Teaching online can be time consuming and seep into instructors’ personal time. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides insight into how to plan a strong work routine. Learn about the importance of surveying your workload ahead of time, writing it down and tracking it, and reflecting and adapting to improve your time management.
Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics, and parents, who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun! Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen. And I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics, and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.
Thank you for joining me here today on the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. I’m very excited to share with you some ideas to help you plan your online teaching routine. If you’ve taught online before, you already know this can expand to fill every inch of available time. It can become something that takes more and more time all the time, because there is so much more we can do when we’re working online.
The other reason this can expand to fill all of our space is that when we teach online, many times we succumb to interruptions and diversions and other courses of action. So, we might be in the middle of writing discussion responses to our students when a child comes in and wants our attention. So, we’ll get up and go attend to that. And then a lot of time has passed. And when we get back in the room to do more of our online teaching, we’ve lost our train of thought. We have to back up and get started all over again. Examples like this, and many others, are very much reality for all of us who teach online.
Even though my children are fully grown, and they’re not going to walk into the room and ask for my attention while I’m teaching, I do know exactly what it’s like because I’ve been there. And in my experience, planning ahead and sticking to that plan can help everyone function better while you’re an online educator, and expect when you’ll be free, and spend time with you later.
So, today, I’m going to share three tips with you for some good planning of your routine when you’re teaching and working online. And those are to survey ahead of time, write it down, and reflect and adapt, no matter what.
Survey Your Activities and Needs
So, we start out with surveying, and surveying is simply looking ahead to see what our tasks are going to be and how long they’re going to take. I know, we don’t always know exactly how much time it’s going to take. But we can give it our best guesstimate.
For example, if we’re going to grade papers, and we have some kind of estimate about how long it takes to grade an essay, then we can look at how many papers we could logically expect to grade that week and divide it up over how much time. And pretty soon, we know exactly how much time we need to spend.
Perhaps we’re going to plan ahead to do it all in one day. Or we’re going to break it up to do over several days. But it involves surveying and looking ahead in a way that I’ve heard of called pragmatic prospection. I know, that’s a little bit of a mouthful. But pragmatic prospection is about being practical. And looking ahead.
The pragmatic part is, “What’s it really going to look like?” Am I really going to read a lot of messages from students? Am I going to answer a lot of questions? Will I need to make some kind of asset, like a video or a handout to post in my class? Will I have a lot of things to grade? How much do I expect to engage in that discussion?
What does the quality of my comment need to be? What do I really want to invest for it to be good quality, but not take up more and more and more time? So, as you’re looking ahead, you can start to envision what the workload is going to look like, what you’re going to need to do, and what the rest of your life will be like when you’re teaching that online course.
As part of doing this habit of surveying, or looking ahead to the different types of tasks and the time it’s going to take, don’t forget to include all of the things that you do outside of work. So, we’re going to look at the online teaching first and write it down and think about it. And then we’re going to look at the rest of our life.
If there’s some kind of family obligation happening, I want to be able to plan for that. And so, I want to set aside the time for those things as well. And maybe I need to prepare for that by going shopping or calling some of my relatives, getting some of that done. So, I’m surveying all that I need to do. And I’m thinking ahead. I might also be surveying what it’s going to look like when I’m doing some grocery shopping, if that falls on me this week, and if I’m doing any household chores, and how much rest I want, and all of those sorts of things.
So, the survey is kind of like an overview, where I’m just thinking through my day, and my week, and I’m thinking about what it needs to look like, what it’s got to include, and where I want to be at the end of the week.
Write it Down and Schedule Your Time
Step two is to write it all down. Now after I’ve taken the initial survey, I’m going to start writing down the actual plan.
When we’re taking the time to write things down that we’re working on, like a calendaring habit or a schedule for online teaching, the goal is to realistically write down exactly what is expected to happen. And, yes, that might be painstakingly writing every 15 to 20 minutes of activity, and then tracking it while you’re doing it. So, not only will you write down what you expect to do, you want to make little notes about when you had to modify, spend more time than expected, or spend less.
Writing it down is going to help you realize how much time you actually spend in your online teaching. And that will also help you know if you are over anticipating how much time it will spend, or under budgeting the time. Writing it down could be every single day for a week, and then reassess. Or it could be every day for an ongoing duration. You have to decide what will work best for you in terms of tracking this, but the goal is that once you write it down ahead of time, that you stick with that schedule, no matter what.
I don’t know about you, but many times in my experience, I will sit down and think about grading some essays. And sometimes my mind will just be not very focused for grading essays. And I’ll think, “You know, I’m going to do something else. And I’ll come back to this in a little while when I’m a little bit more focused for that.”
