fbpx
#110: How to Bring Creativity into Your Online Classroom

#110: How to Bring Creativity into Your Online Classroom

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

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

Creativity fosters learning so it’s important for online teachers to find ways to encourage creativity among students. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares ways to integrate creative approaches in the online classroom. Learn about designing open-ended assignments, being creative with assessments and more.

Listen to the Episode:

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

Read the Transcript:

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This is Episode Number 110: How to bring creativity into your online classroom. This podcast is for educators, academics, and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun. Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics, and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and we’re going to talk about one of my favorite subjects today, creativity in your online classroom. I love creativity. In fact, one of my favorite things is coming up with new ideas and trying them out.

We have to be careful about creativity. As instructors, if we’re too creative, we create a classroom situation that is not coherent for our students. Limited creativity on our part, when we’re putting the course materials out there, can be helpful. Use some creativity all the time in your teaching. Just don’t overdo it. Help things to have a focus so your students know where they are and what they’re doing.

Emphasizing Creativity in Students

How can we bring creativity out in our students? Let’s think about that. The first thing is to look at your classroom as an area where students meet each other and get together. How could you use that online classroom in a way that really fosters collaboration and creativity? Is there easy access to all of the materials? Is there a great way to put that out there that students will naturally navigate? What could you do that is a little bit different to make this even clearer in the next class you teach?

There are a lot of creative ways to do this. Some people do it through a roadmap that students follow where you just click the next thing and the next thing, and it sort of navigates, maybe there’s even a hyperlink that goes directly into the discussion and a hyperlink that goes directly to the announcements, the assignments, and all those things. Think about, likewise, how you navigate that with your students whether it’s through videos, announcements, or little things along the way to help them move from one thing to the next.

What about those students who love to choose the order in which they learn things? Is there a way for that week’s content to be a buffet from which they can choose instead of a sequential order? Some lessons do make sense that way. In fact, some courses can even be taught that way.

When there are themes or topics that don’t necessarily have to be sequential and they don’t necessarily build on each other, they could be chosen in any order. Then an assignment could be based on some of the basic principles, not on the content itself but on the skills.

So, think about your classroom as this communal area where people can access all of the things, and what kind of creativity can make that utilized in a new way? You can also ask your students what they think about your organization. Perhaps they’ll give you some suggestions and ideas that will really be wonderful and you can try out in your next class or in the next week of class.

Building Community in the Classroom

There’s another approach to this community that you can just view in the online classroom. That is to find ways for students to really kick off the week together. There might be an opportunity for you to have everyone do an icebreaker activity on the subject matter or some kind of an asynchronous game.

There’s an online app called Kahoot! where everyone can click on their answers in real time. There are other apps out there that do the same thing asynchronously. Mentimeter does that through the slide presentation and so does Poll Everywhere. I encourage you to check out creative apps and solutions that might allow you to have more community and also more creativity in the classroom generally.

Design Open-Ended Assignments

Another suggestion for building creativity in your online classroom is to leave your assignments open-ended. Now, that sounds a little wild and crazy, doesn’t it? Now, if you actually have your assignments open-ended, this means that students can choose the mode of expression. They don’t have to necessarily write an essay. You could give them several suggestions or several links to ways they could present the assignment, and then students could choose the mode that speaks to them the most.

Some might use the essay. Some might make a video. Others might record their own podcast episode. Perhaps they’ll create a slideshow. Maybe they’ll create something else that we haven’t even thought of here yet. Whatever it is, if you leave the mode of expression open-ended, then you can have the requirements of the content being demonstrated through that assignment and also how much they need to include and whether they need to discuss their sources or give personal opinions or things like that.

I always like to give examples of various formats of assignments whenever it’s open-ended, but there’s this danger when you do that. Some students will just copycat what you put in there. I’ve heard some instructors actually don’t give examples. They just leave it open-ended and list a few suggestions without showing what that might look like. For the creative students in your group, that’s going to be a real invitation, and they’re going to love that.

Change How You Think About Creativity

Third, think about creativity itself in a new way. Some people think creativity means it’s unclear, it’s hard to define, and it’s really just ambiguous and people are invited to invent things. I don’t think that’s really true. In fact, there’s some research out there that describes characteristics of creativity. They are fluency, flexibility, elaboration, and originality. It could be helpful to teach your students when you’re using creative approaches what creativity means to you.

