This content originally appeared on APUEdge.Com.
Every year, a large number of students across the country leave college and fail to complete their degree. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks about what educators can do to improve student retention numbers. Learn ways to help students address academic difficulties, resolve academic or occupational goals, and help them gain a sense of belonging and connection during their education.
Listen to the Episode:
Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | Pandora
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 Bethanie Hansen, and I’m happy to be with you here today talking about student retention. Student retention is a phrase that you might hear a lot in online higher education. Every year a large number of students all across the country leave college and fail to complete their degree. So as professionals in online learning, we’re especially concerned about this number.
What are Student Retention Rates?
Now there’s a place called the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, and in 2019, they reported that nearly 29% of students who entered college in the fall of 2017 at four-year public institutions did not return to those institutions for a second year. That was well before the pandemic ever began. So we know it’s not specifically because of the pandemic. Retention of our online students is particularly low for those who are attending part-time. So nearly half of them are retained, and that means nearly half of them leave.
There’s a lot of data on this and when we think about why students enroll in college in the first place and why they may drop or choose not to return, there are many reasons. There are of course, personal issues, financial issues, family, work-related stress, interruptions, all kinds of things that come into the mix.
But there is a lot that we can do and these things we try to do to help students stay the course or persist and keep going to college, those are called retention strategies. When we do our retention strategies, then we start watching our students to see what they do. Are they staying? Are they enrolling in another class? Are they sticking around for the next semester or the next session? And when they do, we call that student persistence. So retention is what we do as the educators and higher education professionals to try to retain those students in class. And persistence? That’s what the students do.
Retention Strategies to Improve Student Persistence
Today, I’m going to speak with you about retention strategies. Things that we can try in working with our students to really encourage them to persist, to finish the class they enrolled in and continue on to the next one.
Most educators I know, and likely you might be the same way, we get into education because we really want to make a difference with our students. We want to help them reach their potential. We want to make a difference in this world by helping people better themselves through the transformative power of education.
That can’t happen if students are quitting their educations. When they don’t finish and they don’t keep going from class to class, they have a lot less opportunity available to them. Having that degree, whether it’s an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, or even a doctoral degree, those things are so encouraging, but they also qualify our students for specific career fields and jobs.
So it’s very motivating for us as the teacher or a faculty member to encourage that student, to help them along. We’re going to talk about things we can do. We’re also going to talk about some things that inadvertently might affect our students’ desire to continue.
As a faculty director for seven years, I had a lot of experiences where I got occasional complaints about this or that faculty member. It did seem like there are certain behaviors that tend to push students away. And if we were together during a face-to-face class, and we did those very same things with a smile on our face, or with a bit of conversation around them, they would not have the same impact at all.
So, we’re going to talk a little bit about things that tend to push students away, as well as those strategies for helping them continue. I hope you’ll find some value in this podcast today, and at least one strategy you can try this coming week with your students. And hopefully continue so you can help them continue as well.
Model of Institutional Departure
There’s a well-known model created by Vincent Tinto. It was created in 1993 after his first published work in 1975. And it’s been used for a lot of years by many institutions. This model is called the Model of Institutional Departure. This model is all about three main areas that impact student persistence. These areas can easily be the reason why students leave the institution and don’t continue with their degree programs.
The first one is academic difficulties. Think about what could enable the success of a student who is having academic difficulties. One thing I’ve seen in online education is a bit of flexibility when a student initially struggles academically. Some faculty will allow a redo. They’ll direct the student to a tutoring center, someone who can help them with their studies or their essay writing. And they’ll start to strengthen that student.
When we see that happen, sometimes the student will gain confidence, persevere through those academic difficulties, and start learning the hard stuff—they’ll really persist. Some will not. But academic difficulties are one of the major sources of student departure.
Challenges in Resolving Educational and Occupational Goals
A second area of students departing an institution is challenges in resolving educational and occupational goals. Now I experienced that myself at one time when I was completing a certificate at an institution. I was trying to change my major from this one area to this graduate certificate. And somehow just in the system itself, my records got stuck. My GPA went to 0 from all the credits that I did have, and I couldn’t figure out who to talk to or get help from. It was so discouraging, I didn’t feel like there was any way to resolve those goals that I had.
Challenges in resolving educational and occupational goals for our students can literally appear like a brick wall. So, the student does not feel like there’s any way forward to get where they really want to go. And, of course, that could be discouraging enough that they stop altogether.
Failure to Connect with the Institution
And third, failure to become academically and socially connected with the institution. When we think about this one, it’s really interesting because we have a variety of college age young people between the teen years and around 25 years old, which we would call traditional learners. And we also have adult learners who are over 25, all the way up to 80, 90 or so years old. We have a wide range of people going to college, especially online.
If you think about this wide range of age groups and demographics, failure to become academically and socially connected with the institution is an interesting obstacle to overcome. What does the student really want through academic connection? And what does the student want through social connection? Not every student is going to want the same thing. So, there are a variety of things that might attract the student to really get engaged and stay.
The bottom line in that academic and social connection is that the student feels a sense of belonging. They feel like they’re part of that college community and they want to be part of it. Some of us love it so much we become professional educators and we just want to stay forever because that sense of belonging was so rich and so inviting.
Think about your online class. If we just look from the lens of the single educator teaching one course with students in it, how can you help the student become connected to the academic life of that institution? What can you do to really build cognitive presence throughout the experience so the student feels richly involved? And what can you do to help them feel socially connected with the institution?
We had an example in the fall of 2021. We had an event that was about two hours long called World Philosophy Day. This event was recorded. So any student who could not attend could watch it after the fact. Simply knowing that it’s there, makes a lot of students feel socially connected and academically connected too. Attending the event really boosts that level. We had many students attend live and they stayed through the question and answers section at the end and asked a lot of questions. That did a lot for social connection in that group of students. Anything we do to help them feel like they’re part of a community is going to really go a long way.
Academic and Social Connection Support Students’ Goals
Now there are a lot of people who have done research on retention strategies. These three areas that I’ve mentioned from Tinto’s Model of Institutional Departure are really good, broad areas to be thinking about as faculty members, as teachers of our courses, and as members of this academic community. We can also think about how students need significant interactions with other members of the college.
That could be other departments. It could be faculty members. It could be the Dean, the President, the Provost. There are a lot of ways that students can have significant interactions, but they must be significant. Simply seeing someone’s name on a website is not going to check that box. So, as you’re thinking about different things you might do in your teaching throughout the session or term that you’re teaching your students, consider what might constitute a significant interaction with other members of the college.
What can you do to get students working with each other and connecting with different departments as they need to for your subject matter? How can you get your students to really get involved in the institutional library? Some online institutions have live librarians they can connect with and students can go there and talk to a real person. They can go to the advising department and connect with real people there.
We have student accommodations and a whole department associated with that. There are many different departments filled with live people that can speak with them and with whom they can really gain relationships. These are going to be significant interactions that help them feel part of the community and like they belong. Really integrating our students into this community is what’s going to help them want to stay.
The Role of Mentoring
Think about this point: Mentoring has been mentioned a lot in recent years in higher education, but particularly in online higher education. Mentoring has a lot of potential to help students feel like they’re connected to the institution and that they’re having significant interactions. Mentoring can go a lot of different ways. For example, mentoring might have to do with helping the student prepare for their career field. It might have to do with help guiding them in the subject matter, helping them to balance their life, get their study skills down.
