#112: A Guide to Dealing with Challenging Students in the Online Classroom

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com. 

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenAssociate Dean (Interim), School of Arts, Humanities and Education

Online educators sometimes face challenging students who disagree with a grade or are argumentative in the classroom. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses ways to help online educators deal with such conflicts. Learn how to implement de-escalation tactics to meet in the middle, work with colleagues or administrators to get additional support, and finding ways to recover after a stressful situation.

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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 your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen. I’m very happy to be with you today to talk about difficult students online. There are a variety of situations in which you might find yourself working with a student you might describe as “difficult.” And by difficult, I’m talking about a variety of things. It could be that student is challenging a grade and persisting after you have provided additional feedback. Or the student might be arguing throughout the class, creating a tense atmosphere. This might seem like it is escalating. It might seem as though your student doesn’t like you and resists the teaching approach or even your personality. And with a lot of tense events are happening in our world, so it’s likely that you’re going to encounter challenging students more often in the future, as our students face unexpected stressors, trauma, world events, natural disasters, and uncertainty.

While you’re working with challenging students in your online teaching, your own stress level increases. The experience might drain your energy and might make it harder to notice the students who are having a good experience in your class, and all the positive moments happening. We can easily become defensive when a student reacts poorly or challenges us, and our own response might add fuel to the fire.

To address all of this, in today’s podcast we will first look at ways to meet the student in the middle. To focus on de-escalating the tension to find a potential step forward.

Then, we will look at options available to you when a solution is not reached. This might include other departments at your educational institution, members of your team, or colleagues. Although we may teach alone, we are not alone in managing serious challenges, and we can reach out for support.

And last, we will explore supportive habits that can help you to get through the stressful time you’re experiencing and to recover from what might be a traumatic experience. When a serious challenging experience occurs in the online classroom, it can shake your confidence and make you feel depleted. Focusing on your wellbeing and recovery from the stress can give you the space to regain energy and zest for teaching. And we will close with those ideas.

Focus on De-Escalation and Meet in the Middle

A lot of times, students escalate quickly when they don’t understand, or when we’ve made a comment to them that they have taken as a judgment instead of an evaluation of their work. While it might surprise us when this happens, especially if it happens quickly, it also makes sense that not all our students will immediately understand what we say to them.

As you face a challenging student in your online class, I recommend looking backwards. Consider your past teaching moments and any challenges you might have faced. How did you work through those challenges? When we reflect on our past challenges, we can identify key skills we developed that are now available to us in present challenging situations. Looking at past teaching challenges can also help us consider new perspectives about the current problem. There is a lot we have already learned from working with difficult students in the past, and we can draw on what went right in those previous scenarios, as well as what we would have wanted to do differently.

To meet students in the middle, we can draw upon the skills we have learned from our past challenges. And we can try to understand our student’s perspective. From their vantage point, what might have been more helpful in the assignment instructions, or in my grading feedback? And where they are sitting right now, what will be most helpful to move them forward in the class?

Meeting someone in the middle suggests that I consider how I might be part of the problem, so that I can be part of the solution. One way to learn about the student’s perspective in order to meet in the middle could be to have a phone call or video chat and ask them: “What is you understanding of the situation?” or “What might help you most right now?”

As we hear what students will tell us, the most important part of this conversation is to listen with a true desire to understand their viewpoint or their perspective. As this begins to take shape, it is tempting to jump in with comments or assume that we’re ready to make a compromise of some kind. However, I would encourage us to keep listening to ensure that we have the full story from our student. And then, we can summarize or paraphrase what we heard to make sure that we understand. Only then, the student feels fully heard are we able to take a step forward to resolving the situation.

Be Authentic and Present

Now, if you have a problem that you can’t de-escalate with a student, and you really do feel like you’ve put in the steps needed but things are not improving, authenticity can be one additional resource available to you. Authenticity is a combination of awareness, behavior, relational orientation, and unbiased processing.

When we think about being authentic in a moment of tension or conflict with a student online, we might find that to be just the opposite of what is possible for us. But, if we can stay grounded to our personal values, what we care most about, and the humanity of that other person we are dealing with, we can bring ourselves back down emotionally and become mindful of the moment that we’re in and be able to let those really tense thoughts just stream on by.

The most important thing we can do in a tense situation with students is to think clearly and to be able to be back in the moment that we’re living in. By doing this, you can be authentic, you can present yourself as your best self, even when there’s a tension there. Most people that we’re engaging with, even if they have a complaint, will be less aggressive when they feel that we’re being non-judgmental towards them and inviting them.

