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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

#103 Podcast: Insight from Leading the Way in Online Higher Education

#103 Podcast: Insight from Leading the Way in Online Higher Education

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com. 

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education and
Dr. Jan SpencerDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education and
Dr. Kate Zatz, Acting President, American Public University

The pandemic accelerated the prevalence of online higher education. While offering online education was a new endeavor for many institutions of higher learning, American Public University has been delivering online, or distance, education for 30 years. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen and Dr. Jan Spencer talk to Dr. Kate Zatz, who served as a university board member for 17 years before becoming Acting President in 2021. Hear insight about navigating rapid growth, the challenges of continuous improvements to technological systems and processes, and the work being done to connect and assist students in an online environment.

Listen to the Episode:

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

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. This is Bethanie Hansen, and I am so excited to be with you today. We have two special guests, Dr. Jan Spencer and Dr. Kate Zatz. We have just celebrated our hundredth episode on the Online Teaching Lounge, so we’re very excited that we’ve been running this podcast for almost two straight years, helping online educators and other professionals in online education understand students, meet their needs, and really get things going. So I’m going to pass it to you, Dr. Spencer, and, Jan, can you just give us a little bit of an introduction to you, and then go ahead and introduce our guest?

Dr. Jan Spencer: Yes. Thank you so much, Bethanie. It’s a privilege to be here. I serve as the Department Chair for Educational Leadership. That’s in the K-12 arena. And then also I have two programs in higher education, one in student affairs and the other one in higher education administration.

And when I first began this role, I was in a meeting with Dr. Kate Zatz, and found out that she has degrees in these areas. And I thought that would be perfect to ask her to come on and interview her about higher education, and her understanding and her wisdom in terms of student affairs and higher education administration. Since she’s now the President of our university, what a privilege it is that she immediately said, “Yes, I would love to do it.” And so I want to just ask her to introduce herself, and so glad to have you here, Dr. Zatz.

Dr. Kate Zatz: Thank you so much for inviting me, Dr. Spencer. Is it okay if I call you Jan? You can call me Kate.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Call me Jan, I’ll call you Kate. Great.

Dr. Kate Zatz: It’s a deal. I’ve been of American Public University since November 4th, 2021. I’m currently the acting president, but prior to that, I served on the board for the last 17 years. And when I came onto the board of APUS, I was a Dean of Students at the College of Aeronautics at LaGuardia Airport. And that was right after I had finished my doctorate at Columbia University. I hold an EDD in Higher Education Administration, a Master’s degree in Education Administration, and a Master’s in Student Personnel Administration from Teachers College.

Teachers College was the first institution to actually have a degree in Student Personnel Administration, started by Sarah Sturdivant in 1921. It was out of the need for integrating what happens inside a classroom with what happened outside of the classroom, and the need for developing a cadre of people who could help run institutions and focus on student personnel in areas of student activities, deans’ offices, international students, career services, student activities, the whole plethora of what happens in a higher education institution. So, I’m one of those lucky people who figured out very young in life what I wanted to do, which was basically go to college, figure out how to be paid to be there, and never have to leave.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Kate, you are a treasure to all of us here, and you’re delightful to speak with. One of the things that I added to our questions from our original consideration of this was getting your perspective, since you have a longevity of experience with the university. Now you’re the President. That’s a different place of observation of what’s going on. What do you see differently now that you’re the President?

Dr. Kate Zatz: I’m having the time of my life. I always thought when Wally Boston was doing this, it had to be the best job on the planet. And apparently, I was right. It is an amazing experience being the President. We have just so many things in the hopper about moving the institution forward.

The big difference, I think, between being the board chair of the last 17 years—I’ve spent at least 12 years being the Chair of the Board of American Public University, sitting with my colleagues as a board member, you think you know what’s going on, on the inside. You think that you’ve done your homework to advise the management and the administration about the best practices and the best things to do. But being on the inside, it’s really interesting when it comes to actually deploying, or implementing, or figuring out how to do that vision that you’ve heard, and the disjointed parts of it, but also the seamless points of it.

