#99: Student Affairs in Online Education: Creating Opportunities for Interaction
This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.
Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. Hansen, Department Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education and
Dr. Jan Spencer, Department Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education and
Dr. Scott Kalicki, Faculty Member, American Public University
Providing guidance and assistance to students during their online academic journey is very different than in traditional, on-ground educational experiences. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen is joined by Dr. Jan Spencer and Dr. Scott Kalicki to discuss student affairs in online education. Learn why it’s so important for faculty to reach out to students and create more opportunities for interaction so there’s a dynamic and flexible educational experience. Also learn the value of mentorship, the importance of reflection, and more.
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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 podcast. I’m so excited about this episode. This is episode number 99. Can you believe it? We’ve been sharing online teaching tips, strategies and ideas with you for 99 episodes. So this is a special day, we have a couple of guests with us. I have Dr. Jan Spencer from American Public University. I know you’ve met him a couple of times in our podcasts. I’m going to let Jan introduce our guest, Dr. Scott Kalicki. Go ahead, Jan.
[Podcast: Helping Educational Leaders Build Skills in Administration, Student Affairs, and Online Education]
Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you so very much, Bethanie. It is a pleasure and a great treat to be on the podcast with you, and today especially with Dr. Scott Kalicki, who is one of our professors in the higher education area, particularly as it has to do with student affairs.
When we brought Scott on, when he came to our university a couple years ago, it was as a student affairs professional, but because of his higher education experience, he teaches also higher education administration and one of the reasons for that is, when he retired, it was from being a community college president. So I want to introduce my colleague, Dr. Scott Kalicki. Scott, tell us about yourself and some other facts that we would like to know that would help us get to know you.
Dr. Scott Kalicki: Great, Jan, it’s nice to be here with you and Bethanie. I’ve had the privilege of being a career higher educational professional, literally starting my career as I left the University of Hartford and never looked back, trying to be a jack of all trades, probably a master of none, but enjoying a long career path in higher education as an administrator. Along the way, I was able to begin to teach. I learned about American Public University and you were kind enough to bring me on board as a graduate faculty member.
Dr. Jan Spencer: That has been a real treat to have you because of your experience. One of the things I know about you is that when you retired from higher education in a full-time role, it was as a community college president. Please tell us a little bit about your trajectory to that role and the significance it applies to you in working with students today.
Dr. Scott Kalicki: Sure, Jan. I was fortunate enough to have a number of good mentors as I began my career. I actually began my career as a residence hall director. I was challenged to learn about as much as I could in the profession, which meant learning about housing, student activities, wellness, public safety, athletics, everything. And I simply took a career path that allowed me to move from being an assistant dean to an associate dean to a vice president along the way, as I mentioned, learning about a number of the different offices in the division of student affairs.
When I became the chief student affairs officer as a dean of students and then chief student affairs officer later with the title of vice president, I was challenged to not stop there, but given my well-rounded background to lead an institution, and an opportunity presented itself in New Hampshire, and I became interim president. The Community College had a failed search, they asked me to step in and be an interim. It was so much fun for me and I guess good enough for them that they invited me to stay as the full-time president and I did that for six years.
Dr. Jan Spencer: That is great. That brings a lot of different kinds of circumstances of experience to our students who you teach. Talk to us a little bit about the difference between working with students in an on-ground circumstance and now that you work online. What is different about student affairs that you can identify as being significant to what you’re up to now?
Dr. Scott Kalicki: Sure. When we’re on a traditional campus, we always play with the model that says there are very few hours in the context of an entire week that a student is in the classroom. When you do the subtraction, we say about 80 hours a week a student is not in class, not sleeping, not eating, which means it’s the student services staff that are around supporting a student that has that level of contact to have interaction. On a traditional campus, we see students all the time, whether it be in a dining center, an athletic field, a student center, whatever.
The challenge on the online environment is, we see a student and interact. When they’re in class, we have to be much more intentional finding opportunities that we can connect with the student because literally they’re not walking by or we’re not in the same physical space.
So we need to create virtual opportunities that we can interact with the students in the classroom, but more importantly, outside of the classroom, where it’s oftentimes more comfortable to have casual conversations, perhaps more intimate conversations in terms of the coursework, someone’s career, putting together the dynamics of a career and a personal life.
