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Teach Online With Confidence

Helping Educators Engage More Online Students with Less Stress through Simple Strategies

Dr. Bethanie Hansen 

Teaching Excellence Strategist

#62: Connecting with Students Through Zoom

#62: Connecting with Students Through Zoom

This content first appeared at APUEdge.com.

Engaging with students and building a sense of community in an online class can be very difficult. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses the benefits of hosting a Zoom meeting with students. Learn the numerous options for setting up a Zoom meeting that gives students an opportunity to interact and work together. Also learn tips to help teachers prepare to host a meeting, how to use breakout rooms and other technology tools to increase student engagement, and more.

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Read the Transcript:

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

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. Today, we’re going to talk about how you can connect with your students through using Zoom for video conferences. Now, there are a lot of different ways to be engaged in your online teaching. You might consider having asynchronous classes where people just participate on their own and interact separately. Perhaps you have live classes where they are conducted online already. Or maybe you’re in some kind of hybrid situation where students will go to the online class for part of their work and meet with you face-to-face in the live physical classroom.

Regardless of your format, Zoom conferences for your students can really create relationships and introduce different types of engagement than anything else you might use. So I’m going to teach you today how to basically use Zoom in a few new ways, and I’m going to also help you overcome any hesitation you have to using Zoom by giving you tips and strategies to help you in this area.

This is a great solution for connecting with students who might be less achieving, less vocal, less present. And help them get engaged in small groups and smaller conversations so that they are getting a lot more out of the experience and connecting more with you and with each other. Let’s get started.

Integrating Zoom into Online Classes

How do you start a Zoom meeting, or how do you get one going? First, there are some learning management systems where Zoom is already integrated and it’s available for you to use. If you have Zoom integrated into Brightspace, into Canvas, into some other learning management system, then you’re already set with a way to set Zoom up so that you can talk to your students.

If you don’t have access to Zoom, you can set up a free account online for up to 40 minutes for a small group or a longer duration if you’re going to just have one-on-one calls. I recommend using your educator email address because there just might be some kind of special recognition that Zoom will give you to provide an educational discount or an education account of some kind. So if you don’t already have access, definitely check out those options that might be available.

Review and Update Zoom Settings

Looking at your Zoom meeting, you can see particular settings in the Zoom settings menu if you go in through a browser. For example, you can have all of your participants need to log in with their institutional email if you’re using an account that does that.

You can have a waiting room set up so you can let participants in one at a time. You can also give people permission to mute and unmute themselves, use video, and also you can choose whether they can save the chat or not save the chat. There are so many settings that are worth your time to investigate so that you can set up your meetings in a way that really suits you best and preserves students’ privacy as well. And of course, you can record those meetings and you can share those with students who cannot attend a live session.

Use Doodle or Survey to Find a Good Meeting Time

Once you’ve set Zoom up, the best way to move forward is to provide the invitation to students ahead of time. I recommend giving this information to your students at least one week ahead, so they can put it on their calendar and look forward to the meeting time.

You might even choose an app called Doodle, that you can mark with various times that are possible for you and send it out as a poll well in advance of your Zoom call. If you do this, students can let you know of all the many times they might be available to make that Zoom call and you can choose the scheduling that will work best for all of your students or most of them, at least. So a Doodle poll can set you up for success before you ever schedule that meeting.

Send Out Repeated Meeting Reminders

Once you’ve done that, I also so recommend putting announcements in your course home page, sending announcements out in emails and messages one week before the call, a day before the call, and a couple of hours before the call. And lastly, 10 minutes before the call is about to begin.

Students get a lot of emails and a lot of messages. And if they’re taking more than one class, they also read a lot of announcements. They’re going to need reminders repeatedly to know when your live call is scheduled in Zoom and to be able to access it and join you there.

Establish a Backup Plan for Internet Connectivity

Once it’s time for the call, you can succeed in meeting your students where they’re at by being early and having your technology set up with a backup plan if your internet should fail. For example, if you have a Wi-Fi internet at home and you’re working from home, it’s good to also have a hotspot on your cell phone so that if your internet blanks out, you don’t lose your connection to the Zoom meeting. I usually have two or even three backup plans because I really don’t want to lose any of my Zoom meetings, and I have many of them that happen throughout the day and throughout the week. So think about what your backup plan will be for internet.

Assign a Student Who Can Take Notes, Continue Meeting

Secondly, you can have someone work with you. It can even be a high-achieving student who can take notes during the meeting in the chat, or who can be listed as a cohost so that if something should happen to your access, someone will still be there that can make sure the meeting continues and that the progress can be made.

Decide on Your Background

When you’re setting up for the call, check the background in the room that you’re going to be in. If you have the latest version of Zoom, you can set the background to be blurry, so it actually doesn’t matter what’s in the background, or you can choose a virtual background if you have a good solid space. Otherwise, it’s going to pixelate through that virtual background and you’re going to see part of your background and part of the virtual background. I recommend the fuzzy background because it just focuses on you being there and being very clear and it blurs everything else.

Of course, there are some fun settings in Zoom where you can also adopt caricatures and makeup and mustaches and hats and different things. And if you’re having a fun meeting or a celebration, you might consider using those with your teammates or with your class members as well.

Test Your Audio Quality

Within the platform, you can choose whether you use an external mic on your computer or a headset or some other setup. I recommend using a headset and not using the external speakers and microphone on your computer because there can often be an echo produced when you do that.

So test your system out ahead of time and make sure that your sound quality is good and your video quality is good as well. If you find that these things are not good, troubleshoot them before you meet with your students live.

Prepare a Lesson Plan for the Meeting

The more you prepare in advance of conducting a live class meeting in Zoom, the more you’re going to find success there and have a positive experience. I do recommend approaching this as if you’re teaching a live face-to-face class. In that situation, you might prepare a detailed lesson plan. You might tell students up front what to expect and what you’re going to cover during the period of the meeting.

And you might also discuss what topics you’re going to do and any activities needed. For example, if you’re planning to use breakout rooms during your virtual meeting, you want to tell students ahead of time so they have access to a microphone and can be on video.

Establish Expectations with Students

It’s also a great idea to send those expectations out to your students well in advance of the meeting. For example, you might have a dress code if you don’t want students to show up in pajamas, or you want them to be dressed like they would be attending school, and you can also suggest what kinds of places they might be, where they’re on video.

For example, if they’re going to the local McDonald’s to get the internet to be in class, there might be a lot of background noise and they might need some kind of headphones or noise-canceling tools.

Think about Level of Student Engagement

You might also think about whether or not students have to engage in the text area. Plan this ahead of time. Zoom has excellent polling features. And if you want some basic interactivity, you can either use the chat box, you can call on students directly to make verbal comments live, or you can put a poll up there and have everybody participate that way.

There are also some external things you could have students access during the Zoom call, like Mentimeter and Poll Everywhere. And there are several others as well, where they could engage in polling, they can make word clouds. They can basically each contribute their own ideas in real time and feel like they’re actually engaging in what’s being discussed rather than being a passive consumer.

So think about these things ahead of time and plan out what your approach will be as well as a brief lesson plan. Tell your students ahead of time, check your background and what you’re wearing and make sure it looks clean, clear, professional, and confident. And then host your meeting.

Tips on Hosting Strategies

When you’re hosting your meeting and having that live call, sit up tall, roll your shoulders back a little bit to give yourself an extra boost of confidence, and help yourself to connect better with your students. Even though you’re on screen and you’re not really looking directly at each one of them, you want to look towards the camera so that you feel like you’re making eye contact with them and being present.

And whatever your plan is for engaging them during the live call, definitely include lots of ways to engage. As I mentioned before, these could be typing in the text box, these could be polling features or external programs. And you could also put them in breakout rooms.

Prepare Breakout Rooms in Advance

If you use breakout rooms, I highly recommend putting the questions out in advance because once they leave the main room, they can no longer see any slides you were sharing or the questions you might have. You can also broadcast a message to all of the rooms if you put people in groups, so that they can still see what they need to see and be able to talk about it while they’re in that breakout room.

