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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

#105 Podcast: Helping Students Navigate their Online Education Journey

#105 Podcast: Helping Students Navigate their Online Education Journey

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education and
Dr. Jan SpencerDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education and
Dr. David Ferreira, Faculty Member, APU and Provost, Charter Oak State College

The pandemic caused the greatest disruption to higher education in the past 150 years. Helping students navigate these changes—including the shift to online education for many—is a major challenge for both student affairs’ professionals and teachers. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen and Dr. Jan Spencer talk to Dr. David Ferreira, an APU faculty member and provost at a community college. Learn how institutions of higher education must be ready for their students, how faculty can help students during their online education journey, and why mental health must be front and center for students and faculty alike.

Listen to the Episode:

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

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. Thank you for being with us today. We are just around 100 episodes of this podcast. That means we’ve been with you almost two years, helping you learn more about online education and think about your students and your online work.

We have some special guests with us today, and I’d like to introduce Dr. Jan Spencer and Dr. Dave Ferreira. Jan, would you tell us a little bit about you just to refresh our listeners and then we’ll go to your guest.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you, Bethanie. It is always a privilege to talk with you and being a part of this podcast. I am the Department Chair for Educational Leadership and Student Life, which incorporates three different programs, the Educational Leadership piece of K-12 Education, and then two higher education programs, one in Student Affairs and one in Higher Education Administration.

And it’s really a real blessing to me to have my guest here, Dr. Dave Ferreira, who is newer to us at APU, but he is very much of an asset to our program, particularly in student affairs. Dave, tell us a little bit about yourself and where your main job is and anything else you want to throw in there?

Dr. David Ferreira: Well, thank you Dr. Spencer and Bethanie. Great to be here and thank you for having me. So, currently, actually, I’m the Provost at Charter Oak State College, which is Connecticut’s public online state college. And I’ve been in this role for just over six months.

Prior to that time, I was the Dean of Academic and Student Affairs at Northwestern Connecticut Community College. And so I’ve been in the Connecticut system. In addition, as you mentioned to working with APU as an adjunct faculty member over in student affairs and higher education. And it’s a really great role. I love doing that because we get to work with, and mentor, and teach the next generation of higher education leaders in particular over in student affairs.

So I’ve been in higher ed now for, I would say it’s actually approaching 20 years. And so, it’s really great because so much has changed over in higher education. And now, more than ever, we actually are taking a look at that type of holistic approach with students and just ways to work on retention and graduation, but also doing so with an equity lens. So I would actually argue there are a lot of challenges, but there is no better time to be in higher education than today.

Dr. Jan Spencer: That’s great. It is a changing world of student affairs and online education. And as your role has changed where you are now a provost of an online college, it is very much of an interest to us to see from your perspective, the kinds of things that are changing, just as your role changed. So, I think the different opportunities for people to work in higher education, particularly in the online space, are opening wide up and there’s challenge there, there’s opportunities there. Give us your perspective.

Dr. David Ferreira: I think that with the pandemic, obviously, nobody ever wanted to have a pandemic come to us, but it has. What I kind of tell my team, because as the role of the provost, I’m the chief academic affairs officer, I’m the chief student affairs officer, and I’m also the chief diversity officer of the college. So, I actually kind of three roles in one.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Not bottle washer, right?

Dr. David Ferreira: Yeah. No. But part-time. Other duties is assigned. And so what I’ve actually told my team, because actually we’re in the midst of actually starting up our new strategic plan to take us for the next five years, is we’re in the middle of the greatest disruption to higher education in the past 150 years. Been nothing greater of a disruption since the industrial revolution. So as we create our new plans, no pressure, right? And so I think what we have really found through the pandemic, we really highlighted a couple of things.

First, is that students were forced to go online really quickly. Over a matter of a week, I was the dean of academic and student affairs at Northwestern Connecticut Community College when that happened and we worked really quick to try to do the best experience online.

And for some students, it really wasn’t for them. They learned that, “Hey, I really need to be face to face or I need to be face to face for particular classes.” But, for others, they were kind of into this forced way in which they like, “Hey, I can work at 11 o’clock at night in my pajamas after the kids go to bed. And so this actually allows me the access and the ability to do so.”

Or in particular where I came from previously, I was in a rural area and transportation is a huge issue. So by just being able to have access to reliable Wi-Fi, I am able to actually access higher education or I’m able to access more classes so I can actually complete quicker.

And so, I think that is something really radical. So, what we’re going to see now on Charter Oaks and over at APU is that this is an option that they never considered before. And so, how do we actually then reach out to those students who are those students where when they were forced to go to online education, that it actually is working out for them? How do we identify them and actually go ahead and say, let’s go ahead and be your provider.

The other thing that I think the pandemic really highlighted is a focus on the holistic approach to the student and also mental health. Unfortunately, through the pandemic, mental health has really become a gargantuan issue, in particular, with our adult students that come over to college for online education. And so, I think as a college we’ve learned, we simply need to go ahead and need to make investments in mental health for our students in order to be able to best serve them because it is actually I think a moral imperative issue that we do so.

Dr. Jan Spencer: That was a tremendously insightful answer. And I do appreciate your wisdom in seeing the different kinds of challenges that students are facing with this forced-on technology that some of them never planned on.

At the same time, for those who have intentionally chosen online education from the start, there are some challenges in learning about student affairs, learning to practice student affairs on higher education administration because of the online factor. Can you address some of the ways that you can see students and institutions overcoming the challenges of trying to be personal with people and really help them along, but still maintain that distance? Because that’s what it is.

Dr. David Ferreira: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think that there’s a number of approaches we can take to try to be very personable with this. First is, use of technology. Even before the pandemic, we’re with our online students, how many of us actually made it possible to do things via Zoom, or Webex, or Teams or whatever it could be? Because there is a way where you can give personalized assistance using technology.

For example, before the pandemic, we probably did things primarily over phone or email. However, doing synchronous sessions to help them actually, for example, with students, with the onboard process, we can share the screen, teach them how to go through the application process, how to log into the learn and management system that they have at their respective institution to log in for the first time. Because that’s a big issue. If you’re coming to an online college and you haven’t taken an online class even in a couple years, just simply, how do I get to my course? Remember in a traditional university, where’s my classroom?

And you used to have to go around to the map, ask people where’s this hall, right? That’s the same thing in an online environment. We need to say, how do we take that and actually apply it over here. So things of utilizing technology to help students onboard and produce the most personalized experience.

Likewise, another thing that we really have learned and putting a focus on in particular in the upcoming semesters is about that outreach to the student and particularly, our new students within the first two weeks. How is their experience? How are they coming on board? Do they know about the resources available to them? Whether it be tutoring, the library, if they are struggling with anything from a mental health or short-term financial need. We need to make sure that we’re doing that personalized upfront outreach so that we can connect them to the resources because it is much more difficult to find those resources.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Yes. Bethanie, will you have something to add into this?

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Well, a question really, Dave has me thinking because when he’s talking about walking the student around campus, like what we used to do when things were “normal” and live, I’m just thinking with this online stuff and whether you’re doing it synchronously or asynchronously, everybody is in such a different place with that, right? Some are digital natives, some are just totally lost. And I’m wondering how faculty could help with that?

Dr. David Ferreira: I think there’s a couple of things that faculty can do, really. One, and we’re working on this too with our faculty, which is, depending where the student is in their online education journey. So I say, if you’re into a first semester gateway course, and it’s the first week or two of the semester, there’s an expectation that you give a little bit more grace to the student than you would, who maybe is in a capstone course in their final semester. They’ve already been through it, they’ve kind of gone through the process, they know where to look for things.

So I think we have to ask our faculty, where are the students in their educational journey? And in my mind there’s always two types of colleges or universities. There’s the first type of college or university who says, “Oh, only if I had these students. Are the students ready for our college or our university?”

And I think we’re not that. Our college and university is, is our college ready for our students? And it’s a change of mindset in order to actually go ahead and it’s a change of culture. And I think we really need to make sure are we doing our professional development for our faculty, our orientation for our faculty? Just like we ask, how do we onboard our students? Well, how do we onboard our faculty and our staff to actually say, this is our culture? Our culture is how can we prepare our college or university for our students, not the other way around and to then look at policies and practices that do so.

And also, I say do so from an equity lens standpoint in particular. And now we’re looking at this right now. Are we infusing culturally responsive teaching within our courses to make sure that also, everyone feels welcome and included and the material is relevant to them? And so, I think that’s there.

And then the last way too is we talk about learning preferences, right? And so, when we do communicate to students, are we communicating in the way that actually appeals to multiple learning preferences? I always ask the question, if you ever buy something from Ikea, right, there’s two types of people. Everything’s sprawled out and they start to try to put things together. There’s the others that read the directions first before they touch anything. Those are just our different learning preferences.

So, when we approach our lessons and the way in which we craft our online courses, are we doing so from a universal design framework as well, where we’re appealing to multiple learning preferences so that if this way doesn’t work for them, they’ll be able to capture and get the information that way. Again, we’re not lowering the standards, we’re providing multiple avenues so that we help the student meet the high outcomes that we have expected of our students.

Dr. Jan Spencer: In your sharing and including equity, diversity, inclusion, one of the spinoffs there is the area of politics. We’ve seen such polarization in our country, in our world for that matter, with regard to politics. How do we deal with the issues, particularly in an online environment where you have students who are thrown in a place together, but they may want to maintain their polarization, so to speak? As a student affairs, professional, highly trained, what are the ways we deal with that? Can you help us with that?

Dr. David Ferreira: Yeah, I wish I had the perfect answer because we are so polarized in this environment, whether we are mandate versus not mandate, mask or no mask, and left versus right, and who won the last election. There’s so many things that are very polarizing out there. And I think it’s providing opportunities for that type of discussion, but you have to make sure we have the framework.

I used to teach American government. And so, we would cover items like abortion, and the death penalty, and burning of the American flag. These things are very hot topics, right? People feel very strongly one way or the other. And so, I think it’s a way in which we approach it, because these are adults.

And so, the way I actually, I approached it upfront is I’d say we’re going to cover some very tough questions, some tough topics. And the only thing I’m going to expect is that we do so in a very respectful manner. When we framed it in that way of saying, this is the expectation, that we’re going to have these tough conversations, but, by the way, I don’t have these issues and I don’t expect to have it now. That sets a, I guess, a tone or a framework that we’re going to go ahead and have it.

But then on the other side, we have to have people see the other side, right? So, if we’re talking about a mask mandate, I would actually have our students look at it from the opposite perspective, right? Because there’s a lot of ways we can look at it. We’re looking at it from schools and school board meetings, making sure that we do so in respectful manner.

So again, I think everything we do, we have to do it by design. And if we do that and have it and teach and encourage, but also have people look at ways through their own opposite, not-lived experience framework, hopefully we can tone down the tenor because we are an institution of higher education and also of good citizenship. So we have to make sure we infuse that within our curriculum.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Excellent. Along with that, you mentioned the crafted situation where you have some outcomes you’re trying to achieve in terms of learning, but also relationship and being able to deal with difficult issues. One of the things is how we become global in our thinking, in our actions. And it puts a much of a greater challenge to an instructor to be able to maybe span the time zones.

So, a greater call to us, at least in my view, is to be willing to be imposed upon. So, if we’re going to have a class and we have a student that needs a conversation with us, instead of making them talk to us at two o’clock in the morning where they are, we’re the ones who need to be willing to be imposed upon. What is your sense of the willingness of instructors to adopt some of the challenges of online education and be willing to change their style to make it work?

Dr. David Ferreira: In the end I think what we have to ask faculty, and, again, I think it all goes back to setting up the expectations of culture. That this is our culture. Our culture is that we are a university that asks ourselves, are we ready for our students? If that’s not something that fits within your personal brand or what you are looking to do, maybe this place is not the place for you. That’s a tough question to ask, right?

But just like when I worked at the community college, there were some people who applied as a faculty member and really they wanted to work at an R1 heavy research university and we need those people. We absolutely need folks over at R1 institutions. We want the best folks at our R1 institutions. That wasn’t who we were as a community college. We were a teaching institution. That was our primary mode. And if that wasn’t your primary passion, maybe it’s not a fit.

But, obviously, you don’t expect a faculty member to be around at two o’clock in the morning, but you should expect a faculty member to say, “Hey, look, I should be able to grant maybe some office hours, but also say, but by appointment and try to work with the student.”

Because, for example, if you’re working with a student in Israel, you shouldn’t expect to have that student meet with you between sundown Friday and sundown on Saturday because they’re practicing Shabbat. That’s just a cultural expectation. And so I think you just want to say, look, there are some parameters, yes, we’re not going to expect you to be there 24/7, but we do expect you to at least be as flexible as you can be so that you can work with the student. And I think you got to have that in writing as well. So therefore it’s very clear that that’s who we are as an institution and that’s what we expect out of you.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you. One of the things you said are earlier, you’ve mentioned, I think at least once, maybe twice the involvement of mental health in student affairs. Can you expand upon that just a little bit? What is the increased role of student affairs with regard to mental health? When we say mental health, what does a student affairs professional look for? How do they help students in issues dealing with mental health?

[Student Affairs: Addressing Student Mental Health and Wellness]

Dr. David Ferreira: A lot of times when we take a look at mental health, one, it is on a huge rise and that’s nobody’s fault. That’s just part of the pandemic. I think studies have shown that between a quarter and a third of our adult student population that’s online, they’re struggling with some type of mental health. And then not to mention their children that are struggling with mental health that are going through their K-12.

So, there’s a couple things that I think we need to do as higher education institutions is one, what do we offer? And so I know at my full-time position where I’m at, we’re actually working to secure a vendor that can provide 24/7 mental health care in a, basically, a telehealth environment. Our students are coming to us via tele. So we need to be able to provide the mental health services in a telehealth environment.

And second thing we have to do is we have to train our staff. What are the signs we need to look for? Again, we don’t need them to be mental health experts, but what are the top two or three little flags or things we need to look for in order to identify or do kind of a little bit of an outreach to them to see how they’re coming along?

And then, as we mentioned here, it also goes to our faculty. Our faculty again, we don’t expect them to be mental health experts, but they’ll be able to see something is different in this discussion post this week compared to last week. Their performance has started to rapidly decline over the past two weeks.

Who do I turn to? One, do they know who do they turn to at the college or university to basically do a checkup? So we need to establish some pieces in place, some processes, a design so to speak to do that. And then at the same time we got to have access to that telehealth type of mental health services. I think it’s really critical. I know over here in the state of Connecticut, the governor has actually allotted some money for colleges and universities to address mental health issues with students. And so my college has allotted a little bit of money to do that.

But even after the pandemic, we need to go do that because this is something I’ve always made a case for. When it came to the federal dollars that have come through the pandemic, not much has actually gone to online institutions and I’ve had to make the case, our students are humans, too. They’re struggling just like any student who’s sitting inside of a classroom. They’re just struggling from behind a laptop. And so we need to make sure that we have equitably distributed those resources to our online students so they can actually receive those types of supports.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you very much. I want to give Bethanie a chance as our hostess to speak into this process as well. Because I think she may have some questions to ask you, Dave.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thank you, Jan. And thank you Dave, for all the wisdom you’re sharing with us today. I was hearing the question that Jan just asked about the mental health and thinking about faculty. When you say that we need to make investments in mental health, it’s a moral imperative, earlier in this episode, I got to thinking that a faculty member thinking about a student’s mental health might be really concerned about how do I help? How do I support? How do I not cross the line into some area I’m really uncomfortable with or not qualified for? What do you think they could do?

Dr. David Ferreira: Yeah. I always start with professional development. We’re actually doing this in regards to accessibility as well, which is we’re doing a session on here’s the do’s and don’ts. For example, with accessibility, obviously you must give the accommodation that is afforded to the student. But don’t go beyond that. Don’t give them everything because if you give them everything, you have to do that for all students.

So same thing over in mental health. Here’s what’s not expected of you. You’re not expected to sit on the phone for two hours with a student as they go ahead and talk about how their world is crashing, right? Yes. You need to be responsive. You want to listen, but you need to say, “Okay, I’m hearing what you’re saying. And I want to connect you to the best person possible to make sure that we get you the help that’s needed.”

So, it’s the professional development. I would start with the do’s and don’ts. If your college, university is working with a vendor, typically built into the contract is professional development and training for faculty and staff. If not, it’s a little bit of an investment, definitely make that investment. And so I would say start over there. Work with them.

But then also at the same time, provide that professional development session, too. Sometimes it’s actually therapy for the faculty member as well. Because we also have to keep in mind that as our students are struggling through this pandemic from a mental health perspective, our faculty and our staff, they’re also struggling. They’re getting burnt out, they’re mentally drained. And so, I think we also, maybe as administrators or leaders need to also be conscious of that. And also ask ourselves, are we providing the support to our faculty and our staff? Because also when they learn about those resources available to them, they’ll also be better equipped to help with those resources available to our students. And I think that’s really crucial.

And the last thing I would actually mention too, and I think it’s really important to highlight when we talk about health and wellness is that the theme of this year’s Black History Month is health and wellness.

It’s important to make sure we realize that because I think it’s emphasizing where we see, but then also emphasizing too, the historical disproportionate impact on our underrepresented minority communities and particularly, in our Black community that systemically we’ve seen over the years. So, I’m really appreciative for this year’s Black History Month, that we have that emphasis on health and wellness because I really think it brings it to the forefront.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thank you, Dave. And I appreciate you mentioning the faculty. Sometimes faculty are really hard on themselves, and they don’t realize that all this added strain and stress of what’s been going on in the country or the world really just takes its toll. Sometimes work will take twice as long, or sometimes you’ll just be really unfocused and not sure why.

And it’s just a good reminder that yep, we’re all facing tough things. We need to know what those resources are so we can get through it. We’re just about at the end of our episode here and I’m curious if you have any last takeaways you want to make sure our listeners really get from your message today, Dave.

Dr. David Ferreira: Well, I think the first thing that we want to know, wherever you work in higher education, online’s here, online’s here to stay. And so again, I think for any institution, APU, or where I work over at Charter Oak or anywhere else, this is a rapidly evolving component of higher education. And, again, what are we going to do to make sure that more and more students are going to utilize online either partially or fully? What are we going to do to make sure we’re ready? And I think the biggest thing too is the fundamental question we have to ask is are we nimble enough to make sure that we can quickly adapt? We saw how quick and nimble we can be. In higher education, we don’t move fast, right? We kind of move like the Titanic.

And so we got to be able to say, are we nimble enough to actually make sure we can quickly pivot to best meet the needs of students? It is an imperative because that’s what we’re here for. We’re not here for the paycheck. We’re here to make sure that we actually provide those opportunities because what we do in higher education, fundamentally, at the end of the day, we make them better citizens. But also in a number of cases, we break the cycle of poverty, not only for this generation, but generations to come. There is no better place to be than higher education. And, honestly, with the access and affordability that we provide with online education, there’s nowhere else we’d want to be right now.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Beautiful. And Jan, do you have any final comments?

Dr. Jan Spencer: Well, I just appreciate Dr. Ferreira’s involvement in our program here at APU. He has added a great spark to what we’re doing. Appreciate his input all the time. And particularly now that he has become a provost, he’s going to have a different view yet of what it is that we’re doing here in terms of educating online learners. So, thank you, Bethanie, for helping us take the time to spotlight some of the things that are happening in the world of student affairs and higher education administration.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thank you both for being here. As we close this episode of the Online Teaching Lounge, we want to thank Dr. Jan Spencer, a Department Chair in the School of Arts, Humanities, and Education and Dr. Dave Ferreira, part-time faculty at American Public University and also Provost at Charter Oak State College.