There’s a wide range of areas that could fit into mentoring. But particularly for students who are isolated and don’t have a really clear way to connect to the institution, mentoring can go a long ways towards helping that student feel like they really do have a space there and a person that’s their go-to person.
Now, another variation of mentoring could be group work throughout a class. If you can get your students combined into groups of some kind and work together for projects and things, and yet grade them on their own contributions, not dependent on those other people. If they can work together, but still be individually accountable, that’s going to be a form of peer support that can be especially rich and supportive during a course.
Anything we can do to share what’s happening in the institution with our students, especially if there are events happening, webinars, if there’s a commencement ceremony, even if the student isn’t graduating that year, for them to know about it, to hear about it, to see it coming up, they’re going to be able to imagine themselves participating sometime in the future.
So there are those three big areas that tend to push students toward departure. And there are a lot of things we can do that helps students to really feel anchored and like they belong in the community to prevent those things from happening.
Now, on the flip side, I mentioned that I occasionally get student complaints and although I’m no longer a Faculty Director, I am a Department Chair, so I still have my finger on the pulse of what students are experiencing in my department. And when they have an experience with a faculty member that is not friendly, not inviting, not supportive, I hear about it.
A good example of this would be just a slow and abrupt response. If a student has a reason to ask for support with an assignment or clarity about a topic, and maybe the instructor is feeling like “this is a question I get all the time and I’m tired of this question,” the comment may come back slow and it might be a little terse or abrupt. And that can be incredibly rejecting to the student who’s asking for help.
Many students do not want to ask for help. And when they finally do, they’ve thought about it a really long time. So it could do us a lot of good to think about what that student is experiencing when they’re coming to us for help? What their experience with us in the class might be? What our impact is before we think about what their question is?
Educators Can Improve Engagement and Interactions
So, we can see things through the eyes of our students a lot better when we ask questions, when we pause and notice the tone, the question, the words that the student is using. And what we choose to focus on in our engagement with another, whether it’s virtual or a face-to-face engagement, that’s going to grow. So if we focus on the unkind part or the abrupt part of it, we’re going to continue to have that kind of an interchange with that person.
Likewise, if we focus on curiosity and patience and understanding, we’re going to grow that side of our teaching as well. Once we slow down and we pause and we notice where the student’s coming from, ask a lot of questions, and really try to understand, then we can be really present with what they need. And we can focus on that one thing and just give them that presence and that support that’s going to help them keep going in their studies and be really capable of exercising the grit that they need and the resilience that they need to continue.
Send a Welcome Note to Invite Students into the Class
Now you might be thinking that you’ve heard a lot about retention programs at your institution. Maybe there’s been an initiative rolled out that everyone needs to do a certain thing a certain way, and that’s going to help students persist in their classes. There are a lot of things that work incredibly well for retention purposes.
And if you’re doing them and you’re watching the results and you’re approaching them with a true desire to help your students keep going, they’re going to be more effective. One of those things is communicating to your students before the session begins. And that could be a few days before the class begins. It could be a week before the class begins.
When you do that primary outreach before the course has started, you introduce yourself, you start building a connection with your student and you build a bridge before the first day of class, your student is more invited and they’re feeling less nervous, less anxious about showing up in your classroom. They have a little bit of a sense of safety already before the first day of class.
Set Expectations Early to Help Students Plan Ahead
Another thing that we can do that helps students to persist is to share with them what our expectations are and what the assignments are early in the session. Maybe they even get a copy of the syllabus before the first day of class. Whatever it is, they need to know what they’re going to have to do that whole time so they can plan their time accordingly.
If students don’t know that they’re going to have a large number of pages to read every night and several essays, they will likely drop the class when they get too busy to do those things. But if they know it going into the class, they can plan ahead and set the time aside and manage it.
Some students even decide when to take certain courses, whether to take only one course at a time, or to take two or three courses at a time, based on the perceived workload they think that course will have. Mine’s a really common one that students like to pair with at least one other class, because they think it’s going to be super easy. It’s music appreciation and they think they’re going to just listen to music all day long.
They are very surprised when they learn they have to write an essay, they have to read a lot, listen to a lot, discuss a lot in the discussions. But it’s a lot more helpful when they know on the very first day of class or even a couple days early in that welcome message that I’m going to send out. That gives them the chance to decide, should I move my courses around? Am I going to be able to take two or three classes at a time? And they can judge for themselves.
Communicate with Kindness to Build Relationships
So, even if there’s no big strategy at your institution, you can do some of those things to give students advanced information. Be very patient and kind in your communications even if you have to say no to something. And, help students feel like they belong, that they have some connection in your course and connection to the bigger university setting.
So be thinking about academic difficulties your students could have in your subject area and in your particular class. Think about what could present a challenge to them in resolving their goals while they’re trying to get through your class. And think about how they can become academically and socially connected to the institution. With those three things in mind, you’re more likely to help your students finish the class and persist to enroll in the next one and eventually graduate with that degree.
I hope you’ll think more about that this week and try one of those strategies. Maybe you’ll come up with one that I haven’t mentioned here. If you’d like to share it back, please visit my site, bethaniehansen.com/request, even though that form is set up for you to request specific topics. I’ve also gotten communications of all kinds and even feedback about our podcast at that address. And I would love to hear from you.
So let us know what’s working for you in retention strategies that really helps your students to persist and what keeps it from happening. And, just so you know, we’re almost to episode number 100 in this podcast. We have some special guests coming up in just a few weeks and I hope you will enjoy all of the student affairs topics we’ll be talking about. We even have a special appearance from our university president at American Public University, Dr. Kate Zatz coming up. So definitely tune in each week. Don’t miss an episode and share it with a colleague or a friend. Here’s to you and wishing you all the best this coming week in your online teaching.
This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.
Be Present: Best Practices for Authentic Teaching Online
This content first appeared at APUEdge.com.
Being present is one of the most important elements driving success in the online classroom. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares two practices that help online educators establish trust and set the tone for faculty and student success. Learn how instructors can establish their presence, share their personality and expertise with students, and build relationships with students so that everyone has a great experience in the class.
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. We’re going to talk today about being authentic. We talk a lot in higher education about faculty success and student success. These two best practices I’m going to share with you today are part of both of those endeavors.
Being authentic in your online teaching is absolutely critical to your success. And the challenges of bringing your authentic self into your online teaching are great.
We’ll start with talking about those challenges, what comes up when we teach online that may not be obvious in the live classroom, and then I’ll give you the first best practice on helping students get to know you and the second about you communicating with them. Let’s dive in.
Best Practice #1: Be Present in the Online Classroom
The first best practice that I emphasize in my own teaching, as well as with all of the faculty who I work with, this best practice is to be present. Well, what does it mean to be present?
Being present means that you literally are logging into the course regularly. It could be every day during the week. It could be every day during the week plus a weekend day. It could be seven days a week. It could be every other day; maybe you go in there four days a week. Whatever you do, you literally are present in that online space regularly and you are there often.
When we talk about being present, there’s a lot more to presence than then just showing up. One of those things is that you help students get to know you early in the class so they can feel like they know who you are. They trust you and they can go to you with problems when you have questions. One of the things that comes up in my job, I’m a faculty director at American Public University, I often have fantastic faculty. Occasionally, I’ll get a compliment about a faculty member. Many times, they share that comment with the faculty member who then passes it on to me.
