#53: Setting the Tone in the Online Classroom
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Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics, and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun. Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics, and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.
Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. This is the first episode of our second year of this podcast, and you’re in for a real treat today. We’re going to be interviewing Dr. Craig Bogar from American Public University, and I’m really excited to have Craig with us today. Craig, welcome to the podcast. Can you tell us a little bit about your background, so listeners can get to know you and your connection to online education?
Dr. Craig Bogar: I sure can, Bethanie, and thanks for inviting me today. I’m super happy to be here. And I was a college athletic director at two universities some years ago, and I also coached swimming and track at those institutions, and I also worked as a college recreation and intramural director at one point. And after doing those things for a number of years, I decided to go back to school and get my doctorate, and at that time, I lived in Alabama, near the United States Sports Academy, and I was accepted into their hybrid program, which was on-ground and online.
Start a degree in Education at American Public University.
And once I completed my doctorate, opportunities started to arise and I began teaching online. And I also was serving as the Dean of Student Services at the Sports Academy for a few years, and had the opportunity to teach on-ground courses in both Thailand and the Kingdom of Bahrain while I was there.
I’ve been with American Public University , for the past nine years. I taught part-time online for three years, and then I got the position as Faculty Director for the School of Health Sciences, and that’s what I currently do for the institution. I still live in Alabama, but I live now on the Gulf Coast, right here in Gulf Shores. So it’s good to be with you.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: It’s wonderful to have you as well, Craig. Thank you for giving us a little bit of your background. Sounds like you’ve had some pretty well-rounded exciting experiences there. I’m curious, how would you have thought of being online long ago before this was really a mainstream thing to do, early in your career?
Dr. Craig Bogar: Wow. That is a great question, and the world as we know it, has changed exponentially in the past couple of decades, and it’s just so hard to conceive of the type of traditional education that we used to have and a number of us went through to get our bachelor’s degrees and onward.
But I think that the key for me, as I said, was being in a hybrid program for my doctoral program, where I got a taste of online instruction and online teaching, and just fell in love with it. And it offers so many different opportunities that one doesn’t necessarily get in the on-ground format, not the least of which is that it’s so much more convenient for students, especially the non-traditional student who may be in the workforce, and might have a family and children, and so forth.
Where years ago, as you recall, if people wanted to either finish a degree or maybe get an advanced degree, they were gone X number of nights a week after they left their job, and they rarely got to see their families, or have dinner with their families, and so forth.
Now with an asynchronous type of online program, as we know, people can do their coursework really anytime, any day. And with us having so many military students, especially in my program where close to 70% of them are with American Military University, they can be students overseas. So it’s really, as I said, it’s a new culture and a new world for many things, not the least of which is higher education.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yeah. Fantastic. Thanks for that. A lot of our listeners have found themselves teaching online for the first time, and of course, we also have a lot of listeners who have taught online for quite a lengthy time, many in higher ed, and in also what you might consider public school ages, primary and secondary, so just to fill you in a little bit about our listeners.
And I know that you have a lot of best practices that you use in working online, but also in working with your faculty. So what is a best practice that you’d like to share with us today to help our listeners be even more effective in their online teaching?
Dr. Craig Bogar: Okay, well, I’ve got a few things in mind, but one thing I wanted to talk about was that we now require our instructors to post a welcome video that students see when they enter a given course. And one of the reasons we’re doing this, is because the welcome video is a great opportunity to provide a personal welcome to students, and of course, meet the university requirement now, but also to acquaint students with the essentials of a course.
And what I have found over the years that I try to communicate to my faculty, is that by the nature of online education, it is remote by nature, and we have to do our very best at what I call “touching” students in every possible way. It’s by greeting students by name when we see them in the course, when they respond in the course and such, and one of the ways, as I said, is this welcome video.
And in the welcome video, there are some things that I suggest, and I’ll just go through a few of them, is one is obviously to introduce yourself to your students and to welcome them, and if there’s a number of a course or description of the course name, to tell them that, and tell the students why the course is relevant to the program. What will this course do for you? I always refer my students to the syllabus, and to make sure they read that, because it includes course materials and learning objectives, and gives students a good blueprint for what they need to do each week in a given course.
I always explain my expectations for student participation. In other words, by what date do they have to make their initial post in the discussion forum each week? How many responses to their peers do I look for? I give them that information.