Thank you for being with us today and thanks to you, our listeners for tuning in. Be sure to share this podcast with your colleagues who are working and teaching online. And spread the word about this podcast. Post this episode in your favorite social media space. We want to expand our reach to help you and others who are teaching online, which can be a challenging endeavor. Best wishes to you 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 in your online teaching journey.

#104: Tips to Recognize Burnout and Overcome Overwhelm

#104: Tips to Recognize Burnout and Overcome Overwhelm

This content first appeared at APUEdge.com.

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education

Are you experiencing burnout? Burnout is serious and can impact your health, happiness, relationships, and work. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses the signs of burnout including exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy. She also discusses ways to rebuild your emotional strength, manage your energy, and find satisfaction in your work again.

Listen to the Episode:

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

Read the Transcript:

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

Welcome to the podcast and thank you for joining me today. We will focus on how you can recognize burnout and overcome overwhelm through tips from Dr. Jacinta M. Jimenez’s book, “The Burnout Fix: Overcome Overwhelm, Beat Busy, and Sustain Success in the New World of Work,” and other resources.

But before we do that, I’m going to share out three announcements.

Here is a Site to Help You Navigate through Prior Episodes for Help

First, if you’re trying to decide what past episodes to listen to in your online teaching focus, with 104 episodes published so far, you could get lost in this long list of episode topics and strategies. To help you out, I’d like to invite you to visit my website: BethanieHansen.com.

Once you get there, you will find a menu item across the green menu bar at the top of the page called “The Online Teaching Toolbox.” By clicking this menu item, you will find some broad topics listed to help you navigate toward what you’re looking for. You can also access the toolbox using the big button on the home page that says, “find effective strategies right now.”

In future weeks, I’ll keep adding more structure to the website that will help you navigate topics even more quickly and effectively, so that you can read or listen about whatever you need in the moment.

Online Learning Innovation Conference is Coming Up!

Second, I’m announcing that the Online Learning Consortium’s spring conference is coming up. At the time of this podcast, early April 2022, the international conference is just a few days away. The conference is called “OLC Innovate,” and it is focused on new ideas, strategies, and fresh approaches to online, hybrid, and blended education. I’m putting a link to the conference in the podcast transcript, so please take a look. The conference includes virtual presentations as well as live sessions on-site in Dallas, TX. So, if you cannot travel to attend in person, consider the virtual option.

At the conference, you’ll find new ideas, and you will also benefit from specific topics like blended learning, community colleges, historically Black colleges and universities, instructional design, online leadership, networking, research, career and technical education, instructional technologies and tools, open learning, and teaching and learning practice.

And your presenters will be excellent educators, leaders, and researchers who have gone through a “rigorous three-stage, double-blind peer review process upon conference proposal submission. Acceptance to present at OLC Innovate is competitive and is a great accomplishment.”

It’s always a good idea to refresh your teaching and stopping by a professional conference like this one might be just what you’re looking for. Not only will you keep growing, but you will have at least one fresh idea you can take with you to try out. If you are attending, I’m presenting a workshop about creating podcasts for education you might find interesting. Dr. Jan Spencer, one of my colleagues at American Public University, is presenting a workshop about three specific areas of online teaching and learning practice. These include the rules of the road for online presence, fun ways to enhance forum discussions, and innovative strategies for creating assignments.

Whether or not you’re able to attend the OLC Innovate conference for April 2022, I encourage you to submit a proposal to present a session, a workshop, or a discovery session for the OLC Accelerate conference coming up with virtual sessions November 1-3, 2022, and live sessions in Orlando, Florida, November 14-17, 2022. The call for presentation proposals is open until May 18, 2022.

Two Consecutive Years with the Online Teaching Lounge Podcast

Third, and most importantly, today’s episode number 104 marks the end of our second year with the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. This means that we have shared tips, strategies, and topics about managing online teaching every week for two continuous years.

There are over 2,000,000 podcasts out there with over 48 million episodes, and those numbers keep growing. And although there are millions out there, many of these have only a handful of episodes and then they dropped. Fewer than 20% of podcasts that start up reach one year of continuous episodes.

Next week’s episode launches our third year, and I invite you to keep listening to strengthen your online teaching technique and help rekindle your sense of purpose in what you do every day for your students.

We have established a strong history and have exciting plans for the year ahead. Episode 105 will feature Dr. Jan Spencer, the Department Chair at American Public University, and Dr. David Ferreira, Provost at Charter Oak State College and part-time faculty at American Public University in leadership and student affairs. The episode will focus on helping students navigate their online education journey, and it’s one you won’t want to miss!

Education is one of the most powerful forces in the world. By seeking education, we begin to dream again. We dream about who we are, and who we can become. What we can do, and what we might be able to achieve that we previously never imagined possible. And when we teach, not only do we help others learn and grow, but we also help them make their dreams come true.

Pursuing an education online can be a scary proposition for students. After all, when we sit in a live class, on a college campus, with a live teacher and classmates all around, this almost automatically puts us into a mental space to focus on learning.

Yet online, our students might doubt their own abilities to focus, to stay on task with the online materials, and to keep working without all of those people in the same room. This is one of the many reasons we support you and your teaching through the Online Teaching Lounge podcast, and why I hope you will share this podcast with anyone you know who could benefit.

Statistics in a recent study suggest that the number one reason that people listen to podcasts is to learn something new. And giving you new tips, topics, and ideas is our goal here. That said, let’s move into this week’s topic to help you get the new ideas you came for.

About Burnout

The Online Teaching Lounge podcast celebrates you, the educator, in this episode. As we close our second year of connecting with you, we realize that you work hard. And teaching online, at times you might feel isolated or alone. Technologies used in online education are marvelous, but they also invite us to keep trying new things, exploring, and making the class and our approaches better. This never-ending quest for excellence can become overwhelming. So many things might be part of that path to burnout as an online educator.

But how do you know whether you’re just getting a little stagnant and need new ideas, and whether you might have burnout?

Dr. Jacinta Jimenez describes three components of burnout. These include exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy.

Exhaustion means that you might feel very intense emotional, physical, or cognitive fatigue, and maybe a combination of all three. It’s a lingering state of being tired, and it’s persistent. One of the ways you can know whether you’re exhausted in these ways is that after you get a really good night of sleep or take some relaxing time off, you don’t feel refreshed or replenished. And if you notice this trend over and over, that’s an even better gauge.

Cynicism is an attitude of suspicion where you believe the future is bleak and that other people are acting only out of self-interest. An example of cynicism is when you always think the worst and have a hard time seeing the good in anyone. When you experience cynicism, you have low levels of job engagement. You start to feel detached. And, you are easily annoyed by the people you work with.

And inefficacy is where you’re being unproductive. You are working harder, but you’re producing less. You’re not getting the results you might have gotten in the past. You even start to feel incompetent, like you can’t keep up or be successful. Self-efficacy is an important part of confidence and it means that you can make things happen, and you know you can. Your efforts lead to results. In contrast, inefficacy is the state in which you believe that no amount of effort you put in will get you the results you’re trying to achieve. You don’t see that you have an impact or make a difference.

Although there are these three common components come together to suggest burnout, everyone experiences them in unique ways. For example, you might find yourself having a lot of exhaustion, where someone else might have a lot more cynicism.

Regardless of which aspect seems to weigh heaviest for you, burnout is serious and can impact your health, your happiness, your relationships, and your job. When you’re teaching online, you might find that getting the work done takes longer and longer. Mental clarity and sharpness are difficult to harness when reading through students’ comments and considering how to respond.

Either the online work begins to take up more of your free time, nights, and weekends, and keeps you from enjoying your personal life, or it’s increasingly challenging to get yourself to sit down to being at the work at all. You might even begin to think your students are not learning or getting anything out of what you’re trying to teach them, missing signs of their efforts altogether.

If you believe that you might be experiencing burnout in your work, this doesn’t mean that you lack coping skills or are just bad at taking care of yourself. And it doesn’t mean you’re weak. There are many combined forces that lead to burnout, some in the workplace, some in our own expectations for ourselves, and some in areas that are more difficult to pin down. If you’re experiencing burnout, Dr. Jacinta Jimenez’s five core pulse practices can support you in working through it and recovering.

The five core practices are behavioral, cognitive, physical, social, and emotional. These practices take consistent, intentional effort. And in the book “The Burnout Fix” I’ve referenced for this podcast episode, you’ll find exercises you can read, work through, and integrate into your life over time.

Getting through burnout is not something that can be done quickly or easily. But the positive of it all is that you can find real, research-based, and solid strategies to use that will help you out of burnout and they will also increase your resilience for future challenges and tough times ahead.

There are two of the five core practices I’d like to highlight today because we’ve explored them many times already in the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. The first is to “undo untidy thinking,” which means that you’re going to intentionally teach your brain to let go of thinking patterns that don’t help you.

Believe it or not, there are many different kinds of thinking patterns that hurt us. And some of these are common in work groups and families, and we accept that they are true or just the way things are. One of these is “all or nothing thinking.” This would be something like when you’re teaching a class that is going really well, and one student complains. Whatever the reason for the complaint, believing that one student’s complaint ruined the entire teaching experience or makes you a bad teacher, regardless of the positive experience you’re having with all of the other students, this is all or nothing thinking.

It’s often called a cognitive distortion, because it’s not based on fact or truth. Could one complaining student actually be a sign that you’re a bad teacher? Perhaps. But it doesn’t mean that you are suddenly a bad teacher when everything else is going so well. And you would need much more evidence and insight to determine the quality of your teaching beside just one student’s opinion.

Another core practice Dr. Jimenez recommends in her book is to evaluate your effort. This means that you think about your emotional wellbeing and your energy levels. And, you take charge of your time and priorities. In this area, you might have to settle for “B-minus” level work on some things you’re responsible to complete, and you might even need to leave some things unfinished. Perhaps you will have to say no.

Evaluating your effort might feel difficult because many of us believe that we are our work. Or in other words, our work is a reflection of who we are. So, if we’re putting in too much time and not getting the results we want, or putting in too much effort for the smaller things that should take much less, it seems like our fault or a flaw in our character. But that really isn’t true.

One way to begin making changes in effort is to notice where you have high energy, and what drains your energy. And then, you can also think about different times of day in which you have naturally higher and lower energy. With this awareness, you are in a position to begin planning the draining tasks you must do for the higher energy parts of your day, when you are more able to tackle them better. And those things that refuel you or lift your energy can be planned in times where your energy levels might naturally be lower. Focusing on your energy levels and the required effort of your work and life tasks helps you start setting limits and boundaries to avoid overwhelm.

Intentionally setting limits on the time something will take or the effort you can give it helps get things into their proper places again, and it gives you the space to establish priorities.  And if we work with our priorities in mind day in and day out, and re-evaluate those priorities regularly, we can guard ourselves against becoming overwhelmed in the future as we move out of burnout.

Another area of evaluating your effort has to do with your emotional health. Emotions are data that speak to us, and yet many adults don’t recognize what they are feeling or have words to describe it. And many are uncomfortable experiencing these emotions.

Just like strengthening muscles, learning to identify what you’re feeling, reason about what it means for you, and what you’ll do with it, gives you power over your emotional self and builds emotional strength. As you focus on doing this and on managing your energy as well, you will regain a sense of purpose in what you’re doing and begin to feel a sense of satisfaction in your work again.

As we close our second year of the Online Teaching Lounge with today’s focus on identifying burnout and trying some ideas that will help reduce burnout and lead to thriving again, I want to thank you for the work you do each day teaching others online.

As I mentioned earlier in this episode, this can at times feel like isolating and challenging work. But through the power of education, we help people grow and learn, and we even help them make their dreams come true. In your own work to build new habits that reduce burnout and bring you back into alignment with your purpose and priorities, you too will begin to dream again and may even be able to keep moving forward serving many more students in the future, too. I wish you all the best in your online teaching this week, and in the year to come!

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.

#103 Podcast: Insight from Leading the Way in Online Higher Education

#103 Podcast: Insight from Leading the Way in Online Higher Education

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com. 

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education and
Dr. Jan SpencerDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education and
Dr. Kate Zatz, Acting President, American Public University

The pandemic accelerated the prevalence of online higher education. While offering online education was a new endeavor for many institutions of higher learning, American Public University has been delivering online, or distance, education for 30 years. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen and Dr. Jan Spencer talk to Dr. Kate Zatz, who served as a university board member for 17 years before becoming Acting President in 2021. Hear insight about navigating rapid growth, the challenges of continuous improvements to technological systems and processes, and the work being done to connect and assist students in an online environment.

Listen to the Episode:

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Read the Transcript:

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

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. This is Bethanie Hansen, and I am so excited to be with you today. We have two special guests, Dr. Jan Spencer and Dr. Kate Zatz. We have just celebrated our hundredth episode on the Online Teaching Lounge, so we’re very excited that we’ve been running this podcast for almost two straight years, helping online educators and other professionals in online education understand students, meet their needs, and really get things going. So I’m going to pass it to you, Dr. Spencer, and, Jan, can you just give us a little bit of an introduction to you, and then go ahead and introduce our guest?

Dr. Jan Spencer: Yes. Thank you so much, Bethanie. It’s a privilege to be here. I serve as the Department Chair for Educational Leadership. That’s in the K-12 arena. And then also I have two programs in higher education, one in student affairs and the other one in higher education administration.

And when I first began this role, I was in a meeting with Dr. Kate Zatz, and found out that she has degrees in these areas. And I thought that would be perfect to ask her to come on and interview her about higher education, and her understanding and her wisdom in terms of student affairs and higher education administration. Since she’s now the President of our university, what a privilege it is that she immediately said, “Yes, I would love to do it.” And so I want to just ask her to introduce herself, and so glad to have you here, Dr. Zatz.

Dr. Kate Zatz: Thank you so much for inviting me, Dr. Spencer. Is it okay if I call you Jan? You can call me Kate.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Call me Jan, I’ll call you Kate. Great.

Dr. Kate Zatz: It’s a deal. I’ve been of American Public University since November 4th, 2021. I’m currently the acting president, but prior to that, I served on the board for the last 17 years. And when I came onto the board of APUS, I was a Dean of Students at the College of Aeronautics at LaGuardia Airport. And that was right after I had finished my doctorate at Columbia University. I hold an EDD in Higher Education Administration, a Master’s degree in Education Administration, and a Master’s in Student Personnel Administration from Teachers College.

Teachers College was the first institution to actually have a degree in Student Personnel Administration, started by Sarah Sturdivant in 1921. It was out of the need for integrating what happens inside a classroom with what happened outside of the classroom, and the need for developing a cadre of people who could help run institutions and focus on student personnel in areas of student activities, deans’ offices, international students, career services, student activities, the whole plethora of what happens in a higher education institution. So, I’m one of those lucky people who figured out very young in life what I wanted to do, which was basically go to college, figure out how to be paid to be there, and never have to leave.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Kate, you are a treasure to all of us here, and you’re delightful to speak with. One of the things that I added to our questions from our original consideration of this was getting your perspective, since you have a longevity of experience with the university. Now you’re the President. That’s a different place of observation of what’s going on. What do you see differently now that you’re the President?

Dr. Kate Zatz: I’m having the time of my life. I always thought when Wally Boston was doing this, it had to be the best job on the planet. And apparently, I was right. It is an amazing experience being the President. We have just so many things in the hopper about moving the institution forward.

The big difference, I think, between being the board chair of the last 17 years—I’ve spent at least 12 years being the Chair of the Board of American Public University, sitting with my colleagues as a board member, you think you know what’s going on, on the inside. You think that you’ve done your homework to advise the management and the administration about the best practices and the best things to do. But being on the inside, it’s really interesting when it comes to actually deploying, or implementing, or figuring out how to do that vision that you’ve heard, and the disjointed parts of it, but also the seamless points of it.

And the unifying fact is how mission-driven American Public University has been ever since I came on the board in 2004, serving those who serve, and how we go about every day trying to improve how we do that, that no matter where you sit, whether or not it’s the board or in the President’s chair, how we really try to focus on the student experience and making it better all the time. And how we go about trying to make it a better institution, serving more students, serving students better, making education affordable, keeping it affordable, and all the time, working on the quality of what we’re providing, that we’re pretty much in sync.

The big differences for me between being on the board and being the President are that I have made a commitment to myself to be a President in residence. It may sound really old school in considering that the pandemic’s going on, but I’m actually sitting in 111 West Congress Street here in Charles Town, West Virginia, where it has been the hub of who we are and what we do for the last 20-some years. We had moved out of here for a while, but we’re back in the building, and it’s really a hub of activity right now. Dr. Smith is downstairs, one flight away from me. Dr. Cottam is in this building. Accreditation is in this building. And the idea that we’re here and we’re able to just walk up and down the stairs to talk to each other about what we’re focusing on and how we’re going to serve students, it’s really a pretty amazing place.

Dr. Jan Spencer: When I got the gist some time ago that you spend a lot of time there in your office, I was very impressed by that. It shows a depth of commitment, if you don’t mind me saying that. I like that. With regard to student affairs in higher education and higher education administration, during your tenure with this university, you have seen an enormous level of changes going on in the online space particularly.

It is during these last 17 years of your involvement that the university has grown very large and very influential in higher education. This is a changing world. Can you enlighten us a bit about what we should be aware of in the changes that are going on in this space?

Dr. Kate Zatz: When I became board chair in 2004, we had 7,000 students, and at that point we were still mailing out books every month. And here we are, and we’re close to a 100,000 students. And boy, have things changed. The one constant is change.

I can only reflect on how many different iterations of what we do, we’ve gone through. In terms of course development, for example, it’s a good thing that we’re on a three-year cycle for updating all our courses, because with technology changing as fast as it does, sometimes when you take a course and look at it once, it could be three years before you update it, things have really changed by then.

So what has changed? Years ago, back in 2004, when we introduced the Partnership at a Distance (PAD), there were some assumptions that we made about students and their ability to be self-sufficient and navigate the online universe on their own with very little support. And perhaps that was true for some students.

But it wasn’t too long after that, that we started in with realizing that there was a space related to student affairs where career development, and advising support, and the ability to talk to people who were in the field that a student was studying. So, very early on, by 2007, we had started the process of actually chartering student groups here at APU, which is, at that time, it was really pretty cutting edge.

That coupled with, somewhere around 2007, 2008, 2009, we started applying for and earning Sloan and Gromy awards for excellence in online education, which meant that for us, our learning outcomes of how we were able to verify what we were teaching was what people were learning, and then taking the information on how to improve courses and reflecting that into the curriculum and improving.

So we went through a whole series of that, while at the same time working toward our initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission. It was pretty monumental when we hit that milestone.

And then, as time has gone on, there is no doubt about it that we continue to be a leader in student learning outcomes, program outcomes. One of the things that is just truly amazing to me is how library services and information has changed to the point that obviously we no longer send books out to people. What we do is that we subscribe and make available some of the best online reference platforms there are, period, point blank. The fact that regardless of where you are in any one of the 24 time zones, that 24 hours a day, you can do things like log into the library and get help with something that you’re studying. So the changes have been ever increasing.

