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Quizlet: Flashcard App to Help Students Learn Course Material

Quizlet: Flashcard App to Help Students Learn Course Material

This content first appeared on APUEdge.com.

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

Quizlet is a very popular flashcard app used in education. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks about using Quizlet flashcards to build long-term memory along with suggested ways that students can help create, use and share the flashcard content as part of the course.

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
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Read the Transcript:

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

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. Today, I’m going to talk about the application or the platform called Quizlet. Apparently, Quizlet is super popular in education, generally. But let’s just talk about its potential in online education, shall we?

Online, we have so much possibility here. One thing we can do with Quizlet is get a free account as an educator and just use it for creating some things we share with our students. At the very basic level, that’s a good thing. So, let’s just say that you remember way back, I don’t know how long ago this was, but in your early educational years. Mine were a long time ago. And you used to make flashcards. If you ever had that experience, you know the experience of trying to repeat phrases, terms, ideas and concepts, right?

I remember walking across the university campus, oh, I was probably 18, 19 years old. And I had this huge stack of flashcards. And on the front of the card, I had whatever kind of term it was I was trying to study. And on the back, I would have like this big definition. So, I would first go through and read the term on the front, then flip it read the term on the back and try to associate the definition with the word. And then I would go through backwards, I would read the back of the card, then read the front.

And in my experience, this was great because it was a new method, right? It was the reverse of that first approach. So, it was like studying in a whole different direction. And then I could give my set to somebody else. They didn’t even have to be in my class because the answers were right there. I could have them hold my cards and just say the word, check the back for me and I was never looking at it. And I could explain to them what I believed it was, and then we could kind of make it a conversation.

There were so many ways to use those flashcards. And I remember studying so many concepts for different courses. I’m pretty sure it was not a world language course although I did take Japanese and Spanish. And I probably used flashcards in those classes. This experience was some kind of course with a big, heavy load of content and vocabulary terms. It might have been an advanced course in some subject matter that I was learning about. I just remember that stack of cards mattering to me and carrying it all over the place.

If you’ve had that experience long ago, in your earlier education years, as I have, you know that that is a profound way to study something that you just need to integrate into your brain. It’s like we need to soak up the words and make them part of our new vocabulary. You can’t really do that just passively reading a textbook.

Use Flashcards to Build Long-Term Memory

Let’s think about our students today. And what they’re going to get from our online class. They’re going to go through the content, hopefully they’ll take notes. Some of our students may take notes, some of our students will just read it, watch a video that’s in the class, and then click through and do the work. And there’s not enough time there for all of that content to move from short-term memory into long-term memory and become an area of mastery for our students. So, Quizlet is a great tool that can help us make that shift with our students and promote a greater level of mastery, for the sheer goal of just learning the terms and the content itself.

Now, you could take this a lot further, and there are a lot of other ways to use Quizlet. But this is the one I am really emphasizing today. And that is to bring academic vocabulary into the world that our students live in and help it to become part of who they are.

Many people believe a college education ought to transform the individual. So, if a person is taking an online class in a subject matter, they don’t really know very well, the only way to become transformed by it is to actually make it part of who you are, to consume it, to be able to speak about it intelligently, to learn the terms the phrases, the concepts, the ideas, and then to apply them in real life, or imagine applying them, if it’s not something we can actually carry out. Whatever that takes, at the very least, our students need to be able to speak the language of the subject they’re studying.

Quizlet can help us a lot with that. I’ve visited the platform myself several times. And I’ll be honest, I haven’t used Quizlet to its maximum capacity. This is an area I’m exploring too as an online educator. I’m just checking it out and thinking how wonderful it would be to have this set of flashcards, and to just embed that in the classroom.

One of the things I could do as an educator is to create the flashcards myself. I can spend the time, I could put images on there, I could add all kinds of definitions, color coding, highlighting, whatever it takes. And I can download the app and do it on my mobile device. So, if I have a few minutes here and there, I could be creating that content for my online course.

Guide Students to Create the Content

But I have this other plan for Quizlet that I think would be even better than me as the instructor spending the time building the content. My other plan is to have students create the content. They can create their own flashcards with the content from the course. And then they can collaboratively share it within the course. So, let’s just say I have 20 students in my class, or 25 students in my class, and I’m going to give each one the opportunity to get in there and build their set of flashcards.

Then, they can bring that flashcard set into the discussion space, and everyone’s going to share it there, which means everyone can click through and try your flashcards. And by the time they’ve gotten through several sets of these flashcards, they’ve had that repetition, but they’ve had it in a special way that’s different with each set of flashcards. It’s like magic. We’re going to surround them with the terms and the ideas so they can absorb them and become conversant in that language of the subject matter. This is a very basic level of learning something in a course, that entry level of just learning the key words and phrases that are to be used.

Some people online will tell you there’s a fear that Quizlet could be used for cheating. Quizlet is a study app, it is not used for cheating. However, if a student goes there and takes their ideas off someone else’s freely shared flashcards, that would definitely be an academic violation, a problem with academic integrity.

As you set up your activities in Quizlet, or with Quizlet for students to create or build, what are the things you can do to encourage students into academic integrity and academic honesty? One is to use that content for studying, then to put it aside and to use their own memory and their own thinking when they’re creating their assignments and doing their work. This is the only way your students can know for sure if they actually learned anything. And, by the way, students monitoring their own learning is the critical element that gives them the responsibility for what’s going on. Not everyone is going to see it that way. However, the more you coach them to create the flashcards, the less likely they are to just copy other people’s work.

You could have a little contest or you could have a grade for this. You could do all kinds of fun things to ask them to be creative or to encourage the creativity. You could share the terms, you could share the definitions right up front and make it a contest of the graphics that they could include on those flashcards. Whatever approach you decide to try, there are many ways for you to encourage creativity and originality in what they’re doing.

If you want to run their submissions through a plagiarism checker, an originality checker like Turnitin.com, you could have them submit the terms and definitions to you as an assignment in a Word document, and then go create the flashcards. See, there’s always a way to check originality even when you’re using multimedia tools.

Try Live Rounds of Quizlet in Synchronous Classes

Now, if your students decide to use the free version, this app does have ads on, it is going to be a little more limited than the paid version. Quizlet Plus is a version for teachers. And they call it adding “teacher superpowers” to your account. If you decide to get the Quizlet Plus version for teachers, you can actually enroll specific students in the Quizlet group. And you could have these Quizlet rounds that are called live rounds in real time. If you’re teaching a synchronous online class, this could be especially fun. You could see your students’ progress as they’re completing their study sessions. And you can encourage them to get in there and do the work.

