fbpx

BethanieHansen.Com

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

#81: Enhancing Online Discussion Forums to Improve Student Learning

#81: Enhancing Online Discussion Forums to Improve Student Learning

Enhancing Online Discussion Forums to Improve Student Learning

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

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

Listen to the Episode:

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

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

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

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

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

Why Should You Care About the Discussion Area?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Considerations for Setting up an Online Discussion Forum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#65: Strategies to Make Discussion Boards More Engaging [Podcast]

#65: Strategies to Make Discussion Boards More Engaging [Podcast]

This content initially appeared at APUEdge.Com 

Discussion boards are a required part of many online courses, but they can sometimes get flat and boring. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks about how to have an engaging dialogue with students. Learn five strategies to improve discussion boards as well as how to apply the Guided ANCHORS approach to managing discussion forums.

#62: Connecting with Students Through Zoom

#62: Connecting with Students Through Zoom

This content first appeared at APUEdge.com.

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

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

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

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

Integrating Zoom into Online Classes

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

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

Review and Update Zoom Settings

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

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

Use Doodle or Survey to Find a Good Meeting Time

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

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

Send Out Repeated Meeting Reminders

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

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

Establish a Backup Plan for Internet Connectivity

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

Assign a Student Who Can Take Notes, Continue Meeting

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

Decide on Your Background

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

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

Test Your Audio Quality

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

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

Prepare a Lesson Plan for the Meeting

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

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

Establish Expectations with Students

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

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

Think about Level of Student Engagement

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

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

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

Tips on Hosting Strategies

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

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

Prepare Breakout Rooms in Advance

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

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

Assessing Student Engagement and Community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
#61: Five Creative Ways to Enhance Forum Discussions

#61: Five Creative Ways to Enhance Forum Discussions

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

Read the Transcript:

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

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

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

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

Role Play Can Enhance Forum Discussions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Create Video Discussion Forums Using Flipgrid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using Padlet to Improve Collaboration and Sharing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using Jamboard for Live Collaboration

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

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

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

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

Integrating Photography into Discussions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
#37: Own Your Impact in Online Education

#37: Own Your Impact in Online Education

This content was first published at APUEdge.Com.

Sometimes faculty members feel like they play a very small part in the overall operation and success of the university. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen encourages online educators to step back and look at the big picture to see how their contribution is actually really significant and important. She encourages online educator to better understand the inner workings of the university, including all the various departments that are also making small but meaningful contributions to student and faculty success. Also learn why its so important to understand course data to evaluate your teaching strategy, assess your relationship with students, and help you identify areas for improvement.

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge

Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts | Stitcher

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 today. Thank you for joining me for this episode of the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m very excited to share with you this topic. We’re going to talk about your impact in online education.

Just to give you a little backstory, I once was a part-time faculty member teaching online, then I became a full-time faculty member teaching online. I also have a background in K-12 education of 20 years, and then I became a faculty director; I’ve been doing this role for the past six years.

When I became a faculty director, I saw things very differently. At first, I really did not know all of the inner workings of the university or the various impacts of my role in my teaching.

I want to share all this with you today for two reasons. First, when you know your impact, you can control the outcome a lot more and you can focus your energy to have a better impact.

And second, when you understand the impact of a lot of different smaller parts, you can also understand how critically important you are. It brings meaning to your teaching and it gives you a lot more context to enjoy your role. So let’s jump in.

Understand the Big Picture of How Your Institution Works

The first thing is about the big picture. If you’re in public education or private education K-12, I’m not going to be very specific here for your role in your institution. I’m going to outline the higher education landscape idea, the big picture in a university operation setting. I hope you’ll liken this to your own situation so that it can benefit you most.

This first idea is the university has a lot of different departments. For example, there’s a registrar’s office and also a huge group of folks that are dedicated to enrollment services. There’s a student services department, some of this has to do with academic support. There’s a booklist team, a librarian team. There are also all kinds of student clubs and organizations. There is a career services department and in the career services realm, students are looking for how to take their degree further, what they can do next and how to get a job in the field that they just graduated in.

