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

Dr. Bethanie Hansen 

Strategic Educational Leader and Coach

#65: Strategies to Make Discussion Boards More Engaging [Podcast]

#65: Strategies to Make Discussion Boards More Engaging [Podcast]

This content initially appeared at APUEdge.Com 

Discussion boards are a required part of many online courses, but they can sometimes get flat and boring. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks about how to have an engaging dialogue with students. Learn five strategies to improve discussion boards as well as how to apply the Guided ANCHORS approach to managing discussion forums.

#62: Connecting with Students Through Zoom

#62: Connecting with Students Through Zoom

This content first appeared at APUEdge.com.

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

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Read the Transcript:

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

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

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

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

Integrating Zoom into Online Classes

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

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

Review and Update Zoom Settings

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

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

Use Doodle or Survey to Find a Good Meeting Time

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

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

Send Out Repeated Meeting Reminders

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

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

Establish a Backup Plan for Internet Connectivity

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

Assign a Student Who Can Take Notes, Continue Meeting

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

Decide on Your Background

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

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

Test Your Audio Quality

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

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

Prepare a Lesson Plan for the Meeting

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

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

Establish Expectations with Students

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

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

Think about Level of Student Engagement

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

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

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

Tips on Hosting Strategies

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

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

Prepare Breakout Rooms in Advance

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

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

Assessing Student Engagement and Community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
#61: Five Creative Ways to Enhance Forum Discussions

#61: Five Creative Ways to Enhance Forum Discussions

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.

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.

Have you ever struggled to engage in the discussion of your online course? For some courses we teach, it might seem that over and over we’re discussing the same topics with the same students from the same approach.

Of course, it may be a new group of students, but it seems like we’re having that same dialogue over and over again. And sometimes there might be a feeling that it’s difficult to find new questions to ask, or new ideas to share. If this sounds familiar to you, it might be time to try some creative alternatives to the traditional discussion format. And when you take a totally new approach, it can revitalize your thinking about online discussion spaces and help you engage much more with your students too.

Today, we’ll review five alternative discussion forum ideas for your next online class. And by the end of today’s podcast, you’ll walk away with something new you can try this coming week.

Role Play Can Enhance Forum Discussions

Number one, role-play. The idea of role-play in online discussions involves creativity and imagination. To be able to engage in the dialogue, students must do a little research about an individual from the past, their context and culture, and their life’s achievements. There are forum prompts like this in music appreciation courses that I teach. So I’m going to share my own experience with you on role-plays.

In the first discussion we have that involves this role-play idea, students are asked to create five questions that a media interviewer might ask prominent musicians from the 1600s. Then students create replies as if that composer might provide them. And they format and post their discussions in some ways that are also creative.

I noticed some of my students take it further, so they even introduce the entire post in character as if they are the interviewer, complete with fictitious names for the magazine or newspaper they represent, and some additional fun details.

By doing this approach, students must weigh the facts on a historical musician and find those lesser-known details that can really pique your curiosity. They also have to think in present tense, first-person voice, as if they are speaking as that composer in their responses. It can help students start to think about people from hundreds of years ago much more humanely, and understand more than just some facts and some dates that they could write about. And it elicits their creativity, so they will spend a little more time putting it together.

In the other role-playing discussion we have, we have students who write imaginary conversations that take place between three composers, which they get to choose, from the romantic era. They bring in people like Beethoven, Berlioz, Chopin and Liszt, and they write the conversation as if these three people they selected really did meet at a party or a gathering. Sometimes students will write the conversation as if Beethoven has completely lost his hearing and keeps ignoring other people, asking loudly, repeatedly what they have said. And some of them portrayed Liszt as this dark emotional person, bringing in a mention of various elements from his life struggles.

We’ve been able to dive into the conversations about composers they select and explore musical issues, and the cultures the composers lived in as well. But more than that, some wider topics come in like musicians and mental health, relationships, and even challenges they face in life. And many of the students find that they understand these composers and the challenges and musicians as fellow humans, instead of just names and dates.

And some have even remarked that they contemplate the challenges that certain musicians have faced and overcome these, and they think about their own lives as well. So they liken perhaps the deafness of Beethoven and his composing symphonies anyway, to whatever life struggle they’re having. And a few students have even said they’ve been inspired to overcome their own challenges and keep moving forward because of these experiences, these stories.