You can also see what topics your students are studying when they’re in the app. So that Quizlet Plus version is a very interesting way to give yourself the space to tailor the help that you give your students and to meet their needs more fully. There are a lot of ways for you to explore this tool, and several types of games that students can play once they have Quizlet flashcards. They can create new sets of flashcards quickly and easily, there can be various ways of studying the fronts or the backs, we could put diagrams on those things. And as I mentioned, images, all kinds of stuff. You can also import from Word Excel or Google Docs to create a study set. So that makes it even easier. And you can have a library of these cards, so you can collect them over time, and have study sets from a lot of different people or a lot of different topics.

It’s a very interesting tool that can even be embedded in your classroom. So, you can put a link to the site, coach your students on how to use it, and then have a repository of all their Quizlet stuff sort of stored there in your classroom. There are also some solutions for textbooks provided on the Quizlet site.

Try Textbook and Existing Resources on Quizlet

Just looking through their myself, I see subjects like chemistry, calculus, engineering, linear algebra, physics, biology, languages, business, and even more. So, some of these flashcards are already there and already available ready for you to use.

As you’re thinking about how you might use Quizlet, I just want to encourage you to try it out, give it a trial run, see what you think of it. And also ask your students what ideas they have for using this tool in different ways. Once you get a flashcard set and you start playing with it, you’ll be surprised at all the different ways that you can play with those ideas that are there for you.

I want to talk you through what you’re going to see when you start working in this set of flashcards that are in Quizlet. So, let’s just say you want to look for an existing set of flashcards that somebody else already created and just see if you could use that. There’s a search bar in the upper righthand corner of the platform when you’re on a PC. And you could just type the term; and since I teach music appreciation, I just typed the word music.

And the first thing that happened was several sets of flashcards came up. And as I open the flashcards I see there’s a set of 137 flashcards in this particular card deck. And down below, I can scroll up and down and see which items are on the flashcards. The flashcards I’m looking at happen to be the note names on the treble clef and the bass clef, along with some other symbols in reading musical notation.

This set of flashcards is a really fun one, because I see the name on the front of the card. And then when I click on the card, it flips over, and it shows me the answer. Then I go to the next one, same deal. Click on the card, flip it over, it shows me the answer. So, I can just click through these and really study that way. And that’s the self-study activity called “flashcards.”

Now, what if I want to do the learning mode? I could choose a goal to personalize my learning Quizlet. And your students could do this too. There’s a Quick Study, there’s a Memorize It All feature. And then there’s a Learn and Apply, where you try to build long-term knowledge. So, this is a degree of personalization that looks like it’s going to be pretty fun.

There’s also a function called test. And in the Test section, we’ve got some true and false questions. We’ve got a definition here and a term here. And we’ve got some things that we can do to click true and false down below. There’s also a little icon where I can click on it, and it’ll speak it out loud, which is great if I want to hear what is being said, especially if I’m studying World Language flashcards. That’s a good thing. So that test function is especially helpful.

And then there’s a matching game. So, if you click “Start Game,” all these things fly on to the screen. And I see for example, the word melody, and then on a different spot I see “it’s the line or tune in music, a concept that is shared by most cultures.” And I’m thinking, based on all the other answers, that’s probably the answer. So, I’m going to click on melody, and I’m going to click on the definition. And I’m going to stack them on top of each other and they disappear. And it’s timing me on the lefthand side. So, it’s kind of fun. It’s like a little game, and students will find this fun, too. So, I’m going to click on these different things and stack them on top of each other and pretty soon I’m going to be done. Yep, my last one. It took me 45 seconds to finish that quiz of matching.

And then on the screen, I have some feedback. It says great start. Now can you do it even better. And someone else who has done this particular set of flashcards, their name is on the screen. It says, “Can you beat this person’s personal best to 44.6 seconds?” And I have the option to study some more or go back to the set to play it again. And there’s my name, it shows me at 45.2 seconds. Wow. So, there are three people that are faster than me on this game. And I could click through again and become better and better if I really want to.

You might have a challenge with all of your students in one class, which would be kind of fun, because then they’re competing against people they know, and who they’re talking to in the same discussions and all of those things. So that matching game, even though it may seem basic, at first, could be super fun, a great way to get students engaged in their memorization and just their understanding of terms, definitions and applications.

There’s also something called “Checkpoint,” and it’s a new feature in Quizlet. It’s a type of assessment. And it’s going to help you choose which terms and definitions that you really want to see. And you get 20 seconds per question. So, it’s going to give you this challenge round and it’s just another way of testing their knowledge in Quizlet.

So, I hope you’ll take a look at Quizlet. Every time I introduce different kinds of technology here on the Online Teaching Lounge, I like to give it a try and talk about all the features, but I’m definitely not selling anything. I don’t work for Quizlet. I’m not an expert at Quizlet. Just talking through the possibilities and options.

Now if you use Quizlet, and you have experience with this, or you try it out after this podcast, I would love to hear how it’s working for you and any ideas you came up with that you might share with others. We can add it to a future episode. So just go to bethaniehansen.com/request. There’s a comment form there and you can share your experience and tell us how this worked for you. Thank you very much for being here and for listening to me walk through the Quizlet app. I hope you’ll check it out. And best wishes trying it 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.

#126: Tips for Educators Starting a New Online Class

#126: Tips for Educators Starting a New Online Class

This content first appeared on APUEdge.edu.

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

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

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
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Read the Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Focus on Communications in the Online Class

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ways to Get to Know Students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#123: Listening to Students in the Online Classroom

This content first appeared on APUEdge.Com.

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

Listening is both a simple and complex skill. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses the importance of “listening” in the online classroom, even when classes are delivered asynchronously. Learn about four types of listening as well as three tools to help online educators effectively respond to students.

Listen to the Episode:

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

Read the Transcript:

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

Hello, I’m Bethanie Hansen, and I help online educators through this Online Teaching Lounge podcast. We’re going to hear something about listening today, and how listening is both simple and complex. It is a skill that can serve us incredibly well in life, generally, and, it’s essential to our work as online educators.

We find the job of teaching online to be both simple and complex. There are so many areas that we can explore, expand, refine, and improve.

The simplicity of teaching online means that we can see this experience as simpler than teaching a live, face-to-face class. You basically put content into the LMS, guide students through it, and evaluate their progress. And viewed in its simplicity, we might wonder what can make it a better, richer, a better experience for everyone. And we might ask how we can assure that it is a quality experience. Or, in other words, what makes it worth doing?

