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BethanieHansen.Com

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

Dr. Bethanie Hansen 

Strategic Educational Leader and Coach

#65: Strategies to Make Discussion Boards More Engaging [Podcast]

#65: Strategies to Make Discussion Boards More Engaging [Podcast]

This content initially appeared at APUEdge.Com 

Discussion boards are a required part of many online courses, but they can sometimes get flat and boring. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks about how to have an engaging dialogue with students. Learn five strategies to improve discussion boards as well as how to apply the Guided ANCHORS approach to managing discussion forums.

#63: Benefits of Mentoring Online Students [Podcast]

#63: Benefits of Mentoring Online Students [Podcast]

This content originally appeared on APUEdge.com

Teachers are always seeking better ways to connect with their students, especially in the online classroom. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses the value of mentoring students and why it can be helpful to think of students as customers. Learn how forming a mentoring relationship can help teachers connect better with students, improve student learning, and also bring greater satisfaction to the teacher.

Listen to the Episode:

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Read the Transcript:

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

In today’s episode we’re going to look at mentoring online students in higher education. This is a hot topic right now because everyone wants to connect better with their students. And here on the Online Teaching Lounge, connecting with our students and working with them much better than we have in the past is one of our primary objectives.

At the university where I teach and work, we have a focus on student success, and we want to have students-first programs. So it makes sense that we would want to also include a mentoring approach. This is something some of my faculty have explored, and other leaders across the institution. So I’m going to share some thoughts with you today about mentoring online students.

Choosing to be a Leader

As an instructor or an online educator, you may not be in a leadership role at your institution. But you can lead from any seat that you’re in. As a leader in the classroom, you can try things out that may work for you, and share them with colleagues. You might be able to get an IRB request and do a little research on what you find, and share it with the bigger community as well.

And of course, there’s the practitioner report. You can just notice what’s going on and prepare a practical presentation to share with others, or write up an article on that. There are so many ways you can have an experience with mentoring and share it with other people.

When we think about ourselves as online educators, perhaps we get into some routines or patterns that don’t bring us as much satisfaction and joy as they once did. Mentoring our students can be something that freshens that up and helps us connect much more deeply with the people we’re teaching.

There’s a story in a book called “Lead From Any Seat” by Andrei Anca, and in this book, he shares a story called The Parable of the Coffee Bean, and he has an unknown author listed there. But the story is like this. And I’m going to read it directly from the book, “Lead From Any Seat.”

“A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were hard for her. She didn’t know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed that when one problem was solved, a new one arose.

Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water. And in the first pot she placed carrots. In the second one, she placed eggs. And in the last pot, she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil without saying a word.

In about 20 minutes. She turned off the burners. She took the carrots out of the water and placed them in a bowl. She then pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. She then ladled the coffee into a bowl. Turning to her daughter. She asked, ‘Tell me what you see.’ ‘Carrots, eggs and coffee,’ the daughter replied.

The mother, brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noticed that they were softened. She then asked her to take an egg and break it. After peeling off the soft shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, she asked her to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled and she tasted the rich aroma.

The daughter then asked, ‘What’s the point mother?’ Her mother explained that with each of these objects, they had all faced the same adversity, the boiling water, but each of them reacted differently.

The carrot went in strong, hard and unrelenting. After being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior. But after being exposed to the boiling water, the inside became hardened.

The ground coffee beans however, they were unique. After they were placed in the boiling water, they had changed the water. ‘Which are you?’ she asked the daughter. When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?”

Now let’s take this to our online teaching. Each of us enters the profession of teaching as educators, and we have goals and we have things we’d like to accomplish there. Things happen, jobs are difficult. We can’t reach some of our students. We have success with others. Many things occur during our teaching career. And as we’re teaching, we transform in one of these three ways.

Just as we transform in one of these three ways, our students also approach their experience with us in either an approachable manner, soft and ready to be taught. A resistant manner, perhaps they don’t want to take the course and they’re taking it because it’s a required class. Or maybe they come in with mixed feelings. And they can have an impact on others as well.

Through mentoring, we can have that difference, like the ground coffee beans.

Changing Your Perspective

When we think about students, an interesting thing is that many of us think about them as these people that need to be taught, need to be molded, need to learn the ropes in some way, either in the subject matter or in the field.

Either way, it would be an interesting flip to see the student instead as a customer. If we were a business in education, instead of looking at ourselves as simply an educational entity, thinking about your student as your customer gives you a whole different perspective on the way you approach the people who come to learn from you. A student wants to learn, of course, but a customer wants value from what they’re getting.

If we were to make an impact on our students that’s much more significant than simply giving feedback and conversation in the online classroom, we can think about our students in a way that we see them quite differently.

Again, in the book, “Lead From Any Seat,” the author tells us that the first step in making an impact is to change the way we think about other people. One way we can think about our students as customers will be to see through their experience. We need to understand what they need, what they really want in life and in their education.

Essentially, the idea is if we’re going to be successful mentoring students and really helping them in what they’re learning, we need to see their point of view. We need to be able to understand their perspective, and we also need to see through their eyes. This is sometimes called an outward mindset from others. It could be called many things. It could be taking on a new perspective. It could be servant leadership.

But either way, when we take the focus off ourselves, our workload, and our approach to teaching, and we put the focus instead on the person we’re teaching, and seeing through their experience and their eyes, we have a totally different experience working with them in our course.

Understanding the Value of Mentoring

You might be asking yourself at this point, what is mentoring? What is that in higher education? And what is that in online education? I can’t answer all of those questions in today’s brief podcast, but I will start with the idea that mentoring is about giving a relationship to someone else, connecting with them, and working with them for their own development. This could be personal development, professional development, growth in a specific area.

Through the mentoring relationship, we connect with other people and we share our expertise. We might provide guidance and examples about how they can repeat our success, or success of others in the field.

Or more generally, it could be about academic success. What does it take, for example, to be a great student? If we think about the things our students come into our classroom wanting to know specifically from us, this can turn us towards a mentoring approach. It can help us think a lot more about what kind of mentoring we would give our students.

Now, even if there is not a formal mentoring program in place, we can always take a mentoring approach to the way we teach our courses. For example, in the comments we might use in a discussion, we can mentor students by talking through the ideas with them, giving critical questions to help them think more deeply about how to apply these concepts in real life. And we can ask them about how they might use the ideas in their professional world, now and in the future.

If we’re mentoring them in a subject matter where they’re going to major in it, like, for example, if you’re a communication faculty member and you’re teaching students majoring in communication who intend to go into that field, you might bring in relevant career examples. Scenarios and situations to prompt their deeper thinking about that. And then you can ask students how that might apply to what they’re seeking to obtain in the future.

Group mentoring is also possible if you have live calls or group discussions. You might try some kind of group approach to mentoring where you share different scenarios about the professional world, and have students chat with you and toss around the ideas about how they might prepare, or how they could apply the concepts you’ve shared.

Whether you’re mentoring someone in their academic skills or the academic ability to survive the online class, generally, or perhaps you’re mentoring them in becoming someone who moves into that professional area, students really need a sense of their identity. And by the word identity, I mean they need to be able to see themselves as a scholar or student in the academic space.

Students also need to be able to imagine themselves in that career when they’re finished with their degree. Something difficult for a lot of people who go into a new field is feeling like they are legitimate or prepared in that field.

For example, there have been a lot of studies done about the field of education. And people who major in something to become a teacher later often struggle seeing themselves as an educator. There’s a lot of imposter syndrome that can happen for folks when they start teaching for the first time.

And just an extension of that, I remember my first year as a teacher, 25 years ago, when I walked into that classroom and I didn’t have any faculty or supervising teachers with me. I was extremely nervous every day. Sometimes I called my mentor teacher that had done work with me the previous year, and I asked for guidance and feedback. I looked for some kind of insight to help me feel more like the official educator that I wanted to be.

Things we can say and do with our students can help them imagine themselves in that profession, and create a professional identity for themselves in their minds, and in reality, as well.

As we wrap up this brief discussion about mentoring, I’d like to encourage you to look at your students and find out what they really want from their experience with you. Even if they post in a discussion during week one what they’d like to get out of the class, many times these statements are brief or even superficial.

As you start to see them engage and think about who they really are, where they’re coming from, and what their experience is with the subject matter, you might be able to see beyond those comments into a greater depth of who those students would like to be in the future.

And as you see through their eyes, you might have some insights about small things you can do to connect with them through a mentoring style and a mentoring approach, until you’re able to give a little bit more in the future where you might create some ideas around some kind of more formal mentoring experience with your students.

You can also give them some feedback when they give you assignments, that is more focused on who they’re becoming in that academic area, and more mentoring-focused as well. And in the long term, something might occur to you that you can do to give a little bit more mentoring to your students, again, even if there is no formal program.

There were some faculty that I worked with, and they took a mentoring approach to a course. And we found that the brief and small changes they made actually had these students re-enroll in courses at a higher rate, just because the faculty took a unique approach or approached it through a mentoring lens.

When you approach your teaching as a mentor and not just as a teacher, you’re going to find a little bit of a difference in your results as well. I encourage you to think about this in your online teaching this coming week, and I wish you all the best in your 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.

#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.

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
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Read the Transcript:

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

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. Today, 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.

 
#61: Five Creative Ways to Enhance Forum Discussions

#61: Five Creative Ways to Enhance Forum Discussions

Discussion forums in online classes can sometimes get repetitive and stale. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen suggests five creative ways for online teachers to spice up discussion spaces to revitalize the discussion and get to know students better. Learn about role playing, technologies to create video responses and collaboration sites, and more.

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.

Have you ever struggled to engage in the discussion of your online course? For some courses we teach, it might seem that over and over we’re discussing the same topics with the same students from the same approach.

Of course, it may be a new group of students, but it seems like we’re having that same dialogue over and over again. And sometimes there might be a feeling that it’s difficult to find new questions to ask, or new ideas to share. If this sounds familiar to you, it might be time to try some creative alternatives to the traditional discussion format. And when you take a totally new approach, it can revitalize your thinking about online discussion spaces and help you engage much more with your students too.

Today, we’ll review five alternative discussion forum ideas for your next online class. And by the end of today’s podcast, you’ll walk away with something new you can try this coming week.

Role Play Can Enhance Forum Discussions

Number one, role-play. The idea of role-play in online discussions involves creativity and imagination. To be able to engage in the dialogue, students must do a little research about an individual from the past, their context and culture, and their life’s achievements. There are forum prompts like this in music appreciation courses that I teach. So I’m going to share my own experience with you on role-plays.

In the first discussion we have that involves this role-play idea, students are asked to create five questions that a media interviewer might ask prominent musicians from the 1600s. Then students create replies as if that composer might provide them. And they format and post their discussions in some ways that are also creative.

I noticed some of my students take it further, so they even introduce the entire post in character as if they are the interviewer, complete with fictitious names for the magazine or newspaper they represent, and some additional fun details.

By doing this approach, students must weigh the facts on a historical musician and find those lesser-known details that can really pique your curiosity. They also have to think in present tense, first-person voice, as if they are speaking as that composer in their responses. It can help students start to think about people from hundreds of years ago much more humanely, and understand more than just some facts and some dates that they could write about. And it elicits their creativity, so they will spend a little more time putting it together.

