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

Dr. Bethanie Hansen 

Strategic Educational Leader and Coach

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

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

This content first appeared on APUEdge.com

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

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

Listen to the Episode:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#94: Strategies for Applying Andragogy, Constructivism, and Heutagogy

#94: Strategies for Applying Andragogy, Constructivism, and Heutagogy

This content first appeared on APUEdge.com

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education

Online teachers must know and apply the principles of andragogy because many of their students are adult learners. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses some other critical teaching theories including pedagogy, which suits younger learners, constructivism, and a new concept called heutagogy, which focuses on self-directed learning. Becoming familiar with each theory and related teaching strategies can provide insight and new approaches for online educators.

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
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Read the Transcript:

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m excited to speak with you today about andragogy. This is a buzzword in online education and one of the reasons we hear this word so much is that many of our online students are adult learners. The traditional college age would be considered 18 to 25, those would be your learners who leave high school and go directly to college or within a year or so, go to college and then complete their degree in the young adult timeframe.

An adult learner is anyone 25 or older who has a gap in there, some life experience. And the term
“andragogy” was created to describe adult learning theory. Now, we have some ideas in the field of education that come from pedagogy, which now is considered the methods of teaching children or young people. And then we have andragogy, which is adult learning theory or the methods for teaching adults.

There are two other phrases you’re going to hear me talk about today. One of them is constructivism. This is a theory in education as well. And another one is a new word that I learned recently, heutagogy. Heutagogy spelled H-E-U-T-A-G-O-G-Y. Heutagogy is self-directed learning. It’s sort of a combination of andragogy and constructivism with some other thoughts thrown in there and I’m going to introduce that to you today as well.

So we’re going to begin by taking a look backwards at pedagogy, and that is now considered a description of young people’s learning. And then we’re going to take a dive into constructivism, which sort of bridges between pedagogy and andragogy. Then we’ll talk about andragogy and finish it all up with heutagogy and some ideas for you to take away in your online teaching this coming week, semester, or year.

Understanding Pedagogy: Teaching Students how to Learn

So here we go. Pedagogy in education is really this idea that the learner is dependent on you as the teacher for the knowledge and information and all of the learning in this process. We look at the learner as somewhat dependent. They need to be directed, they need to be guided, they need to be given the what, the how and the when, about whatever they’re going to be learning.

The learner’s going to get some resources from the teacher. They have few resources of their own. And the teacher is going to create some method to help store the knowledge in the learner’s mind and make it part of who they are.

So the teacher might suggest or offer opportunities to practice, to share the knowledge, to write about it, to memorize it. Whatever those strategies are, the instructor’s going to be crafting a method for the learner to use them.

And as you think about it, we’re really teaching people how to learn in pedagogy. We’re giving them the introduction to the methods, the strategies, and the ideas about how to memorize information, how to retain information and even how to apply it.

The reason to learn is often that you have to have this knowledge before you can move to the next step. So this knowledge is critical in your development, and you need to master this before you can move on. This is a core concept in pedagogy. We focus on the subject. It’s prescribed in the curriculum. We have a sequence for the information, and there’s some kind of logic to the subject matter. And this focus of the learning, really the methods of learning, are often dictated by our perception of the subject and what is needed to teach it well.

When we think about pedagogy, motivation is usually given by parents, teachers, a sense of completion, achievement, things like that. Children and young people may have internal motivation, but a lot of those external sources are also part of the motivation.

As the educator or the parent who’s designing this instruction, it’s your role to design the learning processes, the methods of learning it, the order in which things will happen, and you deliver the material, or you impose the material in some way for your learner. And you assume, and others in this situation assume, that you know the best way to do this. You are the expert in how to teach it as well as what needs to be taught.

This is a really common way to approach education in the K-12 system. If you’re teaching elementary, primary, secondary school, pedagogy is really strong in the methods of our teaching the content and the way we deliver the information. We might even have sets of standards that come from our professional organization, or they come from some national standards bank that we’ve created. And we’ve got these standards for different grade levels, different ability levels, different subjects. Those go really well with the idea of pedagogy.

As you’re teaching online, it’s important to be aware of what pedagogy includes when you’re working with learners who don’t know enough about how to direct their own learning. And you can also give them a lot of little mini lessons on how to become more self-directed in their learning. Developmentally that may or may not be suited for your learners. Be thinking about that as you decide how much to deliver and when.

Constructivism: Engaging the Student in Learning

At the next level, just want to talk a little bit about constructivism. Constructivism is an interesting idea that is still used in many parts of education today. Constructivism is the idea that a learner needs to be actively engaged in the process, not just a passive consumer. So the opposite of constructivism would be a person lecturing and expecting the recipients to just soak it up and learn it and remember it.

Constructivism means that the people doing the learning have to do something to construct their own knowledge. The assumption in constructivism is that the person has some background, some life experiences, some existing knowledge, and all of that’s going to come together as they formulate new knowledge. The reality is that their experiences shape their learning and what you’re going to teach them needs to connect that in some way, even if you don’t consciously guide people to do this, they are going to do it for themselves.

Constructivism influences the way all of our students learn. It’s really a learning theory that we have to get familiar with because constructivist learning theory tells us that students bring those unique experiences they have, and that their background and previous knowledge really does impact how they are able to learn.

This is a great concept for linking to issues like poverty or specific racial groups that may have specialized knowledge or lack specialized knowledge. When we think about the situation of poverty, for example, a person comes to the classroom with certain assumptions when they grow up in a poverty situation. That’s critical to know. I can remember one time, a long time ago when I was a junior high teacher, we were all given this book about poverty, the experience of poverty and the mindsets that are created there. And that was a helpful framework to understand many of our students: their backgrounds, how to connect with them, how to help them tie their previous learning and knowledge from life into the classroom and how to bring that classroom knowledge into their real lives. We didn’t want students to leave the school learning these academic things, but seeing them as completely disjointed and disconnected from reality. So bridging that gap for someone who has grown up in a poverty situation is critical, but really any situation.

We have to understand the basic principle of constructivism to know that students are going to put the knowledge together in their own ways, and they’re going to connect with their experiences, their beliefs, their insights. This is all what helps them learn and helps them cement their learning and bring it along for the next step.

The other thing about constructivism is that the meaning and systems of meaning are individually created. An idea of this would be, if you learn something new and you have some existing knowledge about it, you sort of relate those things and connect them to the things you already know. So if we’re going to teach something that is abstract and it’s really disconnected from your everyday knowledge, we have to find a way to anchor that and help build a new web of information in the mind.

The other idea is that in constructivism, learning has to be an active process. There’s some sensory input in the process and the learner really has to do something in order to truly learn. We can’t sit there passively consuming the knowledge like watching a YouTube video. We have to be thinking about a question to answer at the end or the way we’re going to respond to the knowledge or apply the knowledge in a new way or do something with it that will take it from the sterile information central into the more rich applied, active learning area of the brain.

Andragogy: Adult Learners

So, thinking about constructivism, we jump into our third area and that third area, andragogy, is really what we’re looking for when we’re talking about online learning. The reason I care so much about andragogy is that when you think about an adult learner being someone over 25 years old in the college system, that’s a lot of our students. Online education is so available now that adult learners are highly prevalent in the population we’re teaching. If we’re not familiar with andragogy, we may be approaching our teaching in a way that really does not give the space for the learner to do anything with it. Instead, we’re still thinking about distilling information or teaching people how to learn.

In andragogy, we assume four different things, these are important things to remember:

  1. Adults need to know why they need to learn something. This is a lot like sharing your objectives up front in a lesson, but more than just listing the objectives, you want to tie them into what is about to happen. Talk about them, draw back to those objectives throughout the process. And, in a degree program, it would be especially important to tie the courses and the activities back to the goals of that degree and also forecast forward to be thinking about how they will be applied in the career field. Very important reasons to learn something and helpful to bring out for our learners.
  2. Adults need to learn experientially. That’s where the constructivism comes in. There must be something happening when we’re learning. Just clicking through some videos and reading text on a screen is not enough for us to learn that through experience. Going out into our community, our family, our workplace, using the knowledge in an applied way, then coming back and sharing that, that’s going to be an experience. Something interactive, that’s going to be an experience. Whatever we can do in our online teaching to help our adult learners have experiences and learn in their experiences, that’s going to satisfy an andragogy principle and help them learn in the best ways possible.
  3. Adults approach learning as problem-solving. Think about what problem solving includes and consider how problem solving is a basic need for adult learners. We need to be able to have some independence, some critical thinking, some autonomy. Whenever we have a problem to solve, now we are important and we matter, and we’re going to show up differently to that experience thinking about it as problem solving. So, consider that as you’re developing online lessons, online activities, online assignments, and online classes.
  4. Adults learn best when the topic is of immediate value. Anything we can do to help our learners reflect on their learning and find ways to apply it right away in real life, that’s going to satisfy our fourth principle of andragogy. The topic is of immediate value. It could even be that this topic we’re teaching is going to lead into the next item, the next lesson, or the deliverable—the items that the person needs to submit for their class.

So, whatever that is, adults need to know why they’re learning it, have an experience learning experientially, approach learning as problem solving and have immediate value in the topic that they’re learning.