Just today, I got an email where classroom support sent me a compliment about a faculty member that a student sent them. That was really a joy to get. Unfortunately, we usually hear about the complaint faster than we ever hear about a compliment, and probably for every one person that complains there are 20 very happy customers and you don’t hear from a lot of those.
But the one thing that prompts the complaint is that there is a low instructor presence or that the faculty member is there, but the student doesn’t have a sense of who they are, they don’t really know them.
There are some beautiful things you can do to establish your presence, your unique personality, your expertise and your position as the instructor.
The first thing I would recommend is to put a picture of yourself in the course. Make it a professional one. Help them understand who you are, what you look like. You don’t have to love the picture, just pick a good one. And as they see you, they’ll start to get a sense of you. Who are you?
And then put some kind of introductory thing, whether it’s on the homepage, a brief summary of your academic background and one or two personable things about you. You could put this in the forum discussion area if there’s a place where people are introducing themselves.
You can make a video. I’ve seen several faculty do this, where they’ll put themselves in the video they’ll talk, they’ll introduce themselves, they’ll greet the students. Very personable. Really nice.
And, of course, you’re going to write announcements, especially that first week. I want to put a word of caution in here. When you’re creating this beautiful instructor presence so critical to your online teaching, be careful not to stack the deck against your students that first week.
So those first announcements you put in your course should be friendly, encouraging, and welcoming. Give them step-by-step, some guidelines about how to begin participating and engaging in the course. Avoid giving lots of warnings or criticism early on during the first week about how to use citations, how to format their papers. You can give all that information along the way, but the very first day of class is probably not the best time. It’s off-putting and it can create sort of a confrontational feeling between your students and you.
As part of your presence, another thing is showing your personality, your passion for teaching and your expertise in your subject matter. If your online teaching is relatively new to you, if you haven’t done a lot of this, might feel kind of weird to tell your students anything personal about yourself.
We like to encourage safe sharing, so something that you would tell just anyone on the street. Not of something especially private. For example, I like to tell my students, because I teach music appreciation online, I like to tell them that I went to Brazil once, and I bought a pandeiro there. I might be saying that wrong but it’s basically a Brazilian tambourine. And I’ll put a little link to the video, maybe an image of me playing it in that first week’s announcement.
Because I teach a lot of military students, I’ll occasionally run across someone who has been there and has seen one. And they love connecting to that. I also presented at a conference in Scotland and saw some guys on the street playing bagpipes. So, I took a small video of that, one guy even had bagpipe with an attachment on the end of the pipes where flames were coming out. It was pretty neat. I like to tell them about that, show pictures, and again if I have any students who have served in the military in that part of the world or have lived over there or have ever visited, they like to connect to that as well.
That’s one way I share my personality online. You can also share your expertise. For example, I’ve seen occasionally we’ve had another music faculty member who is a classical performing musician, and they’ll put a short video clip of themself playing.
I knew one here locally at the community college who is a concert pianist. She would invite her students to attend her live piano recitals, the ones who were in her online class, so they would get to come and see her and meet her, meet each other. It was quite a wonderful experience because the school was local and many of the students were too, even though they were taking it online.
So, in your instructor presence, you want to establish this early. Help them get to know you. Post regular course announcements every week of class. You might even consider a second announcement midweek with some reminders, some last-minute advice. Any announcements you want to share. And then of course, participate in the discussions.
Discussions are a really great way to have your students practice their learning and talk to each other; but you should be there. Not to give them the right answers, but to engage. To talk. To discuss the subject. To ask them questions that are thought-provoking; and really to just help that discussion unfold. That is the first best practice that if you had nothing else going for you in online teaching, that instructor presence could really carry you well.
Best Practice #2: Communicate Early and Often
The second one, I chose this as number two out of two for this podcast because it is so critical and it will solve a lot of problems too, so that second best practice is to communicate regularly and effectively. And some of the things I suggest you communicate are norms and expectations.
Norms are standards of behavior. So a norm would be something like, “When you’re posting in a discussion forum, I want you to sign your name at the bottom; if you’re replying to somebody else, please put their name in the post,” etc.
And when you suggest that students do these things, don’t dock their grade for little errors that have to do with netiquette or norms. Grades should be based on the content itself, not habits or behaviors or little nitpicky thinks like that. But these are definite protocols we should teacher online students.
We want to communicate norms for how to reach out if they need help, how to contact you if they have an emergency, what they should do if they have to submit a late assignment, how to ask questions, a lot of different things have norms and you want to communicate all of these to your students.
And then you also should communicate due dates, assignment expectations and learning goals very clearly upfront. If you’re new to teaching online, it’s possible this first go round that you might have to adjust the assignments a little as you go, once you realize how the students are responding. So, you could have a more general syllabus the first time you teach the course and then a more clear, well set-up program the next time. Either way, definitely communicate the expectations to your students clearly and effectively, and with kindness.
A detailed syllabus is the best way to go. Include due dates and the schedule and assignment directions, and also how to find things. If you want to make it clear like a video a screen cast to clarify where things are in the classroom, how to find your grading comments you are going to give them, where they can find all of the assignments and learning materials, definitely point them around.
Prioritize the Two Best Practices
So, you don’t have to be perfect especially if you’re brand-new to teaching online and if it’s short-term for you and your just trying to get by till you can get back to the live class. Whatever you do, be present and communicate often and professionally as much as possible with your students.
Once you establish that you are responsive, trustworthy and present, your students are going to come to you with their questions. They’re going to have a relationship with you. It’s a good thing, and you’ll be able to follow up if there’s a change. If you need to change or adjust something.
That communication channel you have established early on is going to really help everyone get through this experience and have a really good experience with you. Online teaching does not need to be overwhelming or super difficult. If you focus on being present and communicating often, you’re going have a good experience.
As we close out today’s episode, I’d like to thank you for being with us for the Online Teaching Lounge. We’ve had this podcast going for the past year and a half, and it’s been a pleasure to be with you sharing teaching excellence tips, strategies, some ideas for balancing your work and your life while you’re teaching online, and also ways to connect with your students for their success. As well as best practices.
Take a look at our past episodes and you’ll learn a lot of things about forum discussions, professional development and other areas. We also have an episode that highlights courses and degree programs in the teaching area in the School of Arts, Education and Humanities at American Public University. If you’d like to get some professional development or take certificate program, or even an entire master’s degree, come check it out. It’s worth your time, and it will help you get even more skills and confidence under your belt while you’re teaching online. Again, thanks for being here for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. Best wishes in your online teaching this week.
This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge Podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.
Enhancing Online Discussion Forums to Improve Student Learning
This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.
Discussion forums are where most interactions happen in the online classroom, so it’s critical that educators use this area strategically. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides insight into enhancing discussion forums to encourage student engagement, foster connections, exercise critical thinking skills, and offer further learning into the topic at hand. Learn how to improve discussion forums by writing open-ended questions, clearly setting expectations with students about when and how often they should participate, and more.
Listen to the Episode:
Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
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 today’s podcast. We’re going to talk about forum discussions. Discussions, discussion forums, they’re called a lot of things, but these are the places in the online classroom where students and faculty, peer-to-peer, peer-to-self, peer-to-content, peer-to-faculty, this is where everyone is going to speak about the content and interact. This is the main conversation space.
