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

Dr. Bethanie Hansen 

Strategic Educational Leader and Coach

#105 Podcast: Helping Students Navigate their Online Education Journey

#105 Podcast: Helping Students Navigate their Online Education Journey

This content first appeared at 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. David Ferreira, Faculty Member, APU and Provost, Charter Oak State College

The pandemic caused the greatest disruption to higher education in the past 150 years. Helping students navigate these changes—including the shift to online education for many—is a major challenge for both student affairs’ professionals and teachers. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen and Dr. Jan Spencer talk to Dr. David Ferreira, an APU faculty member and provost at a community college. Learn how institutions of higher education must be ready for their students, how faculty can help students during their online education journey, and why mental health must be front and center for students and faculty alike.

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
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Read the Transcript:

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

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. Thank you for being with us today. We are just around 100 episodes of this podcast. That means we’ve been with you almost two years, helping you learn more about online education and think about your students and your online work.

We have some special guests with us today, and I’d like to introduce Dr. Jan Spencer and Dr. Dave Ferreira. Jan, would you tell us a little bit about you just to refresh our listeners and then we’ll go to your guest.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you, Bethanie. It is always a privilege to talk with you and being a part of this podcast. I am the Department Chair for Educational Leadership and Student Life, which incorporates three different programs, the Educational Leadership piece of K-12 Education, and then two higher education programs, one in Student Affairs and one in Higher Education Administration.

And it’s really a real blessing to me to have my guest here, Dr. Dave Ferreira, who is newer to us at APU, but he is very much of an asset to our program, particularly in student affairs. Dave, tell us a little bit about yourself and where your main job is and anything else you want to throw in there?

Dr. David Ferreira: Well, thank you Dr. Spencer and Bethanie. Great to be here and thank you for having me. So, currently, actually, I’m the Provost at Charter Oak State College, which is Connecticut’s public online state college. And I’ve been in this role for just over six months.

Prior to that time, I was the Dean of Academic and Student Affairs at Northwestern Connecticut Community College. And so I’ve been in the Connecticut system. In addition, as you mentioned to working with APU as an adjunct faculty member over in student affairs and higher education. And it’s a really great role. I love doing that because we get to work with, and mentor, and teach the next generation of higher education leaders in particular over in student affairs.

So I’ve been in higher ed now for, I would say it’s actually approaching 20 years. And so, it’s really great because so much has changed over in higher education. And now, more than ever, we actually are taking a look at that type of holistic approach with students and just ways to work on retention and graduation, but also doing so with an equity lens. So I would actually argue there are a lot of challenges, but there is no better time to be in higher education than today.

Dr. Jan Spencer: That’s great. It is a changing world of student affairs and online education. And as your role has changed where you are now a provost of an online college, it is very much of an interest to us to see from your perspective, the kinds of things that are changing, just as your role changed. So, I think the different opportunities for people to work in higher education, particularly in the online space, are opening wide up and there’s challenge there, there’s opportunities there. Give us your perspective.

Dr. David Ferreira: I think that with the pandemic, obviously, nobody ever wanted to have a pandemic come to us, but it has. What I kind of tell my team, because as the role of the provost, I’m the chief academic affairs officer, I’m the chief student affairs officer, and I’m also the chief diversity officer of the college. So, I actually kind of three roles in one.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Not bottle washer, right?

Dr. David Ferreira: Yeah. No. But part-time. Other duties is assigned. And so what I’ve actually told my team, because actually we’re in the midst of actually starting up our new strategic plan to take us for the next five years, is we’re in the middle of the greatest disruption to higher education in the past 150 years. Been nothing greater of a disruption since the industrial revolution. So as we create our new plans, no pressure, right? And so I think what we have really found through the pandemic, we really highlighted a couple of things.

First, is that students were forced to go online really quickly. Over a matter of a week, I was the dean of academic and student affairs at Northwestern Connecticut Community College when that happened and we worked really quick to try to do the best experience online.

And for some students, it really wasn’t for them. They learned that, “Hey, I really need to be face to face or I need to be face to face for particular classes.” But, for others, they were kind of into this forced way in which they like, “Hey, I can work at 11 o’clock at night in my pajamas after the kids go to bed. And so this actually allows me the access and the ability to do so.”

Or in particular where I came from previously, I was in a rural area and transportation is a huge issue. So by just being able to have access to reliable Wi-Fi, I am able to actually access higher education or I’m able to access more classes so I can actually complete quicker.

And so, I think that is something really radical. So, what we’re going to see now on Charter Oaks and over at APU is that this is an option that they never considered before. And so, how do we actually then reach out to those students who are those students where when they were forced to go to online education, that it actually is working out for them? How do we identify them and actually go ahead and say, let’s go ahead and be your provider.

The other thing that I think the pandemic really highlighted is a focus on the holistic approach to the student and also mental health. Unfortunately, through the pandemic, mental health has really become a gargantuan issue, in particular, with our adult students that come over to college for online education. And so, I think as a college we’ve learned, we simply need to go ahead and need to make investments in mental health for our students in order to be able to best serve them because it is actually I think a moral imperative issue that we do so.

Dr. Jan Spencer: That was a tremendously insightful answer. And I do appreciate your wisdom in seeing the different kinds of challenges that students are facing with this forced-on technology that some of them never planned on.

At the same time, for those who have intentionally chosen online education from the start, there are some challenges in learning about student affairs, learning to practice student affairs on higher education administration because of the online factor. Can you address some of the ways that you can see students and institutions overcoming the challenges of trying to be personal with people and really help them along, but still maintain that distance? Because that’s what it is.

Dr. David Ferreira: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think that there’s a number of approaches we can take to try to be very personable with this. First is, use of technology. Even before the pandemic, we’re with our online students, how many of us actually made it possible to do things via Zoom, or Webex, or Teams or whatever it could be? Because there is a way where you can give personalized assistance using technology.

For example, before the pandemic, we probably did things primarily over phone or email. However, doing synchronous sessions to help them actually, for example, with students, with the onboard process, we can share the screen, teach them how to go through the application process, how to log into the learn and management system that they have at their respective institution to log in for the first time. Because that’s a big issue. If you’re coming to an online college and you haven’t taken an online class even in a couple years, just simply, how do I get to my course? Remember in a traditional university, where’s my classroom?

And you used to have to go around to the map, ask people where’s this hall, right? That’s the same thing in an online environment. We need to say, how do we take that and actually apply it over here. So things of utilizing technology to help students onboard and produce the most personalized experience.

Likewise, another thing that we really have learned and putting a focus on in particular in the upcoming semesters is about that outreach to the student and particularly, our new students within the first two weeks. How is their experience? How are they coming on board? Do they know about the resources available to them? Whether it be tutoring, the library, if they are struggling with anything from a mental health or short-term financial need. We need to make sure that we’re doing that personalized upfront outreach so that we can connect them to the resources because it is much more difficult to find those resources.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Yes. Bethanie, will you have something to add into this?

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Well, a question really, Dave has me thinking because when he’s talking about walking the student around campus, like what we used to do when things were “normal” and live, I’m just thinking with this online stuff and whether you’re doing it synchronously or asynchronously, everybody is in such a different place with that, right? Some are digital natives, some are just totally lost. And I’m wondering how faculty could help with that?

Dr. David Ferreira: I think there’s a couple of things that faculty can do, really. One, and we’re working on this too with our faculty, which is, depending where the student is in their online education journey. So I say, if you’re into a first semester gateway course, and it’s the first week or two of the semester, there’s an expectation that you give a little bit more grace to the student than you would, who maybe is in a capstone course in their final semester. They’ve already been through it, they’ve kind of gone through the process, they know where to look for things.

So I think we have to ask our faculty, where are the students in their educational journey? And in my mind there’s always two types of colleges or universities. There’s the first type of college or university who says, “Oh, only if I had these students. Are the students ready for our college or our university?”

And I think we’re not that. Our college and university is, is our college ready for our students? And it’s a change of mindset in order to actually go ahead and it’s a change of culture. And I think we really need to make sure are we doing our professional development for our faculty, our orientation for our faculty? Just like we ask, how do we onboard our students? Well, how do we onboard our faculty and our staff to actually say, this is our culture? Our culture is how can we prepare our college or university for our students, not the other way around and to then look at policies and practices that do so.

And also, I say do so from an equity lens standpoint in particular. And now we’re looking at this right now. Are we infusing culturally responsive teaching within our courses to make sure that also, everyone feels welcome and included and the material is relevant to them? And so, I think that’s there.

And then the last way too is we talk about learning preferences, right? And so, when we do communicate to students, are we communicating in the way that actually appeals to multiple learning preferences? I always ask the question, if you ever buy something from Ikea, right, there’s two types of people. Everything’s sprawled out and they start to try to put things together. There’s the others that read the directions first before they touch anything. Those are just our different learning preferences.

So, when we approach our lessons and the way in which we craft our online courses, are we doing so from a universal design framework as well, where we’re appealing to multiple learning preferences so that if this way doesn’t work for them, they’ll be able to capture and get the information that way. Again, we’re not lowering the standards, we’re providing multiple avenues so that we help the student meet the high outcomes that we have expected of our students.

Dr. Jan Spencer: In your sharing and including equity, diversity, inclusion, one of the spinoffs there is the area of politics. We’ve seen such polarization in our country, in our world for that matter, with regard to politics. How do we deal with the issues, particularly in an online environment where you have students who are thrown in a place together, but they may want to maintain their polarization, so to speak? As a student affairs, professional, highly trained, what are the ways we deal with that? Can you help us with that?

Dr. David Ferreira: Yeah, I wish I had the perfect answer because we are so polarized in this environment, whether we are mandate versus not mandate, mask or no mask, and left versus right, and who won the last election. There’s so many things that are very polarizing out there. And I think it’s providing opportunities for that type of discussion, but you have to make sure we have the framework.

I used to teach American government. And so, we would cover items like abortion, and the death penalty, and burning of the American flag. These things are very hot topics, right? People feel very strongly one way or the other. And so, I think it’s a way in which we approach it, because these are adults.

And so, the way I actually, I approached it upfront is I’d say we’re going to cover some very tough questions, some tough topics. And the only thing I’m going to expect is that we do so in a very respectful manner. When we framed it in that way of saying, this is the expectation, that we’re going to have these tough conversations, but, by the way, I don’t have these issues and I don’t expect to have it now. That sets a, I guess, a tone or a framework that we’re going to go ahead and have it.