And for the future, what I see happening is, as we were a pioneer in online learning, oftentimes when we would put up a system, it would be not necessarily a smooth transition to the next part. For example, if you applied, how your application got transitioned to financial aid, or how we took information about you and your interests, and lined you up with the right curriculum. Some of these processes would take longer than we would wish. So automation has been one of the hallmarks of one of those things that we continue to work on. Where we’ve been able to automate something, we’ve pretty much done it.

And where I see still some benefits for students in the future are being able to automate things that are currently manually done on their behalf, where some of those big questions about when one is applying to come to APU, about if you decide you want to take a program or you want to study something, you still have to figure out how you’re going to pay for it, and how many credits you’re going to be able to transfer here.

So, some of these things, the accuracy of how that happens, but also the speed by which we’re able to give a student the answer of how many credits we’re going to take, and how much it’s going to cost, and how much aid they’re going to get, are still critical issues that we can always continuously improve upon. And that’s one of the really cool things about this place is that we learn from doing, and then we take the information, and we turn around and improve the processes. And it’s one of the things that I’m really very proud of that we do that because we’re always striving to be better.

Dr. Jan Spencer: That’s great, Kate. Thank you so much for that. As you’re speaking and sharing about some of the changes that are happening, one word that came to me is the word “challenge.” Because I am overseeing the higher education administration program and student affairs, there are some left curves that may be up ahead for somebody who’s going to be entering that field.

What are some of the challenges that we may encounter in working and preparing students for a degree in higher education that we may not be aware of even yet in terms of it being right in front of us? Help me understand some of the challenges that you now see as the President.

Dr. Kate Zatz: So, student affairs, I think has always been a passion, and it is an area that causes people to think holistically about students. And I think one of the challenges for people going into this field is, as COVID has certainly impacted us, we’ve been teaching online, we’ve been a remote institution for the last 30 years.

What has not caught up is how we educate people to be in student services and student affairs. In some ways, it’s been a field without an epistemology. The closest you can find perhaps is Chickering or some of the work of Knefelkamp. And those issues of student development theory and how they apply in an online environment, they’re not always as easy to see.

And what happens is, I think that one of the things that we’ve lost is our connection to students. We have to really work at it. And what I see as a challenge is people who go into the field not realizing that a lot of the work that they’re going to end up doing is online. It’s going to be remote. It’s going to be individualized, and it may not be on a traditional campus.

And what I’m really seeing is traditional campuses, nonprofits who have decided to go online, who don’t have the staff support infrastructure to do a really good job teaching online. What they’re trying to do is, they try to poach people who know what they’re doing.

So here at APUS, one of my challenges has been working on retaining our very creative, dedicated staff and student advisement, for example, financial aid, admissions, making sure that we are at least where other institutions are in the market in terms of pay.

But, we have a different quality of employee because many of them not only understand the theory and the practice, but have taken the time to learn how to do that in an online environment, which is not an easy thing to do. So learning how to navigate online for the current student affairs professional or the student in student affairs, coupled with the challenges of doing this online, I think, are part of what faces us.

Dr. Jan Spencer: I have in our programs sought to establish things like a Student Union where students would come together every month. We encourage mentorship. It’s hard, though, to get students to buy into that. Even though our professors are willing, sometimes it’s difficult for the student who is signed up to have a remote education because they basically don’t want to deal with people so much. Can you help me with that?

Dr. Kate Zatz: Some of the fun that I’ve been having is I’ve showed up at the orientation for doctoral students, but we have some really active groups on different platforms like Quill and Scroll, Saber and Scroll, that I’ve been invited to. There are so many different student groups that are meeting. And I don’t know how to get this across to students that are studying student affairs, but how you go about networking with each other. There’s some positions I’m looking for to fill here at APU, and I’ve been able to use my network to go, “Hey, we’re hiring here. This is what I’m looking for. Is there anybody you can nominate?”

And the thing is, is that’s done because I’ve got a very large network of people who have worked in student affairs. And that, along with doing things like getting involved in the National Association for Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) where there’s different groups within NASPA that focus on different topic areas and different service areas within the field, it’s really worth somebody’s while if they’re new to the field or are looking to be promoted.

There’s only so many years you want to spend at an entry-level position, but there are opportunities to move your career forward by getting involved with the professional organizations that are out there that are specifically related to student affairs administration, and it’s really worth one’s while.

For years, I was a vice president for student affairs and would attend NASPA as a chief student affairs officer and as a senior student affairs officer, and those networks are invaluable to me now.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you so very much. I’m going to throw this back over to Bethanie for some follow-up questions before we move ahead.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thank you, Jan. Kate, I really appreciate all of the expertise you’ve been sharing, and especially some background about how the university has developed over time, and some of the things that have changed, and some of the things that may need to still change in the field of student affairs.

I’m thinking myself a little bit about the part-time faculty who teach with us. I’ve just heard a lot from them that they learned how to teach online by teaching at APU. And when the pandemic came along and they needed to, at their full-time jobs, help others, they had the skills, they had some things they could share.

And we have listeners all over the world that listen to this podcast. Many of them are listening to it to get some of those ideas. If you had some suggestions for things that online professionals, whether they’re the faculty members or student affairs professionals could do to just step it up and really provide good quality online help to those that they teach and work with, what would you recommend as some real tips?

Dr. Kate Zatz: When one is looking at teaching part-time online, before you sign off on that contract, there’s a couple things that you’re going to want to look at, like, for example, who owns your content? Pretty simple. How much of your course do you personally need to put together? Is there a requirement that you know how to write HTML? Or is that something that the institution that’s hiring you is going to do?

Because these days, when a course goes live online, there’s some expectations that are built into how that course is going to operate. Is it compliant with ADA? Does it meet the student learning outcomes for a particular course program? And how does it fit into the overall curriculum for a degree?

So if somebody is just going to pass off a fully developed course to you, before you sign off on it, make sure that those bells and whistles are already in place so that you’re not doing it yourself. Take a look at what you’re getting in terms of remuneration, or what you’re contributing that is original to that.

Also, the whole phenomenon of learning about open resources that can be used in coursework. To what extent do you need to become an expert on what’s out there that you can put into your course as you’re doing that? One would hope that there is support for looking at those kinds of things.

So, it’s one thing to get your course up and running, but when you get to the end of the first week, and you certainly have students that have not logged in, or you see that people are struggling, those kinds of interventions that you can do as a faculty member by reaching out, even before you get there, some of the best practices go like this. We’re going to get to the point at APU where a student can log into a course before the course starts. I think it’s really important, and it’s one of the better practices to be able to log in and see what is on that syllabi, what the due dates are, what the breadth and depth of the expectations are for a student.

Later into 2022, I’m really hoping that that goes live, because what I’ve found is that if a student is able to plan their life around due dates, and understands what the expectations are for them in that particular course, they’re more likely to enroll and stay enrolled. Because what happens is, is that it’s not a Sunday when they’re figuring out what it is that they’re going to have to do. So let’s say you’re a faculty member, and your course, before it goes live, a student looks at it.

Well, I would hope that a faculty member does some outreach, acknowledges the students in their class, and does things like sends an email out to the class, or figures out different ways to interact with them before the class even starts. And then after the class starts, are those students participating in the way that you would want them to? Those kinds of things that help push people along, keep them engaged, go directly to retention and persistence in what students end up doing. And it’s really important that that gets done.

So, I know that for American Public University, there are nearly 2,000 people who teach for us part-time, are folks that are expert in their field, they’re practitioners. And they’re some of the most interesting people there are because we could never replicate that kind of knowledge and direct application of what they’re doing out in the field if we tried to get them all to come to Charles Town. But what we can do is value what they’re doing for our students all over the world, because we have faculty members and students in all 24 time zones, and it’s really pretty cool.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Agree. I agree completely. And I appreciated you mentioning some of those strategies that really help engage students, like sending the message before the class begins. We have an episode about welcome messages that I just want to refer our listeners to in case someone wants a few tips about how to do that, what that could look like. And in the transcript from this podcast, there will be a link that listeners can click on just to check out that episode.

I love also the variety of faculty that you just mentioned. We do have a lot of experts in many fields that you wouldn’t find anywhere else. Thanks, Kate. I’m going to pass it back to you, Jan, and any other questions you have.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you, Bethanie. And two questions I was going to ask you next, you’ve really already referred to, and that’s the importance of retention, keeping students on track, innovations to assist the university to help students to get an edge. And I think that the whole idea of classroom access is a part of that.

My other question really has to do with the value of an education that focuses on higher education administration. You’re an expert in that. How can I encourage our students to have a high value of expectation about what it can create for them? We are in an online environment. I want to presume that online education is proliferating in the world. What’s the value we can give to higher education leadership in today’s marketplace?

Dr. Kate Zatz: That’s a really good question. I think the sky is the limit for people who are seeking to have a career in higher education right now. And the reason why is because everything is up in the air. We’re a really solid institution. We know what we’re doing. But I had been doing consulting work off and on and where small institutions that are tuition driven, are really struggling, and will continue to struggle because they can’t afford the infrastructure to go online. And students aren’t necessarily gravitating toward that kind of an education.

What I see is almost unlimited opportunity in the field of higher ed if you figure out things like the value of continuous improvement, organizational behavior, doing things like learning how to do coaching. And if you keep current in practice, one’s career could go pretty doggone far.

Dr. Jan Spencer: That is great. One last question I have for you, Kate, and it’s really off the script here of the things I wanted to ask you. But it has everything to do with what we as a world and a nation have gone through in the last couple of years. And as a university, we haven’t had public graduations for two years; twice we’ve had to miss. Now this coming summer, we plan to have a public graduation. You’ll be the President.

What are you thinking about as you look forward to that time when we’re all going to come together for the first time, many of us who work, like me, who work remotely, the first time in nearly three years we’ve been together. What’s your level of expectation for that? What’s going to be happening in you as we build up to that time?

Dr. Kate Zatz: There is no doubt about it in my life, the commencement day at APU is my favorite day of the year. I’ve only missed, I think, one since 2004. So, frankly, I’ve been working on the strength in my right hand so that I can shake hands. And I’d like to be funny and say I’ve already started signing off on diplomas because there’s over 30,000 of them.

I am so looking forward to seeing people in person, I can’t tell you. There is a list of people that I need to get some hugs from, and a list of people I need to give hugs to. There are people who have been working so hard here at APU. Halfway through this last year, we did a major switch around about fixing some things that were going on in enrollment and in admissions, and people worked double time to do a roll out of a new customer relation management system. And people here at APU have been working so hard that coming together and celebrating at the National Harbor, I am so looking forward to it. I can’t tell you. I hope you’re there.

Dr. Jan Spencer: I plan to be there. Kate, it is a delight to have you as our guest. Before we conclude this session. Is there anything else you can give us in terms of insights, or just what you’re feeling about, or things that you know we need to be thinking about as your team?

Dr. Kate Zatz: We need to keep up the good work that we’re doing. We really do. And we need to make sure that people have the support that they need to work with their students and get done what they need to get done. I’m just really honored and grateful to be here. And like I said, being the President of American Public University is the best job on the planet. It just is. And we just need to keep on serving those who serve the best we can.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you Dr. Zatz. Bethanie?

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: I echo that. Thank you, Dr. Zatz, for being here. And for our listeners today, we’ve been privileged to hear from Dr. Kate Zatz, current President at American Public University, and Dr. Jan Spencer, a Department Chair in the School of Arts, Education, and Humanities.

Thank you both for being here, and thank you to our listeners for tuning in today. We wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week.

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

#99: Student Affairs in Online Education: Creating Opportunities for Interaction

#99: Student Affairs in Online Education: Creating Opportunities for Interaction

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education and
Dr. Jan SpencerDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education and
Dr. Scott Kalicki, Faculty Member, American Public University

Providing guidance and assistance to students during their online academic journey is very different than in traditional, on-ground educational experiences. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen is joined by Dr. Jan Spencer and Dr. Scott Kalicki to discuss student affairs in online education. Learn why it’s so important for faculty to reach out to students and create more opportunities for interaction so there’s a dynamic and flexible educational experience. Also learn the value of mentorship, the importance of reflection, and more.

Listen to the Episode:

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 podcast. I’m so excited about this episode. This is episode number 99. Can you believe it? We’ve been sharing online teaching tips, strategies and ideas with you for 99 episodes. So this is a special day, we have a couple of guests with us. I have Dr. Jan Spencer from American Public University. I know you’ve met him a couple of times in our podcasts. I’m going to let Jan introduce our guest, Dr. Scott Kalicki. Go ahead, Jan.

[Podcast: Helping Educational Leaders Build Skills in Administration, Student Affairs, and Online Education]

Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you so very much, Bethanie. It is a pleasure and a great treat to be on the podcast with you, and today especially with Dr. Scott Kalicki, who is one of our professors in the higher education area, particularly as it has to do with student affairs.

When we brought Scott on, when he came to our university a couple years ago, it was as a student affairs professional, but because of his higher education experience, he teaches also higher education administration and one of the reasons for that is, when he retired, it was from being a community college president. So I want to introduce my colleague, Dr. Scott Kalicki. Scott, tell us about yourself and some other facts that we would like to know that would help us get to know you.

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Great, Jan, it’s nice to be here with you and Bethanie. I’ve had the privilege of being a career higher educational professional, literally starting my career as I left the University of Hartford and never looked back, trying to be a jack of all trades, probably a master of none, but enjoying a long career path in higher education as an administrator. Along the way, I was able to begin to teach. I learned about American Public University and you were kind enough to bring me on board as a graduate faculty member.

Dr. Jan Spencer: That has been a real treat to have you because of your experience. One of the things I know about you is that when you retired from higher education in a full-time role, it was as a community college president. Please tell us a little bit about your trajectory to that role and the significance it applies to you in working with students today.

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Sure, Jan. I was fortunate enough to have a number of good mentors as I began my career. I actually began my career as a residence hall director. I was challenged to learn about as much as I could in the profession, which meant learning about housing, student activities, wellness, public safety, athletics, everything. And I simply took a career path that allowed me to move from being an assistant dean to an associate dean to a vice president along the way, as I mentioned, learning about a number of the different offices in the division of student affairs.

When I became the chief student affairs officer as a dean of students and then chief student affairs officer later with the title of vice president, I was challenged to not stop there, but given my well-rounded background to lead an institution, and an opportunity presented itself in New Hampshire, and I became interim president. The Community College had a failed search, they asked me to step in and be an interim. It was so much fun for me and I guess good enough for them that they invited me to stay as the full-time president and I did that for six years.

Dr. Jan Spencer: That is great. That brings a lot of different kinds of circumstances of experience to our students who you teach. Talk to us a little bit about the difference between working with students in an on-ground circumstance and now that you work online. What is different about student affairs that you can identify as being significant to what you’re up to now?

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Sure. When we’re on a traditional campus, we always play with the model that says there are very few hours in the context of an entire week that a student is in the classroom. When you do the subtraction, we say about 80 hours a week a student is not in class, not sleeping, not eating, which means it’s the student services staff that are around supporting a student that has that level of contact to have interaction. On a traditional campus, we see students all the time, whether it be in a dining center, an athletic field, a student center, whatever.

The challenge on the online environment is, we see a student and interact. When they’re in class, we have to be much more intentional finding opportunities that we can connect with the student because literally they’re not walking by or we’re not in the same physical space.

So we need to create virtual opportunities that we can interact with the students in the classroom, but more importantly, outside of the classroom, where it’s oftentimes more comfortable to have casual conversations, perhaps more intimate conversations in terms of the coursework, someone’s career, putting together the dynamics of a career and a personal life.

Dr. Jan Spencer: It sounds to me from what you’re saying that online development of relationships with students, you use the word intentional, it takes some thought and forethought about doing that. I know one of the things that we always want to see take place is a development of those relationships and even establish a culture, a graduate kind of a culture.

Can you speak more to this issue of moving from face to face to an online space and what you personally have done to make that happen at a higher degree than simply students showing up online, completing their work, and then disappearing? What specifically would you recommend and how are you dealing with that?

Dr. Scott Kalicki: I think, Jan, one of the things that is key, I should say, to making sure that students want to seize intentional opportunities is making sure that we are truly telling students that we want to be engaged with them, that there is no, as the cliché goes, no dumb question except for the one not asked.

So early on in the classroom setting, and I know that you often emphasize this with reminders to us, to reach out to the students, to be present, to invite them to ask questions, to go beyond the conversation that may be taking place on a given topic in a given week.

I think the more presence we have, the more, dare I say, friendly and approachable demeanor that we establish in the classroom, the more it’s inviting for a student to want to get in conversations a little bit beyond the general conversation, to gain and take advantage of opportunities that the learning platform allows us.

There’s a student lounge, to encourage students to chat in the student lounge, to chat offline in other opportunities, whether it be clubs or organizations that are virtually set up. Or, I know that APU has mentorship opportunities and that’s another great way for students to engage with very talented faculty members beyond the classroom, sometimes better as a fit doing it one on one than in a classroom setting.

Dr. Jan Spencer: One of the things that your experience gives to me is a sense about a whole journey that online education has been on because you’ve been involved with online education for a period of time, a good period of time now, and before that it was on-ground education. So now you have seen the change-over from only on-ground to now online as well. What significant changes are you still seeing in this current emphasis on online education that you, as a professor, you as an administrator, you as a faculty member, have to deal with to make things work?

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Well, I think one of the obvious things Jan is when you’re in student affairs, we know on a traditional campus that though many offices operate 9 to 5, student affairs simply does not work that way, that we need to be available for students in non-traditional times and non-traditional locations. I think part of that challenge also exists in the online environment. Many of the online environments are asynchronous so we have to make sure that we are available and present at times when students are looking to have more immediate feedback.

We need to be conscious of logging in and being in the classroom so the responses are a little bit more timely when a student is in fact engaged in the learning platform. It’s a much more dynamic experience if we are also present at that same time. So, I think as an online instructor, we need to think about not getting ourselves stuck in a set schedule, if at all possible, to be around at times that the students are more likely to be locked in, focusing on the class or focusing on the topic or have that available time to chat more close to I’ll call it real-time or live time.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you very much. I want to make sure that we give our hostess an opportunity to speak into this process because in working with Bethanie, she has got a very active part in all of what we’re doing at APU. So I want to give it over to you, Bethanie.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thank you, Jan. Scott, you were talking about something just near and dear to my heart, which is this whole responsiveness idea and not being just scripted about that. One of the things I have coached online faculty about in the past is to figure out how to be responsive and yet not exhaust themselves. If a person is responding to their messages all the time, then they’re never away from the online classroom. How do you think someone could balance that and still really meet the students’ needs?

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Sure. In any profession, but certainly higher education, in student affairs, we’re never off. We’re always on because we’re trying to provide support services for students. We’re trying to help them develop as young adults or maturing adults. I think we need to model the way for them, that they’ve got to have a good professional balance, a good personal balance. To your point, for them to be on all the time means that they’re not taking the personal time to reflect, to process the material, to let it sink in a little bit.

That often requires stepping away from the course or stepping away from the learning platform, stepping away from the students. But, at the same time, as you said, it’s a balance. I don’t want you to simply log in for your one hour a day or an hour and a half a day. You’re not taking advantage of all the opportunities to engage with your fellow students, as well as with the instructor.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wonderful thoughts. Thank you, Scott. Varying that, as you mentioned, seems like it would keep your job fresh, too. So you don’t feel like you always have to be on at the same time, could kind of change it up. I’m curious, what kind of perspective did you gain from being a university president that would really give insight to the daily faculty experience?