And in doing this plan, the way I’m suggesting today, surveying ahead of time, writing it down, scheduling your time in advance, and then reflecting afterwards, we have to stick to that plan to know if it’s going to work. So, if I’m going to approach it from a mindset of not really being focused and wanting to delay the work that I’ve planned for myself, I’m going to have to do something to get myself in a mental frame of mind to do the work, not just when I’m in the mood to do the work.
So, if that’s your experience, I want to suggest thinking about a time when you were focused on doing that work, and figuring out what it’s going to take to get your brain back in gear in the moment that you need to do it now. So, whatever it takes to help you reframe your mental energy, and your focus and concentration, you can kind of play with that and try a lot of different approaches to help yourself get back in the game, and do the thing that you wrote down that you would do.
Reflect on Your Time, and Adapt as Needed
And then step three, this is reflect and adapt. Looking back on the week, we’re going to look over what worked and what didn’t work. Were there some things that took a lot of mental energy that were hard to do late in the day? Do they need to be scheduled earlier in the day? Did something take a lot longer and need to be scheduled for a longer duration with breaks in the middle?
As you’re reflecting on what works and what didn’t work in planning your routine, you’re going to get better and better at planning your online teaching routine. Reflection isn’t just about what didn’t work, it’s also about what did work. If you notice that certain tasks go really well together, make a note of that, and notice it so that you can plan it ahead and do it again next time.
Adapting means that you’re going to take the plans you made this week, and you’re going to change them a little bit based on what your reflection has turned up. If, when you’re reflecting, you happen to notice that something was really hard to do at a certain time of day, adapting would mean you’re going to do it differently next time.
And maybe instead of a specific task, and maybe you want to give yourself a choice between two certain tasks at one time of day and the same two tasks later in the day. Whichever one seems most challenging, do it first when your mental energy is at its best. And then you can come to the easier one later when that same window of time comes around.
As you’re reflecting, celebrate some of the growth and achievement that you’ve attained. If grading essays or posting in discussions is particularly troublesome for you, if it takes a lot of time and energy, but you were able to get it a little faster, or streamline it a little bit, maybe you could celebrate that success and notice what’s going really well.
And then the other thing to celebrate is if you really did make yourself stick to the plan you made. When you write your schedule and you stick to it no matter what, even if you’re not in the mood, you can celebrate that afterward because you pushed through that mental challenge or that energy-level challenge.
Another tip about all three of these things, surveying, writing it down, reflecting and adapting. These steps can be used with family members, if you have family members living in the home with you. You could share your planned schedule and ask for their input. Is there anything that they suggest adding to your work schedule that maybe you didn’t notice that you spend time on? Or is there something in your family and personal life that they’d like to make sure goes on your calendar at a certain day and time?
All of those suggestions and ideas can be really useful to you in getting a very realistic sense of what your routine should be like when you’re working and teaching online. And, of course, when you’re reflecting on the week and deciding what did work for you, you can also run that by family members, or those people that live with you, and ask them for input in that case as well. Maybe they will have noticed that certain things worked really well and certain things need to change.
Anytime you write up a schedule, and you’re really trying to stick to it, it also helps to post that schedule, so other people know exactly what to expect and when you’re going to be available. If they want to spend time with you in the middle of the day and they’re used to interrupting you, but now you’re going to take a break at a certain set time, they’re more likely to leave you alone until that time, when they know when it’s coming up and what exactly they can expect. So, share that information with your family members or people who live with you.
And I say “people who live with you” because not everyone is living with a spouse and children. Some of you may have roommates. Or you may live with other extended family members, whoever is important to you in your life. Include them in your planning, and the survey of all that is involved in your online teaching time, and all the things that are important in your life outside of that. And get their help when you’re reflecting. The more eyes you get on your plan, the more refined it’s going to be. And the better it’ll be.
Wrapping it up today, I want to just share my own experience planning the routine and sticking to it. Whenever I do this, and I share it with my family members, it’s so much easier for me to have a rewarding life, in my workday and outside of it. My family members are ready to spend time with me and really excited to see me at the end of the day. And also, they know what they can expect when I’m working. And they know what my schedule is. It’s super helpful to me to plan it ahead of time and also to communicate out.
And, on the flip side, when I failed to do that, and I’m trying to get it going, I might start and stop two or three different tasks without completing any of them. If I’m not aware of what I need to do and what my timeline is. And pretty soon my work is going to fill up all of the available time, including the family time after work. So, I know firsthand from experience how important it is to plan and keep track of the time spent.