The complexity of teaching online means that we can get lost in the many things to do to assure that it is a transformative experience for students. We have frameworks to help us develop curriculum and content. We have accessibility measures that must be followed to help all learners access the content appropriately for their needs. We have various media tactics, including text, picture, video, audio, and interactive forms. We have models of interaction and engagement throughout the learning journey. We have types of instructor presence and strategies to achieve these aspects. And there are quality checks we can use through the OLC Scorecard, or the Quality Matters rubric, or something else. If you’re deeply involved in all of these things I’ve mentioned, you know online education can be rich and quality-focused, designed to promote the growth and transformation of our students from every angle.

In all of its simplicity and complexity, because it is done online, listening is not a topic that often comes up. After all, if online education is asynchronous, there is no live talking happening. But there is asynchronous talking of all kinds. This includes text, timing, tone, perspective, and assumptions. And if there is all of this “talking” going on, there must also be listening.

As an online educator, how do you focus on listening in the online space? How do you interpret what you hear? And how do you respond?

Today, I’m sharing four types of listening and three tools to respond to what you hear. These types of listening are:

  • listen for social connection
  • listen for big ideas and concepts
  • listen for facts and authority and
  • listen for application and relevance

When listening in each of these four ways, some helpful responding tools include acknowledging, validating, and affirming. Beyond these strategies, most educators will naturally add questioning, challenging, building their students’ ideas, and redirecting when needed.

Listen for Social Connection

Building social connection is one way of listening to others. If you’ve ever been in a meeting in which someone was smiling and nodding at the speaker the whole time, it’s possible that his person was listening for social connection. A person listening in this way is not concerned about what is being communicated. Instead, they are participating in the social experience of building relationships by listening to connect with others.

Listening in this way means that I might be trying to see the person behind the speaker or writer. I’m primarily concerned with who they are and how I might understand them as a human being. I might engage in ways that help me build a bridge with the other person and put aside any other agenda to get fully present in the social space. If I listen to build social connection, my primary concern is to build empathy.

As an online educator, social presence is part of our community of inquiry model. To listen in this way, you might make special note of the background of your students. You might listen to their goals and degree plans. And you might also become aware of all that they bring into the online space, and what challenges they are facing as they participate in your class. With this kind of listening, you’re building relationships and becoming more informed and empathetic at the same time.

Listen for Big Ideas and Concepts

A conceptual listener is one who is most interested in the big idea behind a person’s words. It is the underlying theme or big-picture concept. The details might help paint this picture, but listening in this way doesn’t get lost in the details or require them to all be lined up in order perfectly.

Listening in this way means I might try seeing the big concept presented in a speaker or writer’s entire message. I’m primarily concerned with the idea itself and how I might observe their own understanding of this big idea. I might engage in ways that help me see more fully how the other person understands this big picture, rather than trying to impose my own understanding of that idea or concept. By putting aside my own ideas about it, I’m more able to hear how they see the concept.

As an online educator, cognitive presence is partly satisfied through the communication of big ideas and concepts. Listening in this way helps us learn how students construct knowledge for themselves and how they understand the concepts needed in any subject area. This kind of listening can help us detect where additional knowledge might be helpful or where we can support and redirect our students. With this kind of listening, you’re going to know when your students have sufficient understanding to play with theories and work to apply them.

Listen for Facts and Authority

A listener focused on facts and authority is most interested in the primary subject matter experts in the field, and the ways in which students use them in writing and speaking. Facts are just that—undeniable details. These might be core principles, dates, names, and other evidence or data. Authority means that well-developed source materials and quotes are integrated into the conversation, and where needed, these are cited appropriately.

Listening in this way means that I might hear what is said but wait for the supporting evidence or authority to back it up. I’m mainly concerned that the ideas are not just one person’s opinion, but something more well-known and research-based. I might engage in ways that provide this kind of information to others, showing by example. I might ask follow-up questions to prompt my students to share more about what they read and what they said and what they wrote.

As an online educator, facts and authority are another way in which we satisfy cognitive presence. Listening in this way helps us detect what students are actually learning specific to the subject matter and about engaging as academics and scholars themselves. And listening for these details, we can help mentor them to communicate on an academic level about ideas in the field that others believe are essential.

Listen for Application and Relevance

A listener focused on application and relevance is mostly interested in what can be done with the ideas being shared. The facts and authority might be important, and a solid discussion of the big picture concept. But more than that, it would be all about what we can do with these ideas.

Listening in this way means I might think, “This is nice, but why does it matter? What can we do with it in the real world?” I’m mainly concerned with how it can apply to me in my own life. Or how it can be implemented in the workplace. I might engage in ways that bring up various scenarios or what-if proposals. I might ask questions about making it real and trying it out.

As an online educator, especially with adult learners, applying the learning is a priority. Our students want to know how the ideas and details are relevant to them, and they want to be able to do something with the knowledge they have gained. Listening in this way helps us communicate on that same level with our students about areas they care most about. And this brings us full circle from learning social connection about who they are to the application of learning into more of who they are.

Respond by Acknowledging, Validating, and Affirming

Even when listening in different ways, it can be challenging to know how to respond. Three easy responses that help online students feel seen, heard, and understood can be learned and practiced and chances are, you’re already doing them.

Acknowledging means that we let others know they were heard. In the online classroom, this might mean that we provide a statement about the student’s message to indicate we have seen it or read it. Even a simple “thank you for posting about the topic,” and adding a few details you noticed in the post, helps a student know you read it. Acknowledging is a basic exchange and does not require additional interpretation or any discussion.

Validating goes beyond just acknowledging. Validating means that in some way, we let others know we accept their point of view and their feelings, even if we don’t agree. We are basically saying that their statements are valid. You don’t try to correct them, persuade them, or tell them their viewpoint is wrong. Validation is an empathetic way of communicating and is not judgmental. This isn’t about facts and data but much more about others’ life experiences and preferences and opinions. To be helpful, validating must show that you really hear the other person and understand why they feel the way they do.

Affirming is a way to recognize a person’s strengths or positive behaviors and improvements. The intention behind these statements is that they support a person’s growth and their capacity to learn and change. They are only effective when they are true. As online educators, we might respond to a student’s idea as a helpful suggestion or respond to their application of the concepts as original and resourceful. As they continue to learn and develop, affirming statements help our students feel seen and understood, and they also praise evidence of their growth with specific evidence along the way.