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Probably the best thing that I learned coming up and finding mentors or them finding me was to take the approach that to be an effective leader, one has to remember what it was like to be the subordinate. To be an effective teacher, one must always be willing to be the student.

So as I was a community college president or a CEO, there was a lot that I thought I knew, but there was an awful lot that I didn’t know. And it needed to really be a learning experience for me that though I could offer a lot as an administrator with a lot of experience and as a leader, I needed to be a good student and I needed to listen. I needed to have an open mind.

I think as we go into the classroom, there’s a new generation of higher education professionals coming in with new perspectives that we haven’t experienced. It’s important for us to listen to those experiences, listen to those perspectives and shape what we know, given our experience and our knowledge with that, and to make it a good, healthy experience for the students, and at the same time, realize that higher education continues to evolve because of the students coming in and because of the world around us. We only need to look at the last two years to see how we’ve needed to change the way that we’ve approached higher education simply because of a pandemic.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wow. Truer words were never said. Thank you so much, Scott. Jan, do you have a few more questions for our guest?

Dr. Jan Spencer: Yes. I have talked with Scott in meetings and personally about student affairs and the role of it in an online environment. Scott, you’ve gone to a good distance of describing some of the differences there. I want to talk about value because even though the online student affairs approach is more flexible in terms of time management and input into students’ lives, at the on-ground space where you’re like 9 to 5, or other hours similar to that, there still could be perceived a greater intensity of help.

Here at APU, we have student services, we have mentorship that we’re developing, different kinds of approaches, but it’s not specifically one kind of student affairs. So I ask you, what is the value of getting a student affairs degree in today’s market?

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Sure. Well, first thing, Jan, as we know, the world is getting more complex for students. It’s not getting easier. It’s getting more complex. Student services does two important things. We provide the support services for students to excel in the classroom, services, whether it be career services, advising, creating a supportive, safe environment for a student to study, to have access to offices and personnel on a given campus. We’re also educators. As I call it, we have more opportunities, I said before, 80 hours a week to capture an educational moment with our students.

So student affairs personnel, because of all the opportunities for interaction, really have more than a faculty member in the classroom to be educators because we have moments that others do not. So for me, that’s the real value added. If you believe in higher education and want to have an impact on those individuals trying to develop their careers and hopefully careers in higher education or student affairs, we’ve got more of those opportunities than anyone else.

The other thing that student affairs really does is we really have an opportunity to build a broad skillset. We’re advisors, we’re counselors, we’re budget managers, we’re personnel managers. There are so many things that we do that prepare us to move in and out of different departments, different areas that really allow us to go into any number of trajectories. If I look back on my career and why I was able to move up the ladder, hopefully successfully, it was because I was able to get involved in so many different things, I was not limited to just being an academic advisor or I wasn’t limited to just being a counselor.

There were so many things that I could do because they were available in the division of student affairs, through committee work, through working with colleagues, through connecting with individuals who could be mentors for us to simply describe different roles and different functions in student affairs.

So, I think that’s really the value-added that there’s truly an opportunity to be an educator and you get such a great depth of skill development that it really allows you to go into so many different directions in higher education, but again, transferable skills outside of education.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Scott, I really appreciate your responsiveness to these questions. I want to ask you for a summary answer and I’m going to throw kind of a curve ball at you just a little bit. You teach in student affairs here at APU and so you are developing these student affairs professionals in the classroom.

Given the fact that we are wanting to raise up people who understand student affairs and apply it in any kind of a context, you are encountering people who are already interested in being a resource for others, already interested, in most cases, of helping other students through the process.

So how do you keep students on track if you see there’s a variance taking place? What is it you do to reinforce the values of student affairs, the importance of student affairs, to keep students going forward, to keep them on track, help them achieve the goal of completing your class in an effective and successful way?

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Boy, that’s a good question, Jan. Well, the first thing is to make sure that we’re engaging the students, we’re making the process an exciting one, that they’re eager to learn, they want to stay engaged. They themselves see the value added because we’re treating them as a valued asset.

One of the things that I like about APU is that the faculty treat the students as though they are colleagues. Now, colleagues in the context that they bring to us, as graduate students, a rich background and rich experience and we want them to feel comfortable sharing their perspective, sharing what their interests are.

I think that does a lot to help motivate the student. I think in some ways, you’re suggesting and I think you’re right, that we need to be motivators and coaches to remind students about how important our work is, and to think back on who may have helped them, it could have been a family member, or it could have been a colleague, it could have been an earlier instructor that inspired them and kept them going, that, in fact, they have the opportunity to do the same and it is truly an honor and a privilege to work with students in that capacity.

So, I think we’ve got to pump them up and let them know that A, we value them as students, B, we value them as the next generation and C that we truly need them. I need somebody to stand on my shoulders and be the next person to build the profession and meet the needs of our students at a level greater than I ever did. So, I think as we talk about that, we get students excited to keep going.

[Podcast: Student Affairs: Teaching Skills in Mental Health and DEI]

At the same time, we’ve got to make sure that, as Bethanie was talking about, we walk the talk, so to speak, that there’s a time to be a student and to be engaged and at the same time they need to do it in a healthy way that they take good breaks, keep their enrollment continuous, I think that’s always important, but at the same time, find time to enjoy life, find time to enjoy their classmates, take time to go over and reflect on what’s going on and have that good healthy student work-family life balance. I think we’ve got to keep reminding folks about that because, as I said earlier, it’s a complex world and it gets out of balance when we get out of balance with it.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Scott, I love all that you have said so far, and especially this comment you just made about how it’s motivating for students to be seen, treated as equals and to have faculty who approach the experience as fellow learners. That’s a difficult mindset to adopt for some of us who teach.

Sometimes when you have a lot of experience or advanced degrees, it’s hard to remember that we’re all still learning, even if we’re at that terminal-degree space. I’m wondering, if you were to give someone a little piece of advice about how to stay in that ontological humility idea, where we’re never going to be an expert on everything, what would be a little bit of advice to kind of get back into that zone or begin living in that space?

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Again, for someone to be a successful leader, they need to be humble. Someone’s only a leader if they have followers. So they have to be humble and say, “What do I need to do to get you to give in essence the power that you possess to follow me?” I do that by remembering what it was like to be in your shoes, to be the person who had to take direction or to be so instructed, to be so guided.

If I can remember what it was like to be in those shoes, I’m going to be much more successful. I want to carry that over to what I had said earlier. I think to truly be a good teacher or instructor, we have to be open and committed to always being students, that all around us, there are opportunities to learn. As I said earlier, we can learn from our students if we are simply open-minded and if we demonstrate that we in fact are learning from them. It’s going to make the students feel more valued and it’s a reward to them and I think it’s a motivation.

So, remembering that I can be successful as an instructor if I am truly a lifetime student and so committed to being a lifetime student, that’s going to come across to my students that they’ll want to be the same and do the same and everyone will be a little bit more successful as a result.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Beautiful advice, Scott. Thank you so much. One other thing you’ve mentioned a couple of times throughout this interview that we’re having today, I’d like to just draw this out a little bit, because I personally believe highly in this idea and you’ve mentioned take time to reflect. You’ve said it a couple of times. I’m curious if there’s any helpful way to do that if someone does not have reflective practice or a habit of reflecting on what they’re doing? Where would one start?

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Well, that’s a good question. I can tell you, one of the things that I do in my classroom, “I post in my forum, what’s your weekly ‘aha moment,’ what’s something that jumped out at you in the material that we’re engaged with, whether it be a conversation or something that happened in your life that you can connect with what we’re talking about generally, in terms of the topic or about life in general?”

I think it’s important for us to say to students that it’s one thing—and I think this goes back to student affairs in terms of how we’re educators—there’s one thing to have that book knowledge or that online knowledge. It’s important that you let it sink in. You process it. You take that knowledge and try to integrate it into your life.

I think that’s what student affairs has the opportunity to do that you may be learning about some management principles or you may be learning about some budgeting principles or interpersonal dynamic principles. Give yourself opportunities to try what you’ve read, what you’ve learned, what you’ve heard in your work world, in your personal life, in your family life. One of the ways you simply do that is just hit the pause button and try to make the those connections.

All right, I heard Jan say this was really important. Let me think about how that may be useful to me in my world, or how would that apply to me in my world. So, it’s a challenge of telling and reminding students that you’ve got to find time to let the information percolate a little bit in your connection from theory to practice, or as we say, praxis, that you take the opportunity and the time to take the principles and to really apply them. Sometimes we do it in our mind. Sometimes we actually do it with our actions in work or in our actions with the family. But that’s a good challenge. I’m not sure that we emphasize that as much as we should.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: You might be right about that. Something that occurred to me when you made that suggestion about how to take time or begin reflecting more is that this is really something that fuels resilience for human beings, right? The world we’re living in today, there’s nothing more important than resilience, the ability to just pick up and keep going when things are hard. They may not feel like they’re going to get better in the future, but we have to have some way to keep going.

That idea of reflecting could involve something like deciding either what I gained from an experience or what I could learn from an experience, or if that experience had been specifically designed for me to learn something, what would that be, so I can try to figure that out and move on and not keep repeating that lesson over and over.

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Bethanie, if I could jump in, I think you’re making another good point in terms of the value of reflection. There are things that we go through. In the classroom we may have had a struggle understanding something, or we may have had an exchange.

Reflection also allows us to bring closure to something and then move on to the next thing. Maybe we’re building on top of it, or maybe we’re just saying, “Okay, that was a struggle for me. Or it was an experience that I’m not sure that I want to go through again. It’s time to let go of it.”

The way that I’m able to let go of it is processing it, putting in its good place, closing the lid on it and moving on. I think, given the challenges that we’ve been facing these last number of months, I think that’s equally of value to extract what we can out of it, but at the same time, it’s time to close it and move on. Don’t let it haunt us. Don’t keep, as I call it, pulling out that DVD and replaying it. You’re done with it. Move on.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Absolutely. I love that idea of “Don’t replay it.” Just kind of name it, think about it and close it off. Whether there’s a lesson there or not, if we can close the experience and just be done. Sometimes that’s also resilience. Beautifully said, Scott. Thank you. So, if you were going to leave our listeners today with some key points you’d really like to make sure that they have gotten from you and your experience and expertise, what would those be?

Dr. Scott Kalicki: Well, I have to give a plug for APU. The faculty members that I have met really are committed to the student and the student learning experience. I would encourage students not to hold back, to challenge, to question, to want to get in dialogue with their instructors as well as their classmates. There’s a great opportunity there. That’s one of the good things, I think we’re getting more comfortable with the online environment and that dynamic and taking advantage of it.

We’ve mentioned the term “mentorship” a couple of times. I think whether it be your instructor, or whether it be an administrator that you met, a student personnel, student affairs staff member, find people that you can make a connection with, someone who can advise you, who can be a confidant, someone you could bounce something off of, someone you could test an idea or simply ask for some guidance. I was originally a public administration major, and, unfortunately, I did my internship very late in my academic career.

I had individuals I didn’t know at the time that they were going to be mentors, that I could talk to, that actually steered me into a career that I knew nothing about called student affairs in higher education, I would’ve been a very dissatisfied public employee someplace working for a town or a county. So, I could speak firsthand the importance of recognizing people that we could use as mentors either for a period of time or for long periods of time in our life. So, those would be the two points that I would hope that I could share with students going forward or young professionals I should say going forward.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Fantastic. Thank you so much, Scott.

Dr. Scott Kalicki: My pleasure.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Jan, what about you? Any final comments for our listeners today?

Dr. Jan Spencer: Well, I guess my comment today would be Dr. Scott Kalicki represents the best in teaching and leading and influencing students and fellow faculty members, and me, too, in taking the right steps forward. I hope that anybody who’s listening to this will take to heart the wealth and the depth of expertise that Scott has offered us today.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wonderful. Well, thank you all for being here, Jan and Scott. We’ve been listening to Dr. Scott Kalicki and Dr. Jan Spencer talking about student affairs and a lot of topics to help all of our listeners in mentorship, reflection, reflective practice, online teaching, engagement and more. We thank you for being here, celebrating our 99th episode with us. We wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week.

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

#98: How is ‘The Great Resignation’ Affecting Online Education?

#98: How is ‘The Great Resignation’ Affecting Online Education?

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education

Employment trends changed dramatically during the pandemic, leading to “The Great Resignation” with large numbers of people quitting or changing jobs. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks about how the quitting contagion has affected online higher education. Learn three concepts that can help educators stay invigorated in their teaching, and also help retain students in the online classroom.

Listen to the Episode:

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

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. I’m happy to be with you today talking about online education, one of my favorite subjects. We’re going to address a little bit about “The Great Resignation.” This is a term that was coined to talk about how many people are quitting their jobs, or have been quitting their jobs in the period near the end of the year 2021.

Regardless of when you’re listening to this, it’s informative to think about trends in the economy, employment trends and how those things impact higher education or online education. The Great Resignation is just a title, right? What we’re really talking about is the trend of people quitting their jobs.

There’s an excellent graphic at a link in the transcript to this podcast. If you take a look, you can see that in fact over a period of months, the number of people that are unemployed or leaving their jobs did increase significantly. It’s a huge departure from trends of the past, and people sit around talking about this and ask, “Well, was it triggered by the pandemic? Was it going to happen anyway?”

There were all kinds of factors of course that we could talk about: New vaccine mandates, there was a candidate’s market in the job force, and also other considerations that led to people being dissatisfied with the status quo and wanting to make changes.

Some people quit their jobs and found other jobs, and it was just a shuffle and not necessarily a departure from the workforce. We also have other people who quit their jobs and started their own business, or started doing something online.

Whatever the trends are, we cannot ignore the fact that these also happen in education and in higher education. We want to know what the impact is to our students, but also long-term how this might impact us in the industry if we are education professionals.

Before we get into much of that, I do want to say that the statistics I’ve mentioned come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They began reporting the number of U.S. workers who quit their jobs in December of the year 2000, and they’ve been keeping track of it ever since. Well, the question on everyone’s mind is why is it happening and will it continue?

Differences in Employment Trends

An interesting thing about these trends is that it’s not in every industry across the board. In fact, some of the highest turnover or quitting that we noticed in the past few months according to the time of this podcast are in the sectors of accommodation and food services. These industries are such a relief to anyone during a pandemic where you might want to eat out or have some food delivered to break up the monotony of working from home if you’re in that situation.

When you consider that people may not want to work in those industries, because perhaps they too want to be at home, that’s really impacting the number of workers there are out there. Of course, we have healthcare, leisure and hospitality, professional and business services. We have a large number of people quitting in those industries that are leaving their jobs.

Now, what we want to know is are teachers quitting? Are they resigning or retiring early due to the pandemic or things happening? It appears that in some areas yes, and in some areas no. If you’re an educator, perhaps you can relate to this concept. Many people view education as a calling in life or a mission, and some of these other fields we also believe that about.

Depending on your sense of purpose in your job or your satisfaction in your job, you might feel more inclined to persevere and stay in a job that you’re not as happy with if you feel that you’re making a difference. But, on the other hand, you could also experience the influence of quitting contagion.

If there’s someone around you in a leadership role who has left and you really look to that person for guidance, direction, or an example, and other people around you start to leave your organization as well, pretty soon you feel like leaving. That quitting contagion is just what it sounds like, quitting is contagious. The more people start to leave, the more people start to leave.

As an educator and a life coach, I have coached many people who have stable jobs and have been in their industry for a long time, but they have asked how will I know if I should leave, too? One of the thoughts behind that question is: Will my organization be less and less valuable on my resume if I stay and more and more people leave? Will the quality of my organization go down and will I be sorry that I stayed? A person who shared those questions with me really got me thinking about the many facets of quitting contagion and The Great Resignation and all that’s happening around that.

Now, there are reasons for quitting and we call this churn. When people quit, we have to hire someone new, there’s a lot of turnover, but regardless of the reason, according to some recent research by industry education is the absolute lowest churn industry. State and local education had only a hire rate of 1.3% and a quit rate of 0.9% in September of 2001. That’s compared to the accommodation and food services industry where they hired at a rate of 8%, and we had a quit rate of 6.4%. That’s a huge difference.

Also down there in the very low churn industries, we have educational services. Educational services are a lot of the support staff and folks who are involved in education that are not directly the teachers in the classroom. Everyone else involved makes up educational services, and that group had a hire rate of 1.6% and a quit rate of only 1.7% in September of 2021.

So as you think about different industries and how The Great Resignation or quitting contagion are affecting them, know this, that these fields are not as heavily impacted by the churn, by the resignations, and by the quitting contagion that others may be experiencing.

But how does this impact our students? Online students can take their classes anytime, anywhere, but there are some things that help people stay committed.

In a previous recent episode, I talked about three areas that influence student retention. Today, I’m going to bring in three concepts that influence people staying in their jobs, and we’re going to sort of extrapolate some ideas from those three concepts and apply them to online higher education specifically.

As I mentioned, not every industry is experiencing as much churn and as much turnover in employment right now, at the time of this recording. We can learn a lot from the industries that are not experiencing that, and we can apply that to working with our students.

3 Ways to Help Retain Employees

Some lessons learned from those industries are that there are three elements that help retain employees or help retain people in organizations. Those three elements are: fun, meaning and belonging.

Remember, we want to think about these in terms of how they can apply to us, how they help us stay resilient in our jobs, but also how can we apply these to the students that we teach online?

Increasing the Amount of Fun

The first element of fun is how we do our work. It doesn’t make a lot of sense that we’re going to think about having fun all day long every day if we’re sitting in front of a computer, right? Not every class can be turned into a gamified classroom. But what could we do in our teaching online and in the routine of our work that really makes the way we work more fun?

Sometimes it comes through clarity or maybe the autonomy to create something or make our own decisions. When we give our students those same elements of clarity and autonomy, they too have a little fun with it. We get really impressed by what they might write in a discussion or how they might complete that assignment.

Another thing that brings fun is something that’s stimulating or interesting. There could be some fun in collaboration, group projects, and support for the work. Maybe an instructor video is going to have some fun elements. I know early in the pandemic, I remember coming across a few YouTube videos where the instructors were now teaching their students from home instead of in the classroom live, and there was a little artistry happening. One instructor I remember, in particular, was doing magic acts during the class he was teaching.

There are so many ways to bring fun into your online work and your online teaching. Think about what fun is for you, and what it might be for your students and start integrating some of those elements for more resilience and to combat that desire to quit.

Creating a Sense of Meaning

The second element is meaning. If fun is the way we’re working, meaning is why we’re doing it. As I mentioned before, sometimes the why is this greater sense of purpose or a calling in one’s career. If you have a clear sense of individual purpose in the work that you’re doing, you’re going to have a sense of meaning in your work. The more regularly you can find that, the more you can feel it every day, every week, every month and all year long till eventually you have a whole career filled with meaning.

Your students need to find meaning too. What can we do to bring a sense of meaning to everything that they’re doing? Well, on practical side, if you follow the Quality Matters habits, you know that meaning can be given to students by identifying the course objective that they’re going to fulfill.

You can also identify what career skill or applied principle is coming from their learning, or you could do something like asking the students what this learning means to them and how they’re going to use it. The more it comes from your students, the more that sense of meaning is deep and lasting.

