Archive of ‘Teaching Online’ category

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

Blog pic

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!

How to Get 4 Full Weeks of Winter Break When Teaching Online

IMG_4856

As college instructors know, winter break typically runs for mid-December to early or mid-January, which means we basically get a month off from teaching, which sounds amazing!

However, when teaching online you also have a lot of work to take care of during your ‘break,’ unless you plan accordingly (which is where this blog post comes in).

If you play your cards right and plan ahead, you can actually get that full 21-28 day break from work (which really is incredible), here’s how: 

  • If the schools you’re working for allow you to set your own date for your final exam during the usual weeklong final exam week, set it for the very first day! Then you’re able to submit your final grades a few days earlier, and take your break earlier.
  • For each school, you’ll have a long list of items to take care of when setting up your Spring classes (it may include updating your syllabus, schedule, assignments deadlines, and many other items within your Canvas or Blackboard course)- don’t wait to do this over your break! I always set up my course within 48 hours of getting my new class schedule (which typically happens halfway through the Fall semester). Not only does this mean I don’t have to worry about it over my break, but I have plenty of time to contact my supervisors about any issues- and they tend to be impressed that you’re so on top of things!
  • Anticipate any student issues or questions that will come up right before or during the first week of Spring classes (if you’ve been doing this for long enough, you know what they’ll be), and have automatic, detailed announcements already set up to be sent out on the first or second day of classes. This way, when students come to you with questions about said issue, you can simply say ‘That’s a great question! Go ahead and read the course announcement that was sent out earlier this week, and after reading through it, let me know if you have any additional questions!’ I promise it’ll make your life so much easier, and keep your time spent checking emails to just a few minutes a day toward the end of your break.

Of course (as you saw in #3 above), you may have to respond to the occasional email during your time off, and then during that first slow week of the Spring term, but if you’ve planned ahead, you can set yourself up for a really nice chunk of time away from your laptop and away from worrying about what fires you’ll need to put out next.

I hope this helps some of you as you’re wrapping up this term (and if it’s too late, remember the tips for next year!).

Enjoy your time off, and happy holidays!

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

Blog pic

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)

FullSizeRender

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

FullSizeRender (8)

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 🙂

The Best Laptops (and Other Office Must Haves) for Working From Home

FullSizeRender (6)

The nice thing about working from home as an online instructor is that you can create a flexible schedule for yourself and have some much-appreciated freedom. 

The downside when teaching online is that you have to use and purchase your own resources: laptops, printer, ink, paper, etc. 

Since I’ve started teaching primary online in the past 2 years (about 20 hours a week), I’ve started realizing I need to be more deliberate about the products and brands I’m committing to (for the sake of efficiency, reliability, and my bank account). 

For those of you working from home, these are the products I use and absolutely love:

HP printer– We pay about $5 a month and ink is automatically sent to us when needed. It does everything a printer in a corporate office would do, and it’s been incredible for the last 2 years.

Asus laptop- I could just use our desktop, but I’ve always gravitated toward laptops (so I can work from wherever I’d like). My husband (a PC guy- I’d been team Mac for a decade, but needed to get something that made more sense for working from home), helped pick out this laptop when it was on major sale around the holidays. It doesn’t have any impressive or particularly artistic features, but it’s worked wonderfully for about a year now, and only cost $500. I expect to need a replacement after 2 years of use (not due to the computer’s quality, but because that seems to be how long it takes for me to wear out my work products), but at only about $500, I’m okay with that. 

iPhone– Some people have a smart phone that’s provided to them by their work. I use mine primarily for work (not so much for fun), but the cost is on me. My last iPhone seemed to be on the verge of death for about a year (didn’t hold a charge, some much-needed apps stopped working, etc.) until I sucked it up and paid for the iPhone 7. It’s so much better, and I really shouldn’t have waited so long. I can check emails faster, sign and send documents on my phone, and I don’t have to worry about it dying constantly. Bottom line, get yourself the best smart phone available that will make your work life easier. 

For those of you that are currently shopping around for the best laptop for working from home, I went ahead and included a group conversation I had with some of my other college instructor friends, all of whom work from home in some way (website, small company, and/or teach online in some capacity) and rely on a personal laptop. They all had different opinions about which brand would be the best choice, but their input was invaluable to me. 

For those of you that don’t have a group like this to help you weigh in on decisions, feel free to borrow their advice from the following conversation!

~

(Our conversation from December 2017)

Erin:

Hey guys! I have a question. My MacBook officially died last night, so I wanted to know if any of you had some amazing laptop or brand you’ve been using for a while that you think I should consider looking into (I’ll be going to Best Buy tonight). I want to get a PC this time, something between $400 and $600, that’s just a standard laptop that won’t let you down- definitely doesn’t have to be touchscreen or anything. Any suggestions are welcome!

D:

I did the same thing a couple years ago. I bought a Dell that was highly rated (I needed it for some meeting platform that wasn’t supported by Apple). It lasted less than a year, and blew up in a way that couldn’t even be repaired. I had always been Mac loyal, but after that, I’ve never messed with PCs again. My Mac’s typically last 7 years. 