Dr. Jan Spencer: It sounds to me from what you’re saying that online development of relationships with students, you use the word intentional, it takes some thought and forethought about doing that. I know one of the things that we always want to see take place is a development of those relationships and even establish a culture, a graduate kind of a culture.
Can you speak more to this issue of moving from face to face to an online space and what you personally have done to make that happen at a higher degree than simply students showing up online, completing their work, and then disappearing? What specifically would you recommend and how are you dealing with that?
Dr. Scott Kalicki: I think, Jan, one of the things that is key, I should say, to making sure that students want to seize intentional opportunities is making sure that we are truly telling students that we want to be engaged with them, that there is no, as the cliché goes, no dumb question except for the one not asked.
So early on in the classroom setting, and I know that you often emphasize this with reminders to us, to reach out to the students, to be present, to invite them to ask questions, to go beyond the conversation that may be taking place on a given topic in a given week.
I think the more presence we have, the more, dare I say, friendly and approachable demeanor that we establish in the classroom, the more it’s inviting for a student to want to get in conversations a little bit beyond the general conversation, to gain and take advantage of opportunities that the learning platform allows us.
There’s a student lounge, to encourage students to chat in the student lounge, to chat offline in other opportunities, whether it be clubs or organizations that are virtually set up. Or, I know that APU has mentorship opportunities and that’s another great way for students to engage with very talented faculty members beyond the classroom, sometimes better as a fit doing it one on one than in a classroom setting.
Dr. Jan Spencer: One of the things that your experience gives to me is a sense about a whole journey that online education has been on because you’ve been involved with online education for a period of time, a good period of time now, and before that it was on-ground education. So now you have seen the change-over from only on-ground to now online as well. What significant changes are you still seeing in this current emphasis on online education that you, as a professor, you as an administrator, you as a faculty member, have to deal with to make things work?
Dr. Scott Kalicki: Well, I think one of the obvious things Jan is when you’re in student affairs, we know on a traditional campus that though many offices operate 9 to 5, student affairs simply does not work that way, that we need to be available for students in non-traditional times and non-traditional locations. I think part of that challenge also exists in the online environment. Many of the online environments are asynchronous so we have to make sure that we are available and present at times when students are looking to have more immediate feedback.
We need to be conscious of logging in and being in the classroom so the responses are a little bit more timely when a student is in fact engaged in the learning platform. It’s a much more dynamic experience if we are also present at that same time. So, I think as an online instructor, we need to think about not getting ourselves stuck in a set schedule, if at all possible, to be around at times that the students are more likely to be locked in, focusing on the class or focusing on the topic or have that available time to chat more close to I’ll call it real-time or live time.
Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you very much. I want to make sure that we give our hostess an opportunity to speak into this process because in working with Bethanie, she has got a very active part in all of what we’re doing at APU. So I want to give it over to you, Bethanie.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thank you, Jan. Scott, you were talking about something just near and dear to my heart, which is this whole responsiveness idea and not being just scripted about that. One of the things I have coached online faculty about in the past is to figure out how to be responsive and yet not exhaust themselves. If a person is responding to their messages all the time, then they’re never away from the online classroom. How do you think someone could balance that and still really meet the students’ needs?
Dr. Scott Kalicki: Sure. In any profession, but certainly higher education, in student affairs, we’re never off. We’re always on because we’re trying to provide support services for students. We’re trying to help them develop as young adults or maturing adults. I think we need to model the way for them, that they’ve got to have a good professional balance, a good personal balance. To your point, for them to be on all the time means that they’re not taking the personal time to reflect, to process the material, to let it sink in a little bit.
That often requires stepping away from the course or stepping away from the learning platform, stepping away from the students. But, at the same time, as you said, it’s a balance. I don’t want you to simply log in for your one hour a day or an hour and a half a day. You’re not taking advantage of all the opportunities to engage with your fellow students, as well as with the instructor.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wonderful thoughts. Thank you, Scott. Varying that, as you mentioned, seems like it would keep your job fresh, too. So you don’t feel like you always have to be on at the same time, could kind of change it up. I’m curious, what kind of perspective did you gain from being a university president that would really give insight to the daily faculty experience?
