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#110: How to Bring Creativity into Your Online Classroom

#110: How to Bring Creativity into Your Online Classroom

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

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

Creativity fosters learning so it’s important for online teachers to find ways to encourage creativity among students. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares ways to integrate creative approaches in the online classroom. Learn about designing open-ended assignments, being creative with assessments and more.

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Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This is Episode Number 110: How to bring creativity into your online classroom. This podcast is for educators, academics, and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun. Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics, and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and we’re going to talk about one of my favorite subjects today, creativity in your online classroom. I love creativity. In fact, one of my favorite things is coming up with new ideas and trying them out.

We have to be careful about creativity. As instructors, if we’re too creative, we create a classroom situation that is not coherent for our students. Limited creativity on our part, when we’re putting the course materials out there, can be helpful. Use some creativity all the time in your teaching. Just don’t overdo it. Help things to have a focus so your students know where they are and what they’re doing.

Emphasizing Creativity in Students

How can we bring creativity out in our students? Let’s think about that. The first thing is to look at your classroom as an area where students meet each other and get together. How could you use that online classroom in a way that really fosters collaboration and creativity? Is there easy access to all of the materials? Is there a great way to put that out there that students will naturally navigate? What could you do that is a little bit different to make this even clearer in the next class you teach?

There are a lot of creative ways to do this. Some people do it through a roadmap that students follow where you just click the next thing and the next thing, and it sort of navigates, maybe there’s even a hyperlink that goes directly into the discussion and a hyperlink that goes directly to the announcements, the assignments, and all those things. Think about, likewise, how you navigate that with your students whether it’s through videos, announcements, or little things along the way to help them move from one thing to the next.

What about those students who love to choose the order in which they learn things? Is there a way for that week’s content to be a buffet from which they can choose instead of a sequential order? Some lessons do make sense that way. In fact, some courses can even be taught that way.

When there are themes or topics that don’t necessarily have to be sequential and they don’t necessarily build on each other, they could be chosen in any order. Then an assignment could be based on some of the basic principles, not on the content itself but on the skills.

So, think about your classroom as this communal area where people can access all of the things, and what kind of creativity can make that utilized in a new way? You can also ask your students what they think about your organization. Perhaps they’ll give you some suggestions and ideas that will really be wonderful and you can try out in your next class or in the next week of class.

Building Community in the Classroom

There’s another approach to this community that you can just view in the online classroom. That is to find ways for students to really kick off the week together. There might be an opportunity for you to have everyone do an icebreaker activity on the subject matter or some kind of an asynchronous game.

There’s an online app called Kahoot! where everyone can click on their answers in real time. There are other apps out there that do the same thing asynchronously. Mentimeter does that through the slide presentation and so does Poll Everywhere. I encourage you to check out creative apps and solutions that might allow you to have more community and also more creativity in the classroom generally.

Design Open-Ended Assignments

Another suggestion for building creativity in your online classroom is to leave your assignments open-ended. Now, that sounds a little wild and crazy, doesn’t it? Now, if you actually have your assignments open-ended, this means that students can choose the mode of expression. They don’t have to necessarily write an essay. You could give them several suggestions or several links to ways they could present the assignment, and then students could choose the mode that speaks to them the most.

Some might use the essay. Some might make a video. Others might record their own podcast episode. Perhaps they’ll create a slideshow. Maybe they’ll create something else that we haven’t even thought of here yet. Whatever it is, if you leave the mode of expression open-ended, then you can have the requirements of the content being demonstrated through that assignment and also how much they need to include and whether they need to discuss their sources or give personal opinions or things like that.

I always like to give examples of various formats of assignments whenever it’s open-ended, but there’s this danger when you do that. Some students will just copycat what you put in there. I’ve heard some instructors actually don’t give examples. They just leave it open-ended and list a few suggestions without showing what that might look like. For the creative students in your group, that’s going to be a real invitation, and they’re going to love that.

Change How You Think About Creativity

Third, think about creativity itself in a new way. Some people think creativity means it’s unclear, it’s hard to define, and it’s really just ambiguous and people are invited to invent things. I don’t think that’s really true. In fact, there’s some research out there that describes characteristics of creativity. They are fluency, flexibility, elaboration, and originality. It could be helpful to teach your students when you’re using creative approaches what creativity means to you.