Heutagogy: Self-Directed Learning

Now, moving on to the last area, I did a little research here, and as I was looking for a nice side-by-side comparison of pedagogy and andragogy, I noticed this third term on the University of Illinois Springfield Center for Online Learning Research and Service website, and that is the word heutagogy. Never heard of that one myself. So I’m sharing my new learning with you today. And heutagogy is listed here as self-directed learning. That’s something that I personally have associated with andragogy and adult learning, but I find it interesting that it’s separated out here. And I’m just going to read through the website and I have linked it in the podcast transcript in case you’d like to visit it and check it out.

Heutagogy, self-directed learning means that the learners are interdependent. They identify the potential to learn from novel experiences as a matter of course. They’re able to manage their own learning. In this kind of learning, it appears that the resources are some given by the teacher and some decided by the student. So the learner’s going to choose the path where they’re going do the learning.

Some of your competency-based education might revolve around this concept of heutagogy, self-directed learning. The learning isn’t necessarily planned or linear. It doesn’t have to go from point A to B to C. It’s not based on need. It’s based on the identification of the potential to learn in new situations.

So just to reflect back on pedagogy, the reason that a student in that bracket would be learning is, they need to learn something to advance to the next stage. Whereas andragogy tells us that adults learn when they experience a need to know or to perform more if effectively. And in heutagogy, the learning is not necessarily planned or linear. It’s not based on need, it’s based on the identification of the potential to learn in new situations.

Now when we think about the focus of the learning, where pedagogy has learning focused on the subject itself and a planned curriculum, and andragogy, the adult learning theory, is task or problem-centered, in heutagogy, it appears that the learner can go beyond problem solving and become much more proactive. They’re going to use their own experiences and other people’s experiences, and their own thoughts, reflections, the experiences they have in the environment, their discussions with other people, their interaction, a lot of different methods to apply some problem-solving, but also self-direct their learning.

Now we might see heutagogy applied really well in a capstone course where a student chooses the resources they’re going to study, the path for their learning, and the final project. That’s a great application of this idea of heutagogy.

And, lastly, the teacher. The teacher in a heutagogy situation is developing the learner’s capability to learn. And when facilitating this kind of learning, we’re focusing on helping the student know how to learn, be creative, be independent, have self-efficacy, apply their competencies in new and familiar situations and work well with other people, cooperate with other people. This could also be a really great concept to bring into an internship, an applied learning situation like student teaching if you’re going to become a future teacher. It’s just a new concept. And it’s one worth considering.

How Do Teaching Theories Apply to Online Learning?

The other idea is if we were to take that adult learning theory, constructivism, and heutagogy and kind of combine all of those to take the best of all and decide how might we approach online learning differently? How could we give our students more freedom to apply what they’re learning and be creative, be more independent in learning the material and apply things in new and familiar situations, working with other people, what might be possible? When we’re thinking about those questions, we can come up with all kinds of new strategies.

We can bring in new technologies to facilitate conversation. We can bring in new options for organizing the course material so it’s not necessarily sequential, A to B to C. We can add some flexibility where students could do some independent research and bring it back to the classroom outside of the course materials. I’ve seen that one applied when faculty members, teachers, have their students create new lists of open educational resources that could be used in the class. Or faculty or teachers who have their students write new Wikipedia posts or edit Wikipedia posts, and actually submit them in the real world, to correct Wikipedia entries.

There are a lot of ways to use heutagogy in online learning. And I want to encourage you not just to think about andragogy this coming week, and really breaking away from the assumptions of pedagogy, but also to think about heutagogy. How we can give much more autonomy to the learner and stretch the limits of what’s possible in online learning.

I want to thank you for being here. I also am really grateful for the University of Illinois Springfield website, their Center for Online Learning Research and Service, where they placed this chart, introduced me to a new term, heutagogy. And I hope you’ll think about these four concepts, pedagogy, andragogy, constructivism and heutagogy as you’re designing learning experiences for your students and considering the future ahead as you teach online.

I wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week. And I also hope you enjoy some new creative approaches along the way. 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.

#82: Be Present: Best Practices for Authentic Teaching Online

#82: Be Present: Best Practices for Authentic Teaching Online

Be Present: Best Practices for Authentic Teaching Online

This content first appeared at APUEdge.com.

Being present is one of the most important elements driving success in the online classroom. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares two practices that help online educators establish trust and set the tone for faculty and student success. Learn how instructors can establish their presence, share their personality and expertise with students, and build relationships with students so that everyone has a great experience in the class.

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

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. We’re going to talk today about being authentic. We talk a lot in higher education about faculty success and student success. These two best practices I’m going to share with you today are part of both of those endeavors.

Being authentic in your online teaching is absolutely critical to your success. And the challenges of bringing your authentic self into your online teaching are great.

We’ll start with talking about those challenges, what comes up when we teach online that may not be obvious in the live classroom, and then I’ll give you the first best practice on helping students get to know you and the second about you communicating with them. Let’s dive in.

Best Practice #1: Be Present in the Online Classroom

The first best practice that I emphasize in my own teaching, as well as with all of the faculty who I work with, this best practice is to be present. Well, what does it mean to be present?

Being present means that you literally are logging into the course regularly. It could be every day during the week. It could be every day during the week plus a weekend day. It could be seven days a week. It could be every other day; maybe you go in there four days a week. Whatever you do, you literally are present in that online space regularly and you are there often.

When we talk about being present, there’s a lot more to presence than then just showing up. One of those things is that you help students get to know you early in the class so they can feel like they know who you are. They trust you and they can go to you with problems when you have questions. One of the things that comes up in my job, I’m a faculty director at American Public University, I often have fantastic faculty. Occasionally, I’ll get a compliment about a faculty member. Many times, they share that comment with the faculty member who then passes it on to me.

Just today, I got an email where classroom support sent me a compliment about a faculty member that a student sent them. That was really a joy to get. Unfortunately, we usually hear about the complaint faster than we ever hear about a compliment, and probably for every one person that complains there are 20 very happy customers and you don’t hear from a lot of those.

But the one thing that prompts the complaint is that there is a low instructor presence or that the faculty member is there, but the student doesn’t have a sense of who they are, they don’t really know them.

There are some beautiful things you can do to establish your presence, your unique personality, your expertise and your position as the instructor.

The first thing I would recommend is to put a picture of yourself in the course. Make it a professional one. Help them understand who you are, what you look like. You don’t have to love the picture, just pick a good one. And as they see you, they’ll start to get a sense of you. Who are you?

And then put some kind of introductory thing, whether it’s on the homepage, a brief summary of your academic background and one or two personable things about you. You could put this in the forum discussion area if there’s a place where people are introducing themselves.

You can make a video. I’ve seen several faculty do this, where they’ll put themselves in the video they’ll talk, they’ll introduce themselves, they’ll greet the students. Very personable. Really nice.

And, of course, you’re going to write announcements, especially that first week. I want to put a word of caution in here. When you’re creating this beautiful instructor presence so critical to your online teaching, be careful not to stack the deck against your students that first week.

So those first announcements you put in your course should be friendly, encouraging, and welcoming. Give them step-by-step, some guidelines about how to begin participating and engaging in the course. Avoid giving lots of warnings or criticism early on during the first week about how to use citations, how to format their papers. You can give all that information along the way, but the very first day of class is probably not the best time. It’s off-putting and it can create sort of a confrontational feeling between your students and you.

As part of your presence, another thing is showing your personality, your passion for teaching and your expertise in your subject matter. If your online teaching is relatively new to you, if you haven’t done a lot of this, might feel kind of weird to tell your students anything personal about yourself.

We like to encourage safe sharing, so something that you would tell just anyone on the street. Not of something especially private. For example, I like to tell my students, because I teach music appreciation online, I like to tell them that I went to Brazil once, and I bought a pandeiro there. I might be saying that wrong but it’s basically a Brazilian tambourine. And I’ll put a little link to the video, maybe an image of me playing it in that first week’s announcement.

Because I teach a lot of military students, I’ll occasionally run across someone who has been there and has seen one. And they love connecting to that. I also presented at a conference in Scotland and saw some guys on the street playing bagpipes. So, I took a small video of that, one guy even had bagpipe with an attachment on the end of the pipes where flames were coming out. It was pretty neat. I like to tell them about that, show pictures, and again if I have any students who have served in the military in that part of the world or have lived over there or have ever visited, they like to connect to that as well.

That’s one way I share my personality online. You can also share your expertise. For example, I’ve seen occasionally we’ve had another music faculty member who is a classical performing musician, and they’ll put a short video clip of themself playing.

I knew one here locally at the community college who is a concert pianist. She would invite her students to attend her live piano recitals, the ones who were in her online class, so they would get to come and see her and meet her, meet each other. It was quite a wonderful experience because the school was local and many of the students were too, even though they were taking it online.

So, in your instructor presence, you want to establish this early. Help them get to know you. Post regular course announcements every week of class. You might even consider a second announcement midweek with some reminders, some last-minute advice. Any announcements you want to share. And then of course, participate in the discussions.

Discussions are a really great way to have your students practice their learning and talk to each other; but you should be there. Not to give them the right answers, but to engage. To talk. To discuss the subject. To ask them questions that are thought-provoking; and really to just help that discussion unfold. That is the first best practice that if you had nothing else going for you in online teaching, that instructor presence could really carry you well.