Fluency

Fluency itself is a person’s ability to generate a lot of ideas, solutions, or responses. So, you might have an assignment or a discussion where that is the goal, to come up with a lot of potential solutions and a lot of ideas about a particular topic that you’re studying. Inviting fluency of this nature can really help students get outside of the normal line of thinking, stretch the boundaries, and seek additional learning on the topic. That’s something we would all love our students to do.

An example is when I used to be a music teacher live, face-to-face, I played a lot of recordings of actual performing artists on various instruments. For the jazz kids, I would play actual jazz artists like Wynton Marsalis and Miles Davis and different people. I would encourage my students to find good examples out there and bring them into the class.

Pretty soon, my students were listening to jazz at all hours of the day, skimming through examples, finding selections, and bringing in new and different artists that we hadn’t met before, virtually, or on their MP3 players. So, the more you can help students develop fluency on the topic, the more they’re really learning and inventing new areas that they’d like to learn about within that subject matter.

Flexibility

Another characteristic of creativity is flexibility. This is a person’s ability to look at a situation from a different point of view. This is a really helpful skill in life, in business, in professional endeavors, in relationships, and in studying your academic content. The more you can see things from different point of views, the more you can see things with greater insight and greater perspective.

Elaboration

A third aspect of creativity is elaboration. Elaboration is a person’s ability to modify or expand an existing idea. This is known in the Clifton Strengths as the maximizer trait. Basically, we have an idea that we’re learning about and we could stretch it in some way, make it better, expand on that idea. Maybe we can apply it to something new or improve the quality of it. Whatever we’re going to do with elaboration, we’re really helping students to stretch their thinking and become, of course, more creative in the process.

Originality

Lastly, originality. Originality is a trait of creativity. In fact, most people think that’s what creativity is. It’s the ability to come up with a unique idea or a unique solution. So, this framework is going to help us teach our students to be more creative.

Believe it or not, creativity can be taught. It’s a skill that can be learned. I know some people think they are naturally creative. They grew up creative. Maybe they are not creative, something like that. Everyone has a belief about their own level of creativity or their ability to be creative. When you start to add more options about creativity in your online classroom, you help your students to grow not only in the subject matter, but in the ways they think about everything and the ways they live. So, bringing creativity in has so many benefits, and it really speaks to the whole purpose of education.

Now, here’s an example from an article in a book called “Teaching Strategies for the Online Classroom” by Magna Publications. This example is a chemistry instructor who could have students explain an oxidation reaction from the point of view of an electron, for instance. A history instructor could choose to focus on the elaboration aspects of creativity and have students outline a debate that argues both sides of a controversial topic.

An animation application, like GoAnimate. You can go to goanimate.com to check it out. Students could demonstrate their understanding of the course concepts while showcasing their creative approach. So, there are a few of the examples there from the article I’m looking at, and I encourage you to check out more options for bringing creativity into your online classroom.

Be Creative with Assessments

One area that we haven’t talked about is in the assessment area. Assessments don’t always have to be tests, and they don’t always have to be essays. Assessments are the opportunities for your students to tell you what they’ve learned. They need to demonstrate they understand the subject and they can utilize it in some way. So, they’re going to synthesize it, or they’re going to get creative with it, or they’re going to apply it. Whatever that is, the assessment should show their true understanding.

When you’re teaching online, sometimes we focus on objective assessments that are simply easy to grade. Online quizzes are like that. They can be automatically graded if you use multiple choice options. So, it’s easy to design modes like this, and it’s easy to automatically give the feedback, it reduces the instructor grading time.

However, when we use those options, we really reduce student learning down to some very basic modalities. If we include instead creative options, like students creating a video, building a mock interview, having a multimedia presentation, animating it in some way, creating an emoticon that describes it with some prose, some words that talk about it, or some other artistic work, we can really bring out more creativity in our students, and they can have fun while they’re doing it.

Be Mindful of Creative Elements

In closing, while you’re thinking about bringing more creativity to your online classroom, I want to caution you to be careful about your own exploration and what you included in the class. As I started with at the beginning of this episode, it’s really easy to make your online class so creative that it becomes a little chaotic for your learners. So, as you’re including creative elements, review it for cohesiveness as well and the learner’s experience.

