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

Dr. Bethanie Hansen 

Strategic Educational Leader and Coach

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

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

This content first appeared on APUEDGE.COM.

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

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Read the Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ensure Syllabus Includes Course Objectives, Policies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prepare Weekly Announcements with Timely Updates

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

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

Schedule Information to Publish at Specific Times in the Course

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

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

Create Guidance Assets for Assignments in Advance

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

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

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

Assess Your Own Strengths, Weaknesses and Priorities as an Educator

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

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

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

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

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

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

Incorporate Your Teaching Goals into Your Planning

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

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

Plan for Course Extensions

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

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

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

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

Prepare Plans for Forum Discussions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider Grading Tools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#52: Effective Feedback in Your Online Teaching

#52: Effective Feedback in Your Online Teaching

This content originally appeared on APUEdge.com.

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

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
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Read the Transcript:

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

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

What is Feedback?

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

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

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

Feedback Can Help Students Improve and Reduce Complaints

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ways to Get Feedback from Your Students’ Assignments

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adapting Your Teaching Based on Feedback

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

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

Ways to Give Effective Feedback

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

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

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

Goal-Referenced Feedback

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

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

Actionable Feedback

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

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

User-Friendly Feedback

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

Timely Feedback

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

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

Make Sure Students Receive Feedback

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

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

Tell Students to Expect Feedback on their Work

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

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

Announce When Feedback is Available and How to Find it

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

Be Receptive to Requests for Feedback

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

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

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

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

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

#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.

#26: Strategies for Effectively Grading Online Assignments

#26: Strategies for Effectively Grading Online Assignments

This podcast and article were originally published on Online Learning Tips.Com.

The COVID-19 pandemic created a major shift in U.S. education. K-12 schools, colleges and universities switched from in-person classes to online education, a transition which was challenging for many instructors and school administrators.

Grading assignments in online classes can be difficult and time-consuming due to the high workload and lack of support that’s often found in traditional classrooms. In this podcast, Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides a comprehensive strategy for online teachers to effectively grade assignments. Learn about FOCUS-EQx2, a teaching strategy to help online instructors streamline their grading and manage their time so they can provide students with effective comments, feedback, and evaluation.

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.

If you’ve taught in traditional settings, traditional on-the-ground universities in live classes, you’ve likely used a lot of different approaches to grading your students’ work. Here are some that might be missing when you’re online teaching.

First of all, in a live class — especially at larger universities — there might be a testing center. A testing center is a place where your students can go — their identity is verified, they are monitored to ensure they’re doing the work honestly and without tools, notes, or other items, and then the answers might be run through an automation that grades it. For most online teaching, there is no testing center, especially if your students live far from the university or the college.

You might have a second tool like teachers’ assistants who took your class previously and now they’re back because you trust them. And those teaching assistants might’ve taken attendance or collected assignments and graded students’ work for part of the class or even much of the class. Teaching assistants have lightened the load for faculty to focus on teaching strategies and methods, so you can help your students learn most effectively.

Teaching assistants are largely absent in online education. I’ve seen some universities try this approach, and there are a few pilots out there doing it. But it really is a lesser-known model in online higher education, so it’s unlikely that you have a teacher’s assistant helping you grade your work.

Thirdly, you might’ve had peer-evaluation practices. On an assignment, this might help everyone improve and you might use an entire class session where students do sort of a workshop together. And when students see the assignment from an evaluator standpoint, they take on a new perspective and they might make some more connections to the subject matter.

Peer evaluations can be a really great way to help students improve their work while they’re lifting your grading load. And usually, this activity is done in real time and you’re guiding it and telling them what to do with each other and what to look for.

Now, this can be done online, but it does require a lot more guidance to be done well. That’s helpful to know; peer evaluation might not be totally absent, but it’s not as strong of a practice.

In your online teaching, it’s very possible that you’re missing these elements and so your grading load is a little bigger, but also we have the physical demand. And instead of writing just a few comments or a grade on the paper, giving it back to the student face-to-face, and talking about the general strengths and areas for growth to an entire class when they’re seated right in front of you, all that you need to tell the student must be typed on the essay.

It actually has to be typed somewhere, unless you’re using a really innovative strategy of providing something like video feedback, which can also be time-consuming. So there is a physical demand involved in online grading.

And lastly, the truth, right? Some teachers just don’t like grading, and it’s easy to put off. If you’re a person who dislikes grading and when you get a large number of assignments all at once, it can feel like a huge task to evaluate them quickly and to get them back to your students in a timely way.

Managing that time and the work of doing it is very challenging if your favorite part of teaching is the class, the face-to-face stuff where you’re helping others explore the subject.