Pause to Refocus

If you start to feel inflexible, resistant and defensive towards the student, I want to encourage you to pause, take a step back and see if you can understand what the student is experiencing. Just giving that pause can give you a little bit of space to see it in new light and understand if the student has missed something along the way, then a simple clarification can help get things right back on track.

Of course, not all students are going to respond openly when they initially are defensive about something. Again, if you sense yourself tensing up and resisting the student or starting to argue back and forth, a pause or silence to breathe and refocus can help. Letting go of that sense of resistance may be the tone that invites your student to do the same. And once we are meeting in the middle and understanding what is going on, we can take a step forward towards solutions, no matter how small.

In my experience, I notice that when someone is being challenging or difficult, it’s like I’m being invited to get defensive in return. It’s like an unwritten invitation to get defensive right back. And if we’re not careful, we’re going to be sucked in quickly. It’s easy to do that when we’re not seeing the people face to face that we’re teaching, and if we read the question or complaint in an email. If we take the invitation and get defensive back with a student who’s having a challenge experience, it becomes very difficult to see the student in a positive light or present ourselves in a positive way. And we might invite more of what we don’t want.

Another problem that we might face is feeling that we need to be right. If we have seen the situation from an objective viewpoint, and we feel that we’ve communicated very well with a student, we might feel like we know the answer, we are right and the student just needs to accept it. The problem with that is that the firmer we get, the more we’re sort of inviting that fight in return. If we’re willing to hear the person out and be a little bit softer in our presentation, and really listen, sometimes that alone will de-escalate the situation and invite your student into a discussion.

Some things we can do to invite the other person to de-escalate and join us at the table for a conversation are to ask open-ended questions and just wait. And listen. If we’re able to do that, and just give silence and take it in, then another thing we could do is to restate back to the student what we’re hearing. To validate that, yes, they must be frustrated with that understanding, whatever that is, and to ask them what they’re hoping that we can do together to resolve the situation. Sometimes it really is a small thing that’s just a huge misunderstanding. If you find yourself in this situation, slow down, and see if you can get yourself present in the moment to be your more authentic self and invite that student to the table with you.

After focusing on de-escalation strategy, slowing down, listening, and learning about what the student is experiencing, and working toward a solution, we might find that this student continues to challenge. In some cases, it begins to seem as though everything in the class starts a new challenging conversation, and the student is not interested in working with us to resolve it. When this happens, there are options available to you when a solution is not reached. This might include contacting other departments at your educational institution, members of your team, or colleagues. Although we may teach alone, we are not alone in managing serious challenges, and we can reach out for support.

Consider a Partner or Department to Support You

One helpful partner we can contact might be a department chair, a manager, a partner teacher, or another team member who can be on the phone or on a Zoom call with us and our student. Having a second party there can bring in neutrality to help us to have the conversation in a less emotional manner than we might otherwise have. The team member can add value to the conversation by sharing additional ideas or perspective that can help both you and your student to move forward. And after the call has ended, this person might be able to share perspective with you that you’re not seeing, because you’re very close to the situation.

In any challenging situation, whether we are alone in the conversation or with a team member on the call, we can listen to the student’s story, their experience, and their complaint, and then let the student know we need some time to think about what they have said, and a second conversation to respond. It’s like we’re scheduling two different meetings, that first one will be to hear this student and really understand their situation. And the second conversation will take place after we have had the time to consider how we want to address the complaint or concern.

And be sure to respond in a prompt manner as much as possible. The wonderful thing about this approach is that it takes all pressure off you. In that first call, you can be open, a good listener, and just focused on learning as much as you can about the student’s perspective and experience. You don’t have to give any answers during the first conversation, and you can have time to think before responding.

If you work with another department, the representative from that department might be able to suggest alternatives and additional solutions to help you and your student. Some departments you might consider contacting include the student conduct department, a faculty advocate, a student services or advising team member, the university chaplain, or the disability services and accommodations office. Each of these teams has a slightly different approach when meeting the students’ needs, and you may find that aligning your approach with one or more of these teams gives you strength and perspective to respond well. If you have any suspicion that your student could use these services, you can even recommend them to your student, that they reach out to those departments. And of course, you can as well for a little more insight and support in dealing with a very challenging situation.