As we close out this episode about types of listening and three ways to acknowledge what we hear, I realize this is a lot of information! My suggestion is to pick only of these ideas to try out and see what happens. And remember, that these are foundational ideas. It’s likely you’re already going beyond these strategies by questioning, challenging, building on students’ ideas, and redirecting them when needed. And by trying one new concept this coming week, you’re going to add variety to your listening approach online. And who knows? Your students might even like it! Thank you for listening today, and best wishes in your online teaching this coming week.

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

#117: Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning

This content first appeared on APUEdge.Com.

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

The goal of culturally responsive teaching is to help students feel more comfortable, connected and understood in the classroom. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides guidance to help educators invite students to share more about themselves, their background, and their culture to create a more inclusive learning environment.

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

Welcome to the podcast. Today we’re going to be talking about culturally responsive teaching and learning. Have you ever heard of this term? It’s sometimes abbreviated CLR, which would be “culturally and linguistically responsive” teaching. There are many different kinds of approaches and there’s a lot of information out there. So, I would just like to share a few tips and tidbits with you today, just to get you started on this topic.

The first tip is coming from a book by Shell Education called “50 Strategies for Your Virtual Classroom,” by Jennifer Jump. And in her book, she has a section called culturally responsive learning, if you have that book, it’s page 13. And I’m just going to quote her here. She says:

“Culturally and linguistically responsive teaching expert Dr. Sharroky Hollie (2020) defines a culturally responsive mindset in the following way: ‘Being culturally responsive is an approach to living life in a way that practices the validation and affirmation of different cultures for the purposes of moving beyond race and moving below the superficial focus on culture.’ When educators use culturally responsive teaching strategies, students are more engaged, which in turn helps them to be more successful, academically.”

So, there’s our start today, to be thinking about and talking about. The goal is to bring out students’ real identities and who they really are, to help them feel more comfortable, more connected, and more understood in the classroom. But I think it goes a little bit beyond this. And that is how we can appreciate and understand our students from whichever place they come from, and whatever beliefs they have, and whatever understandings they have. And we can also show up ourselves.

We, too, have an identity and a background and a culture that may be part of sharing. Maybe it’s part of our social presence; maybe it’s part of our invitation, to invite our students to bring in who they are and be themselves in the classroom as well.

And when we talk about culturally responsive teaching and learning, there’s an article out there by Laura Rychly and Emily Graves in the magazine, “Multicultural Perspectives,” volume 14, number one from 2012. I realize that’s about 10 years ago, but these concepts are very much relevant today. And I’m going to just read from the summary here some pertinent ideas you might care about.

“Culturally responsive pedagogy, as defined by one of the most prominent authors in the field. Geneva Gay (2002), is, ‘using the cultural characteristics, experiences, and perspectives of ethnically diverse students as conduits for teaching them more effectively.”

Cultivate Four Practices to Implement Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning

So, we’re understanding that culturally responsive teaching and learning means that we are using some “teaching practices that attend to the specific cultural characteristics that make [our] students different from one another, and from their teacher.” Cultural characteristics might be things like our values, our traditions, and our language.

And those are kind of on one level, then if we go a little bit deeper here, we’re going to also can include the concepts of how we communicate, what we communicate, learning styles we might have; things that are traditionally done in our method of learning, culturally, might even include group versus individual work, for example. And also relationship norms. There are a lot of specifics from one culture to the next about how various relationships speak to each other, whether it’s teacher-to-student, student-to-peer, student-to-other leaders, etc.

Culturally responsive pedagogy means that our main objective is that we’re going to be able to reach everyone and educate everyone in the way that we can reach them best. So, in this chapter that I mentioned by Laura Rychly and Emily Graves, this is actually a literature review about a lot of different research that’s been done on multicultural or culturally responsive pedagogy. And there are four practices that come out, which I’d like to highlight for you here.

Being Empathetic and Caring

And that is first, that the teacher is empathetic and caring. And of course, that means that when we hear our students, when they communicate to us, we’re going to be able to validate their experiences, different from our own or similar to our own, it doesn’t matter. We can validate. Validating is just affirming and legitimizing that someone else’s experience is every bit as real as our own experience or someone else’s. So, all those experiences are valid, valuable and worth contributing. And, of course, we can give a lot of upfront instruction and guidance to communicate that empathy and that caring to all of our students and help them to know how to engage.

Be Reflective about People from Other Cultures

The second point that comes out from this article is that they are reflective about their beliefs about people from other cultures. And this one’s particularly important, it’s a pretty obvious point that we might have implicit bias about groups of people or cultures. Interestingly enough, we might even have biases about our own.

For example, if we find a student from our own cultural background, we might assume we know how they think and feel or what they might understand. And that’s really not true. We didn’t grow up with these people, we’re not in the same household, or even the same person that they are.

And as clear as that may sound, we want to question our assumptions about groups, about individuals and even about our own, when we run into students who come from similar backgrounds. There can be areas on which we can connect to students, but there can also be assumptions that are not correct, that become barriers if we believe these things. So, reflecting on our beliefs about people from other cultures is a solid practice that will help us with culturally responsive teaching and learning.

Be Reflective about Assumptions Regarding Culture

Third, they are reflective about their own cultural frames of reference. Again, looking at our own world from the inside out, and then trying to be objective looking from the outside in so that we can understand how we might present ourselves to others, and what assumptions we have.

Be Knowledgeable about Other Cultures

And lastly, that they are knowledgeable about other cultures. This requires a little bit of learning on our part. Those of you who have been to many places in the world, interacted with people of many cultures and backgrounds, you have already some helps in this direction. And if we’ve really developed over time in a single place, and we haven’t traveled much, or known very many cultures outside our own, this could be an area for growth. Something we need to stretch into and learn more about others.

There’s some data shared in this article about teacher characteristics for culturally responsive pedagogy that might be useful to you. There is a diverse student population across the United States that needs more education and education that reaches them where they are, especially our adult learners. Many people grow up into adulthood, and when they come to college, they’re already wondering, should they even be there? They’re wondering, is it a good fit for them? Can they do it? Can they make it?

And having some culturally responsive approaches in our teaching, meeting students where they are and learning what their needs are to best connect with them and help them engage in the discourse or the academic content, that’s going to help them a lot. So, we have some ideas around who we can be as teachers, what we can do to help reach students best through a culturally responsive approach, and then we also have some specific strategies we can use.