Fluency

Fluency itself is a person’s ability to generate a lot of ideas, solutions, or responses. So, you might have an assignment or a discussion where that is the goal, to come up with a lot of potential solutions and a lot of ideas about a particular topic that you’re studying. Inviting fluency of this nature can really help students get outside of the normal line of thinking, stretch the boundaries, and seek additional learning on the topic. That’s something we would all love our students to do.

An example is when I used to be a music teacher live, face-to-face, I played a lot of recordings of actual performing artists on various instruments. For the jazz kids, I would play actual jazz artists like Wynton Marsalis and Miles Davis and different people. I would encourage my students to find good examples out there and bring them into the class.

Pretty soon, my students were listening to jazz at all hours of the day, skimming through examples, finding selections, and bringing in new and different artists that we hadn’t met before, virtually, or on their MP3 players. So, the more you can help students develop fluency on the topic, the more they’re really learning and inventing new areas that they’d like to learn about within that subject matter.

Flexibility

Another characteristic of creativity is flexibility. This is a person’s ability to look at a situation from a different point of view. This is a really helpful skill in life, in business, in professional endeavors, in relationships, and in studying your academic content. The more you can see things from different point of views, the more you can see things with greater insight and greater perspective.

Elaboration

A third aspect of creativity is elaboration. Elaboration is a person’s ability to modify or expand an existing idea. This is known in the Clifton Strengths as the maximizer trait. Basically, we have an idea that we’re learning about and we could stretch it in some way, make it better, expand on that idea. Maybe we can apply it to something new or improve the quality of it. Whatever we’re going to do with elaboration, we’re really helping students to stretch their thinking and become, of course, more creative in the process.

Originality

Lastly, originality. Originality is a trait of creativity. In fact, most people think that’s what creativity is. It’s the ability to come up with a unique idea or a unique solution. So, this framework is going to help us teach our students to be more creative.

Believe it or not, creativity can be taught. It’s a skill that can be learned. I know some people think they are naturally creative. They grew up creative. Maybe they are not creative, something like that. Everyone has a belief about their own level of creativity or their ability to be creative. When you start to add more options about creativity in your online classroom, you help your students to grow not only in the subject matter, but in the ways they think about everything and the ways they live. So, bringing creativity in has so many benefits, and it really speaks to the whole purpose of education.

Now, here’s an example from an article in a book called “Teaching Strategies for the Online Classroom” by Magna Publications. This example is a chemistry instructor who could have students explain an oxidation reaction from the point of view of an electron, for instance. A history instructor could choose to focus on the elaboration aspects of creativity and have students outline a debate that argues both sides of a controversial topic.

An animation application, like GoAnimate. You can go to goanimate.com to check it out. Students could demonstrate their understanding of the course concepts while showcasing their creative approach. So, there are a few of the examples there from the article I’m looking at, and I encourage you to check out more options for bringing creativity into your online classroom.

Be Creative with Assessments

One area that we haven’t talked about is in the assessment area. Assessments don’t always have to be tests, and they don’t always have to be essays. Assessments are the opportunities for your students to tell you what they’ve learned. They need to demonstrate they understand the subject and they can utilize it in some way. So, they’re going to synthesize it, or they’re going to get creative with it, or they’re going to apply it. Whatever that is, the assessment should show their true understanding.

When you’re teaching online, sometimes we focus on objective assessments that are simply easy to grade. Online quizzes are like that. They can be automatically graded if you use multiple choice options. So, it’s easy to design modes like this, and it’s easy to automatically give the feedback, it reduces the instructor grading time.

However, when we use those options, we really reduce student learning down to some very basic modalities. If we include instead creative options, like students creating a video, building a mock interview, having a multimedia presentation, animating it in some way, creating an emoticon that describes it with some prose, some words that talk about it, or some other artistic work, we can really bring out more creativity in our students, and they can have fun while they’re doing it.