And the unifying fact is how mission-driven American Public University has been ever since I came on the board in 2004, serving those who serve, and how we go about every day trying to improve how we do that, that no matter where you sit, whether or not it’s the board or in the President’s chair, how we really try to focus on the student experience and making it better all the time. And how we go about trying to make it a better institution, serving more students, serving students better, making education affordable, keeping it affordable, and all the time, working on the quality of what we’re providing, that we’re pretty much in sync.

The big differences for me between being on the board and being the President are that I have made a commitment to myself to be a President in residence. It may sound really old school in considering that the pandemic’s going on, but I’m actually sitting in 111 West Congress Street here in Charles Town, West Virginia, where it has been the hub of who we are and what we do for the last 20-some years. We had moved out of here for a while, but we’re back in the building, and it’s really a hub of activity right now. Dr. Smith is downstairs, one flight away from me. Dr. Cottam is in this building. Accreditation is in this building. And the idea that we’re here and we’re able to just walk up and down the stairs to talk to each other about what we’re focusing on and how we’re going to serve students, it’s really a pretty amazing place.

Dr. Jan Spencer: When I got the gist some time ago that you spend a lot of time there in your office, I was very impressed by that. It shows a depth of commitment, if you don’t mind me saying that. I like that. With regard to student affairs in higher education and higher education administration, during your tenure with this university, you have seen an enormous level of changes going on in the online space particularly.

It is during these last 17 years of your involvement that the university has grown very large and very influential in higher education. This is a changing world. Can you enlighten us a bit about what we should be aware of in the changes that are going on in this space?

Dr. Kate Zatz: When I became board chair in 2004, we had 7,000 students, and at that point we were still mailing out books every month. And here we are, and we’re close to a 100,000 students. And boy, have things changed. The one constant is change.

I can only reflect on how many different iterations of what we do, we’ve gone through. In terms of course development, for example, it’s a good thing that we’re on a three-year cycle for updating all our courses, because with technology changing as fast as it does, sometimes when you take a course and look at it once, it could be three years before you update it, things have really changed by then.

So what has changed? Years ago, back in 2004, when we introduced the Partnership at a Distance (PAD), there were some assumptions that we made about students and their ability to be self-sufficient and navigate the online universe on their own with very little support. And perhaps that was true for some students.

But it wasn’t too long after that, that we started in with realizing that there was a space related to student affairs where career development, and advising support, and the ability to talk to people who were in the field that a student was studying. So, very early on, by 2007, we had started the process of actually chartering student groups here at APU, which is, at that time, it was really pretty cutting edge.

That coupled with, somewhere around 2007, 2008, 2009, we started applying for and earning Sloan and Gromy awards for excellence in online education, which meant that for us, our learning outcomes of how we were able to verify what we were teaching was what people were learning, and then taking the information on how to improve courses and reflecting that into the curriculum and improving.

So we went through a whole series of that, while at the same time working toward our initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission. It was pretty monumental when we hit that milestone.

And then, as time has gone on, there is no doubt about it that we continue to be a leader in student learning outcomes, program outcomes. One of the things that is just truly amazing to me is how library services and information has changed to the point that obviously we no longer send books out to people. What we do is that we subscribe and make available some of the best online reference platforms there are, period, point blank. The fact that regardless of where you are in any one of the 24 time zones, that 24 hours a day, you can do things like log into the library and get help with something that you’re studying. So the changes have been ever increasing.

And for the future, what I see happening is, as we were a pioneer in online learning, oftentimes when we would put up a system, it would be not necessarily a smooth transition to the next part. For example, if you applied, how your application got transitioned to financial aid, or how we took information about you and your interests, and lined you up with the right curriculum. Some of these processes would take longer than we would wish. So automation has been one of the hallmarks of one of those things that we continue to work on. Where we’ve been able to automate something, we’ve pretty much done it.

And where I see still some benefits for students in the future are being able to automate things that are currently manually done on their behalf, where some of those big questions about when one is applying to come to APU, about if you decide you want to take a program or you want to study something, you still have to figure out how you’re going to pay for it, and how many credits you’re going to be able to transfer here.