There’s an appeals department, there’s a conduct department that handles student behaviors that might be inappropriate or escalating. There’s also a plagiarism and originality group. It might be an entire department, or it might be within another department.

There’s a classroom support group. This would be your tech folks who are really skilled at helping you in that learning management system. Beyond that, they have incredible gifts for creating things. They might help you find multimedia or create some kind of interactive role play activity, storyboard, decision matrix where students can have choice and engage in the content in a formative way.

There is a center for teaching and learning, some kind of group that’s going to give resources and increased professional development opportunities as well as skills that you can gain over time.

There are a whole host of other faculty. Many of these people have immense experience teaching or in professional fields, or both. You can reach out to them. Lean on them. Learn from them. They all bring their own unique set of offerings to the table. Each faculty member comes with a rich set of skills that you can also connect to.

And then, of course, there’s the bigger community. And the community might be your department, your school, a college, the entire university, and so forth. All of these departments have their own roles. And on the day-to-day side of things, people who work in every single department may feel that their jobs are small. Keep in mind that by small means, huge things come about.

Each person contributes a small part to the bigger picture of successful university operations. A lot of the things that people in these other departments do really support you in your online teaching and your role as a faculty member. For example, if you’re struggling with your learning management system, you can very quickly reach out to your classroom support team for help within a short timeline.

You can also build your goals for growth, your skills and all these other things that will help you be even more powerful in that learning management system in the future. You can connect to the center for teaching and learning for those kinds of skills. You can connect to other faculty members and the bigger community.

Why am I telling you about this big picture? My own experience was that as an online faculty member, I did not engage with very many of these departments. Occasionally, I might get an email from one or hear about something, but I did not really understand the inner workings of the teams. When I became a faculty director, very quickly, I was able to meet a lot of people on all of these teams. And I realized the obvious, we are all in this together. They were supporting the students; I was supporting the students.

When we see everyone else as members of our own team, we can reach out much more quickly when we need help. We can connect. We can get support. Things become a lot easier. Just think about the chaplain department.

Our university has a chaplain department. When we have a student who is struggling, maybe they are having a depression experience, maybe it’s even more extreme and they have expressed extreme distress. Maybe there are some issues with post-traumatic stress disorder. Whatever the situation, the chaplain department is one of our first lines of communication. The team that we connect with in the chaplain’s office is incredibly supportive. They offer resources, ideas. They give us a lot of support and they can make suggestions that will help us engage in our jobs a lot better as a faculty member.

Just as each member of these departments that I’ve mentioned makes our jobs a lot easier and they contribute to the success of the university as a whole, what I do has an impact as well. What you do has an impact. As a faculty member, it’s really important to know how we impact these other departments.

For example, when we are really encouraging, supportive and helpful with a student, when we share the resources like career services as they’re ending their degree program, or even in the middle, we support the career services and the student services departments by directing students the right way.

We send them to the people that can help them most who have all the information to connect them to career support. We further the educational goals of our students. Again, I mentioned as a faculty member, I was not always aware of all of the different departments and services and how they work together.

Once I became a faculty director, I realized I could serve students a lot better as a faculty member teaching in the classroom if I help them connect to different services and different departments when needed. But also, if I reached out as the faculty member to connect.

For example, when I notice a student in distress, or a student who has disclosed to me they have a disability and they really do need accommodations, but they haven’t asked for them, I can suggest to the student that they reach out to the chaplain office or the DSA, disability services department. I can also connect to those departments for tips and strategies and ideas. And I can also reach out to the center for teaching and learning for additional skills. There are so many ways these departments support me as a faculty member, and they can support you too.

What services exist in your institution? What can you do to connect with these different departments? And how can you learn your impact on these departments, on the people who work there? How does this broaden your awareness to think about your institution having so many different people there to support you? I hope you’ll think on that and consider how what you do every day is so connected to the bigger picture, the mission of your institution and the direction everyone’s going in this educational journey. As you do that, you’re going to be able to think about how the small things really add up to a big thing.

