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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

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

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

How to Convey a Positive “No” When Teaching Online

This content first appeared on APUEdge.com.

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

#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.

#66: Increasing Your Productivity as an Online Educator [Podcast]

#66: Increasing Your Productivity as an Online Educator [Podcast]

This content initially appeared at APUEdge.com

Maintaining a high level of productivity can be challenging for online educators. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides strategies on how to improve your physical and mental energy to increase productivity. Learn tips about how to manage your never-ending “to do” list, why it’s important to unclog your mind, and the value of giving yourself time to work on your personal “heart projects.”

Listen to the Episode:

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

Read the Transcript:

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. It may seem a little odd to you today that we’re going to talk about increasing your productivity as an online educator, but I firmly believe that habits and strategies are what help us get through our teaching job and our teaching career. Many of us enter this profession because we want to make a difference or distill ideas upon others, or perhaps mentor people into our profession or the area that we love the most. Maybe we even want to make a big difference in the world.

Regardless of the reason why you came into this profession, the fact remains that being an educator is hard work. There is a lot to do. There’s a lot of feedback to give others. We must be organized to make that happen. We have announcements, we have content in the classroom itself, when we’re working online. We have follow-ups, personalized outreach efforts we need to do when students are falling behind. Guidance of all kinds. And as I mentioned before, feedback.

Among these many different types of activities, time gets away from us, sometimes. Have you ever said to yourself that you would get back to a task later in the evening? That’s a great sign that productivity tips can help you a lot in your online educator role.

Today, we’re going to talk about some special tips that come from a wonderful book called “Supercharge Productivity Habits” by John R. Torrance. It’s “50 Simple Hacks to Organize Your Tasks, Overcome Procrastination, Increase Efficiency, and Work Smarter to Become a Top Performer.”

Not everyone approaches their educator job as if it is a performer productivity type of role. However, we know that unless we keep up with the day-to-day tasks, the endless minutiae of being an administrator of the classroom, we will not be able to have the kind of impact we would like to have.

These tips today are intended to help you. I want to help you really enjoy what you do and make a difference, as you want to do. So let’s jump in and talk about productivity habits. I will share just a few today to get you started. And after this podcast, I do hope you will check out this book, “Supercharge Productivity Habits” by John R. Torrance.

Increasing Your Physical and Mental Energy

The first habit I’d like to share with you today is in the area of increasing your physical and mental energy. You’ve probably heard that athletes are always thinking about increasing their energy and bringing protein into the body, drinking lots of water, getting plenty of rest. It makes a lot of sense that a person who’s out there competing physically would need to do that, right?

Of course, the mind is also one of the greatest tools that we have at our disposal. We can’t have energy, like confidence or focus, motivation, or any kind of productivity at all, if our mind is wandering or not feeling healthy. In fact, there is a lot that has to do with our physical and mental energy that impacts our productivity and our overall effectiveness as educators.

Think about it, if you were really approaching your job as if you have to be in tiptop, physical and mental condition to be an educator, what would you do to reach that goal? I’ve thought about this a little bit, and in the time that I’ve worked at American Public University, I’ve been very fortunate to have the influence of the Wellness Team. Not sure if that’s their title, but early on several years ago, there used to be this little challenge in the employee portal. It was private, no one else could see it. But you had to record your weight at the start of each year. And you had to do some exercises along the way, partially some kind of incentive to have one kind of health insurance over another.

And I’m expecting that it probably had to do with the cost out of my paycheck. And that’s what motivated me. I don’t recall exactly what the situation was, but I do remember that I had to write down how much I weighed and then I had to engage in certain health-related activities like walking, or counting steps, or something like that.

Now, when you think about it, even just becoming aware of your own physical activity level, your physical fitness, your overall health, and your bodyweight does something to you. It was a few years of doing that, and pretty soon I realized I needed to make major changes. In my own situation, I did lose 95 pounds and I have successfully maintained that for the past four to five years. And it all started with that awareness every year that was part of the health insurance plan of just working at American Public University.

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*About this image: My professional faculty photo, taken by American Public University Systems (2015, on left) and an informal photo taken at home (2020, on right)

If I took it further and thought about it every year and recorded my efforts to become a mental athlete as an educator, I would take it a lot further and increase my goals in physical and mental wellness. Over time, I want to become more confident, more focused, more productive, and more happy with myself in my role and in the work that I do with my students.

In essence, it is the everyday habit that one puts into their physical and mental abilities that come together to summatively create the performance and productivity we have in the online classroom.

There are some high-powered physical and mental energy hacks that Torrance shares in his book. And I’d like to share these with you here.

Tackle What You Dread First

First, he talks about tackling what you dread the most. It’s going to give you energy to deal with the less critical things or the less enjoyable things throughout the day because you’ve done the most difficult one.

Visualize Before You Go to Bed

Second, you’re going to visualize before you go to bed, and the thoughts that you take to bed matter. So your mind is going to get in a mood for sleep. And you’re also going to think about or visualize the type of things you’re going to be doing when you’re waking up that are pleasurable to you. So you’re actually predicting a positive day for the next day and thinking about the energy you need to begin the day.

Now that second hack there, thinking about it before you go to bed, I personally do that a lot. That’s one of my own habits. I’ll make a to-do list about the things I want to do the next day. And I’ll think about how I need to wake up.

Then in the next morning, when I wake up, I’m actually laying in bed sometimes feeling very tired and not at all interested in getting out of bed. And I’ll remember what I’m going to do first thing in the morning. And then I’ll purposely choose to jump out of bed and give myself some energy so I can get moving.

Sometimes it’s really hard. And other times it’s very easy because the motivating task is so interesting to me. Whatever you do, visualizing before bed can set the tone for the next day, but make sure it’s something positive you’re visualizing, and you’re seeing action and the motivation that you’re going to need.

Unclog Your Mind

Third, unclog your mind. So Torrance suggests that we all have a never-ending to-do list. I don’t know if you have one, but I know I do. And it can sometimes make me feel like I never really finish things. There’s always another list tomorrow and sometimes one list can go through a week or two without completely getting wiped out.

If you can unclog that list by writing it all down, setting it aside, turning off technology, and letting go of emails and all those things, at some point you’re going to have a little bit of space to think more clearly, be more mentally alert, and be able to set limits around your time.

Unclogging your mind is also going to help you think about what you can take off of your list. If you do write it down and realize it’s been there a while, maybe it doesn’t even need to get done at all, or maybe it could be delegated. There’s possibly another solution if you find that something is on your to-do list for a very long time.

Get the Right Amount of Sleep

The fourth productivity hack is getting the right amount of sleep. Believe it or not, the amount of sleep you get every day actually impacts your mental and physical functioning. Over time you can actually have long-term health effects that are negative if you’re constantly cheating yourself on the sleep.

Now, if you have dragged your work out throughout the day, especially when you’re only working online, if all of your energy is put into that, it can feel like you can never really let go and never really get enough sleep.

Think about what kind of environment you need. What kind of bedding will be most comfortable for you? Is the pillow nice and cool or warm, however, you prefer it? Would there be something you could do before bed to relax you, like a warm bath or some people even drink warm milk, or cocoa, or something like that? Is it helpful for you to read a book before you go to bed? One thing that I’ve heard a lot is no caffeine and no alcohol in the later hours of the day because both of those tend to impact the quality of your sleep throughout the night.

And then, of course, avoid screen time, two hours before bedtime. You can wear these blue-light-blocking glasses that will help you to actually reduce the impact of the screen on your eyes. And you can also buy a light therapy lamp on Amazon that’s going to help you have an experience with bright light, first thing in the morning to really set your time clock and your circadian rhythm.

These are good things to think about if you’re still having problems getting high-quality sleep, but getting enough sleep is definitely essential to give your brain the energy it needs and your body, the energy as well to get through the day.

Pursue Your “Heart Project”

Next, spend a good day chunk of your day pursuing your heart project. A heart project is something you really care about. It’s in your own goal area. It might be what Torrance calls your ultimate passion. When you focus on these things you care most about at some point during a day, this is going to give you a lot of joy, it will refresh you, and help you feel totally revitalized and energized.

So if you have a lot of grading to do, and you’re not a big fan of grading, do the grading, but be sure to give yourself time for this passion project, or heart project. You need reasons to get out of bed in the morning. And if this is it, give yourself the time after you’ve done some of the more difficult tasks of your online teaching job.

Some of the other tips mentioned here in the body and mind category are to have a sense of gratitude and to have a positive outlook on life generally. You also want to think about eating the right foods. Believe it or not, the things you put into your body impact your energy level and your mental functioning.

There’s a thing called inflammation. If you’re not familiar with this, certain foods can actually cause your body to react in a way that inflames your cells and parts of your body. If you eat a lot of carbohydrates and sugar, some people react very poorly to that. You might have puffy eyes or a puffy face and mentally feel quite sluggish and tired. This will make it more difficult to be productive as an online educator, or in any other field.

Think about how healthy food makes you feel. And even if it is less enjoyable than some of those more high carb, or high sugar foods you might crave, think about how you might be able to incorporate these healthy foods to enhance your mental alertness.

Eating more calories early in the day instead of at night can also give you more energy. And then, of course, more fiber, fruit and vegetables, and protein and minerals and vitamins. These things can all add to your energy level and clear up your mind so you can think clearly and be more productive along the way.

Be Active and Find a Physical Exercise You Enjoy

And then lastly, be active, enjoy what you’re doing physically. You might be inspired through exercise, which will help you sleep better and relieve stress as well as boosting your brain. But you might also find a new habit that you could enjoy, like going for a run, short walk, working out with someone else, biking, or even dancing.

My personal favorite is putting on my noise-canceling headphones, some really peppy upbeat music, and walking on my treadmill for 30 minutes or more sometime in the middle of the day. Whatever it is that helps you to physically get active. When we’re working online, we’re sitting a lot and we’re much more prone to want to sit a little bit longer so that we can just get through what we’re trying to do that day.

If you break it up instead, you’ll find that you have more energy and you can even be more productive. So take breaks. Think about the food you eat and the exercise you do as ways to fuel the mind as well as the body.

There are many other productivity hacks and habits in this book by John Torrance. I hope you’ll check it out and try those that I’ve shared with you today, as we all work towards being more productive online educators. And I wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week.

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

#60: Building Social Presence in the Online Classroom

#60: Building Social Presence in the Online Classroom

This content initially appeared on APUEdge.com.