It can also help me feel really great about all that I accomplished during the workday and realize that I really did get a lot done, and I contributed to my students and all of the other people that I’m working with. I hope you’ll try this out, doing the survey, writing it down, then reflecting and adapting and see what works for you. Let’s get some input. There’s a form on bethaniehansen.com/request where you can share your experience and let us know what works in terms of scheduling your online teaching, and what doesn’t. Stop by and give us a note.
If this podcast has been valuable to you, and you enjoy what you hear, share it with your colleagues. We would love to extend our audience and also help other people teach well online. There’s so much we can do to improve our practice and make this a better experience for everyone. Thanks again for being here and best wishes in your online teaching this coming week.
This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.
Is it possible to take a short break or vacation while also teaching an online class? In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares strategies for planning a short time away from the online class. Learn about the importance of communicating time away with students and colleagues, how to work ahead in preparation, and other tips for planning a short break away from the online classroom.
Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics and parents, who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun! Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen. And I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.
Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. I’m Bethanie Hansen, your host, and I want to talk about managing vacation time while teaching online. At the time of this episode being produced, it is mid to late July of 2022, you’re of course welcome to enjoy it and listen to it at any time of the year and we hope it’ll be valuable to you.
This this idea, though, of managing vacation time while teaching online tends to come up at three specific times of year. One is in the summer. Traditional school districts, if you have children in school, are on summer vacation. And a lot of times, spouses, if they teach at a traditional on the ground campus also have vacation. Whether you have family members who are on vacation or not, it might just strike you that you want to go on vacation for a few days in the middle of the semester that you’re teaching.
If you’re teaching throughout the summer, it can definitely be challenging to want to continue teaching while you’re also having that urge to go on vacation and travel. So, we’re going to talk a little bit about how to navigate that.
We also have the fall, early fall, there are many holidays that happen, especially Thanksgiving in the United States. So, around that period, if you have courses that just continue through Thanksgiving week, it might also be challenging to navigate that period. And then the other thing is, we have the winter holidays at the end of December. So, a lot of people will have holidays, maybe you have Hanukkah, maybe you have Christmas, New Year’s, there are many other holidays also that happen in the winter. And many people have a tradition of taking vacations and traveling and seeing family. And above all else, celebrating during these periods.
No matter what kind of time of year you’re facing or looking at, managing a little vacation time around your online teaching is possible. It can be done thoughtfully, prepared ahead of time, and managed really effectively while your students continue to grow with you, and continue to learn with you. So, we’re going to talk about that. And we’ll just jump into three main elements to help you manage vacation time while teaching online.
Review the Pace and Structure of Your Class
And here’s tip number one: The first tip to managing your vacation time while you’re teaching an online class is to look at the pace of that class, the structure of it, and the time that you’re going to need to be away. This is really important because if your vacation is going to happen over a three-day period, right when your students are completing a major assignment, you might have tons of unanswered questions, leading to student frustration. And it’s also going to seriously impact your success as their educator leading them through that.
So, take a look at the big picture of your course. It has some ebbs and flows and some tense times and some less tense times. There are going to be some moments where you’re really preparing for an assessment, or engaged in a discussion that’s super relevant. And there are other times where you can be less present and just kind of check in and answer questions. So, take a look at the big picture of your online class, as well as your own needs and your plans for that travel or vacation you’re thinking about. And then plan your time accordingly.
As you do this, you might notice there are some things that come up for you. One thing is the grading timeline. Will you need to be grading 30 essays when you’re also driving down the road to California? Or will you need to be involved in a seriously detailed level of discussion while you’re flying across the country to New York City? Whatever it is, you want to just look at the load that you’re going to have and the needs that your students are going to have and plan the timing of that vacation the best you possibly can when you consider the course that you’re teaching.
Consider Your Students’ Needs
Secondly, look at your students’ needs. Specifically, we’re going to get into the details now. So, if, again, we’re going to grade 30 essays, what do students need to know for that to go well, for them and for you?
First of all, they’re going to need a lot of clarity going into that big assignment, especially if it’s around the time of you taking a few days of travel or vacation. They’re going to need some guidance. Maybe they’re going to need an explainer video. You could look at our previous episode number 118 for a Video Explainer, if you wish, a little guide on that.
You can also create some kind of guidance asset around walking them through that assignment. The steps needed, the materials included, what knowledge they’re demonstrating, and how this hits one of the points they’re trying to come away from this course with. So, think about what students are going to need in terms of the preparation for that assignment, so you can plan ahead to give them all of that structure, all of that scaffolding for success.
Secondly, give your students the information about yourself. That is, if you’re going to be offline for two or three days, you want to tell them that. That would be an announcement about instructor availability. In fact, I like to use that as the title of my announcements. It says, “Instructor availability” and then the dates. And in the body of the message, I just tell them, “I’m going to be off my usual routine” or “I’m going to be out of the classroom, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week, due to travel, I will answer all of your questions when I get back.”
