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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

#70: Parallel Thinking for the Online Educator

#70: Parallel Thinking for the Online Educator

This content first appeared at APUEdge.com

Thinking is a skill that can always be further developed and improved upon. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares insight into the concept of parallel thinking, which focuses on constructive and creative thinking. Learn more about this unique approach to thinking that uses the concept of “thinking hats” that enables individuals to view something from six unique viewpoints to more fully understand it.

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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.

Thank you for joining me today. If you’re here listening to this podcast, I assume that you’re either an online educator or you work with online educators. Or perhaps you’re a parent who is working with your young person at home in an online education fashion. Either way, regardless of who you are or from where you approach online education, one thing is certain that education comes with some traditional Western views. In the United States, we often think of Socratic analysis or Socratic discussion, which is largely the discussion—the question and answer method—and we’re looking for the truth.

We might have some kind of logical analysis, definitions, categories, principles, and analysis that we use in critical thinking, generally speaking. And a lot of what we’re doing in our online education pursuits and education generally is to describe how things are, what it is. We want to define it, we want to use the terms correctly, we want to use them to describe it so we can speak the language as if we’re in that subject matter as participants.

What is Parallel Thinking?

Today I’m going to introduce to you something called parallel thinking. This is a little bit different than the traditional way we look at things in our educational world. This comes from “Six Thinking Hats” by Edward de Bono. It’s an international bestseller and it has changed the way the world’s most successful business leaders think.

The idea is that thinking is a skill and we can develop it further and we can improve upon it. If you think about traditional critical thinking, we’re analyzing, we’re judging, we’re arguing. We are describing what is. We’re trying to understand something from various points of view.

In the idea about “Six Thinking Hats” in the book, we’re talking about how there’s another aspect of thinking, which is what can be. It is constructive thinking, creative thinking, and it’s known as “designing a way forward.”

The idea behind parallel thinking is that it is a new and unique approach to seeing something. Instead of judging the way forward, we’re going to “design the way forward” using parallel thinking. We need to be thinking about what can be and not just what is.

Now, if you think about the jobs that exist in the world today, many of the jobs people hold never existed 10, 15, or even 20 years ago. And I can give you an example of my own job. I’m an online educator. I’m a professor at an entirely online university. I’m also a faculty director and I manage a large team of online faculty in my department.

When I was going through my bachelor’s degree to become a band teacher, face-to-face, I would have never imagined in the mid ’90s, early 1990s, that this kind of a career was even possible. I didn’t know what it was, I didn’t know I would want to do it, nor did I know I would do it.

Over time, online education emerged. The internet became a staple of modern society, and now we have online careers. Of course, due to the pandemic, even more work has moved online than we ever thought would be possible.

As we think about the changing world that we live in, and we know that careers that exist today as we now know them never existed in the past, the world of tomorrow could yet be different, still. We need to think about our students and what they will need to move into the future that lies before them, and to have the thinking skills and capacities to meet the demands of tomorrow.

In the introduction to his book, “Six Thinking Hats,” Edward de Bono gives a really great example to explain what parallel thinking is. And I’m going to just share that example with you today to share the concept generally.

So in the introduction, he tells us to think about a large, beautiful country house. We’re just going to pretend for a minute that I’m standing in front of that house and you’re standing behind the house. Two of our friends are standing on each side of the house. We’re not seeing the same side of the house, but all four of us have a view of the house.

We’re all arguing over our cell phones. So we’re kind of on a group call and each of us is standing on one side of the house and we’re arguing that the view we are seeing is the view of the house. I’m describing this front door, big garage doors, and all of the plant features. You’re describing the back door, the things that are in the backyard, all of those features. And likely we’re going to disagree because we’re not looking at the same side of the house.

As de Bono says, using parallel thinking, we would walk all around and look at the front. Then we would all walk around to one side and look at that. Then we would all look at the back of the house and look at that together. And finally, we would all look at the remaining side together.

And in doing this, each of us is going to be looking in parallel from the same point of view. We’re all going to be looking at the front of the house at the exact same time. Instead of being an argument, this is really the opposite view point. We’re not going to be having adversarial thinking. We’re not discussing whose viewpoint is right, and we’re not taking the opposite view. We’re looking at all sides of the house and we’re exploring the subject of the house fully, each of us.