How to Broaden Your Perspective

The second area I want to talk about is our own class. And I’m just talking about an individual section that we are teaching. Chances are, you’re teaching more than one class at a time. Let’s just think about one class.

To broaden your perspective in this area, I would like to talk about the past, present and future focus. When we’re focused on the present, we are thinking about the lesson to be taught, the topics we’re investigating. We’re thinking about how an assignment fits into the bigger picture. And we’re focused on the day-to-day checking in of our students, ensuring that what they’re doing is on par for an academic in this subject.

When we’re focused on the present, many times it makes our job easier to do because we can see just this small piece. And of course, as I’ve mentioned, by small things, large things come about. We can help promote our students’ understanding in the entire class, just from each small thing along the way. The bigger picture has us thinking about the past and the future as well.

The past would be: what courses did these students take before my class that got them here? What is their prior learning? What is their life experience? Thinking about the past in our course gives us a huge amount of perspective. What do we need to add? What kinds of concepts do we need to include? How can we stair-step them from where they were to where they need to be?

The future focus is also important. Thinking about the bigger objectives in your course, the learning objectives. Basically the outcomes. What should they know and be able to do when they leave this class? This is the bigger picture of future focus.

Every small thing within your class ties into those bigger things. As a faculty member, when you connect those things for your students as you’re writing your announcements, as you’re teaching your class, you help your students to understand the big picture as well.

Not all of us make those connections, of course. Not all of us look at the class and think, “Man, I’m so excited that I’m learning this because it’s going to help me understand this big concept.” In fact, most students don’t think that way.

Part of our job as faculty members is to tie the small things that they’re doing into that bigger picture. Why are we doing this? It’s going to help you with X, Y, Z. It’s going to give you skills, knowledge. It’s going to prepare you for this career adventure. It’s going to prepare you for the next class you’re going to take. It’s going to apply in your life. We can also turn that around and ask students, how do you see this small piece of our course tying into this bigger goal? How does it work for you in your professional goals? Asking students these questions helps you do your job better because when they make the connections, they learn more. It’s amazing to see those connections happen throughout a course.

Why It’s So Important to Understand Course Data

Let’s also think about past, present and future in terms of data. When I became a faculty director and I was no longer just teaching courses all the time, but I was also supervising faculty, coaching faculty, onboarding faculty, and all of those things that go with that role, one of the things I learned about was the data.

There is a lot of data in an online course. For example, we might have an average grade report. As a faculty team member, I can do this on my own. I can look at the final grades of all of my students. I can see, did all of them get A’s? If that happens, chances are I’m not really critically evaluating because I’m not really sure all of my students would just ace the class or naturally get A’s.

And while I’m not suggesting that we deflate grades in any way, the final course grades can give us a lot of information. We can learn about our own grading process. We can also learn, is the rigor of the class too low? Have we not asked enough of our students in learning this subject? What can we do to really prepare them in this intellectual area, in the career field and in the academic area? So final course grades are one piece of data that as a faculty member I can look at, and so can you.

A second one is this percentage thing, and it comes from the withdrawal, incomplete, and D and F grades. At our institution, it’s been called many different things. But the goal here is to look at those final percentages of how many students withdrew from your course during the first week? How many had to drop it somewhere after the first week? And how many just stopped engaging and disappeared?

Occasionally when you’re teaching an online class, that happens. If you look for trends in your own teaching, it yields a lot of data. This data is just feedback. It’s not a personal judgment of you. It might give you great feedback about your teaching approach, your teaching strategies, your relationships with students, and so forth.

Think about the way the drops and failures in your courses layout and start looking for indicators leading up to that. This will help you to always improve your teaching and get more connected to what your students really need. Another piece of data is student appeals and complaints. If there are student appeals and complaints happening often, chances are communication is low. Often, we can change or improve the communication we have with our students to clarify things right up front.

