In this week’s episode of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast, Steve is joined by associate professor at SUNY Empire State College, Dr. Rhianna Rogers, to look at how to best support teachers working online for the first time during the virus outbreak.
Online Learning Best Practices and Resources from Dr. Rhianna Rogers
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PODCAST TRANSCRIPTAnnouncer: 00:00 We’re all facing the unique challenges of working and learning from home. The Near East South Asia Council of Overseas Schools or NESA is holding it’s next networked learning series featuring Steve Barkley. “Personalized Coaching With Steve Barkley” will address the unique challenges and opportunities instructional coaches, administrators, teacher leaders and mentors are presented with during this time. Take your skills to the next level with this online, facilitated personally coached six week program with Steve Barkley. Learn more at barkleypd.com
Steve [Intro]: 00:39 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For over three decades, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with educators at all levels, both nationally and internationally. I invite you to listen as I explore my thoughts and learning on a variety of topics connected to teaching, learning and leading with some of the best and brightest educators from around the globe. Thanks for listening in.
Steve: 01:07 Supporting teachers new to online with Dr. Rhianna Rogers. I’m excited on our podcast today to be joined by Dr. Rogers who has prepared quite a bit of material to support teachers working online for the first time. And we’re going to put those links into the lead-in to this podcast. Rihanna, thank you so much for joining us. And would you take a moment or two to give us a little bit of introduction about your background and how you moved into working with learning online?
Rhianna: 01:43 Thanks Steve. I’m happy to be here. So, my background is a bit eclectic. I always jokingly say that I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, so I’m kind of a little bit of everything. My doctorate is in comparative studies, so it’s a combination of anthropological archeology, linguistics and history. And I have a master’s in history as well. But one thing that happened is I came to SUNY empire state college and I was a traditional brick and mortar professor in Florida. So it was a crash course for me when I first came to the college, going from being a brick and mortar professor myself into this world of online learning. And so I had to go through 10 years ago, a crash course in online learning too.
Rhianna: 02:20 So for all of you out there, I know how you feel. I actually did it myself. Well, over the last 10 years, I think it’s been a really great experience. It’s a given me the opportunity to be able to play around and learn new ways to be an engaging professor online. So I’ve been fortunate to have quite a few appointments in the SUNY system because I’ve been one of those early adopters of online learning and teaching. So, I’m a fellow in three areas. Right now, I’m a fellow in the open SUNY Center for Online Teaching Excellence, which is called COTE. So in this kind of transition and Covid-19, I’ve been doing a lot of SUNY remote teaching clinics, which you can actually find online. I’m also a fellow in TOEP underneath SUNY’s heading, which is, Tools of Engagement Project, where I actually am a faculty instructor teaching other faculty how to move online.
Rhianna: 03:11 And then finally, I’m a fellow at the Rockefeller Institute of government, where I am in the center for law and policy solutions. And that fellowship, I’m actually using technology to teach students how to engage with each other across the SUNY system. So all three of my fellowships that I’ve had for the last few years, I’ve been really focused on teaching faculty to kind of engage students online and teaching students on the opposite side how to engage back with faculty and each other. So it’s been an interesting time as we move into this kind of, Covid-19, that these areas that I’ve already been working on for the last few years have been really helpful for others. So I’m happy to share them with you here.
Steve: 03:51 Well, thank you so much. Many of the teachers that are coaches are working with are new. They’re dealing with a trial and error approach. A matter of fact, I’m set up to record an upcoming podcast with a teacher who’s just in those throws and she’s been publishing her day to day experiences. So I know that a reflection is a big part of this learning and I’m thinking that your tips can really be helpful to people as they work through that reflection process. When I took a look at your materials, I noticed that you you spoke about the need for the instructor to be present, was the phrase that you used. And you also talked about building community. And I was reading into that, what I’m hearing a lot of people ask about is, how do I put the social emotional component into my teaching? So, I’m wondering if you could start us off with some thoughts on how teachers who are new to the process can look at that social emotional element of relationship.
