Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. Hansen, Department Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education
Students need varying levels of support during their academic experience. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen encourages educators to incorporate information about student affairs into courses and find other ways to help students connect to a wider community of students and faculty.
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Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. Today we’re going to talk about what students really need right now. If you work at a university or institution of higher education, maybe a college, there are several departments that help students with what they need right now.
We have student affairs, student support, student services. We might have a chaplain office, a disability student services, tech support, classroom support, you name it. There are so many departments that will support your students. The question is: What can you do right now as the online educator? What do students really need from you right now?
Well, at the time of this recording, we’re entering the winter season. Days are getting shorter, there’s a lot more cold temperatures outside, and many people start to become discouraged. We long for connection with people. Whatever we can do to make relationships work and build those connections, that’s going to help us the most. And our students need support getting through their education and finishing what they start.
Encourage Students to Reach Out for Support
One idea about student affairs and student support and student services is to think about how these different groups can support your students while they are taking their classes. What can you do to encourage your students to reach out? Well, student services tends to be emphasizing services that support students to realize their goals. This could be anything from career services, to finding a mentorship, finding tutoring, different kinds of things that will help your students to succeed and get through the class.
On the other side of the coin, we have student affairs, and their emphasis is on student learning and development. We might even have coaching programs to help students develop their personal skills. We might have clubs and organizations that can help them become part of something larger outside the classroom. Student affairs is an area that online educators can benefit from investigating and thinking more about.
Start a Student Organization or Student Club
As you deliver your online instruction, what are those things that your students seem most excited about? If there’s something in your wheelhouse, something that is your specialty, would you be interested in starting a student organization or student club, perhaps being the advisor? Once you start a virtual student club and you recruit students who are truly interested in the subject, you can help them develop leadership skills. You can also help them develop a vision of the future and seeing themselves in that career field. Beyond that, it’s truly gratifying to give and to serve other people and really make a difference. Students need that opportunity also.
If you think about getting involved in student affairs from the faculty or educator standpoint, creating an extracurricular opportunity for students to invest their time and energy is a wonderful idea.
Let’s think about the different types of clubs you might consider engaging in. We might have clubs that lead to professional affiliations. There are organizations that are honor societies potentially within your field. There are also institutional organizations, clubs that maybe serve on campus or off campus in the virtual world.
I myself was once an advisor of a student organization as a faculty member. I served as the advisor for KDP, which is the educational honor society, Kappa Delta Pi. We had a virtual meeting once a month. We virtual webinars. We even had a virtual service project. Service can be conducted when you’re leading a student organization and students would basically go out in their local areas, all coordinated with each other and conduct this service together. This is a great idea.
If you think about your subject matter, most topics, most content that you would teach can in some way, connect with serving others or giving back to a community. And when you think about the broader arena of student affairs, one of my colleagues comes to mind who has a new degree program he’s offering in this area.
In fact, in a week or two, we’re going to have my colleague, Dr. Jan Spencer, come and meet with us. He will share his experience about student affairs with you and help you to learn more about what you might want to do in that area in the future if this is a serious area of interest for you.
Helping Students Build Connections and Community
Going back to this idea of meeting your students’ needs and helping them where they are right now, I’d like to just talk about the wide range of activities that encompass the idea of student affairs. Student affairs is a department type thing. And student affairs as an umbrella can include a lot of different avenues that support students. Some of these might actually be supportive counseling or coaching or leadership-oriented things. Some might have to do with interventions and safety. Others might have to do with extracurricular things that support students in their application of what they’re learning and getting out there to develop their leadership skills in the community and in the workplace.
Whatever area of student affairs you might be interested in, I’ve known a lot of people who started out in student affairs as entry-level workers, got college degrees, and then became college faculty, college professors later on. I’ve also known some college faculty and professors, or even K-12 educators who started out in the education side of the house, got a background in student affairs, really loved that interaction with the students outside of the academic arena, and went on to pursue advanced degrees, master’s degrees and so forth in student affairs, and continue to work in that side. So it’s an area, it’s very helpful for us as online educators to be aware of. And also if you have an interest in that, to learn more about.