Role plays can be powerful and useful if you want to help your students connect to their learning. To make discussions successful, clear and detailed instructions are needed. Step-by-step instructions can be important to help students know exactly what is expected and how the post should be written.

Create Video Discussion Forums Using Flipgrid

For this second idea you’re going to leave the learning management system completely. You’re going to get out of the LMS and go into a program called Flipgrid. Now, if you haven’t tried Flipgrid, it is definitely worth a shot. You leave, you use Flipgrid, and then you post it in the classroom.

This is a free video discussion forum tool. It builds your students’ perceptions of the connectedness in the online classrooms, so it takes discussions to a totally different place. You can use Flipgrid for video discussion forums. They’ll take the video and embed the video in the online course that students have created. And you can use it in a lot of different ways to connect yourself to your students and to connect students to each other.

Embedding a tool that brings voice, tone, and body language to the classroom really does build that sense of connection, and you can see who everybody is. You get a sense of the other students in the class and the instructor. And this raises the bar for everything happening in that discussion forum.

There’s a post on Edutopia about several different LMS strategies, and Flipgrid is one of those. They quote a high school English teacher named Kyleen Gray. And Kyleen said, “Flipgrid is a fantastic oral communication application that is easy to use.”

It’s a video-sharing platform, as I mentioned, and you can write the forum prompt to the discussion just as you always would. But instead of having students type the answer, you simply have them answer it in a short video. So this is a great tool that’s going to give you feedback in sort of an informal way. You can find out how students are doing in their learning, and you get to hear it in their own voice.

And of course, there’s been some research done on this, and it’s been found that Flipgrid actually boosts students’ feelings of being connected in the online classroom, which overcomes a lot of that sense of anonymity, and also that disconnection that is really common in online education. And it also helps them to bridge the gap between you and them, so they’re willing to ask you for help.

Of course, there are some additional fabulous ideas for using Flipgrid that you might also be interested in. Not only can your students just post videos of themselves talking and embed these in your forum discussions, but you can invite outside speakers. So there’s a guest mode in Flipgrid, and you can invite a guest speaker to participate in the online discussion asynchronously. Guests can watch the student videos and respond to them. This gives your expert a way to share knowledge from the field, and also allows them to share it at the convenient time for them.

If you’d like to have guest speakers in your online class, this is a really creative idea about how it can be done, and it can be done in a discussion, so that throughout the week everyone can engage with that guest and go back and forth.

We can also take this a little further. Flipgrid is great for sharing language acquisition if you’re teaching a world language, and, of course, you can share and celebrate work. If you celebrate completed projects, essays, assignments, and things like that in the discussion area using Flipgrid, you can have students talk about their projects and show them off at the same time. And then post that video so that each person can go through and sort of see a showcase of work. What a great alternative in a forum discussion.

Using Padlet to Improve Collaboration and Sharing

Today’s third creative idea for discussions is to try Padlet. There are many lists out there on the internet available for you on creative ways to use Padlet in your online classroom. I’ll just highlight a few of these today.

First of all, if you’re wondering what Padlet is, it’s kind of like a Post-it board, so you can put notes on there and everyone else in the class can do that as well. You can use Padlet in your online classroom by installing the app on your device or opening the Padlet website. You make a board and then you have posts there that everyone can add.

There’s a lot of ways to do this. First, you can use Padlet to brainstorm topics. If students are going to be writing an essay, this might be a great way to use your discussions face for the week. They can brainstorm topics together, thesis statements, projects, ideas, and other things that they might turn in for the class. You can try this and have students just collaborate with each other, and together they just might come up with even better ideas.

You can use that same space to create a live question bank. And a live question bank would be where students ask questions about the lesson, during the lesson. You could take this further and have them design three or four questions that each of them would ask if they were the one creating the final exam. This is a wonderful way to create creative questions in a big list all at once. And it won’t take very long when you have each student contribute.

Another way to use Padlet in your discussion area is to create icebreaker activities. For example, if you really like that activity, Two Truths and One Lie, students can post something about themselves and we can all go through and guess which were true and which were not, and have fun getting to know each other the first week of class.

And of course, you can use that same space to share highlights from the semester, or things that they’d like to honor about each other. It can be a celebration space for reflection at the end of the semester in your discussions. You can also use it as a question board, so your students can go there and ask and answer questions for each other.

