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

Dr. Bethanie Hansen 

Strategic Educational Leader and Coach

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

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

This content first appeared on APUEdge.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This content originally appeared on APUEdge.Com. 

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Read the Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strategies to Limit Interruptions and Distractions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Set up a Designated Physical Workspace

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

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

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

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

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

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

Establish Clear Working Hours

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

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

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

Communicate Your Plans with Family and Friends

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

Establish Limit-Setting Strategies

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

Improve Focus by Not Multitasking or Task Switching

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

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

Plan Work Sessions and Breaks

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

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

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

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

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

Use Timers to Manage Work More Effectively

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

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

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

Use Limiting Programs or Apps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#42: How to Increase Your Confidence and Connection in the Online Classroom

#42: How to Increase Your Confidence and Connection in the Online Classroom

This content originally appeared at APUEdge.Com

 What drives you as an educator? In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks about the five dominant perspectives that motivate teachers and how these teaching styles can drive student engagement in the online classroom. Listen to learn how to adjust your perspective so you can critically evaluate your own teaching, and why it’s so important to ask students for feedback so you can adjust your teaching style to maximize your impact in the classroom.

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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 podcast. And thank you for joining me today to talk about confidence and connection. The main topic we’re going to discuss today has to do with the way we show up in the online classroom, and generally throughout our career.

There are a lot of times where various motives drive us to do what we do. Sometimes it’s unclear whether we’re having the kind of impact we’d like to have. But what if we unpack that? How can we discover what kind of impact we really are having? And how can we have a more powerful impact in those areas we care most about?

Today, we will uncover what drives us, how to have the impact we’d like to have, and also how to feel confident about what we’re doing. We’re going to do that through connecting with our students and with other people in our profession. I’m excited to share this with you and let’s dive in.

What Type of Teacher Are You?

We all show up in the online classroom in distinct ways. Our students can tell what kind of personalities we have, by the way we write things, the words we choose to use, whether or not we use highlighting, emojis or lengthy explanations.

In fact, these behaviors that we show up with, that really help our students get to know us, they come from the motives that drive us. Chances are you have, as an educator, one dominant perspective that drives your teaching. And it’s one of these five: transmission, apprenticeship, development, nurturing, or social reform.

Every one of us comes with a primary orientation to the way we teach and what we are teaching, as well as a secondary backup strategy. So there might be two of these working together in your world, and I’m going to share with you what these are. As I described them, see if you can find your own teaching motivation within these five strategies and orientations.

Transmission Type of Teaching

The first one is transmission. According to the teaching perspectives inventory, the transmission type of teaching is that effective teaching requires a substantial commitment to the content or subject matter. If this is your primary mode for teaching, you might believe that good teaching means having mastery of the subject matter or content. The teacher’s primary responsibilities are to represent the content accurately and efficiently. The learner’s responsibilities are to learn that content in its authorized or legitimate forms.

If you’re a transmission type of teacher, you might believe that good teachers take learners systematically through tasks, leading to content mastery. This would mean providing clear objectives, adjusting the pace of lecturing, making efficient use of class time, clarifying misunderstandings, answering questions, providing timely feedback, correcting errors, providing reviews, and summarizing what has been presented.

You’re going to set high standards for achievement and develop objective means of assessing the learning so you can know that students have actually gained what they needed to gain. You might believe that good teachers are enthusiastic about the content, and they convey that through their tone to their students.

For many learners, good transmission-type of teachers are memorable presenters of the content itself. Perhaps you can think back to a time where you might’ve had a teacher who was very transmission oriented. This is a very common way to be, and very traditional way of thinking about teaching specific subjects.

Apprenticeship Style

The second orientation is apprenticeship. If this is your type of teaching, you might believe that effective teaching requires that learners perform authentic tasks within their zone of development. If you believe this, good teachers in this area are highly skilled practitioners of what they teach.

Whether in the classroom, or at a work site, or in a performance venue, they are recognized for their expertise. If you’re an apprenticeship-style instructor, you believe that teachers have to reveal the inner workings of skilled performance in that subject area and translate it into some kind of accessible way or language and an ordered set of tasks, which usually proceeds from simple to complex. This allows for different ways of entering the subject matter, depending on the learner’s capability.

If you’re an apprenticeship type of teacher, you might believe that good teachers know what their learners can do on their own and where they need guidance and direction. This type of teacher engages learners within their zone of development and suits it accordingly.

And then as the learners are maturing and becoming more competent, the teacher’s role changes, they don’t have to give as much direction. They give more responsibility as students progress from dependent learners to independent workers.