But then on the other side, we have to have people see the other side, right? So, if we’re talking about a mask mandate, I would actually have our students look at it from the opposite perspective, right? Because there’s a lot of ways we can look at it. We’re looking at it from schools and school board meetings, making sure that we do so in respectful manner.

So again, I think everything we do, we have to do it by design. And if we do that and have it and teach and encourage, but also have people look at ways through their own opposite, not-lived experience framework, hopefully we can tone down the tenor because we are an institution of higher education and also of good citizenship. So we have to make sure we infuse that within our curriculum.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Excellent. Along with that, you mentioned the crafted situation where you have some outcomes you’re trying to achieve in terms of learning, but also relationship and being able to deal with difficult issues. One of the things is how we become global in our thinking, in our actions. And it puts a much of a greater challenge to an instructor to be able to maybe span the time zones.

So, a greater call to us, at least in my view, is to be willing to be imposed upon. So, if we’re going to have a class and we have a student that needs a conversation with us, instead of making them talk to us at two o’clock in the morning where they are, we’re the ones who need to be willing to be imposed upon. What is your sense of the willingness of instructors to adopt some of the challenges of online education and be willing to change their style to make it work?

Dr. David Ferreira: In the end I think what we have to ask faculty, and, again, I think it all goes back to setting up the expectations of culture. That this is our culture. Our culture is that we are a university that asks ourselves, are we ready for our students? If that’s not something that fits within your personal brand or what you are looking to do, maybe this place is not the place for you. That’s a tough question to ask, right?

But just like when I worked at the community college, there were some people who applied as a faculty member and really they wanted to work at an R1 heavy research university and we need those people. We absolutely need folks over at R1 institutions. We want the best folks at our R1 institutions. That wasn’t who we were as a community college. We were a teaching institution. That was our primary mode. And if that wasn’t your primary passion, maybe it’s not a fit.

But, obviously, you don’t expect a faculty member to be around at two o’clock in the morning, but you should expect a faculty member to say, “Hey, look, I should be able to grant maybe some office hours, but also say, but by appointment and try to work with the student.”

Because, for example, if you’re working with a student in Israel, you shouldn’t expect to have that student meet with you between sundown Friday and sundown on Saturday because they’re practicing Shabbat. That’s just a cultural expectation. And so I think you just want to say, look, there are some parameters, yes, we’re not going to expect you to be there 24/7, but we do expect you to at least be as flexible as you can be so that you can work with the student. And I think you got to have that in writing as well. So therefore it’s very clear that that’s who we are as an institution and that’s what we expect out of you.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you. One of the things you said are earlier, you’ve mentioned, I think at least once, maybe twice the involvement of mental health in student affairs. Can you expand upon that just a little bit? What is the increased role of student affairs with regard to mental health? When we say mental health, what does a student affairs professional look for? How do they help students in issues dealing with mental health?

[Student Affairs: Addressing Student Mental Health and Wellness]

Dr. David Ferreira: A lot of times when we take a look at mental health, one, it is on a huge rise and that’s nobody’s fault. That’s just part of the pandemic. I think studies have shown that between a quarter and a third of our adult student population that’s online, they’re struggling with some type of mental health. And then not to mention their children that are struggling with mental health that are going through their K-12.

So, there’s a couple things that I think we need to do as higher education institutions is one, what do we offer? And so I know at my full-time position where I’m at, we’re actually working to secure a vendor that can provide 24/7 mental health care in a, basically, a telehealth environment. Our students are coming to us via tele. So we need to be able to provide the mental health services in a telehealth environment.

And second thing we have to do is we have to train our staff. What are the signs we need to look for? Again, we don’t need them to be mental health experts, but what are the top two or three little flags or things we need to look for in order to identify or do kind of a little bit of an outreach to them to see how they’re coming along?

And then, as we mentioned here, it also goes to our faculty. Our faculty again, we don’t expect them to be mental health experts, but they’ll be able to see something is different in this discussion post this week compared to last week. Their performance has started to rapidly decline over the past two weeks.

Who do I turn to? One, do they know who do they turn to at the college or university to basically do a checkup? So we need to establish some pieces in place, some processes, a design so to speak to do that. And then at the same time we got to have access to that telehealth type of mental health services. I think it’s really critical. I know over here in the state of Connecticut, the governor has actually allotted some money for colleges and universities to address mental health issues with students. And so my college has allotted a little bit of money to do that.

But even after the pandemic, we need to go do that because this is something I’ve always made a case for. When it came to the federal dollars that have come through the pandemic, not much has actually gone to online institutions and I’ve had to make the case, our students are humans, too. They’re struggling just like any student who’s sitting inside of a classroom. They’re just struggling from behind a laptop. And so we need to make sure that we have equitably distributed those resources to our online students so they can actually receive those types of supports.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you very much. I want to give Bethanie a chance as our hostess to speak into this process as well. Because I think she may have some questions to ask you, Dave.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thank you, Jan. And thank you Dave, for all the wisdom you’re sharing with us today. I was hearing the question that Jan just asked about the mental health and thinking about faculty. When you say that we need to make investments in mental health, it’s a moral imperative, earlier in this episode, I got to thinking that a faculty member thinking about a student’s mental health might be really concerned about how do I help? How do I support? How do I not cross the line into some area I’m really uncomfortable with or not qualified for? What do you think they could do?

Dr. David Ferreira: Yeah. I always start with professional development. We’re actually doing this in regards to accessibility as well, which is we’re doing a session on here’s the do’s and don’ts. For example, with accessibility, obviously you must give the accommodation that is afforded to the student. But don’t go beyond that. Don’t give them everything because if you give them everything, you have to do that for all students.

So same thing over in mental health. Here’s what’s not expected of you. You’re not expected to sit on the phone for two hours with a student as they go ahead and talk about how their world is crashing, right? Yes. You need to be responsive. You want to listen, but you need to say, “Okay, I’m hearing what you’re saying. And I want to connect you to the best person possible to make sure that we get you the help that’s needed.”

So, it’s the professional development. I would start with the do’s and don’ts. If your college, university is working with a vendor, typically built into the contract is professional development and training for faculty and staff. If not, it’s a little bit of an investment, definitely make that investment. And so I would say start over there. Work with them.

But then also at the same time, provide that professional development session, too. Sometimes it’s actually therapy for the faculty member as well. Because we also have to keep in mind that as our students are struggling through this pandemic from a mental health perspective, our faculty and our staff, they’re also struggling. They’re getting burnt out, they’re mentally drained. And so, I think we also, maybe as administrators or leaders need to also be conscious of that. And also ask ourselves, are we providing the support to our faculty and our staff? Because also when they learn about those resources available to them, they’ll also be better equipped to help with those resources available to our students. And I think that’s really crucial.

And the last thing I would actually mention too, and I think it’s really important to highlight when we talk about health and wellness is that the theme of this year’s Black History Month is health and wellness.

It’s important to make sure we realize that because I think it’s emphasizing where we see, but then also emphasizing too, the historical disproportionate impact on our underrepresented minority communities and particularly, in our Black community that systemically we’ve seen over the years. So, I’m really appreciative for this year’s Black History Month, that we have that emphasis on health and wellness because I really think it brings it to the forefront.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thank you, Dave. And I appreciate you mentioning the faculty. Sometimes faculty are really hard on themselves, and they don’t realize that all this added strain and stress of what’s been going on in the country or the world really just takes its toll. Sometimes work will take twice as long, or sometimes you’ll just be really unfocused and not sure why.

And it’s just a good reminder that yep, we’re all facing tough things. We need to know what those resources are so we can get through it. We’re just about at the end of our episode here and I’m curious if you have any last takeaways you want to make sure our listeners really get from your message today, Dave.

Dr. David Ferreira: Well, I think the first thing that we want to know, wherever you work in higher education, online’s here, online’s here to stay. And so again, I think for any institution, APU, or where I work over at Charter Oak or anywhere else, this is a rapidly evolving component of higher education. And, again, what are we going to do to make sure that more and more students are going to utilize online either partially or fully? What are we going to do to make sure we’re ready? And I think the biggest thing too is the fundamental question we have to ask is are we nimble enough to make sure that we can quickly adapt? We saw how quick and nimble we can be. In higher education, we don’t move fast, right? We kind of move like the Titanic.

And so we got to be able to say, are we nimble enough to actually make sure we can quickly pivot to best meet the needs of students? It is an imperative because that’s what we’re here for. We’re not here for the paycheck. We’re here to make sure that we actually provide those opportunities because what we do in higher education, fundamentally, at the end of the day, we make them better citizens. But also in a number of cases, we break the cycle of poverty, not only for this generation, but generations to come. There is no better place to be than higher education. And, honestly, with the access and affordability that we provide with online education, there’s nowhere else we’d want to be right now.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Beautiful. And Jan, do you have any final comments?

Dr. Jan Spencer: Well, I just appreciate Dr. Ferreira’s involvement in our program here at APU. He has added a great spark to what we’re doing. Appreciate his input all the time. And particularly now that he has become a provost, he’s going to have a different view yet of what it is that we’re doing here in terms of educating online learners. So, thank you, Bethanie, for helping us take the time to spotlight some of the things that are happening in the world of student affairs and higher education administration.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thank you both for being here. As we close this episode of the Online Teaching Lounge, we want to thank Dr. Jan Spencer, a Department Chair in the School of Arts, Humanities, and Education and Dr. Dave Ferreira, part-time faculty at American Public University and also Provost at Charter Oak State College.

Thank you for being with us today and thanks to you, our listeners for tuning in. Be sure to share this podcast with your colleagues who are working and teaching online. And spread the word about this podcast. Post this episode in your favorite social media space. We want to expand our reach to help you and others who are teaching online, which can be a challenging endeavor. Best wishes to you 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.

#69: 10 Leadership Principles to Refresh Your Teaching Career

#69: 10 Leadership Principles to Refresh Your Teaching Career

This content was first posted at APUEdge.Com

Teaching online can sometimes get stale or repetitive. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares 10 leadership principles that online educators can apply to their teaching strategies and professional development. Use these principles to revitalize your teaching career and help you connect with your students so you can bring your best self to the classroom.

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | Pandora

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.