With all of this said, I want to dive into the idea of effective online grading. And I’m going to give you a strategy today that I hope will really help you rein it in, put some limits on this and make it more manageable for you.

The problem is that grading assignments and online classes can be difficult and time-consuming. And if you’re typically a face-to-face teacher and now you’re teaching online, it’s also a big mindset change. There’s a lot that’s different about this.

Now, at a basic level, the work your students are going to submit does need some kind of grading and evaluation from you as the instructor, and this grading needs to be clear. There are a lot of different ways you might grade things, which could include rubrics, grading to a standard or a set of standards. You might have a pass/fail type of grade depending on the item, grading on a curve, and there’s also holistic grading.

Whatever approach you’re going to use, your students just need to know it up front before they submit their work. And they need to receive your grading clearly tied to whatever method or model you’re using.

For example, if you’re using standards in your grading, you would want to include these standards in the assignment description so students know it. If you use a rubric, you would provide a copy to students with the assignment description and then return a marked-up rubric with the graded assignment so they can see their performance in each area.

Understanding your grading is the most important thing here because if you give a student a B, or a C, or a D or whatever on their assignment, they definitely need to know how they earned it, why they got that grade, what they need to improve in the future, and so forth. All the different information that you need to give your students is in your grading and evaluation process.

For anyone who normally teaches live classes in higher education, when you begin teaching online and students are not coming to campus, your experience is missing a lot of those supports that used to be there to minimize the grading workload and to make it a lot easier.

Your online teaching experience is basically asking for much more from you in the grading and evaluation of students’ work. This is why grading assignments for online classes can be difficult and time-consuming, especially if you compare it to traditional experiences I’ve just described.

You might be feeling a little bit overwhelmed with the way your workload has changed and maybe some of the ways you need to evaluate your students’ work.

So let’s look at what will happen if you don’t give students the clear grading and evaluation of their work. First of all, they’re going to continue to make mistakes, or they will fail to grow in their learning. It’s difficult for a student to know if they’re even on track when they don’t get feedback. And of course, there’s the possibility that they will complain that you are not helping them, and they will eventually appeal the grades you give them and the final grade for the course.

Your grading and evaluation must be supported and without support, it’s very difficult to defend it. What will happen if you’re too thorough? Have you ever been too thorough when evaluating your online students’ work? I know I have, especially early in the game when I was first learning how to do this.

And if you’re too thorough, this takes a lot more time, and it can be overwhelming when you have many classes to teach and a lot of assignments to grade. Ultimately when you’re teaching online, you need some kind of strategy and you need a few tools to help you give your students effective, genuine guidance through your grading and evaluative feedback. And you need a system that’s going to help you have efficiency while you’re doing it.

Today, I’m sharing a strategy for grading online students that I’m calling “FOCUS-EQx2.” This strategy is going to help you effectively move through a student’s assignment while you provide the evaluation and feedback. The FOCUS-EQx2 strategy is going to give you specific areas to look at for truly effective grading, and it will help you focus your evaluation overall.

Now in a future episode, I’m also going to tell you about a few tools to help you become more efficient so that you can manage your time well and create a system that works for you. So we’re not talking about tools today; we’re talking about strategy.

Now, let’s dive into this strategy. I’ve been an educator for 25 years, and I’ve taught online for more than 10 years in higher education. I’ve managed hundreds of faculty at an entirely online university in two different schools and in six different departments.

I’m only sharing this background with you today so you know that there are a few details about my background really pertinent to this topic, and I have some perspective on these teaching topics and particularly grading. When I’m managing faculty, one of my roles is to evaluate them and I’m often looking at the quality of their grading and the type of grading they provide.

Now, I want to tell you a little bit about my early experience when teaching online. I struggled to know what I should include in grading comments. I really wanted to help students and I evaluated essays and pretty soon I was putting a lot on there.

It seemed to take me just a lot of time, and it was a lot of effort to provide all of those comments. Some were about grammar and writing and some were about the content and some were about the way things were organized, but it was really just all over the place. So I was making a lot of comments and thinking about a lot of different areas of grading all at once.

And I’ll give you an example of why this was such a big deal. I had one eight-week upper division writing class that I was teaching, and it had one written assignment every week. Each assignment built on each other until the final Week 8 essay, which was a 10-page paper.

Now, all of these assignments needed comments and guidance from me on the paper itself, and they all built on each other leading into that paper, so the feedback was critical. Now that final 10-page paper also needed detailed feedback. You can imagine with very many students this is a large load of grading, right?

Every week, this feedback had to be returned quickly. I was teaching several other online classes at the same time and I sat for hours at the computer; I found it to be really challenging. There were some really late nights and giving all of this evaluation was taking away from time I wanted to be putting into other parts of my teaching, like being in discussions and sending messages to less active students and all those kinds of things, and maybe even making some instructor videos or creative announcements or things like that.