Online teachers must work to build social presence in their online classes to enhance community and connections with students. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides tips and strategies about how to achieve social presence including instructor involvement, knowledge sharing, interaction intensity, and more. Learn why social presence is important, how to determine if your efforts are working, and how to think of new ways to create community within 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.

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen and we’re talking today about social presence in your online teaching.

As you know, in this podcast, we have four different areas of focus. The first one is best practices when you’re teaching online. Second, we focus on students and areas where we can connect with them or help them. Third, we talk a lot about media, multimedia and technology you might integrate and why you might try it. And lastly, we focus on your life and your balance while you’re working online.

The area of social presence has everything to do with best practices. It is a best practice to have teaching, social and cognitive presence. This comes from the COI, Community of Inquiry framework, but also social presence has to do with connecting with your students. So we’re bridging two different areas today and we’re even dipping a little bit into the media category, because to give good social presence, a lot of times you need images or videos, so we’ll talk a little bit about that too. But the main elements we’re going to cover today are: What is social presence? Why does it matter? How can you create it? And how do you know if it’s working? Let’s dive in.

What is Social Presence?

Let’s begin with instructor presence as social presence. What does that even mean? Social presence has a model out there that many have researched and put together and it has five parts. And the five different areas of your social presence, when you’re teaching online, include:

  • affective association
  • community cohesion
  • instructor involvement
  • interaction intensity and
  • knowledge and experience

In essence, we can summarize social presence as the degree to which you uniquely show up in the course that you’re teaching.

Students begin to trust you when you are authentic and present, and they get to know you a little bit. Your social presence is how they get to know you. It’s the idea of who is teaching that class, and what you bring that is uniquely your traits and knowledge and experience.

Why is Social Presence so Important for Online Instructors?

Second, why does it matter? In online education students don’t have a lot to use for a connection to the institution. As an instructor, you’re the face of that organization, and they really connect through you to the larger organization itself. But beyond that, they build trust in the classroom to open up and engage in the risk-taking behaviors that are engaged in learning.

It does take risk, it takes discipline and commitment to follow through in studying something and doing the assignments and engaging in the discussion. So students are there taking a risk and they need to know who’s behind the other side of the screen. They need to know you.

They cannot risk enough to really fully engage when the instructor is completely absent or invisible. If you’re only facilitating and you never share your own thoughts or insights, and you don’t really have your persona in the classroom, it’s difficult for students to know how much they can put out there, how much they can really challenge the ideas they’re learning and how much they should devote to the course at hand.

So, social presence matters immensely. It has a significant impact on students’ engagement and it also impacts the way they respond and show up when they’re completing the work and when they’re discussing things in the classroom overall.

Building Connections

When we talk about social presence in online learning, there are some other words that come to mind, and these words have been included in a lot of literature on this subject. For example, we might consider the word connection. Connection has to do with social presence. We’re facilitating relationships with our students and helping them relate to each other and really the goal of social presence is connection for everyone.

Evoking Emotion

We also have a lot of emotion involved. We typically look at this when we see a lack of social presence and we notice something like perhaps if the instructor’s social presence is not very strong or students don’t have a very strong social presence, it’s difficult to feel happy about the class. Even a challenging class can be more enjoyable when social presence is high and there’s a sense of real community within that classroom.

Intimacy is another one. We get to know each other. I have some online instructors in my department who actually write letters of recommendation for their students because they’re intimate with their students, in the sense that they get to know who they really are. They build true relationships and they have this camaraderie and this rapport that we do call intimacy.

Generate Immediacy

Another one is immediacy. Immediacy has to do with responsiveness and how aware we are of what’s actually going on in the course. Immediacy is responsiveness when someone reaches out and asks us a question or communicates. We can see things happening in a discussion and we can also pop in there and share comments along the way, because we have a sense of immediacy.

Building Social Interaction

And lastly, of course, social interaction. There are various ways people engage online and social interaction could just be exchanges of discussion comments. It can be live, synchronous commentary where we’re talking to each other, or it could also be sending messages or sending emails. There are a lot of different ways for social interaction to happen, but the main principle is that it’s interactive. There’s a back and forth, a give and take, just like there is in any relationship.

Social presence includes all of these ideas, and when it’s absent, we know it because then some of the same things also pop up. For example, when social presence is low in online experiences, we have negative emotions often associated with that absence or that lack. Often there’s a defensiveness that prevents relationship building and an intimacy that I mentioned before.

And, of course, there’s a gap, or a lag, in responding to comments, questions, inquiries, things of that nature, so immediacy is threatened. And often it will be kind of like people are talking alone, so we’ll all post our comments, but they’re not necessarily responding well to each other. So instead of social interaction, we just have these independent commentaries happening throughout a course and especially in a discussion area.

Even businesses today care greatly about their social presence. There’s this desire to have an identity out there in the world and communicate consistently. Just like businesses do that, online faculty and online instructors need to be cognizant of social presence. We need to be very aware of what one’s social presence is in a particular course, and in an overall online educator career.

How to Achieve Social Presence

So let’s begin with how you’re going to achieve social presence. We know it’s important. It has an impact. It affects things that we do. So how do we achieve this?

The first area of the social presence model that we’re going to talk about is called affective association. So if we have affective association, there are a lot of ways that people will associate us with our name, our identity, and all the things that we’re doing in the course.

Some of those things can be achieved by connecting purposely, like as in with an introduction profile. You might have your teacher persona on the front page of the course. There might be an image of you, perhaps some comments about what you’ve been doing or what your interests are. You might also have an introductory image or video of yourself and also some kind of welcome announcement or a welcome letter that you’re going to send.

There are quite a few things you can do to help students associate your name with your presence and who you really are. This can also be added to announcements and reminders in the course and you can include video clips throughout the course, introducing each week’s content, perhaps participating in the discussion, or an enunciating some details about the content itself, whatever they are to be learning.

Building Community Cohesion in an Online Classroom

The second area of social presence that we can focus on achieving is the community cohesion part. This would be the way that you bring everyone in and help them to feel like they’re part of that community in your classroom. This might be the way you greet your students. You can use a lot of phrases like, “We are working on this.” And you can also include in your feedback, some ideas about what we as a class are working on and learning on and some things that you can refer to in discussion areas as well.

You can mention other students’ posts. You can have a summary comment where you tie together all of the things that others have written and you maybe highlight a few by name, but also tie up the ideas that we as a group mostly have discussed and put your spin on it as well; your insights about what they should walk away from at the end of the week.

Instructor Involvement

Third, we have instructor involvement. And instructor involvement in social presence is the way you know your students, the way you personalize things. How you might share the stage with them. Maybe you also have them hosting a debate or kind of facilitating the forum discussion with each other.

Also, share some reflection of your own. What are you noticing about their learning? How are they growing? What are you really surprised about and pleased with and where would you like to encourage them? What are your insights as a lifelong learner?

And give some personalization as well to the way you talk to your students. Call them by name and sign your name at the bottom of announcements and posts. This instructor involvement brings you and your identity and your name into the class and it helps students to see you throughout all of the things that are going on there.

Interaction Intensity in Social Presence

Then we have interaction intensity, in the social presence model. This is the way in which you build those relationships and what quality they are, and how safe they feel. You connect with your learners through the comments and the intensity is how frequently and how substantially you do this.

If you do anything special on your end to create some additional places where students can connect and discuss things with each other, maybe even you share resources from the field or highlights from your own expertise to help them conquer the academic material, you’re bringing in this whole sense of who you are as the instructor. That interaction intensity can add a lot to the safety of their learning experience, and also their willingness to take more risks as they’re participating.

An additional idea you might do there is have a question and answer area in the course. This is always a great idea, because question and answer areas are where they can come with their informal questions, not necessarily the ones to be discussed in the forum discussion itself.

Share Your Knowledge and Experience

Now, lastly, in the social presence model, we have the knowledge and experience that you bring in your social presence. Now we do have teaching presence and cognitive presence in your space, where you’re showing up. This kind of knowledge and experience is weaved into who you are. You share some ideas about your own experience and expertise and your life experience as a professional. You might ask some questions that help other people share their social presence in the classroom.

Think about what students already know and ask them how they can contribute that to the class we’re now studying. Ask them what they want to know, and discuss it with them and tailor some of your approach around what they really want to get out of the class.

And then in the end of the experience, have a lot of reflection, where you share your reflection and encourage them to share their insights as well. And engage fully in that conversation, as the academic community draws to a close at the end of the class.

And always be authentic in sharing your knowledge and experience. Never make up stories or make up details or use other instructors’ posts and just make them your own, if it’s talking about personalized knowledge and experience. You have something unique to offer and it’s your responsibility and privilege to bring that into the classroom and into your identity as the online instructor.

As you do these things and bring in your social presence fully to the online space, you can create this presence through the way you converse, the attitude at which you bring yourself into the classroom, and through a lot of different tools and devices.

Of course, you might choose to put images of yourself here and there throughout the classroom. You can also think about using video to create true social presence. And then definitely bring in those things you will learn about your students, so it’s a back and forth, give and take exchange.

How Do you Know if Your Efforts to Build Social Presence are Working?

Lastly, how will you know, if it’s working? How will you know if those efforts you’re making to create true social presence in your online class are working out for students as well? One of the things you can do is review your practices and self-evaluate.

On a primary level, that’s of course effective in determining whether or not you met your goals of proactively getting in there and creating a lot of social presence in your course and in your teaching.

But secondly, your students will help you to know this. You can get feedback throughout the course by noticing how they respond to you, how they engage, how much they’re willing to share, how much authenticity do you sense in the work they’re completing and the communications they have with you? Does it feel like a conversation or are students kind of talking to the wind?

Everyone deserves to have you in that class. That’s why you’re there. You can make a significant impact in your teaching and in online education, generally, as you focus on building your social presence across the board.

Keep Social Presence Professional and Authentic, but Don’t Overshare

One word of caution, as you dive in with additional strategies to increase social presence, and that is to consider the fine line between overly personal sharing and professional sharing.

There is such a thing as sharing too much when you’re building your social presence as an online instructor. Remember keep things, academic, professional, and authentic to you. You can always share personal things that have to do with the content and do seem professionally appropriate.

Review those things on occasion to make sure you’re keeping them in line with what you feel is authentic and appropriate to share with your students. As you do this, you’re going to create a beautiful culture where people are seen, and heard, and engage fully in the academic discussions that unfold.