I give that information to them ahead of time so they can look ahead, plan their own work, asked me those important questions before I’m offline for a few days. And then as soon as I’m back, I’m checking those messages and I’m reading my emails, and I’m making sure I follow up with any student who’s a little bit nervous, and who wants an answer to something. I also want to make sure that when I get back in that classroom, I’m diving into any discussions we’re having, and I’m making myself fully present to them.
Now, if you’re a person who takes your cell phone with you, everywhere you go, you might be able to answer those questions when you’re out of the office, or away from home. Perhaps you answer those questions on the fly, and you just give students what they need here and there when it pops up. Or perhaps you actually tell them, you’re going to be completely offline, and you just answer them when you get back. Either way, students need to know what to expect in the assignment coming up and in their communication with you.
And then when you come back, some reassurance of your presence would be a little different than the absence you had. So, they would want to see you more engaged and more present so they’re reassured that you’re back with them.
Consider Your Own Needs
Third, we want to look at you and your own needs, personally. This is the only way you can decide what’s the best approach for your short time out of the classroom. That approach might range from completely cutting yourself off to the internet during those few days you’re going to be away, to just having that phone close by where you can answer urgent questions, or even allow students to reach out to you through text or phone call, maybe even email.
So, your personal needs are very important when you’re taking time away from your online classroom, especially if it’s during a class and just for a few days. One thing that I would highly recommend is getting ahead on your teaching. So, if there’s anything sitting there waiting to be graded, if you can take care of it before you’re away for a few days, then you don’t return to a huge pile of grading that sets you behind even further.
Another thing you could do is proactively just engage a lot in whatever discussion is happening that week. So, you have a lot of presence, and you’ve connected with your students to whatever level you can and then you won’t feel quite so overwhelmed. Again, getting back and needing to jump in and connect with so many students.
But lastly, I would say when you’re considering your own needs, personally, how much do you really benefit from various types of de-stressing activities when you’re on a short vacation. Whatever those are, plan those into your vacation, thoroughly enjoy that short time. Really invest in yourself and those that you love that might be with you.
Engage in all those fun activities so that you feel like you’ve really had a time away, and relish it. And then when you come back, you’ll be fresh and rejuvenated and ready to go. Never cheat yourself when you have a couple of days away, thinking that you have to get back quickly and get back online. It’s always going to be there. And you’re always going to feel that drive to get back to your online classroom.
So, if you have prepared adequately and followed those three areas of looking at the pace of the class, and your planned time away, looking at the needs of your students and planning ahead for those needs and addressing them, and then also looking at your own needs and planning what you’ll do during your time out, then you can have a fantastic time on your short vacation while you’re still teaching online.
Make Colleagues Aware of Plans
As you plan a time to get out of the computer room, and possibly away from class for a couple of days or three days, be sure to loop in your team. Many of us work with organizations where we have peers, colleagues, managers. And if it’s truly unavoidable to be away from that computer and you’re going to have that time anyway, alert them to your absence. Alert them to your absence so that you can have colleagues looking out for you. Perhaps they could stop by the class, just in case there’s an urgent question or need your students have, and they can have your back should something happen and you’re not able to get back home as planned on time. Then there’s someone that will be aware of where you are and what you’re doing.
Perhaps you have a supervisor or a manager, or a department chair, or a dean, or a principal that you can inform. I had that experience recently myself. I was going to be taking a very early morning flight from Washington D.C., home to Idaho where I live. And both the car to the airport and the flight are canceled, independent of each other. There were not enough drivers for the car so I had to find an alternate method. And also the flight being canceled, I had to find a different flight. I ended up finding another flight the same day from a different airport. And then I could just take a taxi so it all worked out. But you never know when you’re on a vacation if things will work out exactly as you’ve planned, especially in the constantly changing travel environment we’re experiencing in the United States today.
So, make your plans, have backup plans, communicate out. And again, tell your students what to expect. When your students know what to expect and you’ve planned for them and communicated well with them, they respect that and they trust that and they’re fine until you come back the next day or two when you’re back online. So, enjoy your time away should you be out of a class for a few days and plan accordingly. Best wishes in your online teaching and a short vacation you might have while teaching online this coming week!
This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best switches this coming week in your online teaching journey.
Teaching online can be a challenging experience, especially if you are new to the technology or much more experienced with face-to-face teaching. Even if you are experienced at teaching online, a few specific preparation methods before the class begins will promote student success and renewed teacher satisfaction throughout the course. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares tips to help you prepare to teach online before your next class begins, aiming for peak performance in your online teaching.