The Importance of a Sense of Belonging

Lastly, a sense of belonging. Belonging is about who you are at work or at school. If you have a sense of belonging, you have permission to be yourself. We all know that regardless of our backgrounds or our life experiences, we know that there are times when we don’t feel like we belong, or when we get a sense that someone we’re with does not feel that they belong. This is an area worth being very sensitive about in terms of how we see others and how we invite them to be themselves.

We have some values that we share at work. The university has values, the school has values, the education industry has some general values, you have personal values as well. If you can live your values and your teaching and your students can live their values in their learning and who they are, we’re going to have the safety to be ourselves and to show up and to feel that we belong.

In some of the research on online higher education recently, we’ve learned that students want a sense of belonging by connecting to the college campus through which they’re taking the online classes. So, if you offer online classes all across the United States of America or all across the world, if students are not able to ever go to your campus and see it, they may not choose it. Increasingly, students taking classes online want to be able to visit the campus, have a connection to the faculty, and feel like there’s some sense of belonging by identifying with that school.

There’s also psychological safety involved with a sense of belonging. So if you show up as your whole self and you bring your values and you are being authentic in your work or your learning, you’re going to be accepted for who you are. That psychological safety is just the sense that it’s going to be okay to share your thoughts, your experiences, your stories, your elements of who you are, and you’re not going to be threatened in that way.

Those three things: fun, meaning and belonging, those are hallmarks of workplaces with low turn or low-turn industries right now, and they can also bring a lot of connection for our online students. Perhaps we could try this as an experiment, bringing in the fun and bringing in the meaning much more overtly and bringing in all that we can do to create a sense of belonging for all of our students. Let’s try that as an experiment and see what comes of it. We’re certainly going to have a more interesting experience and a little bit of a different perspective by getting creative and trying these new things.

I hope you’ll try them out and observe what happens, and then write to us and let us know what you experienced and what your results really are. You can send those messages to me at request on the bethaniehansen.com website, and we’d love to hear from you.

Think about it this coming week and consider your experience with what we’re calling The Great Resignation and how your students may be experiencing it, and what might come of our bringing that fun, meaning and belonging into the online classroom. I wish you all the best as you try these things out 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.

#97: Tips on Teaching Writing: From Essay Maps to Critiquing

#97: Tips on Teaching Writing: From Essay Maps to Critiquing

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education and
Dr. Jaclyn Fowler, Department Chair,  English and Literature

Being an effective writer is a foundational skill but teaching students how to write can be both challenging and overwhelming for educators. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks to author and educator, Dr. Jaclyn Fowler about her strategies for teaching writing. Learn how she uses writing workshops to teach writing through the eyes of a reader and a writer, and why it’s so important to teach students how to properly critique each other’s work. Also learn about the building-block and essay-map concept she teaches to help students outline their papers as well as tips for grading and assessing student writing effectively and efficiently.

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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 podcast. Today you’re in for a special treat. We have a guest with us, Dr. Jaclyn Fowler. She is the Department Chair over English and Literature at American Public University. Jackie, welcome to the podcast. For our listeners, would you mind telling us a little bit more about your background?

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Sure. Thank you, Bethanie. And thanks for having me on the podcast. I have spent the last three years at APUS and loving every minute, teaching and also being an administrator in the department. So, I’m the Chair of the English Department, as you said.

And before that I spent about four and a half years in the Middle East as a professor in Canadian University Dubai. And the way I like to say it, is I was an American woman of Irish descent living in Dubai and teaching at Canadian, pretty multicultural background right there. And I’m a writer. So, I write novels and I write memoirs and short stories, and I’m excited to be here.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Fantastic. Well, just to help you know a little bit about our audience here. We have online educators all over the world that listen to our podcast. So, they are in for a treat hearing from you. I’m just curious what one of your areas of focus might be in teaching writing online, specifically?

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Well, the funny thing is, Bethanie, I write, I teach writing, I coach writing. Truly, I need maybe to get another exciting habit or hobby, but it’s one of the things I really love. And I think one of the ways I like to teach writing is through the eyes of a reader and the eyes of a writer. And I think so often we don’t do that. We teach writing as teachers and we forget that there’s an audience and that there’s somebody who’s doing it. So, one of the things I like to bring to my classes is the idea of writing workshops.

Even in an online atmosphere, it’s really fun, I teach the students how to critique each other’s writings. And by that I don’t mean give criticism, but actually critique the structure of what’s being put on a page. And what do I mean by that? Well, I want to know how the thesis statement works, how it flows when you read it, how somebody’s turn of a phrase works. So, we give writers the opportunity to see their writing through the reader’s eyes. And that’s an unusual thing. Usually, we put our writing out there before we understand how the readers will view it, and so it’s a really nice addition to an online classroom.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: I love the way you said this critique was more about structure. And what I heard when you said that was artistry, it made me think about an art critique.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Exactly. What I say to students all the time is, “Look, they’re words on a paper, don’t get overly focused on them being your words on the paper. They’re just words. And so, if somebody has a critique for you, if somebody says, “I’m not sure what that word means, and I’m not sure it’s helping the sentence,” for instance, don’t be defensive about it. Have an open mind, look at it the way the reader is seeing it and say, “Well, maybe it doesn’t belong there. Maybe I need to do something that reshapes that area so that it does read more fluidly for a reader.”

And the idea is, you want to write for an audience. You want to make sure your writing is understood by an audience, so be open, be flexible. And then, in the end, remember, you’re the artist. So, as a writer, you’re painting with words. That’s what you’re doing.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yeah. That’s beautiful.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: So, it’s your choice on what paint colors and the texture and everything you use, but as any good artist would, they would open up to the critique from those who are looking at or reading the art.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Speaking of the critique. So, many of our educators that are hearing this podcast are not writing teachers. And I’m curious, what advice would you give them to get better at helping students in that area?

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Well, we can’t expect students to just critique. They don’t know how to do it, so it’s part of teaching. So when I teach writing, I’m also teaching critique. And for those of you who think that’s a really hard job, it is. But in the end, you’re also teaching writing by teaching critique because we’re giving the writers the opportunity to learn how to critique themselves by critiquing others first.

So, our students come to the classroom knowing how to give criticism. So, something like, “I don’t like that. I don’t think it sounds good. It’s not really good.” Or the perennial favorite for students, “Yeah, it’s good.” And what does that say to the writer? Nothing. None of those criticisms say anything to the writer.

So, a critique is more focused. You learn the building blocks of writing: a thesis statement, a paragraph, how to write a topic sentence, how to be creative, how to join sentences together so it makes a variety, and it makes it interesting.

And then, you allow the reader to say, “I’m not sure if this paragraph is flowing the way it should? It sounds a little funny. Maybe you need some transitions. Let me give you an example of what I would say. I might put, for example, here.”

The difference is as a writer you know what you want to say, and you know what you have in your head, but we often time short circuit that we just put enough for us because we have it all in our head. As a reader, the reader is saying, “I get where you’re going, but I need a little bit more.”

And so, to teach critique to a student, to teach them how to critique, it requires the teacher to model it. So, in an online classroom, everything is written, and so one of the things I do is write out critiques for every student the first few weeks of my classes, for every student, for every building block.

And what I find is that students start to mimic what I’m doing in the classroom. They come up with their own ideas, but I use a lot of different colors. When I’m talking about a thesis statement, for instance, I say, “You need a topic, you need an argument, and you need a three-point essay map.” And I put them in different colors so that students can see the critique right away.

And what I find after a couple weeks is students begin to use colors in the same way too. Or they begin to look at, for instance, how punctuation works. I know it sounds like just punctuation, but semicolon makes a big difference sometimes, or a comma might make a difference, and so students begin to mimic the way I’m teaching them to critique. And they recognize early on, because I’m really clear about it, it’s not about the author, it’s not about the writer, it’s about the words on the page.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: I hear that. And you said something that I was going to ask a question about, I’m sure listeners probably wondering this too, you said something about building blocks and then I heard you say, “topic, argument, three-point essay map.” Could you explain a little bit what some of those things are?

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Sure. So, the thesis statement, which is the English teacher’s favorite, favorite thing to teach. In my life I’ve maybe taught it 110 million times, but it’s important for every new group of writers—and now we’re talking academic writing—for every new group of academic writers, they have to learn how to write a thesis map. It is a thesis statement. It is exactly what it says. It’s giving the topic.

So, in a thesis statement, the way I teach it is I say, “You need a topic, you need an argument, and you need a three-point essay map.” An essay map tells us how we’re going to argue the argument. And each of those points become the topic for the body paragraphs. So, once you write a good thesis statement, you have your whole essay mapped out, which is cool. I remember in college writing my first paragraph and thinking, getting through it after hours and saying, “Oh gosh, that was great. I’m done. Oh no, I have more paragraphs to write, what am I going to write next?”

Well, if you spend the time on one of the building blocks, which is a thesis statement, you know exactly where you’re going for the whole rest of your paper. So that’s why we talk about building blocks, one would be a thesis statement. Remember, the thesis statement has three parts, topic, argument, three point-essay map.

My next building block would be to take the three-point essay map and then to use that to build the three topic sentences for the three body paragraphs. And that’s how we teach it, one step at a time, one step at a time.

So, once you break up an essay into steps, students can start to see the critique. “Oh, this would work better if you did three points in your essay map instead of two, or this would work better if you used your essay map to write your topic sentences.”

So, once you take it from the big elephant in the room, the essay, down to its smaller components, students will find it easier to create them—essays—and also students will find it easier to critique them.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Fantastic. That sounds like a really easy flow to work from. And I was playing in my head as you’re explaining this to me and to our listeners, I was thinking, “Okay, maybe I could just throw out a thesis idea and you could tell me how I could make this better.”

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Sure.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Just because at the time of this recording it’s winter, and, of course, our listeners might listen to this at any time of year, but that just jogged the idea for me of snowmobiling, right?

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: So, I was thinking, well, let’s just say, for example, I’m going to write my essay on snowmobiling.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: So that’s your topic.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: And I’m thinking, everyone should ride a snowmobile to work in the winter because it’s exhilarating, it’s gas efficient, which is probably not true, but we’re going to pretend, and then because it will renew your zest for life.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Okay. They’re your three essay map points, right?

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yeah.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: So now you have your topic, which is snowmobiling to work. So, you narrowed your topic a little bit, snowmobiling to work, and your argument is everybody should do it. So, you’re going to prove that everybody should do it. Now, one of the things I would say to a thesis writer is “Are you sure you want to say everyone? So, what about the guy in Fiji who doesn’t have snow?”

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yeah, I think he’d wreck his snowmobile.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: So, we always talk about, in academic writing, narrow your audience, because if your audience is everybody, your audience is nobody. So, narrow your thesis statement. So those who live in winter climates, do you see how it narrows it down?

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Where there’s a snow floor, yeah.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Where there’s a snow floor. Now you have your argument, your topic and your three-point essay map is great, because what you’ve done is each of those become the topic of your body paragraphs. So, the first would be all about it being exhilarating. The first body paragraph would be all about it, it being exhilarating. I forget what the second one, oh, it’s gas efficient. The second paragraph would be all about being gas efficient. And it gives you a zest for life would be the third body paragraph. So, with one sentence you’ve outlined your whole essay.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: I like that. That’s nice. And then, I’m curious about how one would come to that thesis in a concluding paragraph without simply just saying it exactly the same way.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Oh, Bethanie, I think you might be a budding English teacher over there.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thank you.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: So, what we always say is, you paraphrase yourself. In your concluding essay, you want to take your thesis statement and you want to restate it in a way that captures the topic and the argument. And if you want, the essay map, but you don’t have to, but you want to do it in a way that the reader doesn’t recognize the words.

English has 800,000 words to choose from, and you could put them together in so many different ways. You don’t have to use the same words that you used in your original thesis statement to say some of the same things. And so, the idea is to just turn the phrase, paraphrase yourself in a way that concludes your essay. Can you imagine if I say to a student, “If you write a good thesis statement, you have your concluding sentence for your whole essay.”

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: I love that. And that simplifies it, I think, for the student too, especially, who’s not feeling confident about the writing.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Yes.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: So, Jackie, we were talking about how to help a student learn to write an essay, how to lay it out. I’m wondering if there are any other tips about the writing part before we go on to maybe the evaluating, grading that many of our listeners are also wondering on about.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Sure. So, one of the things that I always say to students is “Variety is the spice of life.” If you’re an American, you know that saying, “Variety is the spice of life.” In other words, the more things change up, the more exciting they are. And it’s the same with writing. Variety is the spice of writing.

So, you can write a simple sentence, you can write a complex sentence, you can write a compound sentence, you can put sentences together and build one long sentence out of two or three or four shorter sentences, the idea is you work with all of those in one essay.

What that does, let me give you an example, one of the best novels I’ve ever worked with that showed this is Elie Wiesel’s “Night.” And what he does beautifully is he moves from short, choppy sentences where your heart is beating, to longer, more sonorous sentences where you feel relaxed.

And then he comes in again with the short, choppy sentences and you’re taken off guard and your heart starts to beat again. And so, that’s the kind of stuff you want to do in writing. Even in academic writing, you could write these long, beautifully, complex sentences, follow it up with something really short and to the point so it wakes up your reader. You want to have that kind of variety in your sentences.

And one of the ways I talk to primarily American students, because students who learn English from other languages don’t have the same problem, but grammar is such a beast for students in the United States. And one of the reasons is, because they just don’t understand that the words that we’ve chosen to name our grammar, nouns, and verbs, it’s all from Latin. And it used to be that we all learned Latin in university, but not anymore.

So, our students, they have a hard time with the words. And so, one of the things I do in any writing class is I start at the very beginning. So, I explain to them what each of the Latin words means so that they can finally get a grasp on grammar. And then I say to them, “Hey, let me tell you this, if you are writing, 85% of what your words say is the important part of an essay. 15% is the grammar. Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t worry about the grammar, but that shouldn’t be the only worry.”

And this is the way I like to tell my students, “If you were lucky enough to go by a beautiful Monet painting, you flew to France and you bought the Monet and you came home and you went to put it on your wall and you realized you didn’t have a frame for it, and you went down to Walmart and you bought a 99 cent frame to put your beautiful Monet painting in, the Monet will not have changed because of the frame, but it will detract from the Monet because of the frame.”

And that’s the same with grammar, you want to put your writing, your words, the painting with your words in a beautiful frame, which is grammar. And the frame allows the beautiful words, the painting with words to be enhanced rather than the frame taking away from the understanding of the words. Does that make sense?

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Absolutely. And it sounds like you have to craft with the grammar what supports it to flow well, or to show the beauty of what you’re saying.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Right. You want your words, the words that you’re painting into a beautiful picture to mean the same coming from your mind into the mind of the reader. And the way we do this is we have this shared structure, this shared format. And we use nouns, and we use verbs, and we use punctuation and they only account for 15% of the final overall painting, but it’s an important 15% because it puts us all on the same page. We all know, reader or writer, what you’re doing with a period, what you’re doing with a verb, what you’re doing with a noun. And so, that’s why it’s important.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Beautiful. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to just shift gears a little bit to the evaluating part, the grading. One of the complaints online faculty sometimes have is that grading writing takes so long, it’s so involved. And I want to just make a confession right here that when I was first teaching online, I would bleed all over the essay. I would be doing what I’m sure you’re going to say we should not do, and that it was editing. So, I’d be making a comment here, there, everywhere. Since then, I totally approach it differently, but I would prefer listeners hear from you about what they should do, what your suggestions might be.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: There’s a couple ways to go at this. What I say to my faculty members, “Remember, English we grade 500 to 600 pages of writing every single week. And so we need to teach. That’s why we do assessments, to teach through assessments, but we also have to be reasonable with our time so we can teach in the classroom.”

And so, I always say, “If you spend more time writing than the students spent writing, you’re doing it wrong. You’re not engaging a paper for a long-term affair. This is speed dating. You want to be thorough, but you don’t want to be in there all day long. So, you’re not making a commitment to the paper, you’re going through it.”

And here’s the first thing that we do wrong as academics, as teachers in general, we correct every single mistake. And that’s a mistake, because we’ve done the work and now we understand how, for instance, grammar works, but we’ve done all the work for the students and so therefore they haven’t learned anything.

So, you’re not an editor. You’re right, we often edit. What you want to do is you want to read through the paper. If you see that there’s issues, for instance, with grammar, you want to pinpoint about three big pieces of grammar, the things that you think, if they were cleared up, the paper would be more intelligible.

And then you clearly correct it and give a comment that says, let me give an example, “This sentence is a run-on sentence, that means you have two or more sentences smashed together without the correct punctuation. Let me show you how to fix it.” Fix it. Then you fix it. And then you say in a comment, in the end of your comment, “I want you to go through your paper and find all of the run-on sentences and correct them. Next time I grade your papers, I’m going to be looking for the fact that you corrected your run-on sentences.” Do you see what I mean? You tell them what it is, you define it, you show them how to fix it, you tell them that’s how they’re being evaluated in their next piece of writing.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: That sounds like a wonderful approach. It’s going to save us lots of time and energy. So, I’m hearing you say that we should ask for a second submission.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: So, a lot of times in writing we do a second submission in English papers, but I’m also comfortable if it’s a single paper and the next time they’re doing a paper on something else, I make it clear, “When you write your week five paper, I’m looking for this.” So, it doesn’t necessarily have to be another paper or resubmission. You hope that they take your feedback and rewrite all the run-on sentences, but they may not. I don’t think I did when I was in college, but you hope. But you make it clear that you’re looking for them in the next paper.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: That makes a lot of sense. And then if you’re just telling the student to just apply this, you don’t necessarily have to track each one, follow up, see that they did it, you’re just advising, basically.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Exactly. You’re not the police. You’re there to give support, to teach, to help. And you don’t want to forget the lesson that you taught in the first assignment. You want to make sure that that lesson was understood.

Because sometimes they don’t understand what you’ve said. You may think you put the most time into your comments on a paper and you find that nothing’s changed in the next paper. Well, maybe they didn’t understand. And so, you want to give another opportunity for them to succeed.

So, the idea in writing is you want people to succeed. So, you point it out, you define it, you correct it, you show them, you tell them what you want them to do for the next paper. And if they don’t do it, you do it again.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Gain confidence.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Gain confidence. You don’t let it die. You’re right, Bethanie, gaining confidence is important when you see it done well. The students in my class laugh because I teach the semicolon rule, an easy way to fix a run on sentence is to take the period, where you would put a period, for two sentences and put a semicolon in. It’s the easiest rule. And so, when I see it on papers, I make a big deal out of it, “Semicolon, this is great.”

And so, they get the idea that I’m looking to see what they do well, as well as what they don’t do well. And I think that’s important because all of us sometimes accidentally do something well. And so, if a teacher points out, “This was perfect, this was so well said, this was so well done,” if it was one of those moments when it was accidental, you’ve gelled, “Hey, I did this, right and I didn’t even know I did it right, but I’m going to do it like this forever now.” That’s the hope.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: I love that you’re pointing out a positive as well, because I think when you’re working online, oh, maybe you’re doing this eight hours a day, all week-long kind of thing, if it’s your full-time gig, you’re really spending a lot of time. And I know it’s easy to get fed up with the same problem you see, and have a difficult time being positive. Sometimes you see that same thing over and over, especially if you’re correcting it or stating the problem and explaining and it’s not getting fixed. So, bringing out the positive probably helps balance it for the student too and ensure that you’re not just getting stuck in that negative zone.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: No. And I don’t think corrections in writing should ever be a negative. I think it’s support. It’s a writing workshop where I’m saying, “Let me give you some advice on how to make this even better.” Years ago, I gave up using a red pen. Years ago. And it’s because people saw red pen and panicked. So even if I wrote something nice with a red pen, students weren’t seeing that.