In the other role-playing discussion we have, we have students who write imaginary conversations that take place between three composers, which they get to choose, from the romantic era. They bring in people like Beethoven, Berlioz, Chopin and Liszt, and they write the conversation as if these three people they selected really did meet at a party or a gathering. Sometimes students will write the conversation as if Beethoven has completely lost his hearing and keeps ignoring other people, asking loudly, repeatedly what they have said. And some of them portrayed Liszt as this dark emotional person, bringing in a mention of various elements from his life struggles.

We’ve been able to dive into the conversations about composers they select and explore musical issues, and the cultures the composers lived in as well. But more than that, some wider topics come in like musicians and mental health, relationships, and even challenges they face in life. And many of the students find that they understand these composers and the challenges and musicians as fellow humans, instead of just names and dates.

And some have even remarked that they contemplate the challenges that certain musicians have faced and overcome these, and they think about their own lives as well. So they liken perhaps the deafness of Beethoven and his composing symphonies anyway, to whatever life struggle they’re having. And a few students have even said they’ve been inspired to overcome their own challenges and keep moving forward because of these experiences, these stories.

Role plays can be powerful and useful if you want to help your students connect to their learning. To make discussions successful, clear and detailed instructions are needed. Step-by-step instructions can be important to help students know exactly what is expected and how the post should be written.

Create Video Discussion Forums Using Flipgrid

For this second idea you’re going to leave the learning management system completely. You’re going to get out of the LMS and go into a program called Flipgrid. Now, if you haven’t tried Flipgrid, it is definitely worth a shot. You leave, you use Flipgrid, and then you post it in the classroom.

This is a free video discussion forum tool. It builds your students’ perceptions of the connectedness in the online classrooms, so it takes discussions to a totally different place. You can use Flipgrid for video discussion forums. They’ll take the video and embed the video in the online course that students have created. And you can use it in a lot of different ways to connect yourself to your students and to connect students to each other.

Embedding a tool that brings voice, tone, and body language to the classroom really does build that sense of connection, and you can see who everybody is. You get a sense of the other students in the class and the instructor. And this raises the bar for everything happening in that discussion forum.

There’s a post on Edutopia about several different LMS strategies, and Flipgrid is one of those. They quote a high school English teacher named Kyleen Gray. And Kyleen said, “Flipgrid is a fantastic oral communication application that is easy to use.”

It’s a video-sharing platform, as I mentioned, and you can write the forum prompt to the discussion just as you always would. But instead of having students type the answer, you simply have them answer it in a short video. So this is a great tool that’s going to give you feedback in sort of an informal way. You can find out how students are doing in their learning, and you get to hear it in their own voice.

And of course, there’s been some research done on this, and it’s been found that Flipgrid actually boosts students’ feelings of being connected in the online classroom, which overcomes a lot of that sense of anonymity, and also that disconnection that is really common in online education. And it also helps them to bridge the gap between you and them, so they’re willing to ask you for help.

Of course, there are some additional fabulous ideas for using Flipgrid that you might also be interested in. Not only can your students just post videos of themselves talking and embed these in your forum discussions, but you can invite outside speakers. So there’s a guest mode in Flipgrid, and you can invite a guest speaker to participate in the online discussion asynchronously. Guests can watch the student videos and respond to them. This gives your expert a way to share knowledge from the field, and also allows them to share it at the convenient time for them.

If you’d like to have guest speakers in your online class, this is a really creative idea about how it can be done, and it can be done in a discussion, so that throughout the week everyone can engage with that guest and go back and forth.

We can also take this a little further. Flipgrid is great for sharing language acquisition if you’re teaching a world language, and, of course, you can share and celebrate work. If you celebrate completed projects, essays, assignments, and things like that in the discussion area using Flipgrid, you can have students talk about their projects and show them off at the same time. And then post that video so that each person can go through and sort of see a showcase of work. What a great alternative in a forum discussion.

Using Padlet to Improve Collaboration and Sharing

Today’s third creative idea for discussions is to try Padlet. There are many lists out there on the internet available for you on creative ways to use Padlet in your online classroom. I’ll just highlight a few of these today.

First of all, if you’re wondering what Padlet is, it’s kind of like a Post-it board, so you can put notes on there and everyone else in the class can do that as well. You can use Padlet in your online classroom by installing the app on your device or opening the Padlet website. You make a board and then you have posts there that everyone can add.

There’s a lot of ways to do this. First, you can use Padlet to brainstorm topics. If students are going to be writing an essay, this might be a great way to use your discussions face for the week. They can brainstorm topics together, thesis statements, projects, ideas, and other things that they might turn in for the class. You can try this and have students just collaborate with each other, and together they just might come up with even better ideas.

You can use that same space to create a live question bank. And a live question bank would be where students ask questions about the lesson, during the lesson. You could take this further and have them design three or four questions that each of them would ask if they were the one creating the final exam. This is a wonderful way to create creative questions in a big list all at once. And it won’t take very long when you have each student contribute.

Another way to use Padlet in your discussion area is to create icebreaker activities. For example, if you really like that activity, Two Truths and One Lie, students can post something about themselves and we can all go through and guess which were true and which were not, and have fun getting to know each other the first week of class.

And of course, you can use that same space to share highlights from the semester, or things that they’d like to honor about each other. It can be a celebration space for reflection at the end of the semester in your discussions. You can also use it as a question board, so your students can go there and ask and answer questions for each other.

And the last tip I have on Padlet today is to use bubble maps, thinking maps, or brainstorming maps. Padlet is a great way to organize the ideas, move them around, and create them into various ordering systems to help students think through the way they might use the information they have learned.

And all of these ideas I’ve just shared with you here about using Padlet came from an article called “30 Creative Ways to Use Padlet For Teachers And Students,” posted by Lucie Renard in 2017. There’s a link in the podcast notes here, so be sure to check it out.

Using Jamboard for Live Collaboration

The fourth creative discussion idea is actually a synchronous one. If you teach hybrid or live synchronous online courses, or if you teach face-to-face you could even use this idea. Google has a product out there called Jamboard. It’s all one word if you’re going to search it.

It’s for sketching out ideas and using a whiteboard style collaborative space. When you use Jamboard, students can write on it at the same time and they can add their own sketches or calculations. You could use Jamboard for a lot of different things.

For example, if you have some kind of visual art class and you want students to literally sketch things, you can use Jamboard. If you’re teaching mathematics, especially if you have a real-time meeting where you’re going to collaborate and do problems together, this is a fabulous way to help students get involved. And they can also put images on there and notes and take different assets from the web or pull in documents or slides or different sheets from the Google platforms. And they can all collaborate at the same time, no matter where they are.

It’s totally free, unless you want the freestanding Jamboard to be in your physical classroom, in which case there is a cost to it. But it’s a wonderful collaborative tool for synchronous use online in your discussions.

Integrating Photography into Discussions

And we’re down to our number five example. This fifth example comes right back to the traditional discussion format. So we’re not using the external technologies, but we are using one kind of media, and that would be photography. This example is shared by Kristin Kowal in 2019. Kristin says that, “This is adding images of examples in students’ posts.”

So for this example, you’re going to have students post the image along with their written response in the discussion forum. One of the best things about this strategy is that it’s somewhat personalized. It helps students be motivated to use more than one modality in their discussion post, and it helps them connect more to each other and to the ideas.

There are a lot of visual learners. It’s something like 60% to 80% of all people are visual thinkers. So when you start adding the image to this discussion post, you have something really interesting coming out. It’s personal. It motivates students. It connects them.

Erin Ratelis, an online instructor says that, “It not only feels different for the students, but it’s also a different type of activity that will stand out for them. It leverages a different technology and photos are a great visual tool to solidify class insights. It requires students to explore class topics through a very personal lens, no pun intended.”

So in the course where Erin used this strategy, she had her students go to a retail environment in their community. So they were looking for 10 ways that a consumer marketer would influence the purchasing decisions. And she asked her students to post photos, but made it optional. Most of the students chose to include picture examples, like retail displays at Target or other stores. And students even commented directly in their posts about how much they enjoyed taking the pictures and including them.

You can draw attention to all kinds of real-life examples, no matter what course you’re teaching, by asking students to show an example in a photograph. It could be the bonus point on that forum discussion.

You can also use it if you’re asking students to take a field trip. So if you ever have an assignment where your online students need to go out of the classroom and prove that they’ve done something, such as attending a concert or going to a museum, it’s best if they also have a picture of themselves at that event.

Lastly, think about privacy concerns when you have students post photos. If they’re taking photos at work and sharing them, it might be a good idea to get permission from their employer. Think about which areas you might want to use this activity in, where it might pique the most ideas. And you might consider doing it again later in the course.

So these five creative forum discussion ideas are here to give you alternatives so you’re not just posting and writing and posting and writing and students are doing the same. That kind of repetitive approach to a forum discussion gets old. And even if you’re having a very stimulating discussion, students tend to repeat the approach that they’re using. As you stretch and try these alternative methods, I think you’ll really spice up your online class and have a lot of fun doing it. 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.

 
#60: Building Social Presence in the Online Classroom

#60: Building Social Presence in the Online Classroom

This content initially appeared on APUEdge.com.

Online teachers must work to build social presence in their online classes to enhance community and connections with students. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides tips and strategies about how to achieve social presence including instructor involvement, knowledge sharing, interaction intensity, and more. Learn why social presence is important, how to determine if your efforts are working, and how to think of new ways to create community within the classroom.

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

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen and we’re talking today about social presence in your online teaching.

As you know, in this podcast, we have four different areas of focus. The first one is best practices when you’re teaching online. Second, we focus on students and areas where we can connect with them or help them. Third, we talk a lot about media, multimedia and technology you might integrate and why you might try it. And lastly, we focus on your life and your balance while you’re working online.

The area of social presence has everything to do with best practices. It is a best practice to have teaching, social and cognitive presence. This comes from the COI, Community of Inquiry framework, but also social presence has to do with connecting with your students. So we’re bridging two different areas today and we’re even dipping a little bit into the media category, because to give good social presence, a lot of times you need images or videos, so we’ll talk a little bit about that too. But the main elements we’re going to cover today are: What is social presence? Why does it matter? How can you create it? And how do you know if it’s working? Let’s dive in.

What is Social Presence?

Let’s begin with instructor presence as social presence. What does that even mean? Social presence has a model out there that many have researched and put together and it has five parts. And the five different areas of your social presence, when you’re teaching online, include:

  • affective association
  • community cohesion
  • instructor involvement
  • interaction intensity and
  • knowledge and experience

In essence, we can summarize social presence as the degree to which you uniquely show up in the course that you’re teaching.

Students begin to trust you when you are authentic and present, and they get to know you a little bit. Your social presence is how they get to know you. It’s the idea of who is teaching that class, and what you bring that is uniquely your traits and knowledge and experience.

Why is Social Presence so Important for Online Instructors?

Second, why does it matter? In online education students don’t have a lot to use for a connection to the institution. As an instructor, you’re the face of that organization, and they really connect through you to the larger organization itself. But beyond that, they build trust in the classroom to open up and engage in the risk-taking behaviors that are engaged in learning.

It does take risk, it takes discipline and commitment to follow through in studying something and doing the assignments and engaging in the discussion. So students are there taking a risk and they need to know who’s behind the other side of the screen. They need to know you.

They cannot risk enough to really fully engage when the instructor is completely absent or invisible. If you’re only facilitating and you never share your own thoughts or insights, and you don’t really have your persona in the classroom, it’s difficult for students to know how much they can put out there, how much they can really challenge the ideas they’re learning and how much they should devote to the course at hand.

