their real lives. We didn’t want students to leave the school learning these academic things, but seeing them as completely disjointed and disconnected from reality. So bridging that gap for someone who has grown up in a poverty situation is critical, but really any situation.

We have to understand the basic principle of constructivism to know that students are going to put the knowledge together in their own ways, and they’re going to connect with their experiences, their beliefs, their insights. This is all what helps them learn and helps them cement their learning and bring it along for the next step.

The other thing about constructivism is that the meaning and systems of meaning are individually created. An idea of this would be, if you learn something new and you have some existing knowledge about it, you sort of relate those things and connect them to the things you already know. So if we’re going to teach something that is abstract and it’s really disconnected from your everyday knowledge, we have to find a way to anchor that and help build a new web of information in the mind.

The other idea is that in constructivism, learning has to be an active process. There’s some sensory input in the process and the learner really has to do something in order to truly learn. We can’t sit there passively consuming the knowledge like watching a YouTube video. We have to be thinking about a question to answer at the end or the way we’re going to respond to the knowledge or apply the knowledge in a new way or do something with it that will take it from the sterile information central into the more rich applied, active learning area of the brain.

Andragogy: Adult Learners

So, thinking about constructivism, we jump into our third area and that third area, andragogy, is really what we’re looking for when we’re talking about online learning. The reason I care so much about andragogy is that when you think about an adult learner being someone over 25 years old in the college system, that’s a lot of our students. Online education is so available now that adult learners are highly prevalent in the population we’re teaching. If we’re not familiar with andragogy, we may be approaching our teaching in a way that really does not give the space for the learner to do anything with it. Instead, we’re still thinking about distilling information or teaching people how to learn.

In andragogy, we assume four different things, these are important things to remember:

  1. Adults need to know why they need to learn something. This is a lot like sharing your objectives up front in a lesson, but more than just listing the objectives, you want to tie them into what is about to happen. Talk about them, draw back to those objectives throughout the process. And, in a degree program, it would be especially important to tie the courses and the activities back to the goals of that degree and also forecast forward to be thinking about how they will be applied in the career field. Very important reasons to learn something and helpful to bring out for our learners.
  2. Adults need to learn experientially. That’s where the constructivism comes in. There must be something happening when we’re learning. Just clicking through some videos and reading text on a screen is not enough for us to learn that through experience. Going out into our community, our family, our workplace, using the knowledge in an applied way, then coming back and sharing that, that’s going to be an experience. Something interactive, that’s going to be an experience. Whatever we can do in our online teaching to help our adult learners have experiences and learn in their experiences, that’s going to satisfy an andragogy principle and help them learn in the best ways possible.
  3. Adults approach learning as problem-solving. Think about what problem solving includes and consider how problem solving is a basic need for adult learners. We need to be able to have some independence, some critical thinking, some autonomy. Whenever we have a problem to solve, now we are important and we matter, and we’re going to show up differently to that experience thinking about it as problem solving. So, consider that as you’re developing online lessons, online activities, online assignments, and online classes.
  4. Adults learn best when the topic is of immediate value. Anything we can do to help our learners reflect on their learning and find ways to apply it right away in real life, that’s going to satisfy our fourth principle of andragogy. The topic is of immediate value. It could even be that this topic we’re teaching is going to lead into the next item, the next lesson, or the deliverable—the items that the person needs to submit for their class.

So, whatever that is, adults need to know why they’re learning it, have an experience learning experientially, approach learning as problem solving and have immediate value in the topic that they’re learning.

Heutagogy: Self-Directed Learning

Now, moving on to the last area, I did a little research here, and as I was looking for a nice side-by-side comparison of pedagogy and andragogy, I noticed this third term on the University of Illinois Springfield Center for Online Learning Research and Service website, and that is the word heutagogy. Never heard of that one myself. So I’m sharing my new learning with you today. And heutagogy is listed here as self-directed learning. That’s something that I personally have associated with andragogy and adult learning, but I find it interesting that it’s separated out here. And I’m just going to read through the website and I have linked it in the podcast transcript in case you’d like to visit it and check it out.

Heutagogy, self-directed learning means that the learners are interdependent. They identify the potential to learn from novel experiences as a matter of course. They’re able to manage their own learning. In this kind of learning, it appears that the resources are some given by the teacher and some decided by the student. So the learner’s going to choose the path where they’re going do the learning.

Some of your competency-based education might revolve around this concept of heutagogy, self-directed learning. The learning isn’t necessarily planned or linear. It doesn’t have to go from point A to B to C. It’s not based on need. It’s based on the identification of the potential to learn in new situations.

So just to reflect back on pedagogy, the reason that a student in that bracket would be learning is, they need to learn something to advance to the next stage. Whereas andragogy tells us that adults learn when they experience a need to know or to perform more if effectively. And in heutagogy, the learning is not necessarily planned or linear. It’s not based on need, it’s based on the identification of the potential to learn in new situations.

Now when we think about the focus of the learning, where pedagogy has learning focused on the subject itself and a planned curriculum, and andragogy, the adult learning theory, is task or problem-centered, in heutagogy, it appears that the learner can go beyond problem solving and become much more proactive. They’re going to use their own experiences and other people’s experiences, and their own thoughts, reflections, the experiences they have in the environment, their discussions with other people, their interaction, a lot of different methods to apply some problem-solving, but also self-direct their learning.

Now we might see heutagogy applied really well in a capstone course where a student chooses the resources they’re going to study, the path for their learning, and the final project. That’s a great application of this idea of heutagogy.

And, lastly, the teacher. The teacher in a heutagogy situation is developing the learner’s capability to learn. And when facilitating this kind of learning, we’re focusing on helping the student know how to learn, be creative, be independent, have self-efficacy, apply their competencies in new and familiar situations and work well with other people, cooperate with other people. This could also be a really great concept to bring into an internship, an applied learning situation like student teaching if you’re going to become a future teacher. It’s just a new concept. And it’s one worth considering.

How Do Teaching Theories Apply to Online Learning?

The other idea is if we were to take that adult learning theory, constructivism, and heutagogy and kind of combine all of those to take the best of all and decide how might we approach online learning differently? How could we give our students more freedom to apply what they’re learning and be creative, be more independent in learning the material and apply things in new and familiar situations, working with other people, what might be possible? When we’re thinking about those questions, we can come up with all kinds of new strategies.

We can bring in new technologies to facilitate conversation. We can bring in new options for organizing the course material so it’s not necessarily sequential, A to B to C. We can add some flexibility where students could do some independent research and bring it back to the classroom outside of the course materials. I’ve seen that one applied when faculty members, teachers, have their students create new lists of open educational resources that could be used in the class. Or faculty or teachers who have their students write new Wikipedia posts or edit Wikipedia posts, and actually submit them in the real world, to correct Wikipedia entries.

There are a lot of ways to use heutagogy in online learning. And I want to encourage you not just to think about andragogy this coming week, and really breaking away from the assumptions of pedagogy, but also to think about heutagogy. How we can give much more autonomy to the learner and stretch the limits of what’s possible in online learning.

I want to thank you for being here. I also am really grateful for the University of Illinois Springfield website, their Center for Online Learning Research and Service, where they placed this chart, introduced me to a new term, heutagogy. And I hope you’ll think about these four concepts, pedagogy, andragogy, constructivism and heutagogy as you’re designing learning experiences for your students and considering the future ahead as you teach online.

I wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week. And I also hope you enjoy some new creative approaches along the way. 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.