And definitely tell students if they’re going to do a breakout, how long it will be, and ask them to appoint a timekeeper in each group. Even though Zoom might time the breakout rooms for you, you want someone in that group to keep everyone aware of how little time they have left as that time is winding down. Nobody likes being jerked out of a breakout room abruptly in the middle of a comment.

Assessing Student Engagement and Community

Now, you can look around the video screen and see where students are, and sometimes you can even see their demeanor and whether they’re tracking along with the meeting or the presentation. You can also see if they’re just a name with no camera enabled, and you can engage with people anyway and call on their names or have them type in the chat.

Sometimes students are caring for little ones at home, and they’re not really able to chat on video, but they would be able to type in the chat and are still there with you, even though they don’t want to be on screen. I personally believe you should respect that because not everyone is comfortable being on screen, but also we can’t really gauge that they’re all fully present just by seeing them. We can also gauge that presence through the chat and other features that we might use.

Either way, you’re going to create a sense of community by using Zoom in your online class, so students feel more connected to you and more connected to each other. And they can also get this whole sense of community that they’re part of a big program in a university or a school that you’re teaching for.

Zoom has the potential to really take conversations deeper, especially if you use those breakouts and other tools, and help your students to feel like they’re a lot more engaged and invested. I personally have used Zoom a lot in teaching and coaching and in leading faculty meetings.

And also I have used it with one-on-one calls. Even though sometimes it can seem a little bit much for a one-on-one call, I have really enjoyed being able to see people face to face and engage with them, and they have appreciated being able to see me while they’re talking to me as well. And many have said that.

As you try Zoom in your online teaching, I encourage you to stretch in several of these ways to try the different things you can integrate and see how creative you might be, and definitely inform students ahead of time, and practice. You want to be confident and not have technical glitches while you’re carrying it out. As you do these things, you’re going to get a lot more engagement from your students, and they’re going to get trust for you and reach out to you whenever they have problems in the course. And that’s a good thing.

Best wishes to you in creating your Zoom meetings and connecting better with your students, and solving the problem of that distance we all have in online education. And best wishes in all of your teaching this coming week as well.

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

 
#53: Setting the Tone in the Online Classroom

#53: Setting the Tone in the Online Classroom

When teaching an online class, instructors must work hard to connect with students and set expectations for the course. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks to APU Faculty Director Dr. Craig Bogar about effectively communicating with students. Learn the benefits of publishing a welcome video so instructors can virtually introduce themselves to students in the beginning of the course. Also learn tips on conveying netiquette practices to students and why it’s so important for instructors to ask Socratic questions to enhance critical thinking and promote engagement of online students.

 

 

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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.

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. This is the first episode of our second year of this podcast, and you’re in for a real treat today. We’re going to be interviewing Dr. Craig Bogar from American Public University, and I’m really excited to have Craig with us today. Craig, welcome to the podcast. Can you tell us a little bit about your background, so listeners can get to know you and your connection to online education?

Dr. Craig Bogar: I sure can, Bethanie, and thanks for inviting me today. I’m super happy to be here. And I was a college athletic director at two universities some years ago, and I also coached swimming and track at those institutions, and I also worked as a college recreation and intramural director at one point. And after doing those things for a number of years, I decided to go back to school and get my doctorate, and at that time, I lived in Alabama, near the United States Sports Academy, and I was accepted into their hybrid program, which was on-ground and online.

Start a degree in Education at American Public University.

And once I completed my doctorate, opportunities started to arise and I began teaching online. And I also was serving as the Dean of Student Services at the Sports Academy for a few years, and had the opportunity to teach on-ground courses in both Thailand and the Kingdom of Bahrain while I was there.

I’ve been with American Public University , for the past nine years. I taught part-time online for three years, and then I got the position as Faculty Director for the School of Health Sciences, and that’s what I currently do for the institution. I still live in Alabama, but I live now on the Gulf Coast, right here in Gulf Shores. So it’s good to be with you.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: It’s wonderful to have you as well, Craig. Thank you for giving us a little bit of your background. Sounds like you’ve had some pretty well-rounded exciting experiences there. I’m curious, how would you have thought of being online long ago before this was really a mainstream thing to do, early in your career?

Dr. Craig Bogar: Wow. That is a great question, and the world as we know it, has changed exponentially in the past couple of decades, and it’s just so hard to conceive of the type of traditional education that we used to have and a number of us went through to get our bachelor’s degrees and onward.

But I think that the key for me, as I said, was being in a hybrid program for my doctoral program, where I got a taste of online instruction and online teaching, and just fell in love with it. And it offers so many different opportunities that one doesn’t necessarily get in the on-ground format, not the least of which is that it’s so much more convenient for students, especially the non-traditional student who may be in the workforce, and might have a family and children, and so forth.

Where years ago, as you recall, if people wanted to either finish a degree or maybe get an advanced degree, they were gone X number of nights a week after they left their job, and they rarely got to see their families, or have dinner with their families, and so forth.

Now with an asynchronous type of online program, as we know, people can do their coursework really anytime, any day. And with us having so many military students, especially in my program where close to 70% of them are with American Military University, they can be students overseas. So it’s really, as I said, it’s a new culture and a new world for many things, not the least of which is higher education.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yeah. Fantastic. Thanks for that. A lot of our listeners have found themselves teaching online for the first time, and of course, we also have a lot of listeners who have taught online for quite a lengthy time, many in higher ed, and in also what you might consider public school ages, primary and secondary, so just to fill you in a little bit about our listeners.

And I know that you have a lot of best practices that you use in working online, but also in working with your faculty. So what is a best practice that you’d like to share with us today to help our listeners be even more effective in their online teaching?

Dr. Craig Bogar: Okay, well, I’ve got a few things in mind, but one thing I wanted to talk about was that we now require our instructors to post a welcome video that students see when they enter a given course. And one of the reasons we’re doing this, is because the welcome video is a great opportunity to provide a personal welcome to students, and of course, meet the university requirement now, but also to acquaint students with the essentials of a course.

And what I have found over the years that I try to communicate to my faculty, is that by the nature of online education, it is remote by nature, and we have to do our very best at what I call “touching” students in every possible way. It’s by greeting students by name when we see them in the course, when they respond in the course and such, and one of the ways, as I said, is this welcome video.

And in the welcome video, there are some things that I suggest, and I’ll just go through a few of them, is one is obviously to introduce yourself to your students and to welcome them, and if there’s a number of a course or description of the course name, to tell them that, and tell the students why the course is relevant to the program. What will this course do for you? I always refer my students to the syllabus, and to make sure they read that, because it includes course materials and learning objectives, and gives students a good blueprint for what they need to do each week in a given course.

I always explain my expectations for student participation. In other words, by what date do they have to make their initial post in the discussion forum each week? How many responses to their peers do I look for? I give them that information.

I tell the students what they can expect from me, and one of the key things in the online format is timely feedback from instructors. Here at APUS, we have a deadline for faculty grading, which is five days after a given week has ended, but I tell my students that, “Hey, this is the deadline, but I’m going to do better than that. You can get your feedback from me, you can get your grades from me before that deadline each week.” So I try to set the tone that I’m going to be doing my best to exceed expectations.

Also in this welcome video, I tell them what I expect as far as plagiarism, or not to commit plagiarism, and I expect them to follow the rules of netiquette. In other words, being courteous to their peers and also being courteous to me. Again, setting the tone, and I want a professional environment in the course, and I try to communicate that to students.

Also in the welcome video, I suggest that faculty mention the degrees they’ve earned, and give a concise description of their teaching experience or their relevant professional experience, because we want our students to know that, “Hey, we are qualified to teach these courses.” Students are very interested in knowing this, for obvious reasons. They want to make sure that the people who are teaching know their stuff. So in the welcome video, this is a great way in which we can give that information to students.

There’s some optional elements. You can tell the students in your welcome video where you’re from, where you live, the institutions that granted your degrees, maybe your hobbies, what do you like to do in your spare time, and any other personal information that you’d like to share.