Be Mindful of Creative Elements

In closing, while you’re thinking about bringing more creativity to your online classroom, I want to caution you to be careful about your own exploration and what you included in the class. As I started with at the beginning of this episode, it’s really easy to make your online class so creative that it becomes a little chaotic for your learners. So, as you’re including creative elements, review it for cohesiveness as well and the learner’s experience.

You might have someone walk through that course and give you some feedback. Does it look easy to follow? Are the instructions clear? Can students tell what they’re supposed to be doing? Can they follow step one to step two and so forth? Can they figure out what they’re supposed to be clicking on and learning about and watching and doing, whatever that is?

If it’s super clear to your students, then you’re all set for a good experience, and you can run it and have students complete the course and take a look at their feedback. Of course, I always recommend getting student feedback along the way, asking them what they like, what they suggest improving, and what their experience really is so you can adapt. But for many of us, that can be challenging if you have a course that is completely written before you launch it. It’s very difficult to change that along the way, but you can modify it, make small changes, give it increased guidance through videos and announcements, and communicate with your students regularly to help them have an even better experience.

If you think about creativity as simply a method to help your students become owners of their learning, this becomes a really fun tool to use in your teaching. I hope you’ll think about it and explore what it might do for you and what it might do for your students. I wish you all the best this coming week, thinking about creativity 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.

#45: Classroom Management Can Improve Online Student Success

#45: Classroom Management Can Improve Online Student Success

This content originally appeared on APUEdge.com

Strong classroom management is especially important in the online environment. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks about the need for advanced planning in online classes to keep students informed about what to expect in the class and aid students in managing their own. Strong classroom management can also help teachers build relationships with students while helping them meet their learning objectives, whether it is professional advancement or personal growth.

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Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge, the show that helps you teach online with confidence and impact, while living a healthy, balanced life. I’m Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge.

I used to be a very busy online educator, student, mother, wife, and overwhelmed person. It’s easy to struggle with balance when working in teaching online, and I’ve definitely been there. Over time I’ve learned best practices, strategies to manage time and online work, and I’ve gained tools to help with life-work balance.

As a full-time professor and faculty director at an entirely online university, I help faculty teach with excellence and keep learning new ways to make online education a great opportunity for faculty and for students. Through this podcast today, I’m helping educators become more effective, healthy, and balanced so they can love what they do and impact their students positively. And today we’re going to do that by looking at the objectives, needs, and challenges of our online students, and how we can help them. And let’s get started.

What Motivates Online Students?

In the first area, let’s talk about online students’ motivations, their objective when they chose online education. Adult learners who choose online education really have two main objectives. They want to advance their professional careers, and to develop personally. Of course, there are many other motivations for taking courses online, but we find that these are the highest number of motivations.

Motivated by Career Advancement

When students are learning something to advance their careers, it really means they expect to get something tangible in the future, a reward for the learning they’re doing right now. That long-term reward might be a career change. It might be a salary increase. More opportunities. Or even the chance to get a promotion. This kind of vision for the future is going to help your online students to be intrinsically motivated so that they will be able to achieve the future reward that they really want.

Motivated by Personal Growth

When students are learning something for personal growth, there might be a need to develop personally, benefit from the continuous learning that takes place in a structured program or class, and have something to look forward to.

In a Wiley education survey published in 2020, 76% of those online students surveyed said that they wanted career advancement. Seventy percent of them were also looking for personal growth as well. It was said, while career advancement is the number one motivator for Wiley supported students when starting a program, personal growth keeps them going. That was reported in the Wiley study, and 59% stated that their desire to achieve personal growth motivated them to continue with their program after getting started.

We can help the students maintain their motivation by providing them with regular feedback throughout the course. It’s also particularly motivating when students feel like they’re learning things that matter to them.

Sometimes all it takes is telling them how a particular skill, or new information, is applicable to them now or in the future. But making clear connections between what students are learning and how they can use it really helps them meet their objectives and stay committed.

While online students have a high level of intrinsic motivation to learn so they can develop professionally and personally, they also need support throughout the entire experience. Let’s move on to the second area, which is what students online need, what they must get from you, their instructor, in an online learning experience.

What Do Students Need from Online Teachers?