We know that online teaching can itself be challenging at times and a bit isolating. But with these ideas, we hope that you’ll be able to reach out to your students make some personal connections, feel that you’re able to really reduce the tension in a situation that might otherwise escalate and help your students to get right back on track.

During the conflict, it’s possible that you will feel unable to relax and consider the student’s perspective if this student has approached you in a hostile way or a threatening manner. If that happens, don’t wait to reach out to others for help and support. It’s difficult to know what to do in such a situation, and other team members and departments will be able to help you.

If the challenge is a tough one, but it does not seem that you’re being threatened or treated in a hostile way, it might still push you a bit. You can know if you’re feeling stress if you start to firm up your grading practices in response or if you feel like suddenly becoming strict with grading timelines when you were previously more flexible. If you start to notice yourself getting into more strict absolutes, which we call all-or-nothing thinking in terms of your deadlines and your grading, this serves as a red flag to let you know that you’re under a lot more stress than usual. And you might unintentionally invite more resistance from students, instead of less. When you notice these kinds of red flags in your approach, I encourage you again to pause, step back, and continue to treat that challenging student as you would any student in your class as much as you can. And at the same time, contact other colleagues, a manager, or one of the departments available to help you, and ask for back up.

If you need a break from your classroom, you can also talk to a partner teacher, a manager, or a leader in your institution, a department chair, a principal, or wherever you’re working for some backup for some help. Perhaps there might be a day or two, you could be out of that class to get some space if the situation has escalated.

Take Care of Yourself and Recover from Stress

For the final topic we explore today, we look at supportive habits that can help you get through the stressful time you’re experiencing and recover from what might be a traumatic experience. When serious and challenging experience occurs in the online classroom, it can shake your confidence and make you feel depleted. Focusing on your wellbeing and recovery from the stress can give you the space to regain energy and zest for teaching.

And you might truly experience stress and trauma when you’re working with very challenging students. Especially if there’s been a traumatic event. There is a resource one of my wonderful colleagues shared with me from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which is linked here in the podcast transcript. And from it, we are taking some helpful tips to notice normal and natural reactions you might experience when dealing with a traumatic event or a disaster, and emotions you might have. Physical reactions you might also have, and then some suggestions on how you might manage your workload afterwards.

For example, one of the suggestions is that if you realize you’ve been injured, you need to seek medical treatment, of course, and if you’re not injured, focus on completing only one task at a time, just slow down in your work. And that will help you feel like you’re getting some control back and getting on top of things as you’re getting back in the game of working with your students.

Pause and take deep breaths. Take the time to gently stretch to calm yourself before you tackle each task. And plan to do something relaxing after work. Be patient with yourself if you notice that you’re having trouble remembering things, difficulty thinking clearly, worrying a lot, of experience more difficulty making decisions. All of these can be normal effects of stress or trauma. So do your best to exercise self-compassion.

And look at those tips for survivors of traumatic events. Talk with others who can understand you and understand what you’re going through. Listen to uplifting music, music that can help you relax and calm yourself. Of course, use what you know to be good coping skills, healthy coping skills that work for you.

As you work with challenging students, you know, because you’ve been teaching online, that there are many types of students that we work with, a lot of different people with a lot of different backgrounds. Hopefully you’ll be able to get through that experience and take the skills you have gained in the challenge to apply in other scenarios in the future. And if you’re not able to finish the class with that student, you will still be able to care for yourself and work through the stress and trauma of the significant challenge you might be experiencing. Regardless of how the situation ends, taking the time to focus on your wellbeing and recovery from the stress is important. And adopting habits to sustain your wellbeing will help you regain confidence after the conflict.

The ideas we have considered today around working with challenging students have focused on de-escalation efforts to meet in the middle, working with colleagues and other departments to get support if the challenge isn’t improving, and finding ways to recover once the stress has subsided. Although these ideas are a good start, there is no substitute for your own experiences and intuition about how to resolve challenging situations and relying on your own insight can be helpful throughout the process.

Thank you for being here today and for your desire to help challenging students get back into learning in your online class when possible. We wish you all the best in resolving tough situations in your online teaching and in your work 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.

#108: Bringing Authenticity to the Online Classroom

#108: Bringing Authenticity to the Online Classroom

This content originally appeared at APUEdge.com

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

Teaching online can be inherently depersonalized, so it’s important for online teachers to share enough about themselves so students feel a connection. In this episode, learn about the value of authenticity, building teaching presence and social presence, and how to keep from oversharing with students.