So, social presence matters immensely. It has a significant impact on students’ engagement and it also impacts the way they respond and show up when they’re completing the work and when they’re discussing things in the classroom overall.

Building Connections

When we talk about social presence in online learning, there are some other words that come to mind, and these words have been included in a lot of literature on this subject. For example, we might consider the word connection. Connection has to do with social presence. We’re facilitating relationships with our students and helping them relate to each other and really the goal of social presence is connection for everyone.

Evoking Emotion

We also have a lot of emotion involved. We typically look at this when we see a lack of social presence and we notice something like perhaps if the instructor’s social presence is not very strong or students don’t have a very strong social presence, it’s difficult to feel happy about the class. Even a challenging class can be more enjoyable when social presence is high and there’s a sense of real community within that classroom.

Intimacy is another one. We get to know each other. I have some online instructors in my department who actually write letters of recommendation for their students because they’re intimate with their students, in the sense that they get to know who they really are. They build true relationships and they have this camaraderie and this rapport that we do call intimacy.

Generate Immediacy

Another one is immediacy. Immediacy has to do with responsiveness and how aware we are of what’s actually going on in the course. Immediacy is responsiveness when someone reaches out and asks us a question or communicates. We can see things happening in a discussion and we can also pop in there and share comments along the way, because we have a sense of immediacy.

Building Social Interaction

And lastly, of course, social interaction. There are various ways people engage online and social interaction could just be exchanges of discussion comments. It can be live, synchronous commentary where we’re talking to each other, or it could also be sending messages or sending emails. There are a lot of different ways for social interaction to happen, but the main principle is that it’s interactive. There’s a back and forth, a give and take, just like there is in any relationship.

Social presence includes all of these ideas, and when it’s absent, we know it because then some of the same things also pop up. For example, when social presence is low in online experiences, we have negative emotions often associated with that absence or that lack. Often there’s a defensiveness that prevents relationship building and an intimacy that I mentioned before.

And, of course, there’s a gap, or a lag, in responding to comments, questions, inquiries, things of that nature, so immediacy is threatened. And often it will be kind of like people are talking alone, so we’ll all post our comments, but they’re not necessarily responding well to each other. So instead of social interaction, we just have these independent commentaries happening throughout a course and especially in a discussion area.

Even businesses today care greatly about their social presence. There’s this desire to have an identity out there in the world and communicate consistently. Just like businesses do that, online faculty and online instructors need to be cognizant of social presence. We need to be very aware of what one’s social presence is in a particular course, and in an overall online educator career.

How to Achieve Social Presence

So let’s begin with how you’re going to achieve social presence. We know it’s important. It has an impact. It affects things that we do. So how do we achieve this?

The first area of the social presence model that we’re going to talk about is called affective association. So if we have affective association, there are a lot of ways that people will associate us with our name, our identity, and all the things that we’re doing in the course.

Some of those things can be achieved by connecting purposely, like as in with an introduction profile. You might have your teacher persona on the front page of the course. There might be an image of you, perhaps some comments about what you’ve been doing or what your interests are. You might also have an introductory image or video of yourself and also some kind of welcome announcement or a welcome letter that you’re going to send.

There are quite a few things you can do to help students associate your name with your presence and who you really are. This can also be added to announcements and reminders in the course and you can include video clips throughout the course, introducing each week’s content, perhaps participating in the discussion, or an enunciating some details about the content itself, whatever they are to be learning.

Building Community Cohesion in an Online Classroom

The second area of social presence that we can focus on achieving is the community cohesion part. This would be the way that you bring everyone in and help them to feel like they’re part of that community in your classroom. This might be the way you greet your students. You can use a lot of phrases like, “We are working on this.” And you can also include in your feedback, some ideas about what we as a class are working on and learning on and some things that you can refer to in discussion areas as well.

You can mention other students’ posts. You can have a summary comment where you tie together all of the things that others have written and you maybe highlight a few by name, but also tie up the ideas that we as a group mostly have discussed and put your spin on it as well; your insights about what they should walk away from at the end of the week.

Instructor Involvement

Third, we have instructor involvement. And instructor involvement in social presence is the way you know your students, the way you personalize things. How you might share the stage with them. Maybe you also have them hosting a debate or kind of facilitating the forum discussion with each other.

Also, share some reflection of your own. What are you noticing about their learning? How are they growing? What are you really surprised about and pleased with and where would you like to encourage them? What are your insights as a lifelong learner?

And give some personalization as well to the way you talk to your students. Call them by name and sign your name at the bottom of announcements and posts. This instructor involvement brings you and your identity and your name into the class and it helps students to see you throughout all of the things that are going on there.

Interaction Intensity in Social Presence

Then we have interaction intensity, in the social presence model. This is the way in which you build those relationships and what quality they are, and how safe they feel. You connect with your learners through the comments and the intensity is how frequently and how substantially you do this.

If you do anything special on your end to create some additional places where students can connect and discuss things with each other, maybe even you share resources from the field or highlights from your own expertise to help them conquer the academic material, you’re bringing in this whole sense of who you are as the instructor. That interaction intensity can add a lot to the safety of their learning experience, and also their willingness to take more risks as they’re participating.

An additional idea you might do there is have a question and answer area in the course. This is always a great idea, because question and answer areas are where they can come with their informal questions, not necessarily the ones to be discussed in the forum discussion itself.

Share Your Knowledge and Experience

Now, lastly, in the social presence model, we have the knowledge and experience that you bring in your social presence. Now we do have teaching presence and cognitive presence in your space, where you’re showing up. This kind of knowledge and experience is weaved into who you are. You share some ideas about your own experience and expertise and your life experience as a professional. You might ask some questions that help other people share their social presence in the classroom.

Think about what students already know and ask them how they can contribute that to the class we’re now studying. Ask them what they want to know, and discuss it with them and tailor some of your approach around what they really want to get out of the class.

And then in the end of the experience, have a lot of reflection, where you share your reflection and encourage them to share their insights as well. And engage fully in that conversation, as the academic community draws to a close at the end of the class.

And always be authentic in sharing your knowledge and experience. Never make up stories or make up details or use other instructors’ posts and just make them your own, if it’s talking about personalized knowledge and experience. You have something unique to offer and it’s your responsibility and privilege to bring that into the classroom and into your identity as the online instructor.

As you do these things and bring in your social presence fully to the online space, you can create this presence through the way you converse, the attitude at which you bring yourself into the classroom, and through a lot of different tools and devices.

Of course, you might choose to put images of yourself here and there throughout the classroom. You can also think about using video to create true social presence. And then definitely bring in those things you will learn about your students, so it’s a back and forth, give and take exchange.

How Do you Know if Your Efforts to Build Social Presence are Working?

Lastly, how will you know, if it’s working? How will you know if those efforts you’re making to create true social presence in your online class are working out for students as well? One of the things you can do is review your practices and self-evaluate.

On a primary level, that’s of course effective in determining whether or not you met your goals of proactively getting in there and creating a lot of social presence in your course and in your teaching.

But secondly, your students will help you to know this. You can get feedback throughout the course by noticing how they respond to you, how they engage, how much they’re willing to share, how much authenticity do you sense in the work they’re completing and the communications they have with you? Does it feel like a conversation or are students kind of talking to the wind?

Everyone deserves to have you in that class. That’s why you’re there. You can make a significant impact in your teaching and in online education, generally, as you focus on building your social presence across the board.

Keep Social Presence Professional and Authentic, but Don’t Overshare

One word of caution, as you dive in with additional strategies to increase social presence, and that is to consider the fine line between overly personal sharing and professional sharing.

There is such a thing as sharing too much when you’re building your social presence as an online instructor. Remember keep things, academic, professional, and authentic to you. You can always share personal things that have to do with the content and do seem professionally appropriate.

Review those things on occasion to make sure you’re keeping them in line with what you feel is authentic and appropriate to share with your students. As you do this, you’re going to create a beautiful culture where people are seen, and heard, and engage fully in the academic discussions that unfold.

Thank you for thinking about social presence with me today. For additional links and tips, please check out the transcript in the notes from this podcast. Best wishes in your online teaching this 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.

#59: Tips to Skillfully Cope with Life’s Inevitable Stressors

#59: Tips to Skillfully Cope with Life’s Inevitable Stressors

This content initially appeared at APUEdge.com. 

We all have an endless “to do” list that we can’t keep up with. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all our responsibilities and tasks, but that cumulative stress is incredibly harmful to our physical and mental wellbeing. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks to APU Chaplain Kyle Sorys about his role in offering emotional and spiritual support to students and faculty. Learn ways to skillfully cope with life’s inevitable stressors like dedicating a day each week “no work” where you just enjoy life, establishing “no screen time” each day, getting more sleep, eating better, and meditating. Also reduce stress by learning how to extend self-compassion and self-kindness to yourself in conscious acknowledgement that you’re doing the best you can. All these tips can improve your overall wellbeing and help you live a fuller, less stressful, life.

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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 podcast. We are so excited to have you today, because we have a special guest, Chaplain Kyle Sorys. He is going to share a lot of expertise with us today. And as you know, our podcast is geared toward online educators. So you’re living and working online and you have a lot on your plate, and we hope today you’ll find something that makes working online just a little bit easier to manage.

Your life online is something we have covered quite a bit in the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. We’ve talked about sleeping more, getting some better exercise and some activity going, there. And we’ve also talked about eating healthy and managing your time. So today we’re going to meet Chaplain Kyle Sorys and I’m really excited to have him here today. So, Kyle, welcome.

Kyle Sorys: Thank you.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thanks for being here. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and your path to becoming an online chaplain at APU and AMU?

Kyle Sorys: To me it’s like two questions. It’s like, how did you get here? Where we all can resonate with, since we all work for this organization. And also, what was the path to becoming a chaplain?

And so I’ll just say the chaplaincy, the profession of chaplaincy, I stumbled into it. And I wonder how true that is for most people in their professions versus seeking it out? The truth is when I was in college, when I graduated undergrad and I was looking at master’s programs, I just wanted to take all the classes. I really wanted to be a professional student. I wish they paid me, instead of me paying the school.

But yeah, all the classes, I’m like, “Oh, yeah. I want to take that one. I want to take that one.” And it’s like, “This is training you to be a chaplain.” I’m like, “Okay.” I had no idea what a chaplain was, but I’m like, “Okay. I just want to take the classes. If these classes train me to become a chaplain, then I’ll be a chaplain.”

So yeah, graduate. And then learn what chaplaincy really is. And here’s a learning curve that first year when you’re new to something. So I cut my teeth in the hospital for a while. After that, I did church ministry, youth ministry, specifically. That’s where I met Chaplain Cynthia, who is our full-time primary chaplain at APUS.

[Read an article by Chaplain Cynthia: Embracing Change in This Era of Mass Confusion and Fear]

So it’s interesting how our paths course correct or flow. Just interesting to me. Like the whole purpose of that one year at the church, because I never saw myself working at a church, was I think just to meet Cynthia, just to connect with her.

And so after that, I still do it, too. Not as much because of the pandemic, but a hospice chaplaincy. And Cynthia asked to me to help her out and come on online university chaplaincy. There’s such things as university chaplains like on site, but I’m wondering if APUS, Cynthia, myself, and we have another one, Audrey, if we’re the only online university chaplains in the world, which boggles my mind.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wow. That is interesting to think about. And I’m wondering what might be different, just to expand that a little bit, about being a chaplain online versus in the live space? What’s the change?

