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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

This content was first provided at APUEdge.com. 

Online educators often get overwhelmed by the endless tasks they need to complete like answering students’ questions, posting announcements, grading papers, and engaging in forum discussions. In this episode, APU Faculty Director Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks about the benefits of creating guidance assets to help students self-manage and set expectations, while also helping online teachers manage their high workload. Learn about creating guidance assets like screencasts, video introductions, course announcements, netiquette guides, example assignments and more.

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

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. I’m Dr. Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’m pleased to be with you today. Thank you for joining me to talk about work-life balance. This is particularly important because we’re talking about a profession in which we have a lot of work, unlimited possibilities electronically, and often high expectations.

There are growing numbers of online tools that we can look at. We can engage through text, audio, video, multimedia components, apps, you name it. And of course, there’s the learning management system, which can be attractive and overwhelming.

Any way you look at it, teaching online can be a very involved endeavor. So if you’re working online or teaching online right now, chances are that you have considered your work-life balance, and how to keep all of this under control.

As you think about online institutions, moving online, or you teaching online particularly, we think a lot about whether you’re creating the course, or it’s a standardized course you’re going to teach, that somebody else wrote. This can make a huge difference.

If you’re having to create the course, you have a lot of work ahead of you, and it’s best to do that work before you start teaching it. If you’re teaching and creating it at the same time, because maybe you’re in an emergency transition period, you don’t have a choice. You have to figure out how to manage that workload, and keep it efficient and moving forward.

Now, either way, we want quality in the delivery of the course, but we also want to connect with students. The best way to have a good experience teaching online is to have students who want to learn online, and who want to be there with you. You can experience a really high level of intensification.

This is a chronic sense of work overload, over time, and this idea of de-skilling, which is reducing the quality of your instruction into separate steps like grading, posting things, et cetera. And these can feel unrelated to the big picture of teaching your students. Either one of these situations can lead to burnout and poor work-life balance very quickly.

As you’re thinking about all the tasks that you have to do as online educator, I want to help you out today, in giving you strategies to increase quality of life, and work-life balance overall. We want to give you the strength to get through high levels of work, and also meet your students where they’re at, so they enjoy learning from you.

Today, I hope these strategies will encourage you, and help you to better manage your students’ needs, and also give you more abilities to set boundaries that will enhance your focus. When you try out what we’re going to talk about today, you might actually need to stretch outside your comfort zone just a little, and try something new, in order to be more efficient or more effective.

But if you’re willing to do these things and just give them a try, I think they’ll help you whittle things down into a more manageable task and more manageable workload overall. And I think you’ll find that they’re worth the effort, as you go through your career goals, and the goals you have for teaching this particular class that you’re teaching right now.

Let’s look at your increased level of work-life balance by doing one thing as a high priority item. And that one thing today is producing assets that guide students in self-management.

Assets to Help Students with Self-Management

When you think about the most important and most pressing things you do as an online educator, this probably is not at the top of your list. For some of you, I know you think about preventative steps you can take early on to help students with their success.

But a lot of times, we’re putting out fires when we’re teaching online. We’re getting messages, we’re getting questions, we have a lot of engagement we need to follow-up on, and we need to grade things. And we need to do all of this in a pretty timely manner.

That can feel like we’re just running from one task to the next, doing that de-skilling I mentioned before. Thinking about creating things that are a bigger picture, that are going to prevent things in the future, might feel like it’s really out of our reach, because we are just putting out those fires every day.

If you create these guidance assets to help your students navigate around your classroom and know the communication expectations, it’s going to add a whole lot to lowering your stress and helping you manage your workload.

How Can You Proactively Address Student Questions All At Once?

Think about how you can anticipate the needs and proactively address questions that your students have. You can minimize the individual guidance you might have to give every single student once the course starts by giving these strategies to all of the students upfront, before the challenges ever hit.

There was a study in which it was suggested that adults will rise or sink to the level of responsibility we expect of them, a key premise of andragogy, and the assumptions we have about adult learners.

If you use strategies that support your students’ learning, and also give them ways to become self-sufficient, we call this self-efficacy, when they’re doing it, this is going to help you engage your students better, while you allow yourself to balance your tasks and your time more effectively.

