Archive of ‘Teaching Tips’ category

Why It’s Important to be Approachable, Available, and Empathetic When Teaching Online

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It’s that time of year when spring classes have officially started and us instructors are once again trying to bring the best version of ourselves to the classroom and make a difference, especially for those students that may be struggling.

I think it’s important to take a minute and talk about how to handle students who might seem unorganized, flaky, a bit “prickly,” or all of the above.

Since I teach primarily online, I believe I’ve gotten pretty good at noticing the warning signs when certain students are overwhelmed by school and/or life by communicating with them via email.

It can be difficult to see the red flags when I don’t have the opportunity to spend time with them face-to-face, but I try to create a very approachable and supportive online classroom environment so that my students feel comfortable coming to me when they feel overwhelmed (and I’m always encouraging them to come to me with questions and concerns). As a result, my students tend to be open  in their emails, and I do my best to work with them and ease their anxiety when needed (which is very common in a public speaking course).

Typically my students will submit late work or send short, defensive emails when they’re having family issues at home, or when they’ve taken on too much (there are plenty of students returning to school after a number of years who are working full time, have a family, and are also trying to get their degree) and are stressed out as a result (don’t take it too personally if they direct it at you- that’s something I’m still trying to get better at!)

Understanding and empathizing with what students are going through, and keeping tabs on them, definitely increases their chances of success in the class when they may otherwise lose hope and mentally check out.

For instance, when a student seems frustrated in an email, I’ll reply in a calm tone and offer some clear suggestions for succeeding, and I’ll encourage them to follow up with me and let me know how they’re progressing (and when they don’t follow up, I do).

In all honesty, sometimes I never hear from them again, but just as often (even if it takes a few unanswered emails), they’ll respond with an explanation of what they’ve been going through and it’s very rewarding to see them persevere through the rest of the semester.

For those of you getting back into the swing of things this spring, remember that some of your students may need  little extra empathy and kindness, so be mindful when interacting with them. I guarantee it’ll make for a much better semester for everyone.

Happy teaching!

The Sandwich Method: The Best Way to Give Feedback to Online Students

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It’s hard to convey emotion and create a positive environment when teaching online, but I’ve found one way to give feedback that I feel is effective, encourages students, and makes the online environment a more positive place.

I call it The Sandwich Method. Quite simply, you construct assignment feedback in the following way:

  • Something (or a few things) the student did well
  • Something (or a few things) the student can work on (constructive criticism)
  • Something (or a few things) the student did well

For example (if you’re giving feedback on a student’s speech):

You did a great job here with eye contact and vocal variation- you were dynamic and engaging as a speaker! In the future, be sure to start with an attention-getter at the very beginning of your speech, organize your thoughts a bit more, and orally cite at least 3 scholarly sources. Work on those content elements for your next speech, but overall you had a great delivery!

Again, it’s super easy to structure feedback this way (although it may take some time for it to become a habit), and I like to think it leaves the student feeling good about at least one thing they did in the assignment.

Happy teaching!

The Power of Believing That You Can Improve (a Must See TED Talk for the Classroom)

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If you teach (and even if you don’t teach), you may have heard of Carol Dweck, author of the book Mindset and a researcher in the field of motivation.

I’ve referenced Dweck in the classroom a number of times to encourage struggling students, and just a minute ago the dean of one of the schools I work for shared Dweck’s TED talk with us to share with our students.

If you or your students or a friend believes that talent or intelligence is fixed, share the following video with them about developing a growth mindset to become more successful:

The Power of Believing That You Can Improve

Happy teaching, learning, and living!

How to Use TED Talks to Engage Online Students

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Recently I was asked by one of the schools I work for to submit an activity I use in my online classes to engage students. Some sort of Discussion board prompt might have been the most obvious activity to submit, but I chose something a little different that I think impacts students in a more subtle, but probably more long lasting way.

It’s not necessarily a specific activity, but I always try to share my love of TED talks with online students in a way that will truly impact them. I find it’s a great way to bridge the gap between student and teacher (since TED talks are becoming a popular trend not just in the classroom, but in society among people of all ages).

Occasionally I’ll recommend TED talks in Blackboard Announcements to the class if they relate to a topic/s we’re covering, and I include relevant TED talks when grading student assignments (in the written feedback I provide), and in responding to student Discussion posts. I also send Announcements out reminding students to revisit old discussion boards to find these helpful videos and tips through the end of the semester, and I believe it’s effective at keeping them involved in the Discussion boards, even if it’s just as a reader when it comes to old Discussions.

Lastly, I find that as an instructor of communication courses, where students frequently have to present speeches, I’m able to tap into their passions (based on what they choose to speak about), as well as their insecurities as a speaker, and use this knowledge to recommend videos that are tailored to them as individuals.