Forum discussions can be used as a place for pure discussion, basically it’s about the academic content. It could be a place where you have students place their graded work or they’re going to put it there and have something like a peer review. Or they’re going to post a blog and it’s got to be graded. They could be assignments posted to share and discuss before their due date, to be a draft for peer review.
They could be assignments shared after the fact just to share, say, it’s a PowerPoint presentation. And talk about concepts together. It could be a space where students teach each other. Whatever it is, forum discussions in my opinion are an optimal thing to really engage formative assessment strategies. Help students through learning and get them really engaged in the class.
Franklin D. Roosevelt said that “If a civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships.” This is a great place to do it. There are different places in the typical online classroom for these other elements. There’s usually, in a learning management system, there is an assignment space to submit essays and blogs and things like that.
There are also other tools in certain learning management systems where you can have students write a journal and submit it privately. For that reason, today I’m going to discuss only conversational elements of discussion forums. I’m going to give you a few strategies, some tips you can use, some best practices, some based on research, some based on experience and observation.
Why Should You Care About the Discussion Area?
First, every learning management system comes with a space for conversations. Many of them, and some of the older models especially, called them a forum. And a forum is a space where conversations can occur. If you change that name to discussions, it makes it even more specific to what you’re hoping to achieve in that space. A discussion is back and forth, it isn’t one person setting everyone else straight, and it is an opportunity for varying levels of engagement and participation in that discussion.
This is a great space where students can have some formative practice with learning the material that you’re teaching. It is also a place where they can have guided practice, which anyone new to the subject area is going to need, to develop their thinking, to develop their descriptive abilities for terms that are going to be used, to develop their analytical abilities, and so forth. They’re the best locations where students can try on new ideas. Try on new terms and concepts and write about them to further develop and adjust their thinking.
You should care about discussion forums not only because there’s a space to do them in an online class, but more because when you have students learning from you and from the content, you want to see the results of the learning. One of the best things we can do as educators is see the result and determine if our strategies are working. The discussion is a space where we can help nudge people in the right direction, help them explore those ideas more fully and learn from each other and us as the teacher so that we can get them to a place where they’re ready to do more.
The discussion could be excellent preparation for an assignment. For example, if you had an essay you wanted a student to do, to write about their understanding on a particular subject, that discussion the previous week could’ve been focused on the topic to explore ideas. Test them out. Apply them in a soft way. Then, in the following week, if the student writes the essay, they can be prepared because they had a chance to talk through their ideas.
General purposes of a discussion space are to foster this connection between people and give people a space to check in, converse. Most online classes are asynchronous in many universities, which means that a student goes in, participates, does their work, and leaves, and then you as the faculty member might be in that classroom at a different time.
If your courses are synchronous–meaning that they’re taking place in real time–then maybe a discussion is just a space where you might have a little follow-up conversation to whatever happens in that live space. And in that kind of situation, it makes sense that maybe the faculty member is checking on the discussion and facilitating it, but less active.
When there’s an asynchronous situation where students are to guide themselves through the learning material, through the lesson content, a more active role for the faculty member or teacher is super helpful to help the students stay on track.
In an online class, forum discussions can serve as the space where students have a voice for initial comments. Every single student has a voice. Now, if you think about your typical university lecture class, you might have one faculty member at the front of the room, lots and lots of students especially if it’s a general education class, you might have 300 students in there. Unless you give the students time to talk to each other during part of that class to discuss the ideas, many times students really don’t have a voice at all during the class. There’s this learning cycle where we take in information, we think about it, we talk about it, we write about it, and eventually we’ve formed our understanding of the content. Simply hearing it doesn’t really help us to change our ideas, be transformed by them or deeply learn things.
In the forum discussion unlike the live lecture class, you’ve got this opportunity for students to really have their own voice, have a choice about what they contribute to the dialogue. It’s a super huge benefit of online education and something that makes online learning unique and very special when you compare it to the live class with very little participation.
Now, if you’re a more active instructor and in your live classes you tend to engage people a lot, that’s normal and usual for you. I tend to do that as a strategy because of my background, but not everyone sees teaching that way, so this is the opportunity for a totally different experience that student’s going to have.
On the flip side, there are students who don’t want to participate in the discussion. They want to show up, they want to get the very minimum of what they need to do in that online class or that live class–whatever kind it is–they want to get a grade and move on. For these students that class is not a subject they particularly like, they don’t really want to learn it, they’re busy working and this is a part-time thing going to school, for whatever reason there are many students who just want to move as quickly through as possible.
But I want everyone out there to know there are also people who deeply want to learn the content. Many, in fact. It might surprise you how many students really do care and want to really understand what you’re teaching. So, this is the chance that they can contribute their ideas and they can engage with other people and they can get new insights and have a lot of different experiences. Caring about this matters because whatever attitude or perception or belief that you bring to the experience as the faculty member or the teacher, that predisposed disposition–that’s a little redundant–by your disposition about forum discussions, this is going to greatly influence the students’ experience.
It doesn’t really matter how the discussion is set up, what it’s prepared to do; if you are against doing discussions online, it’s going to be very difficult to utilize these to their full potential. Now if you really like to engage with students, love to hear what they have to say, love to challenge them and prompt them to think more deeply and share your insights, experience, and questions with them, then a forum discussion might come more naturally.
One of the ways to be most successful setting these up in your own attitude and thinking is to consider what you view the value of education, the core philosophy of what you’re doing. What you hope to accomplish by being a teacher. The big picture. Do you hope to change people’s assumptions? Do you hope to open doors for them so they can move in new directions? Do you hope to help them transform themselves as individuals? Are you trying to promote social change?
There are a lot of different roles that education can serve. Whatever your belief is about it, chances are, you’re going to find something you can really bring into that discussion in a way that’s going to be uniquely you and make a difference and really have somewhere to go with it.
The problem of online education is the lack of face-to-face, especially in asynchronous classes that don’t meet all at one time. In a synchronous class you’re still held back by this digital interface, but even then, you’re seeing people and you’re hearing them in real time. So, the problem of teaching online is partially overcome through that discussion, where we start to get to know each other, we start to dive into ideas.
Now why does that matter? If you have a disengaged student or have a lack of connection, it’s very difficult to feel like moving forward with the content. Many times, people need that connection to feel like they’re part of a school, part of a class, engaged in learning, moving forward on something. It’s going to matter to you long-term to learn how to develop discussions because these can serve you incredibly well and very soon in the online teaching side of things your interest in online teaching will increase if you will engage more fully in those discussions.
You can derive your own purpose and meaning of education and why you are a teacher from the way you participate and the way you approach your students’ participation. It can matter to your students deeply in the future because they need to connect to the concept to learn it and to move through whatever the purpose of your class is.
I have had a variety of discussions. Some of them are teacher-led forum discussions. Some of them are student-led. There have been some I’ve engaged in with courses I’ve taught online that have been group discussions, where maybe there were five or six people in the group and they were discussing or planning a project or something like that. There are a lot of different ways to set this up. I don’t propose that there is only one “right” way, but there are some guidelines that will help you be successful establishing solid discussion forums in your online teaching.
Considerations for Setting up an Online Discussion Forum
First, determine how many discussions you want to have and what is going to overload the student. There is no real perfect answer to how many discussions are optimal during an online class. If you consider how long the class is, for example, if it is a 14-, 15- or 16-week class, it would make sense to have one discussion per week. That keeps it manageable and helps students to stay focused on the topic during the week it’s happening.