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. We all know that preparing to teach is a worthwhile practice. In fact, preparing has been compared to “sharpening the saw,” by Steven Covey in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective people.” Preparing to teach means to approach an upcoming class with a balanced plan for peak performance in your teaching, while also focusing on healthy wellbeing in your physical, social-emotional, mental, and spiritual self. By preserving your greatest asset—yourself—you can be at your best in your teaching and keep fresh to adapt as needed.
In today’s episode, we’ll take a look at part one of a two-part topic. This first part will take you through the practical preparations to teach an online class, including preparing the online classroom, anticipating students’ needs, scheduling your daily work, and focusing on results and outcomes.
Next week, come back for part two, when we’ll take a deeper look at the personal preparation it takes to really sharpen the saw. That will include healthy wellbeing through daily habits, like taking the time to care for your body, mind, spirit, and social and emotional areas.
Peak Performance in Your Online Teaching
Peak performance is a state in which you are able to perform at your best, when you’re feeling confident, wrapped up in the flow of engaged work. You might compare this to the state at which an athlete is performing well with their game, or the way in which a musician is immersed in their performance, feeling the activity to be both natural and effortless, despite the work they are putting in. Where athletes and performers naturally seek out peak performance experiences, people can actually achieve this state in any professional field, including teaching.
You might be thinking that teaching is a learned skill or something that just anyone can do. And, both of these ideas could be true. To enjoy the work, do it well, and feel confident, educators can learn to teach at their own peak performance threshold. Peak performance is highly desirable because it can result in feelings of happiness, fulfillment, and consistent success. And when we teach at, or close to our own peak performance level, everything can seem easier, with greater impact.
The basic building blocks of peak performance include consistent practices in the way we manage time, resources and energy. There is a heavy focus on Covey’s 7th habit of “sharpening the saw” to first cultivate personal wellbeing and inner resources. And there is also a heavy focus on rituals and routines, consistently doing the work now, and focusing on excellence as a habit.
While building a personal foundation for wellbeing and inner resources comes first, the rituals, routines, and consistent work and focus on excellence include preparing well in the work itself. And, this is where our topic today comes in. We’re looking at the personal foundation part of peak performance in next week’s episode, which you’re not going to want to miss.
Preparing your Online Classroom
Preparing your online classroom can become a routine. There are basic steps you can take to ensure that everything is set up to guide your students effectively, and that you are ready for the first day of class.
First, prepare your syllabus, and post it in your online classroom where students can easily see it. If the class is built by someone else, read through the syllabus to refresh your ideas around the goals for the class, the weekly topics, and the assignments.
Next, review the assessments and assignments, including discussions and things students will submit to demonstrate their learning.
As you do this, consider the student perspective to decide whether the instructions and guidance are adequate to help students complete their work, or whether a little revision is needed. And include a scoring breakdown, a grading rubric, or some other clear indication of how students are evaluated, so that they are able to plan for success.
Once you have checked your syllabus, assessments, assignments, and discussions, review your content. If needed, add it to the online classroom. As you review the content and reading materials you’re providing students, again, try to take the student’s perspective. And as you do, ask whether these materials clearly prepare students to demonstrate mastery with their assignments and their assessments, and whether the content supports the course goals.
If some of those areas are not represented in the content, you might need to add a reading, a video, an instructor note or recorded lecture, or some other content to more fully support what students will learn and need to be able to do by the end of class.
And once you’ve reviewed these areas, consider your course announcements and introduction to you, as the instructor. I personally prefer images, videos, and intermittent written materials to guide students in the course announcements and in my introduction as well. Breaking up your content with images and other engagement can help students interact and remember what they are seeing.
As you finish preparing your online classroom, look for a student view. Many LMSs have the ability to transition to student view so that you, as the instructor, can see everything as your students will see it. As you do this, note anything that is not visible or needs adjustment, and make those adjustments.
As you walk through your own classroom preparation routine and write down your steps, you can add to your process and adjust over time to make preparations more efficient. Writing your routine can also give you the space to reflect around what works, what doesn’t, and where you can take the quality up a level. This routine and repetition loop is where you can focus on excellence and set yourself up for peak performance in your online teaching before you hit day one of the class.
Anticipating Students’ Needs
Before class begins, learn about your students, and try to anticipate their needs. You might be able to tell whether your students are in their first semester, whether they have taken classes before, or whether they are repeating the course after a previous attempt. If you cannot learn these details before class begins, you can set up your first week’s discussion to ask students more about their backgrounds, their experience with the subject matter, and their comfort level with online classes.
With information about your students’ needs individually and collectively, you’re in a good position to anticipate their needs throughout the course. For example, if you have students who are in their first semester and new to online learning, you might create a screencast to walk them through the classroom in the first week.
