Two cartoon men argue over a drawingDifficult Conversations

We all have conversations that are difficult from time to time. These are stressful, can make you (or the other person) feel bad, and they can take a lot of time to work through.

Frameworks for conversations allow the participants to approach these conversations with some tools to help those conversations stay productive and turn the temperature down at the same time. By using these frameworks, you’ll help make this conversation not personal, be able to calm the situation, and arrive at better solutions, sooner.

What are these difficult conversation frameworks? Let’s get started!

Change Advocate Hats

When working with someone, often we come in with our own hat on. We know what we are going to bring to the table and what we’d like the other person to contribute. Before you even come to this meeting, you should try on another hat. Try the hat of the person who you will be meeting with, what might they expect? Is there a third party affected by the decisions that you’ll be making? Try their hat on. Seeing things from another’s perspective helps us to have a better understanding of what they might bring to the table.

Go to the Neutral Zone

Action and re-action is part of who we are as human beings. These are two ends of a rope that can cause frustration when we don’t take a step back and view. When one person tugs at the end of the rope, the other end’s reaction is likely a huge step forward and then a quick tug back. The two people on the ends could keep tugging back and forth causing actions and re-actions but they might not get anywhere. If you can step away from those two ends and take a look at the whole picture, you can see that neutral zone where you can look at underlying issues that might be causing the tug-of-war. Even having one party step into this neutral zone takes away the constant back and forth and diffuses the difficult or possibly heated conversation allowing the parties to move forward.

Phone-a-friend

I’m sure this is familiar to those who’ve watched a popular T.V. show a “few” years ago. What we are talking about here is an outside source that can aide in the conversation. This could be a research article showing why a suggestion would be the right approach, a colleague that has had a similar experience and can talk to the success of an option, or bringing in facts and figures to support suggested approaches. Whatever it is, that “friend” can help provide support while deciding on a course of action with an outside opinion, not another tug on an end.

 

Personally, I’ve used each of these in conversations before and each one of them has helped multiple times. Do you have other frameworks or tips you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments!

So, you’re thinking about offering virtual office hours in your online class. Your instructional designer is thrilled! Virtual office hours are a great way to promote social connection and build community with your students.

But, you’re nervous. Maybe you’ve tried offering virtual office hours before. Maybe you’ve heard from colleagues that students aren’t going to show up to your office hours. Maybe one student will show up. Maybe five. Or three. Or none. Maybe you’re not sure how to prepare. You want your students to come with questions. Maybe your students will come with tons of questions. Maybe they won’t.

Just as you can’t–or shouldn’t–teach an online course in the same way that you would teach an on-campus course, you also shouldn’t structure your virtual office hours in the same way you structure your face-to-face office hours. On-campus students already have face time with you and their peers in class. If your on-campus students come to your office hour, it’s likely because they have a question for you. Online students may have other reasons for attending your office hour. Given, not just the different modality, but the different reasons online students choose to attend an office hour, virtual office hours implemented into a primarily asynchronous online course, require thoughtful planning.

The research article, “Live Synchronous Web Meetings in Asynchronous Online Courses: Reconceptualizing Virtual Office Hours” (Lowenthal, Dunlap, & Snelson, 2017) explores how to successfully conduct online office hours in primarily asynchronous online courses. The article focuses on group office hours, but synchronous student-student and instructor-student interactions are worth considering as well. While I would encourage you to read the entire paper, I’d like to summarize some of the “implications for practice” highlighted in the article. The paper includes 21 implications for practice. Here are a few to consider for your online course:

  1. Rebrand your office hours. For better or for worse, we all have preconceived notions about what an office hour entails. Be thoughtful about your goals for the virtual sessions, renaming them to reflect how the time will be used, the level of formality, or the structure. Examples from the research article include, “Happy Hours, Coffee Breaks, Afternoon Tea, Bat Cave…Around the Campfire….Consultations, Design Studio, Conference Room, Headquarters, and Open Space.” (188)
  2. Schedule them in advance–ideally at the beginning of the quarter–and vary the days and times to accommodate different schedules and timezones. Providing ample notice and opportunities on various days and times is especially important as online students are often juggling home, work, and school responsibilities.
  3. Provide reminders via email or announcements.
  4. Prompt students for questions prior to the live sessions.
  5. Then, record the live session. That way, students can still ask a question, have it answered, and watch later if they’re unable to attend the live session.
  6. Post the recording in an announcement, so that it is easy to find.
  7. Start the session with an ice-breaker.
  8. Consider offering some brief direct-instruction or inviting a guest speaker.
  9. Incentivize students to attend by making the experience engaging and relevant–and giving them an agenda before the session.

