Social Media Guidelines for Teaching at the College Level

Teaching with (and about) social media can be rewarding, but it’s also scary for some students. In my classes, people usually sign up for it. In other words, they purposefully come to learn about social media, and it should be of little surprise that we’ll learning about it by experiencing it directly. However, it’s not uncommon for instructors to incorporate social media use into their classes.

I’m giving a presentation about social media guidelines to support student comfort and privacy at the fun and fabulous TCC 2023 conference this week.

Here are my slides: [pdf]

And here are my social media guidelines: [word] [pdf]

Thoughts? Additions? Feel free to leave a comment!

I repeat: This is probably NOT online learning that you’re experiencing

Another day, another rant about online learning: It’s ineffective. It’s difficult. And it takes a lot of time to do this difficult and ineffective thing.

It’s not me ranting, at least not about online learning. I’m watching other people rant on Facebook, Twitter, at the water cooler … oh, wait, not there. I’ve not actually seen other people in person beyond my immediate family in quite a while.

I understand the rant. I really do. Learning to do something new is difficult. It takes time. It doesn’t necessarily feel good or right or effective, especially if neither you nor the people you’re doing it with actually want to do it. And then there’s the matter of 2020. Oh, it’s a total dumpster fire.

I don’t want to take away anyone’s right to vent because we all need the release. Still, it’s pretty frustrating to see others so thoroughly disparage a practice to which I’ve devoted so much of my life’s work, and suggest that it is inferior to other forms of learning. I also find the complaints kind of ironic. During pre-2020 times, people would say things like “Oh, you’re teaching online? So you’re, like, hardly working, right? You don’t even have to show up on campus.” Now that almost everyone is using online tools to teach their classes, they’re talking about how much work it is. So which is it? Hardly working, or working harder than ever? And so much work in support of something that’s essentially ineffective? Why would anyone ever bother?

An aside: I’ve also seen some rants where people say that campus teaching is so much easier because as the expert you just show up and start talking. Really? That’s what people do? And it’s effective? We’ve all experienced ineffective classroom instruction, right?

Teaching is hard work, regardless of modality. I remember when I first started teaching in the face-to-face classroom. I reviewed all of the reading materials in advance and made notes about what I should review with students and how to extend the materials with examples. I made outlines with key points highlighted. I plotted out my time, figuring out what could be fit into a 50 minute session. I fretted over what I would do if no one spoke, or if everyone wanted to speak. I worried about ending early or running over. I was nervous that I might forget to go over key points. It was exhausting. Plus I taught at 8 am … and I am NOT a morning person.

Even after 20+ years of face-to-face teaching, I couldn’t imagine just showing up and talking as a default mode of teaching. Classes that I’ve taught multiple times are easier to prep and teach, especially if I’ve left myself good notes, saved handouts, have detailed directions about facilitating learning activities. etc. A solid plan from prior course offerings helps, but I still take time to review and noodle around with a lesson, and consider changes that should be made in light of my current students, advancements in the field, and the state of the world.

The same is true of online teaching, which I’ve also been doing for 20+ years. The first time teaching a new online course, there’s so much to do. I’m building modules, writing up policies and directions, and considering where videos would be useful (and then carefully scripting them, designing visuals, and recording them, cleaning up captions, and getting them linked to the right pages). I’m developing discussion prompts and guidelines. I’m planning new activities and trying to anticipate how students will interact, how the interaction spaces need to be designed, and how much time it will take for the interactions to occur.

The first time I teach a course — on campus or online — I’m just a step ahead of my students and perpetually exhausted, even though I know exactly what I’m doing in terms of course design and facilitation at this point. However, the second, third, and eight time around, teaching the course is a lot easier and I can skimp on course revisions or prep occasionally if I really have to.

Here’s the thing: It’s not useful to pit teaching modalities against each other in terms of workload. Designing an online class is a lot of work. Designing a campus class is a lot of work, too. The same can be said for facilitating, whether in a physical classroom, on zoom, or on an asynchronous forum. Each modality is different, and requires its own form of preparation. The first time you do it, it can be pretty tiring. After a while, you find your rhythm and it gets easier.