Best Practice #2: Communicate Early and Often

The second one, I chose this as number two out of two for this podcast because it is so critical and it will solve a lot of problems too, so that second best practice is to communicate regularly and effectively. And some of the things I suggest you communicate are norms and expectations.

Norms are standards of behavior. So a norm would be something like, “When you’re posting in a discussion forum, I want you to sign your name at the bottom; if you’re replying to somebody else, please put their name in the post,” etc.

And when you suggest that students do these things, don’t dock their grade for little errors that have to do with netiquette or norms. Grades should be based on the content itself, not habits or behaviors or little nitpicky thinks like that. But these are definite protocols we should teacher online students.

We want to communicate norms for how to reach out if they need help, how to contact you if they have an emergency, what they should do if they have to submit a late assignment, how to ask questions, a lot of different things have norms and you want to communicate all of these to your students.

And then you also should communicate due dates, assignment expectations and learning goals very clearly upfront. If you’re new to teaching online, it’s possible this first go round that you might have to adjust the assignments a little as you go, once you realize how the students are responding. So, you could have a more general syllabus the first time you teach the course and then a more clear, well set-up program the next time. Either way, definitely communicate the expectations to your students clearly and effectively, and with kindness.

A detailed syllabus is the best way to go. Include due dates and the schedule and assignment directions, and also how to find things. If you want to make it clear like a video a screen cast to clarify where things are in the classroom, how to find your grading comments you are going to give them, where they can find all of the assignments and learning materials, definitely point them around.

Prioritize the Two Best Practices

So, you don’t have to be perfect especially if you’re brand-new to teaching online and if it’s short-term for you and your just trying to get by till you can get back to the live class. Whatever you do, be present and communicate often and professionally as much as possible with your students.

Once you establish that you are responsive, trustworthy and present, your students are going to come to you with their questions. They’re going to have a relationship with you. It’s a good thing, and you’ll be able to follow up if there’s a change. If you need to change or adjust something.

That communication channel you have established early on is going to really help everyone get through this experience and have a really good experience with you. Online teaching does not need to be overwhelming or super difficult. If you focus on being present and communicating often, you’re going have a good experience.

As we close out today’s episode, I’d like to thank you for being with us for the Online Teaching Lounge. We’ve had this podcast going for the past year and a half, and it’s been a pleasure to be with you sharing teaching excellence tips, strategies, some ideas for balancing your work and your life while you’re teaching online, and also ways to connect with your students for their success. As well as best practices.

Take a look at our past episodes and you’ll learn a lot of things about forum discussions, professional development and other areas. We also have an episode that highlights courses and degree programs in the teaching area in the School of Arts, Education and Humanities at American Public University. If you’d like to get some professional development or take certificate program, or even an entire master’s degree, come check it out. It’s worth your time, and it will help you get even more skills and confidence under your belt while you’re teaching online. Again, thanks for being here for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. Best wishes in your online teaching this week.

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

#81: Enhancing Online Discussion Forums to Improve Student Learning

#81: Enhancing Online Discussion Forums to Improve Student Learning

Enhancing Online Discussion Forums to Improve Student Learning

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

Discussion forums are where most interactions happen in the online classroom, so it’s critical that educators use this area strategically. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides insight into enhancing discussion forums to encourage student engagement, foster connections, exercise critical thinking skills, and offer further learning into the topic at hand. Learn how to improve discussion forums by writing open-ended questions, clearly setting expectations with students about when and how often they should participate, and more.

Listen to the Episode:

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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 today’s podcast. We’re going to talk about forum discussions. Discussions, discussion forums, they’re called a lot of things, but these are the places in the online classroom where students and faculty, peer-to-peer, peer-to-self, peer-to-content, peer-to-faculty, this is where everyone is going to speak about the content and interact. This is the main conversation space.

Forum discussions can be used as a place for pure discussion, basically it’s about the academic content. It could be a place where you have students place their graded work or they’re going to put it there and have something like a peer review. Or they’re going to post a blog and it’s got to be graded. They could be assignments posted to share and discuss before their due date, to be a draft for peer review.

They could be assignments shared after the fact just to share, say, it’s a PowerPoint presentation. And talk about concepts together. It could be a space where students teach each other. Whatever it is, forum discussions in my opinion are an optimal thing to really engage formative assessment strategies. Help students through learning and get them really engaged in the class.

Franklin D. Roosevelt said that “If a civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships.” This is a great place to do it. There are different places in the typical online classroom for these other elements. There’s usually, in a learning management system, there is an assignment space to submit essays and blogs and things like that.

There are also other tools in certain learning management systems where you can have students write a journal and submit it privately. For that reason, today I’m going to discuss only conversational elements of discussion forums. I’m going to give you a few strategies, some tips you can use, some best practices, some based on research, some based on experience and observation.

Why Should You Care About the Discussion Area?

First, every learning management system comes with a space for conversations. Many of them, and some of the older models especially, called them a forum. And a forum is a space where conversations can occur. If you change that name to discussions, it makes it even more specific to what you’re hoping to achieve in that space. A discussion is back and forth, it isn’t one person setting everyone else straight, and it is an opportunity for varying levels of engagement and participation in that discussion.

This is a great space where students can have some formative practice with learning the material that you’re teaching. It is also a place where they can have guided practice, which anyone new to the subject area is going to need, to develop their thinking, to develop their descriptive abilities for terms that are going to be used, to develop their analytical abilities, and so forth. They’re the best locations where students can try on new ideas. Try on new terms and concepts and write about them to further develop and adjust their thinking.

You should care about discussion forums not only because there’s a space to do them in an online class, but more because when you have students learning from you and from the content, you want to see the results of the learning. One of the best things we can do as educators is see the result and determine if our strategies are working. The discussion is a space where we can help nudge people in the right direction, help them explore those ideas more fully and learn from each other and us as the teacher so that we can get them to a place where they’re ready to do more.

The discussion could be excellent preparation for an assignment. For example, if you had an essay you wanted a student to do, to write about their understanding on a particular subject, that discussion the previous week could’ve been focused on the topic to explore ideas. Test them out. Apply them in a soft way. Then, in the following week, if the student writes the essay, they can be prepared because they had a chance to talk through their ideas.

General purposes of a discussion space are to foster this connection between people and give people a space to check in, converse. Most online classes are asynchronous in many universities, which means that a student goes in, participates, does their work, and leaves, and then you as the faculty member might be in that classroom at a different time.

If your courses are synchronous–meaning that they’re taking place in real time–then maybe a discussion is just a space where you might have a little follow-up conversation to whatever happens in that live space. And in that kind of situation, it makes sense that maybe the faculty member is checking on the discussion and facilitating it, but less active.

When there’s an asynchronous situation where students are to guide themselves through the learning material, through the lesson content, a more active role for the faculty member or teacher is super helpful to help the students stay on track.

In an online class, forum discussions can serve as the space where students have a voice for initial comments. Every single student has a voice. Now, if you think about your typical university lecture class, you might have one faculty member at the front of the room, lots and lots of students especially if it’s a general education class, you might have 300 students in there. Unless you give the students time to talk to each other during part of that class to discuss the ideas, many times students really don’t have a voice at all during the class. There’s this learning cycle where we take in information, we think about it, we talk about it, we write about it, and eventually we’ve formed our understanding of the content. Simply hearing it doesn’t really help us to change our ideas, be transformed by them or deeply learn things.

In the forum discussion unlike the live lecture class, you’ve got this opportunity for students to really have their own voice, have a choice about what they contribute to the dialogue. It’s a super huge benefit of online education and something that makes online learning unique and very special when you compare it to the live class with very little participation.

Now, if you’re a more active instructor and in your live classes you tend to engage people a lot, that’s normal and usual for you. I tend to do that as a strategy because of my background, but not everyone sees teaching that way, so this is the opportunity for a totally different experience that student’s going to have.

On the flip side, there are students who don’t want to participate in the discussion. They want to show up, they want to get the very minimum of what they need to do in that online class or that live class–whatever kind it is–they want to get a grade and move on. For these students that class is not a subject they particularly like, they don’t really want to learn it, they’re busy working and this is a part-time thing going to school, for whatever reason there are many students who just want to move as quickly through as possible.

But I want everyone out there to know there are also people who deeply want to learn the content. Many, in fact. It might surprise you how many students really do care and want to really understand what you’re teaching. So, this is the chance that they can contribute their ideas and they can engage with other people and they can get new insights and have a lot of different experiences. Caring about this matters because whatever attitude or perception or belief that you bring to the experience as the faculty member or the teacher, that predisposed disposition–that’s a little redundant–by your disposition about forum discussions, this is going to greatly influence the students’ experience.

It doesn’t really matter how the discussion is set up, what it’s prepared to do; if you are against doing discussions online, it’s going to be very difficult to utilize these to their full potential. Now if you really like to engage with students, love to hear what they have to say, love to challenge them and prompt them to think more deeply and share your insights, experience, and questions with them, then a forum discussion might come more naturally.