Most complaints and appeals that I have seen as a faculty director came about because the instructor simply did not communicate clearly. A lot of times, students just glossed over something and missed a detail, or they questioned. Could they resubmit or revise because they really did learn something and wanted to fix an assignment? And the instructor said, “No.”

Decide upfront, will you let your students revise things and resubmit? There’s a whole department of people who get these complaints and appeals. And as an instructor, we don’t always see that. Think about the times you may have heard about a complaint a student has had. And also consider, have you ever had a student appeal a final course grade? If you get information like this, again, it’s data for you. It’s very helpful. It helps us to consider our impact as educators.

Are we communicating well? Do we have clear, consistent expectations? And do we maintain those with people over time? But it also helps us to look at that survey data over time. We can learn about our impact on students, our effectiveness in teaching the subject matter aside from the actual assessments that students do. We can also learn the trends. If we have areas to improve and we’re working on it, we can see whether or not we’re being successful or having an impact based on what students tell us.

There is also the informal feedback students give us by way of comments, emails and notes. These are worth collecting over time. As an educator throughout your career, it is incredibly helpful to reflect on the comments your students give you. These can help you in validating what you’re doing, know when to change and also understand your impact even more.

As you think about your impact, consider all of the different ways that your impact spreads throughout the institution, your student group and over time. This will strengthen our teaching to consider the impact in how the small things we do all the time in the classroom really do lead to these bigger picture ideas.

The goal is to change our perspective by stepping back a little bit, seeing the trends in our own teaching, seeing the bigger departments in our institution, seeing the impact of our efforts on students’ completion of the course, on their persistence getting through the class and their degree program, and of course, on whether or not they actually appear to know the content in the subject matter itself.

Think about all those departments at your institution and how they can support you, and how what you do every day supports them. And also think about the past, present and future focus of your teaching. By doing these things, we’re all going to have a better impact in our online educational roles. We can connect better with what we’re doing every day, and we can gain meaning and purpose in our work.

I wish you all the best this coming week in your online teaching, and I hope this data that you may find will serve you well. Thanks for listening.

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.

#30: Using a Planner for Amazing Time Management in Your Online Teaching

#30: Using a Planner for Amazing Time Management in Your Online Teaching

This content was first published at OnlineLearningTips.Com.

The use of online teaching has risen in popularity due to restrictions from the coronavirus pandemic. But teaching online classes can be incredibly time-consuming, because the classroom is always open.

In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen offers several time management strategies to help online educators complete their teaching tasks in an efficient, effective, and organized way while also improving their classroom presence and student engagement activities. Learn more about creating an online planning grid that designates time for grading, classroom activities, curriculum creation, professional development and personal time.

Read the Transcript

This is episode number 30: “Using a Planner for Amazing Time Management in Your Online Teaching.” 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, and thanks for joining me for today’s podcast. Today, we’re going to talk about a subject that we all care a great deal about. And the main goal of this subject is to conserve our time and energy, and also help us stay connected to our students while being part of that bigger professional picture. One of the things that keeps me engaged is having that variety in my own online work, and I wish the same for you.

In today’s podcast, we’re going to talk about three different areas of time management and how we can plan carefully to get it all done. The first area will be a principle from Getting Things Done, also known as GTD.

The second principle will be to plan a weekly routine that alternates items that must be scheduled so we don’t overlook them. And the third will be a planning grid that includes central teaching tasks and a bigger curriculum work or creative pursuits you want to be involved in as part of your overall career and professional goals.

Understanding Time Management

So let’s dive in. First of all, what does time management really mean when we’re teaching online? Time management is really all about using the energy that we have as human beings to the best way possible. The more we can manage our time carefully, the more productive we can be, the more we can get things done in a responsive way, and the more we’re on top of our game as educators.

After all, our students are looking to us for some sense of connection, for guidance in a subject matter, and for overall connection to the bigger content that they’re learning about. The more we can manage our time well and the more engaged we are in our own thoughtful process, the more we’re also able to connect with them and the more we’re able to also manage all that’s going on in that very complex environment.