Dr. Scott Kalicki: Probably the best thing that I learned coming up and finding mentors or them finding me was to take the approach that to be an effective leader, one has to remember what it was like to be the subordinate. To be an effective teacher, one must always be willing to be the student.
So as I was a community college president or a CEO, there was a lot that I thought I knew, but there was an awful lot that I didn’t know. And it needed to really be a learning experience for me that though I could offer a lot as an administrator with a lot of experience and as a leader, I needed to be a good student and I needed to listen. I needed to have an open mind.
I think as we go into the classroom, there’s a new generation of higher education professionals coming in with new perspectives that we haven’t experienced. It’s important for us to listen to those experiences, listen to those perspectives and shape what we know, given our experience and our knowledge with that, and to make it a good, healthy experience for the students, and at the same time, realize that higher education continues to evolve because of the students coming in and because of the world around us. We only need to look at the last two years to see how we’ve needed to change the way that we’ve approached higher education simply because of a pandemic.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wow. Truer words were never said. Thank you so much, Scott. Jan, do you have a few more questions for our guest?
Dr. Jan Spencer: Yes. I have talked with Scott in meetings and personally about student affairs and the role of it in an online environment. Scott, you’ve gone to a good distance of describing some of the differences there. I want to talk about value because even though the online student affairs approach is more flexible in terms of time management and input into students’ lives, at the on-ground space where you’re like 9 to 5, or other hours similar to that, there still could be perceived a greater intensity of help.
Here at APU, we have student services, we have mentorship that we’re developing, different kinds of approaches, but it’s not specifically one kind of student affairs. So I ask you, what is the value of getting a student affairs degree in today’s market?
Dr. Scott Kalicki: Sure. Well, first thing, Jan, as we know, the world is getting more complex for students. It’s not getting easier. It’s getting more complex. Student services does two important things. We provide the support services for students to excel in the classroom, services, whether it be career services, advising, creating a supportive, safe environment for a student to study, to have access to offices and personnel on a given campus. We’re also educators. As I call it, we have more opportunities, I said before, 80 hours a week to capture an educational moment with our students.
So student affairs personnel, because of all the opportunities for interaction, really have more than a faculty member in the classroom to be educators because we have moments that others do not. So for me, that’s the real value added. If you believe in higher education and want to have an impact on those individuals trying to develop their careers and hopefully careers in higher education or student affairs, we’ve got more of those opportunities than anyone else.
The other thing that student affairs really does is we really have an opportunity to build a broad skillset. We’re advisors, we’re counselors, we’re budget managers, we’re personnel managers. There are so many things that we do that prepare us to move in and out of different departments, different areas that really allow us to go into any number of trajectories. If I look back on my career and why I was able to move up the ladder, hopefully successfully, it was because I was able to get involved in so many different things, I was not limited to just being an academic advisor or I wasn’t limited to just being a counselor.
There were so many things that I could do because they were available in the division of student affairs, through committee work, through working with colleagues, through connecting with individuals who could be mentors for us to simply describe different roles and different functions in student affairs.
So, I think that’s really the value-added that there’s truly an opportunity to be an educator and you get such a great depth of skill development that it really allows you to go into so many different directions in higher education, but again, transferable skills outside of education.
Dr. Jan Spencer: Scott, I really appreciate your responsiveness to these questions. I want to ask you for a summary answer and I’m going to throw kind of a curve ball at you just a little bit. You teach in student affairs here at APU and so you are developing these student affairs professionals in the classroom.
Given the fact that we are wanting to raise up people who understand student affairs and apply it in any kind of a context, you are encountering people who are already interested in being a resource for others, already interested, in most cases, of helping other students through the process.
So how do you keep students on track if you see there’s a variance taking place? What is it you do to reinforce the values of student affairs, the importance of student affairs, to keep students going forward, to keep them on track, help them achieve the goal of completing your class in an effective and successful way?
Dr. Scott Kalicki: Boy, that’s a good question, Jan. Well, the first thing is to make sure that we’re engaging the students, we’re making the process an exciting one, that they’re eager to learn, they want to stay engaged. They themselves see the value added because we’re treating them as a valued asset.