And so now I just dialogue, I consider it a dialogue. So even when I say this is a run-on sentence, this is what it means, okay, a run-on sentence isn’t good, but I don’t make the student feel like, “She found a mistake, I did something wrong.” No, of course you’re going to make mistakes. You’re human. Welcome to the human race. And so, it’s okay. Make a mistake. I’m going to define it and teach you how to not make that mistake. If you want to learn how not to make that mistake, I’m going to give you that opportunity.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: So, I know we’re getting short on time for our session here or our episode, I’m wondering if we were to pull all this together for some key points that we really want listeners to take away, what would those be?

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Well, I would say the first thing is that writing is never a punishment. So, for anyone out there who thinks I’m going to make you write a theme for doing something wrong, please don’t do that. Writing is the articulation of your innermost heart and your innermost thoughts. And so, what a beautiful gift to give to our students, to teach them how to write in a way that the reader can understand, fully understand, the expression that’s coming from their heart and minds. That’s the first thing.

The second thing is if you think about teaching writing, instead of, one of the things I always say to students is how do you eat an elephant? It’s overwhelming. Think about eating an elephant. It’s about 26,000 Big Mac’s if you sit down to eat an elephant. How do you do it? And eventually someone will say one bite at a time, and that’s it.

So, if you think about the essay like the elephant, how do you do it? It’s one bite at a time. So, you teach the building blocks. Let’s start with a simple thesis statement, it’s one sentence. One. We can write that. And when they do it, well done, let’s go on the next building block until they get to the essay. It doesn’t take that long to do it that way.

And then, finally, as we’re looking over it and providing feedback, remember feedback is not a “gotcha.” It’s not a moment of “you made a mistake and I’m going to point it out.” That’s not what it’s for. A feedback is to help the student improve. I’m going to give you the key that if use it you can unlock a more fluid, more interesting, more understandable writing style. And as teachers of writing, you’re not editors. So, when you are grading it, your feedback is a dialogue between you and the student. You’re not an editor, save that for the publishing companies.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Nice. I think that’s going to help a lot of our listeners relax a little bit, realizing they don’t have to catch every little thing that’s wrong with someone’s writing.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Bethanie, some of the things that are wrong is what makes the writing good. So, we teach the rules all the time, but I always say to students, “When you’re really good at writing, when you learn all the rules, then you could break the rules, and that makes your writing special.”

So sometimes, when I write, I know what a fragment is, an incomplete sentence, but when I write creatively, I use a lot of fragments in my writing. And it’s not a mistake there. It’s intentional. And the reader knows that I know how to write a complete sentence. So, when I write a fragment, it’s for reason, it’s to pay attention here, I’m breaking the rules. And so, I think if we look at the idiosyncrasy that everybody brings to their own specific writing, I think, in the end that ends up being beautiful.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yes, it does. Well, Dr. Fowler, I want to thank you for being with us today. It’s been a true pleasure to hear your thoughts about writing, but also your enthusiasm. You’re really inspiring to speak with because you have this energy about writing and it’s not this overwhelming thing, when you’re sharing all these points, it’s very encouraging. And I hope our listeners today will take that away and be able to apply that in their online work and their online teaching with students and just spread the wealth about how much fun this can be and how not overwhelming it can also be.

Dr. Jaclyn Fowler: Bethanie, writing is always hard, even when you love to do it. The hardest part is starting. But once you start, you move.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Sounds so true. Thank you again for being here. And we’re going to say goodbye to our listeners and wish them all the best in their 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.

#95: Student Affairs: Addressing Student Mental Health and Wellness

#95: Student Affairs: Addressing Student Mental Health and Wellness

This content first appeared on APUEdge.com

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education and
Dr. Jan SpencerDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education and
Dr. Sean BogleFaculty Member, American Public University

With the shift to online learning, student affairs professionals have had to become more adaptable and agile in how they reach and connect with students. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks to Dr. Jan Spencer and Dr. Sean Bogle about the need for student affairs professionals to be increasingly dynamic in order to assess the needs of students. Learn tips on identifying students who may be dealing with mental health issues, how to reach students regardless of their location, and working to make connections with students whether they’re online or on-campus.

Listen to the Episode:

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Read the Transcript:

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

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. Today, you’re in for a real treat. We have two special guests, Dr. Jan Spencer and Dr. Sean Bogle. Welcome and let’s have you each introduce yourselves and we’ll start with you, Dr. Sean Bogle, tell us about you.

Dr. Sean Bogle: Yes, greetings everyone. As I’ve been introduced by Bethanie, thank you. My name is Dr. Sean Bogle. I am currently serving as a part-time faculty for American Public University. I’ve been in this role for almost two years now, and I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to engage with students who are pursuing their Master’s degree with a focus on student affairs.

Speaking of student affairs, I spent most of my career in higher education working as a student affairs administrator at various universities across the country. Most recently, I served as the Dean of Students at the Yale School of the Environment. And prior to that, I worked at a community college as a Dean of Student Affairs and Activities. At Stanford University as an Assistant Dean, and various other roles. And I found my passion for working in student affairs after actually being a public schools teacher for language arts. And I enjoyed that environment and wanted to pursue administration, initially, in the secondary environment.

That being said, I found that higher education fit my skillset and personality more. And upon getting my first role at University of Louisville as a residence-life coordinator, living in with 300 co-ed, it certainly wasn’t dull. But it was also very exciting to see that I could match my personality with supporting and developing undergraduate students, and also helping to lead those who were interested in engaging with students and supporting their needs. So, over 12 years of experience has really led me to serve in a role with American Public University that I’m very proud to be in.

Outside of that, I currently also work at Kuali. Kuali is a software company that supports institutes of higher education. And, specifically, I help partner universities across the country with research administration tools that we use so that schools that are seeking federal grants can execute their research in an efficient manner. So, this is my day-to-day role. And outside of that, I live in Connecticut. I’ve been here for over two years now. I enjoy it. I enjoy the full four seasons. And yeah, that’s just a little bit about me.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Fantastic. Thank you so much, Sean. And how about you, Dr. Spencer?

Dr. Jan Spencer: Hi, I’m Dr. Jan Spencer and I am the Department Chair for Educational Leadership and Student Life. And that incorporates three different programs: Educational Leadership in the K12 space, and then Higher Education Student Affairs, and Higher Education Administration.

And we are so very blessed to have Dr. Sean Bogle be on our team of faculty. He has brought a lot to the table, a lot of experience, a lot of depth. And, as he greatly explained, some of the journey he had, I so appreciate what that does for integrating in an educational environment with students who need to have answers to the variety of questions that they have. So, Sean, I’m so glad that we’re getting to work together and I’m so glad you’re on this interview.

Since you’ve really shared your journey and some of the institutional work that you’ve done, and your current role that you serve, you probably have a great view of a variety of environmental changes that have happened in student affairs. So, what significant changes can you see have happened, and are happening in our current educational environment and particularly as it relates to student affairs?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Absolutely. Thank you, Jan. And I think that when I look at some of the biggest challenges for students, it’s: how do we support students in multiple ways? The environment is certainly different than, say, what it was 10, 12 years ago, where there was this traditional college experience where we knew sort of how to support students, either on campus, or off campus. And many universities were very good at just doing one or the other.

And, now, when we look at student affairs, there’s more hybrid activity going on, where students may be engaged to a different level, on campus or off campus. And they need both. They need resources for both.

So, we need more dynamic student affairs professionals who can really reach students no matter what their environment is. Knowing that students are more familiar with the online setting, knowing that students need to be able to access their support, their student affairs administrators in various different settings. So, we have to be comfortable with the tools to engage with students outside of the on-campus environment.

We also need to be more cognizant that wellness is certainly at the forefront of what students are dealing with now, whatever wellness may be. Whether it’s mental health issues, home sickness, imposter syndrome, we have to be more prepared to support students with their needs for wellness.

Dr. Jan Spencer: One of the things that’s amazing about what you just said, and the context of our conversation today, is that you, Bethanie, and I are in three completely different locations in the United States. And mentioning the whole virtual aspect of student affairs, it seems to me, that’s going to create a bigger hurdle for you, as a professional, to be able to really address an individual student. That you can’t just sit down with face-to-face, and work through their issues. How do you accomplish that given the reality of the virtual challenges that we all face?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Yeah, I think a great example is recently in one of the courses that I was teaching, I had a student who was located in South Korea, and needed to reach out to me multiple times throughout the course. And as I mentioned earlier, Jan, I think it’s very important that administrators and teachers are able to adapt to the times. We need to be able to align ourselves and familiarize ourselves with the resources that are out there to make us more accessible to students.

So, I started using Calendly, which is essentially a tool where you can plop it into an email. It’s a link that allows for students to see your schedule, and be able to plug in a time that works. This is a lot more, for me, efficient than going back and forth with a student who may be in need, and have questions and need support.

I can just say, “Hey, here’s my Calendly link. Pick a time that works for you because I know it’s going to work for me if you pick it because it’s based on my availability.” And here I am reaching out to the student in South Korea. Now, it may be 11:30 or close to midnight for that student, but it worked enough for that student and our schedule to align for support.

Dr. Jan Spencer: So, you have capabilities then, to address the gap in terms of distance. What about the actual depth of conversation? Is the tool of, let’s say, a Zoom, or a similar technology, is that sufficient to be able to allow you to accomplish your goals in conversing with the students in order to support them?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Absolutely. That being said, I want to be adaptable as possible. So Zoom is my go-to for virtual meetings with students. That being said, I’m cognizant of the fact that some students may feel more comfortable with, say, Microsoft Teams or Google Meet. So, I want to make sure that I have access and know how to use all of those tools. They’re all very similar, but then there may be unique differences to them as well.

I just, again, want to reiterate how important it is for me to be adaptable. So, I want to make sure that when I’m meeting with a student that I’m doing so in a space that is similar to if they walked into my office, where there’s a level of privacy, where the student can feel like I’ve created a safe space, a comfortable space. I do have a seven-year-old daughter, so I try to make sure that I’m in a space that I am now where she can run and play. And I can also have the space that I need to give that student that one-on-one attention. If I’m, for example, in an environment where the background may be distracting, I’ll blur that background just so that that student understands that I’m mindfully engaged with whatever we’re discussing.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Okay, let me just press that just a little bit further. In talking about the value of student affairs in today’s market, one of the big words that we hear in online education is the word retention. And how does a professional in your field work with keeping students on track for the sake of keeping them in school? How does student affairs accomplish that? What are some of the insights that you utilize when you’re engaging the students?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Yeah, so, I think I’m looking at two different routes here. One of which is if I’m dealing with a student who is wanting and seeking a career in student affairs, I’m always looping them to, here are the possible routes for you upon graduation, upon completion of your program here’s what’s available. So, almost with every discussion, post, or assignment, I’m linking it to understanding what it is that they want to do.

So, for example, if it’s a student development course, and they’ve identified a certain theory that they associate with, I may say, “Wow, based on your understanding of that theory and the way you feel, you resonate to that theory, I think you’d be a really good residential life professional in supporting students.” So, that sort of gets the ball rolling and, “Wow, that’s a career field within student affairs that I could seek.” So, again, in trying to link a student affairs student to a possible career in student affairs is one aspect.

The other aspect is just a student in general, who may not necessarily have an interest in student affairs, but talking about the work of an administrator. I think it goes back to letting them know that I care, that I’m treating them as an individual and not as a number.

Oftentimes, particularly at large universities, students may feel lost. They may feel like one person in a class of 30. And they may need some guidance there. Oftentimes, I’m listening to their needs and sort of configuring my conversation to whatever it is that they need. And also, looking at their background, what it is about them that I can link to, to help give them support for where they come from.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you so much. I want to change the direction just a little bit and talk about equity, diversity, and inclusion. These are huge issues in student affairs today, in a general sense across universities and colleges. How do we address these kinds of issues? And maybe I should actually step back and say, where are we at with that? How do you interpret the progression of overcoming some of the hurdles associated with equity, diversity, inclusion, so that we see ourselves working together rather than working and tearing ourselves apart from each other? How do we work to bring ourselves together? How are we doing with that? And how does an online education, how does student affairs help? I know, that’s a huge question.

Dr. Sean Bogle: No, I think it’s an important question. Thank you for asking it. I think the work is ongoing. I think that it is something that we have to continue to embed into our day-to-day practices as teachers, as professionals, as human beings. I think those that, ultimately, have a care for others, and educators tend to do that, have a care for others, have a greater lens of support on what to look for. Because when we talk about diversity, and equity, and inclusion, we’re talking about being able to identify individuals, and to embrace their differences. And educators already have experience doing this. Good educators, I should say.

We know that students are at different points of their learning. We know that students are at different points of things that are going on outside of the classroom, such as socioeconomic status. We know that students may be facing learning challenges, and may need various different level levels of support to overcome those learning challenges. So, educators are already in a great space for this.

Specifically, with online learning, every time I send a student an audio feedback, I make sure to insert captions because I don’t want to assume that I have created an inclusive environment. So, I want to do everything that I can. And the inclusive part of DEI work is so important because as long as we’re giving everyone the opportunity to say, “You are welcome. I have thought about what may be needed for you to be in this space,” we are really achieving what we need for diversity and equity as well, because we’re doing everything that we can to create an opportunity for a student to see a little bit of themselves within our community.

That’s why it’s so important that we have a staff that represents diversity. We have staff from various socioeconomic, religious, sexual orientation, gender, all of that is into play. So, students can see a little bit of themselves within the faculty. That resonates with them. And I think that makes them feel inspired.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: I’m so intrigued by what we’re talking about here. And I know our listeners are too. You’ve said a couple of times here, Sean, that educators are already primed for this, to think about the individual, to consider what their needs might be. And I’m wondering, if someone is feeling a little bit less inclined, like they really want to do this, but they don’t really know how, is there some suggestion you have for expanding their approach a little bit?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Yeah. I think that there are so many opportunities out there for professional development that really do not cost anything. I think that just using the tools at hand, whether it’s something like LinkedIn, there’s so many articles and resources that are available that can just be absorbed on one’s own time.

I think the other thing is to correlate experiences. No matter the classroom setting, there is always going to be diversity. The diversity may not always look like race, but the correlation can be there. So, for example, if a teacher is working in an environment where there’s a high socioeconomic status, it doesn’t mean that every student in that environment has a high socioeconomic status. How have you related, or resonated, to that student?

Or a student in a high socioeconomic status may have a learning deficiency, how have you met that gap? That same approach of embrace, how do I include them? How do I customize and align my lesson? That’s the same thing that all students need. So, it’s a heterogeneous environment in terms of race, ethnicity, culture. It’s that same lens of how do I include them? How do I acknowledge their differences that creates that inclusive environment?

Dr. Jan Spencer: Great. Sean, one of the things I appreciate about working with you is that you bring a breadth of experience also from the marketplace, and that’s where you’re at right now in working in the marketplace, as well as teaching. So, help me understand, help our listeners understand the transition away from only focusing on campus instruction, and now being a part of the marketplace as well, with what your present role is. Help us understand how that fits into your overall approach to student affairs.

Dr. Sean Bogle: Absolutely. So, working primarily as a student affairs administrator for over 12 years, it gave me a very broad base in how to support students in the trenches, if you will, on the grounds, whether that is crisis management and support, nonclinical support, having conversations, planning large-scale events, or helping to plan large-scale events, such as orientation and graduation. These are sort of, as I mentioned, being in the trenches with students.

That being said, as I have sort of grown my own skillset, completed my doctorate work, it’s allowed me to take a more 30,000-foot view, if you will, of how the issues of a university impact students. So beyond that one-on-one support or that in-the-trenches support how do I, as a professional working in student affairs, look at the larger scale?

So now that I work at Kuali in my specific role as community engagement coordinator, focusing on partnering universities that are doing research with software tools, I’m looking at the scope of how does research impact students?

Many universities across the globe are doing research and, ultimately, it’s going to impact students. So, whether that research is on COVID-19, whether that research is on clean-water initiatives, or environmental issues, these are things that our students are doing.

Oftentimes, when a faculty member is conducting research, they’re using student participants to conduct the research and/or they’re using students to help guide that research. The students are often helping the faculty as assistants in those research projects.

So it allows for me to have a more holistic view, if you will, of what it takes to be a student beyond the student being in crisis, or planning a party, or their day-to-day outside of the classroom. I think it’s important for a student affairs professional to have an idea of what students are doing in the classroom or in the lab.

Dr. Jan Spencer: That’s great. One last question for you from me. And one of the things that you have mentioned in your comments throughout our conversation has to do with dealing with student mental health. And I know that as a professional on ground, that’s pretty obvious that you’ll be face-to-face with a student to help them through a scenario. Whereas an online environment, it’s a little bit more difficult to get into their head, you might say, and to deal with their issues.

So, can you talk a little bit about student affairs in the on-ground environment versus the online environment, and how does student affairs overall present an increased role in supporting students with mental health issues?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Sure. So, the first thing that I should note is that one of the quotes I’ve always sort of guided myself in terms of wellness for student support, is that the absence of a mental health illness is not the presence of mental health wellness. And what I’ve taken that to mean is that, we know that there are students that may actually suffer from a condition such as bipolar disorder. And many campuses, whether it’s online or on-campus are set up to support that student.

But just because a student may not have a mental health clinically diagnosed illness doesn’t mean that they are well. So, every student needs wellness, whether that’s on campus, or in a virtual environment. It can be easier if you will, to put eyes on a student who may not look well, a student that may be aloof from the community, who may have an appearance that’s melancholy, we can look at those signs on-campus.

It certainly can be more challenging when in a virtual environment. That being said, I think the link there is the absence. When a student on campus is not around their friends, not going to class, those things are noticed.

But they also can be very much noticed in a virtual environment, too. A student that started off on fire in discussion boards, asking questions, posting a lot and then, they go absent, that could, in fact, be symptomatic that there’s something going on there in terms of wellness. And, oftentimes, when I’m able to reach out, I’m able to find out the student had a hard week.

I remember within American Public University, a student had lost a parent. And it, certainly, explained why they were so engaged and then they just sort of went absent. So, looking for those little signs and being able to reach out.

I try to be very mindful that when I’m not hearing from a student, it very well could be something going on with their wellness. And wellness is a very general term, and it should be, because many things can affect, and be variables to wellness. So, I try to reach out and say, “Is there anything that I can do?” That’s always part of the initial message that I try to have to a student when I notice that there’s been an absence.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Wonderful. Bethanie, I’ll throw it over to you in case you have any questions you want to bring to Dr. Bogle.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: I do. I’m more curious about that area of student wellness and what you just shared. This is something I coach faculty on. Occasionally, notice when a student disappears. Reach out when they disappear. Ask them how you can help and be supportive. Aside from the student disappearing, what other things could help a faculty member know that they should ask, or should be curious about that? What do you think?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Yeah, I think it’s important for me to look for context within even discussion posts. So, when a student is engaging with their peers, what are they saying? I remember having a discussion with students in a discussion post, and it was about the value of a graduate degree. And a student said something to the effect of, “I’m not even sure what I’m doing in this program.” So they weren’t absent, but their words within itself, gave me a little bit of pause for concern to be able to reach out on the side, or at least monitor what they were saying. Oftentimes, I’ll look for a pattern, if you will.