Lastly, the more we manage our time carefully and thoughtfully, the more we’re able to do those other things that matter to us in life, like spend time on our personal lives, our family lives, do something outdoors, have healthy sleep habits and other patterns that really need to show up for us right now.

Getting Things Done (GTD)

So let’s get started with Getting Things Done. I took this workshop about a year and a half ago, and one of the biggest takeaways that I had from getting things done was sort of this split idea that there are things you can do in two minutes or fewer than two minutes. Those tasks, when we come upon them, should be just done immediately.

Will It Take Two Minutes or Less? Do It Now.

If we have something that literally will take us two minutes and we schedule it, and we manage it, then we’ve already spent more than two minutes on the task. Pretty soon, we have spent way more time on a two-minute task than the time that it was actually worth.

So the first idea is that when you come across, say, a message from a student, it’s very easy to just respond immediately and be done with it. If we come back later, like I said, we’re going to spend a lot of time and wasted energy just putting it off and trying to manage that.

Store Big Ideas in Your ‘Incubator’ File

The second idea that comes from getting things done that I particularly love is this idea of a folder called “incubate.” Now, an incubator is something that is a machine that we used to put, or we might still today even, put eggs in to keep them warm until they hatch into chickens or other fowl.

So if you are not familiar with the idea of an incubator, it is carefully designed to a certain heat and temperature setting. And also, it’s going to be housing the eggs for a certain period of time.

So the idea of an incubator in our own professional practice means that maybe we come across a multimedia tool we would like to integrate into the online classroom. When we come across this tool, it’s not urgent; it’s not necessarily important to the now. And so this tool can be put into the incubator file until we have a little bit of time, maybe between classes that we’re teaching in the future, during summer break or something like that.

So big ideas that we really want to dive into and pursue can be stored in that special file that we label “Incubate.” That way, we don’t have to always say no to ourselves.

And then we can schedule, like you could schedule one hour a week to just work on things in your Incubate file. That would give you permission to create new ideas, spend time developing things and not feel like it’s always the heat of the moment or the urgent items.

So those two areas of Getting Things Done, I highly recommend for our time management and online teaching. The first was the two minutes or fewer pile and just do them quickly and the second one is to use a special folder called “Incubate,” to put those big ideas that don’t really have a due date. They’re worth considering, but just not right now.

Now everything else that’s not immediate short, two-minute things or long-term, come back and think about it later. Everything else could be scheduled and managed carefully. So these other two ideas are going to be helpful in managing and scheduling the rest of the workload.

Strategies on How to Plan a Weekly Work Routine that Alternates

So we’re moving on to idea number two, planning a weekly routine that alternates the items you need to schedule. So one time management strategy that would really work for planning your routine could be to post a minimum number of your forum discussion responses to your students every other day, and completing a percentage of grading students’ work on your off days in between and taking one day completely offline so you can have a mental break each week.

Schedule a Break from Work

This is going to help you have the space to recharge and come back at it fresh. I have known a lot of online educators who literally are online seven days a week. They’re really answering messages every other minute on their phones. They’re taking their laptops to their outings with them, and they’re sort of half-present when they’re with family members or doing other things.

I don’t recommend this. It is helpful to be responsive, but if you plan that time, instead of kind of putting out fires and treating it like everything’s an emergency, you’re going to have better peace of mind, a more planned approach to your work. You’re going to also have a greater sense of wellbeing at the end of the week.

Time Management Scheduling Example 1: Divide Work by Day

So this one-time management strategy of posting in your discussions every other day, and doing a percentage of your grading work on the off days in between, it might look something like this: Maybe you’re going to grade 30 essays this week, and you’re going to post in your forum discussions Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

Well then on Tuesday and Thursday, you could divide that up and grade 15 of the essays on Tuesday and 15 of them on Thursday.