So, some of these things, the accuracy of how that happens, but also the speed by which we’re able to give a student the answer of how many credits we’re going to take, and how much it’s going to cost, and how much aid they’re going to get, are still critical issues that we can always continuously improve upon. And that’s one of the really cool things about this place is that we learn from doing, and then we take the information, and we turn around and improve the processes. And it’s one of the things that I’m really very proud of that we do that because we’re always striving to be better.

Dr. Jan Spencer: That’s great, Kate. Thank you so much for that. As you’re speaking and sharing about some of the changes that are happening, one word that came to me is the word “challenge.” Because I am overseeing the higher education administration program and student affairs, there are some left curves that may be up ahead for somebody who’s going to be entering that field.

What are some of the challenges that we may encounter in working and preparing students for a degree in higher education that we may not be aware of even yet in terms of it being right in front of us? Help me understand some of the challenges that you now see as the President.

Dr. Kate Zatz: So, student affairs, I think has always been a passion, and it is an area that causes people to think holistically about students. And I think one of the challenges for people going into this field is, as COVID has certainly impacted us, we’ve been teaching online, we’ve been a remote institution for the last 30 years.

What has not caught up is how we educate people to be in student services and student affairs. In some ways, it’s been a field without an epistemology. The closest you can find perhaps is Chickering or some of the work of Knefelkamp. And those issues of student development theory and how they apply in an online environment, they’re not always as easy to see.

And what happens is, I think that one of the things that we’ve lost is our connection to students. We have to really work at it. And what I see as a challenge is people who go into the field not realizing that a lot of the work that they’re going to end up doing is online. It’s going to be remote. It’s going to be individualized, and it may not be on a traditional campus.

And what I’m really seeing is traditional campuses, nonprofits who have decided to go online, who don’t have the staff support infrastructure to do a really good job teaching online. What they’re trying to do is, they try to poach people who know what they’re doing.

So here at APUS, one of my challenges has been working on retaining our very creative, dedicated staff and student advisement, for example, financial aid, admissions, making sure that we are at least where other institutions are in the market in terms of pay.

But, we have a different quality of employee because many of them not only understand the theory and the practice, but have taken the time to learn how to do that in an online environment, which is not an easy thing to do. So learning how to navigate online for the current student affairs professional or the student in student affairs, coupled with the challenges of doing this online, I think, are part of what faces us.

Dr. Jan Spencer: I have in our programs sought to establish things like a Student Union where students would come together every month. We encourage mentorship. It’s hard, though, to get students to buy into that. Even though our professors are willing, sometimes it’s difficult for the student who is signed up to have a remote education because they basically don’t want to deal with people so much. Can you help me with that?

Dr. Kate Zatz: Some of the fun that I’ve been having is I’ve showed up at the orientation for doctoral students, but we have some really active groups on different platforms like Quill and Scroll, Saber and Scroll, that I’ve been invited to. There are so many different student groups that are meeting. And I don’t know how to get this across to students that are studying student affairs, but how you go about networking with each other. There’s some positions I’m looking for to fill here at APU, and I’ve been able to use my network to go, “Hey, we’re hiring here. This is what I’m looking for. Is there anybody you can nominate?”

And the thing is, is that’s done because I’ve got a very large network of people who have worked in student affairs. And that, along with doing things like getting involved in the National Association for Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) where there’s different groups within NASPA that focus on different topic areas and different service areas within the field, it’s really worth somebody’s while if they’re new to the field or are looking to be promoted.

There’s only so many years you want to spend at an entry-level position, but there are opportunities to move your career forward by getting involved with the professional organizations that are out there that are specifically related to student affairs administration, and it’s really worth one’s while.

For years, I was a vice president for student affairs and would attend NASPA as a chief student affairs officer and as a senior student affairs officer, and those networks are invaluable to me now.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you so very much. I’m going to throw this back over to Bethanie for some follow-up questions before we move ahead.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thank you, Jan. Kate, I really appreciate all of the expertise you’ve been sharing, and especially some background about how the university has developed over time, and some of the things that have changed, and some of the things that may need to still change in the field of student affairs.

I’m thinking myself a little bit about the part-time faculty who teach with us. I’ve just heard a lot from them that they learned how to teach online by teaching at APU. And when the pandemic came along and they needed to, at their full-time jobs, help others, they had the skills, they had some things they could share.