Hey, welcome back to the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. I’m so glad you’re here. We’re going to talk about how you can give your online teaching career a refresh. What does that mean? Well, we’re going to talk about 10 different areas to think about if you’re getting a little stale in your online career.

There is a well-known experience that many people have. You start teaching, it’s exciting at first, maybe even challenging, and you have a lot of things you’re going to be learning to try to help yourself really get in there and do a good job.

Over time, you develop your skills a little bit, you start to build relationships with colleagues and peers, you connect with the community. Hopefully you’re continuing to grow as an educator all this time and continuing to move forward. What you may have heard in the past is, “If you’re not growing, you’re moving backwards.” There’s just no way to stay in one spot in our professional development or as a person.

So this idea of being stale in our careers, what is that even about? That might have to do with not having things to look forward to, or when we get in a pattern of teaching the same courses all the time and we don’t have any new approaches to those things, or maybe we are always in the same spot. So every year we have a routine and we’d like something to refresh that for us or revitalize it.

So if you’ve been thinking about whether you should change jobs, change schools to teach at, or maybe whether teaching is really right for you at all, before you start asking those questions, let’s ask whether your career just needs a refresh. Is that possible?

Does Your Career Need a Refresh?

A refresh of your career is that maybe your role as an educator could start to expand in ways that it hasn’t before. We go into the classroom and we really own that shop. It’s kind of like we own a little business when we’re teaching a class, whether we’re live or online, we are in charge of that space. We get to set the rules within reason that comply with the institution we teach for, but, generally speaking, we manage the classroom in a way that works for us. And that’s like setting our own rules.

We get to teach in a way that works for us for the most part and we get to build relationships. No one else is standing between us and those people we’re teaching. We have student relationships. We can also see the results of our work by observing whether or not students are learning, and by changing some of the things we do and seeing what those results are. And if we have a process like this, we can even use students’ feedback to get a sense of how they’re loving our class or experiencing our class or not. And that can even trigger some growth.

So there are a lot of things we do already as educators, whether we’re teaching live or online, but particularly online, it can feel like we don’t know what other options are out there to help us grow. So today, these 10 areas I want you to think about will stretch you beyond just the role of educator and into the space of thinking about yourself as an educational leader.

That means that you’re not just a leader in that classroom or in that department, but you’re a leader in this field of education. And some of the competencies leaders use in a lot of other fields apply to you as well.

There’s a wonderful article Harvard Business School Publishing put out, Harvard Business Review, and it’s about what makes an effective leader. Today, we’re going to dive into this article a little bit, which was the report of a research in progress of 195 leaders in 15 countries in 30 different organizations.

Applying Business Leadership Principles to Teaching

We’re going to look at these 10 leadership areas as they apply to you as an online educator and see what kind of possibilities these might create for you. They might stir up some new ideas of things you’d like to try in your career or one thing you’d like to do a little differently. It might stretch your perspective beyond the current perspective that you have, and that’s a great thing, because anything you can do that’s going to change the status quo for you is going to give you some kind of new, refreshing experience in your career.

These top 10 things are grouped into five areas, but I’m going to just read all 10 of them for you here.

Ethical and Moral Standards

So the first one is ethical and moral standards, and that really covers the area of having strong ethics and safety. This can be part of your career area. It could be something you stretch outside of and share with other people. Maybe you are an advocate for certain student groups. There are a lot of subgroups within a student population that one could advocate for or could help. Maybe you want to start to move in a certain direction where you seek to mentor people in certain groups and ethically, safety, and morally in these three areas you might have some pretty clear ideas of what you’d like to do differently or where you’d like to grow. So think about strong ethics and safety and having your ethical moral standards.

Self-Organizing

The second area is called self-organizing. There are two sub-areas here that create the list of 10, providing goals and objectives with loose guidelines or direction, and clearly communicating expectations.

These two categories of self-organizing as a leader are critical. You want to be able to communicate expectations when you’re a leader. And when you’re a teacher, an educator, this is also super critical. The more you communicate your expectations to others, the more they’re going to be able to learn and do the assessments in an effective way. They’ll be able to move forward and also understand what you’re expecting and have a great experience with you. So one area you could grow in and think about in your leadership as an educator is how you communicate what you expect to other people, both your students and those people you might interact with in the education community.

That second one, providing goals and objectives with loose guidelines or direction, this is the perfect opportunity to be thinking about the kinds of assignments, forum discussions, and other tasks you have for your students in the online classroom.

There are goals and objectives in every class that we teach. That’s how we design courses, right? We have a course description and we decide, what should students know and be able to do when they leave that class? Those are your goals and objectives. When you have loose guidelines and direction, this could be something like giving students three options for their final project. You’ve clearly explained what they are, but they get to choose.

You could even explain that you want the project to include these things, but they can choose the format. There are a lot of ways to explore providing those goals and objectives and, yet, loose guidelines so that you can start to see products from students that are a lot more varied and interesting for you.

You can also bring out a lot more independence and growth from your students, which can bring you greater satisfaction and joy as an educator. So this area of self-organizing that you have as an educator is a type of leadership, and I encourage you to start exploring how you might do that a little differently and bring it out in your students as well.

Efficient Learning

The third area is called efficient learning, and this is simply the flexibility to change opinions. I know a lot of online educators who are fabulous at being lifelong learners. I also know some online educators who just want to accumulate knowledge and do have a belief that there’s one right answer to things.

Either way, you’re going to have your own belief and your own direction about what your opinions are. If you remain open and curious to your students, to the subject matter, and to continued learning as a person, you’re going to have places to go with that. You can seek out additional background courses that you’d like to take to refresh your own understanding and have something new to bring into your professional pursuits.

Or you could even learn new teaching methods. Perhaps in the online world you want to attend the Online Learning Consortium’s Accelerate or Innovate conference. They have two of those, and they both take different forms, but they happen in the Fall and in the Spring and can give you a lot more flexibility to change your opinions about some things and to try a lot more efficient learning for yourself, to professionally develop, and also to give you some ideas to turn that around into your teaching.

One of the reasons online educators and educators generally get stale in their careers is that we don’t have a lot of options. We don’t think we do at least. So the more we can get efficient learning professionally, the more we can change opinions, try new strategies, and keep things fresh.

Nurtures Growth

The fourth area that is a leadership competency is nurtures growth. And this means that the leader is committed to the ongoing training of their direct report or their follower or their student. If you were to just translate that directly into our field of online education, when we’re committed to the ongoing training of those who report to us or study from us, what we’re really saying is two things: One, we’re committed to the ongoing growth and learning of our students. We really want them to grow, be capable, and be able to speak the language of our subject matter.

And secondly, we are also invested in helping our students become students and eventually, practitioners. It really depends on the course and the subject level that we’re teaching, but generally when we see the people that we teach as those in whom we are invested and committed to, we are nurturing the growth of other human beings. And that is a new approach to be thinking about instead of just running a class, ushering in a new group of people that will then leave again. The more we think about nurturing them individually and in groups, the more we can see our teaching a little bit differently and come up with new ideas that can help us refresh what we’re doing.

Connection and Belonging

And the last area is the biggest area of leadership, this is connection and belonging. And as online educators, we need connection and belonging so much and so do our students. There are five subcategories in this connection and belonging leadership competency. They are:

  • communicates often and openly,
  • is open to new ideas and approaches,
  • creates a feeling of succeeding and failing together,
  • helping me grow into a next generation leader, and
  • provides safety for trial and error.

As you can imagine, these different areas all create a learning community, not just a learning community, but a community in which we are learning alongside our students. For example, we may be learning that our methods are less effective, that we need to try different ones. We might learn something from a student that gives us a new insight about how to approach our subject matter.

More than that, we’re not just the sage on the stage distilling information to these people who are our students. We succeed and fail together, and we also learn together. Even though I may be a subject matter expert in my area that I’m teaching, I’m still a learner in life generally and I’m going to be able to learn some things from my students, even if all it is, is that I’m learning new ways of thinking.

I’m really excited about being with my students generally and when I think about succeeding and failing together, I want to make sure I’m putting my efforts into that classroom, trying new things, giving them a little bit more help in the areas that students are starting to struggle in.

It’s easy to get focused on what’s going wrong instead of what’s going well. And this can be very frustrating and a source of getting stale in our online teaching and in our careers, generally. So some things that can help with connection and belonging are to brainstorm the ideas of how we can actually get connection professionally and grow our connections with our students more deeply, more fully, and in ways where we can see the result of our own efforts.

We also want to make sure that we’re communicating to our students what their efforts are getting them. Instead of just having them complete assignments and get grades, our feedback can give them an idea of how this could relate to their overall learning, their degree program, and their professional objectives and life.

As we’re thinking about our students as next-generation leaders and communicating openly and often with them, we’re going to be able to approach our classroom with fresh ideas every time.

Now, the more we think about ourselves as educational leaders, the more we step outside the classroom and into this bigger professional arena. Have you thought about presenting at a conference lately? Have you considered writing a paper about teaching your subject matter for other people?

If you’ve had some recent experiences with online teaching that you think others may benefit from, it’s definitely worth sharing these ideas at a conference or through a publication. Even if you think your ideas are common knowledge that everybody else knows, chances are your unique personality or perception of the situation is different. And you’re going to share something others can learn from. The very fact that it’s your expertise and your experience coming in makes it worth sharing.

Consider New Ways to Revitalize Your Teaching Career

I want to encourage you to think about these leadership competencies, the strong ethics and safety, self-organizing, efficient learning, nurturing growth, and connection and belonging that leaders bring for effective organizations. And, think about these as the staples of what can revitalize your teaching career and help you move forward, connecting with your students and trying new strategies to bring something fresh into your online classroom.

You can get through this tough time if you’re feeling stale or stuck, and if you need more ideas, please look through some past episodes of the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. You can find methods for gradingways to connect with students, and also some ideas about professional growth and managing your personal life with your work life, some work-life balance in there. There are also specific methods for grading work efficiently and effectively and new creative strategies for discussion boards. I hope you’ll take a look and I wish you all the best moving forward and getting through this season of 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.

#62: Connecting with Students Through Zoom

#62: Connecting with Students Through Zoom

This content first appeared at APUEdge.com.

