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#111: Building Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Online Classroom

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com. 

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenAssociate Dean (Interim), School of Arts, Humanities and Education

Online classrooms offer little information about a person’s background and it can be hard to get to know students. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks about ways to naturally build diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, into the classroom structure. Learn about the importance of psychological safety, the concept of unconditional positive regard, and being aware of “ingroups” and “outgroups” and more.

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Read the Transcript:

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. We’ll be talking about D.E.I. in online higher education classrooms. D.E.I. means diversity, equity and inclusion. And at different educational institutions, it may be phrased differently. For example, one that I’m most familiar with calls it E.D.I., which is equity, diversity and inclusion and it’s really the same idea, that all people are important. Everyone matters. They need to be able to have psychological safety in the climate, and be themselves, and understand that they will be accepted and valued and included fully just as everyone in the group.

Why is DEI So Important in Higher Education?

So D.E.I. is an important topic in pretty much any industry that you’re in. But especially in higher education, where we are educating others interacting, and we need to be open, able to relate to the material, feel safe to explore, take risks, and experiment, and find relevance in what we’re learning.

In higher education, this is especially important, we cannot overstate this. So many of our students come from varied backgrounds, with which we ourselves may not be familiar. And online, this is not readily apparent. We don’t see people online and immediately know their whole background. We don’t know all about their cultural makeup or their orientation, or where they’ve come from, or who they are. And so, getting to know them, and also designing learning experiences for them that they will benefit from, those are both very important things.

Today, we’re going to talk about creating some psychological safety for diversity, equity and inclusion in your online classroom. We will also talk about what this requires from us, and how we can be kind and compassionate to ourselves along the way. After all, if we’re going to create an environment where students can take risks, and learn and be themselves, we also need to give ourselves a little compassion when we’re not perfect at this. But we need to keep trying and keep learning about what’s going to be helpful to others. And what will help them to value what they’re getting out of their education, and to have those things included that would be most beneficial to the learners. So, to start with, I will talk about psychological safety, and what that is, and why it’s part of thinking about diversity, equity and inclusion.

Why is Psychological Safety Needed in the Online Classroom?

Psychological safety is the basic sense that you belong, that you are okay, that you can learn and you can take risks in the process. When you have a climate of psychological safety, everyone in the group feels that they can contribute. You understand that the examples and stories you might share with the group will be heard and not severely judged. No one’s going to stop participating with you because of what you have said or what your experiences are.

As an online educator, creating a climate of psychological safety involves a lot of different aspects that we can think about and we can discuss. One of those things is proactive, positive and helpful communication. Whenever an online educator gives the communication upfront that a student can benefit from, guiding them into how to engage in a discussion, for example, this invites the student into the discussion.

If there are some standards for the way you’d like your students to engage and you tell them this ahead of time before they start participating in that discussion, they’re much more likely to feel safe when they see those guidelines, and they follow them. And if they don’t follow them, you can use those guidelines as a reinforcement for your feedback, and you can help redirect your students. There’s a lot of comfort in having clear expectations that were communicated to you as a student. And again, that creates a sense of psychological safety.

Unconditional Positive Regard

Something else I really think contributes to psychological safety, especially in the online classroom is this thing called unconditional positive regard. This is a phrase that comes from the 1950s from a man named Carl Rogers. It’s known in the therapy world, and it’s basically this concept that we’re going to accept another person, even if they have attitudes, beliefs, or experiences and feelings that we might not normally like. We accept their experiences as all valid, we don’t need to judge that or criticize that or correct that. We’re just taking in the person and giving them our positive acceptance.

Unconditional positive regard can be cultivated. And that’s something we can do for our students to learn more and more about our students, without blocking ourselves to the people we’re with by judging it. It doesn’t mean that everyone gets an “A” all the time just by showing up, you still have your standards for what you’re doing in that classroom. But you also can accommodate the backgrounds and experiences of your students. And when you have a lot of adult learners in your classroom online, they really want to be seen for who they are, what they have experienced, and what they know. So, the more you can give them that unconditional positive regard and accept them and validate their experiences, the more they can apply the learning to their life, and it becomes real and alive and vibrant for them.