Particularly, what are the needs of non-traditional students and adult learners? First, it might surprise you, but one thing they really need is good classroom management. This comes from Daniel P. Stewart, an adjunct history and humanities professor at Fayetteville Technical Community College. He said that advanced planning, interesting and relevant lessons, and effective teaching are critical.

Now why do adult learners need these things? In my first teaching position, I attended a middle school educators conference during which Fred Jones taught us about using the physical classroom space for classroom management. His idea was that moving through the room regularly and being physically near each student often during the class, behavior concerns would be dramatically reduced, and engagement would increase.

While that was 25 years ago, a similar idea is still helpful today in online classrooms, and even with adult learners. Classroom management is about planning ahead to communicate and help things go right. In the example I shared about the middle school classes 25 years ago, this took an early arrival by the teacher. It also took setting up chairs in a particular manner, and a plan to move during the session. And to do that, the lesson had to be thoroughly planned and prepared. This meant the teacher would be able to walk around without having to look at the textbook or teaching materials very much during class.

Tips for Effective Online Classroom Management

Online, advanced planning is even more critical, because the course elements need to be placed into the online classroom so that everything is available to learners when they need it. Much of the time the entire course must be ready before the semester even starts.

Some of this advanced planning could take the form of a screencast walkthrough, to help your students know where to find things, and example assignments to illustrate formatting. Perhaps an example assignment might also illustrate the approximate length, or the depth that a student should explore, and grading approaches that you will use.

Another advanced planning element might include a thoughtful course announcement leading into each week. Maybe you want to provide a netiquette guide that tells students how to communicate with each other, and with their instructor throughout the class. A netiquette guide can help a lot, especially for students new to online learning who just don’t know yet that communicating in a discussion space really is different from text messaging. This is a great way to help your students know how to communicate in the online space and comfortably make connections with you and other class members throughout the experience.

Effective classroom management is probably one of the most important responsibilities we educators face in any number of learning environments, whether you’re live or online. Classroom management may be defined as the act of supervising relationships, behaviors, and instructional settings and lessons for communities of learners.

And classroom management really is a preventative activity that results in decreased discipline problems. Basically, preventative management means that many classroom problems can be solved through good planning, interesting and relevant lessons, and effective teaching.

Now when you plan ahead for what you’ll teach and how you’ll teach it, and when you will learn what your students will find most valuable and relevant, you can give your students what they really need. They need relevant, prepared lessons. And they need to learn in ways that support their goals for advancing in their professional career areas, and in their personal development.

And of course, they need connections with you, and with each other, to feel like they belong and stay connected when online education might otherwise become an isolating experience.

How Can Online Educators Help Students with Time Management?

Now let’s move into our third area, online students’ challenges: time management. Online students have challenges with time management and juggling the balance between studying and their work commitments. What does this mean for you as an online educator?

Well first, communicating what to expect from the very first day of class can help your students to plan ahead. In a previous part time faculty position I held online several years ago, I provided students with a sample schedule each week on which I suggested which tasks to complete in the online course every day.

These included suggestions like reading the textbook assignment on Monday, posting in the discussion on Tuesday and taking the first quiz. On Wednesday beginning a draft of their assignment, completing another piece of the curriculum on Thursday, and responding to classmates and their instructor in the discussion on Fridays and Saturdays.

In this way, they would be touching a few pieces of the class every day during the week. This would keep the workloads small every day, and actually give them a lot more reinforcement in their learning, spreading the work out. While not everyone will need this, or use this suggested schedule, providing that kind of help can really assist online students to see what the workload is like. Then they can plan how to manage it.

Second, providing some flexibility when students need it is also helpful with time management challenges. Flexibility does not mean that you go easy on the rigor of the course, or that you’re less accurate with your grading.

Why It’s Important to Show Students that You Care About their Learning

And of course, students need to feel that their instructor really cares that they learn. In a study of 609 online learners, caring was the number one predictor of online instructor ratings. “It turns out that caring is very important, even for adult learners.”

Thinking about what students need in order to be successful in their online experience helps you to get on their side of the challenge. Our students want to feel seen, known, and loved in their learning. And when we give them the tools and strategies that help them along, they experienced a great partnership with us.

