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Two Minutes Before Class

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Linda-Marie Sundstrom and Stephen Brown
August 3, 2019

In a world of online shopping, online newspapers, and streaming videos – education is experiencing its own online revolution. More and more universities are moving some or all of their classes into the virtual online world. But can asynchronous online classes be as good as the in-person experience? The answer might lie in the details.

Context

For centuries, professors have developed an evolving craft. From Sage on the Stage lectures, to Socratic discussions, there is a long history of what an outstanding classroom experience can be. But those of us in online classes are having to transition our in-person teaching skills to the virtual world. Outstanding online education can, and must, be more than a glorified, “Correspondence course.” 

We thought about how student engagement begins for the traditional-classroom student the moment they walk into the room. We refer to that time in the classroom—from the moment students arrive until class actually begins—as the, “Two minutes before class.”

Engagement

In the two minutes before class, students develop relationships with each other. They discuss assignments, upcoming events, personal and work-related issues. This time of networking is critical to the long-term engagement and retention necessary for student success. This is the time when the student is in control to ask questions, express confusion about assignments, help others, and foster the connection he or she needs for success. This is also a time for students to get to know the professor. Students and faculty may chat about the latest movie, kids or upcoming vacations. These connections are dynamic and allow the students to feel connected with the class, instructor and university beyond the course material.

Asynchronous Online

But what happens in an asynchronous online class when the traditional, “Two minutes before class,” is missing? How can they feel connected and engaged? Providing text-based teaching material may not foster the same connectedness as live interactions. But all is not lost—Rethinking the engagement tools can bring these positive interactions into the virtual world of the online classroom.

Faculty Techniques

One way for online instructors to foster engagement is through weekly recorded lectures. Not the polished, stock videos with the high production value, but raw YouTube quality, real-life videos of the professor. The polished, stock videos are wonderful to convey standard content, but students also need to feel that the instructor is present in the class. Weekly videos can be created in the office or by using free video apps on a smartphone. Faculty could consider recording their weekly messages from a variety of locations and situations. A simple video of the professor sitting in the mall waiting for daughters to finish shoe shopping, with a short reminder that the paper is due this week, can connect with students on a personal level. Each week the faculty member should record a fresh message so that students know that there is a real person on the other end of the course. If it’s winter, faculty can show students what a Southern California winter looks like at 72 degrees, for example. If it’s Super Bowl week, faculty can consider recording the message in his or her favorite team’s shirt.

Student Techniques

But connecting faculty with students is only one aspect of the course dynamic. In order to be able to mentor, the faculty member needs to get a sense of the students, and students need to connect with each other. Employing the same technique, students can record their discussion posts rather than writing out each post. Then they can embed the video into the Discussion Board. Rather than reading discussion board posts, students can see and hear each other, and possibly see and hear pets or family as they pass through during the recording. Recordings can be simple voice-over PowerPoint videos or full video where the student speaks directly into the camera.

Face-to-Face Contact

Closing the loop on the connections can be made with free web conference tools, such as Zoom or CISCO Webex, for example, where faculty and students can meet live in the virtual world. Encouraging students to sign up for a free web conference account can keep them connected and build more skills of working in the virtual world of the 21st century. If faculty are willing to be flexible with virtual office hours, students can greatly benefit from a 10-minute live chat. We have offered students extra credit for meeting in the Zoom Room with other students as well as with the faculty. Once they are comfortable using the software, they are likely to continue staying connected throughout their program. This also better prepares them for holding meetings online for their jobs and being comfortable with the technology to excel at online job interviews.

We are striving for online education to have dynamic interactions, engagement and success for a meaningful educational experience. If you have taught online or have been an online student, please let us know what you liked about the experience and how you feel online education can improve.


Authors: Linda-Marie Sundstrom, D.P.A. is an Associate Professor of Public Administration and the Director of Masters in Public Administration program at California Baptist University. email- [email protected]

Stephen Brown, Ed.D. is an Associate Professor of Behavioral Sciences at California Baptist University. email- [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

2 Responses to Two Minutes Before Class

  1. Burden S Lundgren Reply

    August 11, 2019 at 3:51 pm

    I have taught many on-line classes. I’ve always offered two discussion boards – one for discussions of the class materials in which I am a participant and another for students only to discuss whatever they want. In most classes, the former has been a very active site. The fact that participation can add a few points to their grade no doubt helps – but not enough to explain the usually enthusiastic participation.

    As to the students only board – I told them I would not look at it unless I received complaints about its use. I never did so I never looked.

    My experience is that many, if not most, students are much more open to online discussions than discussions in “real” classrooms. They seemed more ready to approach me with questions too. I usually knew my online students better than my in-person students. But — fair warning — maintaining online cohesiveness takes some time and effort.

  2. Dr. Robert Brescia Reply

    August 3, 2019 at 8:33 am

    Thanks for the perspective on this important topic. Please consider, however, the all-important fact that students learn from each other – their class conversation provides triggers for critical thinking, debate, and reflection.

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