Now, some people really love to go all out and just do all of their grading on one day. I personally find that a bit draining, and I also find it difficult to treat each student’s work uniquely when I take that kind of approach.

So I do like to split it up. I like to plan it on a couple of different days, and you’ll need to just decide what works for you in terms of do you want to do a little bit of grading every day, every other day or all on one day.

Time Management Scheduling Example 2: Divide Work by Time Duration

Another time management strategy you might consider in terms of this second idea, planning a weekly routine that alternates, could be to engage for a specific length of time each week, a specific duration. This would be instead of dividing the workload into quantities or proportions.

Again, I always recommend taking one day completely offline each week to disengage and be able to come back fresh for the week ahead.

So with this approach, you might find that there’s a bigger workload waiting at the end of each week if you use the duration method.

The duration method might look something like this: I have a 40-hour workweek I’m trying to fill, and I’m teaching four classes. And that means I’m going to try to get the work done in each class during a 10-hour period, spread out throughout the week.

This might mean that I’m going to spend about two hours each day in the class. That would be correct if I think all of my job is teaching. Now, if some of my job is also creating curriculum and contributing to bigger professional endeavors outside the classroom, this might be different.

Maybe 30 hours a week is my teaching and 10 hours a week is divided between my curriculum work and my professional pursuits. Or depending on my teaching load, it might be further yet broken down differently.

Either way, when you use an approach of time duration spent in each course, you’re going to need to anticipate what will happen at the end of the week when there is a large workload still waiting if you haven’t budgeted to adjust to getting the grading done throughout the week and being in the course, engaging with students regularly.

Weekly routines overall include developing and posting your announcements, engaging in forum discussions or other interactivity, grading and returning your students’ work, replying to their messages, answering emails and questions, posting your grades, hosting virtual office hours, if that’s something you do, and creating additional content for that course.

When you establish a pattern or a schedule for these routines, this is really going to help you ensure that you’re able to complete everything by the end of the week and at a professional, helpful level for your students.

Create a Planning Grid

I love this idea number three, trying a planning grid that includes your essential teaching tasks and curriculum work or creative elements and including your bigger professional goals.

I created this grid several years ago. I was a full-time faculty member at American Public University. And in my courses, I wanted to engage my students fully, but I also wanted to be sure that I was demonstrating social presence, teaching presence and cognitive presence. I really thought about these, read some of the research and decided what this would look like for me.

Once I decided how this would show up in my courses, I broke my teaching down into little tasks. For example, certain days, I would engage in the forum discussion. Every day, I would answer the messages.

And on certain days, I would do my grading and post the grading. There were a few other things I also needed to do, like publishing a weekly announcement.

Either way, I planned this out thoroughly and then I scheduled another section for my professional responsibilities. I had an agenda of posting lots of research, writing a lot and contributing to professional conferences. I decided I wanted to actively present at professional conferences every year, and so I did that. I scheduled that time using this kind of block planner that I created.

Now, I’m going to include a link to this planner in the podcast transcript so that you can check it out, see what it looks like and perhaps, it will inspire you in your own version of this kind of planner.

There are also a few examples in my book published by Oxford this year, Teaching Music Appreciation Online. In Chapter 12, there’s an example of the weekly schedule of how you might use time limitations to plan your work. And then there are a lot of different discussions in there about how to engage, how to plan time for grading, and some example grading comments. You might find these helpful if you’re looking for more ideas about that.

Back to this last idea, the planning grid. The planning grid that I used had a big category of daily requirements for Monday through Saturday, grading tasks, also for Monday through Saturday, housekeeping announcements, notes, and wrap-up posts and lastly, other professional activities. And I would just call those my research and scholarship time, even though some of it was curriculum creation and some of it was preparing to present at professional conferences.

Under those daily requirements, the kinds of things that I would look at every day in my online teaching that I highly recommend thinking about are checking your email every day or at the very least every other day, checking and responding to messages, reading forum discussions and posing questions and sharing expertise, prompting students for more thought, more engagement there.