While virtual synchronous interaction isn’t usually required in Ecampus courses, it is an option that, when thoughtfully implemented, can enhance the teaching and learning experience. If this is an approach that you’re interested in exploring, reach out to your instructional designer, and they can help you implement it in a way that is equitable for all students.

References:

Lowenthal, P. R.; Dunlap, J. C. & Snelson, C. (2017). Live synchronous web meetings in asynchronous online courses: Reconceptualizing virtual office hours. Online Learning 21(4), 177-194. doi: 10.24059/olj.v21i4.1285

Image credit:

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

So you’ve scheduled your first video shoot with Ecampus. Great! We can’t wait to work with you. Here are answers to a few questions we commonly receive from instructors.

How can I prepare for my video shoot?

Rehearse! And this doesn’t have to be a bunch of work, just run through your piece once or twice before the shoot.

If you’d like for the finished video to include any additional graphics, photos or video, please let a member of the video team or your instructional designer know in advance of the shoot so that we can plan accordingly.

Should I write a script?

Maaaaaaaybe. It’s up to you. Some people prefer to work from a teleprompter, others prefer to wing it. We always suggest going with your comfort zone. If you would like to work with a teleprompter, please send your script or bulleted list to ecampus.productions@oregonstate.edu at least one day before your shoot.What should I wear?

Wear clothes that are comfortable and make you feel good about yourself…that’s the priority. Feel free to show off your personality and have fun with it.

Here are a few guidelines:

  • Avoid wearing plain white. It’s distracting against a black background, and gets lost in a white background.
  • If you’ll be filming against a black background, you’ll want to avoid wearing black, lest you appear to be a floating head and arms in your video. Also, black or really dark clothing can sometimes cause more shadowing on the face, accentuating wrinkles and aging the subject.
  • Instead, you might consider a medium-dark blue or gray. Or even better, go for a rich, solid color.
  • Also, avoid tight lines and patterns. These types of patterns cause a distracting optical effect called moiré where the pattern appears to move. Larger patterns, like plaid, look fine.
  • Finally, please avoid noisy jewelry and accessories as the microphone may be able to pick up the noise.

Oh gosh! Now that I’m here and I’m on camera, I have no idea what to do with my hands.

Think of the camera as another person. How do you move when you’re talking to somebody? If you tend to gesture when you speak, then please do! The movement will add energy to the video and help to convey your excitement about the topic.

Another option is to hold a prop. Just be sure that your prop is relevant to the video so that you don’t confuse the viewer.

If you prefer to be more still, that’s also great. Just be sure to maintain open body language and avoid crossing your arms in front of you or behind you.

This terrific Wistia article talks about the science behind why your gestures look so awkward on camera and dives into the hand thing a bit more, explains why we feel so awkward on camera, and suggests some ways to feel more comfortable at your video shoot.

That’s A Wrap!

If you have any questions, concerns, or ideas to share, please contact the Ecampus video team at ecampus.productions@oregonstate.edu. Looking forward to working with you!

 

In a time when ideas and technology are rapidly changing within online education, it can be increasingly challenging to determine what students truly value and how to measure what impacts their overall success. Research has shown that online learners who are engaged with the material, intrinsically motivated, possess self-regulation, and have a positive or growth mindset have preferable outcomes – yet the correlation between these areas has not been thoroughly explored (Richardson, 2017; Diep, 2017; Sahin, 2007). Emerging from the intersection of positive psychology and higher education is a new vision for student success that encompasses these areas called thriving.