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

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Read the Transcript:

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

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

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

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

Integrating Zoom into Online Classes

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

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

Review and Update Zoom Settings

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

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

Use Doodle or Survey to Find a Good Meeting Time

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

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

Send Out Repeated Meeting Reminders

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

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

Establish a Backup Plan for Internet Connectivity

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

Assign a Student Who Can Take Notes, Continue Meeting

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

Decide on Your Background

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

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

Test Your Audio Quality

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

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

Prepare a Lesson Plan for the Meeting

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

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

Establish Expectations with Students

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

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

Think about Level of Student Engagement

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

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

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

Tips on Hosting Strategies

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

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

Prepare Breakout Rooms in Advance

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

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

Assessing Student Engagement and Community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
#61: Five Creative Ways to Enhance Forum Discussions

#61: Five Creative Ways to Enhance Forum Discussions

Discussion forums in online classes can sometimes get repetitive and stale. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen suggests five creative ways for online teachers to spice up discussion spaces to revitalize the discussion and get to know students better. Learn about role playing, technologies to create video responses and collaboration sites, and more.

Read the Transcript:

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

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

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

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

Role Play Can Enhance Forum Discussions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Create Video Discussion Forums Using Flipgrid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using Padlet to Improve Collaboration and Sharing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using Jamboard for Live Collaboration

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

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

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

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

Integrating Photography into Discussions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So these five creative forum discussion ideas are here to give you alternatives so you’re not just posting and writing and posting and writing and students are doing the same. That kind of repetitive approach to a forum discussion gets old. And even if you’re having a very stimulating discussion, students tend to repeat the approach that they’re using. As you stretch and try these alternative methods, I think you’ll really spice up your online class and have a lot of fun doing it. I wish you all the best this week in your online teaching. This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.

 
#58: Helping Online Students, an Interview with Dr. Doris Blanton

#58: Helping Online Students, an Interview with Dr. Doris Blanton

This content was first posted on APUEdge.Com

Helping students succeed in the online classroom requires a student-centric approach from attentive and skilled faculty. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks to APU faculty director Dr. Doris Blanton about training faculty to help students access and use virtual tools for research. She also provides teaching tips like the importance of providing timely feedback and focusing on both areas of improvement as well as noting what students have done well in their research and writing.

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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. With me today, we have a guest, Dr. Doris Blanton. You’re in for a real treat. Doris has a lot to share with us, and I’m so pleased that she was able to join us today.

You know on the Online Teaching Lounge podcast, we focus on students, on best practices, on engaging media, and your life and your work online. You’re going to get a lot of those areas today, as we focus on Doris’s expertise and what she can help us with in our online teaching and our online work with students.

Very excited to have you, Doris. Thanks for being with us. Doris, can you tell us a little bit about yourself so we can get to know you and how you came into your online role?

Dr. Doris Blanton: Hi. Thanks, Dr. Hansen. Thank you very much for having me join your podcast to talk a little bit about student and faculty success, more so, helping faculty aid in our student retention. A little bit about myself. Unknown to many of my peers, I was a high school dropout. I quickly discovered as adults were bowing their head in a sort of disappointment, because at the time when I was a high school dropout, that was back in the 70s, and what you did was you got married. So it was unlikely for a teen mom to return to high school after I dropped out.

But after overhearing a lot of these adults that were pretty important in my life, and what I’d overheard them saying as they bowed their head was, “Oh, another statistic.” I was never a bad student, but I couldn’t just quit high school. I had to manage this new season in my life. So I quit school, but I actually went back to night school about six months after having my son. And I actually finished high school six months before my original graduating class. So I knew that it was just a season of change.

What I did after I finished my high school diploma was I enrolled at the local JC. I had to do something with my time. And it wasn’t long after starting junior college that my then husband and I realized, as two young adults, we weren’t even young adults then. We really didn’t have the skills to equip us for being parents, let alone being partners. And so, that ended quickly, but I learned that school was my only legitimate thing that was mine. And it was something that I got to work for and learning wasn’t hard for me. I liked it.

But after this unexpected journey that took me from my teens through my twenties, I finished my bachelor’s by the time I was 30. Of course, working two and three jobs, which is like a lot of our students now, I ended up pursuing my Master’s by the time I was in my middle 30s. And I pursued my doctorate by my late 40s. School has always been a staple, that constant for me. And I did enjoy learning, so it was something that I’ve maintained as a lifelong learner.

I landed my job in academia by total accident. Prior to working in academia, I had worked for a large grain cooperative in the Dakotas, but I returned to California as my folks needed some help. And I transitioned from agriculture into a new industry in banking, which was really interesting.

My background prior to banking had been almost 20 years in various service or hospitality industries. I did have a really fun stint in radio, which is how I landed the job at The Elevator, which allowed me to learn how to buy and sell commodities.

While at The Elevator, I also created a scholarship program for the cooperative members there, and a communications plan, which I was able to diversify for the 13 different communities that The Elevator operated in.

Landing a job at the bank when I returned to California, it was fine, but really a slow pace from having a phone on each ear when I was buying and selling commodities to a banking job where it was Monday 9-5, so to speak, and it was a little slower. But I discovered at that bank, they had tuition assistance. So I immediately, after I finished my probationary period, that’s when I enrolled in my master’s program. And I finished that master’s in about 15 months because like I said, learning was fun. I enjoyed it. And it was something that worked really well for my schedule.

While I was going to school and still working at the bank, I was actually asked by the college if I would apply for an academic role as an academic counselor. And I thought, “What the heck?” So I landed the job. And that’s when I discovered that I had a little bit more academia in me than I realized. I loved it.

I stayed at that gig for 15 years and it ran its course. I took a break due to some life changing events, and I went to care for my then 99 year old grandmother, which was probably the best two and a half years of my life. I was decompressing from 15 years of heavy-duty work and higher education. And another life changing event transitioned me to where I am now, where my primary role now is teaching.

But I have just over 100 faculty that report directly to me, for whom I coach. I mentor them with a consistent goal, a constant goal, of helping other peers like myself develop stronger classroom excellent strategies.

So classroom excellence for me comprises of just a few faculty standards and they fall into either social, teaching, or cognitive presence in the classroom. And what that means in a social presence is how faculty flex that social muscle. How do they develop their student-centric behaviors of getting to know their students early on, meeting them in the first few days of the online class, and then maintaining that welcoming environment, that tone throughout their term in the semester, that teaching presence?

Well, that’s what we do as faculty. How are we teaching students or providing those nuggets of learning? It’s not necessarily content driven, but it’s definitely a way for faculty to teach students by way of how faculty contribute to student learning in the faculty’s feedback.

That cognitive presence is where faculty are asking students those probing questions, often times bringing their content expertise from the industry back to the classroom where faculty are nudging the students to just take that extra step, add to their layer of learning.

I love working with faculty, especially who are newer to online teaching, just to help them get their little online sea legs going. But working with those seasoned faculty who need assistance, primarily in an online environment where more seasoned faculty might need help adapting to new online skills, I’ve discovered that one of the key things for those faculty that are more seasoned is to remind them you’re not just a content expert, but remember when that class was new to you?

Bringing that back to that entry level every class is something that I enjoy. It allows faculty to kind of slow things down because we can often expect a little too much from students at a lower level when we are definitely content experts. We need to make sure that we’re bringing it back down every term, to the beginning. And every class needs to be fresh and new for the students, even though it’s not fresh and new for the faculty. So that’s kind of where I’ve landed here.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wow, that’s quite a journey, Doris. Thank you for sharing all of that. So Doris, it occurs to me that when you introduced yourself and kind of share this background of all the diverse paths that brought you to where you are right now, that you have this recurring theme throughout this time in your life, from your youth all the way to now of helping people and of education.

You mentioned you were an advisor, and I know you’re a life coach also. And I’m curious. When you talk about helping faculty remember, “Oh, this isn’t the first thing” or refreshing understandings, what do you think about this part of you that is so helpful to other people? How do you orient yourself to thinking that way?

Dr. Doris Blanton: That’s a great question, Bethanie. I think discovering early on, and I think I really discovered it when I was in my Master’s program was I’m a servant leader. And accepting that and embracing it and not fighting it has allowed me to develop skills in other areas, not only in the classroom. But when dealing with faculty, if I can serve them, I can also lead them. And it’s a nice harmony for me.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yeah. Thanks so much again for sharing all that. Now, what might you share with our listeners today about working with online students?

Dr. Doris Blanton: Great question, Bethanie. Honestly, working with online students really isn’t different than working with students that are attending brick and mortar institutions. And what I mean is, students no longer have textbooks, even at the brick and mortars. And that was a huge shift for me in the first three years of higher education, because I had had textbooks throughout my undergraduate and graduate. And then we went to no textbooks. So that was kind of a transition for me, but something I embraced.

So what I discovered for working with students online or face-to-face was teaching students how to use virtual tools, their virtual books, the virtual libraries. Teaching students how to do their research the same as for both face-to-face classrooms, as well as our virtual classroom. I was the student that walked across the quad to the library and pulled out all the books. That’s not necessary anymore. Assisting how to use tools that are available to everyone is invaluable.

Teaching faculty how to use those tools is equally important. Unfortunately, there’s always going to be a handful of students who spend just as much time looking for ways to circumvent finding credible resources, helping faculty discover where those students are finding these ill-advised or plagiarized sources is a way for faculty to develop their researching skills. But to also help students discover you’re not using credible research when you’re gleaning a little here or gleaning a little there, helping faculty develop their skills on how to research helps them to coach students on how to research.

Because I think a good majority of our students come in thinking that well, “I found it online, it must be good.” Teaching how to research is very, very important and helping faculty develop those skills first allows them to further help our students online.

Another thing that I share with faculty when I work with them is that a good majority of our students already feel that imposter syndrome when they walk into the classroom. “I’m not worthy of being in school. I’m not academically ready for school. I’m not even mentally up for the challenge.”

And all of that is pretty bogus. We know those things are untrue. We’ve all felt those things. Reminding faculty that they too probably had those imposter syndromes, and to aid faculty in allowing those conversations to happen. And I do it upfront. I do it early on in the classroom so that students can let that guard down and let it be known maybe I am where I’m supposed to be even though it feels off is a way to help disarm students and allow them. That’s when the learning can begin. Over the past year, especially in COVID, a good majority of institutions have transitioned to an online environment.