One of the things that I like about APU is that the faculty treat the students as though they are colleagues. Now, colleagues in the context that they bring to us, as graduate students, a rich background and rich experience and we want them to feel comfortable sharing their perspective, sharing what their interests are.
I think that does a lot to help motivate the student. I think in some ways, you’re suggesting and I think you’re right, that we need to be motivators and coaches to remind students about how important our work is, and to think back on who may have helped them, it could have been a family member, or it could have been a colleague, it could have been an earlier instructor that inspired them and kept them going, that, in fact, they have the opportunity to do the same and it is truly an honor and a privilege to work with students in that capacity.
So, I think we’ve got to pump them up and let them know that A, we value them as students, B, we value them as the next generation and C that we truly need them. I need somebody to stand on my shoulders and be the next person to build the profession and meet the needs of our students at a level greater than I ever did. So, I think as we talk about that, we get students excited to keep going.
[Podcast: Student Affairs: Teaching Skills in Mental Health and DEI]
At the same time, we’ve got to make sure that, as Bethanie was talking about, we walk the talk, so to speak, that there’s a time to be a student and to be engaged and at the same time they need to do it in a healthy way that they take good breaks, keep their enrollment continuous, I think that’s always important, but at the same time, find time to enjoy life, find time to enjoy their classmates, take time to go over and reflect on what’s going on and have that good healthy student work-family life balance. I think we’ve got to keep reminding folks about that because, as I said earlier, it’s a complex world and it gets out of balance when we get out of balance with it.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Scott, I love all that you have said so far, and especially this comment you just made about how it’s motivating for students to be seen, treated as equals and to have faculty who approach the experience as fellow learners. That’s a difficult mindset to adopt for some of us who teach.
Sometimes when you have a lot of experience or advanced degrees, it’s hard to remember that we’re all still learning, even if we’re at that terminal-degree space. I’m wondering, if you were to give someone a little piece of advice about how to stay in that ontological humility idea, where we’re never going to be an expert on everything, what would be a little bit of advice to kind of get back into that zone or begin living in that space?
Dr. Scott Kalicki: Again, for someone to be a successful leader, they need to be humble. Someone’s only a leader if they have followers. So they have to be humble and say, “What do I need to do to get you to give in essence the power that you possess to follow me?” I do that by remembering what it was like to be in your shoes, to be the person who had to take direction or to be so instructed, to be so guided.
If I can remember what it was like to be in those shoes, I’m going to be much more successful. I want to carry that over to what I had said earlier. I think to truly be a good teacher or instructor, we have to be open and committed to always being students, that all around us, there are opportunities to learn. As I said earlier, we can learn from our students if we are simply open-minded and if we demonstrate that we in fact are learning from them. It’s going to make the students feel more valued and it’s a reward to them and I think it’s a motivation.
So, remembering that I can be successful as an instructor if I am truly a lifetime student and so committed to being a lifetime student, that’s going to come across to my students that they’ll want to be the same and do the same and everyone will be a little bit more successful as a result.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Beautiful advice, Scott. Thank you so much. One other thing you’ve mentioned a couple of times throughout this interview that we’re having today, I’d like to just draw this out a little bit, because I personally believe highly in this idea and you’ve mentioned take time to reflect. You’ve said it a couple of times. I’m curious if there’s any helpful way to do that if someone does not have reflective practice or a habit of reflecting on what they’re doing? Where would one start?
Dr. Scott Kalicki: Well, that’s a good question. I can tell you, one of the things that I do in my classroom, “I post in my forum, what’s your weekly ‘aha moment,’ what’s something that jumped out at you in the material that we’re engaged with, whether it be a conversation or something that happened in your life that you can connect with what we’re talking about generally, in terms of the topic or about life in general?”
I think it’s important for us to say to students that it’s one thing—and I think this goes back to student affairs in terms of how we’re educators—there’s one thing to have that book knowledge or that online knowledge. It’s important that you let it sink in. You process it. You take that knowledge and try to integrate it into your life.
I think that’s what student affairs has the opportunity to do that you may be learning about some management principles or you may be learning about some budgeting principles or interpersonal dynamic principles. Give yourself opportunities to try what you’ve read, what you’ve learned, what you’ve heard in your work world, in your personal life, in your family life. One of the ways you simply do that is just hit the pause button and try to make the those connections.