Created by Dr. Laurie Schreiner, Chair and Professor in the department of Higher Education at Azuza Pacific University, the Thriving Quotient measures the characteristics of thriving, and has been used with thousands of students in hundreds of institutions around the world. Schreiner defines thriving students as those who are “engaged in the learning process, invest effort to reach educational goals, and are committed to making a meaningful difference in the world around them” (Schreiner, 2010).

The five factors of thriving are grouped as:

  • Engaged Learning
  • Academic Determination
  • Positive Perspective
  • Social Connectedness
  • Diverse Citizenship

Thriving students deeply value their education, possess the self-efficacy and determination to persist towards their long term goals, feel connected to their institution, faculty, and other students, and want to make a positive impact on the world. While all five factors of thriving are connected and crucial to student success, the area that instructors and instructional designers may most directly impact is Social Connectedness. Social connectedness refers to the support networks we build, the relationships that are cultivated, and how connected we feel to our community. Social connectedness can span the areas of student to student connection, student to instructor connection, and student to administrator connection. Student interaction with other students and instructors has been determined to be fundamental to their experience as an online learner (Symeonides, 2015; Rust, 2015; Vianden, 2015; Cole, Shelley, Swartz, 2014; Allen, 2008).

Within this context of social connectedness, the research on social presence and creating a sense of belonging contribute to the understanding of how relationships may contribute to online student satisfaction. In Jörg Vianden’s study on what matters most to students, students were asked to report on their most satisfying and dissatisfying experiences. For both categories, they focused primarily on their interpersonal relationships (Vianden, 2015). In regards to how these impacted students’ interactions, the most common dissatisfaction regarding faculty relationships was disrespect and unresponsiveness. Students not only desire positive relationships with their faculty, staff, and peers, but it is exceedingly important in predicting their academic outcomes. Social presence and connection with others was found to be exceedingly important in predicting student satisfaction and perceived learning (Richardson, 2017). The connection is even furthered with the assertion that social presence should be the foundation of critical thinking and learning objectives for students (Garrison & Akyol, 2013).

What does all of this mean for instructors?

As an instructor, you are often the primary and most valued relationship and connection that an online student will have in their education. While students have additional support from academic advisors, student success professionals across departments, and other student-facing roles, these individuals will not have the daily interaction and impact that an instructor has with their students. In partnership with instructional designers, instructors have the ability to positively create spaces for connection through teaching preferences, course design, resource choices, and communication policies.

Some common guidelines for creating connection within your classroom include:

  • Utilizing videos or screencasts so that students can feel more connected to their instructors and create a more welcoming and personal environment
  • Responding to student inquiries in discussion boards and by e-mails in a timely manner
  • Completing grades for assignments promptly so that students feel comfortable with knowing their progress and any adjustments that might be needed
  • Providing opportunities for students to connect with their instructor and one another using tools such as videos in the discussion forums, FlipGrid, or WebEx/Zoom conferencing for recordings and lectures.

Below are some comments from our most recent student survey that speak to the importance of connectedness for online learners.

“I would encourage professors to hold an optional “live” WebEx meeting with their classes at the beginning of each term. This would help build a better connection between the students and teachers and allow students to ask any questions they might have about the course ahead of time.”

 

“Don’t be afraid to communicate with your teachers. They are usually very accommodating and sincerely wish to help you achieve academic success.”

Please know that you can always reach out to the Ecampus Success Counselors with questions or to refer students that may be struggling or not participating. We appreciate the great work you are continually doing and value the critical role you hold in educating, guiding, and empowering our online students.

Becoming a Student Again

With excitement and a bit of apprehension I logged in to my first ever online class. Sure, I’ve taught online classes for years, but this was my first time as a student in an online class that I had paid to take and where grades were given.

I reviewed the “Start Here” module and familiarized myself with the structure of the class before I opened the first lecture from my new instructor. The instructor’s voice came through my speakers and as she began to speak I noted the length of the lecture: 44 minutes. “What?!? I don’t have time for this,” I thought as I slammed my laptop shut. It suddenly and powerfully occurred to me that I did not have control over this classroom and my expectations as a student might be vastly different from my instructor’s.