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Read the Transcript:

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

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. In online education, we all face the problem of being authentic. After all, getting to know anyone online passes through that filter of the online platform, which can become a barrier to letting your personality and your expertise shine through. Distance learning and online work are inherently depersonalized. This modality of education more than any other way, takes the “you” out of the situation the most. It makes it difficult for people to really get a sense of who you are.

In today’s episode, we’ll look at what authenticity is. We will also explore why it’s so important in our online teaching. We will take some guidance from Brené Brown’s book “Daring Greatly.” And, I’ll give you a few examples of online educators I’ve observed that bring wonderful authenticity into their work to help you think about where you’re bringing in authenticity to your online teaching effectively, and to give you ideas about areas in which you can take it further.

What is Authenticity?

Authenticity is that state of feeling safe, secure, and comfortable showing up as your whole self. To fully show up authentically, we all need a deep sense of belonging and psychological safety. And we help others be authentic when we create that sense of belonging and psychological safety with them.

As human beings, we all have fears, hopes, struggles and joy. And as online educators, we might have good examples from our own lives or our experiences that illustrate some course concept, some topic we’re talking about. If we share those little bits of ourselves with students in brief examples, and, more importantly, what we’ve learned, what we thought about it, and how it connects to our students in their learning, we build beautiful, authentic connections throughout the learning experience.

Another way of thinking about authenticity would be through the lens of social presence. There’s a framework often discussed in online education called the Community of Inquiry, or the COI, which includes teaching presence, social presence, and cognitive presence. Teaching presence includes the aspect of guiding students through their learning experience. And those things might include the grading, the course announcements, and other guidance to successfully complete the course.

Why Is Authenticity Important in Online Teaching?

The social presence is where authenticity comes out. It is an indicator of who you are as the educator, and as a human being.  Where teaching presence tells them you’re there, social presence is this sense of who you are. It’s the “you-ness” in this experience. And your students really, really want that online more than in any other type of learning. They need to know who you are to gain psychological safety and try, and to engage in that classroom. And they need the positive emotions coming out of authenticity to build connections that help them learn.

Authenticity has a strong link to wellbeing. And being authentic brings positive emotions, greater life satisfaction, feelings of autonomy and control, a sense of purpose, and self-acceptance. Authenticity is important with all of our students, but even more with adult learners who need emotional connections to their learning experience.

If there is ever a doubt on your grading, or if there’s ever a misunderstanding in the classroom, students can be incredibly forgiving when they know who you are, or if they feel like they know who you are. Likewise, if they don’t have any sense of you, they are very quick to complain, reach out, drop the class, ask for a refund, and disengage. There are a lot of things that happen when students cannot latch on to your identity. Just a little bit goes a long, long ways.

The problem is, it’s nearly impossible to do that online and be comfortable. It’s really difficult to know what a good balance is, when you’re doing this virtually over the internet, maybe it’s asynchronous, you’re making your comments, and other people are seeing those comments later on. They’re not going to see your facial expression, they might not hear your tone of voice, especially if it’s text based, if it’s written, they’re going to take your comments, your presence, the thing you do to show up in that classroom online. And they’re going to interpret it however they like.

Because your communication is asynchronous, if you show up as the best you, the real you, the incredible educator that you are, this doesn’t always land as intended. At the same time, if you hold back and don’t let them really get a sense of who you are, your students will resist that much more. There will always be someone who responds poorly or disappears in your online classroom.

It can be so easy to take all of this personally. But if you wonder why put in the added effort it takes to bring in photos, instructor videos, and other parts of your teaching that help you be authentic in the online classroom, keep in mind that when you make the effort to let students know you, you will make genuine connections with many of them, and you will see benefits.

Guidance from Brené Brown’s “Daring Greatly

Being authentic in online education is the critical step to success with your students, and it’s worth the time it might take. As the educator, you have so much to offer. You’re a unique human being. And you’ve got your own experience, your own educational background, your own beliefs about things. And your students benefit from your knowledge and experience, no matter what their age or their situation. If you hold back on those things, it will be very difficult for you to make the kind of impact you might like through the work you invest.

In her book, “Daring Greatly,” Brené Brown shares tips and strategies about how to be authentic. And she acknowledges that it can be very difficult. We want to show up with our whole selves, but we might not know how much to share. How much is too much?

Tip 1: Share Something About Yourself and Be Open

The first tip is to share something about yourself. Your fears, hopes, struggles, joy, in a helpful way that is connecting to other people.

