The Heart of Appreciative Andragogy: An Innovative Online Teaching Strategy

Online or distance learning has experienced continued growth and attracted millions of students as both traditional and online colleges and universities extend their reach by offering virtual courses and degrees. It has made education accessible to students who might not otherwise have access to any other options. Educators have had to adapt to this environment and learn how to communicate effectively through written words. The challenge is being able to help students feel connected to their class and their instructor. Traditional methods of instruction have to be adapted simply because instructors are not present and they are not able to have the benefit of visual cues and physical interactions. Some instructors are effective in developing a virtual presence and others find the online platform too difficult to navigate or they feel too distant from their students.

As an educator with extensive online teaching and faculty development experience, I am fully aware of the challenge that instructors face when they try to bridge the virtual distance. One of the inherent problems is that instructors develop a perception of students based upon what they see or what they read. If the students post an introduction at the start of class that does provide initial background information. But over time instructors see what is posted in the discussion boards and submitted in written assignments and those words represent the students, creating a lens through which they perceive them.

As an example, if an instructor sees continued writing mistakes in a student’s posts or papers they may view this student from a negative perspective. This can lead to a deficit-based approach when interacting with the student. The main focus of their interactions and feedback will be focused on correcting those errors and it tends to overshadow positive accomplishments. A student who experiences what they perceive as continued negative interactions may become disengaged from the class. While the intent of the instructor is to guide and teach the student this approach has a potential to alienate the student and create resistance on their part. Because I have seen firsthand the effects of these issues I decided that a new instructional strategy was necessary.

What I found in my research was an organizational developmental technique known as appreciative inquiry and I was immediately struck by its ability to help managers bring out peak performance in their employees. It is an approach that builds from strengths and seeks to affirm and build upon what the employee does best. There have been limited adaptations of appreciative inquiry for educational purposes so I decided to find a way to implement it as an online instructional strategy. My doctoral studies were focused on adult learning, which is based upon a term called andragogy that distinguishes teaching adults from children. The phrase appreciative andragogy was then born as a means of connecting the two concepts.

To test the potential for appreciative andragogy in online classes a research study was conducted. I enlisted online instructors as participants for the study and they tested this strategy in their online classes. This brought appreciative inquiry from an organizational environment into the online classroom. The results of this study have now been published so that other educators may adapt and utilize it in their online classes. Of course implementing appreciative andragogy is not done without challenges. From an educator’s perspective they have to take the time to interact with students and make an attempt to follow the process. It may also be difficult to show appreciation for a student who is not open to interactive communication or does not demonstrate appreciation themselves.

But what appreciative andragogy does is to help educators see their students from a broader perspective and learn more about their strengths so they can build from them. This is not to say that developmental issues should not be addressed but it can be done from a positive perspective and that will help to create a cooperative spirit as instructors and students collaborate together to improve their performance. The study also found that appreciative andragogy had a positive impact on students’ motivation and engagement in the class. The study concluded that appreciative andragogy had an ability to take the distance out of distance learning. Any educator teaching any subject will find this strategy useful.

6 Critical Best Practices for Online Teaching: Be Prepared

We live in an unprecedented time with higher education being disrupted, as traditional classes are being moved online, at least for the time being. Whether or not this will continue for any length of time remains to be seen. This has occurred at an interesting time for the field of distance learning as many of the for-profit schools have closed, and the growth of new online schools has slowed. The number of online schools growing is limited, and competition comes from traditional schools offering online classes.

With a move of traditional classes to an online platform, there is a challenge for many educators to adapt to a virtual environment. Those educators who teach in this environment already, such as myself, are already accustomed to creating a virtual presence. However, while online teaching can be rewarding for those who can adapt to it, there are many demands for instruction in this environment, and it can be quite challenging at times. Whether you are new to online teaching or have extensive experience, you will find one of the most important measurements is the end-of-course student evaluation. You will also be evaluated by completion of the required facilitator duties, which typically includes participation in class discussions and feedback for learning activities.

To help you prepare for the requirements of online teaching, there are critical best practices you can implement to ensure you are effectively and substantively engaged in your class. These are the product of my work as an online educator, along with my work in faculty development, having been reviewed by the strictest of standards and applying these standards to faculty I’ve reviewed. You can use these best practices as a checklist for the development of your own online teaching practice, regardless of how long you’ve taught online classes.