It’s also helpful to check in with our students to see how they’re doing throughout the class, and to ask where they could use the most support and guidance. In a survey of online learners in 2020, 63% of students surveyed said that they had problems with time management, and 59% of the students cited that they had jobs that were conflicting and that work commitments were a challenge. “Allowing for flexibility while maintaining the right level of accountability at the program and course level is essential for students to be successful” (Wiley, 2020).

Learn about What Motivates Your Students

Students have a variety of specific objectives, needs, and challenges when they take courses online. We can see their objectives by asking them what they hope to achieve by completing our class. And we know that generally online students start off with the goal of professional advancement, and then they are sustained throughout their learning by continuing personal growth.

Remembering these two motivators can help us assume the best of intentions when we struggle to understand what’s going on with one of our students, or when we think about what would be most helpful in teaching them. With clear objectives, our students need us to plan. They need us to plan ahead and to practice is a high level of classroom management.

Classroom management online is a preventative approach to preparing the classroom itself, and keeping students informed about what to expect every step of the way. Classroom management also means that we build relationships with our students and help them learn how to engage with each other and with us during their experience.

And while we focus on meeting online students’ needs, it’s helpful to remember that the specific challenges they face, like time management and professional work commitments. Knowing about their challenges just might prompt us to reach out when we see students drop off in their engagement, and to be somewhat flexible when students hit unexpected time management snags.

Closing out the podcast this week, I encourage you to get to know your online students better. Learn about what motivates them to take your class, and learn about what their objectives really are. Explore what they need in order to hit their goals. Is there something more you can do in the way you prepare for the next week that will make it even clearer how your students can satisfy their own objectives during the class?

And find out how you might gain additional insight into their challenges. What do they struggle with most in your online course? What is challenging about studying online? What challenges might prevent them from completing the course, but which could be reduced if you were to try a particular strategy, or a particular approach? Once you see your students’ objectives, needs, and challenges, what might you try or do in your online teaching this coming week?

Thank you for joining me today for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. We’ve taken a look at the objectives needs and challenges of online students, generally, and how we can help them. I hope you will try one new approach this week to help keep your teaching fresh, and help you see your students even more clearly. Best wishes to you in your online teaching this coming week.

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

#36: Helping Online Students Prepare for the Holidays

#36: Helping Online Students Prepare for the Holidays

This content originally appeared at APUEdge.Com.

The holidays can be a difficult time for everyone, but especially for online students whose coursework continues over the holiday break. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen offers suggestions for how online educators can incorporate flexibility and sensitivity into course design to accommodate students who may be struggling. Also learn about scaffolding assignments and other accommodations to help students succeed during the holidays.

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 Hanson. And I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.

At the time of this recording, it is December 2020, and we are in the midst of a pandemic. Online students everywhere are preparing for the holidays, which might include a break from online classes, or it might not. If you’re at an institution like mine, you have classes that overlap the holidays. So students will still be working and learning and submitting assignments throughout those holiday breaks that others might take for granted.

Today, we’re going to talk about how to prepare students for the holiday break or the holidays working through assignments, either way, in three ways. The first one is through some flexibility and sensitivity to your students’ needs. The second will be scaffolding assignments and other interactive activities. And the last one will be special considerations in three areas of physiology, focus and connection. So let’s jump in.

Why should we think about preparing our online students for the holidays? This year, the year that this was recorded, there are some special considerations around the holidays. Now, we all believe that the holidays are a time of celebration, a time to connect with others, as well as a time of loss for some people who have been significantly impacted at this time of year. For whom those memories and experiences come back again and again.

Regardless of what your students are experiencing right now, the whole world is in a tense and stressful situation with COVID-19 and this pandemic adds a lot to what is going on. Online coursework can be challenging anyway, because there is a lesser degree of connection. However, your students are in good hands with you at the helm, because you will be able to be flexible and sensitive, scaffold the work, and also help them in three special ways.

Build Sensitivity and Flexibility into Classroom Communication

The first area of flexibility and sensitivity is an important one when working with adult learners online and with a variety of other groups. Knowing that for some, the holidays are a time of celebration, while for others, it’s a time of loneliness and loss, you can exercise a lot of sensitivity in working with your students.