And, you might consider a topic organizer to help them think about their project, as well as a video-walkthrough of the technology they will need to complete their project. As you anticipate students’ needs, ask yourself, “What would help me most, if I was the student?” And considering the background, experience, and other information your students have shared, you’ll be in a good position to help your students make progress in their learning and handle the technologies of the online classroom. The more you learn about your students and prepare to help them with their needs and challenges, the more capacity you will have to teach well at peak performance.
Scheduling Your Daily Work
When preparing the online classroom and then teaching the class, scheduling your daily work will give you the consistency to build on for peak performance. After all, planning your time makes you the master of your work and your schedule. And you will be able to avoid feeling overwhelmed and crushed by what can seem like a heavy load when teaching online classes.
One idea to help you schedule your online classroom preparation work is to stop by the course each day to complete one readiness task per day, leading up to the first day of the class. Using the process of preparing a class I mentioned earlier, you might first review or prepare your syllabus.
And the next day, review assignments and discussions. And each day, tackle one task. Not only does this give you power over your time and help you to pace yourself, but it also helps your subconscious brain realize that you’re getting ready to teach the course, so that you’re making mental space to get into your peak performance teaching mode when class begins.
Just as you might break down your course preparation tasks into a routine that happens consistently each day, scheduling your daily work for teaching the class will help keep you moving on schedule and make your teaching time a regular, routine part of your day. As you create a habit, or a routine, around scheduling your daily work, you can build in learned optimism to think about each day as a fresh start, let go of temporary setbacks or challenges with students, and push forward to keep improving your experience.
Focusing on Results and Outcomes
Focusing on results and outcomes is an important part of continuous improvement and developing peak performance. If you were a ski racer, just imagine, you would be able to use the timing of your race and other factors to gauge whether your performance is at the level you want and whether you keep improving.
In a similar way, you can use data to help you see the results in your teaching. Planning ahead to think about this data before the class begins may help you further plan for your students’ needs, so that you get the information you really want at the end of class, to see your own teaching performance better.
One obvious source of data for results and outcomes is your students’ performance in formative discussions and in course assessments. You might be able to look at your students’ average course grades, assignment grades, the level of their engagement in discussions each week, and other statistics that give you data to interpret and from which you can take action.
Another source of data could be your own records of daily and weekly teaching work, the time you’re spending, and the reflections you have about where you’re confident and performing well, and where you feel like additional attention and growth might help you.
If you’re tense, anxious, and restless about different parts of your teaching, these feelings suggest that you’re not in the peak performance space. Focusing on specific areas will help you know what is influencing your experience, so that you can adjust the one or two areas where you have room to grow, and you can recognize where you are doing well.
Peak Performance Tips
As you prepare your online class and your habits for peak performance in your online teaching, keep in mind that you can find flow every day at work. Flow means that you get the most reward from what you’re doing, and you can even learn to love those parts that you have to do by focusing on excellence in your routine or your delivery of that aspect of your work. Finding flow in your work will always require skill and challenge, and it feels like the state of being completely focused, immersed in the activity, and absorbed in what you’re doing.
Preparation is one key to teaching well, and focusing on what you can control and do gives you the space to take action and prepare for an excellent class. As you prepare, consider which parts of your online teaching can become routines to be consistently used and improved over time, and consider where you might need some positive self-talk or conversations with other people to maintain motivation and mastery over your time.
And lastly, consider a performance routine. An athlete might have a lucky shirt to wear, or a chant before taking the field. A musician might have a particular warm-up method or visualization practice to get ready to step out on that stage. And an online educator might have a favorite mug or background music, an outfit that makes them feel like they are in the work zone, or an exercise habit before work that brings focus and energy. Whatever might work for you, the value of consistent routines can pave the way for an excellent online teaching experience.
Thank you for joining us today to talk about peak performance in your online teaching by preparing the classroom, anticipating your students’ needs, scheduling your daily work, and focusing on results and outcomes. When we start a course having thought through these areas and thinking about the goals to be achieved at the end, and we aim for peak performance. We can serve our students much better and maintain a high level of teaching quality throughout our time with them. If you’ve heard something valuable today, please share this episode with a friend.
And, of course, I wish you all the best in your online teaching this week and invite you to come back next week for part two on this topic.
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.
Teaching online can bring stress in managing competing commitments, diverse teaching tasks, and multiple modalities. To free online educators from overwhelm and stress, productivity strategies provide structure to the work. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares three productivity tools that include a prioritization matrix, task batching, and time boxing to help online educators structure their work and keep time investment within limits. Learn how to simplify your approach to the daily work of teaching online and feel a sense of relief by reducing your stress.