One of the ways to be most successful setting these up in your own attitude and thinking is to consider what you view the value of education, the core philosophy of what you’re doing. What you hope to accomplish by being a teacher. The big picture. Do you hope to change people’s assumptions? Do you hope to open doors for them so they can move in new directions? Do you hope to help them transform themselves as individuals? Are you trying to promote social change?

There are a lot of different roles that education can serve. Whatever your belief is about it, chances are, you’re going to find something you can really bring into that discussion in a way that’s going to be uniquely you and make a difference and really have somewhere to go with it.

The problem of online education is the lack of face-to-face, especially in asynchronous classes that don’t meet all at one time. In a synchronous class you’re still held back by this digital interface, but even then, you’re seeing people and you’re hearing them in real time. So, the problem of teaching online is partially overcome through that discussion, where we start to get to know each other, we start to dive into ideas.

Now why does that matter? If you have a disengaged student or have a lack of connection, it’s very difficult to feel like moving forward with the content. Many times, people need that connection to feel like they’re part of a school, part of a class, engaged in learning, moving forward on something. It’s going to matter to you long-term to learn how to develop discussions because these can serve you incredibly well and very soon in the online teaching side of things your interest in online teaching will increase if you will engage more fully in those discussions.

You can derive your own purpose and meaning of education and why you are a teacher from the way you participate and the way you approach your students’ participation. It can matter to your students deeply in the future because they need to connect to the concept to learn it and to move through whatever the purpose of your class is.

I have had a variety of discussions. Some of them are teacher-led forum discussions. Some of them are student-led. There have been some I’ve engaged in with courses I’ve taught online that have been group discussions, where maybe there were five or six people in the group and they were discussing or planning a project or something like that. There are a lot of different ways to set this up. I don’t propose that there is only one “right” way, but there are some guidelines that will help you be successful establishing solid discussion forums in your online teaching.

Considerations for Setting up an Online Discussion Forum

First, determine how many discussions you want to have and what is going to overload the student. There is no real perfect answer to how many discussions are optimal during an online class. If you consider how long the class is, for example, if it is a 14-, 15- or 16-week class, it would make sense to have one discussion per week. That keeps it manageable and helps students to stay focused on the topic during the week it’s happening.

If you have a shorter class, maybe you have a four-, five-, or eight-week class, this could be a little bit more difficult. It might cause you to think that you must cover a lot of topics in those discussions, and it might lead you to have many discussions going on at one time. You can either have two separate conversation spaces, two entirely different forum discussions, if you need more than one. Or you can have one discussion with the option to choose from many topics that you offer.

Again, if you approach forum discussions as a space to practice the ideas and to really manipulate them to understand them, then it does not require every student to discuss every topic, every week. Options on those topics can be very helpful.

Also, you’re going to need participation requirements. So, telling your students how often or how many times they should engage at a minimum for whatever you’re going to expect and, again, think about the topic. Will it require them to come back many times? Will it require them to give each other feedback? Will they need to come back a different day to do the feedback?

Whatever your desire is, be specific about how many times, how often during the week. And, should they have a day when their initial post is due and a different day when their peer replies are due? There’s often this idea that students are going to put an initial post in there of their ideas, and they are going to go back and respond to the ideas of their classmates.

During this whole process, of course, you can also put some initial posts to guide them. You can reply to the students just as the peers would reply, and converse just like you might in a live discussion. There are some other ideas like threaded forums, where you post that initial prompt and everyone responds along one single thread. They can be difficult to manage, they can also be interesting to see how the class unfolds along the idea. There are a lot of benefits to using what we call a threaded discussion.

There are also a lot of benefits to posting these separate discussions as individual posts students have. Whatever kind you want it to be, you want to tell students how it will unfold, how they should engage, how often.

As you design the form prompt that you put there telling students what they should write about or talk about, you want some different statements that will guide the content about what students are going to discuss. What qualities should the initial post include? How long should it be? How timely should it be? What are the directions you are going to include for sharing content and source materials? Will students need to refer to a source that they may have used in the form discussion? If so, can they give you a link? Can they simply mention it? Do they need to give you an actual formatted citation in MLA (Modern Languages Association), Chicago or Turabian or APA style?

Whatever those different details are, be specific with each forum that you post. And yes, I do advocate being repetitive on that part, including every week what the posting guidelines are. Keeping them fairly consistent can help students to engage better.

If you want your students to post in the normal font that appears, just remind them of that. You can also suggest that they use the spell check or grammar check. If you do use word counts for your forums, and if your learning management system does not give you a way to naturally do that, you can also suggest they type their forum in Microsoft Word, copy and paste it into the forum afterwards.

As you’re developing the prompt for the discussion, think about the qualities that students need to provide, whether they’re going to specifically give their take-away, their reflection, what they need to include in terms of the dialogue they’re sharing, and if they should ask each other questions. This can be a helpful way to get the discussion going. I have a little checklist that I’m going to share with you now that has six different elements and it comes from a book I wrote called “Teaching Music Appreciation Online,” (page 119), if you have a copy of that.

And this form prompt quality checklist is just to determine: Does the form prompt have the elements needed to help students know what to do and have the best chance of engaging well?

  1. The first question is, “does your forum prompt include a specific active verb indicating the action students will take developing their initial post in the discussion?” And some active verbs might be: define, describe, identify, compare, contrast, explain, summarize, apply, predict, classify, analyze, evaluate, critique, create, and design.
  2. Second question, “if guiding questions are included, are they written as open-ended questions that allow students to exercise critical thinking to create, to explore and otherwise apply their learning?” For example, does the question you have given students use the words “how” or “why,” and avoid closed ended yes/no questions, like did, do, where, or who? Closed ended questions make it very difficult to have a discussion, and most students will copy each other. There are only a few responses possible, so open-ended questions are much more useful, like “what,” “how,” and “why.”
  3. “Does the forum prompt specifically guide students to the content, concepts, topic and other elements to be included in their initial post?”
  4. “Does the form prompt state how many details or sources or what link is to be included in the student’s initial post?”
  5. “Does the forum prompt appear appropriate for the level of the course that you’re teaching?” For example, if you’re teaching a college level course at a 100 level, does the prompt address general elements and then draw students into deeper thinking. And at the 400 college-level does it identify complex ideas and analyses and different types of application you would want at that level?
  6. And lastly, “are clear posting instructions included, such as the due date for the initial post, the number of replies and the due date for those replies, and any other pertinent requirements?”

Think about these as you write forum prompts and examine the forum prompts that exist. If you’re teaching a standardized course. And as you’re looking at the forum prompt, if you’re teaching a course someone else has designed, it’s very easy to change the wording slightly to make it even more effective. And if you’re at a university where there’s some collaboration or the chance to improve the course, you can also suggest those changes to the course designer or the faculty member who has initially organized that class.

So open-ended questions can invite a lot more thought.

The last point I am going to share today is about how students should bring in their own ideas, reflections, opinions, and experiences. There are a lot of subjects where we’re working very hard to help students argue and analyze without opinion. In those subjects, I would suggest separating out the personal reflection, opinions, and experiences part to a second half of the forum post. Maybe you’re going to have them analyze and argue a point, and then come back and share their reflection about it or their opinion about it.

One reason I’m heavy on personal reflection, opinions and experiences is that these are the ways students personalize their learning, and this is what helps them to make something new out of it for themselves. It creates connections in the brain and soon the student’s going to care a lot about the subject, or at least have opinions on it and be able to think about it later. So those personal reflection elements are critical.

In future podcast episodes, I will discuss ways to apply critical thinking, interpretation, problem-solving, persuasion, and analysis, debates, and different topics so I hope you will join me again in the future for additional thoughts about discussion forums online.

Until then, I wish you all the best in starting your discussions, engaging with your students, and creating form prompts that really work for you. Best wishes teaching online this week.

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

#79: Three Steps to Stress-Free Online Teaching

#79: Three Steps to Stress-Free Online Teaching

Three Steps to Stress-Free Online Teaching Using Productivity Tools

This content first appeared at APUEdge.com.

Teaching online can bring stress in managing competing commitments, diverse teaching tasks, and multiple modalities. To free online educators from overwhelm and stress, productivity strategies provide structure to the work. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares three productivity tools that include a prioritization matrix, task batching, and time boxing to help online educators structure their work and keep time investment within limits. Learn how to simplify your approach to the daily work of teaching online and feel a sense of relief by reducing your stress.

#78: Simplify Your Online Teaching with a Learning Framework

#78: Simplify Your Online Teaching with a Learning Framework

Simplify Your Online Teaching with Learning Frameworks

This content first appeared at APUEdge.com.

Teaching online and developing online courses can be an overwhelming process without limits. Frameworks can keep these processes clear and reduce stress for the online educator. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares frameworks that help online educators provide quality learning experiences for their students, include a variety of approaches and strategies, and reduce stress through a structured approach.

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

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m Bethanie Hansen, your host. And I’m here to talk to you today about how to simplify your online teaching.

You know when you’re writing a course, preparing to teach a course, or thinking about that class you’re going to prepare, it can be very complex. There is so much we could include that we want to teach our students, and there are of course many ways to approach designing a class or planning what you’re going to teach. How do you make those decisions?

One of the ways you can make the decisions about what you’ll include in the course, what you’ll teach your students, and what you can expect them to do and be learning in the class as well as what they can demonstrate afterward, is to use a framework.