If you have a shorter class, maybe you have a four-, five-, or eight-week class, this could be a little bit more difficult. It might cause you to think that you must cover a lot of topics in those discussions, and it might lead you to have many discussions going on at one time. You can either have two separate conversation spaces, two entirely different forum discussions, if you need more than one. Or you can have one discussion with the option to choose from many topics that you offer.
Again, if you approach forum discussions as a space to practice the ideas and to really manipulate them to understand them, then it does not require every student to discuss every topic, every week. Options on those topics can be very helpful.
Also, you’re going to need participation requirements. So, telling your students how often or how many times they should engage at a minimum for whatever you’re going to expect and, again, think about the topic. Will it require them to come back many times? Will it require them to give each other feedback? Will they need to come back a different day to do the feedback?
Whatever your desire is, be specific about how many times, how often during the week. And, should they have a day when their initial post is due and a different day when their peer replies are due? There’s often this idea that students are going to put an initial post in there of their ideas, and they are going to go back and respond to the ideas of their classmates.
During this whole process, of course, you can also put some initial posts to guide them. You can reply to the students just as the peers would reply, and converse just like you might in a live discussion. There are some other ideas like threaded forums, where you post that initial prompt and everyone responds along one single thread. They can be difficult to manage, they can also be interesting to see how the class unfolds along the idea. There are a lot of benefits to using what we call a threaded discussion.
There are also a lot of benefits to posting these separate discussions as individual posts students have. Whatever kind you want it to be, you want to tell students how it will unfold, how they should engage, how often.
As you design the form prompt that you put there telling students what they should write about or talk about, you want some different statements that will guide the content about what students are going to discuss. What qualities should the initial post include? How long should it be? How timely should it be? What are the directions you are going to include for sharing content and source materials? Will students need to refer to a source that they may have used in the form discussion? If so, can they give you a link? Can they simply mention it? Do they need to give you an actual formatted citation in MLA (Modern Languages Association), Chicago or Turabian or APA style?
Whatever those different details are, be specific with each forum that you post. And yes, I do advocate being repetitive on that part, including every week what the posting guidelines are. Keeping them fairly consistent can help students to engage better.
If you want your students to post in the normal font that appears, just remind them of that. You can also suggest that they use the spell check or grammar check. If you do use word counts for your forums, and if your learning management system does not give you a way to naturally do that, you can also suggest they type their forum in Microsoft Word, copy and paste it into the forum afterwards.
As you’re developing the prompt for the discussion, think about the qualities that students need to provide, whether they’re going to specifically give their take-away, their reflection, what they need to include in terms of the dialogue they’re sharing, and if they should ask each other questions. This can be a helpful way to get the discussion going. I have a little checklist that I’m going to share with you now that has six different elements and it comes from a book I wrote called “Teaching Music Appreciation Online,” (page 119), if you have a copy of that.
And this form prompt quality checklist is just to determine: Does the form prompt have the elements needed to help students know what to do and have the best chance of engaging well?
- The first question is, “does your forum prompt include a specific active verb indicating the action students will take developing their initial post in the discussion?” And some active verbs might be: define, describe, identify, compare, contrast, explain, summarize, apply, predict, classify, analyze, evaluate, critique, create, and design.
- Second question, “if guiding questions are included, are they written as open-ended questions that allow students to exercise critical thinking to create, to explore and otherwise apply their learning?” For example, does the question you have given students use the words “how” or “why,” and avoid closed ended yes/no questions, like did, do, where, or who? Closed ended questions make it very difficult to have a discussion, and most students will copy each other. There are only a few responses possible, so open-ended questions are much more useful, like “what,” “how,” and “why.”
- “Does the forum prompt specifically guide students to the content, concepts, topic and other elements to be included in their initial post?”
- “Does the form prompt state how many details or sources or what link is to be included in the student’s initial post?”
- “Does the forum prompt appear appropriate for the level of the course that you’re teaching?” For example, if you’re teaching a college level course at a 100 level, does the prompt address general elements and then draw students into deeper thinking. And at the 400 college-level does it identify complex ideas and analyses and different types of application you would want at that level?
- And lastly, “are clear posting instructions included, such as the due date for the initial post, the number of replies and the due date for those replies, and any other pertinent requirements?”
Think about these as you write forum prompts and examine the forum prompts that exist. If you’re teaching a standardized course. And as you’re looking at the forum prompt, if you’re teaching a course someone else has designed, it’s very easy to change the wording slightly to make it even more effective. And if you’re at a university where there’s some collaboration or the chance to improve the course, you can also suggest those changes to the course designer or the faculty member who has initially organized that class.
So open-ended questions can invite a lot more thought.
The last point I am going to share today is about how students should bring in their own ideas, reflections, opinions, and experiences. There are a lot of subjects where we’re working very hard to help students argue and analyze without opinion. In those subjects, I would suggest separating out the personal reflection, opinions, and experiences part to a second half of the forum post. Maybe you’re going to have them analyze and argue a point, and then come back and share their reflection about it or their opinion about it.
One reason I’m heavy on personal reflection, opinions and experiences is that these are the ways students personalize their learning, and this is what helps them to make something new out of it for themselves. It creates connections in the brain and soon the student’s going to care a lot about the subject, or at least have opinions on it and be able to think about it later. So those personal reflection elements are critical.
In future podcast episodes, I will discuss ways to apply critical thinking, interpretation, problem-solving, persuasion, and analysis, debates, and different topics so I hope you will join me again in the future for additional thoughts about discussion forums online.
Until then, I wish you all the best in starting your discussions, engaging with your students, and creating form prompts that really work for you. Best wishes teaching online this week.
This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge Podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.
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.
Discussion forums in online classes can sometimes get repetitive and stale. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen suggests five creative ways for online teachers to spice up discussion spaces to revitalize the discussion and get to know students better. Learn about role playing, technologies to create video responses and collaboration sites, and more.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. APU, American Public University.
This content originally appeared at APUEdge.Com.
The holidays can be a difficult time for everyone, but especially for online students whose coursework continues over the holiday break. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen offers suggestions for how online educators can incorporate flexibility and sensitivity into course design to accommodate students who may be struggling. Also learn about scaffolding assignments and other accommodations to help students succeed during the holidays.
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 Hanson. And I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.
At the time of this recording, it is December 2020, and we are in the midst of a pandemic. Online students everywhere are preparing for the holidays, which might include a break from online classes, or it might not. If you’re at an institution like mine, you have classes that overlap the holidays. So students will still be working and learning and submitting assignments throughout those holiday breaks that others might take for granted.
Today, we’re going to talk about how to prepare students for the holiday break or the holidays working through assignments, either way, in three ways. The first one is through some flexibility and sensitivity to your students’ needs. The second will be scaffolding assignments and other interactive activities. And the last one will be special considerations in three areas of physiology, focus and connection. So let’s jump in.
Why should we think about preparing our online students for the holidays? This year, the year that this was recorded, there are some special considerations around the holidays. Now, we all believe that the holidays are a time of celebration, a time to connect with others, as well as a time of loss for some people who have been significantly impacted at this time of year. For whom those memories and experiences come back again and again.