Online Instructor Essentials

How you manage your time and the weekly schedule you create will ultimately determine how successful you are as an online educator. The two tasks which are going to take the most amount of time are class discussions and feedback. If you do not allow enough time for these tasks, and you fall behind, you are going to feel rushed when trying to complete what is required of you. The ultimate result is either going to be minimal participation, minimal feedback, or both. A feeling of being rushed may also show up in your disposition as well, if you become agitated when there is not enough time to complete the required tasks or deadlines are nearing. Your students will sense this, even in an online environment, as there are subtle cues which show up in the word choices used in online posts and messages.

Something else to consider is the contract you agree to when you become a faculty member and accept a class commitment. You need to take the time to review the faculty expectations, especially if you are new to the school, to make certain you know all details about performance requirements. Should you have any questions, it is best to contact your Department Chair or supervisor. The most critical timeline requirements involve responding to learner questions, regardless of how posted or sent. You will likely receive audits and/or performance reviews, and when you do, use these tools as a means of self-development to help you to continue to learn and grow.

Making a Transition: From Traditional to Online Teaching

For those who teach in a traditional classroom and now must teach online, there will be a learning curve which will happen quickly. The first adaptation is becoming used to the technology platform or LMS, and discovering the technological tools which can enhance the learning experience. The most significant challenge for traditional educators, who are not used to teaching online, is interacting with learners who are not visibly present. The lack of visual cues can be overcome at times if a webinar is integrated into the class program. However, for most of the class, it is functioning without a live class and visual or verbal cues. Now the words posted become the primary form of communication and this makes it much more challenging to assess the intent or meaning of what is being stated, especially if a learner has challenges with academic writing.

What an online educator must eventually learn, often through time and practice, is he or she is the one who must keep the class engaged, not the course materials. If a learner is not actively participating or is not present in class, it is the instructor who must work to re-engage the learner, and do so within a timely manner, as a disengaged learner may soon become dropped from the course. This means learners are looking for, and often expecting, their instructors to be highly engaged and present in the course, and responsive to their needs. An instructor cannot log onto their class once or twice a week and hope this is sufficient. There must be ongoing and active involvement to sustain an online class, and work on the developmental of the needs of all learners.

6 Critical Best Practices for Online Teaching: Be Prepared

What follows are best practices you can implement now, regardless of the length of time you’ve taught online. If you have implemented some or all of them already, you can use it as a checklist to remind yourself of what’s important for your work as an educator.

Best Practice #1. Become the Support Your Learners Need

When learners enroll in a class, they are likely aware of their deficits already. When you begin the process of feedback and note those deficiencies, it may only serve to further confirm they are not capable of succeeding in their academic studies. This is why you must take a supportive approach to your feedback and the instructional approach used as you interact with your learners. Consider as well the fact you and your learners are separated by distance, or as I call it, the distance factor. Your learners are going to read what you post and share before you ever have an opportunity to explain it, which means everything you write needs to have a supportive tone to it. How you write, along with what you write, can and will determine the future of the learner, and the effort he or she will continue to make in your class. Find whatever way you can to be the support your learners need by taking time to read what they post and write, and acknowledge them as learners.

Best Practice #2. Develop a Mindset Which Encourages Positivity

You have likely read about nurturing a growth mindset in learners, and this can occur even in your adult learners, provided the conditions in an online class are conducive to do so. This is not just a result of a beautiful LMS or technological tools, it occurs when an instructor has a disposition and mindset which encourages positivity. This means you have become focused on your learners and you implement strategies to encourage and uplift them. In my post, Discover 5 Essential Learner-Centered Strategies For Online Instructors, I discussed my use of videos for feedback. I also use short videos to encourage learners as well, along with small posters I create to uplift them.

There will be times when you feel challenged, especially when a learner sends an email and vents their frustration in an unpleasant manner. The most effective strategy to take when you have a negative reaction is to write in a Word document, then step away for a few minutes to regain your balance. When you return, you will likely be able to focus once again and better assist the learner. When you create an environment which feels positive, from the perspective of the learner, you have managed to accomplish another important goal: You have helped humanize the learning experience. This also helps to take the distance factor out of distance learning.