One of the frameworks I really like that I want to start out with sharing with you today is Bloom’s taxonomy. If you’re not familiar with Bloom’s taxonomy, this is a framework that allows you to use different skill levels. Originally it was designed by some graduate students and Bloom, who put together this taxonomy as a framework to create banks of test questions with specific objectives to share. Those original three domains in Bloom’s taxonomy were the cognitive, psychomotor, and affective domains.

The cognitive domain is the one that we think about the most. What kind of thinking skills we need to be able to do in our courses there. There were six levels from the low to the high side of ordered thinking; that has been revised in 2001 and updated, and we’ve got several different areas.

So that the lowest level of Bloom’s taxonomy is remembering. This would be your basic factual recall where students are going to true or false, multiple-choice. They’re just going to regurgitate information and they are remembering what they learned basically.

The second level of Bloom’s taxonomy is understanding. In this level students actually determine the meaning of what they’re learning. It could be something oral, written, or graphic. And so in all these different modalities they are demonstrating some kind of understanding. Putting the pieces together. Connecting the dots.

The third level is applying. And in applying, students are going to carry out a procedure. Perhaps the use of evaluative tool to check off whether or not something can be used, something is going to be played out in a scenario, we are going to role-play, something like that. Applying can be a lot of fun and gets you away from the basic low-level factual thinking.

The fourth level is analyzing. When you’re analyzing, you can break the material down into little parts. Detect how the parts relate to each other and to an overall structure or purpose. Analyzing is definitely a higher order skill and analyzing is what we do in so many career fields. So this level is important to reach in our teaching.

The fifth level is evaluating. Students can make judgment based on criteria or standards.

And lastly is creating. This is of course the highest order. The students are to put things together to form something new. A complete whole. Or make something original. We love this in the various fields that we teach. When we’re creating or having students create something new it’s also more original. It’s not going to be as likely to hit the plagiarism spectrum. So things that hit the creating level of thinking are especially good.

Now when you’re writing your class and you are thinking about what you teach and how you teach it, Bloom’s taxonomy is a framework you can use from the beginning to the end of the course. When I say that, I’m suggesting that early in the course you hit those lower levels of thinking: remembering and understanding.

If you think about having students demonstrate remembering and demonstrate understanding, even open-book tests are helpful. Open book, small grade, low consequence, or low-stake quizzes can be especially effective to the remembering phase of learning. This is basic. If students cannot remember what they’re learning, they are not going to get very far.

Now once you get a little further into the course, applying and analyzing can happen more regularly because we’ve got the basic understanding down. And now we can move to the next level of thinking. And then of course, as you move into the higher levels of the subject matter and later in the courses, you’re going to have opportunities for evaluating and creating a lot more often. These are good things to remember when you’re thinking about designing a course or teaching specific content.

By the time you’re done with the course, if you look at your course learning outcomes and the way they hit Bloom’s taxonomy, some examples might be that at the basic level students will identify certain concepts, they might analyze the outcomes of certain historical situations, they might design a controlled experiment or design a case study. In this case, they are now creating. That is something we do very late in the course. They might present. They might share their research. They might collect and analyze the research. They might describe and discuss and synthesize the theories of various ideas.

If you’ll take a look at Bloom’s taxonomy it will help you to have a basic starting point for the different levels of knowledge. Learning. And can also help you make your discussions a little deeper.

Some faculty have real trouble designing forum discussions at first, because it seems that we want to stick to that factual or understanding level. The more you can add applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating, the more you’re going to have opportunities to get your students to think more deeply and demonstrate that they’re connecting the dots in higher ways.

The Yale Center for Teaching and Learning offers us several suggestions for using Bloom’s taxonomy. First, they suggest using it to write the intended learning outcomes for your class and for your assignments. This also works especially well if you’re using the backwards design technique. Secondly you can use Bloom’s taxonomy to design the activities and assessments. This will help you align things to your intended learning outcomes. Third, you can consider additional taxonomies that will help you develop learning at various levels. You might consider, they recommend, Marzano’s taxonomy and there’s also Krathwhol’s. I’ve got a link in the podcast transcript notes for the Bloom’s taxonomy download that Yale shares with the world, so check it out.

Student-Centric and Process-Oriented Frameworks

Now, aside from Bloom’s and other taxonomies that help you to think about the different levels of thinking that will be required of students, there are different kinds of teaching and learning frameworks. These are research-informed models that help you either design your course or consider learning goals and how you’ll layout the class and teach it.

Some of these models are really focused on the student. They are student-centric. They help you to create motivating and inclusive environments and integrate all kinds of assessment into the learning process along the way. One of those I’ve mentioned already is backwards design. If you are going to use the backwards design framework, this was made popular by Wiggins and McTeague in their book Understanding by Design (2005), the backward design process is three main parts.

First, you’re going to decide what you want students to do at the end of the class, or we call this “identify desired results.” Second, you’ll design the assessments. You will determine what evidence will really show that they have learned this. And only after these two things have been completed, then you’re going to back up and plan the learning experiences they will need to have to get there and the instruction you’ll need to provide as the instructor. This is the kind of learning that I like to guide, backwards design. I like to start with the end goals and then determine what kinds of activities will help students get to those goals. It’s also what I wrote about in my book “Teaching Music Appreciation Online,” which I hope you’ll check out.

There’s also another method which is called integrated course design, Integrated course design was developed by LD Fink in 2003, and it’s a sort of expanded backwards design. It is sort of an expanded backwards design framework that has a little bit more detail specific to higher ed. The main feature of integrated course design is that it’s a simultaneous planning strategy.

You don’t have to sequentially start at the end and move backwards. You can think about environmental and contextual factors as well. This means first, think of your situation and then you’re going to look at the integration between learning goals, feedback, and assessment, and teaching and learning activities, and you’re going to keep moving between those until you’ve planned the course.

Part of the methodology is that it is simultaneous so it sort of a holistic approach for those of you who really like to think big-picture. It also guides you through a 12-step process to create outline your learning outcomes, the activities, rubrics, assessments, and the syllabus, in light of whatever context you’re in and the challenges you might be facing.

A third framework you might consider is 5E. This model was developed by a biological sciences curriculum study in 2001. This is an interesting model that seems to go round and round, and it’s about “engage, explore, explain, elaborate, evaluate.” And evaluate is really happening all along the way during the engage section, the explorer section, the explain section, and the elaborate section. At the end of the class students are going to assess their own understanding and the instructor might also evaluate the learners on key skills or concepts.

This model is super good if you’re interested in scaffolding and prioritizing student learning rather than just what you believe needs to be taught. It’s got a lot of flexibility and it’s an interesting one to check out.

Another framework for learning is accelerated learning cycle developed by Alastair Smith in 1996. And, a lot like the 5E model, it can be used to structure single class sessions. So accelerated learning comes from Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences and it builds classrooms that acknowledge prior knowledge and learning habits.

This model is based on stages. You create the safe, welcoming environment. You build on the background knowledge of your learners to create a bigger context, and you describe what’s intended to be learned. Then you give some new information or content, facilitate an activity, enable discussion or a demonstration, or some kind engagement, and then you review and reinforce the information. So of course you do that for single classes and you can also think about it on the big scale of how the whole class is set up.

Another framework you might consider is called universal design for learning (UDL). This was developed in the 1990s as a model for meeting the needs of all learners, diverse learners of all kinds, and it can be applied to a course or a single class session, just as the accelerated learning cycle as well. So UDL operates under three principles.

The first one is the “why” of learning. You provide multiple means of engagement. And then the “what” of learning. You provide multiple means of representation. And lastly the “how” of learning, which is that you provide multiple means of action and expression.

The idea is that you’re going to be engaging different parts of the brain. Engagement, the representation, and the action and expression each hit these three different big chunks of the brain. They’re going to help people engage fully, deeply, and really reach people that think in different ways, learn in different ways, need visual, auditory, and all those different modalities, and designed to be flexible so that depending on the learner there are choices where you can balance the needs of the learner and give appropriate challenge and support.

Where to Start with Teaching and Learning Frameworks

One of the tips that I have for you today as we wrap up this discussion about learning frameworks is that using a framework can make planning your online teaching a lot easier. When you use a framework, that helps you to keep things within limits. It gives you structure for what you’re doing, and it helps you stop getting overwhelmed by all that you could do. I’ve seen some brilliant instructors design entire classes with one modality and one approach, missing a high number of learners. If we use a framework, we are more likely to integrate various approaches, because the framework suggests them. (See, for example, Frameworks for Digital Information Literacy.)

One of the bonuses of doing this is that using a framework is going to help make sure you don’t miss a lot of students. It’s also going to help you consider relevance. Some of these frameworks work for some subjects and styles, and some work better for others.

As you’re looking over frameworks and thinking about which one might suit you, consider which one really does suit the subject matter. This is not a one-size-fits-all experience. Then, create a course alignment map. As you design a map of what you’d like to teach, what you would like to assess, what students need to learn, what their prior knowledge is, it’s going to suggest to you perhaps one of these frameworks might fit a little bit better. It’s also going to give you insight into the variety that you need to include, both in terms of what and how you’re teaching, and also the different levels of thinking from Bloom’s taxonomy and other taxonomies I’ve mentioned.