Regardless of what your students are experiencing right now, the whole world is in a tense and stressful situation with COVID-19 and this pandemic adds a lot to what is going on. Online coursework can be challenging anyway, because there is a lesser degree of connection. However, your students are in good hands with you at the helm, because you will be able to be flexible and sensitive, scaffold the work, and also help them in three special ways.
Build Sensitivity and Flexibility into Classroom Communication
The first area of flexibility and sensitivity is an important one when working with adult learners online and with a variety of other groups. Knowing that for some, the holidays are a time of celebration, while for others, it’s a time of loneliness and loss, you can exercise a lot of sensitivity in working with your students.
You might consider asking them what they are thinking about for the upcoming holidays. Maybe ask them if they are going to be able to be at home. If they will have a chance to connect with others. If they have anything planned that they would like to share, and so forth.
There are a lot of reasons why students will reach out to you about the holidays. And some of those might include just sharing what they’re experiencing. I know I’ve had online students occasionally reach out to me to let me know so that they are having a struggle. They’re not able to get through the work as usual at that time of year. Maybe things slow down for them and they’re a little depressed.
Some of them have so much going on with family and friends, that they’re also torn between their school commitments and their other connections. And they have to figure out a way to balance that.
Either way, sensitivity can be in the way we communicate with our students, either through our videos or our typed messages to them, the frequency of our communication and the word choice that we use. Consider a variety of circumstances your students might be facing as you communicate about the upcoming holidays with them.
Secondarily to that is the flexibility. Some students will just need a little bit of extra time. They might need another day or two. Other students might need an entire week to submit an assignment under these kinds of circumstances.
Some colleagues and I were speaking together the other day, and we were talking about how maybe COVID-19 hasn’t impacted one or more of our homes specifically, but the stress of the ongoing pandemic adds a lot to our emotional palette anyway.
Consider this as your students are struggling through this time of year. They might also be dealing with seasonal issues, inclement weather, cloudy skies. A lot of things can pile up to create an emotional climate that makes it very difficult for them to work as usual.
Flexibility might include giving a little extra time, choosing not to deduct late points or late deductions you might normally include, and other kinds of accommodations that might work for your students and sound reasonable to you.
Although, it might be difficult to be in tune with students’ emotions when you’re working online, we have had occasions where faculty members experienced students in distress. A student might actually tell you that they are not feeling up to doing anything, that they are feeling depressed, or maybe even that they are feeling suicidal.
If those kinds of things come up as you’re teaching your online class, be sure to reach out to the appropriate services at your institution to support them, the suicide hotline or the local police, if that is appropriate. Follow through on those things students say and take them seriously.
Scaffolding Assignments for the Holidays
A second area I want to talk about is scaffolding the assignments up to the holiday period. As a holiday is approaching, some faculty members just extend an assignment a few days, or maybe even an entire week. When you do this, students feel that they have the appropriate time to complete the work.
This might require adjusting the class before the course even begins to make sure your syllabus lines up with the calendar. If you haven’t done that, you could simply move the due date out and post announcements and reminders to let everyone know you’re giving them a few extra days.
One word of warning there, students do not appreciate the extra time, when they have already submitted the work. So it’s very helpful to tell students upfront, to give them a little bit of notice when you’re going to extend a timeline and also to help them understand when things are due and what is included in that assignment.
To scaffold assignments up to the holiday period, you might consider giving them some kind of advanced organizer to help them think through the work that is coming up. As I mentioned with the added stress of the pandemic and the holidays combined, many people find it difficult to perform up to their normal level of standard for themselves, and also find it difficult to think clearly as they would like to do.
When you scaffold an assignment, what you’re doing is giving a preparation to help people think. Maybe you’re taking the big assignment and you’re breaking it down into some smaller pieces, so that they’re a little easier to complete. And then they can be combined together, to submit as that final assignment.
For example, if a student is writing an essay, you might give an advanced organizer like a brainstorming chart, so they could break down the topic, solicit their sources, explore options, and even give you an outline ahead of time to have it briefly checked and given some feedback.
Scaffolding assignments really is twofold. The first is to break it down into smaller chunks that are easier to do. But the second is also to have easier pieces building up to the more complex parts, so that students can think through each step clearly, and then have a pleasing whole at the end.
Encourage Physical Activity
The last area I want to share today when you’re preparing students for the holidays, is considerations that are in the physical or physiology area, focus, and connection.
In the physiology area, it’s helpful to make suggestions for your students and for yourself to get up and change locations regularly. The more we stand up, take a little walk, stretch, even get some exercise, that will really help us to be focused. To be able to be on target when we’re doing our online work. And also to be able to endure the long stretches of work time that we tend to be under, either as the faculty member or as the online student.
Many people sit in the chair in front of that computer and they might go for hours without a break. This is going to slow circulation. It’s going to lower the mood and the overall effect and make it easier to feel sluggish, less clear thinking as well.
The more we make suggestions for small physical movement or encourage people to get up and just stretch and walk around, the more we help them to shake off that stuck state that they might be in, being in front of the computer. And it’s a great suggestion to offer your students as well.
I myself have a treadmill desk. If I need to be in a meeting where I don’t have to be on video, I can set my computer on the treadmill and I can take a walk while I’m in the meeting. Your students might be able to do the same thing.
Many of them are online students right now and also working online. So there’s a lot of sitting around that can add to a deflated mood and more sluggish thinking, as well as lower circulation. So suggesting physiological changes will help everyone to be able to get through the holidays with a little bit more energy and a method to interrupt stuck thinking.
The focus area of this triad of the physiology, focus and connection piece, is about what people are thinking about. Our students might be thinking ahead to when the course is over and they’re going to need to celebrate the holidays. Or maybe they’re going to not be with their family; maybe they are going to be with their family.
Students are already starting to project forward to the holidays themselves, even though they might be in the middle of a class with you. As they’re doing that, a lot of added stress can come with that, especially if their plans have changed because they’re not able to travel or they’re not able to connect with the people they love.
If you find that’s the case with your students, you might help them to focus on the present, what they can do to stay present in their course. And also to think about those things that they do have and those times that they have been able to connect with others, to foster a sense of gratitude.
This brings the idea of abundance, instead of the focus on what we’re lacking, and it can help generate creativity, innovation, ideas, and the sense of being present to complete the work they needed to do. To keep learning and to also do well at their studies.
Lastly, the connection piece. I was at a virtual party the other day, I wasn’t really sure would be like a party. And I was surprised at the degree of planning that went into this virtual event. And I was also surprised at the great connections that happened at this online party.
There are a lot of ways for us to connect with other humans, other people, whether it’s our family, friends, or our fellow students, or our classmates. We really want to connect with other people around the holidays, but it can be very difficult when people are physically separated or largely just know each other in the online environment.
One of the suggestions I’d like to make for connecting during the holidays when people are working online and being online students is to use a video platform, to plan ahead for the day and time, to even create an agenda and consider including some interactive technologies.
The party that I attended had a spinning wheel where some prizes were given out that were virtual gift cards that were delivered by email. Each person’s name was put on the spinning wheel. And they were able to spin it online during the party and then it would stop on its own and a person would win here and there.
There was also the opportunity to share ideas through the Mentimeter platform. That’s a really great way to vote, to collaborate on ideas, to create word clouds. This might even be a good tool to integrate in your online teaching generally. But if you decide to have some kind of a live gathering, it’s especially useful.