There was a suggestion in another study about workload reduction. It starts with anticipating and proactively addressing what your learners’ questions are and what their problem areas might be.

So think about the class you’re currently teaching, and if you were to just start right now, looking forward to the coming tasks that are going to face your students in the coming days and weeks, what kind of methods might you use to give them a heads up about the challenges?

Maybe you’ll send an announcement, at the very least, that tells them what to expect, what to anticipate. Some instructors create sample assignments, just to show what the formatting might look like, or how things will develop from the beginning of the assignment throughout the submission.

If you store copies of announcements and guidance assets you’re going to create, and repeatedly use these things, you’ll want to revise them and update them over time to save you some development time in the future by reusing them, but also keeping them current. If you’re teaching the same course over and over, creating this kind of asset is really going to help you to have the tools at your disposal without having to reinvent them every single time.

If we look at andragogy theory, the theory of teaching adults, this suggests that adult learners are self-directed. They’re going to get greater autonomy as they’re going through the educational experience with you, and with everyone else they’re interacting with.

Because of this, your adult learners are not as interested in being told what to learn. They’re much more interested in having a meaningful influence in the process of learning, all by itself.

When you give them assets that establish your teaching presence and your social presence, and your cognitive presence, from the community of inquiry, you can actually give them some boundaries for you as the instructor, and you can set up these boundaries for yourself. And at the same time, you’re supporting your students in meaningful learning, and helping them be self-directed in what they’re learning, and how they’re learning it.

You can increase your efficiency and your time management when you develop these things in a way that they can be used again and again. I’m going to give you a couple of categories here that will help you take some steps in producing assets that will guide your students to manage themselves, as they’re working in your class.

Prepare Student Guidance Assets

The first area is to prepare student guidance. I’m calling these assets, because they might be documents, they might be videos, but they’re tangible things that you’re going to use and reuse with your students, and continue to improve. When you teach online, this is going to require you to take the role of a mentor, and a coach a little bit more than the traditional lecturer role that some people associate with higher education.

If you’re used to being the lecturer, where you present things to students in a live situation, and now you’ve moved online to where that’s maybe recorded, and you have to do some other things, this can really be a helpful way to branch out.

Preparing student guidance could be something like a brief video, a netiquette guide, a video guide, some kind of document to help students work through their experience with you.

Communication problems happen a lot online, but they can be prevented entirely, if you tell students how you want them to engage in the class and in the discussion forums, from the very beginning. Students really like to know what your standards are, and they like to be able to review the materials you give them as needed.

You can make the brief video or screencast with some narration, where you’re talking on that video, to guide students into different areas of your classroom. The video might be a walkthrough of how to engage in your class, showing them the different places they need to be, like the tab for the assignments, the tab for submitting things, checking their grades, reading the lessons, accessing any lecture that might be there.

You can also use a netiquette guide to guide them in a way that provides the proper tone for the online class, and some expectations you have, before they ever post in that first week’s discussion. Again, this is going to give your students the opportunity to self-regulate, because they know your expectations.

Any of these videos, tips, or other guidance assets can lead your students into really great participation, and these assets can be used as a reference later, if students fail to comply, or don’t meet your expectations. If you need to redirect them, you can offer them another copy of the netiquette guide, or the video guide that you created, and remind them of what matters in that classroom.

Create Video Assets

Now creating video guides doesn’t have to be a challenging process. There are a lot of things out there you can use. You could create a short video using whatever tool exists in your learning management system. A lot of LMSs have video recorders built in. If you don’t have one, you can look up Screencastify or Screencast-O-Matic. Both of these are excellent ways to record the screen while you’re talking.

If you’re really nervous about putting your voice or yourself on the screen, but you know your students want to connect with you, you can also create slides. There are even ways where you can type a transcript, and something can automate a voice that reads it for you.

It’s best to include your own voice, if you can, and your face students who see you feel almost automatic trust for you at a level that is totally different than when they just read your words. When you guide them through the class and help establish your instructor identity, this also builds the trust that helps them endure and persist throughout the class, when they hit hard times.

When misunderstandings happen, students complain a lot less, because they feel comfortable asking questions and reaching out to you. Think about the free options, Screencastify and Screencast-O-Matic. If you want to buy something, there is Camtasia, there’s also Snagit available, both of which are excellent at recording your screen, and allow you to narrate at the same time.