Try Strategies to Become More Culturally Responsive

The first one I already mentioned, validating our students. A second one would be affirming. Affirming means that we are just giving some acknowledgement to the student’s experience and allowing them the space to be who they are. We don’t necessarily need to correct them on what is right or wrong, based on their own background, but we do need to teach the content in a way that they can connect to it, use it, and grow from that content and from that experience.

Through validating and affirming students throughout the classroom and our activities, we’re going to be building relationships with them by showing them we care—that’s that empathy and caring that was mentioned in the teacher traits. And we’re also going to be able to build bridges from where we are or where our students are to where we are. So, we’re going to be able to help them connect to things that might be outside their norm, or outside their realm of experience.

Now, what we know about adult learners is that they want to bring their own experiences into the classroom. If we come at our teaching with a culturally responsive approach to teaching and learning, we will be expecting that and inviting it. And the more we can invite our students to be who they are to share their own experiences and we can be more aware of our attitudes, our cultural understanding, and also what our students may need to be invited out and share those things, the more we’re going to be able to build those relationships that support students’ learning and success.

Whether or not you already have the experience with culturally responsive teaching and learning, we can all start now and take the step to invite students to share. It’s something we can do through sharing our own background, through using culturally responsive language and the way we communicate that is inviting and open to sharing across students, and students to faculty, and faculty to students as well.

And we can also include resources, images, videos, from a variety of cultures. In selecting the materials that we put before our students, we can use largely diverse groups of people in those materials, and diverse approaches to give plenty of examples and things that students can connect to. The more we do this, the more we can celebrate the uniqueness of each person in our classroom and we can meet them where they really are.

Now, the more we think about multicultural teaching, or culturally responsive teaching, the more we can think about the invitation to have confidence and be oneself. There’s sort of a motivational framework that exists, whether you’re motivated to have a job, motivated to take a class, motivated to do anything, really. And the motivational framework has to do with being able to contribute, first of all, so you have some kind of special value there or meaning in the experience. And that would be a great foundation for culturally responsive teaching.

If students are asking the question, is this work meaningful to me? And if they’re able to say yes to that, then that means we’ve bridged that gap in some way or helped them to do so.

Secondly, is this experience going to give me a chance to develop? So, when we’ve reached our students in a way that connects to what they already know, and what they like to continue learning, and is somewhat in a context that meets them where they are, then they will continue developing and they will have that opportunity. So, we want students to be able to say yes to that question.

Third, am I going to learn new things? Which is different from developing, right? Developing means I’m going to grow as a human being. Learning new things could be skills, facts, information, schema, academic vocabulary, any of those things that they need to continue in depth, or breadth throughout their academic experience.

Fourth, will I have an opportunity for recognition and achievement? And that question speaks to their achievement in the course and their long-term connection to their career. Will students be able to pass this class? Is there enough information they can access that’s going to meet them where they are and bridge the gap for them, so that they can be successful?

If we find that students, for example, need some kind of vocabulary database, where they can look up the terms or some kind of tutor to help them revise their essays, or whatever it is. If we provide those things or give them connections to those things at the institution, then they’re going to have the opportunity to achieve in that course, to successfully complete the course, and have some internal and external recognition for their work.

And then lastly, am I going to be given responsibility? We never want a student to have the experience of just showing up and passively listening and walking away. We want to expect rigor and high performance from all of our students. If students are given responsibility for their learning and also expected to achieve at a high level, we maintain those expectations but scaffold the steps to get there. Now we’ve given students a really satisfying experience where they are expected to have some responsibility there and to work for what they’re doing, and to come away with a sense of satisfaction and achievement.

So, we have all these things that come together in culturally responsive teaching. And, in closing, whatever approaches you’re using to encourage your students to discuss their experiences and connect to their backgrounds and the depth of who they are, always remember to invite. Inviting is the best approach possible. The more you invite students to share these things and affirm and acknowledge them and validate them when they do share, the more open and accepting and inviting your classroom is going to be. And that’s going to be a positive experience for our students. That’ll get us a good start on the path of culturally responsive teaching and learning. Thank you for being here today. I wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week.

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

#115: Why It’s Important to Know What Online Students Are Thinking

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

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

Many students have self-doubt and concerns about taking online classes. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares insight she recently learned from talking to a recent graduate at Commencement. Learn why it’s so important for faculty members to understand what causes students to have self-doubt and worry about pursuing an online education.

Listen to the Episode:

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Read the Transcript:

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

Welcome to the podcast. This is Bethanie Hansen, your host, and I’m going to share with you a thought about what students are thinking when they’re taking your online class. Especially your adult learners who are working full time, or perhaps they’re serving in the military, but online learning is not the only thing in which they’re engaged.

This experience I had recently took place at the APU commencement. Now, our university has a sister institution, we have American Public University and American Military University. I happened to be at the commencement weekend, and I met one of our students at the evening reception where we welcome our students and celebrate with them in between the convocation day, and the commencement exercises.

[Podcast: Voices From Commencement 2022]

I met this student at the buffet table. He was getting some hors d’oeuvres, and we happened to see each other. I just greeted him and said, “Hello,” and then we struck up a conversation. And I learned two important things about what our online students are thinking a great deal of the time. I want to share them with you today to just provide insights from this one student’s perspective and also to generate a little conversation around these two ideas.

Building Confidence in Online Students

The first idea is this sense of self as a learner. A lot of our online students approach online learning with a complete lack of self confidence. Many of them are coming into their first class, their second class, even their 10th class, wondering what they’re doing there.

Their inner thinking is about self-criticism. So they are doubting their capacity to complete the courses successfully. They might even be wondering if they are college material, especially your adult learners who have been away from school for a long time. This student that I met had just completed a two-year associate’s degree.

He was super excited. And he told me that when he began the degree program, he wondered if it would even be possible for him to do this. After all, he had not been in college for several years. Now the person I was talking to happened to be serving in the military. And every time he wanted a new challenge, he would take the new challenge and move up in rank and move up in opportunity. He was out there doing things that I personally would consider very difficult.

I have not personally served in the military. I admire people who do. And I believe that is a very challenging pursuit. It takes a lot of self discipline, a lot of courage, and a lot of motivation to keep at it every day, day in and day out. And I respect greatly our nation’s military servicemembers.

This person was confidently serving in the military and did not find that too difficult. But his choice to return to school and take college classes while serving in the military, this brought a lot of fear for him and a lot of self-doubt. He said each time he took a class, he wondered, “Could he do this?” And as he got through another course, then signed up for another and took another course and signed up for another one, he would say to himself, “I think I can do this. I’m going to try my best to do this.”