And we have listeners all over the world that listen to this podcast. Many of them are listening to it to get some of those ideas. If you had some suggestions for things that online professionals, whether they’re the faculty members or student affairs professionals could do to just step it up and really provide good quality online help to those that they teach and work with, what would you recommend as some real tips?

Dr. Kate Zatz: When one is looking at teaching part-time online, before you sign off on that contract, there’s a couple things that you’re going to want to look at, like, for example, who owns your content? Pretty simple. How much of your course do you personally need to put together? Is there a requirement that you know how to write HTML? Or is that something that the institution that’s hiring you is going to do?

Because these days, when a course goes live online, there’s some expectations that are built into how that course is going to operate. Is it compliant with ADA? Does it meet the student learning outcomes for a particular course program? And how does it fit into the overall curriculum for a degree?

So if somebody is just going to pass off a fully developed course to you, before you sign off on it, make sure that those bells and whistles are already in place so that you’re not doing it yourself. Take a look at what you’re getting in terms of remuneration, or what you’re contributing that is original to that.

Also, the whole phenomenon of learning about open resources that can be used in coursework. To what extent do you need to become an expert on what’s out there that you can put into your course as you’re doing that? One would hope that there is support for looking at those kinds of things.

So, it’s one thing to get your course up and running, but when you get to the end of the first week, and you certainly have students that have not logged in, or you see that people are struggling, those kinds of interventions that you can do as a faculty member by reaching out, even before you get there, some of the best practices go like this. We’re going to get to the point at APU where a student can log into a course before the course starts. I think it’s really important, and it’s one of the better practices to be able to log in and see what is on that syllabi, what the due dates are, what the breadth and depth of the expectations are for a student.

Later into 2022, I’m really hoping that that goes live, because what I’ve found is that if a student is able to plan their life around due dates, and understands what the expectations are for them in that particular course, they’re more likely to enroll and stay enrolled. Because what happens is, is that it’s not a Sunday when they’re figuring out what it is that they’re going to have to do. So let’s say you’re a faculty member, and your course, before it goes live, a student looks at it.

Well, I would hope that a faculty member does some outreach, acknowledges the students in their class, and does things like sends an email out to the class, or figures out different ways to interact with them before the class even starts. And then after the class starts, are those students participating in the way that you would want them to? Those kinds of things that help push people along, keep them engaged, go directly to retention and persistence in what students end up doing. And it’s really important that that gets done.

So, I know that for American Public University, there are nearly 2,000 people who teach for us part-time, are folks that are expert in their field, they’re practitioners. And they’re some of the most interesting people there are because we could never replicate that kind of knowledge and direct application of what they’re doing out in the field if we tried to get them all to come to Charles Town. But what we can do is value what they’re doing for our students all over the world, because we have faculty members and students in all 24 time zones, and it’s really pretty cool.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Agree. I agree completely. And I appreciated you mentioning some of those strategies that really help engage students, like sending the message before the class begins. We have an episode about welcome messages that I just want to refer our listeners to in case someone wants a few tips about how to do that, what that could look like. And in the transcript from this podcast, there will be a link that listeners can click on just to check out that episode.

I love also the variety of faculty that you just mentioned. We do have a lot of experts in many fields that you wouldn’t find anywhere else. Thanks, Kate. I’m going to pass it back to you, Jan, and any other questions you have.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you, Bethanie. And two questions I was going to ask you next, you’ve really already referred to, and that’s the importance of retention, keeping students on track, innovations to assist the university to help students to get an edge. And I think that the whole idea of classroom access is a part of that.

My other question really has to do with the value of an education that focuses on higher education administration. You’re an expert in that. How can I encourage our students to have a high value of expectation about what it can create for them? We are in an online environment. I want to presume that online education is proliferating in the world. What’s the value we can give to higher education leadership in today’s marketplace?

Dr. Kate Zatz: That’s a really good question. I think the sky is the limit for people who are seeking to have a career in higher education right now. And the reason why is because everything is up in the air. We’re a really solid institution. We know what we’re doing. But I had been doing consulting work off and on and where small institutions that are tuition driven, are really struggling, and will continue to struggle because they can’t afford the infrastructure to go online. And students aren’t necessarily gravitating toward that kind of an education.