Best Practice #3. Be a Leader in Academic Writing

Many educators are not hired because they are professional writers. Regardless of the academic writing skill level you possess, consider this to be an ongoing area of development. I use a Word document to develop my discussion posts, to help ensure I’ve managed the mechanics. What you want to remember is that your learners are watching what you post in discussions and write as you provide feedback. If there are numerous academic writing errors, this may send a mixed message if your feedback points out academic writing errors the learner has made. If your school offers resources within an online writing center, this may be of benefit for you and any learner who needs further development. If these resources are not immediately available for you, there are many online resources you can find. You want to lead the way with academic writing and show your learners you take it just as seriously as you enforce it when feedback is provided to them.

Best Practice #4. Become a Master of Your Course Materials

What I’ve learned over time about course preparation is the need to learn my course materials. When a course is pre-developed for you, it may seem all is needed is to join the discussions and participate, and then provide feedback based upon the written rubric. However, this is far from what is required for course preparation. Every instructor must review the course materials thoroughly and completely, just as a starting point, in order to be able to participate in class discussions in a meaningful manner and provide substantive feedback. More importantly, ongoing development means reading and finding resources related to the course topics, as the use of supplemental sources will help provide context for your discussion posts and the feedback you develop. When you become the master of your course materials, you are creating additional learning opportunities for your learners.

Best Practice #5. Be Determined to Become a Lifelong Learner

As you are interacting with your learners, and you remember why you love to teach, you are encouraging them to develop a love of learning. If you want to become even more effective in this approach, you can continue to cultivate your own determination to become a lifelong learner. While you may not be a learner now, you can find professional development opportunities of your own. Many academic institutions encourage or require educators to publish, and this presents a very good opportunity to conduct research into areas you are interested in studying. There are many affiliations you can also join and likely find webinars to attend. What I’ve done as a Modern Educator is to write online articles and blog posts, as a means of continuing my research and writing, even if I’m not publishing in an official academic capacity. It still allows me to share my knowledge and expertise, while connecting with other educators, sharing ideas, information, and strategies.

Best Practice #6. Establish a Standard of Excellence

Over time you will evaluate and refine your online instructional practice. It will be the result of what has been successful, the strategies which have not served you well, lessons you have learned (some the right way and others by mistake), and most important of all, feedback you have received from learners in many different forms. Typically the feedback I learn most from occurs within the classroom, as I try new strategies and receive replies in response. There is a high standard I have established for myself. At the beginning of my work as an educator I was very hard on myself when I made mistakes. But now with time and practice under my belt, I know both successes and mistakes have served me well. It is not possible to become a perfect online educator without having taught for some time and even then, you still must be open to learning and development as learner needs evolve. I can state with certainty the needs of learners today are different than they were 15 years ago when I first got my start. But having a standard of excellence gives me a sense of accountability to myself and makes certain I am working to the best of my abilities.

I well understand there are many inherent challenges associated with online teaching, and most are related to time and a lack of direct contact with learners. Yet I’ve found it can be a very rewarding experience because I am able to get to know my learners better than I ever could in a traditional classroom. This may sound unusual to someone who has never taught online, who sees learners face-to-face, but my perspective comes from being able to interact with each and everyone of them in a discussion, getting to know them through weekly learning activities, and engaging with them through direct communication. While I am separated from my learners, I have found tools to bridge this gap and replace the distance with a virtual presence. Now with these six critical strategies, I can further assure learners I am there to support them and their progress in a nurturing, positive, and supportive manner. If you can take this approach yourself, perhaps you and your learners will find online learning to be a viable and enjoyable form of education.

Academic Income Can Multiply With Online Adjunct Teaching Jobs

A dependable academic income is possible now with the easy availability of inexpensive laptop computers and almost universal wireless access to the Internet. In fact, combining these two technical advances with an earned graduate degree, a master or doctorate degree, can allow an educator at the post-secondary level of public education to multiply an academic income with online adjunct teaching jobs. The intellectual landscape for individuals wishing to teach at the post-secondary level for a living is fragmenting far beyond most educators’ imaginations. To be brutally honest, the chances of landing a tenure-track position that eventually evolves into an actual tenured position are becoming less every day. This disappearance of career positions at physical college and university campuses is the result of evaporating faculty budgets. However, the number of enrolled new and returning college students eager to earn an online bachelor degree or online master degree requires a growing number of qualified teachers willing to become an online professor with the necessary technical skill set and understanding of the requirements teaching online for online bachelor degree programs and online master degree programs require of the online instructor.