You might have someone walk through that course and give you some feedback. Does it look easy to follow? Are the instructions clear? Can students tell what they’re supposed to be doing? Can they follow step one to step two and so forth? Can they figure out what they’re supposed to be clicking on and learning about and watching and doing, whatever that is?

If it’s super clear to your students, then you’re all set for a good experience, and you can run it and have students complete the course and take a look at their feedback. Of course, I always recommend getting student feedback along the way, asking them what they like, what they suggest improving, and what their experience really is so you can adapt. But for many of us, that can be challenging if you have a course that is completely written before you launch it. It’s very difficult to change that along the way, but you can modify it, make small changes, give it increased guidance through videos and announcements, and communicate with your students regularly to help them have an even better experience.

If you think about creativity as simply a method to help your students become owners of their learning, this becomes a really fun tool to use in your teaching. I hope you’ll think about it and explore what it might do for you and what it might do for your students. I wish you all the best this coming week, thinking about creativity 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.

#62: Connecting with Students Through Zoom

#62: Connecting with Students Through Zoom

This content first appeared at APUEdge.com.

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

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

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

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

Integrating Zoom into Online Classes

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

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

Review and Update Zoom Settings

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

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

Use Doodle or Survey to Find a Good Meeting Time

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

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

Send Out Repeated Meeting Reminders

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

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

Establish a Backup Plan for Internet Connectivity

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

Assign a Student Who Can Take Notes, Continue Meeting

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

Decide on Your Background

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

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

Test Your Audio Quality

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

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

Prepare a Lesson Plan for the Meeting

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

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

Establish Expectations with Students

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

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

Think about Level of Student Engagement

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

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

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

Tips on Hosting Strategies

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

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

Prepare Breakout Rooms in Advance

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

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

Assessing Student Engagement and Community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
#60: Building Social Presence in the Online Classroom

#60: Building Social Presence in the Online Classroom

This content initially appeared on APUEdge.com.

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

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 your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen and we’re talking today about social presence in your online teaching.

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

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

What is Social Presence?

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

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

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

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

Why is Social Presence so Important for Online Instructors?

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

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

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

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

Building Connections

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

Evoking Emotion

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

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

Generate Immediacy

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

Building Social Interaction

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

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

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

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

How to Achieve Social Presence

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

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

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

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

Building Community Cohesion in an Online Classroom

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

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

Instructor Involvement

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

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

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

Interaction Intensity in Social Presence

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

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

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

Share Your Knowledge and Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#48: How to Build Community with Online Faculty Teams

#48: How to Build Community with Online Faculty Teams

This content first appeared at APUEdge.com. 

Online faculty often feel disconnected from the institution and fellow faculty members. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides tips and strategies for building community among faculty members to help them feel connected, informed and engaged. Learn how department leaders can focus on building relationships through consistent weekly messages, interactive team meetings, one-on-one time, peer mentoring and coaching opportunities, collaboration sites, and much more.

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

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 podcast. Thank you for joining me today to talk about building community with online faculty teams. You can employ a variety of strategies to build community with your online faculty and work to really create a sense of being there.

Online education, as we know, is very distance-oriented and it can tend to make us feel very disconnected, especially if we’re not normally comfortable teaching online. Even if we are, that sense of distance can grow and grow, and prevent us from feeling connected to the institutions we work for and the people with whom we work.

In this podcast today, I’ll be talking with you about how to communicate clearly and consistently to keep your faculty informed, and how to build community so they get to know each other and build camaraderie and rapport and feel a lot of support.

Strategies to Build Faculty Community

So let’s jump in. As I mentioned, there are many strategies you can employ to build community with your online faculty. If you are a faculty lead, a faculty mentor, maybe a department chair, or a director of some kind at an academic institution, chances are you either mentor, guide, support, or even supervise faculty who teach online.

Communication

It’s really important to communicate clearly, effectively and consistently to keep your faculty informed and connected to your department. In online education, quality teaching and learning is part of student retention, student success, and student satisfaction.