And pretty soon, he learned that he could do it. And he reached the end of that two-year degree, and looked back at it and said, “Wow, look what I accomplished, I did it.” He was thrilled with himself and I could see this in his face, hear it in his voice, in the things we talked about. It was a huge sense of accomplishment in an area he did not previously think he could accomplish something. Many of our college students working online with us think the exact same things.

I have read in many research studies, many online learner tip magazines, from faculty who have engaged with students saying these very same things. And I’ve heard it from students myself, time and time again. Our online students are afraid of taking classes online. It’s a big challenge. And one thing that makes it such a big challenge is that we don’t have that sense of camaraderie that we get from classmates when we’re a student taking a class.

We’re not entering the space where we can maybe make a casual connection with someone else who we could study with or maybe feel like we have a friend or two who are going through this with us. Nope, it’s just us and that online class with those people who are also virtual, who we never really get to see in real life. And when you think about it, approaching an online class with that sense of disconnectedness and fear, can already put the odds against you, as an online student.

As online teachers, it’s our job to be thinking ahead, to understand what our students are thinking. That there is this huge sense of self doubt, some worry, some fear, taking an online class. And for some students, it happens every single time they take the class, the next one and the next one.

So, I’m bringing this to your attention to just share the experience I had speaking with this student. It was my first time meeting him and he had no reason to be bragging or self doubting or any of those things in front of me, he was just being honest and sharing his story. And it was very exciting to see him celebrate at the end of that degree.

The insight that I personally gained is about working with students when I’m teaching my next online class. I’m thinking, “How can I put them at ease? How can I review the way I write my commentary in the announcements, and the way I set up my course, to really invite them into that space?”

Sure, they signed up for the class, and they’re there. But there’s a lot I can do to invite them into the space, reassure them that they belong there, and offer a helping hand as they’re trying to learn the ropes of getting through that course.

This does not mean that we water down our content or lower the rigor of the environment. What it does mean is that we show that we’re human beings, too. That we understand what they’re going through, and that we want to help. I can do that, through my words, through my actions, the quick way that I respond, my responsiveness. I can do that through the way I explain things in my grading comments, and in my discussion board interactions. And, I can also do that in this another way, which is the second thing I learned from the student I spoke with.

Consider Online Weekly Zoom Office Hours

His suggestion across the board for every single one of his teachers was that he would have liked to have a weekly Zoom call or weekly web call of some kind. He suggested this, because many times students have lots of questions they want to ask, and they feel very awkward reaching out with an email or even a message, just to ask that one question. And even when they do, apparently, a lot of students ask the question, and they wait and wait for several days before they get an answer.

So, to solve that problem, if students know what day and time that they can just drop by and ask all their questions, they can come to that space, ask their questions, or even listen to their classmates who are also asking questions, and learn the little tips and tricks to get through that class. Maybe someone will ask a question about the next assignment. And that student will be able to understand through hearing the answer to that other student. This student’s suggestion was a weekly 30-minute call, which really is not that long. You’re not going to sit there for a whole hour staring at the screen, you’re not going to do this four or five times a week, just once a week.

A good suggestion would be to look at your students and where they are located in the world and decide on a common time zone. Like what seems to be a range in which they could potentially meet you. If you have a lot of students on the East Coast, and you live in Hawaii, then you might need to do it earlier in your day to catch them while they’re still awake.

Whatever it takes to get your students at a day and time that seems to fit everybody, if you extend that invitation, and you just regularly present yourself on video, then you’re inviting your students even more into a conversation, something sort of informal. And, if nothing more, you could just talk about what the lesson material is for the day.

You could come with a few points you just want to share. Or you could open it up to Q&A. And remember your students are adults, they are human beings, they might even want to hear about what you’re thinking about doing in the coming week. You know, if you have a dog, or if there are things coming up for you. Anything that will bring authenticity to your teaching, as you think about the very human things that would be common and normal to share, generally speaking, maybe you’ll have conversations about that.

For example, if a holiday is coming up and you’re looking forward to a special meal, you’re going to cook or something, you can always have a little bit of small-talk conversation, and get to know your students even better when they share their own thoughts. It can even go farther, if those kind of side comments and social connection commentary goes with some of the content.

Like, for example, if you’re a Spanish teacher, and you’re going to make a special dish that comes from Spanish culture, and share it at your next holiday, maybe that’s something you just want to chit chat about during your 30 minutes of live connection.

Whatever it is, students need to need to know that you’re there for them. They need to see you as a real person and feel like you have a reliable pattern of being approachable and of responding to them. This suggestion the student made about the 30 minute, I guess, office hour, for lack of a better term there, it really sounded a lot more like his suggestion was more about having regular, open communication and responding quickly to students than it was about the video.

Of course, video is always a good thing. It helps your students to see you and trust you. There is so much more students get from a short video of you, especially a live one than they will ever get from a paragraph of your words. You’ve heard that saying, “A picture’s worth 1,000 words.” Definitely true in the online space.

So think about how you might integrate a live video connection with your students no matter how short. Or if that’s not feasible for you, how you could do some kind of videos on a regular basis where students can at least help bridge that gap and make connections to get to know you. If you think about those two things that the student shared with me, you’re going to have a lot more ideas, even beyond those that I’ve shared here.

And hopefully the ideas that you come up with are going to work for you in your online class. And perhaps you’ll share those out and tell us about how they worked for you. You can do that by visiting BethanieHansen.com/Request, and just putting a comment on that form to let us know what’s working, what’s not working. What would you suggest we try?

I love speaking to our students, especially at the end of a program when they really are thinking about what went well for them, and what could have been better. That kind of advice is priceless. And I feel very fortunate to have heard it, and to be able to share it with you here today. I hope you’ll think about it and have a great week in your online teaching coming up and also share some thoughts that you’re having about what’s working for you and we can talk about it on our upcoming episodes.

Thank you again for being here and for being loyal listeners of the Online Teaching Lounge at American Public University. It’s been a great year having you and celebrating, at the time of this recording very recently, our commencement and convocation weekend.

I hope that you have the time to pause and reflect on the past school year, what you’ve learned, what you’ve taught, what you’d like to celebrate, and what you hope your students will take away. And make note of some of those milestones that have occurred over the past year for you.

And then begin thinking about ways to refresh throughout the coming season, and hopefully take a small break or even a larger one if you’re one of those folks who has a summer vacation. Either way, it’s a great time to pause and reflect on your teaching practice. And also consider your students’ input when you’re doing that. Again, thanks for being here. And I wish you all the best this coming week in your online teaching or whatever adventure awaits you.