K:

My HP has been pretty good and I’ve have it for 3 years now.

N:

Had a Dell die in less than a year, too, never again! After that I bought my Lenovo for under $300 on Amazon and it’s great- not super fast but it’s touchscreen and gets the job done. I also have had 2 Acer laptops last over 10 years each.

Erin:

Thanks for the suggestions! Acer might be a good idea, I saw some good reviews for that brand last night. 

And about the Lenovo, Adam has a 1 year old Lenovo that I like, but it’s got this glitch where it won’t stay turned off if you unplug it. Ugh. I’ve seen a lot of complaints about that online.  Otherwise it would be perfect!

N:

Wow, mine has been great for 2 yrs- just kind of slow. But unfortunately they make more money when the laptops die faster

Erin:

Yeah, I’m also wondering if it’s because I use it like 25-30 hours a week lol

D:

You wore it out!!

Erin:

Probably haha. I figure it might be time to just buy a reasonable and reliable laptop that I can replace every 2 years. 

S:

They just came out with a new MacBook Pro, so the previous version might be cheaper at Best Buy now

Erin:

Good to know! And D, I was Mac loyal, too, because they always lasted 7 years for me, but my recent one didn’t even make it a full 4 years- I was shocked, so I’m kind of annoyed that I overpaid for it.

Yeah, Natalie, yours might be a different model or something. Maybe I’ll just look at different versions of the Lenovo- those had good reviews too. 

You guys are awesome! Thanks again! Adam and I will be looking back through these texts as we shop and discuss tonight lol.

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

FullSizeRender (4)

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

FullSizeRender (3)

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

FullSizeRender (2)

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/

How to Create Boundaries When Working From Home

FullSizeRender (1)

There are plenty of things I could work on in my personal and professional life. However, I pride myself on having finally mastered the surprisingly difficult task of working from home (I might regret saying that as soon as Baby joins us in a few months here..). For the most part, I’m organized, efficient, and pretty great with a routine.

However.

As much as I thrive with structure, it still took me a full year of working from home to feel like I had actually nailed it.

Here’s how I learned to create a routine, a work space that actually works, and learned to establish some mental, work, and social boundaries (as someone who could easily be tempted to work or play 24/7, but has learned not to):

  • Working from home doesn’t have to be pretty. If you’re better off working from a coffee shop, do it. If you get more accomplished working from a home office or your kitchen table, do it. Since I’ve been pregnant and queasy on a daily basis, my 8-10 hour ‘work from Panera’ days started making me nervous, so I had to retrain myself to work from home. I wish I could say I sit in my beautiful home office, close those lovely French doors, and get my work done gracefully, but as hard as I tried, it didn’t work. In reality, I sit at my new, trendy kitchen table and bury it under schedules, folders, textbooks, and other odds and ends (it easily seats 8 people, but I’ve managed to leave only one clear spot for someone who needs to eat- it’s not great, but it works perfectly for grading and checking emails!).
  • Know what type of schedule is required of you, and don’t overextend yourself. Maybe your boss has told you to work your 40 hours a week whenever it’s best for you, or maybe you’re given a pile of work (like me) and when you’re done you’re done. Know what you have to do, and do no more. Most weeks, if I work diligently, I work all day (8-10 hours) Monday and Wednesday, and just 1-2 hours on the other days (which I don’t count as work days, since it’s mostly checking email, taking care of loose ends, and dealing with the usual student crisis and/or paperwork- but no grading). I try not to drag things out throughout the week (like I’ve done in the past), since it makes me feel like I never get an actual break.
  • Check your email once a day, that’s it. If your company has a different email policy, by all means, follow it. However, as an online instructor I’m required to check email every 48 hours (which initially meant that I nervously checked my email 3 times a day and had a hard time getting anything else done). These days I feel most comfortable if I check my email once every 24 hours (usually first thing when I wake up in the morning, otherwise it hangs over my head until I finally do it). It typically takes 1-2 hours to deal with my emails, but once I’m done, I’m done until tomorrow and I can move on to other things.
  • Don’t make yourself socially available every day of the week, block off solid working days. When I first started working from home, I felt like I could make plans with family and friends every day of the week, but it kept me from getting into the right mindset to get things done, and it set a bad precedent that I was always around and willing to do anything on any day of the week (which was tempting, but I still had work to do!). These days Mondays are definitely off the table for socializing, and normally Wednesdays are, too. I didn’t set out to do things this way, but after a year of working from home and learning what days are best for me and my students, Mondays and Wednesdays organically became my work days (give yourself some time and you’ll likely fall into your natural work-from-home rhythm, as well). Before I knew it, my plans with family and friends started shifting, and they would only ask to hang out on my other available days of the week.

My tricks aren’t revolutionary, but it took a full year to step back and see what I had done. At this point, working from home feels effortless, and if you give yourself some time, you might also find yourself falling into a natural routine that reduces the mental burden of working from home.

Give it some time and patience :). Happy living!

1 2 3