Kyle Sorys: So in hospice, I call it ministry of presence. Being one-on-one with another person, having the physical energy of another person. That gets removed on the online environment. Hence why I really, when I’m working with students or with staff or faculty, mainly it’s students I work with, I really try to talk with them over the phone, at least get the voice. That way I can have a feeling or an understanding. Get that body language, but in the voice. I don’t know how to describe that. It’s like voice language, but under the language, does that make sense?

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yeah. It sounds like tone and inflection and mood.

Kyle Sorys: Yeah, exactly. Because I learned, a lot of emails, right? A lot of emails in the online university profession. The written word, it makes it a little challenging to try to really feel what the person’s going through. Really hear what they’re trying to say. And I find myself, well, I hear this in the writing. It’s like, well, I hear it in the word, but I don’t literally hear it in my ear. So that makes it challenging.

But the freedom it gives too, that you can be anywhere in the world and we can connect this whole now Zoom revolution in a way. Everyone’s on a screen. There’s a lot more flexibility versus, “Oh. You have to meet me in my office, or I have to come meet you. And how far, and where are you?” And more localized as well. I can’t go physically visit someone in the East coast when I’m living right in the middle of the country. So pros and cons.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yes. And just before we jump into some of the things we might want to talk about today, can you give just a brief, “What is a chaplain?” for any of our listeners who are really just not familiar with that role?

Kyle Sorys: I’m still trying to figure it out myself. It’s funny. Was it last week or a couple of weeks ago? Quarterly, we do “Meet the Chaplains,” and that’s where I explain the profession of chaplaincy a little bit. And traditionally, it is clergy members, but in a secular environment, like a hospital, the military, prisons, fire departments, police departments, so secular organizations bring a traditionally religious person in, has a religious background. I think that’s evolving and changing that ritual religious ritual ministry is important, but that’s not the emphasis here on the online university. Maybe that’s one to five percent. I think I’ve prayed once or twice. I don’t know how many students I’ve worked with in the past year that really requested prayer. Most of it is emotional support. And underlying that is spiritual support.

So in brief, chaplaincy is offering spiritual and emotional support. Hence the importance of that ministry of presence, of just being with someone in their struggles and just listening to their story. So another definition I could say as me as a chaplain is someone who hears stories and just appreciates hearing stories.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wonderful. It sounds like a really engaging profession and also one with a lot of variety.

Kyle Sorys: Yeah.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: On the idea of the emotional and the spiritual support, it seems that online faculty in particular are very heavily loaded nowadays. They’re doing a lot. It takes a lot of time. As you mentioned, a lot of emails. They experience that too. What would you like to share with listeners about stress management?

Kyle Sorys: First, it really is about an acceptance that stress exists. You can’t escape it. So there’s no need to resist the stress. Because stress can mean a whole lot of things to different people too. So when I contemplate, like what is stress? And for me, stress is whatever disturbs the mind, whatever disturbs the heart. It’s those winds and storms of life.

And sometimes it’s unavoidable, but most often we’re the ones creating that wind and those storms and those disturbances of the mind.

There’s an analogy that you could get hit with a dart or shot with a dart, a really sharp dart. It hurts. And what do you do with it? Well, most often what happens is we take more darts and stab ourselves, instead of just pulling that dart out and going about our life. So stress happens and what do we do? What is our reaction to the stress?

And so to manage stress, there’s skillful coping and unskillful coping. And it’s really cultivating these skillful coping mechanisms where we just pull that first dart out, instead of adding a second dart or a third dart or fourth dart and so on. And then adding more darts because we’re adding darts.

So that’s definitely where I’d say, start with stress management. Just accept and open to the fact that it is unavoidable.

And then investigating, what are we adding onto it? Is it in our benefit or is it making things worse? Because most often stress happens, we react and we don’t even realize how we’re reacting. It’s just so much habit patterns and conditioning. So really learning what’s under that and managing that, then the stress itself. Stress, you can think of it as more as a symptom of an underlying condition going on.

The stress is not personal. I have that, that sometimes we like to think it’s about us. It’s against us. That it’s a personal attack or life’s out to get us, like we did something wrong. All that we add on to it. No, stress is just stress. It’s not personal.

I think if we can really connect with that, at least for me, if I connect with that, that it’s just nature arising, nature unfolding, just stress happening. It’s not personal. There’s a letting go in that. There’s a release and that which helps the stress.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: As you’re describing this, I’m getting this idea. There’s this concept that thoughts just exist and they might float through your mind and float out of your mind. And if you have a negative thought, you could just imagine that and let it go in the same way. Your analogy to the darts makes me think of that same idea, passing through.

Kyle Sorys: Exactly. There’s two common analogies of the mind. One is the sky. Sometimes you get the nice, beautiful fluffy white clouds just slowly rolling by. Other times, there’s dark, stormy clouds filled with water, ready to burst. Sometimes there’s lightning and sometimes there’s tornadoes. But it’s just weather patterns of the mind. It all comes and goes. And exactly, do you want to get involved with the clouds? Are you even able to get involved with the clouds and the storm? Or you just watch it? Yeah, exactly, just take a step back and just watch the clouds pass by.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Beautiful. Thank you, Kyle. So what strategies might our listeners want to try to deal with their stress or manage it?

Kyle Sorys: This is a hard question to answer, honestly, because it’s so individual. Strategies that work for me may not work for another person and vice versa. But when we were talking before, when you invited me and we talked about what this podcast would entail, I remember mentioning a story that popped up called “what’s done is finished.” So for this question, I’m going to read that story. It’s really short, but I just want to share that to hopefully plant this seed. You can come to keep in mind the importance of this phrase, “what’s done is finished.” And this comes out of my probably favorite book, “Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung?

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Sounds great.

Kyle Sorys: Oh, it’s awesome. Yes. So what’s done is finished.

“The monsoon in Thailand is from July to October. During this period, the monastics stopped traveling, put aside all work projects and devote themselves to study and meditation. The period is called the Vassa, the rain’s retreat.

“In the South of Thailand some years ago, a famous abbot was building a new hall for his forest monastery. When the rains retreat came, he stopped all work and sent the builders home. This was the time for quiet in his monastery.

“A few days later, a visitor came, saw the half-constructed building and asked the abbot when his hall would be finished? Without hesitation, the old monk said, ‘The hall is finished.’

“‘What do you mean the hall is finished?’ the visitor replied, taken aback. ‘It hasn’t got a roof. There are no doors or windows. There are pieces of wood and cement bags all over the place. Are you going to leave it like this? Are you mad? What do you mean, the hall is finished?’

The old abbot smiled and gently replied, ‘What’s done is finished.’ And then he went away to meditate.” That is the only way to have a retreat or take a break. Otherwise, our work is never finished.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: What a way to frame that idea.

Kyle Sorys: Yeah. That to-do list. We all have a to-do list. It’s just part of our adult life and it never ends. I know I get stuck on what’s left. Oh, it just keeps accumulating and I can’t keep up. Versus just set it down and looking at it. Nope. I checked that box off. I checked that box off and having it, it’s good enough. What’s done is finished. And there is a letting go in that.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Kyle, thank you for sharing that story and the great example of how to re-conceptualize or view it differently when we’re feeling like the tasks just never stop. They never go away. And in our online teaching world, it does often feel that way, because we might have classes overlapping. There might be an endless pile of forum discussions to reply to, or essays to grade and more to do. So very nice concept to think about just being finished. I like that.

Kyle Sorys: There’s another philosophy I personally stick to, and I understand I don’t have family. I don’t have children. So it’s really easy for me to implement this into my life. But one day a week, I truly commit to no work-related tasks. Even thoughts about work. I’m like, “Nope. Setting those aside. Today’s not the day.” One day a week to live life as I feel it’s meant to be lived, whatever nourishes me spiritually, emotionally. Because come to this understanding that I guess it’s a bigger view. Again when I was in college, it was in Boulder and we called it the Boulder bubble.

Around Boulder, there’s just these majestic mountains and all this natural, just uncivilized greatness and wonderfulness. But you get so bogged down in the Boulder bubble, the assignments due, the busy-ness of traffic, this where to go, those daily tasks of life that we forget the big picture that these mountains exist. And then the big picture of space and time. When we really contemplate our lifespan in the grand scheme of things, a space in time. We’re a blip, or a blip of a blip. And life is precious.

Our time is precious. And in hospice work, I joke, but I’m serious when I say this, that I have heard nobody, not one person on their death bed ever say, “I wish I worked more.” So what’s really important in life? So at least commit one day to embracing that, what life is really about for you.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wonderful guidance. Thank you for that piece as well, Kyle. Now I hear you are a bit of a connoisseur of meditation.

Kyle Sorys: Yes.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Maybe have some strategies you could suggest for a beginner. How might we try meditation?

Kyle Sorys: You start where you are. That’s first. You just start where you are. It’s funny. Because the instruction to meditate is really simple. But in actual practice, it can be quite challenging. And that’s why we call it practice. But if anyone is interested in meditation I might say, “If you’re really serious, call me, contact me, email me, and I’d love to talk one-on-one more about it.” That way it can be more of a personal and individualized approach, because not everyone is at the same starting point.

No one has the same causes and conditions happening in their life. So that helps. But basically, really you just commit to a practice, and you start very small, and the practice is stopping and resting. You just sit and be. And breathe.

The image that was given is it’s like sitting on a park bench. What do you do? You just sit. You just be, when you sit on a park bench, and you just take in the sensory experience, be it the birds singing or the people around, or if there’s children playing or the firmness of the bench seat. The warmth of the sun, you’re just in that moment. Whatever’s happening, arising, you’re just being with it. Again, another joke, but serious, we’re called human beings, but we’re conditioned as human doings. So really it’s tapping in what does that mean to be a human being? To just be, to learn to set things down? That’s meditation, the essence.

What really helps is when you do sit, you’ll see that the mind just carries these bags of past and future. And if you’ve ever carried heavy luggage, maybe that’s a thing of the past, because everything’s on wheels now. But if you carry these heavy bags, how wonderful it feels to let them go and set them down, right?

So that’s what we’re doing is just not giving into the lure of the nostalgia of the past, or reminiscing about the past. Or planning and worrying and creating an anxiety about the future, which is uncertain. Whatever you think is going to happen, probably rarely ever happens that way.

So, that’s the practice, just at least five minutes a day. Start small. Going to stop. This five minutes in the morning and this five minutes in the afternoon or this five minutes in the evening, this is my time to just stop. Put a force field around me that keeps everything out. Just for these five minutes, I’m taking a mini-vacation and relax to the max.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Oh, I liked the sound of that. In fact, as you were describing it, I was starting to think about the birds chirping and just getting really present in the now, and not worried about the next hour or the next day or when those assignments are coming due and all the grading we’re going to be facing, needing to manage that time. But just thinking about the moment you’re in and letting go of anxiety. Really appreciate you sharing that suggestion and a little bit of a process with us as well. Thank you, Kyle.

Kyle Sorys: You’re welcome.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: What else, if anything, might you suggest or share with us that could really help online educators with their stress management or maybe anything else that has to do with their overall wellbeing? What do you think?

Kyle Sorys: You mentioned it in the beginning. You I guess talked about it in the past. That the body and the mind are not separate. So to take care of the mind, as in meditation, you also need to take care of the body. Meditation is rest, but rest is also physical rest. So we are a very sleep-deprived society.