And the last tip I have on Padlet today is to use bubble maps, thinking maps, or brainstorming maps. Padlet is a great way to organize the ideas, move them around, and create them into various ordering systems to help students think through the way they might use the information they have learned.

And all of these ideas I’ve just shared with you here about using Padlet came from an article called “30 Creative Ways to Use Padlet For Teachers And Students,” posted by Lucie Renard in 2017. There’s a link in the podcast notes here, so be sure to check it out.

Using Jamboard for Live Collaboration

The fourth creative discussion idea is actually a synchronous one. If you teach hybrid or live synchronous online courses, or if you teach face-to-face you could even use this idea. Google has a product out there called Jamboard. It’s all one word if you’re going to search it.

It’s for sketching out ideas and using a whiteboard style collaborative space. When you use Jamboard, students can write on it at the same time and they can add their own sketches or calculations. You could use Jamboard for a lot of different things.

For example, if you have some kind of visual art class and you want students to literally sketch things, you can use Jamboard. If you’re teaching mathematics, especially if you have a real-time meeting where you’re going to collaborate and do problems together, this is a fabulous way to help students get involved. And they can also put images on there and notes and take different assets from the web or pull in documents or slides or different sheets from the Google platforms. And they can all collaborate at the same time, no matter where they are.

It’s totally free, unless you want the freestanding Jamboard to be in your physical classroom, in which case there is a cost to it. But it’s a wonderful collaborative tool for synchronous use online in your discussions.

Integrating Photography into Discussions

And we’re down to our number five example. This fifth example comes right back to the traditional discussion format. So we’re not using the external technologies, but we are using one kind of media, and that would be photography. This example is shared by Kristin Kowal in 2019. Kristin says that, “This is adding images of examples in students’ posts.”

So for this example, you’re going to have students post the image along with their written response in the discussion forum. One of the best things about this strategy is that it’s somewhat personalized. It helps students be motivated to use more than one modality in their discussion post, and it helps them connect more to each other and to the ideas.

There are a lot of visual learners. It’s something like 60% to 80% of all people are visual thinkers. So when you start adding the image to this discussion post, you have something really interesting coming out. It’s personal. It motivates students. It connects them.

Erin Ratelis, an online instructor says that, “It not only feels different for the students, but it’s also a different type of activity that will stand out for them. It leverages a different technology and photos are a great visual tool to solidify class insights. It requires students to explore class topics through a very personal lens, no pun intended.”

So in the course where Erin used this strategy, she had her students go to a retail environment in their community. So they were looking for 10 ways that a consumer marketer would influence the purchasing decisions. And she asked her students to post photos, but made it optional. Most of the students chose to include picture examples, like retail displays at Target or other stores. And students even commented directly in their posts about how much they enjoyed taking the pictures and including them.

You can draw attention to all kinds of real-life examples, no matter what course you’re teaching, by asking students to show an example in a photograph. It could be the bonus point on that forum discussion.

You can also use it if you’re asking students to take a field trip. So if you ever have an assignment where your online students need to go out of the classroom and prove that they’ve done something, such as attending a concert or going to a museum, it’s best if they also have a picture of themselves at that event.

Lastly, think about privacy concerns when you have students post photos. If they’re taking photos at work and sharing them, it might be a good idea to get permission from their employer. Think about which areas you might want to use this activity in, where it might pique the most ideas. And you might consider doing it again later in the course.

So these five creative forum discussion ideas are here to give you alternatives so you’re not just posting and writing and posting and writing and students are doing the same. That kind of repetitive approach to a forum discussion gets old. And even if you’re having a very stimulating discussion, students tend to repeat the approach that they’re using. As you stretch and try these alternative methods, I think you’ll really spice up your online class and have a lot of fun doing it. I wish you all the best this 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.

 
#32: Self-Care and Balance for Online Educators

#32: Self-Care and Balance for Online Educators

This content was first published on OnlineLearningTips.Com.

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It’s been an extremely challenging time for teachers who have moved from classroom teaching to online teaching while also trying to balance family life when spouses and children are also working and learning in the home. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks to Dr. Lisset Pickens, a professor at American Public University and licensed professional counselor about managing work-life balance and managing these new stressors.