What I see is almost unlimited opportunity in the field of higher ed if you figure out things like the value of continuous improvement, organizational behavior, doing things like learning how to do coaching. And if you keep current in practice, one’s career could go pretty doggone far.

Dr. Jan Spencer: That is great. One last question I have for you, Kate, and it’s really off the script here of the things I wanted to ask you. But it has everything to do with what we as a world and a nation have gone through in the last couple of years. And as a university, we haven’t had public graduations for two years; twice we’ve had to miss. Now this coming summer, we plan to have a public graduation. You’ll be the President.

What are you thinking about as you look forward to that time when we’re all going to come together for the first time, many of us who work, like me, who work remotely, the first time in nearly three years we’ve been together. What’s your level of expectation for that? What’s going to be happening in you as we build up to that time?

Dr. Kate Zatz: There is no doubt about it in my life, the commencement day at APU is my favorite day of the year. I’ve only missed, I think, one since 2004. So, frankly, I’ve been working on the strength in my right hand so that I can shake hands. And I’d like to be funny and say I’ve already started signing off on diplomas because there’s over 30,000 of them.

I am so looking forward to seeing people in person, I can’t tell you. There is a list of people that I need to get some hugs from, and a list of people I need to give hugs to. There are people who have been working so hard here at APU. Halfway through this last year, we did a major switch around about fixing some things that were going on in enrollment and in admissions, and people worked double time to do a roll out of a new customer relation management system. And people here at APU have been working so hard that coming together and celebrating at the National Harbor, I am so looking forward to it. I can’t tell you. I hope you’re there.

Dr. Jan Spencer: I plan to be there. Kate, it is a delight to have you as our guest. Before we conclude this session. Is there anything else you can give us in terms of insights, or just what you’re feeling about, or things that you know we need to be thinking about as your team?

Dr. Kate Zatz: We need to keep up the good work that we’re doing. We really do. And we need to make sure that people have the support that they need to work with their students and get done what they need to get done. I’m just really honored and grateful to be here. And like I said, being the President of American Public University is the best job on the planet. It just is. And we just need to keep on serving those who serve the best we can.

Dr. Jan Spencer: Thank you Dr. Zatz. Bethanie?

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: I echo that. Thank you, Dr. Zatz, for being here. And for our listeners today, we’ve been privileged to hear from Dr. Kate Zatz, current President at American Public University, and Dr. Jan Spencer, a Department Chair in the School of Arts, Education, and Humanities.

Thank you both for being here, and thank you to our listeners for tuning in today. We wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week.

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

#48: How to Build Community with Online Faculty Teams

#48: How to Build Community with Online Faculty Teams

This content first appeared at APUEdge.com. 

Online faculty often feel disconnected from the institution and fellow faculty members. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides tips and strategies for building community among faculty members to help them feel connected, informed and engaged. Learn how department leaders can focus on building relationships through consistent weekly messages, interactive team meetings, one-on-one time, peer mentoring and coaching opportunities, collaboration sites, and much more.

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Read the Transcript:

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

Welcome to the podcast. Thank you for joining me today to talk about building community with online faculty teams. You can employ a variety of strategies to build community with your online faculty and work to really create a sense of being there.

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

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

Strategies to Build Faculty Community

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

Communication

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

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

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

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

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

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

Focus on Relationship-Building

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

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

Consider Sending Weekly Updates and Information

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrate Achievements

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

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

Create a Faculty Spotlight

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

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

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

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

Offer Voluntary Service Opportunities

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

Develop Collaboration Sites

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

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

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

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

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

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

Schedule Monthly Meetings

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

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

Coaching and Peer Mentoring

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

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

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

Connect Your Faculty with Other Departments

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

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

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

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

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

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

Share Teaching Strategies

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

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

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

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

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

Be Available for Faculty to Meet with You

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

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

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

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

Providing Faculty Support Contributes to Strong Performance

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

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

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

#34: Developing Leadership in Online Higher Education

#34: Developing Leadership in Online Higher Education

This content appeared first at Online Learning Tips.Com

Educators should always be thinking of ways to develop and enhance their own leadership skills. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen presents strategies for leadership development including improving communication skills, finding new ways to collaborate, understanding how to develop a strategic plan, finding a mentor, and much more.