So you can suggest connecting with each other, but you could also have a class gathering. A holiday gathering of some sort using virtual means with your students might be just the ticket to wrap up the semester nicely and also wish them well as they wrap up the year that has passed.
Consider these ideas, the flexibility and sensitivity, the scaffolding the assignments, and also the physiological, the focus and the connection pieces that students are going to need as they wrap up the year and whether they are taking a break or not, as they wrap up this month as well.
Lastly, I’d like to encourage you as the online educator. There’s a great podcast that was done, where I interviewed Dr. Lisset Pickens, and she shared some great ideas for balancing your work and home life.
If that’s an area you’d like to work on in the month ahead, definitely check it out. Some great suggestions in there about shutting off the work-life and turning on the home life at the end of the workday were made. And those suggestions are incredibly valuable.
I’d like to also suggest doing the things that you love, that go with holidays. For example, if you’re a person that likes to decorate at the office, decorate the classroom, and if you’re working from home right now, go ahead and decorate that space you’re working in. Go ahead and wear your holiday sweater or your holiday blouse, that you might have worn to the office or the classroom.
Taking those little extra steps to celebrate what’s important to you is going to add energy to what you’re doing. And it’s also going to give you a sense of normalcy in a very difficult time. Thank you for being here and I wish you all the best in your online teaching this week. And happy holidays!
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.
This content was first published at OnlineLearningTips.Com.
The use of online teaching has risen in popularity due to restrictions from the coronavirus pandemic. But teaching online classes can be incredibly time-consuming, because the classroom is always open.
In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen offers several time management strategies to help online educators complete their teaching tasks in an efficient, effective, and organized way while also improving their classroom presence and student engagement activities. Learn more about creating an online planning grid that designates time for grading, classroom activities, curriculum creation, professional development and personal time.
Read the Transcript
This is episode number 30: “Using a Planner for Amazing Time Management in Your Online Teaching.” 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, and thanks for joining me for today’s podcast. Today, we’re going to talk about a subject that we all care a great deal about. And the main goal of this subject is to conserve our time and energy, and also help us stay connected to our students while being part of that bigger professional picture. One of the things that keeps me engaged is having that variety in my own online work, and I wish the same for you.
In today’s podcast, we’re going to talk about three different areas of time management and how we can plan carefully to get it all done. The first area will be a principle from Getting Things Done, also known as GTD.
The second principle will be to plan a weekly routine that alternates items that must be scheduled so we don’t overlook them. And the third will be a planning grid that includes central teaching tasks and a bigger curriculum work or creative pursuits you want to be involved in as part of your overall career and professional goals.
Understanding Time Management
So let’s dive in. First of all, what does time management really mean when we’re teaching online? Time management is really all about using the energy that we have as human beings to the best way possible. The more we can manage our time carefully, the more productive we can be, the more we can get things done in a responsive way, and the more we’re on top of our game as educators.
After all, our students are looking to us for some sense of connection, for guidance in a subject matter, and for overall connection to the bigger content that they’re learning about. The more we can manage our time well and the more engaged we are in our own thoughtful process, the more we’re also able to connect with them and the more we’re able to also manage all that’s going on in that very complex environment.
Lastly, the more we manage our time carefully and thoughtfully, the more we’re able to do those other things that matter to us in life, like spend time on our personal lives, our family lives, do something outdoors, have healthy sleep habits and other patterns that really need to show up for us right now.
Getting Things Done (GTD)
So let’s get started with Getting Things Done. I took this workshop about a year and a half ago, and one of the biggest takeaways that I had from getting things done was sort of this split idea that there are things you can do in two minutes or fewer than two minutes. Those tasks, when we come upon them, should be just done immediately.
Will It Take Two Minutes or Less? Do It Now.
If we have something that literally will take us two minutes and we schedule it, and we manage it, then we’ve already spent more than two minutes on the task. Pretty soon, we have spent way more time on a two-minute task than the time that it was actually worth.
So the first idea is that when you come across, say, a message from a student, it’s very easy to just respond immediately and be done with it. If we come back later, like I said, we’re going to spend a lot of time and wasted energy just putting it off and trying to manage that.
Store Big Ideas in Your ‘Incubator’ File
The second idea that comes from getting things done that I particularly love is this idea of a folder called “incubate.” Now, an incubator is something that is a machine that we used to put, or we might still today even, put eggs in to keep them warm until they hatch into chickens or other fowl.
So if you are not familiar with the idea of an incubator, it is carefully designed to a certain heat and temperature setting. And also, it’s going to be housing the eggs for a certain period of time.
So the idea of an incubator in our own professional practice means that maybe we come across a multimedia tool we would like to integrate into the online classroom. When we come across this tool, it’s not urgent; it’s not necessarily important to the now. And so this tool can be put into the incubator file until we have a little bit of time, maybe between classes that we’re teaching in the future, during summer break or something like that.
So big ideas that we really want to dive into and pursue can be stored in that special file that we label “Incubate.” That way, we don’t have to always say no to ourselves.
And then we can schedule, like you could schedule one hour a week to just work on things in your Incubate file. That would give you permission to create new ideas, spend time developing things and not feel like it’s always the heat of the moment or the urgent items.
So those two areas of Getting Things Done, I highly recommend for our time management and online teaching. The first was the two minutes or fewer pile and just do them quickly and the second one is to use a special folder called “Incubate,” to put those big ideas that don’t really have a due date. They’re worth considering, but just not right now.
Now everything else that’s not immediate short, two-minute things or long-term, come back and think about it later. Everything else could be scheduled and managed carefully. So these other two ideas are going to be helpful in managing and scheduling the rest of the workload.
Strategies on How to Plan a Weekly Work Routine that Alternates
So we’re moving on to idea number two, planning a weekly routine that alternates the items you need to schedule. So one time management strategy that would really work for planning your routine could be to post a minimum number of your forum discussion responses to your students every other day, and completing a percentage of grading students’ work on your off days in between and taking one day completely offline so you can have a mental break each week.
Schedule a Break from Work
This is going to help you have the space to recharge and come back at it fresh. I have known a lot of online educators who literally are online seven days a week. They’re really answering messages every other minute on their phones. They’re taking their laptops to their outings with them, and they’re sort of half-present when they’re with family members or doing other things.
I don’t recommend this. It is helpful to be responsive, but if you plan that time, instead of kind of putting out fires and treating it like everything’s an emergency, you’re going to have better peace of mind, a more planned approach to your work. You’re going to also have a greater sense of wellbeing at the end of the week.
Time Management Scheduling Example 1: Divide Work by Day
So this one-time management strategy of posting in your discussions every other day, and doing a percentage of your grading work on the off days in between, it might look something like this: Maybe you’re going to grade 30 essays this week, and you’re going to post in your forum discussions Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
Well then on Tuesday and Thursday, you could divide that up and grade 15 of the essays on Tuesday and 15 of them on Thursday.
Now, some people really love to go all out and just do all of their grading on one day. I personally find that a bit draining, and I also find it difficult to treat each student’s work uniquely when I take that kind of approach.
So I do like to split it up. I like to plan it on a couple of different days, and you’ll need to just decide what works for you in terms of do you want to do a little bit of grading every day, every other day or all on one day.