So parallel thinking is the idea that we’re all looking in the same direction at that object at the same time. It could go a little bit further if we were just using traditional critical thinking. If you and I were to disagree, there’s an argument in which each of us is going to try to prove each other wrong. We’re going to assert our points and gather evidence and support our point of view.

If we were to be using parallel thinking, we’re going to use both of our views and, even if they’re a little contradictory, we’re going to set them down in parallel, then we’re going to choose at that point whose viewpoint we’re going to adopt. We’re going to really consider all the possibilities when we’re looking at things from the same vantage point. And the emphasis is to have a cooperative viewpoint, to have a way forward.

Understanding Parallel Thinking by Wearing Different “Thinking Hats”

Basically, parallel thinking as presented in “Six Thinking Hats” introduces six different perceptions or directions of thinking. We would put on the same hat at the same time and we’re all going to try to take that perspective. There are some labels we’re going to use here to talk about parallel thinking. And so the metaphor is colored hats.

For example, we’re going to put on a white thinking hat, and while we’re wearing the white thinking hat, we’re going to all be deliberately focusing on the information. We’re going to find all the information that’s available, determine what information is still needed, what questions we need to ask, and how else we could get the information. So the white thinking hat is about information. We’re not trying to argue it, we’re not trying to interpret it or get emotional about it. We’re just looking at all the information we have and all the information we need. And we’re doing this together. So this is a group effort, and we’re all coming at it from that same white hat perspective.

It’s not really me choosing the white hat because I like information and you choosing a different hat because you like that perspective. It’s all of us practicing one single point of view at the same time. We’re all going to put the white hat on and we’re going to look at information.

We’re going to go to the red hat and we’re going to look for feelings, intuition, and emotions on a particular issue. We can all put the red hat on and adopt this perspective at the same time and we can all explore what the intuition and emotions of that issue might be.

Then we could switch to black hat thinking. This is also going to be about cautiousness. It’s going to point out possible difficulties, loopholes, and problems, with this thinking.

We’re going to then go to the yellow hat, and the yellow hat is about benefits, values, and things like that. And we’re going to take each of these perspectives in turn so we can practice coming at a problem from each of these points of view.

How to Use the Principle of Thinking Hats in Your Teaching

The main idea is we want to be able to see things in different directions. We want to practice that with our students, and we want to use it in our online educator role. There are a lot of different ways we can use these six thinking hats.

One, we could have a forum discussion. So in the discussion space, we could teach the thinking hats ideas, introduce each of the “Six Thinking Hats” and the orientation. And we could have our students try on one or two of these hats in this particular discussion.

Or maybe when we are having them prepare for an assignment, we could do an advanced organizer, which would be sort of like a preparatory activity. We could teach the “Six Thinking Hats” and have them use one particular thinking hat to gather all the information they know about the issue.

Then when we’re having them talk about the implications or the impact of the issue in reality, we could then have them put the red hat on and write about the emotional impact of other people. We could also talk about whether we’re going to put on, say the black, the yellow hat, or one of the other colors.

The six hats are basically ways to get out of our stuck thinking about something and try on a new viewpoint. There are a lot of other ways to do this as well. And it’s possible you’ve already got your own strategies as an educator that you might employ.

I’m throwing this out there to you today because the “Six Thinking Hats” method is also used in business, and it’s a great way to objectively move between viewpoints or perceptions. We don’t want to use these hats to describe people. We don’t want say like that’s a white hat thinker or a black hat thinker or a red hat thinker, or maybe a green hat person.

If we start labeling people that way, we put them in a box where they are only going to be capable of one thing. It’s not about labeling people or labeling schools of thought. It’s really about the mode of behavior. That we’re looking at something in a certain way. It is true that you might know some people that sound like descriptions of these hats and it’s okay to notice that, but we definitely don’t want to use them for that purpose. It’s not why they’re there.

You might even prefer one of these thinking directions or modes to another one. Either way, understand that this is not about categorizing people. We want to teach every person to be skilled at looking at a problem or a situation in each of these six directions. The more we teach people about parallel thinking and looking at a problem or issue in six different directions, the more we equip them with skills to truly evaluate things, to look at things from so many angles that they have a thorough understanding. And problems can really be solved when we’re doing this.