And I had one student. She was going mad. She was really stressing out and that was the one question like, “How’s your sleep?” That’s all I asked and she said, “I don’t sleep. I kind of this and this.” And I checked in with her and she just asked like, “Did you get sleep last night?” And she goes, “Oh.” Like her mind was just reset and how everything just smoothed out for her, just because she got one good night of sleep. I think we forget that. Maybe we forget that because that to-do list, right? Like, “Oh. I got to wake up. I got to do this.”

Move the body. Working with elderly people, that’s their advice. I ask them like, “What’s your nugget of wisdom?” And some of them will say, “Make sure you move that body every day.” Be it stretching, walking. Because just reflect what’s the percentage of your daily time committed to sitting or lying down? It’s too much for me. I’ll admit that’s way too much. And to be conscious of standing more, just even standing and walking, moving, and stretching and being mindful when I’m bending over. And I guess this body communicates that to me. It’s like, “Take care of me. If you don’t, I’m going to make you.”

And then, yeah, the nutrition also. I guess you’ve talked about that in the past. What fuel are you putting in the body? That affects the mind as well. Other well-being tips… Like committing to not having work, but having periods in the day where, “This time, no screens allowed,” because we are definitely becoming a civilization of screens and can get really caught in the screens. And I just know it tires my eyes. It tires my mind just looking at the light. I don’t know. It does funny things to me. Maybe that’s just me, but I have a sense others might experience that as well. But be aware to take time out from the screen. I actually had a friend, that’s a slogan. He goes, “Put yourself in timeout at least once a day.”

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: And someone said to me, “Be your own parent.” It sounds a lot like that.

Kyle Sorys: It’s hard. Right?

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Exactly.

Kyle Sorys: As adults, we struggle the most feeding ourselves and putting ourselves to bed.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: It’s true.

Kyle Sorys: Yeah. I think of, with stress, another way to think of stress, I like this. That the mind is like a garden. And so everything in life that we consider good or bad, it really is neither. It just is. But it can all be used as fertilizer for the mind. And so when we step in the crap of life, our reaction is to get away from it, to scrape it off the shoe, to be repulsed and disgusted by it. It’s so nasty. But we could just leave it on our shoe and take it home and then scrape it off in our garden and it’ll grow some beautiful flowers.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: That is a great, great visualization there.

Kyle Sorys: And the importance of self-kindness and self-compassion. “You are doing the best you can. You have to remember that.” Pretty much everybody is doing the best they can. And if you’re not, if you ask yourself, “Am I doing the best I can?” You say, “No,” then you know like, “Oh, okay. I need to be striving a little bit.”

Most often, you’re going to say, and “Yes, of course I am.” And just, well, have some kindness there. Have some gentleness there. Another slogan or motto that I use often is, “You make peace. You be kind and you be gentle. To yourself, to others, to this moment. Just make peace, be kind and be gentle.”

And I think that can go a long way in helping with the stress and wellbeing. Cultivating lightheartedness, having a sense of humor, the importance of humor and playfulness. This adult mind forgets that skill and its so vital to childhood development. But I do believe it’s still that aspect of play and humor is vital to our adult development as well. And to just cope with the inevitable stressors of life.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wonderful. Kyle, thank you for all that you’ve shared today. I can tell that you draw on your expertise from your various background experiences you shared with us earlier. And also, even though this is just online, you and I are looking at each other on video while we’re recording this. And I really feel like I have a sense for your presence. I don’t think that virtual totally prevents that from coming through. It’s just nice to be here with you, and thanks again for all you’ve shared with our listeners today.

Kyle Sorys: Likewise, Bethanie. Thank you very much.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yes. So as we wrap it up, this is the Online Teaching Lounge podcast and we’ve been here with Chaplain Kyle Sorys and talking about your wellbeing as an online educator. We wish you all the best this coming week in being the best version of you 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.

#57: How to Prepare Your Online Classroom for a Successful Session

#57: How to Prepare Your Online Classroom for a Successful Session

This content first appeared on APUEDGE.COM.

Teaching online classes requires a substantial amount of advanced preparation. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares ways teachers can prepare before a class so they can focus on teaching, engaging with students, and meeting their own teaching goals. Learn tips on writing the syllabus, outlining weekly assignments in advance, preparing for forum discussions, and assessing grading tools all before the class starts to make sure online educators have time and energy to dedicate to students.

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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 very happy that you’re with us today, this 57th episode, we’re just slightly into our second year here. We’ve just finished a three-episode series on Work-Life Balance:

And in those three episodes, we discussed a few strategies to help you manage your workload, set boundaries and try some efficiency strategies to help you out.

Now with episode number 57 here, we are jumping into the preparation of your online classroom. As you know, managing your time and setting boundaries while you’re teaching online are absolutely essential for job satisfaction and effective teaching. This is going to free you up to meet your students’ needs while you’re teaching your online course.

If you are actually preparing things while you’re teaching them, you’re going to spend an awful lot of time getting things ready while you should be spending that time interacting with students and grading things.

And if you do all of those things at once, that time’s really going to add up and it’s going to be exhausting for you. So I’m here because I’d like to protect your time and your energy and help you really enjoy your online teaching. Online education can be fun, satisfying, rewarding, and a rich experience for both you and your students. So let’s get started talking about how to prepare your online classroom for teaching.

Ensure Syllabus Includes Course Objectives, Policies

Beginning with step one, let’s look at your course objectives. You’ve probably have some kind of course description and some course objectives. If you don’t have these and you actually have to create them, that’s a great place to start.

Think about what your students should be able to demonstrate. They should be able to know at the end of the course. As you look at these kinds of objectives that you set for your students, this can also frame how you approach your teaching. You’ll be able to look at the big picture of really what should be accomplished in this class. What your priorities are, subject matter wise.

As you prepare your classroom, the first place to begin looking at these course objectives and communicating this out to students is in your course syllabus. Your course syllabus is the final word on everything happening in the course. Generally you’ll have your course description and course objectives in that syllabus. You’ll also have some general policies about whether or not you accept late work, how long students have to submit something, whether they can revise and resubmit assignments, and other types of communication policies.

I highly recommend setting up your communication policies in advance so that students know exactly what to expect from you. You can also set up a friendly and welcoming course announcement for the first week of class and to welcome students to the entire course. And another course announcement to introduce them to the first week of the class and let them know what to expect as they move forward.

In these announcements, I encourage you to be as positive as you possibly can be while also being clear and direct. Students appreciate knowing what your policies are and how you operate in the classroom. This is especially important if students are taking classes from more than one instructor at a time. If you’re in a university setting and they have many classes with many instructors, chances are each one of you has different policies that vary slightly on accepting late work, revising assignments, and how to communicate with the instructor.

If you can make your policies, especially clear and plain, and easy to locate in the classroom, as well as in the syllabus, students will benefit. This will help you out as the instructor, because it will prevent future problems when students are frustrated and they’re not sure who to turn to. Likewise, it can prevent student complaints because students know exactly who to contact and when.

If you’re also responsive once the course begins by replying quickly and with clear and helpful information, your students will learn to trust you. And they will be able to have a positive learning experience with you and ask questions along the way.

Prepare Weekly Announcements with Timely Updates

After you have a clear and established syllabus, I do recommend going to the announcement section and generally preparing announcements for each week of the class you’re going to teach. If you have these prepared in advance and saved in some kind of draft area, then you can finalize them each week by adding timely reminders and specific information for the group of students you’re working with this time around.

As you add the information and the guidance, you can publish them on demand, or you can schedule them ahead of time to just roll out one at a time each week. Whatever your preference, planning your approach will help you also manage your time throughout the teaching of the course.

Schedule Information to Publish at Specific Times in the Course

The next area I suggest thinking about while you’re preparing your online classroom is which parts of the course should be visible and accessible to your students immediately from the first day of class and which parts of the course you would like to be hidden and reveal themselves over time.

In some institutions, there are policies in place that govern the rollout of different weeks’ worth of materials. For example, at the university I work with and teach with, we prefer to have information available to students early in the course, so they can look ahead and plan their work. If your institution has a policy where you can roll these out, then you may wish to go through the lessons, the assignments, and the forums, and any other areas you have in the course, and set those to automatically release a little bit before the week will begin so students can see them and know exactly what they’re aiming for.

Create Guidance Assets for Assignments in Advance

Any kind of guidance assets that you would like to create to help students with tricky parts of an assignment, difficult concepts in a lesson or other helpful tips, it’s nice if you can spend the time ahead of the course starting to create those assets. If you are spending time during the course teaching to create the assets, you can find yourself, spinning your wheels and getting stuck and really feeling a lot of pressure when you’re trying to develop things and teach at the same time.

I suggest going through your assignment section and reading the description for the assignments that you have as if you are a student with little experience in the subject matter. Take a look at the instructions and ask yourself if they are clear and describe the content that should be included in the assignment, the tasks that students are to do, what format they should submit it with. For example, whether it’s a PowerPoint, a Word document, a video or something else.

And also how they can ask questions if they are unsure of what’s due. You might also consider creating and attaching sample assignments and any grading rubrics that you have before the course begins. Whenever you can provide this kind of information upfront before the course starts, then your classroom itself is prepared and ready to go. And students can navigate throughout that classroom and see what they should prepare for and where they’re going to need to spend their time.

Assess Your Own Strengths, Weaknesses and Priorities as an Educator

As you think about preparing your course before the first day of the session, ask yourself: What are your personal challenges teaching online? Each of us has our own strengths as an educator and likewise, we each have our weaknesses. What are your weaker areas that you can anticipate? How would you like to plan ahead to try to strengthen some of those weaker areas?

For example, if you’re a very fast grader, but you tend to grade with minimal comments and not a lot of content related feedback, maybe this session you want to focus on adding more content-related feedback and setting aside the time to do that. If you like to be really explaining a lot of information in your responses to students and you find that you’re spending too much time explaining these things, maybe in this coming session, you’d like to be a little more precise and brief so you’re not spending as much time writing those responses.

Whatever your strengths are, you can plan ahead to emphasize those strengths and also to bolster at least one weak area in the coming course start. What takes most of your time and effort when you’re teaching an online course? And does the area you’re spending the most time, reflect your personal priorities and teaching?

Several times in this Online Teaching Lounge podcast, we have discussed your values and your priorities as an educator. We each come at teaching with our own perspectives and our own approach. If you’re unsure of your perspective, you can consult the teaching perspectives inventory for some idea about the agenda you personally have when you’re teaching other people.

As you think about your agenda and where you’re really spending all of your time in teaching, you might decide to shift your priorities or change the way you spend your time slightly to meet more of your teaching priorities and ensure that you’re able to suit your own values and the reason you’re in this teaching profession in the first place. So think about where you really want to focus your efforts this time when you’re teaching this class.

And also what strategies do you already use to manage your online teaching tasks? Are there any strategies or tools that could support your work and improve your efficiency for teaching while you’re going through the weeks of the course that’s about to start? And how will you know if you are achieving a satisfying level of work-life balance while you’re teaching online this session that suits your own needs and your teaching and learning priorities?

Incorporate Your Teaching Goals into Your Planning

Think about some of these areas before the course begins so that you can set at least one goal to focus on. Many times if you have a goal for your own teaching, it can help you focus the entire experience for yourself as an educator. And you’ll find a lot more satisfaction in connecting with your students as you think about that one area.

Again, as we think about preparing your classroom, remember what your own priority is as an educator. For example, if you really want to mentor students in the subject matter, you’ll want to find ways to plan ahead before the course begins to provide that kind of mentoring experience. Maybe you’d like to offer some live office hours and record them to share with students later who could not attend. Or maybe you’d really like to promote students being self-starters and self-reliant. Perhaps there are some things you’d like to share in course announcements about those topics.