All right, I heard Jan say this was really important. Let me think about how that may be useful to me in my world, or how would that apply to me in my world. So, it’s a challenge of telling and reminding students that you’ve got to find time to let the information percolate a little bit in your connection from theory to practice, or as we say, praxis, that you take the opportunity and the time to take the principles and to really apply them. Sometimes we do it in our mind. Sometimes we actually do it with our actions in work or in our actions with the family. But that’s a good challenge. I’m not sure that we emphasize that as much as we should.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: You might be right about that. Something that occurred to me when you made that suggestion about how to take time or begin reflecting more is that this is really something that fuels resilience for human beings, right? The world we’re living in today, there’s nothing more important than resilience, the ability to just pick up and keep going when things are hard. They may not feel like they’re going to get better in the future, but we have to have some way to keep going.
That idea of reflecting could involve something like deciding either what I gained from an experience or what I could learn from an experience, or if that experience had been specifically designed for me to learn something, what would that be, so I can try to figure that out and move on and not keep repeating that lesson over and over.
Dr. Scott Kalicki: Bethanie, if I could jump in, I think you’re making another good point in terms of the value of reflection. There are things that we go through. In the classroom we may have had a struggle understanding something, or we may have had an exchange.
Reflection also allows us to bring closure to something and then move on to the next thing. Maybe we’re building on top of it, or maybe we’re just saying, “Okay, that was a struggle for me. Or it was an experience that I’m not sure that I want to go through again. It’s time to let go of it.”
The way that I’m able to let go of it is processing it, putting in its good place, closing the lid on it and moving on. I think, given the challenges that we’ve been facing these last number of months, I think that’s equally of value to extract what we can out of it, but at the same time, it’s time to close it and move on. Don’t let it haunt us. Don’t keep, as I call it, pulling out that DVD and replaying it. You’re done with it. Move on.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Absolutely. I love that idea of “Don’t replay it.” Just kind of name it, think about it and close it off. Whether there’s a lesson there or not, if we can close the experience and just be done. Sometimes that’s also resilience. Beautifully said, Scott. Thank you. So, if you were going to leave our listeners today with some key points you’d really like to make sure that they have gotten from you and your experience and expertise, what would those be?
Dr. Scott Kalicki: Well, I have to give a plug for APU. The faculty members that I have met really are committed to the student and the student learning experience. I would encourage students not to hold back, to challenge, to question, to want to get in dialogue with their instructors as well as their classmates. There’s a great opportunity there. That’s one of the good things, I think we’re getting more comfortable with the online environment and that dynamic and taking advantage of it.
We’ve mentioned the term “mentorship” a couple of times. I think whether it be your instructor, or whether it be an administrator that you met, a student personnel, student affairs staff member, find people that you can make a connection with, someone who can advise you, who can be a confidant, someone you could bounce something off of, someone you could test an idea or simply ask for some guidance. I was originally a public administration major, and, unfortunately, I did my internship very late in my academic career.
I had individuals I didn’t know at the time that they were going to be mentors, that I could talk to, that actually steered me into a career that I knew nothing about called student affairs in higher education, I would’ve been a very dissatisfied public employee someplace working for a town or a county. So, I could speak firsthand the importance of recognizing people that we could use as mentors either for a period of time or for long periods of time in our life. So, those would be the two points that I would hope that I could share with students going forward or young professionals I should say going forward.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Fantastic. Thank you so much, Scott.
Dr. Scott Kalicki: My pleasure.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Jan, what about you? Any final comments for our listeners today?
Dr. Jan Spencer: Well, I guess my comment today would be Dr. Scott Kalicki represents the best in teaching and leading and influencing students and fellow faculty members, and me, too, in taking the right steps forward. I hope that anybody who’s listening to this will take to heart the wealth and the depth of expertise that Scott has offered us today.
Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wonderful. Well, thank you all for being here, Jan and Scott. We’ve been listening to Dr. Scott Kalicki and Dr. Jan Spencer talking about student affairs and a lot of topics to help all of our listeners in mentorship, reflection, reflective practice, online teaching, engagement and more. We thank you for being here, celebrating our 99th episode with us. We wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week.
This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.