Archive of ‘Adjuncting’ 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!

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

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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

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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 

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