Eventually, I settled in to the rhythm of the class and my instructor’s expectations. As it turns out, that 44 minute lecture was an outlier (the rest were closer to 15 minutes), and I figured out a way to incorporate the lectures into my schedule (I watched them while on the spin bike).

The Needs of the Online Student

As a working parent, trying to balance family, work, and school obligations, I am the target customer for online education, and I certainly felt the “squeeze” of all these obligations competing for my time. Like many of my students, my days are jam-packed and most of the time, I am scheduled to the minute. Uncertainties can throw my well-planned schedule into turmoil… “Wow, that reading took longer than I expected. No, I can’t participate in a live webinar or meet for a group project at 3pm. I have to pick up kids from school. Darn, this link is broken and the instructor hasn’t responded to my questions about it…now I’ve lost my window for working on this project. My dog died today, and while I had to go to work and had to make dinner, I just don’t have it in me to watch a class lecture and take a quiz. I’m too sad…can I have an extension?”

Meeting Our Students Where They Are

I ended up taking several classes from several instructors over the course of a year. Being a student in these classes exposed me to a number of different teaching styles and techniques and strategies, and I was able to experience these things from a student point of view. Based on my experience, here are 4 strategies for instructors that your students might find helpful:

  1. Provide time estimates for weekly activities. Estimated read times and watch times for learning materials are very helpful for a busy student trying to plan the week.
  2. Chunk the material. As an online student, I rarely had long chunks of time to work on my classes, but I could squeeze in smaller chunks of time here and there. And while students can start and stop a task as needed in the online classroom, it’s rewarding to actually finish a task in one sitting.
  3. Make it easy to find class resources. In the online classroom there are many wonderful learning materials we can easily incorporate (e.g., links to blogs, videos, calculators); but when these resources are scattered throughout 10 learning modules, they can be difficult for the student to find. Provide a works cited page (with hyperlinks) or a glossary of key terms to help students locate material, especially when studying for exams.
  4. Anticipate Questions. This might be tough the first time you teach a course, but over time we often see the same questions arising from our students. We can reduce the delay in response time, by anticipating these questions and providing answers and support ahead of time. This could be a Q&A sheet for complex assignments or a guided worksheet with comments from the instructor to help students get through well-known tricky spots.

The flexibility of the online classroom gives busy students around the world access to educational opportunities that have not been available in the past. These students are working hard in every aspect of their lives and with a little support from us, their online instructors, we can help them make the most of the time they have in order to learn and grow.

-Nikki Brown, Instructor, College of Business

On May 2nd, Ecampus held our annual Faculty Forum which showcases the outstanding work that OSU is doing in online education. Sixteen interactive sessions allowed faculty the opportunity to learn more about innovative teaching methods and share their experiences in online teaching with each other.

This year we were delighted to have Dr. Kevin Gannon, a professor of history and director for the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Education at Grand View University, present a keynote address on a very timely and relevant topic for all online educators – designing online classrooms where inclusive discussions can take place while effectively engaging students with challenging or controversial materials.  His presentation – Sea lions, trolls, and flames – oh my! Navigating the difficulty places in online learning – was a thought-provoking and inspiring call to action for online educators.

We all need people who will give us feedback. That's how we improve. - Bill Gates
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft

In online education courses, providing effective feedback is essential. It’s can be easy to provide students with a number or letter grade on their assignments, but it is the additional feedback where the opportunity for student growth occurs. While there are many forms of effective feedback, there are 5 elements that can help you provide more meaningful and effective feedback regardless of the method of delivery.