Rhianna: 05:02 Sure. So, the number one thing I think I would tell people is the instructor that you are offline, you want to translate as much as you can and be that instructor online. So an example that I would give is, you know, if you’re a really engaging person, if any of you online can see me, I kind of talk with my hands. I really like to be engaging. It’s my personality. And so when I was a professor in a traditional brick and mortar, I didn’t want to lose that kind of element of who I am as Rhianna. And so, one of the first things I did is I started recording short videos of me so you could see my face. In all of my classes, I have an introductory video where I’m like, “hi students, how are you doing? You know, let’s get together and we’re going to talk about this exciting topic of X.”
Rhianna: 05:45 So students would see me as a human. So when I mentioned being present, I really am talking about this idea of being yourself, letting students truly see who you are, whatever your teaching methods are, whatever your teaching style is, make sure that you’re clearly translating that online. If you don’t do that, your students aren’t going to see your authenticity. That’s really, really important. I talk about using assessment a lot in a lot of my tutorials. I have a thing called the pie model that I adopted from education, which is plan, implement and evaluate. So what I mean by that is, you know, the biggest process of being an effective teacher, whether it’s on or offline, is your preparation. So don’t change those practices when you move online. If you prepare and you spend the night before kind of practicing what you’re going to do, do the exact same thing in your online classes.
Rhianna: 06:33 If you talk to your students three times a week or five times a week and you’re in your environment, then talk to them three times a week in your classes, whether it be through an email kind of, hey, how are you doing?” or a video that you post or an assignment that you get. Keep your practices the same. We’re saying the same thing in our regular everyday lives of developing normalcy. Do that in your education and do that in your teaching methods. I would encourage administrators to say the same thing to their faculty and teachers. You know, try to be as normal as possible. It will reduce your own anxiety and your own stress. I gave a presentation in a few weeks ago, which you can find online, for SUNY remote teaching clinic called creating a sense of community and remote instruction and I offered eight tips that I go into great detail, but I’m going to give you a few of those tips.
Rhianna: 07:18 I already mentioned prepare. Really important. Format and structure is critical as well. You know, if you have directions, make them clear. Write them out. Say, I expect you to, you know, engage with me three times this week. You don’t have to clarify exactly how do they engage with you. It could be a phone call, it could be an email, it could be an assignment, but really create that structure because again, it’ll reduce your anxiety and their anxiety. Right now, as you’re going online and they’re going online, there’s a world of the internet out there and it can be super overwhelming. The best thing that you want to do to kind of create normalcy is creating structure. And you can do that by controlling the environment that you’re developing for your students, you’re developing for your faculty, you know, you’re developing as an administrator. That’s really critical to kind of trick the brain into relaxing during times of stress.
Rhianna: 08:06 You know, and the other piece I would say too is about that assessment. So that implementation, you know, ask for feedback. If you allow yourself to be like, with your students or you know, your faculty, we’re all going in this together, the more human you can be, the better. Even though I’ve been doing this for 10 years, I’m going to tell you with my students right now, I’ll say we’re in a whole brave new world. I don’t know what’s going to happen, you don’t know what’s going to happen, but that’s okay. Let’s do this together.
Steve: 08:30 Can I ask you about content because one of the early feedbacks I’m getting from people is that for most of the teachers for whom moving into the the online delivery, you know, happened over night and was new to them, most of the feedback I’m getting is people have to make a switch in a decreasing the amount of content that they were planning to deliver on a Monday’s lesson. They needed to decrease that amount for what they were delivering Monday online. I’m wondering if you could talk about that a little.
Rhianna: 09:05 Yeah, so I mean I actually gave an example of this yesterday. Let’s take an example. Let’s say you have a three day a week class. Just going to make that up. And let’s say you meet for an hour. One of the issues, I just had a student who was in my Rockefeller fellowship tell me that she had this professor who maybe didn’t go to all the trainings before trying to move over some of their courses. And in one week’s learning, they required their class to do for, you know, substantive discussion posts. And so, I told some faculty in a meeting yesterday, I said, imagine this. Imagine if you’re writing a paper. How long does it take for you to write two pages with citations? It’s not the exact same amount of time as it would for you to just talk, right? And I said, if you require somebody to do four substantive discussion posts, each being two pages, you’re asking a six page paper for an undergraduate student in one week.