Read the Transcript:

Speaker 1 (00:01):

APU. American Public University is proud to present Online Teaching Lounge.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This is episode number 34, Developing Leadership in Online Higher Education. 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, and thank you for joining me for this chat about developing leadership in online higher education. Some of us think that people are just born natural leaders. In fact, this is a really common belief. This is called the trait-based leadership model, and of course, this is a theory from the 1700 and 1800s. It’s very old and outdated.

Since then, many leadership theories have come along and primary in those theories is the skills-based leadership theory. Under the skills-based leadership theory, we believe that the skills needed to be an effective leader can actually be taught. Some of these are technical skills; some of these are conceptual skills.

Now, when we have skills-based leadership in place or training to help people grow in this way, that really means that anyone can aspire to become a leader, can learn what it takes to become a leader, and can really fulfill their dream or desire to move up in an organization if they want to.

Now, if you’ve been teaching for very long, chances are you have some fantastic ideas you could share with other people. An initial way to become a leader is, of course, simply share your knowledge with others in your profession.

You could, for example, present at professional conferences. You could write blog articles or write journal articles. Or if mentorships exist in your organization, you could do some professional mentoring and help others who are newer to the profession or where you have special expertise in your skillset and they don’t.

There are lots of opportunities to gain more leadership experience, but this idea of learning skills and gaining conceptual understandings that will help you succeed as a leader, it’s so important and critical to a true leadership development pathway.

Brian Eastwood wrote a blog called Eight Essential Traits for Effective Leadership in Higher Education earlier this year, and he shares that there are some specific skills that you need to succeed as a leader in higher education.

Now today, of course, we’re talking primarily about online higher education. In online higher education, there’s also the need to be connected, significantly connected, to the people that you’re working with. This can be very difficult, but strategies, again, can be learned to make it happen.

Leaders Need Financial Acumen

Regardless of the type of higher education you’re engaged in, the number one skill that Brian has written in this article is that you need financial acumen. The idea is that at some point in your leadership journey, the more you rise in the ranks of leadership at a university, the more you’re going to need to know how to get donors, how to use fundraising, how to do budgeting, how to fund research, capital projects, and maybe even how to be involved in student financial aid.

Now, I’ll tell you, I’ve been in higher education for 14 or 15 years at this point, and I’ve been a leader for the past six or so years. I’ve been a faculty director, where I lead a faculty team and I coach them on teaching excellence. I have never once in that position needed to have financial acumen. However, if I were in a different role, that would be the case and I would have budgets and I would need to do that.

The first thing to think about is: what kind of leadership position you might be looking at and what kind of degree of financial acumen would be required in that kind of position?

The Importance of Collaboration

The second point from Brian’s article is collaboration. Collaboration is critical. In higher education we have so many subject matter experts and people have varying experiences, backgrounds, and expertise. Collaborating with those people involved is going to really help your leadership to succeed. Learning how to collaborate now with peers is the best type of preparation.

Collaborating with stakeholders will also be critical in a leadership role, and as you collaborate across the institution with other schools, other departments, with your faculty, and with other people in the leadership team, collaboration skills will be critical for your success.

Focus on Building New Leaders

Building new leaders is the third skill mentioned, and building new leaders means that you continue to foster people in your organization who can continue to move up in leadership themselves.

When I first became a faculty director six or so years ago, I did not really envision doing that role. I was happy to teach and I was happy to do what I was doing, but someone else in a faculty director role kind of adopted me in a mentor fashion. That person called me and coached me on setting my sights high and developing more leadership and having a long-term objective.

Pretty soon I was very interested in working with a large team with helping other faculty members and with coaching them. Even if you’re not right now thinking about leadership, this is something that could be on the horizon for you. And thinking about how to build other people’s leadership potential would be a great way to think about a leadership role yourself.

Value of Communication

The fourth tip shared in the article is communication. Now, there are five steps to good communication listed here and I’m just going to read them to you:

  • start with what’s most important,
  • set expectations up front about what you need,
  • actively listen and take body language into account,
  • provide constructive and specific feedback, and
  • address concerns immediately, and if possible, in person.