But knowing that and hearing that, I also suggest that faculty stick to about three minutes for their welcome video. I know that for all those things that I mentioned, it may be a challenge, but after three minutes, I personally believe that we start to lose people’s focus and attention. So that’s just a ballpark estimate of how much time they should use.

I encourage faculty to write a script, and if you’re using a built-in camera, what I do is I position my script right at the top of that window or that monitor, so it doesn’t appear that I’m looking down and reading the whole time from a script.

It’s also good to be mindful of the setting and the background, and to look professional, and wear a solid color shirt or a blouse to make sure you contrast the background that students are seeing. You want to be about an arm’s length away from your camera. You want to not be overbearing in both your physical presence and your volume, so an arm’s length is good to know. And your lighting should be really in front of you, not behind you, so you don’t have shadowy recordings. Last of all, smile when you speak. That’s always something good to do.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wow, Craig, you have given us so much detail and so much great information about these instructor welcome videos, everything from your own practice, to what you’re sharing with your faculty. And I can imagine that not all online faculty are super excited about creating a video to share with their students. So I’m curious, what do you do to help your faculty get in there and actually do this welcome video creation? What works for you?

Dr. Craig Bogar: Well, actually, I really have not had any problems or any complaints from faculty. I think the people that get into the teaching profession are already pretty versed in speaking to groups. I always am available to help folks, but I try to give our faculty as many resources as possible in my weekly communications with faculty, to let them know I’m here to assist them if they need any assistance. But, fortunately, just in our new learning management system, it’s very easy to make a recording. So knock on wood, we really haven’t had that kind of problem, per se.

I did want to go back, Bethanie, and talk a little bit about netiquette as well, and just something that I have experienced or observed over the years. And I go back to my statement before about setting the tone in the course is so important, and for people to be professional, both the instructor and the students towards each other. And I have had some faculty who have had students who have used improper or foul language in a discussion forum, and they’ve come to me and said, “Hey, what do I do about this?”

And where I’ve had an occasional problem in the past, I’ve told students that when I’ve observed that, I say, “Hey, that kind of language, number one, we want to be professional in the classroom,” but that kind of language, especially if it’s a guy to guy thing, I say, “Hey, that’s more appropriate for the locker room, but this is a public forum.

This is a place where we need to be professional. And what I’m going to do,” fill in the blank, “John, is I’m going to give you another chance to repost, to delete your post, and to post again and see if you can do a little better job in meeting my expectations.” And that has worked 100% of the time for me, and that’s the advice that I’ve given to faculty that have come to me for assistance, saying that, “Hey, we can handle these kinds of situations,” and especially for first-time online students, they may not realize that what they say, and they should, but not everybody realizes that this is an academic setting, and we can’t have improper language.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: That’s fantastic help, Craig, and I appreciate you mentioning netiquette as part of this setting the tone that you also would be doing with your instructor videos. We’re going to take a quick break for a message from our sponsor. Craig, thank you for sharing all that you’ve given us so far, your best practice of the instructor welcome video, and also you mentioned a few things about netiquette. I’m wondering, what do you really want listeners to take away from those kinds of practices?

Dr. Craig Bogar: Well, I think that what I’d like them to take away is that it’s so important to set a tone in an online course as to what you expect from students, and what students can expect from you. And one of the ways to do that is through one’s welcome video that, as I said, we post in the very first week of an online course, it’s what we call the discussion module.

And I use the term “to touch” students in the online format is so important because of the nature of remote learning, that we need to use students’ names, and to be as personable as possible with students.

I think about Dale Carnegie, going back many, many years ago, who was one of the top speakers in the country, motivational speakers, and he used to say that, “The sweetest and most important sound in our language is to hear your own name,” and I think that is still true today. And by using students’ names whenever we communicate them or interact with them in the online classroom, is something that we need to do as online instructors.

One thing that I do is when I meet students, quote, unquote, in the “first week discussion/introduction forum,” if a student has a nickname, I write that down in my little log book, and I want to make sure that I refer to that student by his or her nickname throughout the course. And I’ve even had, on occasion, students in their end of course surveys that we do at our institution say that, “Dr. Bogar referred to, fill in the blank, Mary, by her nickname the whole course, and I thought that was so cool!”

And little things like that can help build relationships with the students that we have in our classrooms. There have been studies about brain activation and how when one hears their own name, how that really stimulates a person’s interest in what they’re doing, and I think the more, as I said, the more we can do that, the better in the online course to facilitate relationships and engagement with students in our courses.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wow, that’s really fantastic, Craig, and I couldn’t agree more. I always notice a person who calls me by my name, and I’m sure students really benefit from feeling connected, as if their instructor knows them personally, especially online. There’s such a divide there, such a disconnect when we don’t do those things. Thanks for all you shared with us so far.

I’m just wondering, are there any other tips or strategies you’d really like to share with listeners today that can help them be even more effective in their online teaching?

Dr. Craig Bogar: Sure. There’s one more area that I’d like to talk about briefly, and that is importance of asking Socratic questions of our students, which really promote engagement in a discussion, but maybe more importantly, Socratic questions enhance critical thinking, by asking these questions of students. As opposed to getting one word answers from students when we ask questions.

Socratic questions, of course, begin with words such as “why,” or “how,” or “what,” so the response tends to be more in-depth and critical. Socrates, I think it was about 2,000 or more years ago, thought that being a lecturer was not that effective, and came up with this method of questioning students. And it’s really, in my opinion, very effective in the online classroom, especially in the discussion formats that we have.

You may recall that years ago when Bethanie, you and I maybe were in on-ground classrooms, you always had students who were a little maybe intimidated by instructors asking questions, or for whatever reason, they were fairly shy in the classroom.

Well, in the online environment that is somewhat anonymous, those students who maybe were reticent about asking questions or responding to questions to instructors in an on-ground environment, they’re probably more likely to be more engaged in the online environment. And especially when instructors are asking these open-ended questions that really deserve students to think critically about a particular topic that may be discussed at one time.

Somebody came up with a quote one time, it wasn’t me, but “Our role as online instructors is really not to be the sage on the stage, but instead, the guide on the side.” And I think that when we are being guides and asking open-ended questions of our students, we’re sort of coaching them along, and we’re mentoring them to think differently about topics and think more critically about a topic at hand. So I just wanted to say that to those online instructors, consider asking these types of questions at every opportunity that presents itself.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Craig, thanks so much. That is fantastic advice, and what I really love about everything you’ve shared with our listeners today is that you’ve placed the instructor in a clear spot of forging relationships, building that academic environment, and really focusing there, instead of what we might call the checkbox behaviors of teaching online, when we’re just thinking about what must we do, what should we do? That’s really beautiful, and a place I think we want to encourage everybody to be.

Craig, thank you so much for being our speaker today, our special guest, as we kick off this second year of the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. Any closing thoughts before we wrap things up today?

Dr. Craig Bogar: Well Bethanie, thank you for inviting me. I’ve really enjoyed being here and speaking with you, and I hope the things that I spoke about are going to be helpful to any of our folks online, and this type of podcast I think is extremely valuable for people who are teaching in the online environment. Thank you again, Bethanie, and best of luck with your podcast as you continue your role here.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thank you again, Craig, and to all of you who are listening today, we wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week. This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge Podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.

#47: Tips for Adding Audio, Video, and Multimedia to the Online Classroom

#47: Tips for Adding Audio, Video, and Multimedia to the Online Classroom

 Are you looking for ways to enhance class content in your classes, but concerned about the time and effort it might take to create and manage those assets? In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen recommends several technology tools to help you add valuable audio, video, and multimedia components. Most importantly, she provides guidance on developing a strategic approach to creating these new assets, including making sure it’s accessible and useful to students, has a positive impact on your teaching, and isn’t overwhelming for you to create and manage.

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Read the Transcript:

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

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge, the show that helps you teach online with confidence and impact while living a healthy, balanced life. I’m Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge. My background is in K-12 education and also in higher education, and both live, face-to-face classes and online.