Plan for Course Extensions

Also plan ahead for course extensions. It’s very possible that you might have one or more students that have interruptions while they’re taking your course. If your institution or a university or school have an extension policy in place, you might have one or more students ask for the extra time when the session has completely ended.

How will you handle course extensions? Do you have an approval policy that helps you decide when to accept an extension and when to deny it. Think about what you might say to students in the middle of the course and continue encouraging them to help them stay the course and be resilient as they get through the class and submit the work as timely as possible. The more you can support your students along the way, the more you can help them end on time. And the fewer extension requests you’re likely have.

If you reach out to students who are falling behind, likely you can provide some encouragement needed. I’ve had more than one student tell me that when I’ve reached out to them, they were considering dropping the class, or they felt like they were too far behind to ever catch up. But my encouragement helped them to keep going and made them realize that they really could succeed in the class.

If you don’t hear back from a student within a few days, you might consider reaching out to support from whatever advising department or student services department your institution has. And these people may be able to help you during the course when you have a missing student or a non-responsive student.

Prepare Plans for Forum Discussions

As you’re preparing to teach on the first day, and you’re thinking about how you will engage in discussions with your students, especially if you’re teaching an online asynchronous class, think about those discussion forums as if they are the live conversation you might have in a face-to-face traditional class. I’d like to suggest that you consider what you can share with students about the subject matter, that they cannot learn from any other instructor.

For example, you yourself have your own knowledge, expertise, guiding questions, and illustrative examples throughout anything you might share that can build understanding and promote critical thinking in your students.

These things are unique to you, even if you and I were teaching the same exact subject matter and had expertise in the same area, we certainly wouldn’t share the exact same kinds of comments in the discussion. We’re each different people. So think about what you uniquely can share and what you have to offer and be sure to plan ahead so you have the time that you need to write those kinds of discussion posts, and really engage with students once the class begins.

When you’re managing your teaching throughout the course, always set aside time for those forum discussions. One strategy I like to suggest when we’re thinking about planning ahead, how to engage in the forum discussions as the faculty member or the instructor. I like to suggest posting something very early in the week so there’s sort of a greeting to the discussion. It’s almost like shaking your students’ hands as they enter the room, the virtual room, you might say. And you might consider this a way of leading, moderating, or facilitating that discussion and dialogue.

And then throughout the discussion, engage with many of your students, respond to what they’ve said, refer to other students’ comments, bring in current events, links, YouTube videos, anything that seems to help that discussion become more rich. And then at the end of the week, it’s also a great practice to plan ahead to have some kind of summary that culminates the week’s discussion and ties together some of the things that came out in that dialogue.

I also like to call this a wrap-up post. So this approach to a beginning, middle and end of your discussion each week helps to frame that discussion. It also established a really good teaching presence that students can rely on throughout the course. They really get a sense of who you are and also the guiding hand that you have in teaching them that subject matter.

It’s very difficult in asynchronous, online education for students to get a sense of who you are. So the more you can plan ahead before the class even begins to share those parts of you with your students over each week, the more you’re going to build relationships, build rapport, and also create the trusting environment that they need to feel like succeeding, and really keep working through the content with you.

Consider Grading Tools

The last area I want to suggest thinking about as you prepare your online classroom before the session begins is how you will grade students’ work once it starts coming in. If you can plan ahead for your grading activities, you can schedule time on your calendar to keep your grading under control. And you can give information students need before the assignments are even due, to help coach them on those assignments and improve their performance ahead of time.

When you don’t have a plan for your grading, it can easily take over your online teaching job. It can also start to take almost all of your time and pretty soon you’ll be behind with your grading before you even realize it. Think about how you could use rubrics to make your students aware of what you’re going to be grading. You can also use the rubrics while you’re doing the grading and mark them and return them to your students.

Think about some other efficiency tools that could help you provide detailed grading feedback in a short period of time. You might want to take a little bit of time exploring these tools before the class begins. For example, you can download an essay in Microsoft Word and use track changes and reviewers comment bubbles to put comments right on the essay. And then you can upload it back in the classroom to the student.

If you do this, I often recommend using a PDF file as the upload. So instead of the Word version, save it as a PDF. So students can see the in-text comments and the reviewers comments exactly where they are, and you don’t have any problem with them viewing them.

If your institution has something like turnitin.com as an originality checking service, there’s a Grade Mark feature in there where you can actually grade student’s written work through that interface. You can type comments directly on the assignment, and you can also put either a recorded voice comment or a summary text comment. All you need to do if you’re using Turnitin is to direct your students to that location so they can find your feedback.

One more tool I love to share with people is called Grade Assist and Grade Assist is a toolbar that you can purchase an add into your Microsoft Word. And then as you’re looking at an essay, you can just click on the different comments to add them appropriately to different places.

And you can also create your own comments. It’s definitely worth your time to think about what kinds of tools you’ll use to do your grading in advance, because once you’re in the heat of the moment and you need to turn around a lot of grading pretty fast, it’s difficult to explore the tools and figure out how to use them. So explore them, check them out and see if you find something that really works for you.

Today, we’ve gone through a lot of tips and strategies to help you prepare for your next session, teaching online. And I hope this will give you some foundation for success and a lot of confidence moving forward, especially in the preventative areas where you can meet your students’ needs ahead of time and give yourself a lot more time and space to enjoy teaching the class successfully.

Thank you again for being here and the Online Teaching Lounge and joining me for the tips and strategies today. Best wishes to you this coming week in your online teaching. This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast, to share comments and requests for future episodes please visit BethanieHansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.

#56:  Work-Life Balance (Part 3 of 3): Setting Time Management Priorities

#56: Work-Life Balance (Part 3 of 3): Setting Time Management Priorities

This content originally appeared on APUEdge.Com. 

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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. Bethanie Hansen, and I’m very happy to be with you here today. This is the last of our three work-life balance episodes in our mini-series. Episode number 54 was about engaging with students first, as your first priority. In episode number 55, we talked about creating assets that will help your students be self-directed to help you with work-life balance even more. The more your students are able to be self-directed in the learning activities you give them, the more you can focus on your teaching and stop worrying about putting out fires and spending a lot of time answering questions.

Today, in episode number 56, we will talk about setting priorities and your online teaching time management. This will bring you a better quality of work-life balance as an online educator.

There’s no question that we have a lot to do when we’re working and teaching online, and this can stretch into a lot of different areas in our lives. We spend a lot of time and effort trying to meet our students’ needs in the best ways possible.

So in today’s episode, I hope that you will find some tips and strategies that will enhance your time management for a better sense of your work-life balance as you meet your students’ needs and do it in the most efficient ways possible.

Anytime we try to make a change like this, especially in our time management or the strategies we use, it’s going to take a little bit of a stretch outside your comfort zone to try something new. It might be something challenging to try or something that just takes a small adjustment. In the end, your efforts and the time invested will be well worth the effort as you work toward your goal of increasing work-life balance as an online educator.

In the first two episodes of this mini-series, we talked a little bit about andragogy. Andragogy is a theory of adult learning. It’s going to help you prioritize the task that you choose in your online teaching. The term andragogy first originated in Germany in the 1800s when Alexander Kapp wrote about lifelong learning. And just like we might work with all kinds of lifelong learners in our online teaching, as educators, we too are lifelong learners throughout this process of education.

Time management practices can be learned and all of us can improve our time management while we’re working and teaching online. And of course, the more we do that, the more we practice the principles of andragogy in our own learning, ourselves. All of this happens at the same time, while we’re focusing on what matters most in our online teaching.

In those first two episodes of our mini-series, we also talked about the community of inquiry framework. The community of inquiry framework is a model. It gives us the ideas of teaching presence, social presence, and cognitive presence. Anytime you can focus on these three areas in your online teaching, this will lighten your load by making your work more clear in what you’re trying to do and why you’re doing it. Of course, all of this hinges on what you’re doing to meet your students’ needs.

Are you able to build the kind of relationships that you really want to have with your students? Are you able to see them as human beings on the other end of that computer screen and meet them where they are and guide them in this journey? Maybe you even view yourself as a co-learner who is learning alongside your students.

Even though you might already be a master of the subject matter you’re teaching your students, there is a lot we gain and learn while we’re teaching others. You might even have a new insight this coming week.

Along those lines, I’d like to share a quote from “Eat That Frog!” by Brian Tracy. And here’s his advice:
“Your ability to select your most important task at any given moment, and then to start on that task and get it done both quickly and well will have more of an impact on your success than any other quality or skill you can develop.”

Basically, when you prioritize your work activities, and then you use great time management strategies to keep these efficient, you can use all of the essential skills, balance your workload, and accomplish all that you’re trying to do as an online educator.

So let’s dive in to the priority of time management strategies. Maybe you’re wondering what does all this have to do with work-life balance? For some of you listening out there, the connection might be obvious. For others of us, maybe it’s a little bit of a stretch and not as clear.

I want to reassure you that when you’re able to manage your time efficiently and effectively, this directly impacts your work-life balance and allows you to have the power to accomplish all that you’ve set out to do.

And when you set boundaries around your work and life, especially separating what you’re trying to do in your online educator role, this will increase your quality of life. It will help you keep things balanced the way you’d like to. Time management will especially help you in your work along your main goal of connecting with your students. But wait, there’s more. Not only will setting limits around your work life give you the boundaries for good work-life balance, but you’re also going to be able to find the time to enjoy more of the other parts of your academic career. You can find the time to present at a conference. You can write curriculum. You can begin to do a lot of things you find important that are not otherwise urgent, and schedule those

in so they fit into your work time. And all of this can give you this space for a more rewarding personal life. So here we go. Let’s review your time management style.

A great way to get started is to reflect on your priorities and make an action plan. And this is how you can transform your time management. What are you already doing right now? What is working for you in managing your teaching online? What kind of strategies are you already using that are getting you great results? And where would you like to make some changes?

What kinds of strategies are not working for you? Are there any areas of your teaching where some limit-setting strategies might be useful or some boundaries to reduce interruptions to your work?

Strategies to Limit Interruptions and Distractions

Let’s talk about strategies to reduce interruptions. When you’re working from home, interruptions from other people you’re living with can be pretty common. This would be a barrier to effective time and task management for any online instructor. Sometimes we have interruptions, distractions, large student counts, multiple courses running at the same time. If we identify the barriers that are affecting you most specifically, and then we target the solution for your situation, this will help you limit and prevent those interruptions or those other challenges to help you set the boundaries on your teaching time.

There are a few specific strategies to reduce interruptions I’ve personally employed over the years, but also, I’ve had some other faculty share with me that they’ve used with a lot of success, and there is some research supporting all of these practices as well.

Interruptions might seem important or urgent when they occur. Someone runs into the room and wants to talk to us right now while we’re in the middle of grading some essays. It makes it very difficult for us to focus and manage the time that we spend teaching online when other people are at home or in the room with us.

These distractions might include online things. Maybe social media messages pop up or email messages pop up. A lot of virtual things can threaten our attention span and take our attention off the task we’re working on.

Some interruptions are physically present, like people in the room, or time-demanding intrusions like a visitor stopping by or the phone ringing, maybe friends and family members want to check in on us. Most of the interruptions come from the lack of the physical or relationship boundaries that come with working remotely in the home.