Be willing to keep learning and to not have all the answers. This takes some degree of vulnerability. To let others see your humanness.

Tip 2: Don’t Overshare

And a second tip is not to overdo it. Brené Brown calls it “floodlighting” if you take advantage of the loyalty or tolerance in your situation to make yourself feel better by oversharing something too detailed and private about yourself.

It’s way too intense, and it can also be inappropriate. Floodlighting is intended to discharge your own discomfort, and in return, it makes people feel uncomfortable. It can make people recoil, shut down, and it compounds shame and disconnection. And it creates a lack of trust from your students. This kind of sharing will lead to students feeling confused, manipulated, depleted, and just generally uncomfortable.

Tip 3: Be Direct and Clear

A third idea is to avoid being indirect, zigzagging around a conversation without getting to the point. “Serpentining” is hugely energy draining. And it’s this way of maneuvering around, zigzagging through a situation and not going straight for what is needed.

This might be like making comments that are indirect, and suggesting, or in grading comments when you give feedback in your essays and forum discussions that only ask questions and use just a word or two with a question mark. I’ve even seen a few people write the word “really?” which is kind of asking the student, “like, do you mean to say this?” But it’s such shorthand and abbreviation that it’s not helping the student to know you at all. And doesn’t help them understand what they have done wrong.

In contrast to serpentining, the opposite is being present, paying attention and being clear and direct. When we are being present with students, we are responding to exactly what they need. If they’ve written an essay about a completely wrong topic, we are letting them know that, unfortunately, they have interpreted the essay directions incorrectly and have written about a wrong topic. Maybe it would be even helpful to say, “I understand it happens sometimes. You might be stressed or busy. I’m happy to work with you on a rewrite.”

Whatever it is, you need to say it in a clear, direct, and kind manner, and really pay attention to what’s going on. This takes less energy, and you can save yourself a lot of time.

Tip 4: Don’t Be Cynical or Critical

A fourth idea from Daring Greatly is to avoid using a shield of cynicism, criticism, coolness or cruelty. When you are being your most authentic self, not everyone responds. Sometimes people misinterpret what we do or say, because they’re assuming, or they are not engaged. Online, our intentions can be misinterpreted.

We have to take great care, to avoid getting cynical or critical, and to avoid hint-dropping or cruelty. Comments that attack or insult students can be part of this cynical, critical shield.

If we believe the student has approached their work with a lack of care, while tempting to respond about our thinking, it can be helpful to take a break, pause, and assume the best intent while responding in a helpful, authentic way.

Ideas to Review Your Authenticity Online

For seven years, I supervised online faculty in the Faculty Director role, and over that period I observed several hundred educators. I did not lead these faculty all at once, this was over the course of time in two different schools and seven different departments. And among all those faculty that I have observed, I’ve noticed a variety of engagement styles and approaches to online teaching. And, occasionally, I’ve observed an educator who seemed absent, without any social presence.

In this kind of observation, I could find no trace of personality or personal experience or educational experience. I found no image of the instructor and no written notes to the students outside of the course materials. There were no stories or examples in the announcements or discussions.

In these cases, the instructor’s presence throughout the entire course was very light. And it seemed as though that educator really could be just anybody. There was nothing that indicated who that person really was. And if I’m observing that, and I’m getting that sense from the observation, I would suppose that students are too. They likely have no idea who that person is, when this approach is used.

In this kind of approach, authenticity is not apparent. One solution would be to begin sharing some of those ideas and insights the instructor brings to that experience, and along with that, to share a few details to introduce themselves to the students.

At one university, it’s encouraged to give a brief background of their educational and professional expertise in language students will value, meaning that we are not listing this in the same dry manner we might in our resume or vitae. And, it’s encouraged to add some points that humanize the instructor, like telling about a skiing hobby or writing something about a love for digital photography.

If you wonder whether you are authentically coming through to your students, consider whether you could add greater personalization to help your students get to know you and feel your presence.

On the flip side, I’ve had the very delightful experience of observing faculty who have a strong social presence. They appear to be “all-in.” They are showing up.

Some things I might see include a video on the front page that introduces the educator, and they’re speaking in their own voice. There are images to illustrate different points. There are comments that bring in their insights and their expertise.

And there are really thoughtful questions. And they’re not the same for every student. They’re based on what the students are saying. There is a sense of personality there. And that personality is incredibly clear.

If you look over your online classroom, check for these aspects that bring your presence into the course. What do you do that helps students get to know you at the beginning of class? And how do you keep your personality in the course throughout the session?