Learn about the importance of establishing distinct learning and work spaces at home and setting boundaries so its clear when work and school time is over and the “family button” gets turned back on. Also, hear recommendations for self-care, learning to say no so you don’t overextend yourself, and ways to be creative with your family during the pandemic.

Transcript:

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Welcome to the podcast. Today, I’m here with our guest, Dr. Lisset Pickens. Lisset is a professor at American Public University with an academic background in early childhood education, educational leadership, psychology, and child and family development.

Dr. Pickens is also a licensed professional counselor, nationally certified counselor and nationally certified school counselor. She holds certifications in teaching Pre-K through 12th grades, school counseling and educational leadership.

Lisset, thank you for joining me today. I understand that you have quite a bit of experience in online education and you’ve taught in higher ed for many years. Would you mind sharing a little bit about your background and the experience you have as an online educator to help our listeners get to know you better?

Dr. Lisset Pickens: Yes, I will. And thank you so much for having me, Bethanie. It’s a pleasure to be here. Let’s see. Where do I even begin?

My experience spans from working in the classroom directly with students at the elementary school level. I’ve also worked in the school counseling role and that also was primarily in the elementary school level. And from there I transitioned into higher ed, where I’ve been for quite a number of years. So my background stems between two areas: psychology on one side, and then education on the other.

My degrees are very diversified when it comes to disciplines. I also hold certifications in counseling and as well as in education. I’ve been an online educator since 2006, so it’s been quite a number of years. I’ve seen lots of changes over that time, but I definitely enjoy it.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wonderful. Well, thank you for sharing your background. And can you tell us a little bit more about what your online teaching experience includes? Is this a lot of classes throughout the year? What’s that like?

Dr. Lisset Pickens: Well, it just varies. Every semester is going to be a little different. I do work full-time in a full-time capacity. I also do some adjunct work. But primarily, it involves teaching online. So actually engaging with students.

I do serve as well as a faculty mentor. So I do assist new and upcoming faculty with getting acclimated to the classroom and the role of whether it’s an adjunct professor or full-time status. So primarily teaching. I’m involved as well in a number of committees. I do serve on the grad council committee. I’m also the co-chair of the psychology club and a variety of other different hats that I wear.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Fantastic. Lisset, thanks for sharing all that. You’re definitely someone that our listeners are going to learn a lot from today. And I’m really excited that you’re here to talk about teaching online and life that we’re managing while we’re doing this.

So I came across a report from the Census Bureau just yesterday. I was thinking about how many people are online right now, with COVID-19 going on for months. And it is indicated right now that 93% of households of school-aged children actually have some form of distance learning right now during COVID-19.

And then of course, we all know that in higher ed, lots of universities have moved to online and they’re already anticipating spring terms being online. This is a big change for a lot of people.

With all these people learning online this means there are also teachers who have moved online and maybe they’re even working with children learning from home. So what’s your perspective about working online and teaching from home?

Teaching From Home Requires Planning and Adjusting

Dr. Lisset Pickens: Well, it has definitely changed the way that we not only manage our professional lives, but also our personal lives. Because of course, what has now happened is at home, you’re not only managing home, but you’re managing work as well.

And then for other individuals who may be in school, as non-traditional learners, they’re managing school, they’re managing work, and they’re managing home. So you’re going to definitely see an increase in the amount of stress that we’re dealing with because honestly, you’re juggling so many different plates, but you’re doing it in your home.

So it’s very important during this time to find a way to organize your home so that when it’s time for doing school, there’s a place for that. When it’s a time for work, there’s a place for that. And then if you have students, your own children that are also working remotely, they also need a space. So having these separate spaces is really critical because it will help to maintain that balance that you’re going to need.

You have to protect that home space as much as possible. So while you may have spaces that are dedicated to working and doing school work, it’s still home. You want to also enjoy the benefits of being at home. So actually taking the time to sit down and figure out the logistics, if you will, of how you’re going to manage these different areas is very critical.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Lisset, as I hear you saying that, you’re describing this real thoughtful approach to setting some boundaries, defining your space. And I would bet that there are a lot of folks out there listening, who haven’t really settled on that yet. What kind of things would maybe be the red flags they might notice where they need to stop and define their space a little bit more, and their time, a little bit more. What comes up?