Rhianna: 9:54 You don’t ask that ever, right? You might give them a month or two months. And so you know, my student was like, yeah, the professor came back and said, maybe I gave you too much work. And I’m like, yes, yes you did. And so I actually gave an example of my class and I said, right now, this is 10 years later, I have one discussion for a three to four week block of time. In that one discussion, I have one space where I have multiple questions and each question is a week’s worth of writing. Each question.
Steve: 10:25 Got ya.
Rhianna: 10:27 And there’s two sides of it. One is, you write a substantive post of your own analysis of the material for that week and then you have to respond to a substantive post to your classmates. One classmate. That is do-able online, especially if you’re asking them to like cite things. We don’t do that in class. Right? We don’t say like, please make reference to textbook X when you speak to me in my response.
Steve: 10:52 If I just put it in my head, in a classroom, I’m asking these questions and two or three students are answering them, two or three different students, now I’m sending it out and every student is answering every question and I’ve not realized the ramifications of that back on the learner.
Rhianna: 11:11 And I would say to, think about shy students, this is also something we forget.
Steve: 11:14 Yep.
Steve: 11:15 There might be students that have ADA compliance things where they can’t communicate as quickly. You know, how you try to create a classroom dynamic where you notice the people who talk a lot and then you kind of revert the conversation somewhere else?
Steve: 11:25 Yep.
Steve: 11:26 You have to do that online too. There’s an online classroom management, where I’ll see shy students not responding and I’ll send them a private note and I’ll say like, “Hey Tim, what’s going on? I see you didn’t post something here.” So think about that translation online to classroom management, it applies too.
Steve: 11:43 So let me kind of take that into a little bit of a discussion if you would about synchronous and and asynchronous. As I’ve been
listening in on quite a few chats of people discussing the issues and the problems they’re running into, some folks tried to go synchronous everything and overwhelmed and burnt out the students. Not alone, what we’re finding is a major problem with schedule. So the time that you scheduled this synchronous class, mom and dad have tied up the wifi in the house and based on them, their salary, as a middle school student, I came out pretty far down on the list for being able to chime in there. But other teachers then didn’t have any and so I guess without that, then you can’t get that class connection. I know my grandson is in second grade and everybody’s on first thing in the morning for five minutes and everybody’s on the last 10 minutes of the day – synchronous, that the teacher’s working on that community piece. So, get some guidelines for people to think about through that?
Rhianna: 12:54 Yeah. So, in 2018 I wrote an article with a few colleagues that are – it’s called “From Mystery to Mastery,” creating and enhancing the ultimate virtual classroom experience. And it was kind of best practices. If you get a chance to take a look at that article, please do. But inside that article, I highlighted some latest research about how long students can engage in a synchronous setting and it’s now at about 15 to 20 minute blocks. So one of the things that I want you to think about is this. Personally, as a faculty member who’s been doing this for 10 years, I like the blended model. What that means is I’m partially synchronous and partially asynchronous. The research and online teaching and learning is that that is the best approach, the blended model. Not being 100% online or offline, and I’m gonna give you this as an example.
Rhianna: 13:41 I actually have courses that are on the books, 100% percent online courses, I still don’t follow that rule. I still provide videos of myself talking. I still give students in those environments the opportunity to reach out. Now, not all students take advantage of that opportunity, but I, in my teaching paradigm and teaching methods do because I want them to know I’m human and I’m present. We know in the data right now, that being human, being present, even in fully online environments will increase engagement and productivity of your student population. So that’s point number one. Even if you’re going fully online, you should still be finding ways to be asynchronous and synchronous. Number two, you know, don’t – I know that it’s overwhelming the opportunities that we have to see a whole bunch of information online right now. So you as a person, new to this might be overwhelmed.
Rhianna: 14:30 I would say right now, don’t try to reinvent the wheel. There are scholars like myself out there who’ve been doing this forever. Join a community of scholars. You know, Steve just mentioned that he’s been looking and reading things online. You know, I’m actively part of both the COTE and TOEP communities where we have a Facebook page, we have a hashtag, instructional continuity, that is going through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. I’ve been reading articles that people are pumping out and sharing articles back and forth so that I’m not just living in a vacuum. So that’s one thing that I’d say about people going online. We’re trained sometimes to say like, we’re the sage on the stage, we can figure it out on our own. Right now, don’t do that. I would say never do that, myself. You know, you really want to engage with your colleagues here and let people help you in this time.