Of course, because teaching online is so solitary and in many places, asynchronous, our online faculty who teach alone are often disconnected from the institution and they may be physically distant from the home campus as well.

In the institution where I teach and also manage online faculty teams, many of these people that I’ve hired, supervised, coached, and worked with live all over the country. We may have never met face-to-face. In fact, I hired them all virtually and we worked together virtually as well. Building community with your online faculty members can really help them have reasons to feel invested, be part of the team, and be a significant contributor to student success long-term.

And now, as you’re thinking about this process of connecting with your faculty, connecting with faculty individually, in groups, and together as a team allows you to model expectations and empower your faculty to more fully drive their teaching quality and their overall teaching experience. This can also help your faculty really enjoy what they’re doing as teachers, as instructors, and feel that they’re making a difference and having an impact with their students.

If you’re wondering what steps you can take to build community with your online instructors, I’d like to suggest that you will need to be developing a set of online specific strategies to build community with your faculty who might be teaching at more than one institution or across the country. Maybe they’re working at home while someone else is working at home who normally would be leaving to go to the office. Perhaps they’re even homeschooling children at the present time.

For them, time is at an all-time premium. They might feel disconnected due to this remote work, as I’ve mentioned several times already, and their geographic separation from you and the rest of the team can prevent real connections.

Focus on Relationship-Building

But you can build community by developing solid relationships. If you make relationship building your goal with remote faculty, you can succeed. Consider this question, what can you do to make your faculty feel like part of the team, part of your department, and part of the entire institution? Maybe consider providing weekly electronic communications specific to your team and your department’s needs.

One example to build relationships through these electronic messages is something I like to call The Monday Message. This could be a newsletter with announcements or faculty information, updates and teaching reminders. Or one faculty member called it a “Mid-Week Missive” sent on Wednesdays. Another person I know sent them out as “Friday Funnies.” These started with humor and proceeded with news.

Consider Sending Weekly Updates and Information

When I was first hired as a director, my Dean asked me how I would bring together our diverse group of 150 faculty, most of whom were part-time, and they were located all over the country. My first thought was that I would send a weekly message with all my news and updates and information all at once.

Some of the things that related to me personally, my leadership goals, and other things really came together in that weekly message every single a week. As I started to do this, faculty responded very well. In fact, they started looking forward to “The Monday Message” as their definitive source of information about the entire department and what I cared about as their faculty manager.

You might think you want your messages to come out at different times of the week or sporadically, organically, et cetera, but I’ve found that this approach of being consistent really helps. Inconsistency makes faculty wonder when they’re going to hear from you next and they don’t always know where to find the information they need.

For these reasons, I suggest selecting a day and time that you’d like to send that message. Make it regular, make it predictable and dependable and your faculty will benefit from the community you can provide in that message.

One year, I included a spotlight section as well, which I’ll mention again in just a couple of minutes to highlight individual faculty. Another example you might consider to build relationships is to host and record monthly virtual faculty meetings to keep everyone informed and included.

Some examples of interactive and engaging virtual faculty meeting ideas could include using video. You could ask faculty to do the same. Invite faculty who manage a course or lead a course to make a slide and present it at the faculty meeting to share updates is also a great strategy.

Celebrate Achievements

Whether it’s at a faculty meeting or through email or other means, it’s a great idea to celebrate achievements. Ask your faculty to send these to you in advance and talk about them during the meeting. You can highlight high-performing faculty based on some performance standard you might have at your institution. You can recognize those who have presented recently at a conference or published something. Or maybe a student gave you a comment about positive things a faculty member has recently done. Either way, celebrating achievements has a lot of power, especially remotely. You can also celebrate small successes like readiness preparations, engagement increases, or other things that are achieved in the department itself.

It could even be creative and fun to host remote celebrations during your meetings. For example, if a faculty member has a child born that month, perhaps you might mail out a little confetti and ask people to toss it during the meeting as part of that celebration. Faculty also love to receive electronic happy grams. For example, when faculty all prepare their courses on time, you can send out a message to the entire team to thank them and let them know about the win.

Create a Faculty Spotlight

Now, whether you use these in your weekly messages or in your virtual faculty meetings, I really like the idea of using a faculty spotlight in working with your online faculty. When I started doing these about six years ago, I solicited my faculty in advance so they could feel special and have the time to prepare what I would write about them.