Dr. Lisset Pickens: If you are sitting down for dinner and you’re reaching over piles of papers or a computer, it’s probably time to set up some boundaries. And if we don’t do that, what can be impacted is our ability to even function effectively within our various roles.

What we’ll see is chaos, confusion and of course we know this adds to stress. So having those boundaries are very important. We want at the end of the week, for that to truly be a celebration of the end of the week. We’re putting in a lot of time, we’re working with our kids, we’re working from home and the end of the week, you just want to simply spend that time and celebrate your family.

So if there are no boundaries in place, that can look very different. Those lines will be blurred. And then when we get ready to start the new week, we may not find what we’re looking for. It could be a case where our learners at home are not entirely ready for the start of the week. It can really cause additional stress. So establishing these places in your home is very important.

I know for myself, I have two middle schoolers. I have an elementary student and I have a one-year-old. So sitting down to figure out exactly who’s going where, when and how, all within the confines of our home is something that my husband and I really had to sit down and figure out.

Now I’ll be honest and transparent. When everything first started, when the pandemic started and students had to be at home, et cetera, it was chaos for quite some time. Maybe about a few weeks. And what happens is we are stressed out. My son needs a paper. I can’t find the paper, or other things are happening that is not conducive to what we like to see taking place.

So we had to take a step back and figure out exactly where the learning spaces were going to be, where our workspaces we’re going to be. And at the end of the day, we had to commit to turning it off. Once school was over, we turned it off. As long as homework was done, everything was turned off.

And there has to be a time where the family button gets turned back on. Because typically what would happen is your children go out to school. You go out to work and on your way home, you enter the door. That family button gets turned on. You’re looking at dinner, you’re figuring out homework. And you’re spending that time with each other.

But what happens if all of this is taking place within one location, which happens to be your home? So establishing a sound routine and figuring out those spaces are so critical to the effective functioning of your family. All of these things have to be taken into consideration.

Prioritizing the Quality of Your Home Life Brings Creativity

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: You’re absolutely right, Lisset. And I love the way you described this as turning it off and the family button getting turned back on. So that sounds like you’re focusing a lot on the quality of your home life. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Dr. Lisset Pickens: Yes. You have to put just as much effort into protecting the quality of your home life as you do anything else, whether it’s work or school or whatever the case may be. Your home life, that’s your support system. That’s your place of comfort. That’s your place of refuge. You want to protect that, but it’s going to be difficult to do that if you do not take the time to kind of map and figure everything out.

Figure out the logistics of the different times when your learners need to be online, the different times when you’re at work. And when you need to turn the computer off, you have to come up with a plan.

One way that I protect the quality of my home life is I make sure that at the end of the week, once everything is done, that, like I said, we turn on that family button. We spend time together. And of course, we’re having to spend a whole lot of time together now, but it’s different.

I think it’s really forced us to be more creative as a family. I think it’s brought us together, just being transparent there. And my children, I think now are, they’re more into ways that they can address different things, but in a variety of different ways.

So, for example, during this pandemic and the quarantine and everything, it was Father’s Day. And typically, what we do on Father’s Day is, of course, we figure out a way to celebrate my husband. So we usually go out to eat. That’s typically what happens.

But during that time, we weren’t able to do that. So my kids came up with an idea, “Well, why don’t we do it outside? Why don’t we figure out what we can do outside?” So that ball got rolling.

And by the end of it, we came up with watching a movie outside while we dine outside. And that was something we had never done before. That was something that we probably wouldn’t have thought of, at least not right away. But what I love about it is that it was my kids who came up with the idea and I just helped to execute it.

So I think the quality of your home life, even though we’re dealing with everything we’re dealing with right now, can be maintained. It can be improved. For me, I know it’s been improved because now we’re doing more things together and we’re finding creative ways to do things together because we’re around each other all the time. So we have to be creative.

What else can you do besides being around each other all of the time? Well, we’re going to think of some different things we can do. We’ve been taking walks around the neighborhood, which typically before this, we would say, “Oh, we can’t do that because we have to go do this, or we have to do that.” And that always got pushed on the back burner. But now in protecting that home life and the quality of that life, we/re making a conscious effort to do some of these things. So it’s been really nice.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Lisset, thank you so much for sharing all of that with us about the fact that creativity has emerged. Some new activities maybe that you would not have thought of before, and also this closeness with your family and really intentionally focusing on that. That is so helpful.