For instance, at one school I had an autistic student in my online speech class who expressed to me her disappointment in herself as a speaker (she didn’t like being a ‘disabled’ speaker, and having to present differently than everyone else). So I sent her some incredible TED talks by very impressive speakers with a number of disabilities (this was one of them: I got 99 problems.. palsy is just one), to prove that speakers come in all forms (and to keep her motivated through the end of the semester!).

I think reaching out in this way was simple, but very effective and very human, and I believe it’s why she remained connected with the students in online discussion boards, stayed in contact with me via email, and was engaged (and successful) in the course until the very end.

It always feel good to see small signs of this positively impacting my students, not to mention getting emails from students at the end of the term telling me that they now watch TED talks for fun in their spare time!

Happy teaching 🙂

3 Incredibly Easy Ways to Establish a Positive Relationship with Online Students via Email

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I’ve written thousands of emails to online students over the years (yes, thousands), and it can be difficult to be sure that what you’re writing is professional, yet human and appreciated by the students you’re working with.

Over the years I’ve learned how important it is to put some effort into leaving students with a good feeling after communicating with them through email (since it’s sometimes the only way you’ll communicate with them during the semester). I try to include a few standard things in most emails to help maintain this positive and respectful relationship:

  • I always end my emails with ‘Let me know if you need anything else!’ or some variation of it (‘Let me know if you have any other questions/concerns.’). This sign off is very simple, and might not seem like much, but I believe it’s important. I want to encourage students to come to me if they need anything- and I believe it helps them feel more comfortable coming to me with questions (especially when I do it in an upbeat and approachable way), and through seeking me out more, they help me address any issues other students might be running into as well.
  • If students come to me with an issue or problem in the course, I always show my appreciation to them. I might start the email with the phrase ‘Good question!’ or ‘Thank you for bringing that to my attention.’ This (similar to what I mentioned above) encourages them to come to me if they notice any other problems, which either helps me improve/fix the content of the course and/or leaves them feeling like they did something worthwhile.
  • Use punctuation purposefully. I try to stay away from using smiley faces (during a post-TED talk discussion in the classroom, I learned from some students that it can sometimes be ‘creepy’ when your instructor uses smiley faces too often, or unexpectedly- so I very quickly stopped using those!), but I think one exclamation point per email when responding to a polite student is perfectly acceptable. I find that it helps to establish goodwill in online relationships, especially when students might expect you to be more serious or unapproachable. If a student seems unnecessarily angry or frustrated via email, you might want to stick to periods and usual punctuation. However, when addressing a student who seems to want to establish a friendly relationship, or a student who needs a little encouragement, feel free to use a well-placed exclamation point to show that you’re human and open to friendly conversation..

These are all very easy adjustments to make when emailing students, and I know from experience that they appreciate these small touches of humanity when navigating a course solo during the semester, so don’t be afraid to show a slightly softer side when it feels appropriate.

Happy teaching!

The Best Technology for Engaging Students in Online Classes

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Teaching online can get a little stale when you’re just using the basics: Blackboard, Canvas, Pearson products, Adobe Connect webinars, etc. 

However, the article Building Real Community Online with Free Apps by Dian Schaffhauser offers some options for ‘meeting’ with online students that may build more of a community in your classroom, and may help to further engage students.

If you’re getting tired of the same old routine, check out the article below and see what inspires you. 

Happy teaching!

https://campustechnology.com/articles/2017/07/05/building-real-community-online-with-free-apps.aspx?m=1

How to Start the Upcoming Semester on the Right Foot

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Every Instructor has certain icebreakers they like to use on the first day of face-to-face classes, and a preferred way of discussing the syllabus with students, I know I do (and old habits are hard to break).

However, if you’re up ready for a change, or think you might find yourself with some extra time on that first day, read the article First Day of Class Activities that Create a Climate for Learning by Maryellen Weimer and plan to incorporate some of the incredibly useful activities she suggests. Weimer offers up some ideas that don’t just get students engaged, but also set everybody up for the most positive and productive semester.

Check out the article below and pick out some of your favorites for the upcoming term :).

Happy teaching!

https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/first-day-of-class-activities-that-create-a-climate-for-learning/

What Every Online Instructor Needs to Post in Their Courses

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If you teach college courses online, I can guarantee that the following piece (by online instructor and occasional Happy Professor contributor, Chris Berg, Ph.D.) will have you vigorously nodding your head with every word.

Do yourself a favor and send the following article to your students as a Canvas or Blackboard Announcement, or even take it a step further and give your students a quiz based on the content; I plan to do the same in each of my classes.