Something I really enjoy about online teaching is being able to integrate different varieties of multimedia into courses to make them more engaging. For example, we can use audio, video, interactive media, and animations. There are more programs and apps to consider than it might be possible to use effectively and more are created every year. It’s easy to struggle with the overload we can all face when we look at this huge variety.

If you’re sometimes tempted by what I call bright and shiny object syndrome when teaching online, this is the temptation to try out new and fresh apps or interfaces, you’re not alone. Finding a new tool can bring fun and interest in your own work as an educator. However, this same set of possibilities we find in the latest and greatest media apps or platforms can quickly cause us to spend a lot of time upfront learning and not enough time actually developing the course or teaching the class.

My focus now is on teaching excellence at an entirely online university. And I believe media and related tools can help us reach our students in new and better ways. At the same time, I suggest using a strategic approach to innovating that allows you to regularly try and use new methods while also reducing the tendency to get overwhelmed by bright and shiny object syndrome. This way, you don’t spend too much time learning and exploring possibilities and not enough time actually using them.

In today’s podcast, we’ll explore several engaging media options and ways that you can approach them strategically so that you and your students are most likely to benefit. After all, through this podcast, I help online educators become more effective in their work while also living healthy and balanced lives by using intentional approaches so that they can love what they do and impact their students positively.

We will first take a look at several audio, video, and multimedia apps or programs you might try. Then we’ll talk about a strategy to intentionally explore and use these special pieces of technology in your teaching. And lastly, we will also reflect on reflecting. How will you decide if it’s working and if your plan is what you’d like it to be? I hope you’ll enjoy these strategies this week. And so we’ll just get started.

Audio Tools to Create Engaging Classroom Content

Beginning with audio, there are four particular audio interfaces I’d like to share with you today.

AudioBoom

The first one is called audioboom.com. Now, there are many different hosting services for creating podcasts and creating hosted audio. This is just one of the many. AudioBoom is a web-based service that lets users create and share podcasts. They’re available at audioboom.com and through the service, you could create a podcast audio recording or entire networks of audio shows. This content can easily be shared with a player that embeds onto a webpage or into a learning management system.

This service can easily be used in your online education if you’d like to create little episodes of things you’re talking about in your teaching. It can also be used for students to create their own episodes as they’re putting together some kind of project or assignment to report back on their learning.

SpeakPipe

A second app is SpeakPipe. Now, SpeakPipe is a very interesting thing and it’s available at speakpipe.com/voice-recorder. When you get to this page, you’ll notice it’s a free online voice recorder. It could be used as a widget, it can be used on your mobile device through an app, or browser extension add-on, or right through the website. And of course, you can use this for audio, as I’m sharing with you now.

You can receive voice messages from your students directly using this recording tool, as it’s embedded easily in the classroom. You can also use it to receive voicemail through the webpage link. It has that free online voice recorder that I mentioned, and you can share sound files of up to five minutes in length instantly through links as well as through the embedded feature.

Now, if you go to the speakpipe.com voice recorder page, you’ll notice that it really is that simple. It just has a green button right in the middle of the page that says “Start Recording.” So you can record your audio, listen to it, and then send it. It works on iPhone, iPad, iPod, and Android devices. You can send it through Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus. You can also embed it and share links through the web. It’s incredibly versatile and very easy to use.

Talk&Comment

A third audio service is called Talk&Comment. Talk&Comment also has a browser extension so you can add it to Google Chrome, you can use it as a widget, you can use it on the mobile device app and so forth. You can also access it at talkandcomment.com through the web, so the direct web page there.

Talk&Comment lets you create voice notes inside any service on the web, including Google Classroom, Google Docs, Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, YouTube, Reddit, Slack, and a lot of other things too.

When you add this to your Chrome browser, it literally allows you to create notes that you’re going to record with your voice anywhere. And you can send those in all of these different ways that I mentioned. You simply record your voice from the widget in your browser and paste the generated voice link anywhere you want.

It’s a really interesting way to share voice notes and also capture your thoughts. It’s pretty much as easy as sitting face-to-face with your students and having a conversation with them where you’re sharing your ideas. Because people talk faster than they write, you can evaluate your students’ work with voice grading using half the time if you try this tool.

It’s not only useful in presenting content, but also in grading students’ work and helping them create interesting projects. I highly recommend taking a look at Talk&Comment for its versatility and also ease of use.

Vocaroo

A fourth and final audio tool that I’d like to share with you today is called Vocaroo. It’s a free online voice recorder provided as a widget and available at vocaroo.com. Through this app, you can make audio recordings directly on the page, and you can also share the recorded content with web links or embed codes. And you can download the sound file as an MP3, OGG, FLAC, or WAV file. You can also delete the sound recording from Vocaroo’s hosting site when needed.

There’s nothing personally identifiable that is recorded with your information, so you’re going to create these sound files that really don’t tie to you, yourself, your students. So there’s a little bit of anonymity with that that protects you to some degree. But also, it’s easy to use and free. Who doesn’t like free, right? So embedding the widget makes it fun. And also, sharing little voice recordings people really seem to enjoy.

So I recommend trying it with students, especially in things like world language classes or where they’re going to need to do some kind of recorded speaking. They can make narrations or other recordings for things like projects. They can submit assignments using Vocaroo. They could record their voice using Vocaroo and post it in a discussion forum. So instructors and students alike can both use Vocaroo very easily.

And one idea you might have is to generate a short podcast to have students try this as a project. So it’s a really great tool. Basically, you’re going to go to vocaroo.com and simply use their easy online recorder. It’s just got a big red button with a microphone in the middle, and then it gives you some options when you’re all finished recording. Easy to use. And again, it’s free.

Adding Video Content to the Classroom

Now, just as audio content can be simple to create and share and also really bring your presence and your students’ knowledge to the forefront, video content can even more enhance your presence, and also what students are bringing to the situation.

If you’d like to add video elements, there are so many tools out there now, and a lot of learning management systems provide integration that’s very automatic and simple to use. For example, you might have something like Kaltura embedded in your learning management system, or even just the built-in video system that the learning management comes with.

Whatever it is, I don’t need to give you a whole lot of video capturing tools because so many already exist within whatever you might be using. I would like to highlight two here today. Simple videos can be created using Screencast-O-Matic, and you can also try Screencastify.

Screencast-O-Matic

Screencast-O-Matic is a free subscription-based site that enables you to make screen recordings, and you can find it at screencast-o-matic.com. This tool is really easy to make video guides, like if you want to explain assignment details or walk students through areas of your online classroom, or maybe you want to illustrate and explain a concept with some visuals.

This site could easily be used to record over short clips of sound quality. Like if you’re a music appreciation instructor, maybe you want to play a musical performance video clip and talk over it and give some direction to your students, allowing some narration to occur and maybe explaining elements of the music as it’s happening.

It gives you screen, camera, and screen-sharing possibilities, and finished products can easily be saved as video files. You can upload them to the Screencast-O-Matic website or to YouTube. And there are just a lot of options there with which you can store your content.

Screencastify

The second option is Screencastify, and just like Screencast-O-Matic, Screencastify is a free web-based video recording tool. This tool is advertised as an add-on screen recorder for Chrome browsers because it just puts an icon into the browser to allow you easy access.

Screencastify offers both free and subscription-based and premium-level products. And I highly recommend checking out both of these options and deciding which one simply works best for you, which interface you prefer, and what you’d like to use.

Tips for Making Great Video Content

Now, I’d like to say just a little bit more here about video content because I’m only mentioning a couple of interfaces. So here are a few tips about adding video. Video can, of course, enhance your course. It can also create some challenges because you’re going to spend a little bit more time. You’re not just editing audio, you’re also looking at how it’s coming across at the same time.

However, it can be really a huge asset for welcoming your students, introducing yourself, lecturing about your content, narrating the content, explaining ideas, and otherwise guiding your students. So it takes some time, but it adds way more personalization than audio alone can do.

Consider asking your students to create videos as part of a forum discussion or an assignment. This can also help with originality checking, if you’re wondering who’s really creating that assignment. If it’s a video assignment, you’ll start to see the same person each time and not have a concern so much about that originality of who’s really submitting the work.