You might consider asking them what they are thinking about for the upcoming holidays. Maybe ask them if they are going to be able to be at home. If they will have a chance to connect with others. If they have anything planned that they would like to share, and so forth.

There are a lot of reasons why students will reach out to you about the holidays. And some of those might include just sharing what they’re experiencing. I know I’ve had online students occasionally reach out to me to let me know so that they are having a struggle. They’re not able to get through the work as usual at that time of year. Maybe things slow down for them and they’re a little depressed.

Some of them have so much going on with family and friends, that they’re also torn between their school commitments and their other connections. And they have to figure out a way to balance that.

Either way, sensitivity can be in the way we communicate with our students, either through our videos or our typed messages to them, the frequency of our communication and the word choice that we use. Consider a variety of circumstances your students might be facing as you communicate about the upcoming holidays with them.

Secondarily to that is the flexibility. Some students will just need a little bit of extra time. They might need another day or two. Other students might need an entire week to submit an assignment under these kinds of circumstances.

Some colleagues and I were speaking together the other day, and we were talking about how maybe COVID-19 hasn’t impacted one or more of our homes specifically, but the stress of the ongoing pandemic adds a lot to our emotional palette anyway.

Consider this as your students are struggling through this time of year. They might also be dealing with seasonal issues, inclement weather, cloudy skies. A lot of things can pile up to create an emotional climate that makes it very difficult for them to work as usual.

Flexibility might include giving a little extra time, choosing not to deduct late points or late deductions you might normally include, and other kinds of accommodations that might work for your students and sound reasonable to you.

Although, it might be difficult to be in tune with students’ emotions when you’re working online, we have had occasions where faculty members experienced students in distress. A student might actually tell you that they are not feeling up to doing anything, that they are feeling depressed, or maybe even that they are feeling suicidal.

If those kinds of things come up as you’re teaching your online class, be sure to reach out to the appropriate services at your institution to support them, the suicide hotline or the local police, if that is appropriate. Follow through on those things students say and take them seriously.

Scaffolding Assignments for the Holidays

A second area I want to talk about is scaffolding the assignments up to the holiday period. As a holiday is approaching, some faculty members just extend an assignment a few days, or maybe even an entire week. When you do this, students feel that they have the appropriate time to complete the work.

This might require adjusting the class before the course even begins to make sure your syllabus lines up with the calendar. If you haven’t done that, you could simply move the due date out and post announcements and reminders to let everyone know you’re giving them a few extra days.

One word of warning there, students do not appreciate the extra time, when they have already submitted the work. So it’s very helpful to tell students upfront, to give them a little bit of notice when you’re going to extend a timeline and also to help them understand when things are due and what is included in that assignment.

To scaffold assignments up to the holiday period, you might consider giving them some kind of advanced organizer to help them think through the work that is coming up. As I mentioned with the added stress of the pandemic and the holidays combined, many people find it difficult to perform up to their normal level of standard for themselves, and also find it difficult to think clearly as they would like to do.

When you scaffold an assignment, what you’re doing is giving a preparation to help people think. Maybe you’re taking the big assignment and you’re breaking it down into some smaller pieces, so that they’re a little easier to complete. And then they can be combined together, to submit as that final assignment.

For example, if a student is writing an essay, you might give an advanced organizer like a brainstorming chart, so they could break down the topic, solicit their sources, explore options, and even give you an outline ahead of time to have it briefly checked and given some feedback.

Scaffolding assignments really is twofold. The first is to break it down into smaller chunks that are easier to do. But the second is also to have easier pieces building up to the more complex parts, so that students can think through each step clearly, and then have a pleasing whole at the end.

Encourage Physical Activity

The last area I want to share today when you’re preparing students for the holidays, is considerations that are in the physical or physiology area, focus, and connection.

In the physiology area, it’s helpful to make suggestions for your students and for yourself to get up and change locations regularly. The more we stand up, take a little walk, stretch, even get some exercise, that will really help us to be focused. To be able to be on target when we’re doing our online work. And also to be able to endure the long stretches of work time that we tend to be under, either as the faculty member or as the online student.

