• Harnessing the power of positivity in higher ed

    by Pearson

    Two women and a man are sitting at a table that holds a laptop computer, books, and a mug. They are looking at the screen and smiling.

    There's a well-known quote from Norman Vincent Peale’s famous book, The Power of Positive Thinking, that says, “Our happiness depends on the habit of mind we cultivate.” You’ve likely heard it — or some version of it — numerous times, and the reason for that is because it’s true. And this may be especially true of higher ed environments, where helping students cultivate successful habits and mindsets is top of mind for instructors.

    No one embodies this idea more than Dr. Nora Junaid, professor at the Isenberg School of Management at University of Massachusetts Amherst. In fact, everything Nora does seems to radiate positivity, which has been the guiding force behind her success as an instructor & mentor.

    Positivity starts with yourself

    When Nora joined the Isenberg School in 2016, she was handed two Introduction to Business Information Systems classes, with 220 students each. She got through the first semester without knowing exactly how to approach it.

    “I didn’t have a structure, I wasn’t sure about the software, I wasn’t sure about the book, and I didn’t feel that I had a good connection with the students,” she says.

    It was clear something needed to change. Nora spent every day of that first holiday break poring over the course, thinking of strategies to reorganize it and coordinate her TAs. By the time break was over, she’d revamped it entirely into something she felt would work much better for everyone, faculty and students alike. When she saw her evaluations after the second semester ended, they were up by at least 30% — a huge jump.

    The course quickly became very popular, and more courses were opened to meet demand. What started as two sections with 440 students has become 5 sections with around 900 students enrolled per semester.

    Building a positive team...

    With such an in-demand course, Nora can’t handle it alone. She manages 25 TAs, each of whom teaches a section, and three PhD students, and they all must be in sync so that every student gets the same positive teaching experience.

    Nora is quick to point out that fostering camaraderie, transparency, and positivity among her TAs is important to the success of the course and helps in mentoring and coaching her team. Using weekly meetings, online message chains, and other technology helps them stay on the same page and feel supported without demanding too much of their already busy schedules.

    “Most faculty fail to realize that these students have a life, they have courses, they have dissertations. I make sure I show them that I have their backs and that they’re appreciated. It makes them feel a step above being just an undergraduate student and helps them a lot.”

    ...building a positive community

    Creating a positive and supportive environment for 25 TAs is one thing; replicating that for 1,800 students a year takes something entirely different. Nora recognizes the special considerations needed to keep them motivated and engaged.

    Going into a lecture with 219 other students can be intimidating, exhausting, and de-motivating. There’s no guarantee the instructor will notice if you’re even there or not. To help build a more connected community, Nora again turned to technology.

    She developed her own app, Nora’s Corner, that students can download for free and get insights about everything that’s going on in the course, their TA’s contact information, and an open forum in which they can ask questions anonymously. She also created an Instagram account for the course — @excel.ninja — featuring her and the TAs answering questions & uploading lighthearted but still helpful posts.

    “We’re using technology to let students know that ‘Hey, we’re a community, we’ve got you — no one’s going to slip through the cracks.’ It’s a huge motivator for both students and TAs.”

    “We are changing students' lives”

    “I knew I was onto something,” Nora says. “After that first semester with the revamped course, I realized that being a lecturer was my passion. I didn’t want to apply for assistant professor positions, I just wanted to work on improving as a lecturer."

    The thing that really fuels her is seeing learners succeed because of a piece of information she shared or a skill that she taught them. Providing that influence and focusing on how to help students stay positive by using positive teaching strategies is one of her biggest drivers.

    “We are changing students’ lives. When they come into the classroom, there’s an ‘a-ha’ moment you can see in their eyes. No amount of research and no paper or journal publication can satisfy an instructor in that way,” she says.

    Nora admits that the idea of changing the world by changing students’ mindset sounds like a bit of an exaggeration. But when you're teaching and influencing 900 students a semester, and you can positively affect one thing in their thinking, then the scope of that change becomes very real.

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  • Teaching with social media: Bring your knowledge to their platforms

    by Dr. Ai Addyson-Zhang

    female standing in front of camera on tripod, discussing content on whiteboard

    This blog series highlights educators who have embraced social media in their ongoing quest to meet students where they are, increase engagement, and improve results. Through these stories, you’ll discover how they got started, learn a few tips to make your foray into social media as seamless as possible, and hear some advice about incorporating these new technologies and platforms into your instruction or institution.

    Adding social media into your classes to engage with students and enhance teaching and learning is hard work. The key is getting started. The longer you wait, the harder it is.

    Start with a platform that you’re most comfortable with. Once you taste the benefits and you see the excitement of students, you’ll feel more motivated to study and explore more digital tools, to bring more to the classrooms.

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  • Teaching with social media: How to use tech to communicate with students

    by Dr. Wendy Tietz

    male standing in library, holding phone while taking a picture of himself

    This blog series highlights educators who have embraced social media in their ongoing quest to meet students where they are, increase engagement, and improve results. Through these stories, you’ll discover how they got started, learn a few tips to make your foray into social media as seamless as possible, and hear some advice about incorporating these new technologies and platforms into your instruction or institution.

    Social media helps my students engage with me and buy into the course a little more.

    Plus, social media allows me to share a lot of real-life examples with students. I’m always looking for authentic learning experiences that show students more than just what we see in the abstract lecture — things that impact real life. YouTube™ allows me to extend the boundaries of the classroom, because I can upload short videos about lectures from the class.