Rhianna: 15:15 Reach out, ask questions. I’m getting emails from around the world right now, my LinkedIn page and my private email asking me those questions. Now for synchronous and asynchronous, let me give you some tips about good things to do. If I’m in an asynchronous environment, I told you about that block of 15 to 20 minutes, you should not be recording things that are longer than 15 to 20 minutes, right? I like to use a software called Screencast-O-Matic. If you take a look at one of the links there, I have a tutorial about how to use Screencast-O-Matic and I’ll show you exactly that feature. I love the free version because it cuts me off at 15 minutes. It makes me have to do it in 15 minutes. I do that on purpose. I could get a paid account, but I don’t because it makes me stop. Do that.
Rhianna: 15:56 I mean, it’s a trick that I’m using on my own brain, that I’ve got to get my words down and it helps me practice and I’ve been doing it now for 10 years. It’s great. So that kind of lets me use research to make sure I’m condensed in that. Do little short things in those asynchronous environments where I’ll say like, you know, “Hey Jimmy, you did great on this assignment.” You know, “let me give you some tips about doing something better. I’ll share some links, I’ll do some this…” and I’ll make it like, “You did great. I’m going to share this. Would you mind if I share this research with the other students in class?” If you give them some positives first and then some kind of constructive criticism, I can tell you my students love my classes and they’re constantly bombarding me with resources because I make them feel validated.
Rhianna: 16:40 So that’s part of that asynchronous you can do. That synchronous piece is, create assignments in your synchronous environment that also break things into 15 minute increments. So when I hit 15 minutes, I have a timer on my phone where I actually build into my PowerPoint where students are there. We’re going to take a break and I put it on the slide. And I’ll say, here’s a link to some interactive resource. We’re going to take five minutes. I want you to go get a cup of coffee, play with your kids, you know, talk to each other. But look at this interactive link and five minutes from now, go do it on your own time. We’re all going to report back out when we come back together. So it gives them the break to kind of think about their own thing, do something interactive on their own, collect some notes and come back. If you can adopt that method, even in your synchronous environment, it’ll kind of break things up for people.
Steve: 17:29 It’s interesting that you say that because I’ve been 30 years on the road as a live presenter, keynoter and 10 minutes is my planning tool. So if they schedule me to do a 90 minute presentation or a 60 minute presentation, it’s broken down into 10 minute chunks with an expectation that I’ve got to turn the audience loose every 10 minutes to say something to the person next to them, jot down some notes, come up with a question because I mean, and that’s live, so it really makes sense that it would carry over. You touched on one last area that I wanted to bring into our conversation and and that’s the area of feedback. Teachers know that feedback is important to challenge students, it’s important to give them feedback that keeps them going, that gets them on the right track. And I’m wondering, some thoughts on, how do I look at feedback without overwhelming the teacher because a written response back to all that work that students are doing is gonna pile up to a mountain rather quickly.
Rhianna: 18:42 Yeah. So I’m going to tell you my one word answer. Template. Create template responses. I have template responses for every single class that I teach and I’ve revised these template responses over the years. So let me give you an example. Let’s say that I have a paper in a course and I have a consistent paper – it’s not the exact same assignment cause I will tell you that too. I never have exact same assignments, that cuts down on plagiarism and cheating. I always modify my assignments every semester. If I’m ever to have the same assignment, it will be five years later.
Steve: 19:15 [laughter]
Rhianna: 19:17 It’s never, it’s never back to back. But I have template responses that are general. So let me give you an example. I know
students struggle with the academic formula. I have created a OER, an open educational resource of myself explaining the academic formula and how to write A+ papers.