Interruptions might be more than multitasking. Now, if you’re multitasking, this has been referred to as task switching because there apparently is no such thing as real multitasking. Instead of thinking about two different activities at once, we’re really switching gears between two activities rapidly, and this makes it really hard to refocus quickly every time we shift our attention to one of those tasks.

Some of the effective ways to limit interruptions could be to set up a physical workspace you can teach in, establishing some working hours and strictly sticking to those, and communicating your plan to family members and friends.

Set up a Designated Physical Workspace

The first one, setting up a physical workspace, means to control interruptions by setting aside an actual space in the home where you’re working. It’s going to be a space where you expect to work uninterrupted. Even if you have a small space, side of the kitchen table, corner of the living room, it can be a designated location where you always do the work. You should be able to turn off the phone’s ringer, or set your cell phone in a different room and let voicemail answer it in order to limit the interruptions that might happen from that.

And while working in your space that you have selected, help others to know you can’t really be disturbed. This is going to give you a lot of boundaries and clarity about when you’re working and when you’re not.

In my own online teaching, I used to carry my laptop everywhere with me and log in whenever I had a spare moment to lead the class. I would also check my messages on my phone. I wanted to be really available, approachable at all times, super responsive. If you want to do this and it works for you, I applaud your flexibility doing it. It started to overwhelm my time and my attention, and pretty soon I wasn’t able to really be fully present anywhere else.

The research supports this idea that people with different traits or styles might actually successfully manage the blend between work and family life, but most of us don’t manage it very well. Over time, I decided that I would separate those things. So I have a space that I work online and a space where I live, and those two are not the same space. I don’t want to feel like I’m always working without any mental space or personal resources left for my family and my other commitments, and I don’t want that for you either. I want to advocate for you to have the space to have a rewarding life outside of your online work and feel like you can recharge and rest and be ready to go for the next week once you’re done.

If you work intermittently all day, every day, pretty soon your quality of work and your physical and mental exhaustion are at odds with each other. So the quality of work goes down and your physical and mental exhaustion increase.

In essence, when you set up a physically distinct workplace in your home or wherever you’re doing your online teaching, you’ll be able to focus more fully and conduct your teaching activities using this physical boundary as a signal to your brain so that while you’re in that space, you’re fully present and working and focused on your online teaching, and then you can turn that off when you walk away.

Establish Clear Working Hours

The second tip to reduce interruptions is to establish clear working hours. Interruptions can really be managed by establishing working hours when you expect to complete your online teaching. If you set boundaries on your work time, then you can have personal time and family time, and space to do all these other things that are important to you, including self-care.

This is going to fight the temptation to be online 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and it’s also going to give you non-working time so that you can relax and focus on other priorities without feeling guilty.

Just like setting up a physical space is going to tell other people when you’re at work at the computer, if you give specific working hours for your online teaching, this will give you some boundaries around your time and help it be clear to other people in your life as well. It’s also going to make it obvious to you that you do have time available for other activities outside of the work time.

Communicate Your Plans with Family and Friends

And then lastly in the strategies to reduce interruptions space, communicate your plan. Communicating your workspace and work hour plans to your family members and friends helps them support you when you’re teaching online. If you stick to these plans and you tell other people what your hours are and what you’re doing, the people in your life get a sense of your boundaries, and you’ll be able to approach the work with more focus and more energy. That alone is going to improve your work-life balance and give you time to anticipate doing something else outside of working online. Any definition you can give your online teaching is going to help you feel empowered to do it when you’re in the working time and to feel relief and space away from that work when you’re not working. That physical space and set time–definitely communicate those clearly to the people in your life, and ask for their support and ask for their help. It’s going to give you the resolve to adhere to your plan and strengthen what’s really going well in your life.

Establish Limit-Setting Strategies

Now, we’ve talked about reducing interruptions by setting up your workspace and your work hours and telling people about these plans, and then sticking to them. The next area is to have limit-setting strategies. Distractions are just part of the game here when we’re working online and teaching online. These could be emails, social media messages, pop-up news ads, anything that interrupts the focus of your teaching tasks or whatever you’ve scheduled into your workday.

Improve Focus by Not Multitasking or Task Switching

Multitasking is tempting, but as I’ve mentioned, multitasking isn’t really multitasking. It’s actually task switching, and it makes it harder to refocus every time you change the subject in your brain. Although you might want to multitask, focusing is going to give you the space to get things done faster and be more fully present while you’re doing it.

When your focus gets interrupted, it takes time to reorient and refocus, and this can actually lead to mistakes, lost time, lower energy. There’s a lot of research around that, and I believe it. I’ve experienced that in my own life, and I think increased focus comes from not shifting between the subject.

Plan Work Sessions and Breaks

I have three tips for you in the limit-setting strategies areas. First, plan your work sessions and breaks. When you plan your work sessions and your breaks, this is going to reassure you that even though you have to focus intensely for a little while, a break is coming. You can get up, walk around, have a snack, do something else for your break, and then get back to your online teaching. This increases your efficiency and it reduces distractions when you are working, and the break gives your brain space to process what you were doing so you can be ready for the next work session.

There’s an awesome strategy called the Pomodoro Technique. And it was developed by Francesco Cirillo. This was an engineering group that used it to create serious focus and a lot of breaks in between so they could be more productive than they had previously been.

The idea is that you give yourself 25 minutes of focused work and five-minute breaks in between. There are all these online timers called Pomodoro Timers, or you can go down to the store and buy a tomato-shaped timer and set it for 25 minutes and it’ll tick down and ring at the end. I have one of those, and I also have the online version, and then there’s a Google Chrome browser add-in that’s a Pomodoro timer that you can put there.

Regardless of the way you use this, after four sets of 25-minute sessions with five minute breaks, then you get to take a longer break of 30 minutes to do something else. Maybe you’re going to have lunch, take a walk, or otherwise focus on something besides the work.

When you do this and stop the task at the end of each planned working period, then you start to trust yourself. That might sound a little strange, but when we tell ourselves we’re going to stop working and we don’t do that, we start to not believe ourselves, and it makes it hard to focus. So giving yourself the space to believe your own plans will increase your energy and your focus and help you feel a sense of accomplishment when you’re working.

Use Timers to Manage Work More Effectively

The other idea is to use timers. Now, I know I mentioned a timer with the Pomodoro Technique, but timers generally are very helpful in reminding us to take a break and setting real boundaries on our time. It also gives us permission to ignore distractions, not shift our attention to other things begging for our attention, and stay right on top of our teaching.

You might use a timer to manage your work or calculate how long it’s going to take to complete different tasks. I’ve done this myself when grading essays. I’ll take a timer, like a stopwatch, and just set it to run until I’m done grading that first essay, and then I’ll look at that time and try to beat it by just a little bit when I grade the next essay.

Sometimes I just like to read slowly and think about it and I take way too long. But I could still give the same focused attention to that student’s work without taking as long. So a timer can bring out your inner competitor and help you to manage your work even more effectively.

Use Limiting Programs or Apps

And then the last idea here is to use limiting programs or apps. There’s one called Focus Assist. I forget whether it’s on the computer or the phone, but there are a lot of others as well, one called Keep Me Out. It’s a distraction limiting website. It lets you bookmark different web pages and provide warnings for visiting a site too frequently. And its goal is to reduce addictive site-checking. So hopefully that’ll help you manage your interruptions. And there’s another one called Stay Focused, and it can actually block websites and interruptions and notify you when it’s time to take a break, and then it’ll open up the next program or the next folder for whatever task you planned. That sounds like it’s going to help you manage your schedule and your task list as well.

In summary, we’ve got a lot of distraction strategies and interruption strategies, and I’m just going to recap these for you now. The distractions could be managed by planning your work sessions and predetermined breaks. You could try the Pomodoro timer method. You could also use the online Pomodoro timer at tomato-timer.com. There’s a bomb countdown timer.

You could use limiting programs or apps like Keep Me Out or Stay Focused, and you can manage your interruptions by designating a physical workspace, establishing work hours for your online teaching and strictly sticking to those, avoiding answering the phone during your work sessions, and communicate your plan and stick to it.

The more you do these things, the more you will have amazing time management strategies. And I think you’ll find over time, you can adjust to get the work done in a way that fits you best. So trying the strategies is a good start, and adjusting and adapting to what works best for you would be a great way to keep going.

And then lastly, reflecting on your plan and thinking about whether it’s working for you. As you reflect on it and keep track of it over time, you’re going to be able to determine whether you’ve improved your strategies, made things better for your students and for yourself, and managed your work-life balance a little bit better.

Well, I hope that this mini-series of work-life balance priorities, engaging with students first, producing assets to guide them, and today’s episode of using time management strategies, I hope these have been helpful for you. Thank you for joining me and I wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week.

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

#55: Work-Life Balance (Part 2 of 3): Creating Guidance Assets

#55: Work-Life Balance (Part 2 of 3): Creating Guidance Assets

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.

#54: Work Life Balance (Part 1 of 3): Engaging With Students First

#54: Work Life Balance (Part 1 of 3): Engaging With Students First

This content initially appeared on APUEDGE.COM.

Teaching online can be overwhelming and cause a significant amount of work-related stress. In the first part of this three-part series, Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses teaching strategies to help online educators prioritize their time by engaging students first. Learn about using a Community of Inquiry framework, keeping written notes about students and your interaction with them, and the benefits of using backwards mapping to ensure you’re meeting objectives and connecting regularly with 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.

Welcome to the episode today for the Online Teaching Lounge. We’re in year two of this podcast, and it is very exciting to support you in your online teaching efforts. You’re not alone here. You might feel alone teaching online as it can be very isolating to do that, but we’re here for you and hopefully you’ll get some tools and strategies and encouragement by listening to this podcast today.

We’re at the beginning of a three-part mini-series. Today is part one. We’ll talk about work-life balance and how you can set priorities for your very top priority as an online educator. This will be about engaging with students first.

Next episode, we will talk about work-life balance in setting priorities to produce assets that can guide your students to manage themselves.

And lastly, also in work-life balance, we will talk about setting priorities to use time management strategies effectively, managing your workload.

These three areas are going to support you a lot in your work-life balance. As online educators, we know that we can teach any time anywhere, and it’s very easy for us to have the online classroom follow us to all places that we go and kind of pop into all places in our lives.

There’s been a lot of research done in online teaching, and even though it offers attractive flexibility for you as the instructor, all kinds of instructors out there report high teaching workloads, feeling isolated, having high stress levels, and having generally poor life-work balance.

There’s a lot of assumptions about online learners out there we can use to our advantage, especially when we’re working with adult learners, and those come from andragogy theory. There are also some frameworks that help us as online educators and we’re going to look at the community of inquiry framework to give us some practical application as we’re taking this tour in our three-part mini-series.

We can also look at some areas outside of online education, like the work-life balance theories. There’s been some research done in that area. And then lastly, we can think about the kinds of boundaries that would support your work and simultaneously allow you to focus on your student success as a priority. I personally believe that when you set boundaries in the online classroom and in your online teaching generally by prioritizing what matters most, developing assets to help your students guide themselves, and managing your time efficiently and carefully, you can have better definition to your work. And you can also focus your efforts, which means you’re going to do a better job as an online educator and you might even enjoy it a lot more. So here we go with part one, engaging with students first.

When we think about engaging with students first, there are some things about work-life balance for online employees that also apply to our online educators here. In some of the research done about working online, there was a little collection of strategies people were using to have good work-life balance.