Thank you for thinking about social presence with me today. For additional links and tips, please check out the transcript in the notes from this podcast. Best wishes in your online teaching this week.

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

#57: How to Prepare Your Online Classroom for a Successful Session

#57: How to Prepare Your Online Classroom for a Successful Session

This content first appeared on APUEDGE.COM.

Teaching online classes requires a substantial amount of advanced preparation. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares ways teachers can prepare before a class so they can focus on teaching, engaging with students, and meeting their own teaching goals. Learn tips on writing the syllabus, outlining weekly assignments in advance, preparing for forum discussions, and assessing grading tools all before the class starts to make sure online educators have time and energy to dedicate to students.

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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 podcast. I’m very happy that you’re with us today, this 57th episode, we’re just slightly into our second year here. We’ve just finished a three-episode series on Work-Life Balance:

And in those three episodes, we discussed a few strategies to help you manage your workload, set boundaries and try some efficiency strategies to help you out.

Now with episode number 57 here, we are jumping into the preparation of your online classroom. As you know, managing your time and setting boundaries while you’re teaching online are absolutely essential for job satisfaction and effective teaching. This is going to free you up to meet your students’ needs while you’re teaching your online course.

If you are actually preparing things while you’re teaching them, you’re going to spend an awful lot of time getting things ready while you should be spending that time interacting with students and grading things.

And if you do all of those things at once, that time’s really going to add up and it’s going to be exhausting for you. So I’m here because I’d like to protect your time and your energy and help you really enjoy your online teaching. Online education can be fun, satisfying, rewarding, and a rich experience for both you and your students. So let’s get started talking about how to prepare your online classroom for teaching.

Ensure Syllabus Includes Course Objectives, Policies

Beginning with step one, let’s look at your course objectives. You’ve probably have some kind of course description and some course objectives. If you don’t have these and you actually have to create them, that’s a great place to start.

Think about what your students should be able to demonstrate. They should be able to know at the end of the course. As you look at these kinds of objectives that you set for your students, this can also frame how you approach your teaching. You’ll be able to look at the big picture of really what should be accomplished in this class. What your priorities are, subject matter wise.

As you prepare your classroom, the first place to begin looking at these course objectives and communicating this out to students is in your course syllabus. Your course syllabus is the final word on everything happening in the course. Generally you’ll have your course description and course objectives in that syllabus. You’ll also have some general policies about whether or not you accept late work, how long students have to submit something, whether they can revise and resubmit assignments, and other types of communication policies.

I highly recommend setting up your communication policies in advance so that students know exactly what to expect from you. You can also set up a friendly and welcoming course announcement for the first week of class and to welcome students to the entire course. And another course announcement to introduce them to the first week of the class and let them know what to expect as they move forward.

In these announcements, I encourage you to be as positive as you possibly can be while also being clear and direct. Students appreciate knowing what your policies are and how you operate in the classroom. This is especially important if students are taking classes from more than one instructor at a time. If you’re in a university setting and they have many classes with many instructors, chances are each one of you has different policies that vary slightly on accepting late work, revising assignments, and how to communicate with the instructor.

If you can make your policies, especially clear and plain, and easy to locate in the classroom, as well as in the syllabus, students will benefit. This will help you out as the instructor, because it will prevent future problems when students are frustrated and they’re not sure who to turn to. Likewise, it can prevent student complaints because students know exactly who to contact and when.

If you’re also responsive once the course begins by replying quickly and with clear and helpful information, your students will learn to trust you. And they will be able to have a positive learning experience with you and ask questions along the way.

Prepare Weekly Announcements with Timely Updates

After you have a clear and established syllabus, I do recommend going to the announcement section and generally preparing announcements for each week of the class you’re going to teach. If you have these prepared in advance and saved in some kind of draft area, then you can finalize them each week by adding timely reminders and specific information for the group of students you’re working with this time around.

As you add the information and the guidance, you can publish them on demand, or you can schedule them ahead of time to just roll out one at a time each week. Whatever your preference, planning your approach will help you also manage your time throughout the teaching of the course.

Schedule Information to Publish at Specific Times in the Course

The next area I suggest thinking about while you’re preparing your online classroom is which parts of the course should be visible and accessible to your students immediately from the first day of class and which parts of the course you would like to be hidden and reveal themselves over time.

In some institutions, there are policies in place that govern the rollout of different weeks’ worth of materials. For example, at the university I work with and teach with, we prefer to have information available to students early in the course, so they can look ahead and plan their work. If your institution has a policy where you can roll these out, then you may wish to go through the lessons, the assignments, and the forums, and any other areas you have in the course, and set those to automatically release a little bit before the week will begin so students can see them and know exactly what they’re aiming for.

Create Guidance Assets for Assignments in Advance

Any kind of guidance assets that you would like to create to help students with tricky parts of an assignment, difficult concepts in a lesson or other helpful tips, it’s nice if you can spend the time ahead of the course starting to create those assets. If you are spending time during the course teaching to create the assets, you can find yourself, spinning your wheels and getting stuck and really feeling a lot of pressure when you’re trying to develop things and teach at the same time.

I suggest going through your assignment section and reading the description for the assignments that you have as if you are a student with little experience in the subject matter. Take a look at the instructions and ask yourself if they are clear and describe the content that should be included in the assignment, the tasks that students are to do, what format they should submit it with. For example, whether it’s a PowerPoint, a Word document, a video or something else.

And also how they can ask questions if they are unsure of what’s due. You might also consider creating and attaching sample assignments and any grading rubrics that you have before the course begins. Whenever you can provide this kind of information upfront before the course starts, then your classroom itself is prepared and ready to go. And students can navigate throughout that classroom and see what they should prepare for and where they’re going to need to spend their time.

Assess Your Own Strengths, Weaknesses and Priorities as an Educator

As you think about preparing your course before the first day of the session, ask yourself: What are your personal challenges teaching online? Each of us has our own strengths as an educator and likewise, we each have our weaknesses. What are your weaker areas that you can anticipate? How would you like to plan ahead to try to strengthen some of those weaker areas?

For example, if you’re a very fast grader, but you tend to grade with minimal comments and not a lot of content related feedback, maybe this session you want to focus on adding more content-related feedback and setting aside the time to do that. If you like to be really explaining a lot of information in your responses to students and you find that you’re spending too much time explaining these things, maybe in this coming session, you’d like to be a little more precise and brief so you’re not spending as much time writing those responses.

Whatever your strengths are, you can plan ahead to emphasize those strengths and also to bolster at least one weak area in the coming course start. What takes most of your time and effort when you’re teaching an online course? And does the area you’re spending the most time, reflect your personal priorities and teaching?

Several times in this Online Teaching Lounge podcast, we have discussed your values and your priorities as an educator. We each come at teaching with our own perspectives and our own approach. If you’re unsure of your perspective, you can consult the teaching perspectives inventory for some idea about the agenda you personally have when you’re teaching other people.

As you think about your agenda and where you’re really spending all of your time in teaching, you might decide to shift your priorities or change the way you spend your time slightly to meet more of your teaching priorities and ensure that you’re able to suit your own values and the reason you’re in this teaching profession in the first place. So think about where you really want to focus your efforts this time when you’re teaching this class.

And also what strategies do you already use to manage your online teaching tasks? Are there any strategies or tools that could support your work and improve your efficiency for teaching while you’re going through the weeks of the course that’s about to start? And how will you know if you are achieving a satisfying level of work-life balance while you’re teaching online this session that suits your own needs and your teaching and learning priorities?

Incorporate Your Teaching Goals into Your Planning

Think about some of these areas before the course begins so that you can set at least one goal to focus on. Many times if you have a goal for your own teaching, it can help you focus the entire experience for yourself as an educator. And you’ll find a lot more satisfaction in connecting with your students as you think about that one area.

Again, as we think about preparing your classroom, remember what your own priority is as an educator. For example, if you really want to mentor students in the subject matter, you’ll want to find ways to plan ahead before the course begins to provide that kind of mentoring experience. Maybe you’d like to offer some live office hours and record them to share with students later who could not attend. Or maybe you’d really like to promote students being self-starters and self-reliant. Perhaps there are some things you’d like to share in course announcements about those topics.

Plan for Course Extensions

Also plan ahead for course extensions. It’s very possible that you might have one or more students that have interruptions while they’re taking your course. If your institution or a university or school have an extension policy in place, you might have one or more students ask for the extra time when the session has completely ended.

How will you handle course extensions? Do you have an approval policy that helps you decide when to accept an extension and when to deny it. Think about what you might say to students in the middle of the course and continue encouraging them to help them stay the course and be resilient as they get through the class and submit the work as timely as possible. The more you can support your students along the way, the more you can help them end on time. And the fewer extension requests you’re likely have.

If you reach out to students who are falling behind, likely you can provide some encouragement needed. I’ve had more than one student tell me that when I’ve reached out to them, they were considering dropping the class, or they felt like they were too far behind to ever catch up. But my encouragement helped them to keep going and made them realize that they really could succeed in the class.

If you don’t hear back from a student within a few days, you might consider reaching out to support from whatever advising department or student services department your institution has. And these people may be able to help you during the course when you have a missing student or a non-responsive student.

Prepare Plans for Forum Discussions

As you’re preparing to teach on the first day, and you’re thinking about how you will engage in discussions with your students, especially if you’re teaching an online asynchronous class, think about those discussion forums as if they are the live conversation you might have in a face-to-face traditional class. I’d like to suggest that you consider what you can share with students about the subject matter, that they cannot learn from any other instructor.

For example, you yourself have your own knowledge, expertise, guiding questions, and illustrative examples throughout anything you might share that can build understanding and promote critical thinking in your students.

These things are unique to you, even if you and I were teaching the same exact subject matter and had expertise in the same area, we certainly wouldn’t share the exact same kinds of comments in the discussion. We’re each different people. So think about what you uniquely can share and what you have to offer and be sure to plan ahead so you have the time that you need to write those kinds of discussion posts, and really engage with students once the class begins.

When you’re managing your teaching throughout the course, always set aside time for those forum discussions. One strategy I like to suggest when we’re thinking about planning ahead, how to engage in the forum discussions as the faculty member or the instructor. I like to suggest posting something very early in the week so there’s sort of a greeting to the discussion. It’s almost like shaking your students’ hands as they enter the room, the virtual room, you might say. And you might consider this a way of leading, moderating, or facilitating that discussion and dialogue.