The beauty of APUS is, of course, we’ve always been online, so our faculty were really able to help embrace a new student population that were impacted and forced into an online environment without making the choice, as our students make that choice upfront. And over the past year, I’ve actually read an awful lot of student feedback, especially students that were formerly in traditional environments, who shared that they felt really liberated in their learning. No longer forced to be in a class at a certain time.

It kind of reaffirmed that the student, number one, made the right choice going online. But they discovered for the first time, those students that were traditionalist before, school fit into their life at a more convenient time. It affirmed their online choice.

I think that our students are pretty acclimated to the online groove after about weeks two or three, but when they’re not, faculty are provided with the freedom and the autonomy to meet with those students. Our faculty are stewards of the classroom and they are the ones that can ensure that students are in the right place, at the right time.

Faculty have the freedom and are encouraged to meet with them one-on-one, have Zoom meetings, let the students call you. They need that reassurance that where they are is at the right place at the right time. And that’s some of the keys that the faculty can help unlock for the student.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Doris, I really appreciate all that you have shared so far, especially this idea about imposter syndrome. And when you were talking about this for our students, it occurred to me that even faculty have imposter syndrome at times, depending on what the context is and what we’re talking about.

And I’ve also coached some folks who are in the business world, who also experienced that. I think that’s a very frequent thing to have the experience personally with. And we may not realize others feel the same way at times. So I appreciate you bringing that out.

Now, as you mentioned, students have needs, and they’re not all the same. So I’m wondering what are some of your strategies for meeting their individual needs?

Dr. Doris Blanton: Wow, Bethanie, that is a great question. I like it. Well, some of the strategies for meeting our various online students can be some of the things that I do. I host a new-student orientation. I bring together newer students sharing with them who their programmatic experts are; who can they contact about content? I bring in librarians and they get a library tour. A lot of students are completely unfamiliar with it. They might know where the library is, but how to use it? The beauty of our librarians is they’re available for students almost 24/7 to help them get acclimated with library tours, I like to call them.

There are various ways for faculty to assist students through their writing, their citing, perhaps sharing with students who’ve been enrolled a little bit longer, some of the extracurricular or honor society, student clubs, student activities. Those are things that further aid in student retention, their persistence in the classroom.

But most of all, I think what I really bring to students is that they have academic advocates and their greatest academic advocate is themselves. And so I think that further allows students to feel empowered, but it also allows students to feel confident in saying, “Wait a minute, I have a question. Wait a minute, I need some help.” We possess the knowledge of where the resources are pointing them to it is without a doubt what we can do as faculty in the classroom. It’s help them find the resources that they need.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Oh, that’s super helpful. If our listeners notice that a student is ignoring the help, especially something really standard like grading feedback. And maybe our listeners get frustrated about that as the teacher or the faculty member. What kind of suggestions would you give them to help them stay focused while they’re trying to re-communicate and somehow get that through?

Dr. Doris Blanton: Bethanie, this has to be one of the greatest frustrations faculty across disciplines and institutions share. How do I get students to read the thorough detailed feedback I spent so much time providing for them? I remind faculty all the time. We can certainly lead a horse to water. We can even push their head into the water, whether they drink is entirely up to them. It’s sad, but true. One strategy that I encourage faculty to do is to ensure that their feedback is timely.

Nothing is worse than getting feedback from a faculty the day that I’m submitting my next assignment. That is neither timely, nor helpful. So being timely in their feedback is critical. The sooner I can get feedback to a student, the sooner they will be successful in their next written assessment, whatever that might be.

Another strategy that I recommend to faculty is if they’ve taught the class a few times and they can see where students tend to experience that muddy point, create a little mini-lecturette prior to the assignment being due so that you can walk students through that muddy point, to help them get to it before they submit the assignment. So that what they submit to you is more in aligned with the quality work that you’re expecting.

Another tip that I provide faculty is I encourage faculty to pick one or two items. If they’re turning into an editor, that’s definitely not anything that a student wants to read. Their paper, in some instances may look like the faculty bled all over it.

So I encourage faculty pick one or two things that you can focus on. And then in their paper, one of my pet peeves is contractions, so I might point out a few contractions and maybe I’ll point out a few syntax or grammar areas. But then I go look for the content.

And I think we can definitely summarize what the student has missed in their paper and what their shortcomings are. But if we’re not highlighting what they’ve done well, why would they read their feedback? If all I did was something wrong, they didn’t even notice what I did right. It’s important for us to tell students not only where you have opportunities to make improvements, but look at all the things you did right.

And there’s a nice, delicate balance. And I think it’s important that faculty embrace not only where they can help students make corrections, but there’s no reason to edit an entire paper. Pick a few things. Students are pretty consistent with their errors. I don’t need to point them all out.

Focus on the ones that are important so that they can make those improvements and then focus on something different the next time. But ensuring that you are identifying both the good and the opportunity is invaluable for students to be affirmed. “Yes, I’m doing some things right. And okay, I don’t mind making those improvements where I have opportunities in areas where I missed the mark.”

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Doris, that sounds like great encouragement to help faculty and instructors who are teaching online to really strategize preventative ways of reaching students. So by giving that positive, as well as the critical feedback, you’re giving them a complete relationship with you and a reason to keep looking back for your comments and your communication. That’s just beautiful. Thanks for sharing that.

And thanks for all that you’ve shared with us about working online and working with online students. Is there anything more you’d like to leave us with today to help us in our online teaching?

Dr. Doris Blanton: Thanks, Bethanie. Maybe a couple of things. I thought about this for some time. And I think one thing that’s important to leave our listeners with, is that in every class we teach, especially those classes that we’ve taught repeatedly, we know the content inside and out. We know the assignments. We know the rhythm of the course. I remind faculty that students don’t. Students don’t know the class. To be student-centric, we need to keep in mind that when students enter our classroom, they do not possess the knowledge of the course.

Every time we teach, we have to be mindful of our learner. For example, I’ve had some of the most brilliant faculty who teach at the doctorate or master’s level. They’re phenomenal. But those are the same faculty who I might ask to teach one or two classes at the undergrad level. Unwittingly, they expect those undergrad students who are just diving into like-content as the masters or doctorate level,  they don’t have that level of experience, and faculty sometimes are unwittingly expecting undergrad students to possess those same skills and knowledge and ability that they come to expect from their master level students.

So ensuring that when faculty start every class, it needs to be rinsed and then repeated. So bring it back to the beginning every term. Being student-centric is a behavior we work on. It’s leaning in. It’s working with students and being mindful that not all students need that additional nudge. It can almost be like the Pareto principle where 20% of your class needs 80% of your time.

Preparing every class by the way of reviewing the materials as if it was fresh and new will further ensure that your classes are playing on a level field. It comes down to being mindful of your learner and their learning level.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Doris, thank you again for being here with us. You’re very student-centric and I am certain that your faculty and your students really benefit from your approach. And I could tell also that you care about them and that you have a lot of warmth in what you do and how you communicate. I just appreciate you sharing with us today. It’s been a pleasure to meet with you.

Dr. Doris Blanton: Thank you, Dr. Hansen. The pleasures been mine. Have a great day.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: You too. So thank you for all of our listeners also for being here. Joining me for this interview with Dr. Doris Blanton, who is a faculty director at American Public University. We hope you’ve enjoyed all that she shared today and wish you all the best 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.

#52: Effective Feedback in Your Online Teaching

#52: Effective Feedback in Your Online Teaching

This content originally appeared on APUEdge.com.

Feedback is an important part of online learning. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides tips and strategies about how to provide effective feedback to students. Learn how to garner feedback based on students’ work, tips on giving effective feedback to help students, and why feedback is a critical part of the learning process for both students as well as teachers.

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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.

It is hard to believe it’s been an entire year since we started this podcast, and thank you for being on this journey with me. It’s exciting to finish with episode 52 today, and we’re looking forward to the coming year with plenty of guests, new topics, and a lot of help and support for you as an online educator. I hope you’ll keep with us for the journey, and again, thank you for joining us today and over the past year.

What is Feedback?

Today, we’re going to talk about effective feedback in your online teaching. What is feedback? Well, feedback is the process of taking the invitation to respond. Student’s assignments are a response to what we’re teaching. This gives us some feedback about what they can do with what they learned, and whether they learned anything from us. And our comments to them throughout the discussions can challenge them, prompt them, and help them think in new ways.

Grading online assignments is not just about marking a score, giving a letter grade to your students. It’s one thing for you as the educator to recognize what is A level work and what is not, and how to rate or rank your students on the work they’ve given you.

But it’s something else altogether to tell your students what they did well, where they needed to do something differently, and how they can improve. This effective feedback helps them successfully meet their course objectives, as well as knowing if you have taught them accordingly.

Feedback Can Help Students Improve and Reduce Complaints

With this second type of grading, your feedback is something that helps students improve. It helps them stay motivated and your feedback can even help students perform better on their next assignment. So, why should you care about the quality of grading feedback that you provide?

First, there is the practical reason that when students receive a score or a grade with no feedback to help them, they don’t understand the basis for that grade, they complain. Student complaints can raise your anxiety and stress levels and student complaints take more time to address. They also impact your job satisfaction as an educator, and they are preventable much of the time.

You can prevent student complaints most of the time by communicating well with your students about their work. After all, no one likes to be given some kind of score or rating without the idea of how to fix it or improve, especially if they took the time and really put their best effort into that project or that assignment.

Second, the quality of your grading represents part of your teaching. As an educator, you’re more than just a person who tells other people about the subject matter you teach. Although, sometimes we have this idea that a teacher stands in front of the room and lectures about a subject matter and eager students are sitting there taking notes, drinking it all in. There’s much more to effective teaching than just this idea of lecturing in a one-way direction.

Teaching and learning work together, it’s a two-way street. Whatever your teaching methods are, students provide you with an essay, an assignment, or other items and they help you know what they’re learning, and your feedback is part of that exchange. It’s where you keep teaching and it keeps the conversation going back and forth.

And third, feedback in your grading provides you and your students the ability to adjust on this learning journey together. Your students learn about where they are related to the objectives they need to achieve in your class. And you, as the instructor, learn what you need to do to alter your approach so that your teaching is much more effective.

And as you provide feedback, you can see some feedback to you about your teaching approach and your students’ work. This is really one of the most important parts of revealing your students’ work, and one that we often overlook when we’re teaching online.