You could also do this for different stages of an assignment. As I mentioned, the advanced organizer might start out with white hat thinking. And through the steps of creating the assignment, a student might want to put on each of these hats for different parts of their work. In any kind of presentation, you’re certainly going to want to present the cautious side of things, why one should be looking for potential holes in thinking, and we can also come up with a lot more considerations when we’re trying on each of the different hats.

If we’re working in groups or having our students work in groups and they do this together, they’re going to be able to see things the same way very quickly in each of the thinking hat categories and work together as a group a lot more effectively.

And if you’re in asynchronous online education, that’s particularly important. Students are logging in at all different times of the week, and it’s easy for them to get off base from each other, or see things in different ways, and have a conflict.

Benefits of Trying Different Directions of Thinking

One of the great benefits of exploring the Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono in our online teaching is that this is no longer about being right. Instead of being right, what we’re doing is sort of playing a game. We’re asking our students to try on different directions of thinking. And whether they are shy or assertive or participate a lot or a little, as long as they are able to try on the thinking hat that we’re working with at the time, they’re cooperating. They’re playing the game. And this is a great way to bring all kinds of students together that might otherwise have different types of behaviors or different habits.

As you think about trying on “Six Thinking Hats,” these are the six descriptions and I hope there’ll be useful to you. The white hat is neutral and objective, concerned with facts and figures. The red hat is the emotional view. The black hat is careful and cautious, the “devil’s advocate” hat. The yellow hat is sunny and positive. The green hat is associated with fertile growth, creativity, and new ideas. And lastly, the blue hat is the coolness, the color of the sky, above everything else, the organizing hat.

If you think about how you might use these different hats with students all at the same time to unify groups into trying on different types of thinking, it’s possible something might occur to you that you could try in a forum discussion, in a group activity, or even in an assignment.

I hope that you’ll step into the shoes, or rather step under the hat, of each of these colored thinking hats and try them on as an educator, as well as in the online classroom. For more information about Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono, the international bestseller I’ve been mentioning throughout this podcast, please see the link in the podcast transcript. I wish you all the best this week trying on Six Thinking Hats 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.

#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.

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
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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.

 
#39: Creative Methods and Strategies for Teaching Online

#39: Creative Methods and Strategies for Teaching Online

This content first appeared on APUSEdge.Com

It can be challenging to keep online courses engaging and interesting. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares five methods and strategies to help online educators enhance their classroom. Learn how to increase student engagement through asynchronous discussions, online group work, gamification, guided exploration, and leveraging the full power of your school’s learning management system.

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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.

I thank you for joining me. It’s wonderful to be with you here today, to talk about methods and strategies teaching online. There are so many ways you can engage with your students in the online classroom, many of which involve special tools, interfaces, apps, or other items that might be considered bright and shiny objects.

Just to help you avoid getting overwhelmed, I’m going to introduce you to five specific methods and strategies you might consider using in your upcoming courses to help you keep the overwhelm at a minimum and get excited about trying something new and creative.

You might already know this, but choosing methods and strategies that work for your online environment and also guide your students appropriately through the topic, it’s challenging but it’s also necessary.

Creative strategies are so needed because students otherwise will disengage. Online education can be very isolating. If we always use an essay and discussion board approach, it can also be very dry and boring. Engaging your students and getting them excited about what they’re going to learn and how they’re going to learn is only part of the battle. We’re going to talk about that: how to learn it.

Think about the typical online class that focuses mainly on a lecture and some kind of assignment the student will give back to you. This is somewhat an imitation of a live class, and most of us would see this as the typical way a college class occurs. Online students need way more opportunities to interact with each other, with the content, and with you.

Online learners are a bit different than the residential students you might have at a traditional face-to-face university. Many of them have busy lives and need to be able to look at smaller bits of information, like a little video clip or something engaging they can click through or several of these things.

If you take the time to chunk information and use special strategies to create engagement, these strategies will really help your students be interested in your online course and help them throughout their learning and help them enjoy the process.

The tools that give your students the opportunity to work through the content that they need to learn, compete with their own performance, and manage the overall learning process can really help your online courses become more exciting and motivating.