Teaching online effectively takes time and energy, and to manage this well, educators must learn how to say “No.” This kind of focus helps with decision-making, time management, committing to extra projects, and everything else. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses the “Power of a Positive No,” by William Ury, to help online educators prioritize and thrive. Learn how to simplify online teaching, get better results, and feel a greater sense of satisfaction from your work.
Teachers can be successful teaching online by adopting best practices to help them prepare and teach the class. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares seven best practices to help online educators plan ahead, humanize their classroom, guide students to tackle challenging assignments, be adaptive during the class, conduct self-evaluations, and get students’ feedback during and after the course.
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 back to the Online Teaching Lounge. It’s Bethanie, your host, and I’m very excited to meet with you today.
We’re starting a new school year at the time of this recording. But even if you’re not starting a new school year, often we’re looking for best practices for online teaching.
There is no real “best” way to teach online, but there are definitely best practices that work and are tried and true. You can be a great online teacher, and your virtual teaching can be exceptional in ways that students rave about.
Some of the things I’ll share with you in these seven tips today are ways to get started with the class and also how to connect with your students. So let’s dive in.
Tip 1: Plan Ahead
When you’re teaching online, it’s critical that your classroom be prepared in advance. If universities or institutions create the course for you, perhaps there is a standardized classroom. And there might be some content that is prepared ahead of time including the lessons, the homework, the assignments, the discussions, and an assigned textbook. But if you are the instructor who is creating that class, you will definitely want to plan ahead.
Teaching online is not an experience where you want to “wing it” or “walk into the room” with your vast array of expertise and just lecture. Instead of being the sage on the stage, online teaching is more the guide on the side experience.
You will want to facilitate discussions. You will want to tell them what’s coming and will also need to be able to tell them how the items all meet the course objectives. How the experiences they are going to have in this class are going to serve them incredibly well to learn the subject matter. All of that requires advanced planning.
Additionally, your classroom will need some extra helpful elements. For example, when you have discussions, you will need to give them some directions on how to participate in those discussions. What kind of things they should write, when they are due, what day of the week, and what to expect in terms of their engagement. Should they reply to others?
When you plan your classroom in advance, you really need to plan every week of the course. Most of this can be installed into an online classroom ahead of time, and you can have a space for everything that you might still be adding as the course unfolds. Just a word of advice here from someone who’s been there: building your class while you are teaching it is an extremely overwhelming experience.
If you are building the class while you’re teaching it during the semester, you will have very little time to actually teach it. You will find that you’re doing the back end stuff so much that you’re no longer connected to your students. So planning your course in advance and getting it up there into the E-classroom is critical.
Tip 2: Find Ways to Personalize the Course that Represents You, Specifically.
Some of us are a little bit worried about putting our image, our video, or any personal information about ourselves online. After all, there are all kinds of spam that come to your Gmail account, if you have one of those, or other email. There’re also phishing attempts. There are a lot of different kinds of internet hacks, were people try to get to know you and steal your information. So we’re very protective online as people, and we don’t want to share very much.
However, as the instructor in an online class, you must share some things about yourself to help students feel comfortable engaging. If they were with you face-to-face in a live classroom, you would tell all these things to help them get to know you. In the written form, or in video form, or even if it’s an audio clip, you also need to help students get to know you. So, the second tip that’s a best practice for online teaching is to humanize your online classroom.
Some ways I’ve seen this done incredibly well are by making screen casts, by creating video introductions of yourself as the instructor. Creating audio narrations to slideshows that you might have in week one, but also in other weeks, and by typing some things about yourself that tell who you are as a person. For example, you might share that you have a background in your subject matter and then you might also tell people about how you love downhill skiing, baking bread, and taking care of your puppies. Whatever it is that humanizes you, share with your students, and it will invite them to be themselves and share as well.
Tip 3: Look Ahead to the Difficult Assignments Students Will Face During the Course, and Prepare Some Helpful Guides
There is at least one other episode of the Online Teaching Lounge podcast devoted to creating student assets. For that reason, I’m not going to get into those details here. I just encourage you to check out that episode. Plan ahead and create guidance in some form that’s uniquely from you helping students prepare for the assignments and leading them into a successful result.
Tip 4: Plan Ahead to Work Regularly and Consistently During the Class
When you’re teaching a live class, you’re going to go to class five days a week, three days a week, or two days a week, and in the in-between time, you don’t even have to be thinking about that class. You might plan, you might grade work; you might answer emails from students. But when it’s a live class much of the action happens during the course or around the course meeting time.