And then throughout the discussion, engage with many of your students, respond to what they’ve said, refer to other students’ comments, bring in current events, links, YouTube videos, anything that seems to help that discussion become more rich. And then at the end of the week, it’s also a great practice to plan ahead to have some kind of summary that culminates the week’s discussion and ties together some of the things that came out in that dialogue.

I also like to call this a wrap-up post. So this approach to a beginning, middle and end of your discussion each week helps to frame that discussion. It also established a really good teaching presence that students can rely on throughout the course. They really get a sense of who you are and also the guiding hand that you have in teaching them that subject matter.

It’s very difficult in asynchronous, online education for students to get a sense of who you are. So the more you can plan ahead before the class even begins to share those parts of you with your students over each week, the more you’re going to build relationships, build rapport, and also create the trusting environment that they need to feel like succeeding, and really keep working through the content with you.

Consider Grading Tools

The last area I want to suggest thinking about as you prepare your online classroom before the session begins is how you will grade students’ work once it starts coming in. If you can plan ahead for your grading activities, you can schedule time on your calendar to keep your grading under control. And you can give information students need before the assignments are even due, to help coach them on those assignments and improve their performance ahead of time.

When you don’t have a plan for your grading, it can easily take over your online teaching job. It can also start to take almost all of your time and pretty soon you’ll be behind with your grading before you even realize it. Think about how you could use rubrics to make your students aware of what you’re going to be grading. You can also use the rubrics while you’re doing the grading and mark them and return them to your students.

Think about some other efficiency tools that could help you provide detailed grading feedback in a short period of time. You might want to take a little bit of time exploring these tools before the class begins. For example, you can download an essay in Microsoft Word and use track changes and reviewers comment bubbles to put comments right on the essay. And then you can upload it back in the classroom to the student.

If you do this, I often recommend using a PDF file as the upload. So instead of the Word version, save it as a PDF. So students can see the in-text comments and the reviewers comments exactly where they are, and you don’t have any problem with them viewing them.

If your institution has something like turnitin.com as an originality checking service, there’s a Grade Mark feature in there where you can actually grade student’s written work through that interface. You can type comments directly on the assignment, and you can also put either a recorded voice comment or a summary text comment. All you need to do if you’re using Turnitin is to direct your students to that location so they can find your feedback.

One more tool I love to share with people is called Grade Assist and Grade Assist is a toolbar that you can purchase an add into your Microsoft Word. And then as you’re looking at an essay, you can just click on the different comments to add them appropriately to different places.

And you can also create your own comments. It’s definitely worth your time to think about what kinds of tools you’ll use to do your grading in advance, because once you’re in the heat of the moment and you need to turn around a lot of grading pretty fast, it’s difficult to explore the tools and figure out how to use them. So explore them, check them out and see if you find something that really works for you.

Today, we’ve gone through a lot of tips and strategies to help you prepare for your next session, teaching online. And I hope this will give you some foundation for success and a lot of confidence moving forward, especially in the preventative areas where you can meet your students’ needs ahead of time and give yourself a lot more time and space to enjoy teaching the class successfully.

Thank you again for being here and the Online Teaching Lounge and joining me for the tips and strategies today. Best wishes to you this coming week in your online teaching. This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast, to share comments and requests for future episodes please visit BethanieHansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.

#54: Work Life Balance (Part 1 of 3): Engaging With Students First

#54: Work Life Balance (Part 1 of 3): Engaging With Students First

This content initially appeared on APUEDGE.COM.

Teaching online can be overwhelming and cause a significant amount of work-related stress. In the first part of this three-part series, Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses teaching strategies to help online educators prioritize their time by engaging students first. Learn about using a Community of Inquiry framework, keeping written notes about students and your interaction with them, and the benefits of using backwards mapping to ensure you’re meeting objectives and connecting regularly with students.

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 episode today for the Online Teaching Lounge. We’re in year two of this podcast, and it is very exciting to support you in your online teaching efforts. You’re not alone here. You might feel alone teaching online as it can be very isolating to do that, but we’re here for you and hopefully you’ll get some tools and strategies and encouragement by listening to this podcast today.

We’re at the beginning of a three-part mini-series. Today is part one. We’ll talk about work-life balance and how you can set priorities for your very top priority as an online educator. This will be about engaging with students first.

Next episode, we will talk about work-life balance in setting priorities to produce assets that can guide your students to manage themselves.

And lastly, also in work-life balance, we will talk about setting priorities to use time management strategies effectively, managing your workload.

These three areas are going to support you a lot in your work-life balance. As online educators, we know that we can teach any time anywhere, and it’s very easy for us to have the online classroom follow us to all places that we go and kind of pop into all places in our lives.

There’s been a lot of research done in online teaching, and even though it offers attractive flexibility for you as the instructor, all kinds of instructors out there report high teaching workloads, feeling isolated, having high stress levels, and having generally poor life-work balance.

There’s a lot of assumptions about online learners out there we can use to our advantage, especially when we’re working with adult learners, and those come from andragogy theory. There are also some frameworks that help us as online educators and we’re going to look at the community of inquiry framework to give us some practical application as we’re taking this tour in our three-part mini-series.

We can also look at some areas outside of online education, like the work-life balance theories. There’s been some research done in that area. And then lastly, we can think about the kinds of boundaries that would support your work and simultaneously allow you to focus on your student success as a priority. I personally believe that when you set boundaries in the online classroom and in your online teaching generally by prioritizing what matters most, developing assets to help your students guide themselves, and managing your time efficiently and carefully, you can have better definition to your work. And you can also focus your efforts, which means you’re going to do a better job as an online educator and you might even enjoy it a lot more. So here we go with part one, engaging with students first.

When we think about engaging with students first, there are some things about work-life balance for online employees that also apply to our online educators here. In some of the research done about working online, there was a little collection of strategies people were using to have good work-life balance.

Of course, there were some that were provided by the employers, but those were pretty few. The most successful strategies came from the employees themselves. These are called employee originated solutions. Now, employee originating solutions means that you have the locus of control. You’re the boss of what you do for these solutions, how much you use them and how you manage them. And the most popular employee originating solutions for online workers that were effective, were mindfulness strategies, self-reflection, and meditation. And these could be either prompted by the employer or just come up with by the employee themselves.

These are going to increase your mental and emotional presence in the online classroom and just working online generally. It’ll also increase your mental and emotional presence in your personal life and reduce the interference of work-related stress.

Now, when I say there’s interference from work-related stress, I mean we might be thinking about our online work when we’re not actually doing it. We might have emails pop up that stress us out because we think, “Oh, we have to go online right now.”

Chances are this has happened to you if you’ve worked online very long. It’s pervasive and we think because we can read those messages anytime, we should do it to keep our workload under control. But we don’t realize that when we’re doing those things, the stress is creeping in and we’re feeling all that stress all day long in our personal life too. Before you know it, we think we need to be working all the time throughout the day just to keep the workload manageable. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Really there are a lot of ways we can reduce that stress and create less pressure in our work life.

So thinking about this, we’re going to talk about connecting with our students first. This is going to be the top priority for us as online educators. And I’m going to share just a few tips with you today. Then I encourage you to come back next week for episode 55 when we will talk about producing assets that guide your students to manage themselves.

Understanding the Community of Inquiry Framework

Now let’s look at the framework that is really common or popular in online education, the Community of Inquiry framework. This framework gives us a practical model that we can use to design how we involve ourselves in the classroom. How we engage with our students.

The Community of Inquiry framework focuses on teaching, social, and cognitive presence as priorities. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. If you’re in higher education, it’s very likely that you have. Each of these presences within the COI model, the teaching, social, and cognitive presences, work together in an interrelated way. So they work together in ways where we often are meeting two or three presences all at once through our activities. And we’re going to support our students in their learning experiences by focusing in these areas even more precisely.

Social Presence

Social presence is about the way your learners can engage in a comfortable learning environment and feel supported and trust you as the educator and feel like they can collaborate with others in that environment.

Teaching Presence

Teaching presence is about your ability as the educator to design and facilitate the online class. So what you run and put announcements out there and guide them in their assignments and all of those things is part of your teaching presence.

Cognitive Presence

And lastly, cognitive presence is the way learners can construct new meaning through the process of learning. So that means they’re doing some things that draw the points together, connecting the dots, making even more connections to the subject matter. And you can promote that as an educator in a lot of different ways.

When you are designing and facilitating a course online and you’re thoughtful about connectedness to what the learners need and what they already know, you can use the CoI framework to plan what you’re going to do thinking about your social, teaching, and cognitive presence. This is going to give you a lot of space to prioritize what’s really important and make the best of your time spent in the online classroom.

Now, if you take a thoughtful approach like using a framework such as the CoI I’ve mentioned here, you can plan your activities around those key areas. If you don’t do that, it’s very easy to resort to a to-do list. Maybe we’ve got a to-do list of things to grade, things to post, comments to write, announcements to post.

And when we have that to-do list that’s just a checkbox approach, it’s really easy for us to lose track of the bigger picture, what we’re really trying to accomplish as the educator. The framework helps us to ground ourselves in the goal of connecting with our students, promoting the cognitive aspects of what we’re doing and also helping them get to know us as faculty or as instructors. So our first priority is to engage with the students first.

Engaging with Students First

There are some strategies that will help you engage with your students first. Some of these could be posting and replying early each day in the discussion. Of course reading messages and emails that your students send you early in the day will also help you to address any serious concerns that your students have. This is going to build trust. If you make weekly notes about your students and add some things that you’re figuring out about them, it will help you get to know them better.

You can also use a strategy called backwards mapping and use it to plan your workload. The workload’s pretty high when you’re teaching online. There’s a lot to read and write and grade and a lot of time to spend because when you’re not meeting face to face, you’re going to replace that with a lot of written work and other types of online interactivity. So there’s more to grade, more to do, more to read.

Because of this kind of workload, you want to decide where to start in your teaching tasks. This will help you avoid being overwhelmed and quickly burning out. When you engage with students first as your top priority, this is going to help you establish your teaching presence and your social presence. If you don’t have those two areas when you’re creating your course, when you’re engaging with students, it’s very difficult to bump things up to that next level of cognitive presence to help students adopt critical thinking and really be engaged in the underlying aim of all those educational activities that you’ve planned.