As I’ve already mentioned, this could quickly lead to overwhelm for you. So choose one thing to try in your upcoming course, keep it small and simple, and you will be very pleased with the way this leads to a better result for you and your students.

Five Strategies for Improving Student Engagement

So here are the five methods and strategies I’d like to share with you today to help you get something more interesting going on in a small and simple piece.

Asynchronous Discussions

The first is asynchronous discussions. Asynchronous discussions are the hallmark component of online courses. Most people expect to see a discussion forum at some point in an online class. Some people use discussion forums throughout the entire course. Discussion forums give students the opportunity to teach and learn from each other. They can try on ideas, analyze, explore, debate, discuss. They can really get into the content through a discussion. They can also engage in dialogue with you, the instructor.

The discussion can include text. It could be based on images, audio, video, or multimedia, or you could include some combination of those things. In a previous episode of the Online Teaching Lounge, I explored a lot of different ways to manage your online discussions and creative a forum prompts you might consider trying. I hope you will take a look at those previous episodes. They’ll give you a lot of ideas in the asynchronous discussion area.

Online Group Work

The second method and strategy I would like to suggest is online group work. Learning can be a collaborative endeavor and group work can promote dialogue while refining understandings. This can be done in a way that fits the subject matter that you are teaching.

Group discussions, group projects, and peer-to-peer activities can also make online learning much more enjoyable for your students. This will reduce the tendency to have just lecture and discussion-based courses, and it will also make it more interesting when they’re forming connections with their classmates.

One of the drawbacks of online learning is that students do not really get to know each other deeply. When they work in a group, they have a better chance of getting to know each other, connecting and maybe even knowing a familiar name when they go to the next course in their program.

Group work can be very difficult to manage. I used to do an online project in the music appreciation class that I am teaching most. In that course when the group work came up, sometimes I would specifically assign students groups of people that were in the same time zone. My students tend to be all over the world at any given point, so I like to creatively manage that.

I had also chosen groups based on similar demographics. Maybe they’re in the same military branch or maybe some knew the subject of music a little bit and some didn’t, and I would combine those to give everybody a better chance of engaging about the content.

Group work needs clear instructions, creative activities to explore where each group member can contribute something. And, of course, some kind of criteria for grading that makes it worth the student’s time.

When I say worth their time, I mean that they’re going to actually be graded on their own contribution and not solely on the group grade. Students get very discouraged when they’re graded on the work that classmates have not done.

It’s also very helpful in group work assignments to let students choose some component of the assignment themselves. Maybe there are some creative elements they can put in there. Maybe there are several choices of what could be created or discussed in the assignment, and maybe there is also the opportunity to choose what the output format is going to look like whether it’s an essay, a PowerPoint, or some multimedia presentation.

Considering group work as the opportunity to really engage in a real-world fashion, this is an opportunity for you to also coach your students on how to work as teams, especially online.

Games and Simulations

The third method and strategy I’d like to introduce, this is the area of games and simulations. Games and simulations are opportunities for your students to apply new learning in real life scenarios. These can be supplemented through hypothetical situations, maybe they’re even role-playing or through specific apps and platforms built for some kind of educational gaming.

You might consider badging. Sometimes students get very excited about earning these little badges that appear as tokens of their achievement. There might be something built into your LMS that allows badging or up-voting or some kind of other engagement about the game or simulation itself.

Sometimes a little bit of competition actually makes the learning process even more fun. Games and simulations are becoming increasingly popular. I was at the Online Learning Consortium Conference a couple of years ago where a faculty member actually introduced the idea of using a Dungeons and Dragons scenario in a class, for gaming options.

If you explore the possibilities of gaming and simulations that are available, you just might find one that works fabulously in your subject matter. Simulations are a little bit different than games. They’re a little bit more applied and real-world oriented and might revolve around a case study or a role-play.

A simulation is something that might have a decision tree. For example, maybe the student enters a crime scene and they’re in a class where this is the area of focus. In the simulation, they might need to examine evidence and make a choice. With a decision tree, when they click on one choice, it will go to one avenue, and when they click on a different choice, it will take them someplace else. It’s a little bit like the 1980s example of choose your own adventure books. You get to choose the different options and the program takes you in different directions.