It’s also not useful to pit teaching modalities against each other in terms of effectiveness. We all have our own personal strengths and weaknesses, and we all have preferences, too. You may feel more effective when you teach in a face-to-face classroom, and you may prefer that experience as well. Those are valid feelings and preferences. However, that doesn’t mean that form of instruction is the most effective one. Years of research and practice do not support the hypothesis that one form is superior to the other.

Situationally, one modality may be a better choice than the other. During the pandemic, online is preferable to campus for health reasons. However, during typical times it goes against conventional wisdom to push instructors and students toward a modality that is not their preference. We know why our courses are online right now, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it. It’s never surprising when people have negative feelings toward a course that they did not want to teach or take, and those feelings extend to modality just as much as they do to course topic or content.

Still, there are a lot of online learners right now who are perfectly happy in their online courses. They opted in to online learning. It is their preferred option even when there isn’t a pandemic raging on. And they learn just as well as their campus counterparts. It’s not fair to them to suggest that their experience is less effective just because they regularly learn through a modality that many other people are reluctantly struggling to figure out right now.

Also: This is probably NOT online learning that you’re experiencing right now. It’s emergency remote learning, delivered online. There’s a meaningful difference between the two, even if some of the tools and strategies are the same.

Online learning is an educational option. People choose it because it aligns with their preferences and needs. Done well, it’s a pretty awesome experience. Still, not everyone likes or chooses it, and that’s okay.

Campus learning is another educational option. People choose it because it aligns with their preferences and needs. Done well, it’s a pretty awesome experience. Still, not everyone likes or chooses it, and that’s okay.

Although I can’t imagine the circumstances under which online learning would be pushed into becoming emergency campus learning, I’m pretty sure the instructors and students would be upset, burdened, and inclined to complain. I understand why everyone is upset. But blame the pandemic, not the modality.

That high level of stress that everyone feels, the quickly filling inboxes, and the frustrating and endless technology glitches? Exhausting and frustrating — but not a normal part of online learning. Even those of us who teach and learn online all the time by choice are experiencing those issues. We’re not used to them either. This year everything is more difficult, everyone is needier, and nothing has gone quite as planned. Those are all symptoms of the 2020 dumpster fire.

My classes are not perfect

… and neither am I. And surely it’s all for the best, anyway.

It’s the night before the new term here. I’ve been working steadily for the last week to prepare. There have been orientations and retreats (all virtual this year, of course). I’ve done a ton of advising and behind-the-scenes work to help with course registration. I assisted other instructors in all sorts of ways (developing activity ideas, sharing files, recording videos). I also helped the graduate instructors who I supervise create intro videos and rework a campus class for remote delivery. And then, finally, I took care of my own class prep.

My classes are locked and loaded, ready to be released in the morning. This weekend I updated videos, dates, and assignments. I refreshed readings. I found (and corrected) two typos in last year’s versions of the course materials. I closely looked at assignments and considered a new one in one course (but decided the current version of the course is nicely streamlined so I left it as-is). I could do more. I won’t. I don’t have time. I’m not even sure that I should do more if I had the time.

My Canvas sites surely contain an error or two. It’s inevitable. I doubt I’ve ever had a term where I didn’t eventually find a typo or broken link (or have it pointed out to me by someone who stumbled upon it) across pages of text and links. Would I have done a better job finding those errors if I hadn’t spent time helping others and instead focused all of my energy on my own course? I doubt it. No matter how thorough I am, these things happen. I still try to be thorough, but I accept the errors for what they are: minor signs of imperfection. Signs of being human. Nothing that actually impedes the learning experience.

There is, of course, a difference between having a well-designed course with a minor typo or broken link and having a poorly or under-deigned course. Typos and broken links can be fixed with a few keystrokes, but poor design often leads to student confusion and frustration.

Ultimately the stakes are low in a well-designed course. Still, while I type this post I resist the urge to go back to my classes and do … something. Thoughts run through my head like:

  • If I check it all over one more time, I bet I’ll catch a typo. Or not. My eyes are tired. I’ve already checked over it.Twice. I’m not likely to find the tenacious typo now.
  • If I recorded that video one more time, maybe I could get rid of the spot where I stumble on a word. That was Take 3. It was the best of 4 takes. It is surely good enough.
  • There was that graphic I was going to make for Week 1. And then I ran out of time. It would be so cool. Maybe I could make it now? Or I could get some sleep. No one will know that it’s missing. No one knows it’s something I meant to do. It’s cool — but it’s far from necessary. And maybe I can do it tomorrow.
  • Maybe I should have spent more time looking for new readings. I only did a cursory search to see what relevant items had been published in the last year. Then again, if my cursory search turned up nothing, then the readings that I used and was happy with last year should suffice.