Consider Posting to the Classroom Every Morning

So you might consider starting the day with a post in the discussion forum for each class you’re teaching and responding to all the messages and emails. If you post early in any class you teach every work day, this means you’ve been responsive, you’ve got a presence that is regular, and you’re not going to forget to engage with your students. After all, the more you engage, the more you build relationships and you guide them by teaching them in that subject area.

Most of the institutions with online learning have some kind of expectations of you as the instructor. Maybe they want you to be in the classroom a certain number of days or in the discussion area a certain number of days. There might be some kind of guideline to that where you’re working now or where you’re teaching now.

In my own work, I’ve noticed that if students haven’t participated in the weekly discussion yet, I go in there and post an initial thread with some kind of encouragement to get started in the discussion. Maybe a current event that ties to the topic or something else of interest. This helps my students to just start getting into that discussion and readily engage in the dialogue. So we’ve got the academic community and it’s growing because I’ve created the starter and I’ve also helped them to see me and feel like I’m there helping them out.

This is true when my post asks them to reflect or apply the topic or connect to some kind of current event. These all satisfy andragogy theory and meet the needs of adult learners, and also they build cognitive presence.

Maintain Collection of “Starter” Threads and Written Notes about Students

Now, if you’re teaching the course repeatedly, you teach that same topic over and over again each time you teach this class, you might want to maintain a collection of well-developed starter threads that you can use every time students don’t appear to be engaged. So when you need to start a thread for the week, it’s nice when you’ve already researched one and you can kind of further tailor it for the class at hand and meet the needs of those students, but you’ve got something to start with.

Another tip to engage with your students first is to keep anecdotal records. When you post early each day and you build that priority of instructor presence and connecting with your students, you get to know your students as a priority. You’re applying andragogy throughout your teaching. And when you record notes, typically called anecdotal records, about your students, this will help you keep track of who they are. Especially if you’re teaching a lot of sections with a lot of students, it’s difficult to do this.

Some of them may not have a photo online and it’s difficult to get to know them or associate their name with their work. Keeping a written record of your students and things that you’re learning about them and also who you’ve replied to each week can help you to manage the touch that you want to have with each student effectively.

Your notes might include something like where the students are living, their backgrounds and interests, maybe their academic major, whether they’re in the military or working, whether they’re new parents, and any other pertinent details that you noticed that you care about.

If you write those details down, you can be sensitive in your responses. And when they reach out for extra help, you also have some level of context around who they are and what their situation in life is. Knowing their backgrounds can help you also remember that you’re working with real human beings, not just some names that show up online. This can help you to understand their problems and also their challenges when they reach out to you for special help. They are real. They do care about learning from you and knowing them a little bit better will help you to approach them in a way that lets them know you care about them.

When you connect students’ experiences and backgrounds to what you say in the class, this helps even more to establish your social presence because it helps the students feel known and it also gives you that human element as you communicate with them.

Your weekly student contacts are a best practice because these give you the space to identify any students you haven’t connected with recently or touched in the online class, and you can also determine who has become inactive in the course. You can follow up and reach out to help students re-engage in the class.

Anecdotal records of your contacts with students will help you to vary who you reach out to, who you look for, and who you follow up with, and eventually you’re going to touch everyone and remember the students you’ve taught long after the class has ended.

You might even benefit from using a notepad like EndNote Online or maybe an Excel document where you kind of use a spreadsheet approach. You could put these notations about your students there to keep track of them and even begin with week one when they give you their introduction so you’re just getting to know them.

Whatever process you use, the main goal is to really establish a relationship and keep yourself focused. I don’t know if you’ve had this experience, but I used to go to a dentist who would remember things about me when I hadn’t seen him in six months. I would sit down in that dentist chair, I believe I was 16 or 17 at the time, and he would ask me all about how school was going and different activities I was engaging in. At the time, I thought that man was a genius. Now that I’m older and I understand how those things are maintained, I realized that he was keeping anecdotal records so that he could follow up with me and build rapport. It’s difficult to work on someone’s teeth, as a dentist, if they’re afraid of you. But when you build rapport, trust is created and fear can reduce. That’s my estimation of what happened at the dentist, but it also happens in online education.

The more you convey that you know the student and you’re relating to them, and the more you connect socially by sharing your expertise and your thoughts about what’s going on as well, the more students build trust for you. They’re more than likely to reach out to you when they do have concerns instead of just dropping the class or disappearing and disengaging.

Backwards Mapping Techniques

The last area I want to share with you in this priority of connecting or engaging with your students first is to practice backwards mapping. Now, you might’ve heard this term before. Backwards mapping is something that Wiggins and McTighe came up with in a curriculum design process. The goal is that you’re going to look at what you want to achieve at the end of a class, you create this big picture view of the goals, and then you break them down into smaller tasks that need to be planned ahead of time to reach the goals.

Public school teachers use this strategy a lot when they’re choosing learning goals for their students. And of course, as I just mentioned, plan the desired date, the goals to be achieved, and move backwards to decide when to start the project, when to start the lesson, and when the bigger benchmark measurements need to happen.

Backwards mapping is a great strategy that can be used in planning your online teaching engagement productively. So not only is it a curricular tool, it is also a good planning tool for your involvement and your time management.

You can use backwards mapping to ensure that the requirements or goals you have for yourself professionally as an educator are met on time. For example, let’s just say you’re teaching a class of 50 students. That would be a pretty large class. And if you’re teaching a class of 50 students and you need to respond to everyone at least once during the week, if you’re online for five days of that week, you’ll probably want to make sure you’re connecting with 10 students per day. If that works for you to spread it out that way, then you could backwards map in that way and then on the last day of the week, check in and see if you have met your goal.

You can reply, you can grade this way by backwards mapping your approach to grading as well. You can also backwards map different things like posting announcements, logging in, and doing other follow-up pieces of your online teaching.

Backwards mapping assignments to be graded can really help you anticipate how many documents you’re going to evaluate and how many you would need to evaluate each day to return the graded work in a pretty timely manner and with the expected grading quality that you’re wanting to return to them. Take a look at backwards mapping. It’s a great strategy to help you reduce the overwhelm of the teaching load that you might have when you’re teaching online.

So, in summary, your priorities would be to post in discussions every day, early in the day, as your first priority to connect with your students. So engage with students first. Reply to messages, emails, and students questions before any other task.

Take anecdotal notes about your students from week one forums and throughout the course as things come up. Track the students you’ve responded to or touched each week and then follow up with missing or disengaged students. You can also use these strategies as you’re engaging with students first.

The first one is to set time management priorities. You might use a checklist to ensure that there are things that must be done and that they get done. Plan time for each commitment that you have on a schedule or in some kind of a planner, and then backwards map your engagement and your grading.

When you do these things by setting priorities and following strategies that work for you, you’ll be able to have work-life balance because the work is getting done in a focused manner and at a quality that helps you really connect with students and make a difference in your online teaching.

I appreciate you being here today. Thank you for listening to part one in our work-life balance three-part mini-series. Come back next week and we’ll talk about producing assets that guide your students in self-management. And I look forward to seeing you then. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching.

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

#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.

#50: Regular Reflection can Improve Productivity

#50: Regular Reflection can Improve Productivity

Online educators can get so caught up in completing tasks and meeting deadlines that they often feel like they don’t have time for the big or important things. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks about the importance of reflection to assess one’s values and priorities. She also suggests an approach of reflecting on yesterday, evaluating how that time was spent, and then being intentional in how you are using your time in the present moment.

This content appeared first on APUEdge. 

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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 podcast. I’m so glad you’re here today. We are headed toward the end of our first year in the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. With episode 50, we are anticipating about two more till we can call it a perfect year of 52 episodes. Thanks for being with us over the course of the past year.

We’ve covered a lot of topics on this podcast and hopefully something is always of value to you. There are specific pillars, or topics, that we cover on the Online Teaching Lounge:

  • Best practices in online education
  • How to reach your students better
  • Life as an online educator; and
  • Using multimedia tools.
  • Then there’s this fifth topic that keeps coming up, and that is your own growth and professional development as an online educator or an online professional.

Recently, I picked up a great book called “18 Minutes” by Peter Bregman. It’s about finding your focus, mastering distraction, and getting the right things done. This episode is all about reflection. Although the book itself is about focusing in the future and making better use of your time, reflection is really about looking at the past, making meaning out of it, and taking something away that we can either do better, or cherish, or enjoy. In other words, there will be many things that we want to start doing, stop doing, and keep doing based on our reflection.

Have you ever thought, “Where did the day go?” Perhaps you got busy working, answering emails, doing a lot of things, making a phone call here and there and doing your various tasks. And all of the sudden, the day is over. Well, I certainly have. And Peter Bregman says that this actually has to do with the fact that we, as human beings, fall into habits. We start to do little behaviors that fill up the whole day. And pretty soon we’re unaware of those patterns.

From his book, I’m going to read just a little section that really inspired me today. He says:

Either we keep moving along a path that isn’t quite right, but we fail to knock ourselves off of it. Or we intentionally choose the right path, but keep getting knocked off of it. If we’re going to look back and feel good about what we’ve done over a year, a day, or even a moment, we need to break those patterns.

Today, we’re going to look back over the past year. We’re going to think about the previous day we’ve experienced. And we’re going to think about this present moment, right now. So buckle up and enjoy the journey that we’re going to take together today.

The Importance of Reflection

So let’s get started. Looking back in our reflection, what was the previous year about for you as an online educator and professional? What did you do over the course of that year to handle all of the things that came your way? What was your guiding focus or principle that led you to where you are right now, this moment, from one year ago today?

Identify What You Value

Everyone is guided by something. And most of us are very unaware of what we actually care about. We have things that we would call values that guide us. For example, you might value social connections, relationships, being with other people, talking to other people. If that’s one of your values, over the past year you notice that perhaps you didn’t have enough time to do that, or you weren’t able to do that because of things that stood in your way.

If your top value was actually moneymaking, you could look back and see were you able to stay employed? Did you make the money you wanted? Financial security is often a value in the top five that people do embrace for obvious reasons. We need to live. Not everyone has it as their top value. Often I find that it’s number four or number five in there for people who do really value that.

Then there’s time management. Do you value being productive and managing your time, or is that just some fluff about how to organize your life, but not really the substance of it? Think about what you value most, and over the past year, how aware did you become of your most important values?