Time Management Scheduling Example 2: Divide Work by Time Duration
Another time management strategy you might consider in terms of this second idea, planning a weekly routine that alternates, could be to engage for a specific length of time each week, a specific duration. This would be instead of dividing the workload into quantities or proportions.
Again, I always recommend taking one day completely offline each week to disengage and be able to come back fresh for the week ahead.
So with this approach, you might find that there’s a bigger workload waiting at the end of each week if you use the duration method.
The duration method might look something like this: I have a 40-hour workweek I’m trying to fill, and I’m teaching four classes. And that means I’m going to try to get the work done in each class during a 10-hour period, spread out throughout the week.
This might mean that I’m going to spend about two hours each day in the class. That would be correct if I think all of my job is teaching. Now, if some of my job is also creating curriculum and contributing to bigger professional endeavors outside the classroom, this might be different.
Maybe 30 hours a week is my teaching and 10 hours a week is divided between my curriculum work and my professional pursuits. Or depending on my teaching load, it might be further yet broken down differently.
Either way, when you use an approach of time duration spent in each course, you’re going to need to anticipate what will happen at the end of the week when there is a large workload still waiting if you haven’t budgeted to adjust to getting the grading done throughout the week and being in the course, engaging with students regularly.
Weekly routines overall include developing and posting your announcements, engaging in forum discussions or other interactivity, grading and returning your students’ work, replying to their messages, answering emails and questions, posting your grades, hosting virtual office hours, if that’s something you do, and creating additional content for that course.
When you establish a pattern or a schedule for these routines, this is really going to help you ensure that you’re able to complete everything by the end of the week and at a professional, helpful level for your students.
Create a Planning Grid
I love this idea number three, trying a planning grid that includes your essential teaching tasks and curriculum work or creative elements and including your bigger professional goals.
I created this grid several years ago. I was a full-time faculty member at American Public University. And in my courses, I wanted to engage my students fully, but I also wanted to be sure that I was demonstrating social presence, teaching presence and cognitive presence. I really thought about these, read some of the research and decided what this would look like for me.
Once I decided how this would show up in my courses, I broke my teaching down into little tasks. For example, certain days, I would engage in the forum discussion. Every day, I would answer the messages.
And on certain days, I would do my grading and post the grading. There were a few other things I also needed to do, like publishing a weekly announcement.
Either way, I planned this out thoroughly and then I scheduled another section for my professional responsibilities. I had an agenda of posting lots of research, writing a lot and contributing to professional conferences. I decided I wanted to actively present at professional conferences every year, and so I did that. I scheduled that time using this kind of block planner that I created.
Now, I’m going to include a link to this planner in the podcast transcript so that you can check it out, see what it looks like and perhaps, it will inspire you in your own version of this kind of planner.
There are also a few examples in my book published by Oxford this year, Teaching Music Appreciation Online. In Chapter 12, there’s an example of the weekly schedule of how you might use time limitations to plan your work. And then there are a lot of different discussions in there about how to engage, how to plan time for grading, and some example grading comments. You might find these helpful if you’re looking for more ideas about that.
Back to this last idea, the planning grid. The planning grid that I used had a big category of daily requirements for Monday through Saturday, grading tasks, also for Monday through Saturday, housekeeping announcements, notes, and wrap-up posts and lastly, other professional activities. And I would just call those my research and scholarship time, even though some of it was curriculum creation and some of it was preparing to present at professional conferences.
Under those daily requirements, the kinds of things that I would look at every day in my online teaching that I highly recommend thinking about are checking your email every day or at the very least every other day, checking and responding to messages, reading forum discussions and posing questions and sharing expertise, prompting students for more thought, more engagement there.
Forum Work Section
In that forum section, I always broke down a few ideas just to remind myself. So I have some bullet points here that include:
- Instigating higher thinking that applies to students’ lives, jobs, etc.
- Connecting conversations between posts to guide productive and relevant dialogue about the task
- Establishing a supportive community environment
Another area that I scheduled every day is whatever I felt was my minimum attendance in the classroom as the instructor. I always wanted to make sure I at least met that and hopefully went beyond it.
But sometimes there are days where meeting the minimum is all you can do, and then there are other days where you can spend a lot more time and a lot more energy in that online classroom.
Grading Task Section
In the grading task section, I included:
- Forum grading
- Posting announcements
- Zeroing out the grade book so students know when they haven’t turned something in
- Editing written assignments to ensure the directions are clear in their examples
- Returning the graded work with comments on it in a timely manner
- Zeroing out the scores for quizzes at the end of the week. So if there are quizzes in the course, I would always add the zeros after the due date, so students would know they missed that assignment. If I’m going to let them go back and fix it, they can always do that, but they need to know where they stand at all times.
Housekeeping, Announcements, Notes and Wrap-Up Posts Section
And then this last section, housekeeping, announcements, notes and wrap-up posts. In this section, I have private messages and video screencast tips to guide students.
During Week One, I spend some time giving them guidance to move around the classroom. I like to help them know how to get started, what are the critical spaces they should know in that classroom, and how can they engage in their assignments, their learning, and their discussion.
I also have some before the week starts announcements. I also include instructions for how to participate, and I give a screencast that shows me so they know I’m a real person and I’ve got some presence there.
There might be a wrap-up announcement or something that’s telling them their grades are published, and they can check for feedback. I might use a closing comment in the discussion forum to wrap up the dialogue that has occurred.
I’m also going to reach out to non-participating students. Now this is a big area and it’s really helpful to add it to the calendar.
We often forget that when a student is less engaged, they need some follow-up. I like to schedule that so that by Friday of the week, if I haven’t reached out, I’m going to do that because some of the work is due on Thursday.
And then lastly, I’m going to communicate when an assignment or a quiz has been missed. The passive way to communicate is to fill in zeros in the gradebook. And the active way would be to send messages or emails to reach out to those students.
Scholarship and Professional Time Section
In terms of the scholarship and professional time on that planner, I try to do one thing a week at least. That might begin with looking at a call for proposals to a conference. Maybe I will read some research papers to get some ideas about what I might study next or write about next.
Either way, I’m going to do something that consumes or contributes to my field in research, scholarship or conference presentations, or nowadays it might also include writing blog articles, creating podcast episodes, or otherwise engaging with people about things.
Which Time Management Strategies Work for You?
Whatever your calendar is going to look like in the end, it’s very helpful if you use a thoughtful approach so that you can manage the workload of teaching online and ensure that you’ve got every avenue finished up and checked off. One of the things that is going to help you the most as you do all of these activities and consider your time management, whether you use the getting things done approach, plan the weekly routines that alternate or try the planning grid, or maybe you want to do all three of those things.
All of these depend on having a well-developed class that you really prepared and ensured is ready to go for students before that first day of class. These time-management strategies I’m talking about have to do with teaching the course itself.
Presence in the live lecture class can be easily established when you’re just walking around the room and talking to your students. But in online teaching, your presence comes through in all of these different ways: teaching presence, social presence, and cognitive presence.
Each of these areas are needed to help you connect with your students. And also to build that robust academic atmosphere where all kinds of learners are going to be successful.
Together, all of these time management strategies will allow you to develop a strong presence in your online teaching. But more than that, they’re going to help you be efficient and help you connect more with your students.
It might take some time to develop time management strategies that really suit you, but it is highly worth the time and effort to allow you to enjoy your online teaching and to focus on getting connected with your students, overall.
I wish you all the best 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.