I imagine that even if I found one more typo, recorded a flawless video, made that cool graphic, and found a new reading, I’d still be sitting here pondering what more I could have done to improve the classes.

I’m going to launch my classes, flaws and all, because I know that they are more than just good enough. They’re not perfect, but I don’t actually believe there is any such thing as the perfectly designed class. There are always different decisions one could make. Better graphics one could use. More course materials one could create. However, having the 100% typo-free, graphically gorgeous class wouldn’t necessarily improve learning outcomes for my students.

After years of reconciling with them, I’ve reached a point where I feel that minor course imperfections work in my favor. Through them I show that I’m human. By addressing them when I see them or having them pointed out, I show that I care and that I’m responsive. By thanking the people who point them out and not reacting with shame or embarrassment, I model a mature way of handling my imperfection. I hope I make my students feel more comfortable. I don’t hold myself to an impossible standard, and I don’t hold them to one, either.

In the end, teaching isn’t about perfection. Neither is learning. But both are about growth. I’m ready to grow and learn this term, and I’m confident that I’ve designed materials, activities, and assessments that will help my students grow and learn, too. Now the heavy lifting (facilitation) begins.

I’m ready to get this term started. Me and my slightly imperfect classes are going to initiate some rich learning interactions — and isn’t that the important thing?

Discussion Board Guidelines

Something I get asked about a lot is how I get students to be active participants in asynchronous discussion.

The short answer: I ask them to.

The longer answer: I have clear expectations and communicate them to my students. Otherwise, how would they know what to do? Many of them are new to asynchronous discussion or, worse, have developed minimum participation habits based on low or unarticulated expectations in other online learning experiences they’ve had.

Over the years, I’ve learned that I need to tell students exactly what constitutes a robust class discussion and explain why we are engaged in discussion. If I don’t, my students will engage in all sorts of discussion behaviors that I don’t want them to, like:

  1. Write all of their posts in the fifteen minutes before the deadline.
  2. Write mini-essays that no one wants to read or respond to (or grade).
  3. Write posts that essentially say nothing.
  4. Write posts that just repeat the readings or what someone else has said.
  5. Worry all week that they don’t know enough or haven’t read enough to participate.

Each of these behaviors inhibits discussion. The first four make it unlikely anyone will read and respond, and the fifth causes unnecessary stress and delays participation.

Asynchronous discussion is not quite the same as synchronous discussion, and we shouldn’t expect it to be. However, we should expect it to be engaging and robust in its own way. Additionally, we should expect it to provide our students with the practice that they need to master course concepts and succeed on larger course assessments.

Over the years, I’ve developed discussion guidelines that I share with my students at the beginning of the course. These guidelines — all three pages of them — lay out my philosophy of online discussion.

These guidelines will help many students engage in discussion as expected, and they in turn become model participants for other students to follow. However, guidelines alone are not enough. Feedback and grades also help shape student behavior. When students do not perform as expected, I let them know. I provide written feedback about how to improve (and I can point right back to the guidelines) and may deduct points as well. Most students who get improvement-focused feedback improve the next week. The ones who don’t will continue to get the feedback and lose points. I can’t change their behavior for them, but I can provide feedback and offer to talk with them about the expectations if they are confused or are unhappy with the grade they have received. (I always offer. No one has ever taken me up on that offer, so I assume those students are happy as-is.)

I’m sharing my baseline discussion guideline document here, as a word document so anyone can easily save and edit it.

Feel free to adapt the document for your own use. You’ll see that I don’t make students discuss every week. Instead, I use a system where low grades are dropped, which means students can take a few weeks off without hurting their final grades. I’m a strong believer in that approach … but that’s another post for another day.

Let’s get learning (virtually) webinar

slide from presentation

On August 13 I gave a webinar at FSU focusing on perspectives and tips related to the remote learning term that looms ahead for many K-12 and university students.

The first 15 minutes of the webinar content was a presentation, and the remainder was Q&A. The attendees asked a lot of good questions.