In other words, what is your “why” behind what you’re doing? Did it come out to you? There were several distractions and interruptions to normal daily life that may have come up for you. And in those things, did you begin to see what actually mattered?

Many of us notice what we care about by looking at the negative side of it. Perhaps we’re noticing when we’re not able to spend enough time on that particular thing we care about, or when it’s being frustrated in some way.

For example, if we do value relationships most, we notice when we’re not able to connect with people. If we value solitude and thinking time most, we notice when we don’t get any of that either.

What Did You Bring?

As you look back over the past year, what became your personal theme? And what did you bring to your online teaching? Considering what you brought in the year that passed, you’re able to look ahead and think about what you’d like to bring in the future and what you would like to be your primary driver. What is it about online teaching that you really do love, even if you feel like you just can’t quite measure up in that area? Or you continually feel frustrated trying to reach a goal that you’re not quite able to hit?

When you settle down and think about what really matters to you, you may find that the reason you’re so frustrated is because you do care so much about a particular area. It’s not so much that you’re surrounded by lack and things that go poorly. It’s that you’re thinking, how could they go better, and how much more do you want to reach that particular goal?

When seen in this light, we can actually find our values much more clearly, and we can begin to live them in the coming year more clearly as well.

As we wrap up almost 52 episodes here of the Online Teaching Lounge, it’s a great time to be thinking about the year ahead. In the coming year, I value connection and relationships deeply as one of my top five values, and I’ll be bringing a lot of special guests to this podcast. You’ll be learning from others outside of me. I had one guest this past year, and we’re going to have several more that I think you’ll really enjoy.

I’m going to purposely bring my value of social connection into what I’m doing much more, and I hope you’ll enjoy that. So as you hit the year ahead, begin thinking about. What was the main theme of your past year and what would you like to take into the coming year?

How Did You Spend Yesterday?

The next step of your reflection is to think about the previous day. So if we just think about yesterday, whatever yesterday was. This podcast is typically published on Wednesdays. So if you’re listening to it near its publication date, possibly the previous day was a weekday for you.

What was yesterday all about for you? Were you teaching? Were you working online? What did you bring into that day that helped you to really feel fulfilled about your work? What is it in your personal value system or your driver as an online educator and online professional that you brought into your daily efforts?

When you look back at yesterday, did you get some of those right things done that you care most about? Was there something in your day thoughtfully included so that you ended your day with a high note, or was it just a big list of tasks to be done?

I talk to a lot of folks about their time management and how they spend their time, as online professionals and as online educators. Many times when we feel the most overwhelmed it’s because we lose track of the bigger picture we care most about, and we get lost in the minutia of the day-to-day tasks that are really pressing on us for time and completion.

If you look at yesterday and it was a big to-do list, never-ending, endless stream of emails and tasks to do, essays to be graded that are not finished yet, and a lot of really non-people connected tasks. If you see a lot of tasks and not a lot of connection, let’s think about tomorrow, what will that day be about? And how would you do it differently if you planned just one of what you might consider the “right things” to include in your day?

What kind of things would you include if you took the day on more intentionally? One person I know has the habit of listing the most one-important thing she wants to get done. And she does that thing first before opening her email or looking at any of the distractions.

In doing this, she’s able to live her why every single day. And she has actually become so productive that her eight hour Workday of tasks that used to bleed into nine, 10 or 11 hours of the day is actually taking her only five or six hours a day. That task focus left her completely.

And yes, she can still tend to the tasks that do need to be done as part of her role, but by living her why, completing that first most important thing, she’s able to have a productive day before the day even gets on. There’s no more getting lost in the minutia or distracted by a lot of things that need to be done all at once. And she just takes the time at the beginning of each day to think about what the one most important thing is that she needs to do.

Many people I’ve worked with in coaching have asked me how they can make more time for the big projects in their lives. Perhaps you have a big project, maybe there’s something you’re working on, it could be you’re designing a course or revising a course. Maybe you’re writing something professionally, or preparing to present at a conference. Or perhaps you have some other special project that matters to you and is important to you.

If you’re doing your to-do list all day, every day, chances are you’re never getting to that item. If you decide every single day is going to be about that one thing, and then you get to all the rest of your things, you’re going to find that you make incremental progress toward the most important things in your life regularly.

And you’re going to start feeling structure in your day. You’ll feel more satisfied, productive, and find that your work is measurable. You can see actual change and improvement. So as you reflect on yesterday, and what that day was all about, take away your patterns and habits and start one step towards just choosing one meaningful thing each day to complete first.

Living in the Present Moment

And then lastly, Peter Bregman talks about what this moment is about. It’s amazing how many of us are in the present moment, but thinking about something in the future. Perhaps we’re anxious about a meeting coming up, or a deadline that we have to complete a lot of work for. Maybe we have a lot of things to grade and they’re all due by Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Maybe there’s something in our personal lives coming up and we’re also anxious about that.

Or perhaps we’re thinking about the past. Maybe there was a situation with a student we were concerned about and wish had gone differently, and we’re worried about the past. Maybe we think about the past and we worry that we haven’t done enough for our family members, or for our own health.

Whatever it is we worry about from the past, or we get anxious about for the future, the present moment is none of that. The present moment is just right now. The future isn’t here yet. The past isn’t really here. And in this moment, if we let go of all those competing thoughts, we can focus on the here and now. And we can be much more clear in our thinking, and clear on what we care most about as well as what matters most to us.

In the present moment, some people have habits of slowing down, closing their eyes, breathing deeply, putting their hands on the sides of the chair, feeling that chair, thinking about what they’re experiencing right now in this moment. Putting feet on the floor, feeling the feet in the shoes fully, maybe wiggling their toes. And then taking a moment to just sense what is going on in this moment right now.

What sounds are being heard? What’s the temperature like in the room? How does everything seem in this present moment? And in doing that, a lot of things drift away from our mind, and we think much more clearly at times like that.

In each moment that we are working online, or teaching online, and in each moment that we’re living our lives, the more we can be present in that moment, the more we can let go of distractions and stay on the path that we really want to be on.

So, for example, back to those couple of reasons people go to work and things people think about. If you’re all about relationships and connection, and you slow down and get really present right now in this moment, you might suddenly be aware of people you’d like to connect to.

If you’re reflecting on teaching, you might be thinking about in this moment, a student or two who seems to need you right now. Maybe an idea comes to you about how you might reach out and connect to your students in a new way.

Or, if finance and wage earning is more important to you, you might think about right now how are your finances doing? If you just got paid and you are doing quite well, you have money in the bank, perhaps you feel pretty good. If you think about what you’re doing for employment, and you’re satisfied with the wage you’re earning, you might also feel very good.

And likewise, if you’re not satisfied with that, if you’re not pleased with your bottom line in the bank account, something might occur to you in the present moment that you’d like to try in the near future to change your income or move in a new direction, maybe take on another part-time role.

Whatever this present moment is all about for you, whatever your most important values are, drink it in. Really connect to that in the moment, let go of your anxiety and your worry, and you’ll find clarity where you can move forward right now.

In wrapping this up, we’ve just looked at reflecting in our online educator lives and roles, over the past year, over the past day, and in the present moment. And as we reflect, we are much more readily prepared to take steps forward where we’d like to go.

Whatever time of year this is for you, and whatever spot you’re in during a course or a semester, take the time to reflect. Decide if you’re pleased with your direction and how much of your values have been able to come out in what you’re doing. And after you’ve done that reflection consider what you would like to change in the year ahead to live your values much more fully.

If you’d like any suggestions on identifying your values and determining what your most important priorities are, there are some tools linked here in the podcast notes. So feel free to look at the transcript and try out some of those links, and that will help you move forward in that direction.

Again, we’re looking forward to the coming year in the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. We’ll be having a few special guests and some interesting and very helpful topics for you. I hope you’ll join us for year two of the Online Teaching Lounge podcast coming up in just a few weeks.

Thanks for being with me today to reflect and consider continuous learning as online educators and online professionals, and definitely check out Peter Bregman’s book “18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, And Get The Right Things Done.” Here’s to being the best you in your online teaching this coming week.

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

#49: Taking Care of Yourself as an Online Educator

#49: Taking Care of Yourself as an Online Educator

This content originally appeared at APUEdge.Com

Being an online educator means you can work anywhere, anytime. As a result, it often feels like the workday never ends, which can lead to exhaustion and burnout. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares strategies for intentionally creating a self-care plan. Learn the importance of maintaining a healthy morning routine, planning breaks throughout the day, and an end-of-day routine to ensure online teachers can relax and reflect on the workday.

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.

Hello there, welcome to the podcast today. This is Bethanie Hansen, I’ve been an online educator since 2010. Wow, can’t believe it’s been that long already. And when I started out as an online educator, I was also a full-time public school music teacher. So, I was a part-time online educator, and then I became part-time at a second institution. And later, that became a full-time role. And I was part-time at my public school. Then I became a faculty director, where manage other faculty who teach online and I left my public school teaching career for the long haul.

Now, my experiences teaching online were a little bit disorganized at first because I was a part-time faculty member, juggling a lot of other things. If you listen to this podcast very regularly, you’re going to know that I have gone through my own set of struggles and wins with figuring out how to manage things, and also how to use best practices and effective strategies to live and work online.

Developing a Self-Care Plan

I want to encourage you today to take good care of yourself as an online educator. Are you able to take care of your own personal wellbeing while you’re working online? The important message today is to develop a self-care plan and to implement it. If you think about how we like to light the torch of other people through our teaching efforts and further their flame and their ability to contribute to the world beyond just the class we’re teaching, we can’t really light the flame of another person if ours has gone out.

That’s a big message. I mean, when you think about it and you think about kindling your own flame on a regular basis, what is it we do to do that? Is it to read books? Is it to connect with people? Or is there a lot more to this that is part of our self-care and our personal wellbeing?

The message I’d like to share with you today is that it’s okay to create a purposeful strategy to do this. It’s not selfish at all, in fact, it’s necessary. This is a method to take care of your flame, to keep it burning bright, and to be able to continue sharing it for years and years to come.

We’re going to talk about morning routines, options that you might choose there. Breaks that you can implement throughout the work day and a plan for ending your day.

Develop a Strong Morning Routine

So, let’s begin first with the morning routine. What do you do when you first wake up and you’re thinking about a day of online work and online teaching? Do you get up and get ready to go and go straight to your teaching? Do you have some other routines that you like to implement?