Of course, when you’re working online, leading or teaching online, it’s very difficult to address problems in person, and sometimes we can’t really see anyone’s body language because we’re communicating by telephone. Or maybe we’re on a virtual conference and they’re not showing themselves on video.

There are a lot of things we need to adapt and plan around, but, overall, listening is one of the most important things we can ever do in good communication. Understanding that we don’t need all of the answers immediately and can go ahead and think about it, come back with good examples and good answers, those are going to be critical skills. To not feel overly pressured to say something right now, and to listen carefully and really connect with those people who are speaking you.

Creating a Strategic Plan

Skill number five is strategic planning. Now, strategic planning is a phrase that may sound like a very complex and challenging process. Basically, strategic planning means you’re using data and evidence to think about the present situation, review the past, and project into the future.

You might be making a timeline of steps, you might be setting goals for short term—six months, one year—all the way up to 10 years or 20 years down the road.

You’re going to consult some of the stakeholders like your faculty members, maybe you’ll talk to some students about their experience. You’ll also coordinate with other departments and create a plan for the future.

A lot of data is going to help you in this regard, so you want to learn how to read reports and data of various kinds and also ask about these things, especially if you’re currently in a teaching role but you’d like to gain more experience to advance further.

The kinds of data that people look at in online education, especially regarding student performance, might start with enrollment numbers and the demographics:

·     What type of students are interested in this program?

·     What is the composition of our faculty team?

·     Do we need more perspectives or diversity there?

·     We might look at drop and withdrawal data to determine how we can help our learners better succeed.

·     We can look at course and program outcomes.

There’s literally a hundred different things we can look at when we are strategic planning, and all of that data is going to influence your planning and help you work together with other people to create plans and lead your department and your programs and your students into success.

Develop Skills for Change Management

The sixth area suggested is the skills for change management. Now, change is a constant, especially today in online education. Things that used to work might totally be outdated and much more engagement is now needed.

Regardless of the institution you’re currently teaching with, change in higher education can be incredibly slow, but it can also come quickly and happen constantly over time. Basically, as in life, change is inevitable in pretty much any role you’re in. If you’re aware of good change management strategies, this is going to help you achieve change when you’re working with teams.

One of the most important things to think about when you are conducting some change management is to collaborate with the people involved to determine how it’s going to impact them, and to actually hear them. Listen to them. Let them have a voice. Ask for feedback from students, from faculty. And take them all into consideration when you’re making decisions.

The more you can do that, the better off you’re going to be when you’re planning the steps for strategic growth over time, and you’re going to have a better chance of communicating effectively when you’ve already primed the pump by talking to people and listening to them.

Be Committed to Diversity

The seventh skill is commitment to diversity. Now, committing to diversity not just talks about your student body and recruiting students from all different types of groups, but also your faculty. You want faculty that reflect the student body, but also reflect a lot of diversity that simply exists in the world.

You want lots of inputs, lots of backgrounds, lots of levels of expertise, various races, cultures, and genders. We want to include everyone who is qualified to be there and can share something of benefit to our students. We’re really going to get a lot of great perspective from diverse groups. This can be part of your hiring practices, it can be considered in terms of where you’re recruiting and also your long-term planning.

Feed Your Intellectual Curiosity

Then lastly, this is intellectual curiosity. Of course, a lot of us got into higher education because we love to learn, or maybe we had great learning experiences ourselves when we were in our younger educational years. Many of us can list several instructors we had that really made a difference in our lives.

If you’re intellectually curious, that’s a bonus. If you’ve stopped learning for a while and need to rekindle the flame, it doesn’t take much to really get your fire burning again. You could try a new discipline, take a class, learn something new, get into a study group, a book club. You could create a club with a student group, and that might even be more exciting because you’re helping the learners who are students right now continue to grow in your area.

Focus on Leadership Skill Development

Be thinking about how you might improve in your educational leadership skills, not just in these eight areas, but also in creative ways that appeal to you. You can develop the skills to become a great leader and thinking about continuing to be more of a leader in the future is always a good thing.