And I’m sure, great ideas for our listeners as well in thinking about, well, how can we balance? How can we self care a little bit more and focus on family time and the time outside of being online?

Three Tips for Online Educators

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: And Lisset, you’ve shared with us some great ideas about creativity, closeness with your family, turning off the online work, and also turning back on that family button as we call it.

So if you were to suggest three tips for our listeners today, to help them with balance while they’re teaching online, what would you suggest?

1: Set Boundaries

Dr. Lisset Pickens: Sure. I think having boundaries would be the most critical point. I can’t stress that enough. So when I say boundaries, I mean having some firm boundaries at a certain time where shutting things off, we’re interacting with each other.

In my house, it involves technology. So no phones, no computer, no games. It’s just time to actually interact. We need to check-in with each other. That’s very important. To see how our kids even are processing what is happening.

I have four children, like I said, and each one of them is so different. And what I found throughout this experience is that each one of them, probably minus my one year old, is processing things very differently. For my daughter, who I like to call my social butterfly, she doesn’t meet a stranger. She’s very energetic. So this for her, I can see where it’s kind of changed. And sometimes she would feel a little down but those were the times we made sure we checked in with her. “How are you feeling today? What’s going on? Would you like to do something?” And go from there.

Versus my middle son, he has flourished during this time. He was usually my very quiet child and now he’s engaging and he’s actually doing better remotely than he was in person. So just trying to figure out each child and what’s going on with them.

So I definitely think we can maximize on those opportunities when we have those cutoff times. Just a time to get away from the technology, because of course we’re all using technology right now. We have to for a large majority of the day. So there has to be a time where we turn things off.

2: Take Time for Self-Care

So I would say this will also prevent you from being overextended. You want to establish a healthy schedule. You want to engage in self-care. You want to ensure that you are balancing those plates well, so boundaries are important.

The next thing I would say, and I just briefly mentioned that, was the importance of self-care. We want to avoid burnout as much as possible throughout this time. So we have to sometimes take a step back, even step away and just reflect.

For me, reflecting is listening to music just for a few minutes, just to kind of step away and ensure that I’m checking in with myself to engage in that self-care. So we have to take time for ourselves even during all of this.

And it may look different. Maybe before we would’ve went and gotten a massage, or maybe before we would have went and did something else outside of the home. And maybe now it looks a little different, but again, that’s where we have to be a little creative in how we are addressing a lot of the things that are happening now.

So, for some people, it may be reading a book. Like I said, for me, it’s listening to music. Something else that has come out of all of this, that is somewhat new to me is I finished writing a children’s book.

And that was not even on my radar for some time, but through all of this and making sure that I engage in self-care, I took some time. And every day, just for a few minutes, I write a little, write a little, write a little. Until they started developing into this project. So I think that’s very important.

3: Learn to Say NO

And then the last point would be to embrace the ability to say, “no.” That is a tough one for some people, it was a tough one for me. And honestly it took me a while to get there, but you want to ensure that you do not overextend yourself.

Just because you may be working from home and you’re in a state of comfort, we can work from home comfortably and we don’t have to get dressed up or do anything like that, but it can create a false sense of comfort to the point where we are saying yes to everything.

Your boss messages you, “Hey, can you do this?” And you’re already overextended, but “Sure, I’ll take that on.” Or, a friend asks you to do something. “Sure, I’ll do this.” And before you know it, you’re burnt out. So it’s okay to say no.

And I know it can be difficult because you’re working from home and it just feels like it should be okay to take on more. But again, that’s where my previous point of self-care comes in and why having that balance is so important. So embrace the ability to say no sometimes. And I think by saying, no, sometimes you’re saying yes to yourself.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Lisset, I really appreciated you sharing all these points. Honestly, they’re each effective and useful points and we all need to practice them. And the one that stood out to me, you were talking about self-care, taking time, and that you set aside a little time to write and then wrote a children’s book. Congratulations on the book, by the way!

Dr. Lisset Pickens: Thank you.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yeah, that is so exciting. And also it goes really nicely with what you just said about your family activities that really turning things off gave you this space to plan together. The fun movie under the stars, outdoor, the father’s day experience.