Sometimes even if a student is submitting work, I can notice that the quality of work has fluctuated from perhaps what they have submitted in the past. So, it’s not that they aren’t showing up, but maybe the way that they’re showing up is inconsistent.

So, oftentimes, when I see a student who is able to put together an assignment, and really follow the APA guidelines, and really have a structured approach. And now their next assignment, there’s typos everywhere, it’s rushed. So, they turned something in, they’re present, but they’re not present in a way that I’m used to them being present. To me, that strikes the sign that this is behavior that I should be cognizant of. So, again, not just when someone’s absent, but how they’re showing up when they show up.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thank you so much for sharing those ideas. I love that when you’re looking for patterns, or noticing something unusual. I’m also kind of wondering how an online faculty member can be more supportive of people in student affairs? How can they really connect with that department in an institution?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Yeah, I think that one of the things that can be done is knowing the name of the local, or the primary liaison. Most departments at universities, or schools, will have someone that is the liaison. It can be a Residence Dean, Assistant Dean. These titles are oftentimes different, but they oftentimes, do the same type of work, which is that they serve as the person of contact when a student may be in need or have concerns.

The other thing that I think is important is to invite conversations with student affairs professionals. It could be the Vice President of Student Affairs or Dean of Students about, what language should I be including, even if it’s brief, in my syllabi, my syllabus, to set the tone for the particular term?

So, for example, is there something about wellness? Is there a line, is there something that I should be embedding into my syllabus knowing that this may not be my field of expertise, but how do I let students know that I care about their holistic being on campus, or in the virtual campus environment, so that here’s an email address, or phone number, or person to contact? So, I think faculty being able to reach out and make that linkage, it also displays something to the student.

And then, if there is an opportunity, and I know that the term can be tight and we certainly want it to be academically focused, but I’ve always appreciated when, as a student affairs professional, faculty have said, “Can you come talk to my class for two minutes at the beginning of the term?” Or when they feel like, it’s amazing how much intersectionality there is between so many lessons and student affairs. So, if there’s something that feels like there could be intersection there with student affairs, invite me in for a two or three minute spot. And I’m happy to speak with students. So, just showing that intersectionality.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wonderful. Thank you so much. I have to just tell you, Sean, that you just jogged a personal memory for me that I had no idea this person was a student affairs professional. But it’s bringing full circle the ideas we’re talking about here.

My freshman year of my undergraduate degree, I went to a large university with 30,000 students, but I happened to take a class from the Dean of Student Life. And that person went to the marching band performance at the football game, looked for me, wrote me a letter to tell me what they thought about the performance. And really paid attention to who I was. And in a university that large that, to me, was remarkable. I had no idea that is student affairs. That’s just beautiful.

Dr. Sean Bogle: Yeah. It’s that person-to-person approach.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yeah. I was one of those anomalies where I came from a single-parent family, and a certain demographic where I probably was definitely a person you’d think might slip through the cracks somehow. So, it was nice this person noticed me, yeah. Thanks for mentioning some of those roles. And also, for the tips on how faculty can get involved. I’m going to pass it back to you, Jan, on any final comments, or questions you’d like to add here?

Dr. Jan Spencer: Well, we are very excited that our student affairs program here at APU is really a cutting-edge kind of a thing. And our faculty, such as Sean and some of the others, have said to me, “Jan, this is a cutting-edge program. This is some of the finest material that we have seen.” So, we’re very excited. The program is growing slowly. And we invite those who are interested in being a part of learning more about student affairs, if that’s where they sense their direction is going, we are here to serve any way we possibly can, answer any questions, and be a support to our students who are considering that direction with their studies.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Beautiful. And how about you, Sean? Any final comments you’d like to add?

Dr. Sean Bogle: Well, I just want to thank both of you for allowing me the opportunity to engage with you. This has been wonderful and a privilege for me to be able to speak to my experiences. These opportunities are, I think, what makes student affairs so special, the opportunity to connect with others in a meaningful way.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Beautiful. So, thanks for being here, Dr. Jan Spencer and Dr. Sean Bogle, and we really appreciate your ideas and all that you’ve taught us today. To our listeners, we want to thank you for listening, and 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.

#94: Strategies for Applying Andragogy, Constructivism, and Heutagogy

#94: Strategies for Applying Andragogy, Constructivism, and Heutagogy

This content first appeared on APUEdge.com

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education

Online teachers must know and apply the principles of andragogy because many of their students are adult learners. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses some other critical teaching theories including pedagogy, which suits younger learners, constructivism, and a new concept called heutagogy, which focuses on self-directed learning. Becoming familiar with each theory and related teaching strategies can provide insight and new approaches for online educators.

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Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m excited to speak with you today about andragogy. This is a buzzword in online education and one of the reasons we hear this word so much is that many of our online students are adult learners. The traditional college age would be considered 18 to 25, those would be your learners who leave high school and go directly to college or within a year or so, go to college and then complete their degree in the young adult timeframe.

An adult learner is anyone 25 or older who has a gap in there, some life experience. And the term
“andragogy” was created to describe adult learning theory. Now, we have some ideas in the field of education that come from pedagogy, which now is considered the methods of teaching children or young people. And then we have andragogy, which is adult learning theory or the methods for teaching adults.

There are two other phrases you’re going to hear me talk about today. One of them is constructivism. This is a theory in education as well. And another one is a new word that I learned recently, heutagogy. Heutagogy spelled H-E-U-T-A-G-O-G-Y. Heutagogy is self-directed learning. It’s sort of a combination of andragogy and constructivism with some other thoughts thrown in there and I’m going to introduce that to you today as well.

So we’re going to begin by taking a look backwards at pedagogy, and that is now considered a description of young people’s learning. And then we’re going to take a dive into constructivism, which sort of bridges between pedagogy and andragogy. Then we’ll talk about andragogy and finish it all up with heutagogy and some ideas for you to take away in your online teaching this coming week, semester, or year.

Understanding Pedagogy: Teaching Students how to Learn

So here we go. Pedagogy in education is really this idea that the learner is dependent on you as the teacher for the knowledge and information and all of the learning in this process. We look at the learner as somewhat dependent. They need to be directed, they need to be guided, they need to be given the what, the how and the when, about whatever they’re going to be learning.

The learner’s going to get some resources from the teacher. They have few resources of their own. And the teacher is going to create some method to help store the knowledge in the learner’s mind and make it part of who they are.

So the teacher might suggest or offer opportunities to practice, to share the knowledge, to write about it, to memorize it. Whatever those strategies are, the instructor’s going to be crafting a method for the learner to use them.

And as you think about it, we’re really teaching people how to learn in pedagogy. We’re giving them the introduction to the methods, the strategies, and the ideas about how to memorize information, how to retain information and even how to apply it.

The reason to learn is often that you have to have this knowledge before you can move to the next step. So this knowledge is critical in your development, and you need to master this before you can move on. This is a core concept in pedagogy. We focus on the subject. It’s prescribed in the curriculum. We have a sequence for the information, and there’s some kind of logic to the subject matter. And this focus of the learning, really the methods of learning, are often dictated by our perception of the subject and what is needed to teach it well.

When we think about pedagogy, motivation is usually given by parents, teachers, a sense of completion, achievement, things like that. Children and young people may have internal motivation, but a lot of those external sources are also part of the motivation.

As the educator or the parent who’s designing this instruction, it’s your role to design the learning processes, the methods of learning it, the order in which things will happen, and you deliver the material, or you impose the material in some way for your learner. And you assume, and others in this situation assume, that you know the best way to do this. You are the expert in how to teach it as well as what needs to be taught.

This is a really common way to approach education in the K-12 system. If you’re teaching elementary, primary, secondary school, pedagogy is really strong in the methods of our teaching the content and the way we deliver the information. We might even have sets of standards that come from our professional organization, or they come from some national standards bank that we’ve created. And we’ve got these standards for different grade levels, different ability levels, different subjects. Those go really well with the idea of pedagogy.

As you’re teaching online, it’s important to be aware of what pedagogy includes when you’re working with learners who don’t know enough about how to direct their own learning. And you can also give them a lot of little mini lessons on how to become more self-directed in their learning. Developmentally that may or may not be suited for your learners. Be thinking about that as you decide how much to deliver and when.

Constructivism: Engaging the Student in Learning

At the next level, just want to talk a little bit about constructivism. Constructivism is an interesting idea that is still used in many parts of education today. Constructivism is the idea that a learner needs to be actively engaged in the process, not just a passive consumer. So the opposite of constructivism would be a person lecturing and expecting the recipients to just soak it up and learn it and remember it.

Constructivism means that the people doing the learning have to do something to construct their own knowledge. The assumption in constructivism is that the person has some background, some life experiences, some existing knowledge, and all of that’s going to come together as they formulate new knowledge. The reality is that their experiences shape their learning and what you’re going to teach them needs to connect that in some way, even if you don’t consciously guide people to do this, they are going to do it for themselves.

Constructivism influences the way all of our students learn. It’s really a learning theory that we have to get familiar with because constructivist learning theory tells us that students bring those unique experiences they have, and that their background and previous knowledge really does impact how they are able to learn.

This is a great concept for linking to issues like poverty or specific racial groups that may have specialized knowledge or lack specialized knowledge. When we think about the situation of poverty, for example, a person comes to the classroom with certain assumptions when they grow up in a poverty situation. That’s critical to know. I can remember one time, a long time ago when I was a junior high teacher, we were all given this book about poverty, the experience of poverty and the mindsets that are created there. And that was a helpful framework to understand many of our students: their backgrounds, how to connect with them, how to help them tie their previous learning and knowledge from life into the classroom and how to bring that classroom knowledge into their real lives. We didn’t want students to leave the school learning these academic things, but seeing them as completely disjointed and disconnected from reality. So bridging that gap for someone who has grown up in a poverty situation is critical, but really any situation.

We have to understand the basic principle of constructivism to know that students are going to put the knowledge together in their own ways, and they’re going to connect with their experiences, their beliefs, their insights. This is all what helps them learn and helps them cement their learning and bring it along for the next step.

The other thing about constructivism is that the meaning and systems of meaning are individually created. An idea of this would be, if you learn something new and you have some existing knowledge about it, you sort of relate those things and connect them to the things you already know. So if we’re going to teach something that is abstract and it’s really disconnected from your everyday knowledge, we have to find a way to anchor that and help build a new web of information in the mind.

The other idea is that in constructivism, learning has to be an active process. There’s some sensory input in the process and the learner really has to do something in order to truly learn. We can’t sit there passively consuming the knowledge like watching a YouTube video. We have to be thinking about a question to answer at the end or the way we’re going to respond to the knowledge or apply the knowledge in a new way or do something with it that will take it from the sterile information central into the more rich applied, active learning area of the brain.

Andragogy: Adult Learners

So, thinking about constructivism, we jump into our third area and that third area, andragogy, is really what we’re looking for when we’re talking about online learning. The reason I care so much about andragogy is that when you think about an adult learner being someone over 25 years old in the college system, that’s a lot of our students. Online education is so available now that adult learners are highly prevalent in the population we’re teaching. If we’re not familiar with andragogy, we may be approaching our teaching in a way that really does not give the space for the learner to do anything with it. Instead, we’re still thinking about distilling information or teaching people how to learn.

In andragogy, we assume four different things, these are important things to remember:

  1. Adults need to know why they need to learn something. This is a lot like sharing your objectives up front in a lesson, but more than just listing the objectives, you want to tie them into what is about to happen. Talk about them, draw back to those objectives throughout the process. And, in a degree program, it would be especially important to tie the courses and the activities back to the goals of that degree and also forecast forward to be thinking about how they will be applied in the career field. Very important reasons to learn something and helpful to bring out for our learners.
  2. Adults need to learn experientially. That’s where the constructivism comes in. There must be something happening when we’re learning. Just clicking through some videos and reading text on a screen is not enough for us to learn that through experience. Going out into our community, our family, our workplace, using the knowledge in an applied way, then coming back and sharing that, that’s going to be an experience. Something interactive, that’s going to be an experience. Whatever we can do in our online teaching to help our adult learners have experiences and learn in their experiences, that’s going to satisfy an andragogy principle and help them learn in the best ways possible.
  3. Adults approach learning as problem-solving. Think about what problem solving includes and consider how problem solving is a basic need for adult learners. We need to be able to have some independence, some critical thinking, some autonomy. Whenever we have a problem to solve, now we are important and we matter, and we’re going to show up differently to that experience thinking about it as problem solving. So, consider that as you’re developing online lessons, online activities, online assignments, and online classes.
  4. Adults learn best when the topic is of immediate value. Anything we can do to help our learners reflect on their learning and find ways to apply it right away in real life, that’s going to satisfy our fourth principle of andragogy. The topic is of immediate value. It could even be that this topic we’re teaching is going to lead into the next item, the next lesson, or the deliverable—the items that the person needs to submit for their class.

So, whatever that is, adults need to know why they’re learning it, have an experience learning experientially, approach learning as problem solving and have immediate value in the topic that they’re learning.

Heutagogy: Self-Directed Learning

Now, moving on to the last area, I did a little research here, and as I was looking for a nice side-by-side comparison of pedagogy and andragogy, I noticed this third term on the University of Illinois Springfield Center for Online Learning Research and Service website, and that is the word heutagogy. Never heard of that one myself. So I’m sharing my new learning with you today. And heutagogy is listed here as self-directed learning. That’s something that I personally have associated with andragogy and adult learning, but I find it interesting that it’s separated out here. And I’m just going to read through the website and I have linked it in the podcast transcript in case you’d like to visit it and check it out.

Heutagogy, self-directed learning means that the learners are interdependent. They identify the potential to learn from novel experiences as a matter of course. They’re able to manage their own learning. In this kind of learning, it appears that the resources are some given by the teacher and some decided by the student. So the learner’s going to choose the path where they’re going do the learning.

Some of your competency-based education might revolve around this concept of heutagogy, self-directed learning. The learning isn’t necessarily planned or linear. It doesn’t have to go from point A to B to C. It’s not based on need. It’s based on the identification of the potential to learn in new situations.

So just to reflect back on pedagogy, the reason that a student in that bracket would be learning is, they need to learn something to advance to the next stage. Whereas andragogy tells us that adults learn when they experience a need to know or to perform more if effectively. And in heutagogy, the learning is not necessarily planned or linear. It’s not based on need, it’s based on the identification of the potential to learn in new situations.

Now when we think about the focus of the learning, where pedagogy has learning focused on the subject itself and a planned curriculum, and andragogy, the adult learning theory, is task or problem-centered, in heutagogy, it appears that the learner can go beyond problem solving and become much more proactive. They’re going to use their own experiences and other people’s experiences, and their own thoughts, reflections, the experiences they have in the environment, their discussions with other people, their interaction, a lot of different methods to apply some problem-solving, but also self-direct their learning.

Now we might see heutagogy applied really well in a capstone course where a student chooses the resources they’re going to study, the path for their learning, and the final project. That’s a great application of this idea of heutagogy.

And, lastly, the teacher. The teacher in a heutagogy situation is developing the learner’s capability to learn. And when facilitating this kind of learning, we’re focusing on helping the student know how to learn, be creative, be independent, have self-efficacy, apply their competencies in new and familiar situations and work well with other people, cooperate with other people. This could also be a really great concept to bring into an internship, an applied learning situation like student teaching if you’re going to become a future teacher. It’s just a new concept. And it’s one worth considering.

How Do Teaching Theories Apply to Online Learning?

The other idea is if we were to take that adult learning theory, constructivism, and heutagogy and kind of combine all of those to take the best of all and decide how might we approach online learning differently? How could we give our students more freedom to apply what they’re learning and be creative, be more independent in learning the material and apply things in new and familiar situations, working with other people, what might be possible? When we’re thinking about those questions, we can come up with all kinds of new strategies.

We can bring in new technologies to facilitate conversation. We can bring in new options for organizing the course material so it’s not necessarily sequential, A to B to C. We can add some flexibility where students could do some independent research and bring it back to the classroom outside of the course materials. I’ve seen that one applied when faculty members, teachers, have their students create new lists of open educational resources that could be used in the class. Or faculty or teachers who have their students write new Wikipedia posts or edit Wikipedia posts, and actually submit them in the real world, to correct Wikipedia entries.

There are a lot of ways to use heutagogy in online learning. And I want to encourage you not just to think about andragogy this coming week, and really breaking away from the assumptions of pedagogy, but also to think about heutagogy. How we can give much more autonomy to the learner and stretch the limits of what’s possible in online learning.

I want to thank you for being here. I also am really grateful for the University of Illinois Springfield website, their Center for Online Learning Research and Service, where they placed this chart, introduced me to a new term, heutagogy. And I hope you’ll think about these four concepts, pedagogy, andragogy, constructivism and heutagogy as you’re designing learning experiences for your students and considering the future ahead as you teach online.

I wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week. And I also hope you enjoy some new creative approaches along the way. 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.

#82: Be Present: Best Practices for Authentic Teaching Online

#82: Be Present: Best Practices for Authentic Teaching Online

Be Present: Best Practices for Authentic Teaching Online

This content first appeared at APUEdge.com.

Being present is one of the most important elements driving success in the online classroom. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares two practices that help online educators establish trust and set the tone for faculty and student success. Learn how instructors can establish their presence, share their personality and expertise with students, and build relationships with students so that everyone has a great experience in the class.

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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. We’re going to talk today about being authentic. We talk a lot in higher education about faculty success and student success. These two best practices I’m going to share with you today are part of both of those endeavors.

Being authentic in your online teaching is absolutely critical to your success. And the challenges of bringing your authentic self into your online teaching are great.

We’ll start with talking about those challenges, what comes up when we teach online that may not be obvious in the live classroom, and then I’ll give you the first best practice on helping students get to know you and the second about you communicating with them. Let’s dive in.

Best Practice #1: Be Present in the Online Classroom

The first best practice that I emphasize in my own teaching, as well as with all of the faculty who I work with, this best practice is to be present. Well, what does it mean to be present?

Being present means that you literally are logging into the course regularly. It could be every day during the week. It could be every day during the week plus a weekend day. It could be seven days a week. It could be every other day; maybe you go in there four days a week. Whatever you do, you literally are present in that online space regularly and you are there often.

When we talk about being present, there’s a lot more to presence than then just showing up. One of those things is that you help students get to know you early in the class so they can feel like they know who you are. They trust you and they can go to you with problems when you have questions. One of the things that comes up in my job, I’m a faculty director at American Public University, I often have fantastic faculty. Occasionally, I’ll get a compliment about a faculty member. Many times, they share that comment with the faculty member who then passes it on to me.

Just today, I got an email where classroom support sent me a compliment about a faculty member that a student sent them. That was really a joy to get. Unfortunately, we usually hear about the complaint faster than we ever hear about a compliment, and probably for every one person that complains there are 20 very happy customers and you don’t hear from a lot of those.

But the one thing that prompts the complaint is that there is a low instructor presence or that the faculty member is there, but the student doesn’t have a sense of who they are, they don’t really know them.

There are some beautiful things you can do to establish your presence, your unique personality, your expertise and your position as the instructor.

The first thing I would recommend is to put a picture of yourself in the course. Make it a professional one. Help them understand who you are, what you look like. You don’t have to love the picture, just pick a good one. And as they see you, they’ll start to get a sense of you. Who are you?