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

#112: A Guide to Dealing with Challenging Students in the Online Classroom

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com. 

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

Online educators sometimes face challenging students who disagree with a grade or are argumentative in the classroom. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses ways to help online educators deal with such conflicts. Learn how to implement de-escalation tactics to meet in the middle, work with colleagues or administrators to get additional support, and finding ways to recover after a stressful situation.

Listen to the Episode:

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

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

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. This is your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen. I’m very happy to be with you today to talk about difficult students online. There are a variety of situations in which you might find yourself working with a student you might describe as “difficult.” And by difficult, I’m talking about a variety of things. It could be that student is challenging a grade and persisting after you have provided additional feedback. Or the student might be arguing throughout the class, creating a tense atmosphere. This might seem like it is escalating. It might seem as though your student doesn’t like you and resists the teaching approach or even your personality. And with a lot of tense events are happening in our world, so it’s likely that you’re going to encounter challenging students more often in the future, as our students face unexpected stressors, trauma, world events, natural disasters, and uncertainty.

While you’re working with challenging students in your online teaching, your own stress level increases. The experience might drain your energy and might make it harder to notice the students who are having a good experience in your class, and all the positive moments happening. We can easily become defensive when a student reacts poorly or challenges us, and our own response might add fuel to the fire.

To address all of this, in today’s podcast we will first look at ways to meet the student in the middle. To focus on de-escalating the tension to find a potential step forward.

Then, we will look at options available to you when a solution is not reached. This might include other departments at your educational institution, members of your team, or colleagues. Although we may teach alone, we are not alone in managing serious challenges, and we can reach out for support.

And last, we will explore supportive habits that can help you to get through the stressful time you’re experiencing and to recover from what might be a traumatic experience. When a serious challenging experience occurs in the online classroom, it can shake your confidence and make you feel depleted. Focusing on your wellbeing and recovery from the stress can give you the space to regain energy and zest for teaching. And we will close with those ideas.

Focus on De-Escalation and Meet in the Middle

A lot of times, students escalate quickly when they don’t understand, or when we’ve made a comment to them that they have taken as a judgment instead of an evaluation of their work. While it might surprise us when this happens, especially if it happens quickly, it also makes sense that not all our students will immediately understand what we say to them.

As you face a challenging student in your online class, I recommend looking backwards. Consider your past teaching moments and any challenges you might have faced. How did you work through those challenges? When we reflect on our past challenges, we can identify key skills we developed that are now available to us in present challenging situations. Looking at past teaching challenges can also help us consider new perspectives about the current problem. There is a lot we have already learned from working with difficult students in the past, and we can draw on what went right in those previous scenarios, as well as what we would have wanted to do differently.

To meet students in the middle, we can draw upon the skills we have learned from our past challenges. And we can try to understand our student’s perspective. From their vantage point, what might have been more helpful in the assignment instructions, or in my grading feedback? And where they are sitting right now, what will be most helpful to move them forward in the class?

Meeting someone in the middle suggests that I consider how I might be part of the problem, so that I can be part of the solution. One way to learn about the student’s perspective in order to meet in the middle could be to have a phone call or video chat and ask them: “What is you understanding of the situation?” or “What might help you most right now?”

As we hear what students will tell us, the most important part of this conversation is to listen with a true desire to understand their viewpoint or their perspective. As this begins to take shape, it is tempting to jump in with comments or assume that we’re ready to make a compromise of some kind. However, I would encourage us to keep listening to ensure that we have the full story from our student. And then, we can summarize or paraphrase what we heard to make sure that we understand. Only then, the student feels fully heard are we able to take a step forward to resolving the situation.

Be Authentic and Present

Now, if you have a problem that you can’t de-escalate with a student, and you really do feel like you’ve put in the steps needed but things are not improving, authenticity can be one additional resource available to you. Authenticity is a combination of awareness, behavior, relational orientation, and unbiased processing.

When we think about being authentic in a moment of tension or conflict with a student online, we might find that to be just the opposite of what is possible for us. But, if we can stay grounded to our personal values, what we care most about, and the humanity of that other person we are dealing with, we can bring ourselves back down emotionally and become mindful of the moment that we’re in and be able to let those really tense thoughts just stream on by.

The most important thing we can do in a tense situation with students is to think clearly and to be able to be back in the moment that we’re living in. By doing this, you can be authentic, you can present yourself as your best self, even when there’s a tension there. Most people that we’re engaging with, even if they have a complaint, will be less aggressive when they feel that we’re being non-judgmental towards them and inviting them.

Pause to Refocus

If you start to feel inflexible, resistant and defensive towards the student, I want to encourage you to pause, take a step back and see if you can understand what the student is experiencing. Just giving that pause can give you a little bit of space to see it in new light and understand if the student has missed something along the way, then a simple clarification can help get things right back on track.

Of course, not all students are going to respond openly when they initially are defensive about something. Again, if you sense yourself tensing up and resisting the student or starting to argue back and forth, a pause or silence to breathe and refocus can help. Letting go of that sense of resistance may be the tone that invites your student to do the same. And once we are meeting in the middle and understanding what is going on, we can take a step forward towards solutions, no matter how small.

In my experience, I notice that when someone is being challenging or difficult, it’s like I’m being invited to get defensive in return. It’s like an unwritten invitation to get defensive right back. And if we’re not careful, we’re going to be sucked in quickly. It’s easy to do that when we’re not seeing the people face to face that we’re teaching, and if we read the question or complaint in an email. If we take the invitation and get defensive back with a student who’s having a challenge experience, it becomes very difficult to see the student in a positive light or present ourselves in a positive way. And we might invite more of what we don’t want.

Another problem that we might face is feeling that we need to be right. If we have seen the situation from an objective viewpoint, and we feel that we’ve communicated very well with a student, we might feel like we know the answer, we are right and the student just needs to accept it. The problem with that is that the firmer we get, the more we’re sort of inviting that fight in return. If we’re willing to hear the person out and be a little bit softer in our presentation, and really listen, sometimes that alone will de-escalate the situation and invite your student into a discussion.