Ways to Get Feedback from Your Students’ Assignments

When you’re evaluating students’ online assignments, how can you get this feedback about your teaching? Well, you can review students’ work to identify the ideas you taught and see where they appear. For example, are your students able to comfortably use any of the special vocabulary that goes with your subject? And, do they communicate about the ideas with some clarity? Second, in the work they have submitted, do most of your students seem to be learning what you’re teaching?

Based on your teaching methods and your subject matter, you can look for even more evidence of learning in your students’ work, and you can directly connect their work with the course objectives to determine where they stand in relation to where they should be by the end of the class.

Robin Jackson, who wrote, “Never Work Harder Than Your Students and Other Principles of Great Teaching,” said, “It’s one thing to collect feedback about your students’ progress, but if you simply collect the feedback and never use it to adjust your instruction, then you’re collecting it in vain. The data you receive will give you feedback about the effectiveness of your own instruction.”

It’s important to remember that feedback is information about how we’re doing in our efforts to reach a goal. If we’re teaching other people, we’re putting effort into the goal of educating them. I’ll give you an example of this whole idea in action. When I was a freshman in high school, my chemistry teacher, Bruce Fowler, returned the results of our assignments at the end of a learning unit.

He spoke to us pretty candidly and told us we all failed that assignment. And he realized that he wasn’t really teaching it well, it wasn’t possible for every single person to fail if he had taught it effectively. So, he scrapped his plans for the coming week and he retaught all of that material in a totally different way, and then he reassessed us.

He expressed a lot of care for us as human beings, and he focused on his own continuous improvement in teaching throughout the year. It was pretty obvious, this was a man who focused on feedback for both of us. He gave us the feedback to help us know where we were as learners in our own performance, and he used our performance to give himself feedback about his teaching. Now, this chemistry class was many years ago and obviously not an online class, but we can use the same principle in our online teaching, even if the course is standardized and designed by someone else.

Adapting Your Teaching Based on Feedback

I’ll give you some examples of how this might be done. As a faculty director, observing the teaching of many online educators, I’ve noticed that some instructors adapt after evaluating students’ work by creating videos to address the entire class. And in this whole class feedback, a few of the instructors I’ve seen have mentioned some of the bigger errors students have made in their assignments. Then they give their students additional explanations, guidance, and teaching on those areas to help them adjust so they can move forward for the next unit or topic.

I’ve also noticed some other faculty members have done the same thing in a course announcement, and still, others have added resources and documents with tips, additional information, and reteaching. Whatever the format, you can give your students guidance and feedback to help them understand what they all seem to miss or what a great majority of them seem to miss. And this is a great way to use your students’ work as feedback in your own teaching, and then respond in ways that help your students keep moving forward.

Ways to Give Effective Feedback

What kind of feedback do students need in your grading and your comments? A well-known education writer, Grant Wiggins, shared seven keys to effective feedback. And these keys are:

  1. That it is goal referenced
  2. It’s tangible and transparent
  3. Actionable
  4. It is user-friendly
  5. Timely
  6. Ongoing
  7. Consistent

For online teaching specifically, I’m going to focus on four of these areas today, which are even more important and I’ll share some special ideas with you.

Goal-Referenced Feedback

First, let’s talk about goal-referenced feedback. Goal referenced feedback means that it’s tied to the course objectives. We have some kind of clear goal to be achieved in what students are learning, and when they complete the assignment, it’s tied to this goal. Then the feedback comments we give them about their work while we’re grading it, should also relate to the goal.

For example, if students are supposed to write an argument paper, our feedback might remind them that the argument paper needs to cover how well they take a position and effectively support it with evidence and commentary. And then we’re going to give feedback about the degree to which they did this and how they could do it even more effectively.

Actionable Feedback

Actionable feedback means that it’s concrete, specific, and useful. Wiggins said that effective feedback is concrete, specific, and useful. It provides actionable information, thus “Good job,” and “You did that wrong,” and “B+.” These are not really feedback at all.

We can easily imagine that the learners are asking themselves in response to these comments, “What specifically could I do more or less of next time, based on this information? I have no idea.” They don’t know what was good or wrong about what they did. This includes feedback about what they specifically did right and what they did well. This feedback is objective, rather than your opinion or your judgment of them.

User-Friendly Feedback

User-friendly means that feedback can be easily understood by the person who’s receiving it. It’s not highly technical or confusing and it is focused. Wiggins tells us an example that’s really good at illustrating this: “Describing a baseball swing to a six-year-old in terms of torque and other physics concepts, will not likely yield a better hitter. Too much feedback is also counterproductive. Better to help the performer concentrate on only one or two key elements of the performance, than to create this huge buzz of information coming at them from all sides and at too high of a level.”

Timely Feedback

Lastly, timely feedback. Timely feedback means fast feedback. The sooner our students get the feedback from us about their work, the more they can adjust and improve. If there’s another assignment coming up and students are busy preparing for that, they can’t really do this effectively without getting feedback from the previous assignment. And even more difficult, if several weeks pass before their feedback is received. By that time, they have moved on.

Giving helpful feedback can really take time on your part and it might be a large part of what you do when teaching online, but it’s also still part of teaching, not just support for the grade. So, to keep teaching in a way that helps your students the most, giving timely feedback is essential.

Make Sure Students Receive Feedback

Now, how can you help your students see this feedback and actually stay connected in this cycle of teaching and learning? After getting some feedback about your teaching, through your review of students’ assignments, and then giving them feedback about what they demonstrated in those assignments, the process completely fails if students cannot see the feedback you gave them. And online, it’s entirely possible students will miss your feedback completely.

To help you make your feedback have an impact, we’ll close today’s podcast with some practical tips about making sure your students can find it and how they can keep moving forward because they’ve received this feedback.

Tell Students to Expect Feedback on their Work

First, before the assignment starts, before it’s even launched, give your students help to prepare to complete this assignment successfully. This help might include guidance about what to expect, what to include in their work, and then how to submit the assignment.

I suggest also stating exactly how this assignment relates to the course objectives and how it relates to the real world so students can have more context and more buy-in. You might provide this guidance in a course announcement or in an email to the class. Either way, you want to ensure that everyone receives it.

Announce When Feedback is Available and How to Find it

Second, when you’ve evaluated students’ assignments, send out an announcement to let them know your feedback is available to them. You can include screenshots of where they will find this feedback in your online classroom and what it looks like. If your feedback is outside the platform, like maybe it’s in Turnitin GradeMark viewer, you might even need to include a short video showing them what to click on to get to the viewer. And when they get there, what to click on to make the feedback visible.

Be Receptive to Requests for Feedback

Never assume that students know where to find this feedback. And throughout this whole process, third, always be open to students who reach out, asking for more feedback. As Errol Craig Sull wrote in his faculty focus article on the subject, even if the student’s primary reason for asking is to receive a good final grade in the course, this gives you an opportunity to teach a bit more. So, be sure to respond to the student in a timely manner by email, audio message, or phone.

Sull reminds us that when students ask for clarification or more feedback, it’s not about you or whether your feedback is good enough. It’s about the students being interested in improving their work. If we keep this in mind, we’re going to be able to have the space to respond enthusiastically and not take it personally.

So, there you have it. What is good feedback? What should it include and how do you take this to improve yourself and your teaching, as well as how do you ensure your students find all of this feedback so they can use it and keep learning.

I hope that as you move forward in your online teaching this week, you’ll think about feedback in all of these ways and use one of these strategies to improve your practice. Thank you, again, for being with me for the past 52 episodes, this first year of the Online Teaching Lounge. Come back again for the coming year when we’ll have guests and new topics that will help you continue working and teaching online and achieving balance in your work and life. Best wishes in the coming week and the exciting year ahead.

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.

#41: Tips for Teaching Live, Synchronous Online Classes

#41: Tips for Teaching Live, Synchronous Online Classes

This content originally appeared at APUEdge.Com

Teaching live, synchronous online classes can be stressful and challenging, especially for teachers who are not used to this form of online teaching. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides tips for engaging students and creating opportunities for students to interact with the instructor and other students. Learn about polling software, screen sharing, video sharing, and other technologies that can help make synchronous classes fun and engaging. Also learn why it’s important for teachers to adopt a flexible mindset as they prepare to teach live online synchronous classes.

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge

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Read the Transcript:

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

In today’s podcast, I’m going to share with you some ideas about how to engage your online students during the class in live, synchronous online teaching so that you can hook their interest and help them stay motivated to learn throughout your time together.

I’m not really talking about formal assessments or discussion boards specifically, but I am talking about how you might get them to interact during the lesson itself. Many of you out there are teaching online, but you’re doing it live, where you and your students are all at the computer at the same time in real time.

This is what we call synchronous online teaching. At the same time, there are some of you out there teaching classes where you have put all the lesson content, all of the lectures and other things into an online platform for students to consume or interact with on their own schedules, whether you’re there at the same time or not. The second type is what we call asynchronous online teaching.

Engage Students in Synchronous, Live Online Classes

Today we’re looking at ways to engage your students in live real time, as you are with them in synchronous live online teaching. Why does this matter? Your students will be one step further disconnected from you online than they would be in a face-to-face situation and you cannot walk around through the group to help them stay alert and focused on what’s going on.

If they get up out of the chair and walk away from the computer for a minute, they can easily get distracted by something else going on and lose sight of being in class altogether. And when that happens, you might lose them completely.

For these reasons, part of your role when teaching live synchronous online classes is to be more engaging, and part of your role is to get your students to act. Whether it’s by moving around in their chair, clicking on their smartphone in response to something you ask, writing things down, or speaking to each other in live breakout rooms.

Whatever level you’re at, whether it’s elementary school, high school or college courses, teaching live in the online world takes a little more energy. You might have already guessed this from what I’ve described to this point. You need to be more animated and, at some points, even entertaining. You will need to look at the camera so your students think that you’re looking at them.

And of course, you might want to record yourself in front of the camera, as if you’re teaching, just as a test to see how you project your voice on camera, how you convey energy and how you project your enthusiasm.

In the things that you say, you will also need to tell students what they will learn, why they will need to learn it, and what they should expect and be able to do with the information once they have learned it. Your students are less likely to patiently sit and absorb information just because they’re in the class, especially if they are younger learners.

In today’s podcast, we’re going to cover two specific areas of your live synchronous online teaching. First, we’ll look at your preparation and mindset, and this is really split into two avenues. The preparation means that you need to clearly know what you’re teaching in each lesson, fully plan it, and know exactly how you will teach it and engage your students.