My faculty spotlights consisted of a photo that the faculty member provided to me, something they would be happy sharing, and also some things about that faculty member, like what they enjoy most about their online teaching, what their favorite class to teach is, where they have traveled, what their hobbies are.

We tried to personalize this for each person so we could build connections and actually get to know some of these other people that we might never see face to face. It’s also important to include both full-time and part-time faculty to truly build a real community.

This is especially important for your adjunct faculty and part-timers because they really don’t know others in the department. They need the same kind of connection to their colleagues and this helps them understand who their colleagues are, who they can go to with questions. Highlight your full-timers as well as your part-timers and it will bring everyone together.

Offer Voluntary Service Opportunities

Another way to build relationships is to offer voluntary service opportunities like serving on committees, peer coaching, and brief curriculum content reviews. These can go on faculty members’ vitaes or resumes and really enhance them professionally, as well as giving them the opportunity to influence courses that are developed.

Develop Collaboration Sites

You can develop collaboration sites where faculty members can share their practices, as well as collaborating on this curriculum I’ve mentioned. Ask questions to colleagues teaching the same subject or courses and learn about curriculum updates, or post errors in the courses and then have them repaired.

Collaboration sites are a great way for all of these ideas to come together. In my teams, we have used a space in the learning management systems set aside for the team. We’ve also used online collaboration tools and Microsoft Office 365 email groups for this. Each one was effective in its own way. I also recommend using photos and videos whenever possible to create identity and presence.

There is an unspoken sort of stigma about sharing photos or personal details with others you work with entirely online. Faculty might really hesitate to do this. They might have serious concerns about it. Work to develop identity and community in non-threatening ways, but also be sensitive that some faculty may have this tendency to feel this way.

Through all of these methods, your collaboration, promotion, your monthly faculty meetings, your emails, your celebrations, and all these ways of getting connected, take the opportunity to communicate.

Highlight and focus on the mission and vision you have for your team and the mission and vision of your institution. Be positive and set the tone upfront for your leadership and management of your faculty by focusing on one of the university’s mission points each time you meet. All of the vision points can come through. You can also make connections to real-life contexts, students’ stories, and the big picture regularly. And be sure to communicate consistently and clearly.

Now, when you have faculty meetings, your tools can be updated regularly and other resources you have, like collaborations sites or the site the university stores all of the team information, these can also be regularly updated.

Schedule Monthly Meetings

Monthly meetings would then, of course, be held monthly. Faculty really love to be part of all of these things when they have the time and when they can contribute something. So let your faculty know in advance so they can arrange their schedules to be there. Record them for all the part-timers if these are meetings who really cannot attend live, or full-timers who may be on vacation and send those links out so they can view them remotely and be up-to-date on your policies and procedures and announcements.

If you have additional opportunities for your faculty to get together, to collaborate, be sure to communicate these regularly just as if you were with a live team. Even if you send out a weekly message, you might have an intermittent message here and there in between with a update about one specific thing. Maybe it’s a training webinar, a teaching and learning opportunity, or other kinds of professional developments you’d like to recommend. Be sure to send things out in a timely manner and your team will learn to trust you and connect with each other as well.

Coaching and Peer Mentoring

One other idea about helping your faculty really connect online is coaching and peer mentoring. Coaching can focus on connecting people, but also giving them the space to teach each other. Faculty coaching might be faculty led with follow-up actions to get together and just to review each other’s teaching.

When you’re hiring new faculty, consider providing one-on-one coaching to review specific faculty approaches at your institution or recommendations and just get to know each other. You can conduct this by phone in a live webinar presentation, like in Zoom or some other kind of virtual platform.

You might do this yourself or bring on other faculty members to begin building that community right away. You can ask and answer questions with your new faculty members so they’re clear on exactly what your department or your institution emphasizes, and so that they can share any concerns or questions right up front.

Connect Your Faculty with Other Departments

Additional ideas you might consider using with your faculty could involve bringing in different departments to meet with them. These could of course be done during virtual faculty meetings or they could be prerecorded and sent out or used in the email communications.

One group I really love to include is the library team. They can talk to your faculty about specific questions, resources available, ways to cite things, what kind of writing help might be available in the library, and other things specific to where you work.