Having a lot of methods to capture your video can be helpful. And again, we’re trying to reduce the overwhelm so start with one and then explore others in the future.

You don’t need a lot of equipment to record video. You can make even more complex videos with captions, transitions, and other elements with purchased software. A lot of things like Camtasia will bring that feature suite to help you add a lot of bells and whistles to your video presentations. And of course, you can spend a lot of time really making them better and better and more engaging.

And sound quality is dramatically improved when you use a headset microphone and not just the microphone on your computer. You can clean up the audio noise, bring the speaking voice in more directly. You can balance the sound with maybe background music or something else, if you really want to get crazy about your videos.

You can use a smartphone to capture the video and upload the video to another app or a program, or just upload the different files into your LMS. You could also branch out and get a separate digital video camera or digital video recorder that’s more high quality than what comes on a smartphone or a computer. But I don’t recommend investing really heavily until you’ve explored the software and the possibilities for why and when you might personally choose to use the video in your class or in your teaching. If you do decide to invest in high-quality video tools, microphones, and lighting, those things can improve the quality of your instructor-created videos. So think about the content, the background, the lighting, the appearance, and the length.

Content should be concise. You might want to chunk up ideas into separate videos so students can look at them one at a time and see the topics broken down, or segment your topics into the smallest component so you have these shorter videos.

And also, think about how you might produce the captions or the written component for students who need that alternative approach. We always want to supply those things in the classroom so students don’t have to ask us if they need some kind of accommodation to see what you’re saying. Be sure to always include it so it’s accessible automatically for everyone.

Interactive and Multimedia Tools for the Classroom

Now, in terms of interactive or multimedia types of tools, I’m going to speak only about two of these today. Again, I’m a real big fan of not overwhelming you. I want to give you some options to help you get started without giving you far too much.

Prezi

The first one I want to talk about is Prezi. Prezi is a web-based program. You can access it online. It also had, in the past, a classic version that was downloadable so you could create it on your desktop. But also, you can use it in the mobile app as well, so it’s very versatile. You can create dynamic presentations through Prezi. You can either get the free or paid membership and you can create multimedia presentations that move, that zoom in and out. You can embed videos, PowerPoint slides, and other things in a Prezi to make it even more interesting and engaging. It’s a more interactive alternative to PowerPoint. Basically, you can share it through links or downloaded files.

Prezis can easily be used for students to create presentations as well, such as how to put facts and information together and how to present what they have learned. It can be also used effectively by groups of students to produce some group projects. All of the members can contribute to one final presentation. There is a whole bunch of information out there with tutorials, learning materials, and support for using Prezis.

Powtoon

The second option I’d like to share today is Powtoon for education. Powtoon is a website that provides templates, graphics, motion, and other features to build short and engaging videos. And you can check it out at powtoon.com/edu-home. These cartoon-like images are included, but you can also use photographs and videos of your own if you’d like to.

It’s an alternative to traditional instructor-made videos, and really, it’s an engaging way to convey information that’s fun too. One common use of Powtoon in online education is to present an introduction to the instructor. You might also consider using it to put together short lesson presentations, or even to enable your students to create projects.

Strategy for Using New Tools and Technology

Now, let’s talk a little bit about how you might intentionally explore and utilize your new technology, whether it’s audio, video, or media related. The first part is to decide your why. Why would you use these tools or why do you want to explore particular tools?

Why Do You Want to Use New Tools?

Well, the first reason I can think of that is probably the best one is that it’s going to promote student engagement and student learning. When you provide any kind of recorded content like a podcast or a video in your lessons, this can also minimize learning anxiety and increase motivation for all of your students.

If you were to think about your own reason for being an educator and what you’re trying to accomplish through your online teaching, think about particular tools that are going to enhance that mission that you’re on. What really are you trying to do with your students?

Some things you might think about when you’re trying to decide why you might integrate something are what you’re going to do with it. For example, are you trying to help students use the app or tool to collaborate? Are you helping bring the content to light for them? Are you giving them interactive ways to engage with the content and further their learning? As you think about those things, you’ll better be able to decide when and why you would be using it.

When is a Good Time to Add New Technology?

The second half of the when question is, when is it really a good time for you to integrate this kind of content in a course or in your teaching?

It’s my personal stance that each piece of media content, whether it’s audio, video, or interactive, included in your online course should serve a purpose and not just be a bright shiny object; and you want to thoughtfully integrate this.

As you bring course materials and topics to life through these interactive means, audio, video, media, bringing it to life and helping students really see it more clearly is a justifiable purpose. You can also help them gain meaning from tools and content in the way that you use the content. How the students are expected to work with it while viewing or engaging with the content, and the way they’re going to recap or review the whole experience. Maybe they’re going to reflect on their learning or the experience of creating using these tools.

8 Tips to Consider When Using New Tools

Think about the following eight tips as you create your media content or explore different tools.

  1. The first step is to choose the resources wisely for both the content you’re going to include and the quality it’s going to put out there.
  2. And second, how can you comply with copyright restrictions and properly attribute the sources you might use in this type of content?
  3. Third, how will you introduce your students to topics and key points to be presented before they use or engage in the content? Or is the content itself the way to introduce students to the topic and key points?
  4. Fourth, if it’s a video clip, I suggest keeping it between seven and 15 minutes long total to maintain focus. And if possible, break it down to even smaller pieces.
  5. Fifth, give your students engagement tasks to complete while they’re viewing the video, listening to the audio, or engaging with the interactive element, like answering specific questions about the points, things to note, and so forth.
  6. Sixth, promote some kind of reflection or thoughtful integration after they’ve viewed, listened to, or engaged with the content. It might be answering questions or going to the discussion forum to talk about it.
  7. Seventh, verify that the things you’re going to use, whether it’s audio, video, or a multimedia interactive, you want to verify that these things are accessible and free from technical issues. Basically, students of all types and of all platforms need to be able to reliably see, hear, or engage with it in a variety of systems and formats.
  8. And lastly, number eight, if you’re using external video content in any of these things that you didn’t create as an instructor, be sure to use it to extend the lecture or add to what’s happening, rather replacing your instructor role.

All of the multimedia tools and strategies that you use, they can be instructor-created or they can be student-created, or someone outside of you can develop them. If students are going to use these tools to create their own assignments and projects, you want to also give them a tip sheet, how-to guides, and really helpful examples so they’re not lost in trying new media themselves, and they can actually enjoy the process and engage with things appropriately.

Reflect on Your Plan to Use New Tools

Now, the last piece in this entire process would be at regular intervals to reflect on your plan. As you reflect upon your plan and how you’re trying new tools or using them in your online teaching or in your course design, you might consider asking yourself, is your plan working? Have you devoted enough time each day/week/month, or year to exploring potential options? Or are you spending too much time and exploring too many options? Are you able to use what you’d like to try without getting overwhelmed? And how would you like to adjust your approach to ensure that you can continue to try these new things for the benefit of yourself and your students without that overwhelm of just getting stuck in the learning curve without actually using the tools the best way possible?

As we close out the podcast this week, I encourage you to consider the various interactive elements you might try in your online teaching, including audio, video, multimedia, and artistic assets that you create. As you decide how you might use various methods and strategies, always, more importantly, consider why you might use them. And then create an intentional plan to regularly explore and learn about these ideas and a strategic approach to selecting and using them.

Working through your plan to keep yourself growing and learning while reducing the possibility of getting overwhelmed will help you to always be learning and actually use the tools. Then at regular intervals, as you look back on your learning and your implementation of these kinds of tools and approaches, you can feel like you’ve actually brought new things to the classroom and new things to your teaching over time.

Is your time and strategy manageable? Do the tools you’re using have a positive impact on your teaching? And do they help students learn? And what might you change in your approach over time? As you think about these things, think about the best possible way to implement it in small, strategic approaches to keep it manageable.

Thank you for joining me today for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. We took a look at how we might approach the wide variety of media and interactive elements that can be incorporated into online teaching using this intentional strategic approach that also includes continuous learning by reflecting back on your own process so the approach works best for you.