And the other avenue of this preparation is looking at your mindset about how you’re teaching and how well it’s going. This aspect is something you need to focus on before the class is happening because it can really affect the way you think about the entire experience. It also affects the way you plan and prepare for the lesson. And lastly, it impacts how forgiving and flexible you’re going to need to be with yourself and with your online students.

And second, we’re going to look at some ways where you can get interaction from your students when you’re in that live synchronous online class setting to help them move, talk, and engage. These interaction strategies are going to be super helpful to keep your students’ attention focused, but changing pace throughout the lesson can also help your students mentally rehearse and more fully learn the content as well as learning to apply it.

So before we jump in, here are some ideas about the focus of live synchronous classes and totally online asynchronous classes. If you have a choice about whether your online class is going to meet live just as you would in a face-to-face class, or whether it meets asynchronously where students can log in at their leisure, when convenient, and participate on their own schedules, here is a good way to decide between those two options.

The number one factor is what you as the instructor are planning to do. If you are not going to interact back and forth with your students like in a question/answer type of interchange, and if you’re not planning to lead various interactive activities during the time together, if you’re only planning to lecture to deliver the course content, then you don’t need for this to be a live class. You can stand by yourself in front of a video camera and record yourself lecturing to an empty room, then put that video out there for your students to watch at their own schedule. Don’t make them come and sit in front of their computers only to be passive observers of your lecturing.

If they need to attend at a set time, then use that time to the best of your ability to get them interacting with you. Get them to ask questions, interact with each other, and do something that helps bring them into the learning mode to really engage and get something out of that time with you.

Preparing to Teach a Synchronous, Live Class

So let’s begin. First, we look at the preparation phase. You’re going to create a lesson plan for each lesson, and it needs to be detailed. Decide what students should know and be able to do by the end of this lesson. And decide how you want them to be able to demonstrate their learning at the end as well.

This will likely lead up to your design for assessments and knowledge checks or smaller formative activities leading up to something bigger coming up. Of course, today, I’m addressing only the way we deliver synchronous online lessons and not the actual assessment activities specifically.

If you’re teaching online, you must prepare the content ahead of time, even if you’re teaching live at a specific time. It’s not pretty to improvise in front of a camera feed with your students all sitting there. And it’s also very easy for your students to disengage, turn off their cameras, and find something else more interesting to do.

If they start doing this, they might even stop attending your class. To help them learn the best you can, you will need to be interesting, and engage them with you and with each other. Of course, the class doesn’t have to be live if you choose some other method.

You don’t need to see this experience as if you’re sitting on a stage delivering your lecture or monologue in real time as if you’re in a live classroom. Instead, if you’re going to just put everything online and let students come and go to participate at their own convenience, you can create many different types of content for that and you can make it an asynchronous class.

Maybe one of those, if you go that route, is going to be a short set of videos where you’re explaining or demonstrating a concept. Then there can be some reading material, and maybe you have a few videos that also help teach the concept. And students might be in a discussion area chatting among themselves in an asynchronous discussion as well.

There are a lot of options to help you, if you realize that you don’t really need them to be there live in real time. Whatever you do, be prepared and plan the lesson content, and the way you would deliver it as well, in advance.

Share Expectations with Students, Out Loud

You should be more specifically prepared in your online etiquette expectations. You can begin the class by sharing your standards about what they can expect from you and what you can expect from them in terms of how often and in what ways they will interact during your class. These instructions could include some kind of guidance about muting and unmuting their microphones, as well as what kinds of things can be written in the chat box, and whether they need to be on video or just have an image on the screen and their cameras turned off.

You should share these expectations out loud. Tell your students in front of the camera, when you’re actually there in the live class. Don’t just send them by email and expect your students to read them. You’ll want to reiterate them a few times and emphasize them, especially if you’re going to have these live courses throughout the semester where you’re meeting online, yet at the same time.

There are some additional ideas, like telling your students that online engagement is expected and required as class members. Camera issues and technical issues are not as common of an excuse for not engaging. Students can always use their smartphones as a backup if they have tech issues on their computer, and it can be helpful to engage the classroom support team early and often if there are any issues with technology access.

If you share your beliefs about why they need to engage and about how it’s going to actually cement what they’re learning, this can help your students purposely engage and be much more involved in your live classes.

Make Participation Part of the Grade

I also make participation a part of the grade during a live class, and you might consider doing the same thing, especially for younger students and if it’s a Gen Ed college class. You can use all kinds of brief exercises to interact or chat or get ideas from students throughout the class. And you can even call on students individually and take volunteers to answer questions.

So there are a lot of strategies to help you prepare. And as you think through what types of engagement you might want to use; you can plan your content throughout the lesson around these different methods available to you.

Adjusting Your Mindset

Now, the other half of the preparation is looking at your mindset. What are you thinking about your own teaching generally? And what will you expect to happen when you’re teaching online? How do you see yourself when you’re on video or when you’re coming across an online platform? And what might you do if everything goes wrong?

Let’s talk about that mindset a little more. Even though you will plan and prepare, be prepared for backup plans. In the past, you might have been able to deliver masterful classes and engage your students face-to-face remarkably well. But online, sometimes what you think will be a wonderfully developed and clear lesson turns out to be flat, confusing, and unengaging.

If you are new to teaching online, you will need to prepare with a beginner’s mind. Realize that you might not be as polished or put together as you would like to be. Have a plan B. You can share this plan B any time with additional content, different methods to teach the content. And if you have these backup plans, this is going to help you to feel calmer and help you stay calm if things don’t go according to plan. This is especially helpful if major adjustments are needed.

Because you might need to move to a backup plan, also realize that if it’s your first time teaching online, you might need to be more patient and flexible with yourself while you’re teaching. And you will also need to be more accommodating to your students who are trying to learn your teaching style as well as how to navigate that online space.

It’s really easy to clam up, get a little tense and hold students to a higher standard when things become frustrating for you. So, dial it down just a bit and be more accommodating to yourself and your students equally.

Improving Student Interaction with Polling Software

Lastly, we’re going to look at some ways you can get interaction from your students when you’re in that live synchronous online class to help them move, talk and engage. So how can you interact with these students during this live class?

One of the ideas I’d love to share with you today is to use polling software. There are many kinds of polling software. I’m going use four different kinds today and the first one I’d like to tell you about is called Poll Everywhere. This is one great option. They have interactive activities, attendance methods, quizzing, and ways to check understanding in real time.

You can add Poll Everywhere into a PowerPoint presentation that you already have. This makes it an easy way to add polling or any kind of interaction there. Once you’ve collected the responses, you can save them on the slide deck so if you’re going to share them with students later, those responses will be right there in the slide deck.

This Poll Everywhere also works with Keynote and Google slides. So with Poll Everywhere, you can make live synchronous online classes far more engaging and interactive without really having to change your slide deck very much from your traditional lesson you might’ve given in the past.

A second piece of software is called Mentimeter. Mentimeter lets you build interactive presentations right there on their platform, so you don’t have to go to something like PowerPoint. You can also collect polls, data and opinions from your students using their smartphones. They have 13 different types of interactive questions that can include word clouds and quizzing. The word clouds are especially beautiful because as students add their comments, any repeated statements become bigger in the word cloud and it starts to form right before your eyes.

You could put your whole lesson presentation in a Mentimeter presentation, and the engagement parts could appear throughout this lesson where students will respond, where they will interact, and where they will reply to your questions through Mentimeter. This platform includes themes for your presentations and free stock images to spice it up. And once you’re done, you can analyze the data, export it in a PDF file or in Excel, look at the trends and do some deeper analysis.

A third area is in the Zoom platform, which many of you might already be familiar with. Zoom has polling software built in. And if you’re having your live sessions in Zoom, these can be set up ahead of time and then they can be put on the screen when they’re needed and you can show the poll results to everyone afterwards. The Zoom polls can be conducted anonymously, or you can have participants names recorded, especially if you’re going to download them afterwards and take a look at those responses.

The last thing is the chat feature, which probably comes in whatever video platform you’re using for this live lesson. So the chat feature in the video platform allows students and you all to add your comments and ask questions.

You can monitor what’s going on there and include some of these comments as you’re teaching the lesson in your own speaking to connect to what students are also saying. You can also call on students who are there on video and just ask them to unmute and speak out loud as they would do in a traditional face-to-face class.

Some students are uncomfortable with this and very shy on camera, but once you encourage this kind of participation repeatedly, it grows. And it encourages more students to also participate in the same way. Those four ways of interacting, polling and getting answers from students can really help your students to wake up, stay alert, and really engage with the content.

Engage through Screen Share

Another way to engage your students is a screen share. There are many ways to do this and of course, if you’re in a platform like Zoom, you can either share an app through the platform or your entire screen from your computer right there in Zoom, and you could also share the interactive whiteboard.

When you use the whiteboard, you can just write on it like you would in a face-to-face class although it’s on the computer instead of on the wall. If you’re using Google, Google Classroom, Google Meets, or any of those types of platforms, you can also screen share there. There’s a Jamboard app that you could bring into your Google Classroom to also allow your students to collaborate on those whiteboards.

Video Share with Students

And then of course you can video share. You can stand up in your home office, just like you might in a classroom, put a whiteboard on your wall, and draw concepts on it while you’re teaching during the lesson and as you’re engaging with your students, just as if you’re standing in a regular classroom in front of that class.

These are all ways to engage your students, to get them to stay alive, alert, awake, to help them manipulate the content and interact with each other, explore ideas, and really learn during your live synchronous online class. I hope this has helped you think about how you might include students to engage them during that live synchronous online class.

Summarize the Lesson at the End of Each Class

As you close the lesson and the class for the day, find a way to summarize what they have done, what you’ve learned together and all that you’ve covered. Ask a student to tell you what their takeaway is from the lesson. You can either call on individual students to speak, or if you’re in a video platform with a chat feature, you can ask everyone to type a one-sentence takeaway from the lesson. Here again, this is going to cement their learning and help them repeat it again and again to remember what was taught, but also what they worked on.

You could ask your students to respond through polling software, if you prefer, to this section of your lesson, or you could have them add their answers to a Mentimeter word cloud. Whatever you do, asking students to help you sum up the lesson is another great way to help them engage more and solidly sift through their learning by sharing out.