Create a Netiquette Guide

Talking about the netiquette guide, before the class begins, a netiquette guide can give clear expectations about in-class communication that you want students to use. This was something that Dr. Craig Bogar mentioned in Episode 53 of this podcast, and we’re going to hit back on this topic now.

If there are specific forum discussions or assignments that you prefer submitted in a certain format, you can always post a model and explain it, and also talk about the kind of language to be used. Netiquette can apply to the discussion forums, but it can also apply to the way they use academic language in assignments.

Provide Students with a Model Assignment to Reference

You might consider giving a model assignment to illustrate this, and attaching it to the assignment description. You can give examples and guidance as part of your routine teaching, to prep people for submitting the work.

And also, if you find that there’s a concept that people are not understanding when they’re in your class, you can always create a short video discussing it and talking about how it applies.

If you’d like a sample netiquette guide, you’re welcome to click the link in the podcast notes, and you can access a sample guide that I created and used for quite some time in my online teaching. And you’re welcome to use it.

Prepare Announcements in Advance

Another step you might consider is to prepare announcements in advance. When you do this, you’re going to have something ready to go for each week. You can, of course, tailor it as the course progresses.

Something is going to come up that you’re going to realize needs to be added to these announcements. Maybe it’s a current event, or a suggestion based on something a student has said. Being adaptable and flexible is really important, because online learning can sometimes feel like we’ve structured it so well, that it’s not flexible.

If you can be flexible with your announcements, then you can adapt them throughout the time you’re teaching. But developing them in advance of the course is a great way to keep your workload light. If you keep the content of these announcements for specific dates in the future, but don’t put dates on them, they might be appropriate for the next time you teach the course. Again, you’ll want to personalize and modify things, to make sure that they still meet the needs of that course you’re going to teach in the future, and those students that you’re working with at that time.

Depending on your learning management system, you might even be able to set all of your announcements up to auto open on the first day of each week, without having to manually do this every week. If you created tools to guide your students through the assignments, or to help them navigate your classroom, you can also set these up in the announcements area, to publish automatically as well.

These things are going to help you build a positive academic atmosphere, and set the tone in your online classroom. All of this work done in advance sets you up for success, and helps your students feel safe, because they’re guided by a teaching presence who is really connecting with them, and helping them in every way possible.

When you set this positive tone in your online class, and include elements in your course announcements that are friendly and personable, these also build connections with students, whether you’re aware of it or not, and this reassurance helps students feel like their questions will be answered whenever they have them. Generic announcements, really, depersonalize the experience, so try to avoid making them look super generic or leaving off your personal commentary.

Lastly, anything that’s working for you, like guidance assets you might create, screencasts, video introductions of you, course announcements, a netiquette guide, and example assignments, as you review these and keep them updated for the next time you teach the course, you can store these and repeatedly use them, and personalize them each time you return to the teaching.

Tips for Saving and Storing Assets for Future Use

Saving and storing materials you’ve developed will really save you time. This is a huge investment. Creating assets for your students takes a lot of work, and a lot of time. If you don’t have a place to store repeated announcements or forum posts that you would like to reuse, like your introductory or wrap-up posts, you might consider an online storage site.

There’s one called FacultyFiles, and it’s a free resource that allows you to set up course materials storage areas, separate it by class week and the type of the class, set up how many weeks the class is and put these things in the weeks that you’re going to use them, and just use that as a repository for keeping track of your grading rubrics, your forum posts that are somewhat standard, your announcements, and other things you might repeatedly use.

Using some kind of online storage like this one is especially helpful if you have gaps between teaching the course and the next time you teach it, so you can just keep these resources organized and ready.

In closing, I hope that you have gained some tips today for producing assets that are going to guide your students and help them manage themselves. The workload can be very high in online teaching, but when you create these kinds of important guidance pieces for your students, you’ll save yourself a lot of time in the long term as you’re teaching the course.

Your students can be more self-directed, which satisfies them in their learning much more. You can focus instead on the teaching that you enjoy most, and also engaging with your students.

Thank you for being here for part two of our work-life balance, setting priorities series, episode 55 today. Come back next week for episode 56. We will talk about effective management strategies to round out your work-life balance nicely. 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 and your online teaching journey.

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