And it sounds like that same space for creativity is what is helping you to create as well in writing this book. What do you think might change long-term for people when we’re taking this time and having the space that the pandemic has sort of forced us into?

Challenges We Can Anticipate When We Return to “Normal” Work

Dr. Lisset Pickens: I think, and I thought about that recently. What is the adjustment going to be like for some people who now work from home for an extended period of time, what is that adjustment going to feel like? Or even look like? Let’s say they do return to a brick-and-mortar building after this, or their schedules become a little bit more rigorous because things have opened up or things have changed.

And I think at first it will be a little challenging. It will be a little challenging, especially if you have invested the time needed and protected your family space, invested in the logistics of your workspaces at home. And you’ve gotten into the flow of everything. Everything is working pretty well. And now you’re going to have to change again and go back to the way it was. So I think initially it will be challenging.

However, I don’t think we’ll remain there forever. I think out of that challenge, what is going to happen is, hopefully, we’re going to adapt some new practices. We’re going to put new practices in place and we’re going to take a lot of the skills that we’ve developed during this time into those workspaces, for example.

And I think it’s going to produce a more productive professional life, a well-functioning family life. Because this is the rehearsal. We’ve had this opportunity right now to really try different things, trial and error. Try something and if that doesn’t work, figure something else out.

For example, with my three school-aged kids at first, I had everyone working in the same vicinity, the same space. And that was a no-no. That did not go very well. So I had to figure out a new strategy.

So I had my daughter who, like I said, very energetic, likes to interact. What I figured out: she needs a space, all of her own, where if she wants to stand and talk on the computer with her teacher, she can. If she wants to do cartwheels while she’s doing that, she can. But she needed her own space because then my middle son, he’s one who gets distracted very easily. So he needed a quiet space. He needed an area where he can engage and be free of distractions. So I had to move him to a different place.

And then my oldest son he’s kind of like me, he goes with the flow. So he was fine either way, but this is what I’m talking about in regards to trial and error. So we’ve rehearsed this throughout this time and we’ve learned how to protect that family time. So hopefully those are skills and opportunities that we’ll take back with us and we can implement that.

And especially when it comes to saying no and engaging with self-care. Making sure if we set up a time or there’s an event that we have taking place, and someone comes and says, “Hey, do you mind doing this?” We feel comfortable in saying no, because I’ve already committed to something else with my family. Or, I may have something else going on.

Whereas before, that may have been very difficult to do. So I think that it would be challenging at first, but I definitely think this has prepared us for those challenges and that we’ll be okay.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Fantastic. Lisset, thank you so much for sharing your time with us on the Online Teaching Lounge podcast today and for your wealth of knowledge and advice for anyone who is teaching online right now, and especially working with family members at home. Thank you for being here.

Dr. Lisset Pickens: Thank you so much for having me. I enjoyed it. Thank you.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yeah. And what you shared with us about boundaries, self-care and saying, no, these are all areas that can help us manage the work and to thrive. So to our listeners, we wish you all the best this coming week in your online teaching and setting healthy boundaries as well.

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

Lisset Bird-Pickens, Ed.D. is a full-time associate professor in the Human Development and Family Studies program at American Public University. She holds a B.S. in Psychology from Georgia Southern University, an M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education from Mercer University, an M.Ed. in School Counseling from The University of West Alabama and an Ed.D. in Education/Instructional Leadership from Nova Southeastern University. 

Dr. Bird-Pickens has experience in online learning and has taught at the university level since 2006. She has taught elementary students and adult learners.  

Lisset’s academic background is in early childhood education, educational leadership, psychology, and child and family development. Dr. Bird-Pickens is a licensed professional counselor, nationally certified counselor and nationally certified school counselor. She holds certifications in teaching pre-K through 12th grades, school counseling in K-12, and educational leadership in K-12. 

 

Bethanie Hansen, DMA, PCC, is a Faculty Director and Certified Professional Coach for the School of Arts & Humanities at American Public University. She holds a B.M. in Music Education from Brigham Young University, a M.S. in Arts & Letters from Southern Oregon University and a DMA in Music Education from Boston University.

Bethanie focuses on personal and professional development, self-growth, teaching and working online, and mindset. She is an educator, coach, manager, writer, presenter and musician with 25 years of experience helping others achieve their goals.