I asked a colleague for tips about how to make this more effective; I really wanted to focus my strategy. She suggested looking at a few key areas and doing them well, and she listed them for me and I started to do them.

Since then, I’ve added to that strategy and it has made my grading so much more effective. This is going to reduce your overwhelming grading load, it really is, and it reduced mine. It also gave me a lot of focus to the process and made the whole practice of giving effective feedback much more streamlined and much more effective.

The strategy can easily be remembered through this acronym: FOCUS-EQx2.

Focus stands for formatting, organization, content, understanding and support. And EQ stands for editing quality, and it also stands for evaluation and qualitative comments. There are two EQs in this strategy and that’s why I’m calling it EQx2.

As you begin to read your student’s paper, you’re going to notice that each area of the FOCUS-EQx2 strategy is going to change. It’s going to be based on and the type of assignment that you’re looking at.

For example, if you have a formal essay or a research paper, we’re going to use all of these areas in detail. And if you’re a grading a multimedia assignment or just a short written reflection, maybe you’re only going to use a few of them.

Regardless, it doesn’t really matter what kind of assignment, having a helpful strategy like this is just going to help you keep yourself organized and avoid getting runaway with just one part of this process or ignoring things that you should really pay attention to.

Let’s talk first about formatting. For each assignment, your students are going to submit, there’s some kind of formatting involved. These are things like the appearance of the assignment and the heading that might be used, the way sources are formatted at the end, how the spacing is between the lines, those kinds of things.

To evaluate the formatting, you can just scan the visual appearance of the assignment. And if that paper should be double-spaced or have a heading in a certain spot, or maybe it needs to use a style like APA or MLA or Chicago, you can add a brief note to commend the student for their excellent formatting or give some guidance about their errors and how to fix them next time.

It’s really important to give this kind of feedback about formatting because we want students to keep learning throughout their education. And we also want them to know what academic writing or different formats that you might be asking them for should look like.

The truth is formatting is very superficial; it’s a really small part of any assignment and you shouldn’t overdo it here. You just want to give it some attention, make a comment, keep it brief and move on quickly.

Second, look at organization. As you start to read through your student’s assignment, you’re going to look for the way the information and the ideas are organized. You’re going to give some feedback here. And in the case of something like a formal essay, maybe the paper usually begins with a paragraph that introduces the topic.

That’s going to give some kind of thesis that tells the main point or the argument or the claim that you’re going to read about in the paper. There’s going to be a body paragraph or many body paragraphs, and each paragraph should be clearly about a topic or an idea that’s organized in a way that makes sense.

Most of the paragraphs in the essay should have a topic sentence at the beginning and the topic sentence really just tells what’s in that paragraph. At the end, there should be a closing paragraph or a conclusion that ties it all together, restates the main point, and brings the important ideas to bear.

When you look over the assignment to evaluate organization, thinking about this kind of structure, all you need to do is look at the opening paragraph and read the first sentence of each body paragraph, and then read the last paragraph to see the organization.

If you can’t find the flow of the topics or really get an idea for what the student is writing about just by reading the topic sentences, then there’s probably a problem with the overall organization of that assignment or essay.

Here you might need to make a suggestion. Maybe you want to suggest using topic sentences in the paragraphs, or you might have bigger advice to give about the overall way that the paper is laid out and organized. Either way, the organization will either be very clear or somewhat unclear, and you can give some commentary and some feedback about that without dwelling on it too long.

The third area is content. This is, of course, one of the bigger parts that you will be evaluating and this is what the student actually addressed. Did they use the right topic, for example? Did they use the academic words they’re supposed to be using? We call that academic vocabulary.

For example, if I’m teaching a music appreciation class, are they using words like tempo, dynamics, form? Are they using those words correctly? Are they actually giving enough description that I can tell what they’re describing? Is the scope of what was covered appropriate to what should have been covered?

Now, that area you want to really focus on because that is the main point of the assignment, right? To cover the content and the next couple of areas, understanding and support.

So when you start to make comments on the content you can do this by way of suggestion, you can make a statement; you can note where they actually covered the key points that you’re looking for. Either way, there should be some kind of comments you’re providing your student about the content.

The fourth area, the understanding, now this is where you’re going to find out the student’s ideas. There are many, many areas that they might go into.

For example, a student might describe something; they might discuss it. They might have analysis that they’ve created. They might make connections between two different ideas. They might show how they demonstrated their understanding and learning through what they’ve written, but what they understand about the topic that they’ve written about, it must be obvious and it needs to be clear.