And then put some kind of introductory thing, whether it’s on the homepage, a brief summary of your academic background and one or two personable things about you. You could put this in the forum discussion area if there’s a place where people are introducing themselves.

You can make a video. I’ve seen several faculty do this, where they’ll put themselves in the video they’ll talk, they’ll introduce themselves, they’ll greet the students. Very personable. Really nice.

And, of course, you’re going to write announcements, especially that first week. I want to put a word of caution in here. When you’re creating this beautiful instructor presence so critical to your online teaching, be careful not to stack the deck against your students that first week.

So those first announcements you put in your course should be friendly, encouraging, and welcoming. Give them step-by-step, some guidelines about how to begin participating and engaging in the course. Avoid giving lots of warnings or criticism early on during the first week about how to use citations, how to format their papers. You can give all that information along the way, but the very first day of class is probably not the best time. It’s off-putting and it can create sort of a confrontational feeling between your students and you.

As part of your presence, another thing is showing your personality, your passion for teaching and your expertise in your subject matter. If your online teaching is relatively new to you, if you haven’t done a lot of this, might feel kind of weird to tell your students anything personal about yourself.

We like to encourage safe sharing, so something that you would tell just anyone on the street. Not of something especially private. For example, I like to tell my students, because I teach music appreciation online, I like to tell them that I went to Brazil once, and I bought a pandeiro there. I might be saying that wrong but it’s basically a Brazilian tambourine. And I’ll put a little link to the video, maybe an image of me playing it in that first week’s announcement.

Because I teach a lot of military students, I’ll occasionally run across someone who has been there and has seen one. And they love connecting to that. I also presented at a conference in Scotland and saw some guys on the street playing bagpipes. So, I took a small video of that, one guy even had bagpipe with an attachment on the end of the pipes where flames were coming out. It was pretty neat. I like to tell them about that, show pictures, and again if I have any students who have served in the military in that part of the world or have lived over there or have ever visited, they like to connect to that as well.

That’s one way I share my personality online. You can also share your expertise. For example, I’ve seen occasionally we’ve had another music faculty member who is a classical performing musician, and they’ll put a short video clip of themself playing.

I knew one here locally at the community college who is a concert pianist. She would invite her students to attend her live piano recitals, the ones who were in her online class, so they would get to come and see her and meet her, meet each other. It was quite a wonderful experience because the school was local and many of the students were too, even though they were taking it online.

So, in your instructor presence, you want to establish this early. Help them get to know you. Post regular course announcements every week of class. You might even consider a second announcement midweek with some reminders, some last-minute advice. Any announcements you want to share. And then of course, participate in the discussions.

Discussions are a really great way to have your students practice their learning and talk to each other; but you should be there. Not to give them the right answers, but to engage. To talk. To discuss the subject. To ask them questions that are thought-provoking; and really to just help that discussion unfold. That is the first best practice that if you had nothing else going for you in online teaching, that instructor presence could really carry you well.

Best Practice #2: Communicate Early and Often

The second one, I chose this as number two out of two for this podcast because it is so critical and it will solve a lot of problems too, so that second best practice is to communicate regularly and effectively. And some of the things I suggest you communicate are norms and expectations.

Norms are standards of behavior. So a norm would be something like, “When you’re posting in a discussion forum, I want you to sign your name at the bottom; if you’re replying to somebody else, please put their name in the post,” etc.

And when you suggest that students do these things, don’t dock their grade for little errors that have to do with netiquette or norms. Grades should be based on the content itself, not habits or behaviors or little nitpicky thinks like that. But these are definite protocols we should teacher online students.

We want to communicate norms for how to reach out if they need help, how to contact you if they have an emergency, what they should do if they have to submit a late assignment, how to ask questions, a lot of different things have norms and you want to communicate all of these to your students.

And then you also should communicate due dates, assignment expectations and learning goals very clearly upfront. If you’re new to teaching online, it’s possible this first go round that you might have to adjust the assignments a little as you go, once you realize how the students are responding. So, you could have a more general syllabus the first time you teach the course and then a more clear, well set-up program the next time. Either way, definitely communicate the expectations to your students clearly and effectively, and with kindness.

A detailed syllabus is the best way to go. Include due dates and the schedule and assignment directions, and also how to find things. If you want to make it clear like a video a screen cast to clarify where things are in the classroom, how to find your grading comments you are going to give them, where they can find all of the assignments and learning materials, definitely point them around.

Prioritize the Two Best Practices

So, you don’t have to be perfect especially if you’re brand-new to teaching online and if it’s short-term for you and your just trying to get by till you can get back to the live class. Whatever you do, be present and communicate often and professionally as much as possible with your students.

Once you establish that you are responsive, trustworthy and present, your students are going to come to you with their questions. They’re going to have a relationship with you. It’s a good thing, and you’ll be able to follow up if there’s a change. If you need to change or adjust something.

That communication channel you have established early on is going to really help everyone get through this experience and have a really good experience with you. Online teaching does not need to be overwhelming or super difficult. If you focus on being present and communicating often, you’re going have a good experience.

As we close out today’s episode, I’d like to thank you for being with us for the Online Teaching Lounge. We’ve had this podcast going for the past year and a half, and it’s been a pleasure to be with you sharing teaching excellence tips, strategies, some ideas for balancing your work and your life while you’re teaching online, and also ways to connect with your students for their success. As well as best practices.

Take a look at our past episodes and you’ll learn a lot of things about forum discussions, professional development and other areas. We also have an episode that highlights courses and degree programs in the teaching area in the School of Arts, Education and Humanities at American Public University. If you’d like to get some professional development or take certificate program, or even an entire master’s degree, come check it out. It’s worth your time, and it will help you get even more skills and confidence under your belt while you’re teaching online. Again, thanks for being here for the Online Teaching Lounge 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 in your online teaching journey.

#81: Enhancing Online Discussion Forums to Improve Student Learning

#81: Enhancing Online Discussion Forums to Improve Student Learning

Enhancing Online Discussion Forums to Improve Student Learning

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

Discussion forums are where most interactions happen in the online classroom, so it’s critical that educators use this area strategically. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides insight into enhancing discussion forums to encourage student engagement, foster connections, exercise critical thinking skills, and offer further learning into the topic at hand. Learn how to improve discussion forums by writing open-ended questions, clearly setting expectations with students about when and how often they should participate, and more.

Listen to the Episode:

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 today’s podcast. We’re going to talk about forum discussions. Discussions, discussion forums, they’re called a lot of things, but these are the places in the online classroom where students and faculty, peer-to-peer, peer-to-self, peer-to-content, peer-to-faculty, this is where everyone is going to speak about the content and interact. This is the main conversation space.

Forum discussions can be used as a place for pure discussion, basically it’s about the academic content. It could be a place where you have students place their graded work or they’re going to put it there and have something like a peer review. Or they’re going to post a blog and it’s got to be graded. They could be assignments posted to share and discuss before their due date, to be a draft for peer review.

They could be assignments shared after the fact just to share, say, it’s a PowerPoint presentation. And talk about concepts together. It could be a space where students teach each other. Whatever it is, forum discussions in my opinion are an optimal thing to really engage formative assessment strategies. Help students through learning and get them really engaged in the class.

Franklin D. Roosevelt said that “If a civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships.” This is a great place to do it. There are different places in the typical online classroom for these other elements. There’s usually, in a learning management system, there is an assignment space to submit essays and blogs and things like that.

There are also other tools in certain learning management systems where you can have students write a journal and submit it privately. For that reason, today I’m going to discuss only conversational elements of discussion forums. I’m going to give you a few strategies, some tips you can use, some best practices, some based on research, some based on experience and observation.

Why Should You Care About the Discussion Area?

First, every learning management system comes with a space for conversations. Many of them, and some of the older models especially, called them a forum. And a forum is a space where conversations can occur. If you change that name to discussions, it makes it even more specific to what you’re hoping to achieve in that space. A discussion is back and forth, it isn’t one person setting everyone else straight, and it is an opportunity for varying levels of engagement and participation in that discussion.

This is a great space where students can have some formative practice with learning the material that you’re teaching. It is also a place where they can have guided practice, which anyone new to the subject area is going to need, to develop their thinking, to develop their descriptive abilities for terms that are going to be used, to develop their analytical abilities, and so forth. They’re the best locations where students can try on new ideas. Try on new terms and concepts and write about them to further develop and adjust their thinking.

You should care about discussion forums not only because there’s a space to do them in an online class, but more because when you have students learning from you and from the content, you want to see the results of the learning. One of the best things we can do as educators is see the result and determine if our strategies are working. The discussion is a space where we can help nudge people in the right direction, help them explore those ideas more fully and learn from each other and us as the teacher so that we can get them to a place where they’re ready to do more.

The discussion could be excellent preparation for an assignment. For example, if you had an essay you wanted a student to do, to write about their understanding on a particular subject, that discussion the previous week could’ve been focused on the topic to explore ideas. Test them out. Apply them in a soft way. Then, in the following week, if the student writes the essay, they can be prepared because they had a chance to talk through their ideas.

General purposes of a discussion space are to foster this connection between people and give people a space to check in, converse. Most online classes are asynchronous in many universities, which means that a student goes in, participates, does their work, and leaves, and then you as the faculty member might be in that classroom at a different time.

If your courses are synchronous–meaning that they’re taking place in real time–then maybe a discussion is just a space where you might have a little follow-up conversation to whatever happens in that live space. And in that kind of situation, it makes sense that maybe the faculty member is checking on the discussion and facilitating it, but less active.

When there’s an asynchronous situation where students are to guide themselves through the learning material, through the lesson content, a more active role for the faculty member or teacher is super helpful to help the students stay on track.

In an online class, forum discussions can serve as the space where students have a voice for initial comments. Every single student has a voice. Now, if you think about your typical university lecture class, you might have one faculty member at the front of the room, lots and lots of students especially if it’s a general education class, you might have 300 students in there. Unless you give the students time to talk to each other during part of that class to discuss the ideas, many times students really don’t have a voice at all during the class. There’s this learning cycle where we take in information, we think about it, we talk about it, we write about it, and eventually we’ve formed our understanding of the content. Simply hearing it doesn’t really help us to change our ideas, be transformed by them or deeply learn things.

In the forum discussion unlike the live lecture class, you’ve got this opportunity for students to really have their own voice, have a choice about what they contribute to the dialogue. It’s a super huge benefit of online education and something that makes online learning unique and very special when you compare it to the live class with very little participation.

Now, if you’re a more active instructor and in your live classes you tend to engage people a lot, that’s normal and usual for you. I tend to do that as a strategy because of my background, but not everyone sees teaching that way, so this is the opportunity for a totally different experience that student’s going to have.

On the flip side, there are students who don’t want to participate in the discussion. They want to show up, they want to get the very minimum of what they need to do in that online class or that live class–whatever kind it is–they want to get a grade and move on. For these students that class is not a subject they particularly like, they don’t really want to learn it, they’re busy working and this is a part-time thing going to school, for whatever reason there are many students who just want to move as quickly through as possible.

But I want everyone out there to know there are also people who deeply want to learn the content. Many, in fact. It might surprise you how many students really do care and want to really understand what you’re teaching. So, this is the chance that they can contribute their ideas and they can engage with other people and they can get new insights and have a lot of different experiences. Caring about this matters because whatever attitude or perception or belief that you bring to the experience as the faculty member or the teacher, that predisposed disposition–that’s a little redundant–by your disposition about forum discussions, this is going to greatly influence the students’ experience.

It doesn’t really matter how the discussion is set up, what it’s prepared to do; if you are against doing discussions online, it’s going to be very difficult to utilize these to their full potential. Now if you really like to engage with students, love to hear what they have to say, love to challenge them and prompt them to think more deeply and share your insights, experience, and questions with them, then a forum discussion might come more naturally.

One of the ways to be most successful setting these up in your own attitude and thinking is to consider what you view the value of education, the core philosophy of what you’re doing. What you hope to accomplish by being a teacher. The big picture. Do you hope to change people’s assumptions? Do you hope to open doors for them so they can move in new directions? Do you hope to help them transform themselves as individuals? Are you trying to promote social change?

There are a lot of different roles that education can serve. Whatever your belief is about it, chances are, you’re going to find something you can really bring into that discussion in a way that’s going to be uniquely you and make a difference and really have somewhere to go with it.

The problem of online education is the lack of face-to-face, especially in asynchronous classes that don’t meet all at one time. In a synchronous class you’re still held back by this digital interface, but even then, you’re seeing people and you’re hearing them in real time. So, the problem of teaching online is partially overcome through that discussion, where we start to get to know each other, we start to dive into ideas.

Now why does that matter? If you have a disengaged student or have a lack of connection, it’s very difficult to feel like moving forward with the content. Many times, people need that connection to feel like they’re part of a school, part of a class, engaged in learning, moving forward on something. It’s going to matter to you long-term to learn how to develop discussions because these can serve you incredibly well and very soon in the online teaching side of things your interest in online teaching will increase if you will engage more fully in those discussions.

You can derive your own purpose and meaning of education and why you are a teacher from the way you participate and the way you approach your students’ participation. It can matter to your students deeply in the future because they need to connect to the concept to learn it and to move through whatever the purpose of your class is.

I have had a variety of discussions. Some of them are teacher-led forum discussions. Some of them are student-led. There have been some I’ve engaged in with courses I’ve taught online that have been group discussions, where maybe there were five or six people in the group and they were discussing or planning a project or something like that. There are a lot of different ways to set this up. I don’t propose that there is only one “right” way, but there are some guidelines that will help you be successful establishing solid discussion forums in your online teaching.

Considerations for Setting up an Online Discussion Forum

First, determine how many discussions you want to have and what is going to overload the student. There is no real perfect answer to how many discussions are optimal during an online class. If you consider how long the class is, for example, if it is a 14-, 15- or 16-week class, it would make sense to have one discussion per week. That keeps it manageable and helps students to stay focused on the topic during the week it’s happening.

If you have a shorter class, maybe you have a four-, five-, or eight-week class, this could be a little bit more difficult. It might cause you to think that you must cover a lot of topics in those discussions, and it might lead you to have many discussions going on at one time. You can either have two separate conversation spaces, two entirely different forum discussions, if you need more than one. Or you can have one discussion with the option to choose from many topics that you offer.

Again, if you approach forum discussions as a space to practice the ideas and to really manipulate them to understand them, then it does not require every student to discuss every topic, every week. Options on those topics can be very helpful.

Also, you’re going to need participation requirements. So, telling your students how often or how many times they should engage at a minimum for whatever you’re going to expect and, again, think about the topic. Will it require them to come back many times? Will it require them to give each other feedback? Will they need to come back a different day to do the feedback?

Whatever your desire is, be specific about how many times, how often during the week. And, should they have a day when their initial post is due and a different day when their peer replies are due? There’s often this idea that students are going to put an initial post in there of their ideas, and they are going to go back and respond to the ideas of their classmates.

During this whole process, of course, you can also put some initial posts to guide them. You can reply to the students just as the peers would reply, and converse just like you might in a live discussion. There are some other ideas like threaded forums, where you post that initial prompt and everyone responds along one single thread. They can be difficult to manage, they can also be interesting to see how the class unfolds along the idea. There are a lot of benefits to using what we call a threaded discussion.

There are also a lot of benefits to posting these separate discussions as individual posts students have. Whatever kind you want it to be, you want to tell students how it will unfold, how they should engage, how often.

As you design the form prompt that you put there telling students what they should write about or talk about, you want some different statements that will guide the content about what students are going to discuss. What qualities should the initial post include? How long should it be? How timely should it be? What are the directions you are going to include for sharing content and source materials? Will students need to refer to a source that they may have used in the form discussion? If so, can they give you a link? Can they simply mention it? Do they need to give you an actual formatted citation in MLA (Modern Languages Association), Chicago or Turabian or APA style?

Whatever those different details are, be specific with each forum that you post. And yes, I do advocate being repetitive on that part, including every week what the posting guidelines are. Keeping them fairly consistent can help students to engage better.

If you want your students to post in the normal font that appears, just remind them of that. You can also suggest that they use the spell check or grammar check. If you do use word counts for your forums, and if your learning management system does not give you a way to naturally do that, you can also suggest they type their forum in Microsoft Word, copy and paste it into the forum afterwards.

As you’re developing the prompt for the discussion, think about the qualities that students need to provide, whether they’re going to specifically give their take-away, their reflection, what they need to include in terms of the dialogue they’re sharing, and if they should ask each other questions. This can be a helpful way to get the discussion going. I have a little checklist that I’m going to share with you now that has six different elements and it comes from a book I wrote called “Teaching Music Appreciation Online,” (page 119), if you have a copy of that.

And this form prompt quality checklist is just to determine: Does the form prompt have the elements needed to help students know what to do and have the best chance of engaging well?

  1. The first question is, “does your forum prompt include a specific active verb indicating the action students will take developing their initial post in the discussion?” And some active verbs might be: define, describe, identify, compare, contrast, explain, summarize, apply, predict, classify, analyze, evaluate, critique, create, and design.
  2. Second question, “if guiding questions are included, are they written as open-ended questions that allow students to exercise critical thinking to create, to explore and otherwise apply their learning?” For example, does the question you have given students use the words “how” or “why,” and avoid closed ended yes/no questions, like did, do, where, or who? Closed ended questions make it very difficult to have a discussion, and most students will copy each other. There are only a few responses possible, so open-ended questions are much more useful, like “what,” “how,” and “why.”
  3. “Does the forum prompt specifically guide students to the content, concepts, topic and other elements to be included in their initial post?”
  4. “Does the form prompt state how many details or sources or what link is to be included in the student’s initial post?”
  5. “Does the forum prompt appear appropriate for the level of the course that you’re teaching?” For example, if you’re teaching a college level course at a 100 level, does the prompt address general elements and then draw students into deeper thinking. And at the 400 college-level does it identify complex ideas and analyses and different types of application you would want at that level?
  6. And lastly, “are clear posting instructions included, such as the due date for the initial post, the number of replies and the due date for those replies, and any other pertinent requirements?”

Think about these as you write forum prompts and examine the forum prompts that exist. If you’re teaching a standardized course. And as you’re looking at the forum prompt, if you’re teaching a course someone else has designed, it’s very easy to change the wording slightly to make it even more effective. And if you’re at a university where there’s some collaboration or the chance to improve the course, you can also suggest those changes to the course designer or the faculty member who has initially organized that class.

So open-ended questions can invite a lot more thought.

The last point I am going to share today is about how students should bring in their own ideas, reflections, opinions, and experiences. There are a lot of subjects where we’re working very hard to help students argue and analyze without opinion. In those subjects, I would suggest separating out the personal reflection, opinions, and experiences part to a second half of the forum post. Maybe you’re going to have them analyze and argue a point, and then come back and share their reflection about it or their opinion about it.

One reason I’m heavy on personal reflection, opinions and experiences is that these are the ways students personalize their learning, and this is what helps them to make something new out of it for themselves. It creates connections in the brain and soon the student’s going to care a lot about the subject, or at least have opinions on it and be able to think about it later. So those personal reflection elements are critical.

In future podcast episodes, I will discuss ways to apply critical thinking, interpretation, problem-solving, persuasion, and analysis, debates, and different topics so I hope you will join me again in the future for additional thoughts about discussion forums online.

Until then, I wish you all the best in starting your discussions, engaging with your students, and creating form prompts that really work for you. Best wishes teaching online 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 in your online teaching journey.