Consistency is Key

Psychological safety has to do with the way we communicate, and this unconditional positive regard. And it also has to do with the consistency that we demonstrate as human beings. That means that the way we communicate with our students, the timing, the speed, the attitude that we convey in all of our communications, and who we are as a person, those are all congruent. We aren’t super nice all the time and suddenly negative and angry and blowing up at a student that misunderstands. That consistency in our interactions with students across the online environment, gives them additional sense of safety. And they can trust us because they get to know us, and they get to know who we are. And then we get to know who they are as well, as they feel more and more comfortable participating.

Psychological safety is probably the most core thing to our diversity, equity and inclusion approach. Because we cannot really know our students well, or get to know our students well, if they don’t feel safe. That’s a bunch of negative terms there, right? So, students who feel safe, are more likely to allow us to get to know them. And the more we get to know our students, the more we can meet their needs. Now, I want you to think about a time where you felt as if you did not belong. I mean, a really confusing experience you had where you were what we would call in the out group.

Experiencing Being in the “Out Group”

I had one of those experiences. Just to tell you a little bit about my background. I grew up in California, I was born in San Jose, California. And this was a long time ago before the Silicon Valley was a real hopping place. It became more and more developed as I was growing up.

But, when I first was growing up in this area, there were fields everywhere, there was a lot of space. It wasn’t the crowded, citified place it became over time. And in this location, there were people of a lot of different cultures, national origins, backgrounds. And much later I found myself in another country with my husband. It was a professional conference and we were in Brazil. And again, I want you to go back to that time where you might have felt that you were in the out group. What was that? Like? What was your experience? How did you feel when that happened? What did you do in the moment that you felt that? And how does that inform your online teaching?

This moment I’d like to share with you comes from my trip to Brazil to present at an International Music Educators Conference. So, my husband and I were in Brazil, and he spoke Brazilian Portuguese. My husband went to Brazil when he was really young, 20, I think, on a church mission. And then after that trip, he took the time to continue learning the language even better. And 20 years later, he was very good at speaking Brazilian Portuguese. He practiced it regularly and even spoke to people in Brazil and kept up that study. When we went to this conference, I felt very confident I was in good hands. My husband spoke the language, he knew the culture. And I was not going to have any trouble navigating this country that I was not very familiar with at all.

And we rode the city buses all over town confidently, he was comfortable paying, getting on the bus, doing all of that stuff and I just stayed with him everywhere we went. And as I mentioned, he spoke the language fluently, and could solve the problems that we might face being in a country where English was not a common language at all.

We had this experience where we were riding the bus, and we got on the bus. And I’m taking for granted that my husband is managing the money and the admission to the bus, the bus fare. And you get on a bus in Brazil and you it starts going and as the bus starts going down the road, people are still going through the turnstile to put their money in and go to the back of the bus for their seat.

And there’s this little section at the front of the bus for pregnant women, obese people, senior citizens and handicapped people. And there’s a sticker on the window that illustrates these four conditions. I saw this sticker on one occasion and thought, “Oh my goodness, I am one of those people.” I was a large, obese woman with a very large body weight. And I saw myself in the picture and thought, “I hope I can still sit with my husband.” And everywhere we went on the bus, I was fine. I just kept going with him and wasn’t worried about it.

One particular occasion, we got on the bus and we’re walking through, and he put in the bus fare for both of us and walked through the turnstile. And the driver locked the turnstile and would not let me pass through. And instead, he pointed to this section for the disabled senior citizens, pregnant women and obese people and indicated that I was to stay there. I was very worried because my husband had passed through and was in the far back of the bus. And everyone around me spoke Brazilian Portuguese.

And I did not. I didn’t even know the first thing about speaking Brazilian Portuguese. And so, I went ahead to the front of the bus and sat down. And I felt in that moment completely alone on the planet. I felt like I did not understand, I did not speak. And I did not have any hope of navigating this language or this culture. And I could not see my husband at the back of the bus because it was very, very crowded during rush hour. And I wouldn’t know if he got off the bus or not. I was actually quite terrified in this moment.

And I realized that I had very few experiences in my lifetime, where I really felt like I was in the out group or did not understand anything about the cultural group in which I was living at the time. And in this moment, I felt like I was getting that experience and wasn’t really sure how to navigate it.