    Be willing to adapt

    Don’t be afraid to evolve with your students. For instance, I don’t use Facebook much myself anymore. But that was the first place I used to upload examples and make it a resource — I could communicate with students where they were, rather than telling them to go into the LMS.

    And ten years ago, students were certainly on Facebook more than they were on our LMS. But students have changed. They don’t use it that much anymore, so neither do I. It evolves every semester.

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  • Teaching with social media: Digital tools give students flexibility

    by Dr. Sean Nufer

    Female student sitting on window ledge reviewing content on mobile device

    This blog series highlights educators who have embraced social media in their ongoing quest to meet students where they are, increase engagement, and improve results. Through these stories, you’ll discover how they got started, learn a few tips to make your foray into social media as seamless as possible, and hear some advice about incorporating these new technologies and platforms into your instruction or institution.

    One of the great things about social media is the flexibility. That’s what students are looking for, especially nontraditional students.

    Social media can morph and accommodate your lifestyle, timeline, and schedule. You can utilize it as extensively as you’d like or minimize your utilization. But it accommodates. And that’s what online students especially are looking for.

    Incorporating social media into courses

    Traditional brick and mortar classrooms with set timelines and activities are never going to go away, but there are many students who need the flexibility that virtual learning offers.

    And social media can be worked into that in a way that is comfortable, because it’s something they’re familiar with and use. If you can utilize their understanding of the technology for course content, students really appreciate that capability.

    Today we have more digital tools and more approaches to teaching that we can leverage — that’s one of the virtues of social media. Sometimes we just have to get out of that comfort zone of how we were taught, or how tenured faculty may teach.

    We’ve seen success with those models, but you can have success in other ways, too. Don’t be afraid to take that leap and really explore something unfamiliar.

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  • Teaching with social media: Communities of practice in a digital world

    by Steven W. Anderson

    pearson online, interacting with others in a virtual meeting

    This blog series highlights educators who have embraced social media in their ongoing quest to meet students where they are, increase engagement, and improve results. Through these stories, you’ll discover how they got started, learn a few tips to make your foray into social media as seamless as possible, and hear some advice about incorporating these new technologies and platforms into your instruction or institution.

    Learning is a social activity — it very rarely happens in isolation. We live in a digital world where we have access to some of the smartest, most brilliant minds anywhere, almost at the click of a mouse or the tap of a keyboard, so being able to plug in to these networks in whatever form that is most meaningful to the user is important.

    Importance of teacher communities

    I’m a proponent of Twitter, but there are some educators who look at it and say “I could never be involved in something like that for one reason or another.” They find it overwhelming, or they can’t find what they need.

    The key is to get hooked into a community, because “alone we’re smart, but together we’re brilliant.”

    So when we work together, and share and reflect and grow together as professionals, the impact on our students can be tremendous. And it doesn’t really matter what platform you choose, the key is to become connected to one another.

    That then again shows students that learning is a very social activity. But it also shows them that these platforms can help build skills like digital citizenship and digital literacy, which are increasingly more important in understanding where our information comes from.

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  • Teaching with social media: Build a personal brand while building communities

    by Dr. Karen Freberg

    female sitting at desk in front of camera

    This blog series highlights educators who have embraced social media in their ongoing quest to meet students where they are, increase engagement, and improve results. Through these stories, you’ll discover how they got started, learn a few tips to make your foray into social media as seamless as possible, and hear some advice about incorporating these new technologies and platforms into your instruction or institution.

    I’ve always loved technology, and I’ve always wanted to integrate it into my classroom. But I remember getting pushback early in my career that social media was a fad, and distracting, and was going to go away.

    Professional benefits of social media

    I’ve been a huge advocate for not only incorporating social media platforms, but really using it to help build a strong personal brand. I’ve seen first-hand the professional opportunities that have come my way because of what I’ve done with my blog and my social media platform by making these connections. And I’ve been able to get amazing collaboration opportunities for my students, too.

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  • Teaching with social media: Expand your toolset with purpose & confidence

    by Dr. Glenn Hurst

    woman viewing content on her mobile device

    This blog series highlights educators who have embraced social media in their ongoing quest to meet students where they are, increase engagement, and improve results. Through these stories, you’ll discover how they got started, learn a few tips to make your foray into social media as seamless as possible, and hear some advice about incorporating these new technologies and platforms into your instruction or institution.

    The two key driving forces when I was starting with social media were that I could help my students to understand the content to a greater extent, keep students engaged, and help them to develop strong communication skills.

    Using social media in your course

    I was actually using a lot of these social media platforms already as part of my personal life, so that made it easier from my perspective to do something innovative with them. With Snapchat, for instance, I always felt it could enhance student engagement and course understanding, but no one seemed to be taking advantage of it.

    And there were people in my department who had used social media with students already, and it had been effective. That gave me more confidence than perhaps an educator in a school or university where there wasn’t that history.

    But it’s inherent to have an idea of what you want to do, and some clear objectives beforehand, instead of just trying a piece of social media and making it up as you go along. I think you have to have a more defined approach from the outset for it to be a big success.

    Getting started

    If you’re not familiar with a social media platform, sometimes there’s a learning curve to get over, and I think that could worry a lot of people. They don’t want to get started because they’re not adequately trained in the first place. Create a test account to get acquainted with it to start. Then once you know how to use the platform, the rest of it is easy.

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