If you have a student who is taking a lot of sources, they’re paraphrasing and they’re quoting a lot and there’s just not a lot of content they wrote, it’s very difficult to see what they understood. This area could be missing entirely or it might be incredibly pervasive throughout the whole assignment, but you want to look for understanding and evaluate it and give some feedback about that as well.

And then lastly, the support. Support is a tricky area. This is the details, the examples and evidence that were used to support their ideas. And it also includes sources — how they were used, how and where they were included — and potential plagiarism.

If a student uses a lot of supports without citing them and quoting them and all of that kind of thing and if it shows up high on your originality checker, whether it’s SafeAssign or Turnitin or something else, you definitely want to address that. Coach students, if necessary. Deal with the plagiarism concerns and so forth, so support is both about ideas and also about sources.

As you review each area, you want to find a way to at least evaluate and give a little comment about those things. You’re coaching the student in their academic learning, but you’re also mentoring them somewhat in the subject itself.

Now after you’ve reviewed focus, formatting, organization, content, understanding and support, the next area is the EQx2. And this is the editing and quality, and finally the evaluation and qualitative comments.

The editing would be just notes that you might make about writing errors. For example, if you think they’re not using capital letters, if they’re using texting lingo, if they talk about themselves in first person but it should be in third person. If there are just run-on sentences or fragments, things like that, I always suggest marking a few of them in the beginning paragraphs and not dwelling on them throughout the rest. It will take all of your time if you spend time editing a student’s paper; that’s not your job.

If you use something like Grammarly or if you use the features in Turnitin’s GradeMark suite, there is an editing area there and you can actually have students find the editing mistakes themselves. If there are a lot of errors you want to make some kind of comment about that, and you might even direct them to writing help or a tutor if those things are available to you.

The quality is the writing quality. So that also has to do with their tone, their language, the way they’ve presented their writing overall, and again, if necessary, a comment or two could be made there.

Now in the evaluation and qualitative comments, I consider these to be the summary comments you would give at the end of the assignment. So all the rest of these things that I’ve mentioned would be given on the body of an essay or an assignment, or depending on your learning management system you might actually have the ability to highlight, tag, or put little notes next to the paper.

There’s a lot that can be done nowadays in a learning management system, but also in Turnitin’s GradeMark suite. Or if you really want to download the student’s paper in Microsoft Word and just use track changes and put reviewer’s comments and bubbles on it, you could do that as well.

All of the things I’ve covered so far under focus would be brief comments made on the actual assignment. These last two, evaluation and qualitative comments, those could be done at the top of the essay or assignment just in a paragraph. Or they could be done in the grading feedback box when you’re returning this assignment to the student.

The evaluation is your overall statement about the essay. What did they do well, and where do they need to improve?

What did they do well is really important. As faculty and as teachers, it’s really easy for us to always be looking for mistakes. That’s also the default of the human brain; it’s a problem-solving machine so we’re often looking for what’s wrong.

When you give your evaluation, be sure to say something that was strong in the paper, even if it was only the topic choice and is a very weak paper overall. Give some encouragement through that evaluation, but also be specific and tell them what the main area is to focus on for improvement.

And then, the closing is the qualitative comments. That’s part of your summary and that would just be your pros, what you’re writing to the student. You want to say something encouraging and close it and wish them the best on the next assignment and move on.

When you use this method of FOCUS-EQx2 a few times, at first it’s going to take a lot more thought and effort to touch on each area, but soon this strategy is going to give you the effective grading and evaluation that you’re really looking for to help your students the most.

You also want to give structure in your approach to keep it organized and help your time stay in check, and this FOCUS-EQx2 strategy will do that for you. Although your online teaching asks a lot more of you in grading and evaluation detail, this is also an area where you can keep teaching and keep getting to know your students.

I encourage you this week to try the FOCUS-EQx2 strategy on your next round of grading, and I wish you all the best in your online teaching.

#9: A Strategy for Grading Essays in Microsoft Word Efficiently

#9: A Strategy for Grading Essays in Microsoft Word Efficiently

Where can I find a strategy for grading essays in Microsoft Word efficiently?

If this is your question, you’ve come to the right place! Using Microsoft Word for grading is easy with several specific tools, all built into the software. Enjoy the latest podcast for suggestions, tips, and strategies for using Microsoft Word to grade essays.

Autotext is an excellent tool for inserting chunks of feedback you might regularly use. Furthermore, in the Autotext feature, you can add entire rubrics and insert them on the document you’re grading with only one click.

Two images are included here. These images illustrate the process for using Autotext as a grading tool. And for more details, visit Teaching Music Appreciation Online, chapter 12.

 

Autocorrect is another great tool for inserting paragraphs of frequently used commentary by typing a few letters.

For more tips, listen to the podcast.