In my own work, I used to get ready for the work day and then launch right into my online teaching. And then I would do something else, probably drive to work and teach my full-time job. And then I would check into my online teaching at lunch, after that job was over in the afternoon before going home and then again in the evening. It followed me everywhere because part-time work tends to do that, especially if it’s virtual.

If you’re like me, it’s great to plan a set of routines so that you can get certain things done during your time very plan-fully, very intentionally, and also follow up on those unplanned things, like the many questions students have, or unexpected interruptions to your day.

Consider Exercising in the Morning

A morning routine might include things that you care most about. For example, if you care about getting exercise or eating healthy or taking care of your physical-self, those things could be part of your morning routine.

If you’re a person who likes to go for a walk or a jog in the morning, it’s a great idea to put on some inspiring music, something that’s going to give you energy, help you feel great about your day to come, and give you that mindset to start the day right.

Listen to Music or Read a Book to Start Your Day Off Right

If you don’t really prefer music in your walking or running or whatever routine you might have, perhaps you want to listen to an audio book. There are a wide variety of choices out there. You could always be entertained by fiction. You could listen to historical fiction or nonfiction, or even self-help and self-improvement. That happens to be my category of choice. I’m always choosing some kind of book about how to do something in a new, different, or better way. But that might not be your choice and that’s perfectly fine. Whatever you’d like to listen to in the morning as you’re getting ready for your online work of the day, that’s going to set you up for success and set the tone for the day ahead.

Eat Something Healthy in the Morning

If you are thinking about eating healthy as well, you can stop and take a little time for your meal and feed yourself something nutritious that’s going to give you the energy that you need, and plan what you’re going to have later in the day, like for your lunch break and for your different breaks throughout the day.

Whatever your morning routine is, you want to give yourself many options. Those could be in the physical, spiritual, emotional, social, and creative realms. You might think about what kinds of things get your day started well and how to get moving with some kind of intention.

Of course, the best thing about establishing some kind of repetitive morning routine that you can do in your online work is that your brain is going to latch onto this. Think about the idea of getting dressed for work and walking into the workplace. As you walk into an office, a classroom, or any place like that, your subconscious brain is noticing that you’re here physically, and it’s time to get started.

Just like you get yourself ready and you go to a workplace, when you’re working virtually or online, you need some kind of routine that signals to the brain: it’s starting time, it’s go time, we’re going to get to work now. And it helps you to really get focused and to get in the mood to start.

Set Breaks for Yourself Throughout the Day

The next idea of taking good care of yourself is about the breaks you take throughout the day. When you give yourself a break, it literally is a break state for your brain. It stops this constant churn of the thoughts that you’re having, whether they are about grading or teaching or interacting with students or following up on different projects. Whatever it is, when you take a solid break and you give your brain a break and really stop all of that thinking, you’re going to be able to get back to it with a fresh start.

Planning several breaks throughout your work day will help you to have a solid thinking break, change your state of mind, and come back. So, think about, will you get up and leave the room? Will you talk to someone on the phone? Will you turn on a television program for a short time, watch something on YouTube? Listen to some music? Take some exercise break? Do something creative?

Whatever it is, the best break is something that rejuvenates you, refreshes you, and is a totally different kind of task than what you’re doing. If you give your subconscious brain a break and your conscious brain as well, by really focusing on a totally different type of activity, you’re going to really be able to let go of the stress, as well as whatever you’re stuck on.

Breaks throughout the day should include some kind of water, nutrition. If you bring something in and you help yourself have the energy you need to just keep going physically, you’re going to also be able to endure your online routine all the more.

What’s Your End of Day Routine?

Lastly, think about your end of day routines. What do you want to do to signal to yourself that it’s time to stop working? We all know that working online is an any time, anywhere sport. We can literally do our online teaching on the weekend, every single day of the week, early morning, late at night, it doesn’t really matter.

And because of this, it’s easy to never feel like it’s really ended for the day. Think about what kind of routine would actually signal for yourself that you are closed for business, you’re no longer teaching for that day, and you’re fresh and ready to go for something else.

Consider Visual Input Signaling the End of the Work Day

Think about what visual input you’re going to need to have an end of day routine. What do you need to see? Is it shutting your computer down fully and closing it, and putting it aside? Is it changing to a different room? Is it that you get up and visually put on a different set of clothing, maybe take off the work clothes and put on the casual clothes, even if you’re still at home? Whatever it is, a visual component can be really powerful to help give yourself that signal that, “Yes, my work day is over.”

Reflect on the Day

You can also think about what things you’re going to say to yourself. Maybe you take a moment to reflect on what went well from your online teaching and your online work for the day, and what could be improved.

When you think about what went well, it’s even more effective when you take stock of why it went well, especially your role in it. The more you can find different things that you did that had a positive effect in your work, the better. You’re going to be able to feel that it has more meaning for you, and you’re going to start noticing your impact, both on the work you’re trying to accomplish and on the people who you are teaching and interacting with. So, think about what went well and why it went well, in terms of what you say to yourself at the end of the day, as part of your end-of-day routine.

Also, think about writing something down as a written reflection. Even if you just list the one, two, or three major things that you got done that day, when you write them down, over time you start to notice that you’re making major strides and you’re really accomplishing a lot. If you get a note from a student or a positive comment, you can even consider writing that down in your end of day reflection.

Kinesthetic Cues to Help End the Day

So, we’re thinking about the visual cues, and we’re also thinking about the auditory or written cues, and then the other thing will be the kinesthetic cues. What would you like to feel? Whether it’s physical movement, like a little exercise of some kind, maybe you’re going to take a nap, get some rest, or you’re going to actually connect with your emotions and feel something like a response to the day. Maybe you’re going to feel excited that work is over for the day or relaxed because work is over for the day. Some people turn on the evening news and for them, that’s the signal that I’m done with my work day, and now I’m moving on to some other activity.

Be Intentional About Your Routines

Whatever it is for you, consider intentionally implementing end of day routines that close off your online work day. Whatever you can do to avoid complaining about the past or about troubles throughout the day, but instead reframing those as opportunities to strategize for the future when you might bump into similar obstacles. Those things are going to help you reframe setbacks in a positive way, and also aim for continuous improvement throughout your day, throughout your week, and throughout your teaching career.

Online education, of course, as I continue to mention in these podcasts is an isolating venture. But the more we reflect on it, the more we connect what we’re doing with the impact we’re having, and also consider our personal wellbeing and continue to fuel our own fire, light that flame of inspiration within ourselves, the more we have to give to others.

I hope that this coming week you’ll consider how you’re taking care of yourself in your online teaching routine and what you might do for intentional morning routines, taking breaks throughout the day intentionally, and also considering purposeful and intentional end of day routines.

These things are going to help us all throughout our online education careers and throughout the daily work of being an online educator. And with that, I 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 episode, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey!

#48: How to Build Community with Online Faculty Teams

#48: How to Build Community with Online Faculty Teams

This content first appeared at APUEdge.com. 

Online faculty often feel disconnected from the institution and fellow faculty members. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides tips and strategies for building community among faculty members to help them feel connected, informed and engaged. Learn how department leaders can focus on building relationships through consistent weekly messages, interactive team meetings, one-on-one time, peer mentoring and coaching opportunities, collaboration sites, and much 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 podcast. Thank you for joining me today to talk about building community with online faculty teams. You can employ a variety of strategies to build community with your online faculty and work to really create a sense of being there.

Online education, as we know, is very distance-oriented and it can tend to make us feel very disconnected, especially if we’re not normally comfortable teaching online. Even if we are, that sense of distance can grow and grow, and prevent us from feeling connected to the institutions we work for and the people with whom we work.

In this podcast today, I’ll be talking with you about how to communicate clearly and consistently to keep your faculty informed, and how to build community so they get to know each other and build camaraderie and rapport and feel a lot of support.

Strategies to Build Faculty Community

So let’s jump in. As I mentioned, there are many strategies you can employ to build community with your online faculty. If you are a faculty lead, a faculty mentor, maybe a department chair, or a director of some kind at an academic institution, chances are you either mentor, guide, support, or even supervise faculty who teach online.

Communication

It’s really important to communicate clearly, effectively and consistently to keep your faculty informed and connected to your department. In online education, quality teaching and learning is part of student retention, student success, and student satisfaction.

Of course, because teaching online is so solitary and in many places, asynchronous, our online faculty who teach alone are often disconnected from the institution and they may be physically distant from the home campus as well.

In the institution where I teach and also manage online faculty teams, many of these people that I’ve hired, supervised, coached, and worked with live all over the country. We may have never met face-to-face. In fact, I hired them all virtually and we worked together virtually as well. Building community with your online faculty members can really help them have reasons to feel invested, be part of the team, and be a significant contributor to student success long-term.

And now, as you’re thinking about this process of connecting with your faculty, connecting with faculty individually, in groups, and together as a team allows you to model expectations and empower your faculty to more fully drive their teaching quality and their overall teaching experience. This can also help your faculty really enjoy what they’re doing as teachers, as instructors, and feel that they’re making a difference and having an impact with their students.

If you’re wondering what steps you can take to build community with your online instructors, I’d like to suggest that you will need to be developing a set of online specific strategies to build community with your faculty who might be teaching at more than one institution or across the country. Maybe they’re working at home while someone else is working at home who normally would be leaving to go to the office. Perhaps they’re even homeschooling children at the present time.

For them, time is at an all-time premium. They might feel disconnected due to this remote work, as I’ve mentioned several times already, and their geographic separation from you and the rest of the team can prevent real connections.

Focus on Relationship-Building

But you can build community by developing solid relationships. If you make relationship building your goal with remote faculty, you can succeed. Consider this question, what can you do to make your faculty feel like part of the team, part of your department, and part of the entire institution? Maybe consider providing weekly electronic communications specific to your team and your department’s needs.

One example to build relationships through these electronic messages is something I like to call The Monday Message. This could be a newsletter with announcements or faculty information, updates and teaching reminders. Or one faculty member called it a “Mid-Week Missive” sent on Wednesdays. Another person I know sent them out as “Friday Funnies.” These started with humor and proceeded with news.

Consider Sending Weekly Updates and Information

When I was first hired as a director, my Dean asked me how I would bring together our diverse group of 150 faculty, most of whom were part-time, and they were located all over the country. My first thought was that I would send a weekly message with all my news and updates and information all at once.