Lastly, think about inventorying your practices. We can get stuck in teaching and learning through one channel or one avenue. The more we broaden our practices to include a lot of different approaches, the more we really are going to meet students needs in the best ways possible. So think about not only how you can use frameworks and taxonomies in planning your course to make it a simpler, less overwhelming project, but also how you can inventory yourself and what you’re bringing to that teaching. There’s always room to grow. But when you create an inventory for your own teaching and course design, you can just target one thing at a time and keep your own development simple as well.

Thank you for being with me today. I hope you consider using a teaching and learning framework, or taxonomy at the very least, in your teaching, and I wish you all the best this coming week in your online teaching.

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

#77: How to Say “NO” When You Teach Online

#77: How to Say “NO” When You Teach Online

How to Convey a Positive “No” When Teaching Online

This content first appeared on APUEdge.com.

Teaching online effectively takes time and energy, and to manage this well, educators must learn how to say “No.” This kind of focus helps with decision-making, time management, committing to extra projects, and everything else. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses the “Power of a Positive No,” by William Ury, to help online educators prioritize and thrive. Learn how to simplify online teaching, get better results, and feel a greater sense of satisfaction from your work.

#76: How to use a Learning Management System to Put Your Class Online

#76: How to use a Learning Management System to Put Your Class Online

How to Use a Learning Management System to Put Your Class Online

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

Moving your class online can be intimidating and take some creativity. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen gives you a tour of the main spaces in a learning management system and some basic ideas for the types of content you might use and how it can improve the course delivery as well as enhance student learning.

Listen to the Episode:

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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.

If you’ve taught classes before, but they were live face-to-face classes, moving your class online might seem like a heavy lift. But it doesn’t have to be. In the previous episode of the Online Teaching Lounge podcast, I shared a basic overview about online education to give you a foundation. And today, I’ll walk you through the concept of a learning management system.

If you use one, it will give you an organized space to put different kinds of materials and activities that will build out your class. And in today’s world with widely available internet, teaching online is becoming so much more common. There are many learning management systems you can choose from.

Throughout the podcast, I’ll just call these learning management systems the LMS for short. You might hear terms like learning management system (LMS), course delivery system (CDS), and course management system (CMS) used interchangeably by people in the online education industry, but these all refer to the same kinds of systems.

As of today when I’m recording this podcast, there are more than 200 different free, subscription-based, and sales-based LMS’s currently available to host online courses in business, training, and education. Can you believe that?

Here are some common brand names you might have heard of, of educational LMS’s: BlackboardMoodleSchoologyCanvasD2L BrightspaceSakai. If you are an independent educator not teaching for a school system or college, you might be using a commercial LMS like KajabiTeachableThinkificAdobe Captivate Prime, or Learndash. There are so many, that we can’t talk about all of them right now or get very specific about just one LMS, I’m going to be general but I will go through their basic parts.

Whatever your LMS, the system will function as the main program or software application where you will deliver your class. You’ll keep the lessons there, assignments, and other documentation, and administer the session in terms of attendance, tracking performance of your students, and submitting grades. To accomplish all of these teaching and course design tasks, there are several different spaces in the LMS.

Understanding Each Space of a LMS

There is usually a home page for the course, where you can welcome students and identify the name of the class. You might also have a few other items available on the course home page, like an assignment calendar, an introduction to you as the teacher, and course announcements. And somewhere in the online classroom space, there will be a menu or tabs to click, leading to designated areas that deliver lesson curriculum, host the interaction—like a chat,  instant message tools, discussions, and things like that—and accept and retrieve assessments.

The spaces within an LMS each serve a purpose and they help keep things organized for you as the instructor and for your students. These spaces typically include labels like lessons or content, assignments, discussions, blogs, wikis, journals, announcements, tests, quizzes, exams, grade book, progress or statistics, and other editing or reporting features.

As technology continues to develop every day, many LMS’s are now including mobile apps for smart phones and other portable devices, diverse content options, creation tools, customizable learning paths, adaptive learning, badging, assessment variety—like polls, surveys, and traditional quizzes—discussion forums, and new types of reports or dashboards.

Each space, or page, in the LMS has a purpose. And that depends on what it is intended to do. Although each LMS might be a little bit different, these spaces have the same general purpose from one LMS to the next. As I talk about them in with you today, think about the potential uses of these spaces for your own class.

I’ll give you just one example right here. Discussion spaces are designed to allow students and their instructors to post their own responses, reply to others, view entire threaded conversations, and also share linked or embedded content. The discussion forum would be a great place for students to practice using terminology that they are being taught in the class for the subject matter. And they can also apply concepts to their real lives and share ideas, respond to others about their thoughts and ideas, and feel out their general understandings as conversations unfold.

Discussion areas can be particularly useful spaces to give your students the opportunity to practice using new terms and share their formative ideas while they’re being guided and assisted by others, and to expect that these ideas might become more refined through the process of discussion, as they keep talking and posting about these ideas with other people during the class.

I’m going to dive into each of these spaces one at a time and give you a general idea of what you can do with them. I hope this will help you design your class, as you move your live class into the online format. Let’s start with the lessons area.

Using the Lessons Section

The Lessons area is one of the main sections of the classroom and one where students will spend a lot of time. It might also be the space that takes the most time and consideration to build. Most people would consider this a replacement of the live lecture. And that can be one way to use it, if you want to record a video of yourself teaching your students as if they are sitting in the same room with you. And then, you can post that video in the classroom.

While you can do that, and it would be the easiest way to convert your live class into an online version, the lessons section of your LMS can contain all kinds of content like videos, interactive media, links, typed content, images, and other items.

Your goal in the lessons area might be to introduce the subject for the week, give background information on various topics, provide reading selections or links to the online textbook for your students, engage their interest through media and interaction, and wrap up your lesson with a closing summary of the key points.

The lessons section can be vibrant, engaging, interactive, and full of information. Or, the lessons section can be brief and simply include a list of readings and other activities the student should complete and your video.

Whatever you choose to include, remember that when you’re using an LMS and teaching online, you can load up lots of engaging content that actually provides the instruction for the week, as well as opportunities for self-directed learning and exploration. This kind of choice and autonomy is especially important if you have adult learners.

The lessons section does not have to be a substitute for the weekly readings if you are also using a textbook and other materials for the class. Instead, think of it like the guidance and interpretation an instructor would normally provide to help students truly understand the topics.

In my area, teaching music appreciation courses, many students come to the class with little or no background knowledge in music. Other students, particularly those who participated in music during high school or other public schooling years, may have some cursory knowledge of music and music terms.

Because there are so many people with low to no background knowledge in music today, the lessons area is a great place to introduce new terms every week, and give interpretation of the lesson topics within the frame of music concepts. There is a lot we have to include there, to guide students effectively.

Announcements Section

The announcements section in any online course is also a place of importance, because it presents instructor information about the ongoing class to students, an overview of weekly goals, and a summary of items to be submitted.  This area can be updated once per week or more frequently.

Announcements might contain information such as a brief overview of the topic, a list of items due at the end of the week, and reminders. This section is for all of the messages that are to be publicly provided to everyone in the class. Announcement posts may have the option of sending a copy out to participants’ email addresses, which ensures that students receive updated information promptly.

Assignments Section

The assignment section is another space common to most online LMS’s. Here, the actual work to be submitted for grading is described, with some kind of dropbox available to collect the completed work. This section can usually be set with open and closing dates so that assignments appear to students, accept submissions, and lock at the end of a given period.

If the LMS offers the option of linking assignments to the calendar, students can receive reminders about upcoming or missed due dates. In the assignment section, it is common for course designers or instructors to provide model assignments to students, documents that provide sample formatting like APA or MLA style, and other assets that may guide the student in how the work should be completed.

Anything you can do to give them an idea of what it’s going to look like when it’s done, that is going to reassure them. Because the course is entirely online and students do not have the option of asking multiple questions about the assignments in real time, the assignment section typically needs a lot of description and detail, so students can complete the work in a satisfactory manner.

Believe me, I’ve been there where students have misunderstood the assignment. And I’ll get 25 essays where students have all missed the mark. That takes a lot of time to fix.

In the assignment area, if the option is available, instructors may choose to have work scanned through a plagiarism or originality checker such as BibmeTurnitin, or SafeAssign. Using plagiarism detecting tools or programs enables the instructor to address writing concerns quickly, and it reminds students to write in their own words as much as possible, potentially improving the originality of submitted work.


Discussions are another space common to online course LMS’s, and this area is typically where most of the interaction between participants occurs. Discussions begin with a description of what is to be discussed, requirements of when initial posts and replies to others are to be posted, and some indication of how participation will be evaluated.

In the discussions area, most participants begin their involvement in the discussion by posting an initial thread to the forum. Once a thread is posted, those who reply to that post are linked underneath the initial post. In this way, Posts that are all about the same subject or to the same initial post are linked together in a threaded chain. Everyone who visits the discussion may be able to see the conversation that has unfolded, and separate conversations that are also occurring.