I hope you will think about the possibilities and consider one new thing you might try this week in this area to keep your teaching fresh and help your students become more engaged as well. Best wishes to you 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.

Note: Materials consulted for this episode come from Teaching Music Appreciation Online, published by Oxford University Press.

 
#41: Tips for Teaching Live, Synchronous Online Classes

#41: Tips for Teaching Live, Synchronous Online Classes

This content originally appeared at APUEdge.Com

Teaching live, synchronous online classes can be stressful and challenging, especially for teachers who are not used to this form of online teaching. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides tips for engaging students and creating opportunities for students to interact with the instructor and other students. Learn about polling software, screen sharing, video sharing, and other technologies that can help make synchronous classes fun and engaging. Also learn why it’s important for teachers to adopt a flexible mindset as they prepare to teach live online synchronous classes.

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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.

In today’s podcast, I’m going to share with you some ideas about how to engage your online students during the class in live, synchronous online teaching so that you can hook their interest and help them stay motivated to learn throughout your time together.

I’m not really talking about formal assessments or discussion boards specifically, but I am talking about how you might get them to interact during the lesson itself. Many of you out there are teaching online, but you’re doing it live, where you and your students are all at the computer at the same time in real time.

This is what we call synchronous online teaching. At the same time, there are some of you out there teaching classes where you have put all the lesson content, all of the lectures and other things into an online platform for students to consume or interact with on their own schedules, whether you’re there at the same time or not. The second type is what we call asynchronous online teaching.

Engage Students in Synchronous, Live Online Classes

Today we’re looking at ways to engage your students in live real time, as you are with them in synchronous live online teaching. Why does this matter? Your students will be one step further disconnected from you online than they would be in a face-to-face situation and you cannot walk around through the group to help them stay alert and focused on what’s going on.

If they get up out of the chair and walk away from the computer for a minute, they can easily get distracted by something else going on and lose sight of being in class altogether. And when that happens, you might lose them completely.

For these reasons, part of your role when teaching live synchronous online classes is to be more engaging, and part of your role is to get your students to act. Whether it’s by moving around in their chair, clicking on their smartphone in response to something you ask, writing things down, or speaking to each other in live breakout rooms.

Whatever level you’re at, whether it’s elementary school, high school or college courses, teaching live in the online world takes a little more energy. You might have already guessed this from what I’ve described to this point. You need to be more animated and, at some points, even entertaining. You will need to look at the camera so your students think that you’re looking at them.

And of course, you might want to record yourself in front of the camera, as if you’re teaching, just as a test to see how you project your voice on camera, how you convey energy and how you project your enthusiasm.

In the things that you say, you will also need to tell students what they will learn, why they will need to learn it, and what they should expect and be able to do with the information once they have learned it. Your students are less likely to patiently sit and absorb information just because they’re in the class, especially if they are younger learners.

In today’s podcast, we’re going to cover two specific areas of your live synchronous online teaching. First, we’ll look at your preparation and mindset, and this is really split into two avenues. The preparation means that you need to clearly know what you’re teaching in each lesson, fully plan it, and know exactly how you will teach it and engage your students.

And the other avenue of this preparation is looking at your mindset about how you’re teaching and how well it’s going. This aspect is something you need to focus on before the class is happening because it can really affect the way you think about the entire experience. It also affects the way you plan and prepare for the lesson. And lastly, it impacts how forgiving and flexible you’re going to need to be with yourself and with your online students.

And second, we’re going to look at some ways where you can get interaction from your students when you’re in that live synchronous online class setting to help them move, talk, and engage. These interaction strategies are going to be super helpful to keep your students’ attention focused, but changing pace throughout the lesson can also help your students mentally rehearse and more fully learn the content as well as learning to apply it.

So before we jump in, here are some ideas about the focus of live synchronous classes and totally online asynchronous classes. If you have a choice about whether your online class is going to meet live just as you would in a face-to-face class, or whether it meets asynchronously where students can log in at their leisure, when convenient, and participate on their own schedules, here is a good way to decide between those two options.

The number one factor is what you as the instructor are planning to do. If you are not going to interact back and forth with your students like in a question/answer type of interchange, and if you’re not planning to lead various interactive activities during the time together, if you’re only planning to lecture to deliver the course content, then you don’t need for this to be a live class. You can stand by yourself in front of a video camera and record yourself lecturing to an empty room, then put that video out there for your students to watch at their own schedule. Don’t make them come and sit in front of their computers only to be passive observers of your lecturing.

If they need to attend at a set time, then use that time to the best of your ability to get them interacting with you. Get them to ask questions, interact with each other, and do something that helps bring them into the learning mode to really engage and get something out of that time with you.

Preparing to Teach a Synchronous, Live Class

So let’s begin. First, we look at the preparation phase. You’re going to create a lesson plan for each lesson, and it needs to be detailed. Decide what students should know and be able to do by the end of this lesson. And decide how you want them to be able to demonstrate their learning at the end as well.

This will likely lead up to your design for assessments and knowledge checks or smaller formative activities leading up to something bigger coming up. Of course, today, I’m addressing only the way we deliver synchronous online lessons and not the actual assessment activities specifically.

If you’re teaching online, you must prepare the content ahead of time, even if you’re teaching live at a specific time. It’s not pretty to improvise in front of a camera feed with your students all sitting there. And it’s also very easy for your students to disengage, turn off their cameras, and find something else more interesting to do.

If they start doing this, they might even stop attending your class. To help them learn the best you can, you will need to be interesting, and engage them with you and with each other. Of course, the class doesn’t have to be live if you choose some other method.

You don’t need to see this experience as if you’re sitting on a stage delivering your lecture or monologue in real time as if you’re in a live classroom. Instead, if you’re going to just put everything online and let students come and go to participate at their own convenience, you can create many different types of content for that and you can make it an asynchronous class.

Maybe one of those, if you go that route, is going to be a short set of videos where you’re explaining or demonstrating a concept. Then there can be some reading material, and maybe you have a few videos that also help teach the concept. And students might be in a discussion area chatting among themselves in an asynchronous discussion as well.

There are a lot of options to help you, if you realize that you don’t really need them to be there live in real time. Whatever you do, be prepared and plan the lesson content, and the way you would deliver it as well, in advance.

Share Expectations with Students, Out Loud

You should be more specifically prepared in your online etiquette expectations. You can begin the class by sharing your standards about what they can expect from you and what you can expect from them in terms of how often and in what ways they will interact during your class. These instructions could include some kind of guidance about muting and unmuting their microphones, as well as what kinds of things can be written in the chat box, and whether they need to be on video or just have an image on the screen and their cameras turned off.

You should share these expectations out loud. Tell your students in front of the camera, when you’re actually there in the live class. Don’t just send them by email and expect your students to read them. You’ll want to reiterate them a few times and emphasize them, especially if you’re going to have these live courses throughout the semester where you’re meeting online, yet at the same time.

There are some additional ideas, like telling your students that online engagement is expected and required as class members. Camera issues and technical issues are not as common of an excuse for not engaging. Students can always use their smartphones as a backup if they have tech issues on their computer, and it can be helpful to engage the classroom support team early and often if there are any issues with technology access.

If you share your beliefs about why they need to engage and about how it’s going to actually cement what they’re learning, this can help your students purposely engage and be much more involved in your live classes.

Make Participation Part of the Grade

I also make participation a part of the grade during a live class, and you might consider doing the same thing, especially for younger students and if it’s a Gen Ed college class. You can use all kinds of brief exercises to interact or chat or get ideas from students throughout the class. And you can even call on students individually and take volunteers to answer questions.

So there are a lot of strategies to help you prepare. And as you think through what types of engagement you might want to use; you can plan your content throughout the lesson around these different methods available to you.

Adjusting Your Mindset

Now, the other half of the preparation is looking at your mindset. What are you thinking about your own teaching generally? And what will you expect to happen when you’re teaching online? How do you see yourself when you’re on video or when you’re coming across an online platform? And what might you do if everything goes wrong?