And I’ll have to tell you that a lot of music teachers might fit into this apprenticeship category. Seems a very helpful way to help people learn a musical instrument, in particular. So just a thought there that might add to understanding on the apprenticeship scale.

Developmental Motivation

A third type of motivation in your teaching could be developmental. If you’re this type of instructor, you might believe that effective teaching must be planned and conducted from the learner’s point of view. Good developmental teachers must understand how their learners think and how they reason about the content itself.

The main goal here in this type of teaching is to help your learners get increasingly complex and sophisticated mental thinking about the content. The key to changing those structures in the mental strata, where we’re learning things, lies in combining two specific skills.

First of all, it would involve effective questioning that challenges learners to move from simple to complex forms of thinking. And secondly, it would involve bridging knowledge, which provides examples that somehow are meaningful to the learners themselves.

Now, a lot of strategies that fit the developmental type of teaching would include questions, problems, cases, and examples that form bridges teachers can use to transport the learner from simple thinking to more complex and sophisticated forms of reasoning. This is going to involve adapting the knowledge, adapting the strategy, and bringing learners along with you.

Nurturing Type of Teaching

The next one is called nurturing. And if you’re a nurturing type of teacher, you might be thinking that effective teaching assumes that long-term, hard, persistent effort to achieve comes from the heart not the head.

A nurturing type of instructor believes that people become motivated and productive learners when they are working on issues or problems without the fear of failure. Learners are nurtured when they know that.

So first, they can succeed at learning if they give it a good try; that’s a belief in this type of teaching. Second, the achievement of the learner is going to be a product of their own effort and their own ability rather than the kindness or benevolence of the teacher. And lastly, the learning the student achieves, the efforts, will be supported by both teachers and peers.

Now, if you’re a nurturing-type of educator, you might believe that good teachers care about their students and understand that some have histories of failure, and this has lowered their self-confidence. You don’t make excuses for your learners, but you do encourage their efforts while challenging students to do their very best by promoting a climate that’s full of caring, trust, helpful people, and challenging but achievable goals.

So a good teacher in the nurturing mindset is going to provide encouragement and support as well as clear expectations, very reasonable goals for everyone, and also promoting self-esteem and self-efficacy along the way.

Social Reform Educator

Lastly, we have the area of social reform. If you’re a social reform oriented educator, from this point of view, the object of teaching really is the collective group, rather than every individual. A good teacher in the social reform category would awaken their students to values, ideologies that are embedded in texts, common practices in the discipline that might be biased.

Good teachers under the social reform category challenge the status quo, and this type of teacher encourages students to consider how learners are positioned and constructed in particular practices and discourses.

To do this, a social reform type of educator analyzes and deconstructs the common practice, looking for ways that these might perpetuate unacceptable conditions. The discussion might be focused less on the creation of knowledge and more on who created the knowledge and why they did it.

The text is going to be interrogated for what was said, what is not said, what bias might exist, what’s hidden, what meaning is coming out, what’s included, what’s excluded, who is represented and who is left out from the dominant discourse.

Your students would be encouraged to take a critical stance, giving them some power to take social action to improve their own lives and the lives of other people. This is going to be about critical deconstruction through the central view, and it’s not necessarily the end in itself.

What Drives You as an Educator?

So there are these five motivations for teaching. And as I mentioned before, chances are you’re highly motivated in one area, or at least your beliefs about education and about what you do in teaching are coming from one of these areas. And then you might have intentions and actions in these areas that do or don’t line up with what you actually believe. Sometimes we intend to do a lot more than actually comes across, so it’s difficult to know what kind of impact we’re actually having as educators.

So in summary, the motives that drive us in educating and especially in educating online can be found in the teaching perspectives inventory. Please feel free to check the links to this podcast in the notes, and also check it out, see where you line up in terms of your beliefs, your intentions, and your actions. And this will help you become a lot more aware of where you fit in terms of what’s driving you as an educator.

Assessing Perspectives to Understand Your Teaching Motivations

Now, how can you discover the actual impact you’re having? The first is to think about perspectives. There are three areas of perspective. One is, your own perspective of yourself, your efforts, and what you’re doing in the classroom.

 You can learn about your own perspective by simply observing what you’re doing, thinking about whether you believe it’s having an impact. From this first person point of view, you’re definitely getting your viewpoint, your perspective of your impact.

Now, what if you were to take this outside yourself to the more objective zone of a third party, so not the student and not you as the instructor. If you were to have someone enter your classroom, the online classroom, to walk around virtually, click through things and see what kind of things you say to the students, what kind of feedback you give, what kind of discussions are happening, and what kind of activities generally are taking place, what might be the impression of that neutral observer? What would the objective person say about the impact of what you’re doing as an educator?