Often, because there isn’t a central location to discuss course related questions or other matters, instructors post a “questions” thread within a discussion area so students can separately ask questions about course deadlines, content, and other matters aside from the actual discussion topic for the week. Discussion forum areas within a learning management system typically have private spaces for grading comments and scoring, and these can be linked to a gradebook to reflect ongoing course grades.

Many people consider the discussion forum area of an online course the equivalent of the live, face to face interaction, that might otherwise occur in a live class in a traditional Setting. An asynchronous conversation, of course, is not exactly the same as a live conversation that would take place in a traditional classroom setting.

Asynchronous discussions are like many conversations taking place at the same time. Some conversations may be missed, and no one could possibly hear every conversation taking place in a live classroom, if group dialogs were simultaneously occurring in this manner. However, in the online classroom, most instructors are expected to read the entire conversation under every single thread that has taken place, especially prior to grading the work.

Within a live classroom, an instructor might not hear or respond to every single comment a student provides. In fact, many conversations occur, especially during group work, that an instructor does not hear and is not part of.

One other difference about discussion forums online is that students and instructors both can post interactive or multimedia content, which might not otherwise be used in a live setting. For example, form discussions have the advantage of being able to host YouTube links, presentations, and virtually anything that is available online or in a presentation format. This can enhance discussions in ways that typical live exchanges may not be enhanced in a normal classroom setting.


The gradebook is one section of the online learning classroom not always considered but vitally important to the management of the course. Many online LMS’s have gradebook sections that can be set up either by points or by weighted percentages. Here, the forum discussions are linked into the gradebook, the assignments are linked into the gradebook, and other categories may also be added. Scores and evaluative comments are published to students as soon as grades are available, so that students are aware at all times of how they are performing in the class. Most LMS’s still require some vigilance on the part of the instructor to double check categories, assignments, and the student view, to ensure that assignments not submitted on time receive a zero, and that the student’s grade book is kept up-to-date at any given point during the class.

Other Sections in the LMS

The lessons section, announcements, assignments, discussion forums, and gradebook are the basic structure available in most LMS’s today. Some LMS provide the option of additional tools, such as blogs, wikis, journals, and other text environment areas. Some LMS’s may also provide a space for listing multimedia content, posting web links within the course itself, or other features.

As an instructor moves to the online format, getting to know the online classroom space is vitally important in order to use it effectively. Although one can reach out to technical support at most colleges and universities for assistance in resolving conflicts within the online classroom, being able to diagnose problems within the course is critical before the course begins.

In contrast to a live class, where lessons can be fleshed out more fully as the course unfolds, an online course is typically expected to be completely set up prior to day one of the class.

Things to Know About Observers

In addition to all the areas described here that exist in most LMS’s, one interesting factor is that all actions to take place within the class are observable and “on the record.” Reports can be drawn based on these activities, such as attendance by the student and the instructor, comments made, assignments submitted, and so forth.

Students are able to see when others are actually in the online course, and so can the instructor or other observers.

In contrast to live courses, where the instructor is generally the only university employee in the room with students during a class, in the online setting, there may be many other observers stopping by the class at any given point.

Observers might include technical support teams, supervisors, faculty coaches, academic appeals departments, and other team members at the institution. Some institutions treat the online course environment similarly to the live setting, giving the instructor complete autonomy and intervening little.

Other universities are quite hands-on, and may be in the space with the instructor much more, observing often, and also producing standardized courses with little to be changed by individual instructors. These differences come from a variety of factors, but it can be helpful to be aware that they exist.

Keep it Simple When Just Starting Out

As you work to move a class into an LMS and take your teaching online, I hope you will fully explore each of these spaces available. Get creative, and let the LMS support the new and interesting things you can do which were not available in a live face to face class. And when you’re finished planning out where you will conduct each activity, and what you need to add in each section of the LMS for a strong learning experience, look for a setting that allows you to see the class in student mode—so that you know whether everything is working and can be seen by your students.

And of course, once you launch the class and you’re teaching it, be as prompt as possible to fix any errors or misalignment in the class, so that your students have a good experience and can accomplish what you expect from them.

Above all, if you’re completely new at this, take it one step at a time. Don’t expect yourself to build an amazing course with lots of bells and whistles from the very first day. Keep it simple, and add more as you feel comfortable doing it, until you’ve developed your class online in the way you would like. Over time, you’ll get better and better at using the LMS.

Thank you for joining me today to walk through the main spaces of an online classroom and think about your own course online. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching!

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

#75: Moving Your Course Online? Orientation to Online Education

#75: Moving Your Course Online? Orientation to Online Education

Moving Your Course Online? Orientation to Online Education

This content first appeared at APUEdge.com. 

Online education is a bit different from live teaching and learning. In today’s podcast, Dr. Bethanie Hansen gives a brief orientation to similarities and differences between live and online education, to help educators prepare to move a class online. Learn how online education is an opportunity to expand your teaching and learning possibilities in new ways, and it is not a strict copy of the live class.

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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 for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. Our audience includes educators all over the world, and in varying stages of teaching online. If you’re listening to this particular episode, chances are that you want a general overview of online education, to know if you’ve approached it effectively. Or maybe you just want to get started and have not taught online before.

Today, we’re going to take a look at different kinds of online education and walk through what makes online learning unique. This orientation is a description of what online education is, and what it is not, with some tips to help you think about moving your course online.

Today, we’ll look at a background on live courses, which I like to call “face-to-face,” of “live, traditional classes,” and we’ll briefly explore ideas to help you think about similarities and differences between live and online courses. In the future, we will refer back to this foundation when we talk about how you might move your live class to an entirely online format.

In today’s episode, we’re laying a foundation that will springboard into several topics for future episodes to come even beyond merely moving your course online. So plan now to subscribe to this podcast [Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsStitcherPandora.] Share it with your friends and colleagues who are teaching online. And help others you know grow in their own online teaching skills and philosophy. After all, you are not alone teaching online. There are thousands of us teaching online all around the world, and when you share this podcast, you help others feel part of this bigger professional community. And, you might even decide that this is a fun and rewarding career direction.

What is Online Education?

The term “online education” is widely used today to refer to any learning experience that includes part of the experience online over the Internet. Online education is becoming more common today, particularly due to the world pandemic. By now, most schools, universities, colleges, and organizations have some kind of online education or online training. Online education generally includes various approaches and options for course delivery, such as entirely online classes, blended and hybrid courses, massive open online courses (MOOCs), independent study, and various adaptations of these approaches. Today we are focusing on courses that are taught 100% online. However, many of the tools, concepts, and strategies presented can easily be applied to blended or hybrid and face-to-face environments.

Entirely Online Education

The 100% online class is now a common form of online education. Perhaps you are teaching this kind of class. In this type of educational experience, courses are offered completely online with students and instructors participating asynchronously within a learning management system (LMS). The LMS is a program or computerized platform that gives structure to the experience, including distinct spaces for document storage, lessons, assignments, discussions, a grade book, and other components.

When participants engage in the course asynchronously, this means that each person is involved in learning activities and dialogue at a time of their own choosing during the day or night and throughout the week. In addition to time gaps between connecting to other people and course content, students and faculty are geographically separated. Everyone may be able to use a variety of technology tools from smartphones to laptops and PCs for access.

Just as a wide variety of internet-accessible devices can be used to engage in online education, the pacing and scheduling of your time in an entirely online course is generally flexible, to some extent. And just like you, students can decide when they would like to participate each week. A minor variation of this model could be that you provide a live lecture, where students are expected to log in at a day and time that has been pre-arranged, to meet with you live through the online course. And with the pandemic, there might even be the option for some to attend live, in the face-to-face classroom, while others view the course live at home using the online platform.

There are some perks to teaching and learning online. First, entirely online courses are considered a versatile option for students who want flexibility. Most of us think that an entirely online course means students can complete their coursework “anytime, anywhere.” Just like them, we as the instructors appreciate the opportunity to teach online courses because they give us flexible scheduling and can be accommodated around our other commitments.

The greatest benefit to courses taught entirely online is the flexibility this learning modality gives us all to engage at our own convenience, and the greatest challenge is the perception of isolation participants may feel due to physical and temporal separation from others in the class. As a faculty member teaching online, it can also seem as though the work follows us everywhere and never ends. Work-life boundaries become much more important. Participating in online education requires a significant degree of self-discipline, time management, commitment, independence, and technology proficiency for both student and faculty.

Blended (Hybrid) Courses

Blended classes, also commonly called hybrid courses, are increasingly common and involve live, face-to-face meetings as well as online components. In this type of educational arrangement, courses include some live, face-to-face meetings at a pre-determined time and location and some online components such as document storage, assignment submissions, an online grade book, and online resources and lesson content.

Blended courses now come in a variety of combinations, and some universities are referring to these adaptations as “HyFlex” courses. They include aspects of both live and online learning, and while it can be challenging to determine what will be accomplished face-to-face and what belongs in the online component, it’s also possible that this type of online learning is the best of both worlds. You can get the synergy from live discussions during the face-to-face class meetings, which can be a catalyst for deep learning. And, the technology aspects from online components can direct students to more individualized, rich learning content and additional enrichment options.