Make no mistake about if you have recently matriculated from a graduate program: distance education is growing by leaps and bounds and the technology develops at record breaking paces, and every online college class must have an online professor teaching the online course. This means that as more online college degree programs are made available by academic administrators needing less costly ways to meet the post-secondary education needs of the swelling student populations, the greater chance there is for an aggressive and informed online adjunct instructor to mass eight to ten online adjunct teaching jobs into an online teaching schedule that will generate a considerable amount of online adjunct income throughout the calendar year. It is entirely possible to earn as much as fifty thousand dollars a year teaching online provided there are enough online faculty positions in the online teaching schedule.

You should not assume that it is easy to collect enough online adjunct positions to generate a full time living from a personal computer. It will take genuine focus to make a dozen applications each day for online college teaching jobs. Fortunately, there are over five thousand post-secondary academic institutions that offer their enrolled students an opportunity to earn a college degree online from their personal computers at home and at work. While thousands of prospective employers may seem like a rich market for a beginning online professor, the reality is that it will take a daily effort to apply to as many colleges, state universities, community colleges, technical schools and for-profit colleges to land six to ten online courses. The reason this effort is necessary is the growing amount of competition among individual with graduate degrees trying to replace lost incomes or at least supplement existing incomes by teaching online. The schools have their pick of thoroughly qualified online adjuncts, and the online college professors that have successfully acquired online teaching positions are extremely hesitant to give them up for any reason in this uncertain economy.

While the opportunities to earn a real living from online instructor positions are actually available in the digital academy, the way an academic harnesses these opportunities is by learning how the Internet makes it possible to build a schedule filled with multiple online teaching positions that can be access according to the financial goals of the individual online instructor. The best way to begin constructing a viable online teaching schedule is to start identifying the post-secondary academic websites on the Internet and learning how to move quickly and efficiently in and out of the faculty application sections of each school’s website.

If you have an earned graduate degree, a master degree or doctorate, and you want to teach college and university students from a computer located in any physical spot on the globe, and that means any city, state or even country, then online adjunct teaching jobs could be a real answer. The need for technically prepared and academically qualified online adjuncts will only grow in the coming years.

At the same time, the willingness of academic administrators to spend the few budgetary funds that are available to them as state budgets for public education contract dramatically on traditional faculty salaries and benefits, the majority of which cannot be withdrawn after tenure is conferred on a college or university professor, is becoming weaker with each passing semester. This means that the online college adjunct instructor can expect to earn a large sum of income from just one or two online college classes. Instead, a prospective online professor should know that the average online college degree program pays its online instructors around two thousand dollars for online course on average. Of course, the pay for an individual master degree course can be a bit higher, and a doctorate is usually paid several hundred dollars more than a master degree for each online class.

The conclusion for you, an aspiring online adjunct instructor, to reach is that it will be necessary to reexamine your thinking about the traditional approach to seeking academic employment as an educator at the post-secondary level. It is no longer economically wise to depend on state funding of public faculty salaries. Instead, the answer is to develop the entrepreneurial viewpoint as an academic and make the necessary adjustments needed to transition out of the physical college classroom and into an online teaching schedule populated with at least a dozen online classes that can continue providing regular paychecks every month of the year from any location you choose to work from each day.

Online Teaching Positions Create a Positive Academic Career Trajectory

The academic employment turmoil on today’s college and university campuses can be identified as a direct result of severely declining public education budgets that are needed to pay full time salaries for post-secondary instructors. Teachers still working on the traditional college and university campuses have a right to feel apathetic about their career trajectories. After all, there is real pain associated with declining faculty salaries and the benefits associated with them. While there is little hope of budgetary funds for public education increasing in the near term, there is an alternative available for clear-sighted academics with computers skills. To put a sharp point on this set of circumstances the act of searching for online teaching positions can cure academic apathy. This release from the despair of constantly worrying about the next round of teacher layoffs results as a growing awareness of the sheer number of online bachelor degree programs and online master degree programs being developed constantly by post-secondary academic institutions. The popularity of online college degree programs is high among academic administrators that are sincerely worried about successfully meeting the educational needs of the swelling student populations at community colleges, universities and for-profit colleges.