Forum Work Section

In that forum section, I always broke down a few ideas just to remind myself. So I have some bullet points here that include:

  • Instigating higher thinking that applies to students’ lives, jobs, etc.
  • Connecting conversations between posts to guide productive and relevant dialogue about the task
  • Establishing a supportive community environment

Another area that I scheduled every day is whatever I felt was my minimum attendance in the classroom as the instructor. I always wanted to make sure I at least met that and hopefully went beyond it.

But sometimes there are days where meeting the minimum is all you can do, and then there are other days where you can spend a lot more time and a lot more energy in that online classroom.

Grading Task Section

In the grading task section, I included:

  • Forum grading
  • Posting announcements
  • Zeroing out the grade book so students know when they haven’t turned something in
  • Editing written assignments to ensure the directions are clear in their examples
  • Returning the graded work with comments on it in a timely manner
  • Zeroing out the scores for quizzes at the end of the week. So if there are quizzes in the course, I would always add the zeros after the due date, so students would know they missed that assignment. If I’m going to let them go back and fix it, they can always do that, but they need to know where they stand at all times.

Housekeeping, Announcements, Notes and Wrap-Up Posts Section

And then this last section, housekeeping, announcements, notes and wrap-up posts. In this section, I have private messages and video screencast tips to guide students.

During Week One, I spend some time giving them guidance to move around the classroom. I like to help them know how to get started, what are the critical spaces they should know in that classroom, and how can they engage in their assignments, their learning, and their discussion.

I also have some before the week starts announcements. I also include instructions for how to participate, and I give a screencast that shows me so they know I’m a real person and I’ve got some presence there.

There might be a wrap-up announcement or something that’s telling them their grades are published, and they can check for feedback. I might use a closing comment in the discussion forum to wrap up the dialogue that has occurred.

I’m also going to reach out to non-participating students. Now this is a big area and it’s really helpful to add it to the calendar.

We often forget that when a student is less engaged, they need some follow-up. I like to schedule that so that by Friday of the week, if I haven’t reached out, I’m going to do that because some of the work is due on Thursday.

And then lastly, I’m going to communicate when an assignment or a quiz has been missed. The passive way to communicate is to fill in zeros in the gradebook. And the active way would be to send messages or emails to reach out to those students.

Scholarship and Professional Time Section

In terms of the scholarship and professional time on that planner, I try to do one thing a week at least. That might begin with looking at a call for proposals to a conference. Maybe I will read some research papers to get some ideas about what I might study next or write about next.

Either way, I’m going to do something that consumes or contributes to my field in research, scholarship or conference presentations, or nowadays it might also include writing blog articles, creating podcast episodes, or otherwise engaging with people about things.

Which Time Management Strategies Work for You?

Whatever your calendar is going to look like in the end, it’s very helpful if you use a thoughtful approach so that you can manage the workload of teaching online and ensure that you’ve got every avenue finished up and checked off. One of the things that is going to help you the most as you do all of these activities and consider your time management, whether you use the getting things done approach, plan the weekly routines that alternate or try the planning grid, or maybe you want to do all three of those things.

All of these depend on having a well-developed class that you really prepared and ensured is ready to go for students before that first day of class. These time-management strategies I’m talking about have to do with teaching the course itself.

Presence in the live lecture class can be easily established when you’re just walking around the room and talking to your students. But in online teaching, your presence comes through in all of these different ways: teaching presence, social presence, and cognitive presence.

Each of these areas are needed to help you connect with your students. And also to build that robust academic atmosphere where all kinds of learners are going to be successful.

Together, all of these time management strategies will allow you to develop a strong presence in your online teaching. But more than that, they’re going to help you be efficient and help you connect more with your students.

It might take some time to develop time management strategies that really suit you, but it is highly worth the time and effort to allow you to enjoy your online teaching and to focus on getting connected with your students, overall.

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 episodes. Please visit bethaniehansen.com/request/. Best wishes this coming week and your online teaching journey.