Many people sit in the chair in front of that computer and they might go for hours without a break. This is going to slow circulation. It’s going to lower the mood and the overall effect and make it easier to feel sluggish, less clear thinking as well.

The more we make suggestions for small physical movement or encourage people to get up and just stretch and walk around, the more we help them to shake off that stuck state that they might be in, being in front of the computer. And it’s a great suggestion to offer your students as well.

I myself have a treadmill desk. If I need to be in a meeting where I don’t have to be on video, I can set my computer on the treadmill and I can take a walk while I’m in the meeting. Your students might be able to do the same thing.

Many of them are online students right now and also working online. So there’s a lot of sitting around that can add to a deflated mood and more sluggish thinking, as well as lower circulation. So suggesting physiological changes will help everyone to be able to get through the holidays with a little bit more energy and a method to interrupt stuck thinking.

The focus area of this triad of the physiology, focus and connection piece, is about what people are thinking about. Our students might be thinking ahead to when the course is over and they’re going to need to celebrate the holidays. Or maybe they’re going to not be with their family; maybe they are going to be with their family.

Students are already starting to project forward to the holidays themselves, even though they might be in the middle of a class with you. As they’re doing that, a lot of added stress can come with that, especially if their plans have changed because they’re not able to travel or they’re not able to connect with the people they love.

If you find that’s the case with your students, you might help them to focus on the present, what they can do to stay present in their course. And also to think about those things that they do have and those times that they have been able to connect with others, to foster a sense of gratitude.

This brings the idea of abundance, instead of the focus on what we’re lacking, and it can help generate creativity, innovation, ideas, and the sense of being present to complete the work they needed to do. To keep learning and to also do well at their studies.

Lastly, the connection piece. I was at a virtual party the other day, I wasn’t really sure would be like a party. And I was surprised at the degree of planning that went into this virtual event. And I was also surprised at the great connections that happened at this online party.

There are a lot of ways for us to connect with other humans, other people, whether it’s our family, friends, or our fellow students, or our classmates. We really want to connect with other people around the holidays, but it can be very difficult when people are physically separated or largely just know each other in the online environment.

One of the suggestions I’d like to make for connecting during the holidays when people are working online and being online students is to use a video platform, to plan ahead for the day and time, to even create an agenda and consider including some interactive technologies.

The party that I attended had a spinning wheel where some prizes were given out that were virtual gift cards that were delivered by email. Each person’s name was put on the spinning wheel. And they were able to spin it online during the party and then it would stop on its own and a person would win here and there.

There was also the opportunity to share ideas through the Mentimeter platform. That’s a really great way to vote, to collaborate on ideas, to create word clouds. This might even be a good tool to integrate in your online teaching generally. But if you decide to have some kind of a live gathering, it’s especially useful.

So you can suggest connecting with each other, but you could also have a class gathering. A holiday gathering of some sort using virtual means with your students might be just the ticket to wrap up the semester nicely and also wish them well as they wrap up the year that has passed.

Your Take-Aways

Consider these ideas, the flexibility and sensitivity, the scaffolding the assignments, and also the physiological, the focus and the connection pieces that students are going to need as they wrap up the year and whether they are taking a break or not, as they wrap up this month as well.

Lastly, I’d like to encourage you as the online educator. There’s a great podcast that was done, where I interviewed Dr. Lisset Pickens, and she shared some great ideas for balancing your work and home life.

If that’s an area you’d like to work on in the month ahead, definitely check it out. Some great suggestions in there about shutting off the work-life and turning on the home life at the end of the workday were made. And those suggestions are incredibly valuable.

I’d like to also suggest doing the things that you love, that go with holidays. For example, if you’re a person that likes to decorate at the office, decorate the classroom, and if you’re working from home right now, go ahead and decorate that space you’re working in. Go ahead and wear your holiday sweater or your holiday blouse, that you might have worn to the office or the classroom.

Taking those little extra steps to celebrate what’s important to you is going to add energy to what you’re doing. And it’s also going to give you a sense of normalcy in a very difficult time. Thank you for being here and I wish you all the best in your online teaching this week. And happy holidays!

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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