Of course, there were some that were provided by the employers, but those were pretty few. The most successful strategies came from the employees themselves. These are called employee originated solutions. Now, employee originating solutions means that you have the locus of control. You’re the boss of what you do for these solutions, how much you use them and how you manage them. And the most popular employee originating solutions for online workers that were effective, were mindfulness strategies, self-reflection, and meditation. And these could be either prompted by the employer or just come up with by the employee themselves.

These are going to increase your mental and emotional presence in the online classroom and just working online generally. It’ll also increase your mental and emotional presence in your personal life and reduce the interference of work-related stress.

Now, when I say there’s interference from work-related stress, I mean we might be thinking about our online work when we’re not actually doing it. We might have emails pop up that stress us out because we think, “Oh, we have to go online right now.”

Chances are this has happened to you if you’ve worked online very long. It’s pervasive and we think because we can read those messages anytime, we should do it to keep our workload under control. But we don’t realize that when we’re doing those things, the stress is creeping in and we’re feeling all that stress all day long in our personal life too. Before you know it, we think we need to be working all the time throughout the day just to keep the workload manageable. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Really there are a lot of ways we can reduce that stress and create less pressure in our work life.

So thinking about this, we’re going to talk about connecting with our students first. This is going to be the top priority for us as online educators. And I’m going to share just a few tips with you today. Then I encourage you to come back next week for episode 55 when we will talk about producing assets that guide your students to manage themselves.

Understanding the Community of Inquiry Framework

Now let’s look at the framework that is really common or popular in online education, the Community of Inquiry framework. This framework gives us a practical model that we can use to design how we involve ourselves in the classroom. How we engage with our students.

The Community of Inquiry framework focuses on teaching, social, and cognitive presence as priorities. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. If you’re in higher education, it’s very likely that you have. Each of these presences within the COI model, the teaching, social, and cognitive presences, work together in an interrelated way. So they work together in ways where we often are meeting two or three presences all at once through our activities. And we’re going to support our students in their learning experiences by focusing in these areas even more precisely.

Social Presence

Social presence is about the way your learners can engage in a comfortable learning environment and feel supported and trust you as the educator and feel like they can collaborate with others in that environment.

Teaching Presence

Teaching presence is about your ability as the educator to design and facilitate the online class. So what you run and put announcements out there and guide them in their assignments and all of those things is part of your teaching presence.

Cognitive Presence

And lastly, cognitive presence is the way learners can construct new meaning through the process of learning. So that means they’re doing some things that draw the points together, connecting the dots, making even more connections to the subject matter. And you can promote that as an educator in a lot of different ways.

When you are designing and facilitating a course online and you’re thoughtful about connectedness to what the learners need and what they already know, you can use the CoI framework to plan what you’re going to do thinking about your social, teaching, and cognitive presence. This is going to give you a lot of space to prioritize what’s really important and make the best of your time spent in the online classroom.

Now, if you take a thoughtful approach like using a framework such as the CoI I’ve mentioned here, you can plan your activities around those key areas. If you don’t do that, it’s very easy to resort to a to-do list. Maybe we’ve got a to-do list of things to grade, things to post, comments to write, announcements to post.

And when we have that to-do list that’s just a checkbox approach, it’s really easy for us to lose track of the bigger picture, what we’re really trying to accomplish as the educator. The framework helps us to ground ourselves in the goal of connecting with our students, promoting the cognitive aspects of what we’re doing and also helping them get to know us as faculty or as instructors. So our first priority is to engage with the students first.

Engaging with Students First

There are some strategies that will help you engage with your students first. Some of these could be posting and replying early each day in the discussion. Of course reading messages and emails that your students send you early in the day will also help you to address any serious concerns that your students have. This is going to build trust. If you make weekly notes about your students and add some things that you’re figuring out about them, it will help you get to know them better.

You can also use a strategy called backwards mapping and use it to plan your workload. The workload’s pretty high when you’re teaching online. There’s a lot to read and write and grade and a lot of time to spend because when you’re not meeting face to face, you’re going to replace that with a lot of written work and other types of online interactivity. So there’s more to grade, more to do, more to read.

Because of this kind of workload, you want to decide where to start in your teaching tasks. This will help you avoid being overwhelmed and quickly burning out. When you engage with students first as your top priority, this is going to help you establish your teaching presence and your social presence. If you don’t have those two areas when you’re creating your course, when you’re engaging with students, it’s very difficult to bump things up to that next level of cognitive presence to help students adopt critical thinking and really be engaged in the underlying aim of all those educational activities that you’ve planned.

Consider Posting to the Classroom Every Morning

So you might consider starting the day with a post in the discussion forum for each class you’re teaching and responding to all the messages and emails. If you post early in any class you teach every work day, this means you’ve been responsive, you’ve got a presence that is regular, and you’re not going to forget to engage with your students. After all, the more you engage, the more you build relationships and you guide them by teaching them in that subject area.

Most of the institutions with online learning have some kind of expectations of you as the instructor. Maybe they want you to be in the classroom a certain number of days or in the discussion area a certain number of days. There might be some kind of guideline to that where you’re working now or where you’re teaching now.

In my own work, I’ve noticed that if students haven’t participated in the weekly discussion yet, I go in there and post an initial thread with some kind of encouragement to get started in the discussion. Maybe a current event that ties to the topic or something else of interest. This helps my students to just start getting into that discussion and readily engage in the dialogue. So we’ve got the academic community and it’s growing because I’ve created the starter and I’ve also helped them to see me and feel like I’m there helping them out.

This is true when my post asks them to reflect or apply the topic or connect to some kind of current event. These all satisfy andragogy theory and meet the needs of adult learners, and also they build cognitive presence.

Maintain Collection of “Starter” Threads and Written Notes about Students

Now, if you’re teaching the course repeatedly, you teach that same topic over and over again each time you teach this class, you might want to maintain a collection of well-developed starter threads that you can use every time students don’t appear to be engaged. So when you need to start a thread for the week, it’s nice when you’ve already researched one and you can kind of further tailor it for the class at hand and meet the needs of those students, but you’ve got something to start with.

Another tip to engage with your students first is to keep anecdotal records. When you post early each day and you build that priority of instructor presence and connecting with your students, you get to know your students as a priority. You’re applying andragogy throughout your teaching. And when you record notes, typically called anecdotal records, about your students, this will help you keep track of who they are. Especially if you’re teaching a lot of sections with a lot of students, it’s difficult to do this.

Some of them may not have a photo online and it’s difficult to get to know them or associate their name with their work. Keeping a written record of your students and things that you’re learning about them and also who you’ve replied to each week can help you to manage the touch that you want to have with each student effectively.

Your notes might include something like where the students are living, their backgrounds and interests, maybe their academic major, whether they’re in the military or working, whether they’re new parents, and any other pertinent details that you noticed that you care about.

If you write those details down, you can be sensitive in your responses. And when they reach out for extra help, you also have some level of context around who they are and what their situation in life is. Knowing their backgrounds can help you also remember that you’re working with real human beings, not just some names that show up online. This can help you to understand their problems and also their challenges when they reach out to you for special help. They are real. They do care about learning from you and knowing them a little bit better will help you to approach them in a way that lets them know you care about them.

When you connect students’ experiences and backgrounds to what you say in the class, this helps even more to establish your social presence because it helps the students feel known and it also gives you that human element as you communicate with them.

Your weekly student contacts are a best practice because these give you the space to identify any students you haven’t connected with recently or touched in the online class, and you can also determine who has become inactive in the course. You can follow up and reach out to help students re-engage in the class.

Anecdotal records of your contacts with students will help you to vary who you reach out to, who you look for, and who you follow up with, and eventually you’re going to touch everyone and remember the students you’ve taught long after the class has ended.

You might even benefit from using a notepad like EndNote Online or maybe an Excel document where you kind of use a spreadsheet approach. You could put these notations about your students there to keep track of them and even begin with week one when they give you their introduction so you’re just getting to know them.

Whatever process you use, the main goal is to really establish a relationship and keep yourself focused. I don’t know if you’ve had this experience, but I used to go to a dentist who would remember things about me when I hadn’t seen him in six months. I would sit down in that dentist chair, I believe I was 16 or 17 at the time, and he would ask me all about how school was going and different activities I was engaging in. At the time, I thought that man was a genius. Now that I’m older and I understand how those things are maintained, I realized that he was keeping anecdotal records so that he could follow up with me and build rapport. It’s difficult to work on someone’s teeth, as a dentist, if they’re afraid of you. But when you build rapport, trust is created and fear can reduce. That’s my estimation of what happened at the dentist, but it also happens in online education.

The more you convey that you know the student and you’re relating to them, and the more you connect socially by sharing your expertise and your thoughts about what’s going on as well, the more students build trust for you. They’re more than likely to reach out to you when they do have concerns instead of just dropping the class or disappearing and disengaging.

Backwards Mapping Techniques

The last area I want to share with you in this priority of connecting or engaging with your students first is to practice backwards mapping. Now, you might’ve heard this term before. Backwards mapping is something that Wiggins and McTighe came up with in a curriculum design process. The goal is that you’re going to look at what you want to achieve at the end of a class, you create this big picture view of the goals, and then you break them down into smaller tasks that need to be planned ahead of time to reach the goals.

Public school teachers use this strategy a lot when they’re choosing learning goals for their students. And of course, as I just mentioned, plan the desired date, the goals to be achieved, and move backwards to decide when to start the project, when to start the lesson, and when the bigger benchmark measurements need to happen.

Backwards mapping is a great strategy that can be used in planning your online teaching engagement productively. So not only is it a curricular tool, it is also a good planning tool for your involvement and your time management.

You can use backwards mapping to ensure that the requirements or goals you have for yourself professionally as an educator are met on time. For example, let’s just say you’re teaching a class of 50 students. That would be a pretty large class. And if you’re teaching a class of 50 students and you need to respond to everyone at least once during the week, if you’re online for five days of that week, you’ll probably want to make sure you’re connecting with 10 students per day. If that works for you to spread it out that way, then you could backwards map in that way and then on the last day of the week, check in and see if you have met your goal.

You can reply, you can grade this way by backwards mapping your approach to grading as well. You can also backwards map different things like posting announcements, logging in, and doing other follow-up pieces of your online teaching.

Backwards mapping assignments to be graded can really help you anticipate how many documents you’re going to evaluate and how many you would need to evaluate each day to return the graded work in a pretty timely manner and with the expected grading quality that you’re wanting to return to them. Take a look at backwards mapping. It’s a great strategy to help you reduce the overwhelm of the teaching load that you might have when you’re teaching online.

So, in summary, your priorities would be to post in discussions every day, early in the day, as your first priority to connect with your students. So engage with students first. Reply to messages, emails, and students questions before any other task.

Take anecdotal notes about your students from week one forums and throughout the course as things come up. Track the students you’ve responded to or touched each week and then follow up with missing or disengaged students. You can also use these strategies as you’re engaging with students first.

The first one is to set time management priorities. You might use a checklist to ensure that there are things that must be done and that they get done. Plan time for each commitment that you have on a schedule or in some kind of a planner, and then backwards map your engagement and your grading.

When you do these things by setting priorities and following strategies that work for you, you’ll be able to have work-life balance because the work is getting done in a focused manner and at a quality that helps you really connect with students and make a difference in your online teaching.

I appreciate you being here today. Thank you for listening to part one in our work-life balance three-part mini-series. Come back next week and we’ll talk about producing assets that guide your students in self-management. And I look forward to seeing you then. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching.

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