By doing this, we generate a lot more resources for faculty. We give them a lot of strength and support and better communication with different departments. Faculty feel more connected and have a greater sense of community with the big university identity as well through having these special guests.

You might consider having someone from the assessment team or the accreditation team speak with them. You might invite your Dean or other school officials to the meetings to bring their own insights and perspectives.

The more you do this, the more faculty feel like they’re really part of the institution. They feel validated, valued, and supported. They also show up and help each other and really connect with each other because they have such a network of support and a lot of people to interact with.

Another idea in terms of coaching faculty could be developing a short series of personalized messages, like e-coaching messages, to guide your instructors through different strategies or different approaches.

Share Teaching Strategies

You might consider sharing different methods of providing quality online grading feedback. Perhaps some faculty are not sure what this could look like or should look like to give students enough information. You could model how to produce this feedback, especially on written assignments and the ways that might be most valuable to students. You can do it in an attachment, in a video, in a screencast, or in a live meeting where some collaboration can occur online.

Online faculty always love to see each other’s ideas about using different types of questioning strategies or discussion strategies, interaction and engagement methods for forum discussions. And tips about sending out welcome messages or announcements or various types of wrap-up and summary activities. If you can enlist your faculty members to help each other with messages or give each other shared tutorials to help their peers, this builds community because they can see each other. They also feel less pressured to perform just for you and can really see each other’s ideas and start to come up with more innovation and more creativity.

This is a great way for the whole group to support each other with teaching excellence and also to aim for the best ways to support their students. If you develop and schedule regular methods for them to coach each other and for you to support them through your own coaching, this will refresh everyone by bringing in new ideas on a pretty regular basis.

To help your online faculty most, you might consider formalized methods of sharing these strategies. Perhaps there is an annual online conference in your department or some kind of share space, as I’ve mentioned before. When you share student testimonials, pictures, screencasts, screen clips, some positive comments from student, and of course, survey or evaluation feedback, this can really support positive and effective teaching and learning online.

It’s very common for a lot of observers to stop into online classrooms and faculty who are used to teaching in live universities or institutions might really be surprised at this, if someone pops into their class and observes. If this is going to happen, be sure to let them know upfront who these people might be, whether it’s some kind of peer observer or an academic support team member so they’re prepared when an observation might occur.

Be Available for Faculty to Meet with You

For checking in one-on-one with your faculty, I can suggest providing a calendar. Maybe you use a Setmore or TimeTrade or Calendly scheduler to give faculty opportunities to get on your schedule at their own convenience. You might set up times in 15-, 30- or 45-minute increments so that faculty are able to connect with you and speak whenever they need to. This will give you an opportunity to visit with faculty about their questions and give them guidance on whatever they’re seeking, and also just to connect from time to time.

It’s really helpful to be approachable and available to your faculty, especially if you’re a lead, a director, a chair, or in some kind of role like that where faculty are looking to you for support and guidance.

One way to provide this support if you don’t want to do individual appointments or even to enhance that is to provide a weekly office hour when any instructor can stop by and just check in. It’s nice when your faculty have a place to go to just connect and be heard. And when you can post that office hour so that it’s available to everyone and they can find the link, it makes it even easier.

And lastly, you might consider scheduling one-on-one small group or large-group sessions where faculty can share these practices, review course setup procedures, or conduct observations, or just talk about what they’re thinking and feeling right now. It’s helpful to arrange space and time where others can feel heard and seen, and really get back in touch with each other and with you.

Providing Faculty Support Contributes to Strong Performance

In closing, when you plan and consistently find ways to connect your faculty to each other and connect with them yourself, you’re going to help your faculty be supported and build a great sense of community throughout your entire department and support your team well.

These strategies can really help faculty members take more initiative and positively influence each other, giving everyone a more connected and positive experience when teaching online. Especially if online teaching is new to them, this is essential and critical to their success.

Thanks for being with me today to talk about building community with online faculty. I hope you’ve found these ideas valuable and enhancing your practice. Please stop by bethaniehansen.com/request anytime you’d like to share your feedback, or perhaps suggest a strategy that we can include in this podcast to support each other when we’re working and teaching online. And with that, I wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week.