Reflect After Each Class, Send out Email Reminders to Students

After everyone’s offline, take a moment to reflect on what went well. Was your preparation adequate? Was your mindset in the right place for this kind of situation? And did you prepare the situation itself with all of the steps needed for success? What would you like to adjust before the next go round? And then send a follow-up email to your class with a few key points and reminders about the next time. This will help them remember how to contact you as well when they have questions and it’s going to help them keep thinking about class when they’re away.

Thank you for being with me today. I wish you all the best in your online teaching this week, especially if you’re teaching live synchronous classes.

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.

#38: Asking Great Questions Can Improve Student Engagement

#38: Asking Great Questions Can Improve Student Engagement

This content first appeared at APUSEdge.Com

Increasing engagement in the online classroom can often be challenging for educators. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses the importance of asking great questions to solicit information from students, generate more detailed discussion forums, and get students to think more deeply about a topic. Learn seven steps to develop creative and open-ended questions and advice for turning statements into engaging questions.

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge

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Read the Transcript:

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

Today, I’m going to talk with you about asking great questions to up level your teaching in the online environment. Many of us know that asking questions can be a great practice. This happens in discussions. Sometimes we ask questions in our feedback. We might ask questions during a live synchronous session. There are many ways we ask questions when we’re teaching, but particularly when we’re teaching online.

In this episode, we will talk about why asking good questions is important. We will also talk about how to create great questions. And lastly, we will use a strategy to turn any statement into a question. So let’s dive in.

Asking Good Questions Helps Engage Students

Why is asking good questions important? This is a great question, isn’t it? We could debate all day about what makes a good question. What makes a great question? Whether we should ask questions? Or tell?

The bottom line is great questions involve using a question to get a student to think, explore, analyze, debate, or examine information in a deep way. Asking students questions can motivate their curiosity about the topic and it can help you understand whether or not they have learned what they’re supposed to be learning.

Questions turn the student into the teacher. There’s a well-known concept that when we teach something to others, we learn it better. The more we ask students questions, the more they master the content. However, effective questioning is about asking the right kind of questions.

There are several questions we could ask, but the distinction I want to make here is the difference between open-ended and closed-ended questions. An open-ended question allows for many possibilities. An open-ended question asks a student to contribute their unique frame of reference, but it also allows them to take one of many possible approaches to the answer.

With an open-ended question, students might all answer differently. There could be a variety of responses given. Many interpretations. Many approaches. In the end, an open-ended question invites. Open-ended questions start with what, how, why.

Closed-ended questions, in contrast, usually lead to one specific answer. Closed-ended questions might simply be a yes or no response. A closed-ended question discourages exploration. It actually just asks for a report. Usually a closed-ended question is asking about facts. A closed-ended question might begin with, do you, does it, is it. All of these could be answered in a very simple yes or no.

[Podcast: Developing Leadership Skills in Online Higher Education]

Why is asking good questions important in online education? Because we have discussion boards and assignments as some of our primary feedback methods of how students are learning, and where we’re going to give the feedback, we really want to solicit a lot of information from our students. We also want to get our students thinking deeply through these activities. Asking good questions in these areas invites creativity. Exploration. It also invites students to really think about what they’re going to say in response.

Especially in a discussion area, if we ask great questions, a detailed dialogue follows. When we ask closed-ended questions or poorly created questions, all of the students respond in the same way. They provide similar responses. There’s not a lot of interaction because there’s nothing really to discuss. And it’s very difficult to get the conversation flowing.

As a faculty member or a teacher online, if you ever find a discussion falling flat, I would suggest the first step is to look at the questions asked in the beginning of this discussion. Is there something about those questions that closes it down from the get go? Is there something that could be added to fill it out? Now, those are yes or no questions. Really, it’s either effective or it’s closing things down. Think about the quality of the questions in discussion forums specifically, and whether or not you believe there’s a right answer.

When you, as the instructor approach a discussion as if there is one right answer, chances are the discussion is going to move in a very narrow, closed-up fashion. I would suggest exploring other types of questioning to open that up, and to help students generate more possibilities, more connections, and more understanding.

As you think about the role questions play in your online teaching, consider this: Each of your students is a member of a learning community. There’s a whole system in your classroom. Bigger than that, your students are each members of professional communities outside of that classroom. What can you do to open their thinking to these broader spaces? To help them feel connected in this learning community of your classroom, and also to help them feel connected to the bigger professional community that they are also a part of? What can you do to monitor your students’ learning through asking creative questions and great questions? And what can you do to find out what students know about this subject?

Many faculty members are very concerned about plagiarism, and rightly so. There are plenty of websites out there offering students quick responses, answers they can copy and paste into your course. There are even professional essay writers available to write the students’ papers and discussions for them.

Getting to know your students through their week one introductions and through their backgrounds, you can start to think about what they might already know and what they need to learn. As you’re monitoring student learning through the discussions, through the assignments and through all those other activities you might include, consider how they can uniquely apply the content. In your questions when you ask students to apply the content, there are unique responses. Doing this through great questions is a very clever and creative way to do it.

A Formula for Creating Good Questions

Now we’re going to talk about how to ask great questions. Some of the ideas I will share with you here come from a book called Everyday Instructional Coaching: Seven Daily Drivers to Support Teacher Effectiveness by Nathan Lang-Raad. This book is really designed to coach faculty so that you can go out and observe, mentor, teach, coach, and interact with a variety of faculty members on various levels.

In one section of his book, Nathan has a whole area devoted to question strategies. Now these question strategies are initially targeting the instructional coach. As a teacher and an instructor, I propose that you are also a coach to your students. This is why I’m sharing the strategies with you now. The author here suggests there is a question formulation technique created by some researchers at the Right Question Institute, it’s called the Question Formulation Process.

Step 1: Identify a Question Focus

There are seven steps to creating great questions and the first one is to identify a question focus. When you identify the question focus your thinking about the starting point. It’s not really the question itself, it’s the topic. Think about the topic, the problem, or the situation. What is it exactly you’re focusing on in your question?

Step 2: Brainstorm Many Questions

Second, follow the rules for producing questions. One of the suggestions the author makes here is to ask a lot of questions. This is the brainstorming strategy. Ask as many questions as you can, don’t stop, judge or discount any of your questions, and write them all down. Look through and consider what is going to generate the best results from your students. You can create buy-in, you can also create engagement through your questions. Brainstorming a lot of different questions you might choose will help you come up with even better questions.

Step 3: Selecting and Producing Questions

The third step is producing the questions. You take your topic that you initially started with, your topic or your problem or your situation that you’re going to focus on, and you’ve brainstormed a lot of possible questions. Here, we want to focus on what is going to generate the most open information? Produce the question that is open ended and look at the quality of this question.

Step 4: Improving Your Questions

Next, the fourth step is improving your questions. You can go back to this list of questions you created and cross off any that are closed ended. As you read them, consider: is there a yes or no answer that is easy to come with? Do you, is it, those kinds of beginnings definitely signal less effective questions.

As you go through, look at the beginning of the question. Determine would you like to phrase it differently? What might invite more? Also ask yourself, does this question have enough information to get students moving in the direction I’d like them to go?

For example, if we ask too short of a question, we might actually get totally different results in the responses. Does the question include enough information to generate true discussion about that content?

The best way to check your questions for alignment is to go back to your purpose for asking the question in the first place. Look at the topic and your goal for asking that question. Does it align with your focus? If the answer is yes, you can use that question with some confidence that it’s going to yield the results you’re looking for.

Step 5: Prioritize the Questions

The fifth step in asking great questions, and developing great questions, is to prioritize. If you’ve done your due diligence and you’ve created quite a list of questions, choose the top three. Narrow them down and determine which three are your best possibilities.

Step 6: Establish Your Next Steps

Now you can decide which questions you’d like to ask. How will you use these questions? Will you use them in a lesson, in a discussion area, in an assignment? Review the way you will use your questions.

Step 7: Reflecting

The last step is to reflect on what you’ve learned in the process of selecting your questions. Also reflect on the effectiveness of your questions. This involves using them with your students, evaluating the outcomes, and determining how effective your questioning strategies were.

In the end, effective open-ended questions explicitly tied to your topic and your instructional goals that are well suited for the ways in which you will use them such as in discussions or elsewhere, these will be great questions. Now let’s move to our last and final area today.

How to Turn a Statement into a Question

A strategy to turn any statement into a question. I share this strategy with you because I have evaluated a lot of content, a lot of programming, many course design models, and a lot of forum discussion prompts specifically.

Many times I find educators giving statements to students rather than asking questions. A statement would be something like, “Tell me what you believe to be the most important outcome of X, Y, Z concept.” When you ask someone a question instead, it opens up thinking. When you speak in terms of a statement that you want to elicit a different response, it’s very directive and often closes down thinking.

Instead of, “Tell me X, Y, Z,” this can easily be turned into a great question by saying, “What are the primary outcomes that seem most important to you from whatever this is?” You can also say, “In your opinion, and based on the evidence you’ve learned in this class, what do you believe to be the most important outcomes of this historical event?”

When you ask a question like that, it’s also helpful to follow it up with an expectation. “In your response please give reference to your sources used, the concepts you learned and make connections to application, modern day, et cetera.”

As you give students your great questions and turn statements into questions, you will become much more effective in getting students to propel their own learning, helping them teach themselves more, retain the knowledge more, and become highly engaged in everything they’re learning.

Today, we’ve covered three critical areas of asking questions. The first was, why should we ask good questions? Why is asking good questions important at all? The second, how to ask a great question. And I shared with you a seven step strategy from the book, Everyday Instructional Coaching: Seven Daily Drivers to Support Teacher Effectiveness by Nathan Lang-Raad.

And lastly, a strategy to turn any question into a statement. It’s very simple. Although sometimes it requires practice, especially if it’s a change from your current approach in your classroom.

As you consider using questions in your online teaching, it will become easier to do, and you will find a lot of positive results. From there, you can continue to use your brainstorming process to create more questions, use positive questions, powerful questions, open-ended questions, and questions that generate higher order thinking. Thank you for being here with me today and exploring this topic.

If you have suggestions for future episodes, please visit my website, bethaniehansen.com/request. I love to hear from my listeners, and I’d love to make this podcast even more effective for you. Best wishes to you in your online teaching this week.