Instructors must decide how much content will be presented in each of the two course environments, and how to structure the overall experience for learners to avoid doubling the student workload. Benefits of blended courses include a routine to support learners through live meetings where you can clarify things, guide students through the LMS and how to access it, and answer questions. And, the structured flexibility and richness of online components. When you compare blended classes to live, traditional courses, blended classes meet less often to give students time to also complete online work. Fewer live class meetings can present challenges keeping students on track if they miss class.

Face-to-Face Classes

Face-to-face classes supported by online components are courses provided in traditional, live formats with resources, assignments, or other components organized in a learning management system (LMS). Learning management systems can be effectively used to allow students to submit work outside the classroom environment, send assignments to plagiarism verification services, and enable instructors to grade and return work conveniently online.

The online support used in traditional, live courses may be as basic as using an assignment and grading interface and as elaborate as providing interactive readings, assessments, and multimedia content for homework, and even taking attendance in the LMS. Although classes supported by online components are similar to blended or hybrid offerings, they typically use the online framework only to support the live class, rather than instead of meeting for live classes. One benefit of including online components is the instant nature of submitting work and returning grading feedback. It’s also nice to have the possibility of using interactive textbooks, which add to students’ exploration and learning.

Adaptability in Teaching

If you think about the many kinds of online options available in education today, it may seem that many approaches and strategies are needed for each institution’s circumstances. This is true, and fortunately, anyone can customize their approach to teaching online to use all or only a little of the structure available. But even when we are customizing our approach to online education, there are many strategies and tools that can be easily used both in live face-to-face classes and when teaching entirely online.

And this brings us to our comparison between live classes and online classes.

Live versus Online Courses

If you’re thinking about moving you class online and you are worried that things will have to be very different, that could be true. Or, you can consider a few modifications to help move your activities online in ways that maintain a lot of what you would have done with the live class. Just in case you’re a bit nervous about teaching your courses online, I want to reassure you that students can still learn well and have good experiences online.

In a study of students who had taken both live, traditional and entirely online courses, those surveyed overwhelmingly reported that their online experiences were at least as good or better than their on-campus experiences (Clinefelter & Aslanian, 2017).

And to give them those positive experiences, we need to decide what essentials to include in the online course design. To decide what you’ll need to modify and what you can keep in this transition of taking an existing live class to teaching your course online, I’ll take a moment to highlight a few things about live classes.

What are the Standard Features of a Live, Traditional Course?

In saying “live, traditional course,” I’m referring to classes that meet face-to-face, at a set time and in a specific physical location. A live, traditional course is very common and has been the main method of delivering higher education courses over the past several hundred years throughout the world.

In higher education history, enrolling in college meant attending live, traditional classes. Individuals who worked full-time with families and established adult lives found it difficult or impossible to pursue degree programs due to scheduling conflicts, and those who lived too far from campus lacked access to this opportunity. You had to move closer to campus to get a college degree.

Here are some of the features of live, traditional courses:

  • Classes are held live, with the instructor and all participants attending at the same time, in the same location.
  • Students can see each other, interact informally before and after class, and have conversations in real time that include body language, live voices, and the inferences and impressions that accompany face-to-face conversations.
  • If students appear to misunderstand peers or the instructor, they can ask questions in real time.
  • The instructor can immediately introduce new ideas, examples, and resources to provide additional background on a given topic if they seem relevant in the moment.
  • Students who have peers in more than one class can see them in each of these places, and they begin to recognize classmates. Make friends. Build peer relationships that may support and sustain them during the class or throughout their entire adult lives afterward.
  • There is some disconnect between the individual reading, homework, and outside-of-class activities in which students engage as part of the course, when compared to the group dialogue and instruction that occurs during the class itself.
  • When a student misses class, it is difficult to find out all that they missed, because some of the content is social interaction.
  • And of course, my favorite, being physically present in the classroom gives students a sense of formality about the fact that they are attending a class and participating in an educational activity. There’s something about this that triggers the brain to get into learning mode and the physical boundaries of live, traditional classes help cut down the outside distractions and make the class time easier to see as the focus for that hour or so.

What are the Standard Features of an Online Course?

“Online course” is general, and this could be the 100% online version, the hybrid or HyFlex, or an adaptation of online parts. There are many variations to online education, and online courses have developed into a new educational norm most students experience at some point while completing a degree in one variation or another.

What I’ll outline here are the standard features that can become part of an online course.

  • Classes are held asynchronously, with the instructor and all participants entering the course at different times and at any location where internet access is available.
  • Students’ interaction with each other occurs in discussion forums, chat spaces, or question and answer threads located somewhere within the course, unless they arrange to communicate further by phone or other means away from the online classroom.
  • Students cannot see each other or their instructor unless photos or videos are posted to provide identity and engagement.
  • Online course conversations do not happen in real time and might consist only of text, unless audio or video clips are added.
  • There is time to think about what you will write and post in the class, and students can think about this too, rather than speaking in the moment. And things posted online can also be edited and revised after they are posted.
  • And when students struggle with concepts or misunderstand, they might be able to look up the answer on the internet immediately or have to wait patiently for others to enter the course and answer their questions, or hear back from their instructor.

Because most or all of the learning is happening online and in the online classroom space, the learning experience has the potential to be comprehensive and focused. Everything is in one location. There can be a seamless integration between individual work, readings, and course activities, and the teaching and collaborative dialogue that occur in discussion areas.

Each part of the course has a specific location and resources, organized in some type of learning management system (LMS). For example, discussions occur in a specific area and can be accessed by clicking a tab or link in the LMS. Assignments and assignment descriptions are available in a different area, also accessible through a link or tab. With course components each in specific, labeled areas of the LMS, a course has structure and some degree of organization. To be present in the online classroom, all you need to do is log in and click links or activities. When a student misses class, the missed content is still part of the course and they can review what was missed.

Although the structured online course environment might seem a bit formal, boundaries are challenging to maintain when you are learning or teaching entirely online. You might experience interruptions with your internet connection, or interruptions from your email and social media accounts. And, of course, there are non-technological interruptions, like having someone knock at your door, call you on the telephone, or walk into the room while you’re working to start a conversation. Flexibility in working anytime, anywhere gives individual students and you, as their instructor, the need to set boundaries and also the opportunity to schedule the work at times that fit your own circumstances.

What are the Similarities and Differences of Live and Online Courses?

In both your live, face-to-face course, and an online course, you will teach or present subject-matter content, allow students to interact, and include some kind of method to give and collect assignments and grading feedback. In both cases, you must be aware of how much work you’re expecting and meet contact hour requirements for the credit hours of the class. And you can get to know your students and interact with them in both types of courses.

Your relationships with students might be different when teaching them entirely online. Some instructors seem to feel more connection with students online, because they can slow down and review what students have said, see their photograph, and get a sense of every student in the class. And some feel that students are harder to get to know when teaching them online. The nature of relationships between students and their instructor or peers is going to be different when you move your course online because there isn’t the single time and space connection, where you experience and get to know them in real time.

The way you present your content also varies. In live traditional courses, you might give a spoken or guided lecture or demonstration. But in online courses, students determine which resources they access, whether they see the lesson, click on a video, or read the online written materials, and how deeply they explore the content, and to some degree, the pace of their learning activities.

A Discussion of What Online Education Is and Is Not

Although you might want to design your online class to be a duplicate of your live class, it’s a great idea to explore the special strategies and tools available online that could transform your teaching. Online education is an opportunity to expand teaching and learning possibilities in new ways, and it is not a strict copy of the live class.

You can include rich resources, interactivity, and engaging things like videos, apps, multimedia presentations, and other tools, through which your students are free to explore and navigate. For example, students can create an Animoto presentation with photos of themselves and post it in the first week’s discussion forum to introduce themselves to the rest of the class. This type of presentation does not require sophisticated writing or a speech, because it consists mainly of just photographs. Tools like this one can be used creatively to help students produce assignments and discussions, as well as by you, their instructor, to provide engaging lesson content and guidance students need throughout the course.

The engaging aspects of online education continue to grow over time as new apps, programs, and tools are developed. It might be tempting to think online education is a duplicate of the live classroom to ensure important parts of the course are included, but trying to imitate the live course can be difficult. Imitating a live course could mean that an instructor feels compelled to create lecture videos that would simulate what might be provided in a live class, as an example. This is a great idea, but it is not always necessary as part of the lesson content. Although the content itself might be similar between live and online versions of a course, the methods, strategies, and delivery vehicles can be different.

Online education is a unique modality. It is a specific way to deliver the college or university experience to those who need special scheduling, prefer to work over the computer or internet rather than participate in a live setting, or who have other needs that are met through this modality. And of course, online education is incredibly helpful in unexpected times, like during a pandemic. Online education is not perfect, but it is flexible, enriching, and unique.

Join me next time, on the Online Teaching Lounge podcast, when we dive into the details of your online classroom structure. This will be your orientation about the spaces like lessons, discussions, quizzes, assignments, announcements, and more. With this orientation to the different parts of your online classroom, you’ll be prepared to think in more detail when you move your live class to the online format, and you’ll find it a much easier task.

And if you’re already an experience online educator, you’ll get a few new ideas you can try out in your existing online courses, too! Remember, tell a friend, tell a colleague, and let’s help all of us enjoy teaching online much more, and have fun while we’re doing that. Thanks for being here, and best wishes 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.