I tell the students what they can expect from me, and one of the key things in the online format is timely feedback from instructors. Here at APUS, we have a deadline for faculty grading, which is five days after a given week has ended, but I tell my students that, “Hey, this is the deadline, but I’m going to do better than that. You can get your feedback from me, you can get your grades from me before that deadline each week.” So I try to set the tone that I’m going to be doing my best to exceed expectations.
Also in this welcome video, I tell them what I expect as far as plagiarism, or not to commit plagiarism, and I expect them to follow the rules of netiquette. In other words, being courteous to their peers and also being courteous to me. Again, setting the tone, and I want a professional environment in the course, and I try to communicate that to students.
Also in the welcome video, I suggest that faculty mention the degrees they’ve earned, and give a concise description of their teaching experience or their relevant professional experience, because we want our students to know that, “Hey, we are qualified to teach these courses.” Students are very interested in knowing this, for obvious reasons. They want to make sure that the people who are teaching know their stuff. So in the welcome video, this is a great way in which we can give that information to students.
There’s some optional elements. You can tell the students in your welcome video where you’re from, where you live, the institutions that granted your degrees, maybe your hobbies, what do you like to do in your spare time, and any other personal information that you’d like to share.
But knowing that and hearing that, I also suggest that faculty stick to about three minutes for their welcome video. I know that for all those things that I mentioned, it may be a challenge, but after three minutes, I personally believe that we start to lose people’s focus and attention. So that’s just a ballpark estimate of how much time they should use.
I encourage faculty to write a script, and if you’re using a built-in camera, what I do is I position my script right at the top of that window or that monitor, so it doesn’t appear that I’m looking down and reading the whole time from a script.
It’s also good to be mindful of the setting and the background, and to look professional, and wear a solid color shirt or a blouse to make sure you contrast the background that students are seeing. You want to be about an arm’s length away from your camera. You want to not be overbearing in both your physical presence and your volume, so an arm’s length is good to know. And your lighting should be really in front of you, not behind you, so you don’t have shadowy recordings. Last of all, smile when you speak. That’s always something good to do.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wow, Craig, you have given us so much detail and so much great information about these instructor welcome videos, everything from your own practice, to what you’re sharing with your faculty. And I can imagine that not all online faculty are super excited about creating a video to share with their students. So I’m curious, what do you do to help your faculty get in there and actually do this welcome video creation? What works for you?
Dr. Craig Bogar: Well, actually, I really have not had any problems or any complaints from faculty. I think the people that get into the teaching profession are already pretty versed in speaking to groups. I always am available to help folks, but I try to give our faculty as many resources as possible in my weekly communications with faculty, to let them know I’m here to assist them if they need any assistance. But, fortunately, just in our new learning management system, it’s very easy to make a recording. So knock on wood, we really haven’t had that kind of problem, per se.
I did want to go back, Bethanie, and talk a little bit about netiquette as well, and just something that I have experienced or observed over the years. And I go back to my statement before about setting the tone in the course is so important, and for people to be professional, both the instructor and the students towards each other. And I have had some faculty who have had students who have used improper or foul language in a discussion forum, and they’ve come to me and said, “Hey, what do I do about this?”
And where I’ve had an occasional problem in the past, I’ve told students that when I’ve observed that, I say, “Hey, that kind of language, number one, we want to be professional in the classroom,” but that kind of language, especially if it’s a guy to guy thing, I say, “Hey, that’s more appropriate for the locker room, but this is a public forum.
This is a place where we need to be professional. And what I’m going to do,” fill in the blank, “John, is I’m going to give you another chance to repost, to delete your post, and to post again and see if you can do a little better job in meeting my expectations.” And that has worked 100% of the time for me, and that’s the advice that I’ve given to faculty that have come to me for assistance, saying that, “Hey, we can handle these kinds of situations,” and especially for first-time online students, they may not realize that what they say, and they should, but not everybody realizes that this is an academic setting, and we can’t have improper language.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: That’s fantastic help, Craig, and I appreciate you mentioning netiquette as part of this setting the tone that you also would be doing with your instructor videos. We’re going to take a quick break for a message from our sponsor. Craig, thank you for sharing all that you’ve given us so far, your best practice of the instructor welcome video, and also you mentioned a few things about netiquette. I’m wondering, what do you really want listeners to take away from those kinds of practices?