Some of the things that related to me personally, my leadership goals, and other things really came together in that weekly message every single a week. As I started to do this, faculty responded very well. In fact, they started looking forward to “The Monday Message” as their definitive source of information about the entire department and what I cared about as their faculty manager.

You might think you want your messages to come out at different times of the week or sporadically, organically, et cetera, but I’ve found that this approach of being consistent really helps. Inconsistency makes faculty wonder when they’re going to hear from you next and they don’t always know where to find the information they need.

For these reasons, I suggest selecting a day and time that you’d like to send that message. Make it regular, make it predictable and dependable and your faculty will benefit from the community you can provide in that message.

One year, I included a spotlight section as well, which I’ll mention again in just a couple of minutes to highlight individual faculty. Another example you might consider to build relationships is to host and record monthly virtual faculty meetings to keep everyone informed and included.

Some examples of interactive and engaging virtual faculty meeting ideas could include using video. You could ask faculty to do the same. Invite faculty who manage a course or lead a course to make a slide and present it at the faculty meeting to share updates is also a great strategy.

Celebrate Achievements

Whether it’s at a faculty meeting or through email or other means, it’s a great idea to celebrate achievements. Ask your faculty to send these to you in advance and talk about them during the meeting. You can highlight high-performing faculty based on some performance standard you might have at your institution. You can recognize those who have presented recently at a conference or published something. Or maybe a student gave you a comment about positive things a faculty member has recently done. Either way, celebrating achievements has a lot of power, especially remotely. You can also celebrate small successes like readiness preparations, engagement increases, or other things that are achieved in the department itself.

It could even be creative and fun to host remote celebrations during your meetings. For example, if a faculty member has a child born that month, perhaps you might mail out a little confetti and ask people to toss it during the meeting as part of that celebration. Faculty also love to receive electronic happy grams. For example, when faculty all prepare their courses on time, you can send out a message to the entire team to thank them and let them know about the win.

Create a Faculty Spotlight

Now, whether you use these in your weekly messages or in your virtual faculty meetings, I really like the idea of using a faculty spotlight in working with your online faculty. When I started doing these about six years ago, I solicited my faculty in advance so they could feel special and have the time to prepare what I would write about them.

My faculty spotlights consisted of a photo that the faculty member provided to me, something they would be happy sharing, and also some things about that faculty member, like what they enjoy most about their online teaching, what their favorite class to teach is, where they have traveled, what their hobbies are.

We tried to personalize this for each person so we could build connections and actually get to know some of these other people that we might never see face to face. It’s also important to include both full-time and part-time faculty to truly build a real community.

This is especially important for your adjunct faculty and part-timers because they really don’t know others in the department. They need the same kind of connection to their colleagues and this helps them understand who their colleagues are, who they can go to with questions. Highlight your full-timers as well as your part-timers and it will bring everyone together.

Offer Voluntary Service Opportunities

Another way to build relationships is to offer voluntary service opportunities like serving on committees, peer coaching, and brief curriculum content reviews. These can go on faculty members’ vitaes or resumes and really enhance them professionally, as well as giving them the opportunity to influence courses that are developed.

Develop Collaboration Sites

You can develop collaboration sites where faculty members can share their practices, as well as collaborating on this curriculum I’ve mentioned. Ask questions to colleagues teaching the same subject or courses and learn about curriculum updates, or post errors in the courses and then have them repaired.

Collaboration sites are a great way for all of these ideas to come together. In my teams, we have used a space in the learning management systems set aside for the team. We’ve also used online collaboration tools and Microsoft Office 365 email groups for this. Each one was effective in its own way. I also recommend using photos and videos whenever possible to create identity and presence.

There is an unspoken sort of stigma about sharing photos or personal details with others you work with entirely online. Faculty might really hesitate to do this. They might have serious concerns about it. Work to develop identity and community in non-threatening ways, but also be sensitive that some faculty may have this tendency to feel this way.

Through all of these methods, your collaboration, promotion, your monthly faculty meetings, your emails, your celebrations, and all these ways of getting connected, take the opportunity to communicate.

Highlight and focus on the mission and vision you have for your team and the mission and vision of your institution. Be positive and set the tone upfront for your leadership and management of your faculty by focusing on one of the university’s mission points each time you meet. All of the vision points can come through. You can also make connections to real-life contexts, students’ stories, and the big picture regularly. And be sure to communicate consistently and clearly.

Now, when you have faculty meetings, your tools can be updated regularly and other resources you have, like collaborations sites or the site the university stores all of the team information, these can also be regularly updated.

Schedule Monthly Meetings

Monthly meetings would then, of course, be held monthly. Faculty really love to be part of all of these things when they have the time and when they can contribute something. So let your faculty know in advance so they can arrange their schedules to be there. Record them for all the part-timers if these are meetings who really cannot attend live, or full-timers who may be on vacation and send those links out so they can view them remotely and be up-to-date on your policies and procedures and announcements.

If you have additional opportunities for your faculty to get together, to collaborate, be sure to communicate these regularly just as if you were with a live team. Even if you send out a weekly message, you might have an intermittent message here and there in between with a update about one specific thing. Maybe it’s a training webinar, a teaching and learning opportunity, or other kinds of professional developments you’d like to recommend. Be sure to send things out in a timely manner and your team will learn to trust you and connect with each other as well.

Coaching and Peer Mentoring

One other idea about helping your faculty really connect online is coaching and peer mentoring. Coaching can focus on connecting people, but also giving them the space to teach each other. Faculty coaching might be faculty led with follow-up actions to get together and just to review each other’s teaching.

When you’re hiring new faculty, consider providing one-on-one coaching to review specific faculty approaches at your institution or recommendations and just get to know each other. You can conduct this by phone in a live webinar presentation, like in Zoom or some other kind of virtual platform.

You might do this yourself or bring on other faculty members to begin building that community right away. You can ask and answer questions with your new faculty members so they’re clear on exactly what your department or your institution emphasizes, and so that they can share any concerns or questions right up front.

Connect Your Faculty with Other Departments

Additional ideas you might consider using with your faculty could involve bringing in different departments to meet with them. These could of course be done during virtual faculty meetings or they could be prerecorded and sent out or used in the email communications.

One group I really love to include is the library team. They can talk to your faculty about specific questions, resources available, ways to cite things, what kind of writing help might be available in the library, and other things specific to where you work.

By doing this, we generate a lot more resources for faculty. We give them a lot of strength and support and better communication with different departments. Faculty feel more connected and have a greater sense of community with the big university identity as well through having these special guests.

You might consider having someone from the assessment team or the accreditation team speak with them. You might invite your Dean or other school officials to the meetings to bring their own insights and perspectives.

The more you do this, the more faculty feel like they’re really part of the institution. They feel validated, valued, and supported. They also show up and help each other and really connect with each other because they have such a network of support and a lot of people to interact with.

Another idea in terms of coaching faculty could be developing a short series of personalized messages, like e-coaching messages, to guide your instructors through different strategies or different approaches.

Share Teaching Strategies

You might consider sharing different methods of providing quality online grading feedback. Perhaps some faculty are not sure what this could look like or should look like to give students enough information. You could model how to produce this feedback, especially on written assignments and the ways that might be most valuable to students. You can do it in an attachment, in a video, in a screencast, or in a live meeting where some collaboration can occur online.

Online faculty always love to see each other’s ideas about using different types of questioning strategies or discussion strategies, interaction and engagement methods for forum discussions. And tips about sending out welcome messages or announcements or various types of wrap-up and summary activities. If you can enlist your faculty members to help each other with messages or give each other shared tutorials to help their peers, this builds community because they can see each other. They also feel less pressured to perform just for you and can really see each other’s ideas and start to come up with more innovation and more creativity.

This is a great way for the whole group to support each other with teaching excellence and also to aim for the best ways to support their students. If you develop and schedule regular methods for them to coach each other and for you to support them through your own coaching, this will refresh everyone by bringing in new ideas on a pretty regular basis.

To help your online faculty most, you might consider formalized methods of sharing these strategies. Perhaps there is an annual online conference in your department or some kind of share space, as I’ve mentioned before. When you share student testimonials, pictures, screencasts, screen clips, some positive comments from student, and of course, survey or evaluation feedback, this can really support positive and effective teaching and learning online.

It’s very common for a lot of observers to stop into online classrooms and faculty who are used to teaching in live universities or institutions might really be surprised at this, if someone pops into their class and observes. If this is going to happen, be sure to let them know upfront who these people might be, whether it’s some kind of peer observer or an academic support team member so they’re prepared when an observation might occur.

Be Available for Faculty to Meet with You

For checking in one-on-one with your faculty, I can suggest providing a calendar. Maybe you use a Setmore or TimeTrade or Calendly scheduler to give faculty opportunities to get on your schedule at their own convenience. You might set up times in 15-, 30- or 45-minute increments so that faculty are able to connect with you and speak whenever they need to. This will give you an opportunity to visit with faculty about their questions and give them guidance on whatever they’re seeking, and also just to connect from time to time.

It’s really helpful to be approachable and available to your faculty, especially if you’re a lead, a director, a chair, or in some kind of role like that where faculty are looking to you for support and guidance.

One way to provide this support if you don’t want to do individual appointments or even to enhance that is to provide a weekly office hour when any instructor can stop by and just check in. It’s nice when your faculty have a place to go to just connect and be heard. And when you can post that office hour so that it’s available to everyone and they can find the link, it makes it even easier.

And lastly, you might consider scheduling one-on-one small group or large-group sessions where faculty can share these practices, review course setup procedures, or conduct observations, or just talk about what they’re thinking and feeling right now. It’s helpful to arrange space and time where others can feel heard and seen, and really get back in touch with each other and with you.

Providing Faculty Support Contributes to Strong Performance

In closing, when you plan and consistently find ways to connect your faculty to each other and connect with them yourself, you’re going to help your faculty be supported and build a great sense of community throughout your entire department and support your team well.

These strategies can really help faculty members take more initiative and positively influence each other, giving everyone a more connected and positive experience when teaching online. Especially if online teaching is new to them, this is essential and critical to their success.

Thanks for being with me today to talk about building community with online faculty. I hope you’ve found these ideas valuable and enhancing your practice. Please stop by bethaniehansen.com/request anytime you’d like to share your feedback, or perhaps suggest a strategy that we can include in this podcast to support each other when we’re working and teaching online. And with that, I wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week.