In the 24 hours since the webinar ended, I’ve had several people ask me for a copy of the slides and a link to the recording, so I’m sharing them here.

Webinar recording: Let’s Get Learning (Virtually) Webinar

I’ve also had people ask me about doing PD sessions for their school or organization. Yes, I do that! If you’re interested in that, contact me.

People first: Teaching through difficult times

Higher education does not really prepare us well to be higher educators. This is no surprise. Most higher education instructors teach following the model that they found most effective as students, that was modeled for them by mentors, or that they feel is most accepted in their disciplines. Instructors learn by modeling and observation, but the models are not always carefully chosen and the observations are not always debriefed. Still, with time and practice, an instructor’s teaching craft is (hopefully) honed and strengthened while concurrently their content knowledge is deepened and solidified. This is the trajectory of an engaged instructor.

In much the same way that we have little preparation to teach, we also have little preparation to address student needs during difficult times. Even folks who are well versed in pedagogy because it happens to be one of the topics they teach are not prepared for teaching in difficult times. (Yes, that’s me! I’m raising my hand to the sky!)

Continue reading

The remote teaching shift from response to recovery

Earlier in my career I had the opportunity to work as an instructional designer on courses related to disaster preparedness and response. These courses were designed to help train healthcare professionals for their role in handling situations that might result in mass casualties, like floods and earthquakes. Through that work (which, to be honest, I never thought would converge with my life as a faculty member) I was introduced to the disaster management cycle.


At the top of the cycle, you see mitigation and preparedness, both of which are focused on risk management. At the bottom are response and recovery, the parts of the cycle that are triggered into action by an actual disaster or emergency that has occurred. Response is what happens in the immediate aftermath, when people scramble to assess the situation, save lives, and keep critical services running. It’s a period of quick problem solving and temporarily solutions designed to patch people through the worst of the emergency. Recovery, then, is the phase that focuses on developing sustainable solutions and finding the new normal. Response and recovery tend to be concurrent processes for a period of time, although recovery is a long-term project in most settings.

So, what does this have to do with education? I’ve found the emergency management cycle to be a useful lens for thinking about education amid the COVID-19 crisis. During the Spring 2020 term, we were clearly in response mode. At my university, we had a week of lead time (spring break) to shift our classes to a remote format. Shifting to remote was not as simple as posting materials online or delivering lectures in front of a webcam instead of a classroom (and I don’t mean to imply that these were simple tasks for everyone). Decisions had to be made about tools and pedagogy. Student situations and needs had to be considered. Assessments had to be reworked. Stress levels were rising due to fear, uncertainty, economic struggles, and isolation. Working with small children or other family members around proved difficult. Everyone did the best they could, but this definitely was not a time for award-winning teaching and learning.

As we move into summer, for those of us teaching this term, and/or consider the upcoming fall term, it’s really time to think about recovery in the classroom. I’m talking about short-term recovery, starting for some folks in summer, and others in fall 2020. We still have a lot of uncertainty that lies ahead of us, but in the upcoming terms we will able to plan and execute remote instruction by design, not just react to remote instruction as an emergency response.*


The Pedagogical Disaster Management Cycle and COVID-19

Some of the big differences that we’ll see as we find ourselves moving into recovery, with classes that are remote by design, include the following areas:**