I imagine Chris’s wise words will give my students some clarity, and provide me with some peace of mind as we progress through each semester.

8 Tips to be a Successful Online Student 

By Chris Berg, Ph.D.

Online learning is fast becoming the way twenty-first-century learners choose to attend college. It provides a degree of flexibility and versatility unseen in traditional education.

But, apart from the many benefits online learning provides, there are certain attitudes and attributes that are essential for success in online education. The best online students understand their value and, in this article, I’m going to share what I’ve found to be important considerations for your success in online education.

Read the Syllabus. Seriously, read it. In my experience, if I didn’t require a syllabus quiz in my online courses, most students wouldn’t read it. The syllabus is your key to success in any given course. It is in your best interest to read (often, in fact!) the syllabus to fully understand what your professor’s expectations are for the course and what you can, in turn, expect from your professor.  

Time Management. This one is a challenge for students and is, perhaps, the #1 obstacle to timely submission of assignments and engagement in discussion boards. Some of my students have shared that they make a schedule for the entire semester in advance so they know what needs to be done day-by-day, week-by-week. This requires some initial time investment, but the rewards are worth it. Don’t wait until the last minute before beginning your work. Professors can tell when an assignment was rushed.

Read for Comprehension. Textbooks, for all their faults, are probably here to stay in one form or another. This makes reading time-consuming, but part and parcel of the learning process. This might require reading through a section or an entire chapter more than once. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but reading carefully and thoughtfully requires commitment.

A rule I followed in graduate school when the reading lists were especially heavy was to read for 30 minutes and then take a break for 30 minutes doing something completely different. This system worked well for me; find a system or routine that works for you.

Check-in. Make it a regular practice to check-in the course classroom frequently throughout the week. This is not only a good practice to break-up work, such as submitting an initial post and follow-up peer responses, but is also useful to view important announcements or messages from the professor.

Be Proactive. Take responsibility for your education. This is college-level work and a higher standard is required. Just because a class doesn’t require that you attend in person does not mean that you can cut corners. You are in control of your own learning. Remember that and you’ll take control of your education.

Communicate. The moment you have a question, check the syllabus first. If the syllabus doesn’t address it, contact your professor. Don’t delay! Often, a slight problem can turn into a big problem if too much time elapses. If you’re unsure, email the professor. We’re here to help.

Stay Involved. Discussion forums are ideal, but underutilized, areas for students to engage and interact with each other. Often, you’ll be confronted with a new perspective that challenges your own beliefs. Rather than ignoring the post or comment, start a friendly conversation with your peer. This is a crucial aspect of learning and will serve you well in the “real” world. Take advantage of it.

Go the Extra Mile. I learned this from Napoleon Hill, a protégé of the industrialist and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. What this means is satisfying your professor’s expectations while striving to exceed them. This attitude is not only beneficial in online education—your professors will notice it—but also in every walk of life. Going “above and beyond” might even by the secret ingredient to success in general. Try it.

John Dewey, the architect of progressive education in the early nineteenth century, famously said, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” I hope you you find these tools–I post them in my own online classrooms–helpful as you move one step closer to achieving your educational goals.

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I hope you enjoyed the piece, and again, feel free to pass this on to your students and other online instructors.

Happy teaching!

The Importance of Engaging Students 10 Minutes Before Class Starts

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In my first book, Happy Professor, I included a short section about the importance of engaging with your students during the seemingly insignificant (but secretly crucial) 10-15 minutes before class starts. 

Honestly, I don’t always follow my own advice. Sometimes I have a crisis on my hands at a different school, so I’m dealing with emails and trying to tie up loose ends in those precious few moments before the students in front of me need my undivided attention for the next few hours. 

However, when I start feeling rather disconnected from my face-to-face students, I make the extra effort to engage in casual conversation with the early comers before we get started for the day. It makes me feel more invested in the experience, and I believe it does the same for them. 

I think this bit of low pressure engagement has a number of benefits: it helps students see you as human, they then tend to be more responsive during the class period, and it makes your time as the instructor in the classroom a whole lot more enjoyable (and as someone who teaches predominantly online, the physical classroom for me is all about having a positive experience and setting the right tone for the semester).

Having said that, I love finding articles that back up my own ideas and experiments in the classroom.

Instructor John Warner (author of Inside Higher Ed post titled “Moving Students Away From Their Phones“) backs up what I’ve previously believed about chatting with students before class, with the added bonus that these engaged students might actually stay off their cell phones during the class period (something that Warner and I both agree is a plus, but not a must- we’re all adults here, after all).