Dr. Craig Bogar: Well, I think that what I’d like them to take away is that it’s so important to set a tone in an online course as to what you expect from students, and what students can expect from you. And one of the ways to do that is through one’s welcome video that, as I said, we post in the very first week of an online course, it’s what we call the discussion module.
And I use the term “to touch” students in the online format is so important because of the nature of remote learning, that we need to use students’ names, and to be as personable as possible with students.
I think about Dale Carnegie, going back many, many years ago, who was one of the top speakers in the country, motivational speakers, and he used to say that, “The sweetest and most important sound in our language is to hear your own name,” and I think that is still true today. And by using students’ names whenever we communicate them or interact with them in the online classroom, is something that we need to do as online instructors.
One thing that I do is when I meet students, quote, unquote, in the “first week discussion/introduction forum,” if a student has a nickname, I write that down in my little log book, and I want to make sure that I refer to that student by his or her nickname throughout the course. And I’ve even had, on occasion, students in their end of course surveys that we do at our institution say that, “Dr. Bogar referred to, fill in the blank, Mary, by her nickname the whole course, and I thought that was so cool!”
And little things like that can help build relationships with the students that we have in our classrooms. There have been studies about brain activation and how when one hears their own name, how that really stimulates a person’s interest in what they’re doing, and I think the more, as I said, the more we can do that, the better in the online course to facilitate relationships and engagement with students in our courses.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wow, that’s really fantastic, Craig, and I couldn’t agree more. I always notice a person who calls me by my name, and I’m sure students really benefit from feeling connected, as if their instructor knows them personally, especially online. There’s such a divide there, such a disconnect when we don’t do those things. Thanks for all you shared with us so far.
I’m just wondering, are there any other tips or strategies you’d really like to share with listeners today that can help them be even more effective in their online teaching?
Dr. Craig Bogar: Sure. There’s one more area that I’d like to talk about briefly, and that is importance of asking Socratic questions of our students, which really promote engagement in a discussion, but maybe more importantly, Socratic questions enhance critical thinking, by asking these questions of students. As opposed to getting one word answers from students when we ask questions.
Socratic questions, of course, begin with words such as “why,” or “how,” or “what,” so the response tends to be more in-depth and critical. Socrates, I think it was about 2,000 or more years ago, thought that being a lecturer was not that effective, and came up with this method of questioning students. And it’s really, in my opinion, very effective in the online classroom, especially in the discussion formats that we have.
You may recall that years ago when Bethanie, you and I maybe were in on-ground classrooms, you always had students who were a little maybe intimidated by instructors asking questions, or for whatever reason, they were fairly shy in the classroom.
Well, in the online environment that is somewhat anonymous, those students who maybe were reticent about asking questions or responding to questions to instructors in an on-ground environment, they’re probably more likely to be more engaged in the online environment. And especially when instructors are asking these open-ended questions that really deserve students to think critically about a particular topic that may be discussed at one time.
Somebody came up with a quote one time, it wasn’t me, but “Our role as online instructors is really not to be the sage on the stage, but instead, the guide on the side.” And I think that when we are being guides and asking open-ended questions of our students, we’re sort of coaching them along, and we’re mentoring them to think differently about topics and think more critically about a topic at hand. So I just wanted to say that to those online instructors, consider asking these types of questions at every opportunity that presents itself.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Craig, thanks so much. That is fantastic advice, and what I really love about everything you’ve shared with our listeners today is that you’ve placed the instructor in a clear spot of forging relationships, building that academic environment, and really focusing there, instead of what we might call the checkbox behaviors of teaching online, when we’re just thinking about what must we do, what should we do? That’s really beautiful, and a place I think we want to encourage everybody to be.
Craig, thank you so much for being our speaker today, our special guest, as we kick off this second year of the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. Any closing thoughts before we wrap things up today?
Dr. Craig Bogar: Well Bethanie, thank you for inviting me. I’ve really enjoyed being here and speaking with you, and I hope the things that I spoke about are going to be helpful to any of our folks online, and this type of podcast I think is extremely valuable for people who are teaching in the online environment. Thank you again, Bethanie, and best of luck with your podcast as you continue your role here.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thank you again, Craig, and to all of you who are listening today, we wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week. This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge Podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.