  • Opting in.When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down universities, most schools were in the middle of a term. Even schools that were wrapping up a quarter or a short term still had a segment of the regular academic year to complete. Students had already committed themselves to school for that term or academic year. Tuition was paid, plans were made, and the only real option was for students to complete the term remotely. Students and instructors didn’t sign up for Spring 2020 remote education. However, in Fall 2020 remote learning will be a choice for students. They can opt in to take classes, knowing these classes will be remote from the start or may shift to a remote mode if there is a new outbreak. Alternately, they can opt out. Even when remote is not the preferred option, opting in is sure to be better received and an overall better experience than an emergency pivot into the unknown.
  • Developing relationships.When we shifted to remote education in the middle of a term, instructors were able to ride out the senses of community, trust, and goodwill that their classes had already generated in the classroom. That won’t be possible for instructors who start the term remotely. Instructors and students won’t be able to capitalize on pre-existing classroom relationships. They won’t be visualizing each other in the classroom, but instead will find themselves interacting remotely with strangers. Instructors are going to need to establish identity and presence for themselves, and to encourage students to do the same. In many courses, they’ll want to build a sense of community and interdependence among learners.
  • Setting a rhythm for learning activities and expectations. Instructors will need to think about how time flows differently outside of a physical classroom, especially in situations where asynchronous instruction, compressed course timelines, and hyflex models are used. Students are often used to coming to class and being told what to do before the next class. That approach won’t work remotely, and students taking multiple remote classes may struggle to manage their time effectively. Instructors need to provide guidance for students on how to structure their course-related activities under these models, and set expectations for how much time will be spent on different activities on a daily or weekly basis.
  • Engaging learners remotely. As the spring term, most of us were just trying to get through it and survive, finishing out a course plan to the extent possible. At many institutions, the bulk of the semester was already over, anyway. However, with a full term of remote learning, instructors will be challenged to find ways to engage learners. Building community and setting a rhythm for a course is the first step, but then the activities that learners are asked to engage in will need to be worthwhile ones. Students are more likely to keep up with class and immerse themselves in learning if they feel that their instructor will miss them. It’s pretty simply: students show up and participate in activities that can’t be easily made up later. The flip side of that scenario is true as well. Instructors will feel more engaged in classes when their students show up and participate. In recovery, it’s time to learn how to foster this type of engagement.
  • Knowing the tools. Right as we made the shift to remote instruction, a lot of “how to use the tools” workshops sprung up. They were necessary. There were instructors  who didn’t know how to use their LMS or conferencing tools, and there were others who used those tools already, but not in ways that support remote instruction. These folks experienced a technology learning curve under stressful conditions (as did their students). There were plenty of technology fumbles in the initial shift to remote learning, but perhaps we can reframe those fumbles. They were the pilot test for what comes next. Instructors have learned new tools and features, and probably have a good sense of what they would like to do but couldn’t accomplish this past spring. During recovery, more thoughtful and purposeful selection and use of tools is possible. And really, none of this is about the tools themselves, but rather about having the right tools to connect to students, build learning relationships, and deliver/explore learning content.
  • Developing reasonable and appropriate remote assessments.  Some assessments planned for in-person classes did not easily shift to remote classes, for a whole host of reasons. Instructors modified assessments on the fly because students lacked access to necessary resources, proctoring tools were uncertain or unavailable, interactions were unpredictable, and everyone was just stressed and worn out. In recovery, we have the opportunity to proactively modify or develop assessments that will work for our students under remote conditions.
  • Having a backup plan. Back in January 2020, who thought to themselves “better have a backup plan in case a global pandemic shuts everything down”? Who had even used the term remote teaching/learning? Right. None of us. But now everyone in higher education is well aware that backup plans are needed, and has a sense of what it looks and feels like when everything changes in the middle of a term. In the fall, classes that start out remote will likely remain remote, but classes that start out on campus should have a backup plan should it become necessarily to quickly shift to remote learning. That plan can be proactively in place (this ties back to the preparedness part of the cycle) so everyone knows what will happen if a stay at home order is suddenly enacted. [Those of us who live in hurricane territory already have these plans in place for our fall term courses. We’ve had to say to our students: If you don’t have power next week, don’t panic. Check in as soon as you are able and let me know what your current status is.]

At the end of the Fall 2020 term, if it has been a successful period of recovery, we will learn from our experience with remote-by-design learning. Instructors will have more confidence and ability with remote teaching methods, and these skills will likely strengthen their abilities as classroom teachers as well. Students will have more experience with remote learning, which may translate into valuable lifelong learning and self-regulation skills. And institutions may become more flexible and collaborative, with everyone working together to promote success (or at least will have some good insights into what needs to be done for future mitigation and preparedness).

I know, I know … this all sounds a bit pollyannaish in the midst of a situation that really feels quite awful all around. The reality is that recovery will not be easy, nor will it be perfectly done, but the individuals who learn throughout the process can help shape the new normal. Those who fight it may find themselves disappointed if recovery becomes a long, drawn-out process, or if the new normal does not look entirely like our pre-COVID lives.