Now, I was at a workshop just recently called Cultivating Leaders: If You Build It, They Will Come. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn about how Stephanie Hinshaw, the Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs, and Natalie Pelham, the Senior Director of Training and Development, from the American College of Education, run some of their leadership preparation.

Some of the things that these ladies were sharing with us was that they have some very specific initiatives in their organization that intentionally grow future leaders. That way, faculty members who are interested in growth for the future, further development, and future leadership roles, have a chance to talk about leadership ideas, develop ideas, explore them, and consciously grow their leadership skills.

Consider Forming a Leadership Growth Book Club

One of the best things that they shared in their workshop, and one that I really liked, was this idea of having a book club. They had a book club that was focused on breaking away from the day-to-day normal teaching duties and committee work. It focused intentionally on growing the leadership practice. Putting time toward the book club, as a university, also gives the participants the idea that developing their leadership skills is very important.

The tone of the book club shared in this workshop was an open, inquisitive one, allowing people to answer questions about lessons learned in a book and apply it to their lives. And then they held it on a flexible basis. The advice given was that a quarterly book club works best and then you rotate the book as you go. This was a safe environment to discuss their leadership thoughts, lessons, concerns, and practice the ideas and be intentional about developing leadership as human beings, not just an afterthought.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m very familiar with the idea that some people believe leaders are born. That’s the older, archaic idea that I mentioned before of trait-based leadership. Of course, it helps if you have traits that naturally lead to leadership, but everyone can learn leadership skills.

There are so many ways to do this. In the book club method, you might consider some of these books recommended, Leaders Eat LastBring Your Human to WorkDare to LeadThe Leader You Want to BeGive and TakeExtreme OwnershipThe Culture CodeStart With Why, and Small Acts of Leadership.

In addition to this list that was shared by the team I attended their workshop for, I would add to that a book called Positive Academic Leadership. It has a lot of great ideas about how you can lead with a positive tone, even when times are difficult and we need to really dive into some troubling situations so we can still be optimistic at appropriate times and help motivate our team.

Develop a Mentoring Program

Another idea is to create mentors. Now, mentoring is a beneficial practice across an organization. In fact, it’s known that 71% of Fortune 500 companies offer employee mentoring programs and 76% of employees think mentors are important, but only 37% have one.

If you don’t have a mentor and you’re thinking you want to grow the leadership skills, find someone in your academic community who can serve as a mentor for you. And consider offering your services as a mentor to someone else younger in your field or less experienced.

The more we give our services to others, the more those come back to us. Really, as we build our leadership through one-on-one relationships and reciprocal mentorship and things like that, we’re going to have a lot more confidence. Of course we’re going to grow our skills, and best of all, we’re going to keep growing future leaders throughout the organization.

Now, you would never want to find yourself in a situation where a critical leader at your institution is no longer able to come to work and must immediately be replaced, but no one seems prepared to take that role. That does happen, believe it or not. Sometimes a person becomes seriously ill, someone might pass away, for some unforeseen reason someone resigns abruptly, or maybe there’s even an accident.

I’ve seen all of those things happen in organizations, but also in my faculty team. In my case, we merely just need to get a new instructor to finish teaching a course. But what if that is one of the leaders in your organization?

There’s someone that will need to step into that leadership role to keep it going. As we continue to nurture future leaders in higher education, we’ll have a lot more success with that, there’ll be a more positive energy because people continue to grow, and we ourselves will continue to think about our leadership skills all the time because we want to live what we expect others to learn.

Thank you for being with me today for thinking about cultivating leadership. I hope you’ll consider some of these ideas, and of course, check out the links in the transcript for this podcast to all of the books mentioned. And also the link to the original presentation that was shared for some additional ideas and strategies, and of course if you’d like to contact those presenters from the American College of Education.

I, myself, just want to attest to the fact that when we’re talking specifically about leadership, I personally am always thinking about growing my leadership, focusing on certain aspects, setting goals, rotating through them, and reflecting on my practice. I truly believe that the more we think about growing leaders and helping others along the way, the more we’re going to continue growing ourselves.

All right. Well, thank you again for being here. I wish you all the best in your online teaching this week and your leadership development over the next year to come.

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.