If you were to go through your own online class with this question in mind, of what a neutral observer might notice or say about your teaching, taking that viewpoint alone, even yourself and wondering what would someone think, that’s going to give you a lot of insight all by itself.

You’re going to start to notice things differently because you are stepping back a little bit from your own thoughts, feelings, and motivations about your teaching, and it’s going to give you a lot more observation and a lot more power to that observation to just step back one level.

And then, of course, there’s the second person point of view, the student. If you were able to take on their perspective: where they’re coming from, what they’re trying to achieve by being in your class, and what challenges they might be facing in taking your class. This second person point of view is going to give you even more data about your impact and help you to know what kind of impact you’re having, whether it’s effective, and how the students are accepting or getting something from what you’re doing in your educational endeavors.

Of course you can learn a lot more about your impact and gain confidence as an educator if you also start to observe. What are the students doing in their work? Are they diving in more? Are they participating more than is expected in a discussion? Are they asking questions? Do they reach out to you when you send out an announcement with some question or asking a follow-up? What are they looking for from you?

And if you’re getting a lot of good communication and engagement in the subject matter, this is evidence about the kind of impact you’re having. You can observe the student’s behavior, and then you can also ask them specifically.

A lot of institutions send out early surveys after the first week of the class, some send them out mid-course, and some send them out at the end. Maybe your institution does all of these, or none of these. You can of course create your own survey and send it to your students to ask them how it’s going, what they’re excited about in the class, what’s working for them and what’s not working for them?

You might be surprised, but your students will be very forthcoming in sharing with you what’s working for them, as well as where they need a lot more support or have ideas about how it could be better. If you’re willing to ask those questions, you’re going to get a lot of feedback about your impact and this’ll give you more confidence in your teaching, by connecting with your students more authentically.

And then, of course, there’s the end of course survey. If you ask your students or if your institution asks your students about their experience when the course is totally over, their grades have been filed, and they’re not concerned about the impression they give you, you’re going to get a lot of honest answers about the experience.

Students will let you know, would they come back to another class that you’re teaching? Would they recommend you to other people, would they recommend your course to other people?

Some students don’t know the difference between the content of the course and the quality of the teacher. Sometimes that’s a little blurry. And so when you get end of course survey information, you’ll want to remember that, that sometimes those things blur together for the student’s perspective.

But as you look at end of course comments and ratings that students might give you, you can understand your impact a little bit better, and this will help you also connect better with your students in understanding what they’re thinking and what experience they’ve just had with you.

Now, we’ve talked about what motivates or drives us as educators. And in our online work, this is important to know. Many folks really detach from the purpose of their teaching when they go online, because we’re not seeing people face to face anymore. Even if you do live online sessions, there’s still one step removed because we’re in front of a camera instead of in front of those live humans.

So as you’re looking at what motivates you, look through your teaching and you’ll notice, are you acting on what motivates you? Does it actually convey your philosophy? Does it lead people in the way that you care most about?

And then take some steps to discover your impact by trying on different perspectives, whether it’s first person, your own observations, third person, like what an objective observer might notice, or a second person, asking your students directly, or taking on their perspective and projecting what you believe they might say.

And then lastly, look at having the impact you want to have by actually getting real information, asking those tough questions and talking to your students. The more you talk to the individuals you’re teaching, the more you get their real feedback. And you start to create a feedback loop to let you know if what you’re doing is landing well and having that impact you want to have, the more confidence you will gain.

You never have to plan your lessons for an imaginary audience when you start talking to the real audience who is actually being taught. The more you do this, the more confidence will increase, the more you’ll connect with others, and you’ll feel a part of the teaching profession as well. This is going to bring you a lot of satisfaction as you start focusing on what those students are actually experiencing and getting the feedback from them about your teaching.

And then, bringing this full circle, all of this is going to add up to how you show up in the online classroom and throughout your career. As you increase confidence, and you get a lot more feedback, and you make the adaptations you feel you want to make, the more you’re going to have a vision of where you want to go with this, where you’d like to take certain strategies, and what more you might want to do in teaching particular subjects or in different lesson and assignment approaches.

Well, that’s it for today. I thank you for being here to cover the five perspectives of the teaching perspectives inventory in terms of what motivates us to teach, and also to think about connecting more fully with the learners that we’re impacting to learn about our impact and gain greater confidence. I wish you all the best in your online teaching this week. And thank you again for listening.

This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit that bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey. For more information about our university, visit us at study@apu.com. APU, American Public University.