Whatever your pattern is, tell students when you’re going to be online so they can expect you and know when they can watch for you. This means that when you’re online, you are to be posting some answers, some comments in the discussion; you’re going to be grading work from time to time. And you’re probably going to answer students’ questions, whether that’s in messaging or in your email, or also in the discussion area.
Tip 5: Be Adaptive
Now it’s a great idea to be adaptive to whatever is happening in the world when you’re teaching the course. For example, if something happens across the country and students are really going to be impacted by that emotionally or intellectually, acknowledge it when you’re teaching the course, you might share a news clip or announcement. You might even adjust your forum discussion prompt so that can be addressed and discussed.
Students need a place to talk about their fears, their worries, but also tie the course content into the real world. If you can find ways to adapt what you’re doing while you’re doing it, that’s going to help meet students’ needs and is also can help them feel seen and heard so that this course isn’t really taking place in an isolated academic environment or in a vacuum, it’s in the real world. And you’re seeing students’ needs as it’s unfolding.
Another way to be adaptive while you’re teaching your online class is to think about getting to know your students. This starts in the first week, when you’re reading their introductions. You can get to know what their backgrounds are, what age bracket they might fall into, and also what they’re pursuing as a course of study.
Many students will tell you what their major is and sometimes you’ll learn about their age bracket, as I mentioned. You have a lot of adult learners who are older, have a lot more life experience they can bring into the course, and need to have some autonomy to their learning. It’s good to know that.
If you have a lot of younger students who are fresh out of high school, maybe in the 18- to 25-year-old range, they might need a little more guidance and a little more specific direction, and it’s good to know that too.
As you get to know your students, you’ll notice some things and what they do in the discussion area or specific things they’ll tell you in your messaging or over email. And these things about students can really help you get to know them and adapt your approach. For example, if you have a student who is serving in the military and they might be in another country, and you don’t see them very often, you can start reaching out because you’re aware of who they are and what their needs might be.
Tip 6: Self-Assess
Before you ever begin teaching your online course, recognize there will not be a lot of observers passing through to give you feedback. And your students may not give you feedback until the end of the class. Likewise, it’s easy to get negative feedback when feedback is given, because the few vocal minority who are having a negative experience, the smaller group in your class, those people will speak out often. And the ones who are really happy with your teaching may not say so much. So you will need a way to self-assess to know how you’re doing, and to observe yourself.
Think about what you’re trying to accomplish as an educator, and also think about what you’re hoping to accomplish in the subject matter with these students, specifically. And periodically throughout your teaching, take the time to reflect on what’s going on. Notice yourself. How you are engaging with others. How much time you’re giving this, and give yourself some self-assessment.
And of course, if you notice something needs to be changed, make some adjustments along the way. So that your teaching can improve. Your presence can improve, and you can meet the needs of your students while you’re teaching them.
Tip 7: Get Your Students’ Feedback
Just like it’s important to self-assess, it’s also important to get your students feedback. Most institutions have some kind of end-of-course survey. You’re not going to get this feedback until the class has ended. And because it has ended, it’s not going to help you teach the current course. You can look to previous feedback and you can see what was said to you and make adjustments for the next time you’re teaching.
But in order to get feedback about the current course you’re teaching from these students you have right now, you’ll need to ask them questions along the way.
One way I like to do that is to embed in the discussion forum an additional question that just asks the check-in. That could be something like adding: “And how does this apply to your life and work? Where are you in your learning in the class? Are you accomplishing so far what you hoped to learn? Is there more you wish you were doing at this point? How on-track are you with your learning goals?”
You can add those to the discussion area, and it’s a very natural way to get a sense for how students are doing and whether they’re pleased with how the course is going. That way, you can mid-course correct when you get their feedback.
A second less direct way to get feedback is by simply looking at the work students are submitting. How often they’re logging in and how much they’re engaging. Some learning management systems have statistics where you can see how much your students are engaging in the class. If you have high engagement, quality assignments, and things that reflect that they are learning, and they are personalizing that learning, that’s great feedback. You can take that away and you can use that to reflect on your practice.
Overall, there are many, many ways for good virtual teaching, and you can be a great online teacher with different approaches that humanize you. That create guidance for your students, that plan ahead to engage. That adapt to what is needed. That self-assess and get students’ feedback.
All of this works really well when you prep your course in advance and plan ahead for what’s going to be needed during the term. Think about your practice as an online educator, and set up your next course in a way that makes you very satisfied to be there, no matter what the students’ experience. If you put yourself out there and do your best work and make those adaptive changes to help your students along the way, you’re going to be satisfied with your own work as an educator. And you can accomplish those things you set out to do in working with your students.
Thank you for being here with the Online Teaching Lounge today. I wish you all the best with these seven best practices for online teaching as you start your next course.
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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