Fortunately, a few stops later, we had talked ahead of time, and I was pretty sure I knew where we were going. And I went ahead and got off where I thought we were going and my husband also got off the bus and we were able to connect with each other again.

But, in that experience, I had the thought, “this is what some of my students have felt in the past.” I had taught some students in live classes back when I was a band director in central California. And I had some students that came from Mexico having not learned any English yet. And they joined my band, and I needed to learn to communicate with them. And I thought in the moment on that bus in Brazil that I could somewhat relate in that moment, that I wasn’t really sure where I was or what I would do either.

And I appreciate the positive efforts that all of my students have made in the past regardless of their background, their cultural group, their learning preferences or differences and many other things that we bring that make us all unique. I’m so pleased that students I have worked with have just kept trying to navigate challenging things and doing their best. And as I tell my story about having been in Brazil, and having that rough experience on the bus, I wonder what comes to your mind?

What kind of experiences have you had as an educator? Or even before you were an educator in your previous parts of your life? When did you ever feel like an outsider? And how can you grab those experiences, and bring them into your teaching to inform what you’d like to do to help your students?

I know, in my case, I like to define even basic terms that I might use, assuming students all know what they mean, I want to illustrate concepts, I want to give some visual, I want to give a video walkthrough. And I also want to ask students about themselves and really learn who’s in my online class, I’d like to welcome them, and reassure them, and encourage them, and give them plenty of opportunities to try things and fail, and still be able to continue learning and succeeding along their time in this class, whatever will help me reach my students better.

That’s going to open up the space for diversity, equity and inclusion, I also have to check myself and ask what biases I might be bringing into those experiences. That’s especially difficult because as educators, and as human beings, really, we all have biases, we just have them, they’re kind of assumptions we have in our minds. And we’re not always aware of what our biases might be, we might assume certain students can do things or should know things. And that might not be true.

We might also need to branch out to include content that still teaches the concepts we’re teaching, but includes a lot more diverse perspectives, and a lot more cultural backgrounds, whatever it will take to help our students have the experience they need to have in that class. If we include those things, it will invite their success and invite people to join in the discussion, participate more fully and belong. Pychological safety sets that up and then our own experiences of a moment or many times where we might have felt like an outsider, in a group, those things can inform us further.

Now, when we think about focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion in distance learning, or in online education, we don’t have to be perfect. We don’t have to be experts at this concept. We can keep growing, we can just start focusing on it and incorporate more and more approaches that welcome our students and shift the focus off the instructor-led teaching and toward the student-centered learning.

The more we focus on our students, reaching them and teaching them and inviting them in, the more we’re satisfying the goals of a D.E.I. approach. And pretty soon, it will be very natural, if it’s not yet already, and we’ll be able to really invite students of any background, of any preference and be able to meet their needs all the more.

Student-Centered Online Education

Now, one thing that I just mentioned that a D.E.I. approach or D.E.I. focus in our online education requires of us is that we do focus on students and not just our teaching. Shifting to student-centered online education means that everything about our approach in that online classroom is focused on the learner experience.

What kinds of things do they already bring to this experience that we can tap into? And what do they need to experience to learn what they need to learn in this subject matter or in the concept area? The more we do this, the more we will be asking questions. And we will be connecting with our students and continue learning and growing along the way.

Now, as we close our podcast today focused on D.E.I. in the higher education online classroom, I want to encourage you. As you keep developing these skills, as we all continue to focus in this area, we don’t have to be perfect, we’re going to make mistakes. And that psychological safety we’re building for students applies to us too.

So, give yourself a little bit of space to try. Risk a little bit, potentially fail and just keep trying. As you learn these ideas and strategies, they will be more and more comfortable. And you will feel that you are reaching your students as you hear from them as you connect with them, and as you focus on what they need most.

Thank you for being with me today to discuss diversity, equity and inclusion in the higher education online classroom. 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.

#105 Podcast: Helping Students Navigate their Online Education Journey

#105 Podcast: Helping Students Navigate their Online Education Journey

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education and
Dr. Jan SpencerDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education and
Dr. David Ferreira, Faculty Member, APU and Provost, Charter Oak State College

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

Listen to the Episode:

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Read the Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Jan Spencer: Not bottle washer, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Student Affairs: Addressing Student Mental Health and Wellness]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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