On the idea of floodlighting or oversharing, I’ll first share an example of this, then a checklist from Brené Brown that can help us all keep it in check.

Several years ago, I observed an online instructor who had a personal situation that kept her from solid online teaching. I’m not really sure what was going on with this person. But the story was in the course announcements, weekly. And she posted announcements to her students explaining her internet problems. On one occasion, she talked about how the internet company had constant interruptions, and they just didn’t have good service in her area and she couldn’t get online last night because her kids were doing something. And then today, there was an outage. And last week, she had a lot of explanations about why she wasn’t in the classroom.

It appeared to me as the observer, as if this overly detailed personal backstory was intended to relate to the students, to connect to them. And to help them feel sympathy for their instructor. Perhaps she wanted them to be forgiving about her late grading or her absences.

Instead, it just looked like a bunch of personal circumstances and a lot of comments about her grading and absences. Because of the level of detail and the regularity of the announcements about this, it really was oversharing in the extreme with way too much detail. Students may have wondered why this educator did not seek out the appropriate people to help solve the problem and deal with the issue.

It’s always human and authentic to let your students know generally, due to circumstances outside your control, something happened with your grading or whatever, and when to expect it. But overly detailed stories about the circumstance at home are unnecessary and can end up oversharing. We all need to have good outlets to talk about things we’re concerned about, complaints we have, grievances we have, and usually not in the classroom.

Here is a short checklist Brené Brown shares in her chapter on the vulnerability armory in “Daring Greatly.” If you have a copy of this book, it’s around page 162. And these are the good questions to think about when authenticity comes up when sharing things with online students.

  • First, why am I sharing this?
  • Then, what outcome am I hoping for?
  • And what emotions am I experiencing?
  • And next, do my intentions align with my values?
  • Is there an outcome response or lack of a response that will hurt my feelings?

If you’re provocative as a human being and you seek responses all the time to your comments in the classroom, if you feel like you need this kind of thing in an approval-seeking way, students are eventually going to complain about that, so it’s something to be aware of.

Another question: is this sharing in the service of connection? Will it help you build relationships with your students? And lastly, am I genuinely asking the people for what I need?

If it’s still a challenging idea to build authenticity into your online teaching, you might consider asking your students questions about how the learning materials connect to their lives. That could promote an education-based agenda and help them think about something more deeply. In doing so, you might share some of your own thoughts about it. And that could be a really great way of being authentic and yet making connections with your students.

Authenticity might mean sharing the mutual struggle you might be having. For example, when COVID-19 was going on and everyone was struggling to get a sense of routine, like remembering whether it was  Monday or Friday, that’s something where a comment sharing the experience and conveying understanding to students would be a great way to authentically show up.

One way to show up authentically is from the very first day of your online class, share some things about yourself. One instructor I really loved, shared this image of herself in another country. She was sharing the fact that she had a particular love for this country and had done some research there. It was just one way to help her students get to know her. And I just loved that approach.

Another one had a tandem bike that he and his wife would ride, and there was a picture he placed on the homepage of the course of the two of them with their tandem bike. Again, it humanized him. And it showed a very authentic person there.

Anything you can do to bring the “you” into the classroom without oversharing adds social presence and authenticity while being direct and avoiding cynicism or criticism. When you can be direct, assume the best intent of your students and share the authentic person that you are, you’re going to get a much better return from your students. And, you invite your students to bring their authentic whole selves to class as well. It’s a much better experience for everyone.

In closing, I encourage you to think about some of those things that help you enjoy life and enjoy teaching, and most of all, enjoy the subject matter that you’re teaching. Find ways to integrate those naturally into the comments you post into course announcements and include any videos and images you can share. And explore ways that you’re already bringing your authenticity to the classroom, and what you can do to add to that for your students.

Your authenticity will keep growing until it’s natural and inviting. And as you do this, you will enjoy yourself in your online teaching more, and feel a greater connection to your students, regardless of the innate ways that online modalities create distance. Best wishes this coming week bringing your authenticity into your online classroom.

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/requests. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.

#16: Be Authentic while Teaching Online

#16: Be Authentic while Teaching Online

Because online teaching is known for its isolation, how can we be authentic while teaching online?

The answer to this question is to see the humanity in our students. And, to get to know them as people. Of course, this can be challenging with a large class, grading demands, and other competing demands.

In today’s podcast, I’ll share strategies to help you be authentic while teaching online.