The reason the administrators and department heads of traditional college and universities are so eager to offer online college courses to students instead of physical classrooms is because their jobs and their state incomes depend on continuing to operate the academic institutions with fewer dollars each year from the state. The cost of providing online degree programs that can be enrolled in by students quite familiar with digital media is much lower than maintaining and building college and university classrooms and the absence of students on traditional campuses means lower cost to maintain the campus grounds. All of this means that the chances to become an online professor and actually make a real living from teaching online are better than ever before in academic history.

For example, as more online college classes appear on the Internet, the greater the need for technically and academically qualified online adjunct instructors to incorporate them into an online teaching schedule. The individual with an earned graduate degree is a great candidate for online teaching as a career choice. For example, if a corporate employee with a master degree or Ph.D. wants to stay in front of the looming layoffs it would be a very good idea to start locating colleges and universities that have online bachelor degree programs needing academically qualified online instructors for a particular academic discipline. The prospective online instructor that learns to think more broadly about the subject area in which the graduate degree was earned might be surprised to identify online classes in a related discipline. This means that the aggressive online instructor can learn how to quickly identify online adjunct positions in related academic fields and take advantage of them.

Eventually, an online teaching schedule and the technical skills needed to coordinate the schedule will permit the alert educator to continue earning a real living despite ongoing industry and academic layoffs. Of course, the inherent mobility of teaching online college courses that can be accessed from any geographic location at any hour of the day or night is a perk, so to speak, that can be extremely beneficial as time goes on.

Many educators feel they have been left twisting in the wind, so to speak, as financial budgets for public education fall further than at any time in recent memory. Worse, there doesn’t seem to be any end to the budget cuts being visited each semester on teachers at every level of the academy. In order to dispel the unease associated with confusion as to why events on the traditional college and university campuses are occurring as they definitely are it is very important to grasp the emergence of distance education technology and its impact on the careers of academics that actually want to begin or continue providing academic instruction as a way to earn a decent living.

The simplicity of deploying online bachelor degree programs and online master degree programs was first recognized by the for-profit colleges; now the traditional academic institutions are engaging this mature technology. This adoption of online college classes as an affordable engine for the distribution of academic instruction can be observed by the simple fact of every community college, state university, four-year state college and technical school providing at least some level of distance learning to their enrolled students. There can be no doubt that the popularity of online college degree programs is here to stay, so it is only a question of how educators with earned graduate degrees interact with them.

Of course, there are myriad anxieties inherent in being a participant in an academic employment sea change such as the transition from the physical college or university classroom to teaching online from a personal computer. For example, it may be discovered that a college instructor is uncomfortable working solely from a laptop computer all day. It may become evident that having to constantly evaluate the cost benefits of teaching online classes for a particular college and university is actually profitable, and if it is discovered not to be profitable for the online professor having to sustain an ongoing application process so that it will be possible to replace the non-profitable online course, at least if it is non-profitable form the online instructor’s point of view, as quickly as possible. Granted, there is a great deal of personal and professional freedom associated with teaching online for a living, but there needs to be some serious consideration to the parameters of deliberately constructing a full time online teaching schedule.

The intellectual imbalance being felt by many educators as the prospect of additional teacher layoffs in public education becomes manifest can be effectively corrected by online adjunct positions. The variety of online bachelor degree programs and online master degree programs grows each academic year as practically every conceivable area of post-secondary academic study is offered in a digital form accessible from a personal computer. The simple reality is that distance education technology makes is easy and inexpensive for academic administrators to provide educational instruction to ballooning post-secondary student populations, and along with this increase in online college degree programs comes a dramatic increase in online adjunct positions for teachers with a master degree or doctorate and enough technical skill to access an online college class located on the Internet.

Now, it must be apprehended that distance education is the natural product of the universities and colleges themselves. The burden of paying tenure salaries and the associated benefits will welcome as long as there are sufficient funds to pay the required amount. However, as all college professors know all too well the administrators are constantly searching for ways to not pay any more than absolutely necessary to keep the professors teaching each day. As every academic now knows the development of the Internet and associated technologies are the result of a great amount of academic research carried out on physical post-secondary campuses. Obviously, the administrators recognized the cost efficiency of offering college and university students an opportunity to earn an online bachelor degree from their personal computers instead of having to occupy the physical classrooms. Once this cost savings became available the same administrators saw that it would be less expensive to use online adjunct instructors that teach from their personal computers instead of delivering instruction in a physical academic setting. This epiphany caused the furious move away from tenure-track and tenured academic positions and towards online adjunct instructors that could be hired and fired according to the number of students in online college courses.

