Three Techniques for Great Online Teaching: Personalization, Enthusiasm and Invitations to Act
By Dr. Bethanie L. Hansen
Faculty Director & Interim Program Director, School of Arts & Humanities, APU
During a recent family gathering at a Japanese restaurant for my husband’s birthday and with his agreement, I asked our server for the typical birthday “treatment.” Soon, several of the waitstaff, the restaurant manager and others rushed to our table with a large Taiko drum and a gong. As they beat the drum and struck the gong, one of the waiters announced to everyone present that we would sing “Happy Birthday” for my husband.
Soon, it seemed as if everyone in the room was singing loudly and with as much enthusiasm as the restaurant employees. Afterward, the manager handed my husband the mallet and asked him to strike the gong “for good luck in the year to come.”
My husband often rolls his eyes at restaurant birthday singing, while refusing to be the center of such public attention. But on this occasion, he agreed right away. He joined in and cheerfully struck the gong. As we left the restaurant, my husband said he greatly enjoyed the dinner and the birthday “treatment.”
Three Aspects of the Celebration Made the Experience a Positive One
There were three aspects of the musical birthday celebration that made the experience a positive one for my husband.
First, it was a personalized experience. The leader announced the song and my husband’s name, so everyone could participate in the singing. Addressing people by name makes a situation feel much more inviting and familiar.
Second, the restaurant staff was enthusiastic and encouraged everyone to join in. The employees radiated energy and excitement. The drum and the gong added to the festive mood. While the staff led the singing, they scanned the room and inviting everyone to sing along.
Third, once the Happy Birthday song ended and my husband was invited to strike the gong, the festivities became a lasting experience for him by tying his action to the emotion he felt.
Music was the language, the vehicle and the catalyst in that moment. But there is also an education lesson here: personalization, enthusiasm and an invitation to act are a great formula for teaching online.
Personalization, Enthusiasm and Invitations to Act Can Motivate Students
As teachers, we should consider those three elements — personalization, enthusiasm and invitations to act — when we start a new online course to “hook” students and inspire them to continue throughout the course.
What personalization might students thirst for in their online experience? Where can we address them by name, connect to their backgrounds and interests, and help them to feel important in the online classroom?
Personalization often can be achieved by using students’ names in forum posts and grading feedback and messages. It is also present when an instructor tailors the content of those posts, comments and notes to what students have written and expressed.
Displaying Enthusiasm in the Online Classroom Encourages Students
How can we convey enthusiasm for leading and teaching, as well as for the subject matter we teach? Enthusiasm might come through in the tone set by the words we say, the frequency of our presence and the content we include when we post or give feedback. It also shows in our informative and well-developed announcements, wrap-up posts, and all the places where we include our expertise, knowledge and additional resources.
Enthusiasm can be expressed effectively while we deliver rigorous content and expectations to our students. Students need to hear that enthusiasm in us to help them overcome any discouragement they might feel from tackling difficult subjects and the feeling of alienation common to taking online classes.
Invitations to Act Ensure Classroom Participation
When we expect students to participate in discussion areas or submit assignments, what kinds of “invitations to act” do we offer them toward appropriate and well-developed work? Such invitations might include up-front explanations of expectations, reminders of what is coming up, and details of what their student submissions should include, so they can anticipate the work and fully meet all requirements.
Our invitations might also involve some “scaffolding” to help students develop their ideas, resources for tutorials or citation guidance, and handouts.
As we look toward the new fall classes, now is a good time to consider ways to add greater personalization, enthusiasm and invitations to act throughout our approach to online teaching. Those additions will help our students to develop greater momentum toward success this term.
About the Author
Dr. Bethanie Hansen is a faculty director and the interim program director for the School of Arts & Humanities at American Public University. Her academic credentials include a bachelor of music in music education from Brigham Young University; a master of science in arts and letters from American Band College, Southern Oregon University; and a doctor of music arts in music education from Boston University.