  1. Give Timely Feedback
    • Timely feedback to students sends the message that you are engaged in the course and the student’s work. Having just finished an assignment, the student is also going to be more open to the feedback you provide because their work is still fresh in their mind. They have the opportunity to immediately incorporate your feedback into the next assignment, improving their overall performance going forward. Students in a master’s degree program were more likely to ignore feedback comments on their written work that were not provided promptly. (Draft & Lengel, 1986) Including a statement in the syllabus about your expected time of feedback on assignments, and sticking to it, helps students understand your timeline and will reduce questions to you later on.
  2. Start with a positive message
    • Creating a feedback sandwich (compliment, suggestions for correction, compliment) for your student pairs together both specific positive feedback and any elements the students should work on. The positive feedback encourages the student and prepares them with a positive outlook when hearing about areas that need improvement. Finishing again with positive feedback such as “I look forward to seeing your next assignment” tells the student that even though they have corrections to make, their work is still valued and that they can improve on future assignments.
  3. Use Rubrics
    • One of the best tools that can be used are rubrics. A detailed rubric sets clear expectations of the student for that particular assignment. While completing their assignment they can constantly check their work against what you expect to see in their finished work. Another benefit to creating the rubric is that you can use it to analyze their papers with that same criteria. Some instructors have found that by using a rubric, it helps to be more consistent and fair with grading. No matter if it is the first paper, the last paper, or if you might be having a good or bad day, the rubric helps.
  4. Give personal feedback and help the students make the connection between the content and their lives
    • Connection is key. Providing personal feedback to your students while helping them see the connection between the content and their lives will show that you have taken time to personally respond to them instead of using “canned responses.” Students who don’t feel as if the content in the class will ever relate to their lives now, or in their careers later on, will often lose interest in  assignments in general as well as feedback because they don’t see the connection. Getting to know your students at the beginning of the term assists in giving good personal feedback while helping them see the connection between the content and their life.
  5. Consider using alternative formats of feedback
    • Students are used to getting feedback in written form and while that format can be very effective, using an alternative way to provide feedback can be equally or more effective. They enjoy the personal connections that can be created through audio and/or video feedback. Students appreciate receiving specific feedback relating to the grade, rubric, and overall assessment. In fact, some students say that: “..video encouraged more supportive and conversational communication.” (Borup, West, Thomas, 2015) Give it a try!

By employing these strategies, your students will be appreciative of the feedback you provide and you might just get some fantastic feedback yourself. In one case, an instructor shared a great comment from one of their students comparing past courses to the instructor’s:

…I never received personal feedback [in some other courses]. Your course however has been wonderful. Thank you for putting so much time into each of your comments on my writing. I can tell you really made personal feedback a priority. You don’t know how nice it was to really know that my professor is reading my work.” The student goes further to say; “Thank you for taking your teaching seriously and caring about your students. It shows.

Getting personal and effective feedback like this should inspire you to begin or continue that great feedback!

 

References:

Borup, J., West, R.E., Thomas, R. (2015) The impact of text versus video communication on instructor feedback in blended courses Education Tech Research Dev 63:161-184 doi: 10.1004/s11426-015-9367-8

Draft, R.L. & Lengel, R.H. (1986. Organizational information requirements, media richness and structural design. Management Science, 32(5), 554-571

P1090191 - Version 3The 2013 Survey of Online Learning Report was released last week on the Sloan Consortium website.  This annual series tracks trends in online higher ed in the U.S. through use of institutional data and responses from chief academic officers at colleges and universities nationally.  Among key findings of the 2013 survey, three-fourths of chief academic officers think the learning outcomes in online education are the same or better than with face-to-face instruction, but more than 40% of them say that retaining students in online courses is more difficult than in face-to-face courses.

Fortunately, Blackboard has built-in tools to help you monitor student progress.  In addition to the Grade Center, check out the Performance Dashboard and Retention Center in the Evaluation section of your Blackboard course Control Panel.  These tools can be used with no set up, though you do have the option to customize the Retention Center.  The Performance Dashboard gives you a quick overview of each student’s online course activity (for example, days since last Blackboard course access, and level of discussion board participation).  The Retention Center provides a more detailed picture of which students may be struggling or at risk in your course.  A glance at the Performance Dashboard and Retention Center can give you a heads-up at any point in the term about student engagement and success, so that you can take steps to communicate with students about your concerns and offer strategies for improvement.

Beyond this, make sure your students know about the Ecampus Student Success links, which direct students to Ecampus Success Counselors, online tutoring support, Academic Success (ALS) courses, personalized coaching services from InsideTrack, and other services available to OSU online students.

What strategies do you find most successful in retaining online students in your courses?