There are a lot of apps and things available that allow for decision trees. Even a simple PowerPoint presentation could be rigged so that you have a decision tree option available. You can create a slide where a student clicks on one or the other item on the slide, and depending on what they click on, it moves them to another slide entirely, skipping over a whole bunch of slides in between.

If you’re not sure what to use for a simulation and you’d like to try, I recommend starting with a simple PowerPoint. You might also consider reaching out to your classroom management team, whoever is working on your LMS at your institution, to see what’s available. Some apps can even be integrated into the learning management system to make this a lot easier for your students and for you.

Going back to the idea of gaming, I will go back into an app that I’d like to recommend today. There is one called Quizlet, which is well known for flashcard studying. Quizlet hosts flashcard-style tools to create simple interactive and game-like components that are easily embedded into any LMS.

A lot of students search for subject matter content online, maybe they do a Google search for items related to your class that you’re teaching. And many of them actually find Quizlets already available that help them study the terms that are taught in your class.

If you decide to create a Quizlet, it can be very simple to just create a list of terms or ideas, concepts, scenarios, and you can set up various options in the Quizlet program, making it fit your subject matter and your strategy the best.

Keep in mind that any new technology you may be learning as the instructor might be equally challenging for your students. There is a learning curve to everything, so when you’re trying a new interface, a new app, or a new program, keep yourself limited to one. This is going to help you avoid the overwhelm that comes with bright and shiny object syndrome. And when you get overwhelmed with a lot of new options, it can be paralyzing, making it difficult for you to integrate that into your classroom.

If you’re able to develop simulations, role-playing games, or other gamification that might go into your courses, this could be really engaging and fun. It will generate interest in your class and in the content of your course. And also guide your students to learn at a deeper level, and the results will definitely be worthwhile.

Guided Exploration

A fourth area I recommend is called guided exploration. Guided exploration helps your students quite a bit. It can be delivered as an instructor-made video. Perhaps you are doing a screencast that walks through the entire classroom, showing your students around. Maybe it’s a narrated screencast. It could be a classroom tour, a list of steps for investigating a topic, a guided exercise in the subject matter. Maybe it’s an analysis presentation of some kind of case study or other issue, or other teacher-led tools.

When we think about guided exploration, this is often the idea of lecturing on a content matter. If you use guided exploration, really what you’re doing is giving an overview of a subject or the topic, walking students through it, and describing, discussing, and analyzing it as you go.

As the instructor, you’re giving a little bit more information about the thinking for this kind of subject, maybe what we might notice. One example I’d like to share is from the music appreciation class, because of course, that’s my subject area. Guided exploration in this case might be a recording of a performance where I’m going to pause it, point out a few things in that video, discuss it and record myself doing this, and then continue recording a little segment and talk through which musical devices are showing up.

As I do that kind of guided exploration video, my students are going to have a lot more hands-on guidance so that when they listen to their musical example and have to analyze it, they feel a little bit more prepared.

Leveraging Your Learning Management System

The last method or strategy that I would like to share with you today is your LMS. Your LMS, of course, isn’t a strategy itself, but it comes with a lot of different components to help you track student progress and create creative assignments. You can communicate with everyone through your LMS, usually. You can also reach individuals privately. There might be some kind of messaging feature. There might be something also that enables interaction or even live video. Leveraging your LMS and all of its different components could allow you to create things that are new and different.

Some learning management systems have a group setting. You can take a forum discussion and randomly assign students into different groups so that they’re just discussing the topic in smaller groups than they normally would. Sometimes this alone is a very engaging method for students to get connected and a strategy for helping them dive to a deeper level.

Just in review, we’ve talked today about asynchronous discussions, group work, games and simulations, guided exploration, and learning management system components. Methods and strategies in your online class are a little bit different than deciding what to teach, it’s more about deciding how you will teach it.

As you spend the time creatively deciding your methods and strategies, you’re going to be able to be creating something that is more interesting for your students and more engaging overall. It will also give you that feeling of trying something fresh every so often. So that you don’t get stuck in patterns that you teach every single semester, but that you keep trying something new.

I hope you will try at least one of these methods and strategies today to freshen up your online teaching. And 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.

 

#36: Helping Online Students Prepare for the Holidays

#36: Helping Online Students Prepare for the Holidays

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.

Your Take-Aways

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.