Let’s talk about that mindset a little more. Even though you will plan and prepare, be prepared for backup plans. In the past, you might have been able to deliver masterful classes and engage your students face-to-face remarkably well. But online, sometimes what you think will be a wonderfully developed and clear lesson turns out to be flat, confusing, and unengaging.

If you are new to teaching online, you will need to prepare with a beginner’s mind. Realize that you might not be as polished or put together as you would like to be. Have a plan B. You can share this plan B any time with additional content, different methods to teach the content. And if you have these backup plans, this is going to help you to feel calmer and help you stay calm if things don’t go according to plan. This is especially helpful if major adjustments are needed.

Because you might need to move to a backup plan, also realize that if it’s your first time teaching online, you might need to be more patient and flexible with yourself while you’re teaching. And you will also need to be more accommodating to your students who are trying to learn your teaching style as well as how to navigate that online space.

It’s really easy to clam up, get a little tense and hold students to a higher standard when things become frustrating for you. So, dial it down just a bit and be more accommodating to yourself and your students equally.

Improving Student Interaction with Polling Software

Lastly, we’re going to look at some ways you can get interaction from your students when you’re in that live synchronous online class to help them move, talk and engage. So how can you interact with these students during this live class?

One of the ideas I’d love to share with you today is to use polling software. There are many kinds of polling software. I’m going use four different kinds today and the first one I’d like to tell you about is called Poll Everywhere. This is one great option. They have interactive activities, attendance methods, quizzing, and ways to check understanding in real time.

You can add Poll Everywhere into a PowerPoint presentation that you already have. This makes it an easy way to add polling or any kind of interaction there. Once you’ve collected the responses, you can save them on the slide deck so if you’re going to share them with students later, those responses will be right there in the slide deck.

This Poll Everywhere also works with Keynote and Google slides. So with Poll Everywhere, you can make live synchronous online classes far more engaging and interactive without really having to change your slide deck very much from your traditional lesson you might’ve given in the past.

A second piece of software is called Mentimeter. Mentimeter lets you build interactive presentations right there on their platform, so you don’t have to go to something like PowerPoint. You can also collect polls, data and opinions from your students using their smartphones. They have 13 different types of interactive questions that can include word clouds and quizzing. The word clouds are especially beautiful because as students add their comments, any repeated statements become bigger in the word cloud and it starts to form right before your eyes.

You could put your whole lesson presentation in a Mentimeter presentation, and the engagement parts could appear throughout this lesson where students will respond, where they will interact, and where they will reply to your questions through Mentimeter. This platform includes themes for your presentations and free stock images to spice it up. And once you’re done, you can analyze the data, export it in a PDF file or in Excel, look at the trends and do some deeper analysis.

A third area is in the Zoom platform, which many of you might already be familiar with. Zoom has polling software built in. And if you’re having your live sessions in Zoom, these can be set up ahead of time and then they can be put on the screen when they’re needed and you can show the poll results to everyone afterwards. The Zoom polls can be conducted anonymously, or you can have participants names recorded, especially if you’re going to download them afterwards and take a look at those responses.

The last thing is the chat feature, which probably comes in whatever video platform you’re using for this live lesson. So the chat feature in the video platform allows students and you all to add your comments and ask questions.

You can monitor what’s going on there and include some of these comments as you’re teaching the lesson in your own speaking to connect to what students are also saying. You can also call on students who are there on video and just ask them to unmute and speak out loud as they would do in a traditional face-to-face class.

Some students are uncomfortable with this and very shy on camera, but once you encourage this kind of participation repeatedly, it grows. And it encourages more students to also participate in the same way. Those four ways of interacting, polling and getting answers from students can really help your students to wake up, stay alert, and really engage with the content.

Engage through Screen Share

Another way to engage your students is a screen share. There are many ways to do this and of course, if you’re in a platform like Zoom, you can either share an app through the platform or your entire screen from your computer right there in Zoom, and you could also share the interactive whiteboard.

When you use the whiteboard, you can just write on it like you would in a face-to-face class although it’s on the computer instead of on the wall. If you’re using Google, Google Classroom, Google Meets, or any of those types of platforms, you can also screen share there. There’s a Jamboard app that you could bring into your Google Classroom to also allow your students to collaborate on those whiteboards.

Video Share with Students

And then of course you can video share. You can stand up in your home office, just like you might in a classroom, put a whiteboard on your wall, and draw concepts on it while you’re teaching during the lesson and as you’re engaging with your students, just as if you’re standing in a regular classroom in front of that class.

These are all ways to engage your students, to get them to stay alive, alert, awake, to help them manipulate the content and interact with each other, explore ideas, and really learn during your live synchronous online class. I hope this has helped you think about how you might include students to engage them during that live synchronous online class.

Summarize the Lesson at the End of Each Class

As you close the lesson and the class for the day, find a way to summarize what they have done, what you’ve learned together and all that you’ve covered. Ask a student to tell you what their takeaway is from the lesson. You can either call on individual students to speak, or if you’re in a video platform with a chat feature, you can ask everyone to type a one-sentence takeaway from the lesson. Here again, this is going to cement their learning and help them repeat it again and again to remember what was taught, but also what they worked on.

You could ask your students to respond through polling software, if you prefer, to this section of your lesson, or you could have them add their answers to a Mentimeter word cloud. Whatever you do, asking students to help you sum up the lesson is another great way to help them engage more and solidly sift through their learning by sharing out.

Reflect After Each Class, Send out Email Reminders to Students

After everyone’s offline, take a moment to reflect on what went well. Was your preparation adequate? Was your mindset in the right place for this kind of situation? And did you prepare the situation itself with all of the steps needed for success? What would you like to adjust before the next go round? And then send a follow-up email to your class with a few key points and reminders about the next time. This will help them remember how to contact you as well when they have questions and it’s going to help them keep thinking about class when they’re away.

Thank you for being with me today. I wish you all the best in your online teaching this week, especially if you’re teaching live synchronous classes.

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.

#39: Creative Methods and Strategies for Teaching Online

#39: Creative Methods and Strategies for Teaching Online

This content first appeared on APUSEdge.Com

It can be challenging to keep online courses engaging and interesting. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares five methods and strategies to help online educators enhance their classroom. Learn how to increase student engagement through asynchronous discussions, online group work, gamification, guided exploration, and leveraging the full power of your school’s learning management system.

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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.

I thank you for joining me. It’s wonderful to be with you here today, to talk about methods and strategies teaching online. There are so many ways you can engage with your students in the online classroom, many of which involve special tools, interfaces, apps, or other items that might be considered bright and shiny objects.

Just to help you avoid getting overwhelmed, I’m going to introduce you to five specific methods and strategies you might consider using in your upcoming courses to help you keep the overwhelm at a minimum and get excited about trying something new and creative.

You might already know this, but choosing methods and strategies that work for your online environment and also guide your students appropriately through the topic, it’s challenging but it’s also necessary.

Creative strategies are so needed because students otherwise will disengage. Online education can be very isolating. If we always use an essay and discussion board approach, it can also be very dry and boring. Engaging your students and getting them excited about what they’re going to learn and how they’re going to learn is only part of the battle. We’re going to talk about that: how to learn it.

Think about the typical online class that focuses mainly on a lecture and some kind of assignment the student will give back to you. This is somewhat an imitation of a live class, and most of us would see this as the typical way a college class occurs. Online students need way more opportunities to interact with each other, with the content, and with you.

Online learners are a bit different than the residential students you might have at a traditional face-to-face university. Many of them have busy lives and need to be able to look at smaller bits of information, like a little video clip or something engaging they can click through or several of these things.

If you take the time to chunk information and use special strategies to create engagement, these strategies will really help your students be interested in your online course and help them throughout their learning and help them enjoy the process.

The tools that give your students the opportunity to work through the content that they need to learn, compete with their own performance, and manage the overall learning process can really help your online courses become more exciting and motivating.

As I’ve already mentioned, this could quickly lead to overwhelm for you. So choose one thing to try in your upcoming course, keep it small and simple, and you will be very pleased with the way this leads to a better result for you and your students.