Some things we can do to invite the other person to de-escalate and join us at the table for a conversation are to ask open-ended questions and just wait. And listen. If we’re able to do that, and just give silence and take it in, then another thing we could do is to restate back to the student what we’re hearing. To validate that, yes, they must be frustrated with that understanding, whatever that is, and to ask them what they’re hoping that we can do together to resolve the situation. Sometimes it really is a small thing that’s just a huge misunderstanding. If you find yourself in this situation, slow down, and see if you can get yourself present in the moment to be your more authentic self and invite that student to the table with you.

After focusing on de-escalation strategy, slowing down, listening, and learning about what the student is experiencing, and working toward a solution, we might find that this student continues to challenge. In some cases, it begins to seem as though everything in the class starts a new challenging conversation, and the student is not interested in working with us to resolve it. When this happens, there are options available to you when a solution is not reached. This might include contacting other departments at your educational institution, members of your team, or colleagues. Although we may teach alone, we are not alone in managing serious challenges, and we can reach out for support.

Consider a Partner or Department to Support You

One helpful partner we can contact might be a department chair, a manager, a partner teacher, or another team member who can be on the phone or on a Zoom call with us and our student. Having a second party there can bring in neutrality to help us to have the conversation in a less emotional manner than we might otherwise have. The team member can add value to the conversation by sharing additional ideas or perspective that can help both you and your student to move forward. And after the call has ended, this person might be able to share perspective with you that you’re not seeing, because you’re very close to the situation.

In any challenging situation, whether we are alone in the conversation or with a team member on the call, we can listen to the student’s story, their experience, and their complaint, and then let the student know we need some time to think about what they have said, and a second conversation to respond. It’s like we’re scheduling two different meetings, that first one will be to hear this student and really understand their situation. And the second conversation will take place after we have had the time to consider how we want to address the complaint or concern.

And be sure to respond in a prompt manner as much as possible. The wonderful thing about this approach is that it takes all pressure off you. In that first call, you can be open, a good listener, and just focused on learning as much as you can about the student’s perspective and experience. You don’t have to give any answers during the first conversation, and you can have time to think before responding.

If you work with another department, the representative from that department might be able to suggest alternatives and additional solutions to help you and your student. Some departments you might consider contacting include the student conduct department, a faculty advocate, a student services or advising team member, the university chaplain, or the disability services and accommodations office. Each of these teams has a slightly different approach when meeting the students’ needs, and you may find that aligning your approach with one or more of these teams gives you strength and perspective to respond well. If you have any suspicion that your student could use these services, you can even recommend them to your student, that they reach out to those departments. And of course, you can as well for a little more insight and support in dealing with a very challenging situation.

We know that online teaching can itself be challenging at times and a bit isolating. But with these ideas, we hope that you’ll be able to reach out to your students make some personal connections, feel that you’re able to really reduce the tension in a situation that might otherwise escalate and help your students to get right back on track.

During the conflict, it’s possible that you will feel unable to relax and consider the student’s perspective if this student has approached you in a hostile way or a threatening manner. If that happens, don’t wait to reach out to others for help and support. It’s difficult to know what to do in such a situation, and other team members and departments will be able to help you.

If the challenge is a tough one, but it does not seem that you’re being threatened or treated in a hostile way, it might still push you a bit. You can know if you’re feeling stress if you start to firm up your grading practices in response or if you feel like suddenly becoming strict with grading timelines when you were previously more flexible. If you start to notice yourself getting into more strict absolutes, which we call all-or-nothing thinking in terms of your deadlines and your grading, this serves as a red flag to let you know that you’re under a lot more stress than usual. And you might unintentionally invite more resistance from students, instead of less. When you notice these kinds of red flags in your approach, I encourage you again to pause, step back, and continue to treat that challenging student as you would any student in your class as much as you can. And at the same time, contact other colleagues, a manager, or one of the departments available to help you, and ask for back up.

If you need a break from your classroom, you can also talk to a partner teacher, a manager, or a leader in your institution, a department chair, a principal, or wherever you’re working for some backup for some help. Perhaps there might be a day or two, you could be out of that class to get some space if the situation has escalated.

Take Care of Yourself and Recover from Stress

For the final topic we explore today, we look at supportive habits that can help you get through the stressful time you’re experiencing and recover from what might be a traumatic experience. When serious and challenging experience occurs in the online classroom, it can shake your confidence and make you feel depleted. Focusing on your wellbeing and recovery from the stress can give you the space to regain energy and zest for teaching.

And you might truly experience stress and trauma when you’re working with very challenging students. Especially if there’s been a traumatic event. There is a resource one of my wonderful colleagues shared with me from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which is linked here in the podcast transcript. And from it, we are taking some helpful tips to notice normal and natural reactions you might experience when dealing with a traumatic event or a disaster, and emotions you might have. Physical reactions you might also have, and then some suggestions on how you might manage your workload afterwards.

For example, one of the suggestions is that if you realize you’ve been injured, you need to seek medical treatment, of course, and if you’re not injured, focus on completing only one task at a time, just slow down in your work. And that will help you feel like you’re getting some control back and getting on top of things as you’re getting back in the game of working with your students.

Pause and take deep breaths. Take the time to gently stretch to calm yourself before you tackle each task. And plan to do something relaxing after work. Be patient with yourself if you notice that you’re having trouble remembering things, difficulty thinking clearly, worrying a lot, of experience more difficulty making decisions. All of these can be normal effects of stress or trauma. So do your best to exercise self-compassion.

And look at those tips for survivors of traumatic events. Talk with others who can understand you and understand what you’re going through. Listen to uplifting music, music that can help you relax and calm yourself. Of course, use what you know to be good coping skills, healthy coping skills that work for you.

As you work with challenging students, you know, because you’ve been teaching online, that there are many types of students that we work with, a lot of different people with a lot of different backgrounds. Hopefully you’ll be able to get through that experience and take the skills you have gained in the challenge to apply in other scenarios in the future. And if you’re not able to finish the class with that student, you will still be able to care for yourself and work through the stress and trauma of the significant challenge you might be experiencing. Regardless of how the situation ends, taking the time to focus on your wellbeing and recovery from the stress is important. And adopting habits to sustain your wellbeing will help you regain confidence after the conflict.

The ideas we have considered today around working with challenging students have focused on de-escalation efforts to meet in the middle, working with colleagues and other departments to get support if the challenge isn’t improving, and finding ways to recover once the stress has subsided. Although these ideas are a good start, there is no substitute for your own experiences and intuition about how to resolve challenging situations and relying on your own insight can be helpful throughout the process.

Thank you for being here today and for your desire to help challenging students get back into learning in your online class when possible. We wish you all the best in resolving tough situations in your online teaching and in your work this coming week.

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

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