Rhianna: 19:33 So, it goes across every single one of my courses. Right before we started talking, I was sending that video to a student right now. But, I have template responses that break down the academic formula, clearly. That never changes. Why do we write it? Why not just cut and paste it? That makes it so it’s less stressful for me. I’ve already developed it. I’ve already vetted it. It looks beautiful. My language is great because I’ve already used it for 10 years. So if you can do that at any time, these universal things that are issues and there are bells that stick out in your classes, create a template response. It will make it so much easier. On top of it, I told you about engagement. I have a template response that’s “hi students, welcome to week two of the class. It’s really great to see you engaged.” I haven’t said anything in that other than positivity. Template response. Copy and paste that, stick it through every single one of my courses. I do that all the time. Students on my end are like, wow, you give all this amazing feedback and I get to be like, that’s because I’ve already created the feedback. I’m not doing it on the fly every five seconds and it’s making it so it’s not overwhelming.
Steve: 20:38 I’ve listened to a few folks who said they’ve switched to recording their feedback rather than writing it and they found that to be helpful to kind of cut down on on the instructor stress. And I’m thinking there’s probably also a benefit to the student hearing it, depending on their learning style, but also that think there’s a social emotional connection of hearing it in my teacher’s voice versus writing.
Rhianna: 21:04 So I actually use both voice thread, like if I’m overwhelmed – I’ll give you an example. I have a lot of hats at my institution, so I do a lot of administrative work, I run programs as well. And there are weeks, like right now, in Covid-19, I’ve been called upon by SUNY. So imagine the last three weeks, I’m still teaching classes even though I’m being called away to all these administrative responsibilities. Voice thread and Screencast-O-Matic and my template responses have been lifesavers for the last three weeks. Because if I wouldn’t be using those, there’s absolutely no way. But I’ve also been human. Let me tell you, I sent a note to students and I said, “Hey, I’ve been called upon by SUNY to help other faculty. You’re going to have to be a little bit patient with me. I know that I’m usually responsive to you in two to three days – during Covid-19, give me about a week.” But I’ve told students that and they’ve been, I understand completely and they’ll send me these long things about, “I can’t even believe what you’re doing as a teacher. I’m now homeschooling my kid. Like, you’re telling me a week, you know, I want five weeks.” You know, so.
Steve: 22:08 Great, great. Well, we’ll pull this to a close. I’m wondering if there’s any kind of last words of advice and encouragement might want to pass on, especially to those folks who are in a brand new frontier here, kind of thrust upon them.
Rhianna: 22:25 I would say, you know, you’re joining a community of scholars. I mean we call this open access learning. I mean that’s the broader term that encompasses online education. One of the things I’m going to tell you that I’ve loved about being in this community for the last decade is unlike what you see traditionally in academia where people don’t like to share things until it’s published, it’s not the case in the open access community. We’re all about sharing. You know, I immediately went online as soon as Covid-19 happened and I shared every single tutorial that I ever created. And I’ve been sharing best practices, I would call these my trade secrets, freely in the last two weeks. Because my hope in being part of this truly open access world is that we’re creating a space where everybody can learn. No matter if they’re attending higher education or not.
Rhianna: 23:10 And so you’re joining a very friendly community, right? And what I would say to you is, please reach out to all of us. You know, we want you to be successful. We want to help you come online. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and you don’t understand like a rubric that you need, or is this source the greatest or is there another recommendation? Join us. Ask. I belong to two groups. I’ve told you, COTE and TOEP and Open SUNY. We’ve turned all of our materials to open access right now. You can go look at SUNY, so the State University of New York, and look at them. You can look at my LinkedIn page. I’m pumping those out and I’m sharing resources that I have and colleagues that are doing the same. Ask me questions. Feel free. I mean, I’m answering them right now, but we’re in this together. That’s the thing I would say. We’re all gonna get through this. It’s stressful, it’s difficult, but you know, with this community behind you, I hope you don’t feel alone.
Steve: 24:02 I have to reinforce that. I’ve been on chats and conference calls, some cases, 200 people on, and everybody’s sharing everything in the chat room. It’s been a real plus I think in our education community to to watch that happen. Dr. Rogers, thank you so much for your time today and your willingness to share your resources.
Rhianna: 24:30 My pleasure.
Steve: 24:32 It’s an important contribution. Thank you.
Rhianna: 24:34 Thank you.
Steve: 24:35 And thanks for listening in.
Steve [Outro]: 24:37 Thanks again for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley ponders out loud on iTunes and Podbean, and please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.