Five Strategies for Improving Student Engagement

So here are the five methods and strategies I’d like to share with you today to help you get something more interesting going on in a small and simple piece.

Asynchronous Discussions

The first is asynchronous discussions. Asynchronous discussions are the hallmark component of online courses. Most people expect to see a discussion forum at some point in an online class. Some people use discussion forums throughout the entire course. Discussion forums give students the opportunity to teach and learn from each other. They can try on ideas, analyze, explore, debate, discuss. They can really get into the content through a discussion. They can also engage in dialogue with you, the instructor.

The discussion can include text. It could be based on images, audio, video, or multimedia, or you could include some combination of those things. In a previous episode of the Online Teaching Lounge, I explored a lot of different ways to manage your online discussions and creative a forum prompts you might consider trying. I hope you will take a look at those previous episodes. They’ll give you a lot of ideas in the asynchronous discussion area.

Online Group Work

The second method and strategy I would like to suggest is online group work. Learning can be a collaborative endeavor and group work can promote dialogue while refining understandings. This can be done in a way that fits the subject matter that you are teaching.

Group discussions, group projects, and peer-to-peer activities can also make online learning much more enjoyable for your students. This will reduce the tendency to have just lecture and discussion-based courses, and it will also make it more interesting when they’re forming connections with their classmates.

One of the drawbacks of online learning is that students do not really get to know each other deeply. When they work in a group, they have a better chance of getting to know each other, connecting and maybe even knowing a familiar name when they go to the next course in their program.

Group work can be very difficult to manage. I used to do an online project in the music appreciation class that I am teaching most. In that course when the group work came up, sometimes I would specifically assign students groups of people that were in the same time zone. My students tend to be all over the world at any given point, so I like to creatively manage that.

I had also chosen groups based on similar demographics. Maybe they’re in the same military branch or maybe some knew the subject of music a little bit and some didn’t, and I would combine those to give everybody a better chance of engaging about the content.

Group work needs clear instructions, creative activities to explore where each group member can contribute something. And, of course, some kind of criteria for grading that makes it worth the student’s time.

When I say worth their time, I mean that they’re going to actually be graded on their own contribution and not solely on the group grade. Students get very discouraged when they’re graded on the work that classmates have not done.

It’s also very helpful in group work assignments to let students choose some component of the assignment themselves. Maybe there are some creative elements they can put in there. Maybe there are several choices of what could be created or discussed in the assignment, and maybe there is also the opportunity to choose what the output format is going to look like whether it’s an essay, a PowerPoint, or some multimedia presentation.

Considering group work as the opportunity to really engage in a real-world fashion, this is an opportunity for you to also coach your students on how to work as teams, especially online.

Games and Simulations

The third method and strategy I’d like to introduce, this is the area of games and simulations. Games and simulations are opportunities for your students to apply new learning in real life scenarios. These can be supplemented through hypothetical situations, maybe they’re even role-playing or through specific apps and platforms built for some kind of educational gaming.

You might consider badging. Sometimes students get very excited about earning these little badges that appear as tokens of their achievement. There might be something built into your LMS that allows badging or up-voting or some kind of other engagement about the game or simulation itself.

Sometimes a little bit of competition actually makes the learning process even more fun. Games and simulations are becoming increasingly popular. I was at the Online Learning Consortium Conference a couple of years ago where a faculty member actually introduced the idea of using a Dungeons and Dragons scenario in a class, for gaming options.

If you explore the possibilities of gaming and simulations that are available, you just might find one that works fabulously in your subject matter. Simulations are a little bit different than games. They’re a little bit more applied and real-world oriented and might revolve around a case study or a role-play.

A simulation is something that might have a decision tree. For example, maybe the student enters a crime scene and they’re in a class where this is the area of focus. In the simulation, they might need to examine evidence and make a choice. With a decision tree, when they click on one choice, it will go to one avenue, and when they click on a different choice, it will take them someplace else. It’s a little bit like the 1980s example of choose your own adventure books. You get to choose the different options and the program takes you in different directions.

There are a lot of apps and things available that allow for decision trees. Even a simple PowerPoint presentation could be rigged so that you have a decision tree option available. You can create a slide where a student clicks on one or the other item on the slide, and depending on what they click on, it moves them to another slide entirely, skipping over a whole bunch of slides in between.

If you’re not sure what to use for a simulation and you’d like to try, I recommend starting with a simple PowerPoint. You might also consider reaching out to your classroom management team, whoever is working on your LMS at your institution, to see what’s available. Some apps can even be integrated into the learning management system to make this a lot easier for your students and for you.

Going back to the idea of gaming, I will go back into an app that I’d like to recommend today. There is one called Quizlet, which is well known for flashcard studying. Quizlet hosts flashcard-style tools to create simple interactive and game-like components that are easily embedded into any LMS.

A lot of students search for subject matter content online, maybe they do a Google search for items related to your class that you’re teaching. And many of them actually find Quizlets already available that help them study the terms that are taught in your class.

If you decide to create a Quizlet, it can be very simple to just create a list of terms or ideas, concepts, scenarios, and you can set up various options in the Quizlet program, making it fit your subject matter and your strategy the best.

Keep in mind that any new technology you may be learning as the instructor might be equally challenging for your students. There is a learning curve to everything, so when you’re trying a new interface, a new app, or a new program, keep yourself limited to one. This is going to help you avoid the overwhelm that comes with bright and shiny object syndrome. And when you get overwhelmed with a lot of new options, it can be paralyzing, making it difficult for you to integrate that into your classroom.

If you’re able to develop simulations, role-playing games, or other gamification that might go into your courses, this could be really engaging and fun. It will generate interest in your class and in the content of your course. And also guide your students to learn at a deeper level, and the results will definitely be worthwhile.

Guided Exploration

A fourth area I recommend is called guided exploration. Guided exploration helps your students quite a bit. It can be delivered as an instructor-made video. Perhaps you are doing a screencast that walks through the entire classroom, showing your students around. Maybe it’s a narrated screencast. It could be a classroom tour, a list of steps for investigating a topic, a guided exercise in the subject matter. Maybe it’s an analysis presentation of some kind of case study or other issue, or other teacher-led tools.

When we think about guided exploration, this is often the idea of lecturing on a content matter. If you use guided exploration, really what you’re doing is giving an overview of a subject or the topic, walking students through it, and describing, discussing, and analyzing it as you go.

As the instructor, you’re giving a little bit more information about the thinking for this kind of subject, maybe what we might notice. One example I’d like to share is from the music appreciation class, because of course, that’s my subject area. Guided exploration in this case might be a recording of a performance where I’m going to pause it, point out a few things in that video, discuss it and record myself doing this, and then continue recording a little segment and talk through which musical devices are showing up.

As I do that kind of guided exploration video, my students are going to have a lot more hands-on guidance so that when they listen to their musical example and have to analyze it, they feel a little bit more prepared.

Leveraging Your Learning Management System

The last method or strategy that I would like to share with you today is your LMS. Your LMS, of course, isn’t a strategy itself, but it comes with a lot of different components to help you track student progress and create creative assignments. You can communicate with everyone through your LMS, usually. You can also reach individuals privately. There might be some kind of messaging feature. There might be something also that enables interaction or even live video. Leveraging your LMS and all of its different components could allow you to create things that are new and different.

Some learning management systems have a group setting. You can take a forum discussion and randomly assign students into different groups so that they’re just discussing the topic in smaller groups than they normally would. Sometimes this alone is a very engaging method for students to get connected and a strategy for helping them dive to a deeper level.

Just in review, we’ve talked today about asynchronous discussions, group work, games and simulations, guided exploration, and learning management system components. Methods and strategies in your online class are a little bit different than deciding what to teach, it’s more about deciding how you will teach it.

As you spend the time creatively deciding your methods and strategies, you’re going to be able to be creating something that is more interesting for your students and more engaging overall. It will also give you that feeling of trying something fresh every so often. So that you don’t get stuck in patterns that you teach every single semester, but that you keep trying something new.

I hope you will try at least one of these methods and strategies today to freshen up your online teaching. And I wish you all the best this 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.