Now that the transition from expensive tenured college teaching positions to cheap online professor positions is complete the educator working at the post-secondary level of public education can feel justified in making every effort to learn how to interact in a positive fashion with distance education technology, and this positive interact needs to be strictly defined as the ability to earn a decent living by teaching college and university students. The best way to start building an online teaching schedule and reduce the uncertainly of how to earn as living as an educator is to make multiple applications for online faculty positions in the faculty application sections of community college, for-profit school and state university websites. The effort to apply for enough online adjunct faculty positions is not something that can be done without focus and determination, but in the end the ability to earn a full time academic salary from a personal computer located in practically any spot on the globe is worth it.

The point put on this benefit of mobility cannot be too fine because the ability to determine for oneself where to work in invaluable in a period of time when there is little reason to believe that any physical academic institution will continue to function while experiencing deep, irrevocable budget cuts. To put this benefit in focus it would be good to imagine a situation where a college instructor teaching four of five physical college classes on a traditional university campus and is informed during the summer that there will be no classes offered for the coming semester. The instructor will be forced to move to another geographic location in order to secure academic employment as a college professor.

Many educators now find themselves without any income after years of teaching in a traditional academic setting. The reason for this is the deep cuts to public education budgets. These cuts are being made simply because the physical plant known as the academic campus and the classrooms on it is too expensive to continue maintaining in the future. Fortunately, distance education technology has matured to the point that it offers a viable alternative to spending dwindling budgetary funds on keeping the physical classrooms and the physical campuses maintained by allowing the distribution of educational instruction on the Internet. This ability to deploy new online college degree programs every academic semester also produces many new online teaching positions that can be compiled into an online teaching schedule that can generate a handsome amount of online adjunct income for teachers that have lost their traditional academic salaries.

The most productive search strategy for finding available online faculty positions is to start visiting the faculty application sections for post-secondary academic websites. It does require concentration and determination to land enough online college classes to teach each semester to produce a full time salary, but the good news is that the emergence of distance learning programs actually makes it possible to teach college students from a personal computer located practically anyplace on the globe. It goes without saying that it would first be necessary for the academic to secure employment on a physical campus before making the move because as expensive as moving is with employment on the horizon, the cost of moving without securing academic employment in advance is simply something that can be afforded by the ordinary college teacher.

It is important that academics do not disregard adjunct online teaching jobs if they wish to continue earning a living from the delivery of educational instruction. The teacher layoffs recently experienced as a result of the budget cuts to traditional public education is merely a harbinger of further academic unemployment on the traditional campus.

Obviously, an educator with an earned graduate degree, a master degree or doctorate, should be aware enough of the current financial landscape both inside and outside the academy to understand that the real problem with continuing to consider traditional education employment, acquiring a tenure-track positions that evolves after years of research into the treasured tenured position as a career path is the cost of maintaining the physical classrooms on the physical campuses. In response to the diminution of funds to actually operate the campus the administrators are deploying online college classes and online college degree programs as quickly as possible.

Distance learning technology is making that effort very successful, and for the academic the positive result of making large amounts of post-secondary instruction on the Internet is exponential growth of online instructor positions that simply did not exist a decade ago. The best way for an educator to take advantage of these relatively new online adjunct faculty positions is to use a personal computer to begin building an online teaching schedule populated with six to eight online college courses.

It is a serious mistake for any educator to think there is any way to avoid being part of an online faculty since the academic administrators have no ability to increase the number of full time tenured faculty positions in the traditional sense of the position. Educators with bachelor degrees may wonder if it is worth the expense and time to earn a master degree just in order to teach online for community colleges. The answer is certainly positive since the two-year post-secondary schools comprise a vast network of independent physical campuses. The necessary transformation from state employee at a public college or university into an academic entrepreneur that can grasp the online teaching opportunities at even the two-year school level of the academy is well worth developing as online college classes replace ever more physical classrooms as the setting for post-secondary education.