*All of this is a lot of work for instructors, who may be struggling to get work done with small children at home, who may be dealing with anxiety related to the situation, and who . I’m not going to get deeply into this topic right now, but I didn’t want to write this whole post about what is possible during recovery without acknowledging the labor that is involved in doing it well. Institutions can’t expect instructional excellence without investing in it.

**There are various ways of addressing these issues, all well established in the online/distance learning literature. I plan to write posts on these topics in the near future, with some practical tips and examples.

Put your own oxygen mask on first

This post serves as a reminder that it’s important to take care of yourself. I offer the reminder not because I’m some wise sage, but because I needed it as well. Continue reading

Shifting a multi-section course to remote delivery

One of my regular roles is supervising faculty member of a multi-section undergraduate course taught by doctoral students. It’s my job to hire and train the instructors, and I also set the syllabus, assignments, baseline course materials (OER that we have developed), etc. with the feedback and assistance of the instructors. I do the latter because (a) we don’t pay them enough to ask them to design their own courses; (b) it provides consistency across course sections; and (c) it’s useful for mentoring these instructors on course design. They then choose how to address the required topics during each course meeting and add personalization or embellish their courses as they see fit. I’ve done this for a decade, and I love mentoring these course instructors.

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that the four sections of the course being taught this term have had to shift online. I realized immediately that while all of the student instructors had taken online courses (graduate level), and had served as an online TA in our program (assisting a professor in a graduate level online course), teaching online was new to them. Rather than leave them to convert their courses to an alternate format on their own, I stepped in to help out, roll up my sleeves, and be an active part of the course team.

We started with a meeting on zoom, and looked at what remained to be done this term (screenshot included with permission of instructors).


We then created a plan. We sent out a survey with a version of these questions tailored specifically for this course. It’s a technology course, so we had some specific concerns about software and computer access. We learned that our students are pretty stressed out. They’re stressed about COVID-19 and family members, about being away from campus and friends, and about taking ALL of their coursework remotely right now. They all have sufficient computers to complete the coursework. Most are pretty well set up in terms of internet and housing, but a few are in unstable situations or in rural areas with sketchy internet access. A few are watching younger siblings, or feel generally distracted in a household full of people. Several are uncertain about their ability to learn right now.

We decided to work as a team for the rest of the term. The task of shifting online felt huge for any one instructor, but manageable when we divide and conquer. We also decided to be there for the students as a team. Each instructor is holding zoom office hours on a different day of the week, and all are welcome.

EME2040 Office Hours

Each instructor (me included!) is monitoring a slack channel where the students can seek text-based help. We’ve adjusted assignment parameters and removed a few minor assignments (this class has A LOT of moving parts). We’re creating weekly checklists to keep the students organized. We’ve split up responsibilities for completing different tasks right now.

In terms of instruction, we’re offering zoom sessions for those who want live interaction while learning, recorded videos for folks who can’t make those sessions (focused tutorials, not zoom recordings), and paper-based tutorials for the folks who don’t have the tech access. Having a team approach really helps!

Finally, we created a video to greet our students upon the return from spring break. Our goal was to introduce the whole team, project a sense of calm, and let the students know that we were making adjustments to the course.

I’m super proud of our team effort, and the response from students so far has been really positive. I decided to share our story because maybe it would inspire others to team up whenever possible. And the social connection has been positive for our instructional team, too — it has provided a sense of normalcy during a decidedly not normal time.

Instructor Identity and Presence in Online Settings

Guess what? If you’ve already been teaching on campus for part of the term, you’ve already established an instructor identity with your students. In other words, they have a good sense of your presence in a room. Now you just need to focus on transferring it to the online setting.

If you’re coming back from spring break to a new term, and you’re starting a class that had been planned for campus delivery, you’re going to need to think about how to establish a sense of instructor identity and presence in the online setting.

Our online presence is based on a combination of where we leave our mark in an online setting and what we communicate about ourselves both directly and indirectly. It is built cumulatively, across all of our course-related communications. For example, I tend to smile a lot when I talk, and I always record course introduction videos in my online classes, which are usually asynchronous. I’ve had students tell me that they can feel my smile and hear my voice when they read my written announcements each week.

Here are some resources I pulled together a few years ago for helping new online instructors think about and establish presence:

Defining presence — a basic overview of the concept Defining Presence

Presence across different media – consideration of presence through text and video

Presence Across Different Media