Enjoy the article! Happy reading, teaching, and learning :).

https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/just-visiting/moving-students-away-their-phones 

Discussion Ideas for Family Communication Courses

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This semester I put together what I call a ‘packet’ of discussion topics for my Family Communication course that we, as a class, discussed over the course of the semester. I was really pleased with the way it turned it.

As we read about and discussed the concepts in class, we watched relatable videos, tied in our own personal experiences, and also incorporated those that we saw in 3 early episodes of Modern Family over the course of the term.

The students loved it, and I decided to base my 5 short answer/essay final exam on these discussion prompts (I told the students to be sure the answers in their own packet were very thorough, since I would be choosing 5 of those discussion prompts at random to put on the exam, and they wouldn’t be able to use their notes or book).

For anyone teaching Family Communication who’s in need of something new to inject life into the students and material, feel free to borrow from the worksheets/packet below!

Happy teaching :).

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Family and Communication. Spring A 2017

Discussion Prompts (Chs. 1, 2, 3)

  1.       How do you define family? What does family mean to you? What is your experience with family? (Ch. 1)
  2.       Explain how family members develop a set of shared meanings. What are some shared meanings you have with some of your family members? (Ch. 2, p. 24)
  3.       What level of cohesion does your family experience currently? What about when you were growing up? (Ch. 2, p. 32)

Modern Family Discussion Prompts (Chs. 1, 2, 3)

  1.       What shared meanings do you see? (p. 24)
  2.       What level of cohesion is present (in the family as a whole, or in the 3 individual family units)? What are examples of 3 behaviors that characterize their level of cohesion in the episode/s? (p. 32)
  3.       Does any metacommunication take place? How and in what way? (p. 31) What was said at the ‘content level’ and what was said at the ‘relationship level’?
  4.       Patterns/Self Regulation (Ch. 3, p. 62)- What communication patterns did you see within the families that made life more predictable? What communication rules existed? How did they maintain stability through ‘calibration’? Or how do you think they should have done this? What are your suggestions?
  5.       What relational currencies did you see being used in the families? By which family members? Why were they used?
  6.    Did any theories from Ch. 3 come into play? Which ones did you find? How did you see it play out in the episode/s?

Modern Family Discussion Prompts (Chs. 5, 6, 9, 10, 12)

  1.       (Ch. 5) How do you see relational maintenance taking place? (Marital/Partnership Maintenance p. 112, Parent and Child Relational Maintenance p. 114, Sibling and Step Sibling Relational Maintenance p. 115)
  •       What relational maintenance strategies do you see being used? (ie. confirmation p. 116, respect p. 118, rituals p. 118, relational currencies p. 124- and use the subcategories within these as you provide examples)
  1.       (Ch. 6) When have you seen the 3 types of commitment at work in your family or someone else’s? (ie. personal commitment, moral commitment, and structural commitment) (p. 134)
  2.       (Ch. 6) What do you think about the “naïve” quote: “If you have to work at a relationship, there’s something wrong with it. A relationship is either good or it’s not”? (p. 134)
  3.       (Ch. 6) What are the benefits and costs of self-disclosure in a family relationships? (p. 136)
  4.       (Ch. 9) Analyze an ongoing family dispute using the conflict stages model (p. 217)
  5.       (Ch. 10) What kind of ‘unconscious negotiations’ took place between you and a partner/spouse and your family of origin when you were getting married (ie. how best to argue, who would take care of certain household items, how to deal with intrusive family members, how to spend the holidays, how much each of you would work, etc.)?
  6.       Discuss your opinion about the opening quote to Ch. 12 “Family Communication and Well-Being” p. 305 by Stephen R. Covey (for those of you with a different edition of the textbook, it may be on a different page, or not included, so I’ll include it below).

Quote:

“Good families- even great families- are off track 90 percent of the time! The key is that they have a sense of destination. They know what the ‘track’ looks like. And they keep coming back to it time and time again…. With regard to our families, it doesn’t make any difference if we are off target or even if our family is a mess. The hope lies in the vision and in the plan and in the courage to keep coming back time and time again.”

-Stephen R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families

Is that true? What are some ways to more effectively ‘stay on track’? Use specific examples and explanations.

  1. Search YouTube or TED.com (either works) for ‘Connected, but alone?’ by Sherry Turkle (to be watched before or after your read p. 320 through 322 of your text; for those of you with different textbook editions, look up “digital competence” in your textbook’s index to find the exact page numbers):

Each semester I have my communication-based classes watch this TED talk about how digital communication is affecting the way we connect. Is social media a good thing or a bad thing for us as humans and/or for our relationships? It’s a question I pose in my classes, and many students discuss the issue through debates I hold in my speech class. There’s no right or wrong answer/opinion, it’ just an interesting look into human connection. What’s your opinion?

 

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