Student affairs can on a small level be something we’re already thinking about as we’re teaching our courses. For example, if you’re designing an online course where you’re thinking about expanding the applied learning in that class, maybe you want to get students out into the community to do a service activity, write about it, and bring it back into the online classroom to talk about. Or maybe they’re going to go out and interview someone. All of these kinds of applied experiences, work experience that can be talked about in the classroom, those all start to really tiptoe into the area of student affairs.
It may be surprising to realize how much we really do think about in student affairs, but this can include student affairs and student services. I’m going to blend them together a little bit here in my list, but these could be academic advising, admissions, alumni programs, alumni networks, campus activities and clubs, campus safety, career success services, civic learning and democratic engagement, college student unions, community service or service learning, applied learning outside the classroom. Could be commuter student services, which would not apply so much online, but good to be aware of.
Could also be experiential learning and work-integrated learning, graduates and professional student services, intercollegiate student services activities, athletics. If you have an institution where you teach, where you have on-the-ground classes as well as online learning, that might be a thing. We’ve got some multicultural services, could be in the student affairs category. And anything for orientations and connecting students to the university on the larger scale. We might also have campus ministry, spirituality and student conduct, student media. There might be some kind of veteran services also, or wellness programs or women’s center, men’s center, different kinds of cultural group centers and so forth.
As you think about academic affairs and how your courses that you teach and what you do online can connect with those different areas, you also have available to you at the school you teach or the university you teach at, whatever your institution is. You likely have people in the student affairs category that you can reach out to and talk to, to find out how to bring something into the classroom or how to extend what you’re doing in the classroom online and in your program that you teach in on a larger scale to a larger range of students. And get it out there to the bigger university population.
It’s great to be aware of what student affairs does for us, but also how this can meet students’ needs. As I mentioned at the beginning of this episode, as we go into the winter season at the time of this recording, and we think about what people generally need during the winter months, we need connection. We need support. We need a sense of community that helps us feel like we’re part of something bigger. And especially if you’re wrapping up a semester, it might be a great idea to find out about the student affairs and student services at your institution, and find ways to share this information with your students.
Believe it or not, a lot of students come to an online class unaware of what the institution offers them outside of the classroom. I’ve known several people who took online classes in that category. They didn’t realize there were student clubs, student organizations, other people, a lot like them, they could connect with. And if you can be the means of sharing this information with your students, it’s a good thing. And your students will definitely benefit when they feel that community and connection with other people.
Now, of course not all of our online students want a sense of community or connection outside of the course. They might be working full time and are taking that class as a means to an end, and that’s okay. But knowing these services are there and these student affairs groups are there is a really good thing to share with your students when you have the opportunity.
One thing that I experienced just last week, again, at the time of this recording, we had an annual event called World Philosophy Day. We invited philosophy majors and students who were taking the entry-level Philosophy 200 Ethics class. We had a lot of students come. We had faculty come. It was a virtual Zoom event. So we had a two-hour webinar.
There were lots of different topics, and it was a fantastic opportunity for students to feel a sense of being part of a community that was larger than just that classroom. They had a chance to ask questions, to see their professors on video, which they don’t normally see in those asynchronous classes, and to be part of the larger academic community. It built a lot of rapport with people and really built confidence in the program as well. There are little things we can do like that to build events and create things for our students that help them become part of the larger organization and the academic community, and see themselves as part of that. All of that goes a long ways towards supporting students in their needs for community and connection.
I hope you’ll think about the role of student affairs in your courses that you’re teaching and in the larger academic arena, and how you might help share that information with students and help them get connected as well.
Thanks for all you do as an online educator. Be sure to come back again next week and the week after. One of those episodes, you will hear from my colleague, Dr. Jan Spencer. He’ll share a little bit more with you about degrees in some leadership areas and also in the area of student affairs. Best wishes in your online teaching this coming week.
This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. To share comments and requests for future episode, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.