Dean Simpson

Dean Simpson

Mother, Christian, Friend, Educator, Advocate

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School of Education and Behavioral Sciences

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5 Ways to Connect with Students in an Online Course

by Dr. Polly Trevino

At HBU,  professors care about our students.  We get to know our students and form strong connections with them, which is one characteristic that distinguishes HBU from other institutions.  As we build our online programs and increase our online course offerings, we want to establish rapport with our online students, just as we would our on-campus students.  At first glance, it appears difficult to create similar rapport with online students; however, you can connect with your students in the virtual classroom.  Here are 5 simple ways that you can connect with students in an online course.

Begin the course with introductions.  Introduce yourself, and give students a chance to introduce themselves.  Introduce yourself in a short video or post a page with a biography and pictures.  Describe your professional background, your scholarly interests, and any personal details that you feel comfortable sharing with your students.  I include pictures of myself with my family on my bio page because it humanizes me.  After viewing the page, students know that a real person, not an automated cyber-bot, is teaching the course.  Don’t stop at just introducing yourself.  Give students a chance to introduce themselves in a forum.  Respond to each student’s introduction.  Welcome him/her to the class and comment on something they mentioned in their introduction.

Use students’ names.  Address students by their names.  In the online classroom, most posts or participation is accompanied by a student name/username, so it is obvious who is commenting or posting.  Nevertheless, address students by name in forums, emails, chats, and other communication.  Not only does this humanize students in your mind, it helps you remember their names.  Moreover, when the class sees you addressing students by name, they will be more likely to address classmates by name and direct comments, questions, and conversation to classmates.  This encourages a sense of community in the online classroom.

Be present in the course.  Remember, you are still the same caring, enthusiastic professor that you are in the face-to-face classroom.  Only the modality for expressing your professorial identity has changed in an online classroom.  Because your online students do not physically see you, you must use course tools to be present and be “seen” by students.  Post messages, such as announcements and reminders, several times a week.  Give previews or summaries of course topics in a News/Announcements forum or as class messages.  In forums, participate in the discussion and respond to student posts.  As you respond, synthesize student posts and ask questions to extend students’ thinking (just as you would in a face-to-face discussion).  Give regular feedback using rubrics to grade discussions and assignments.

Relate content to students’ life experiences or contexts.  You can do this in your class messages or announcements.  You can also design discussion tasks that require students to apply course learning to their own experience or context.  You will learn a lot about students from their responses to topics that ask them to link new knowledge to previous knowledge and experience.  Then, you can incorporate what you’ve learned about them into your responses to their posts and in future discussion posts.

Incorporate synchronous sessions.  Synchronous sessions, when you meet with students in real time, can be chat sessions or video conferencing sessions using Blackboard Collaborate.  Attendance at these sessions can be required or optional.  In my experience, students appreciate the extra support that these sessions provide.  Many attend, even when attendance is optional.  These sessions give students a chance to ask questions, hear you lecture, or interact with you and with each other.  Students get a sense of who you are as a professor, and they realize that you care about their learning.

So there you go!  Five simple ways that you can foster relationships and build a learning community with your online students.  Try them in your virtual classroom!

What’s in a name?

In this first week of school, as I meet new groups of students, I always go through my roll and ask students their preferred name and how to pronounce it. And it never fails – at least one student will correct a mispronunciation on my part with something like “just call me Jane – it’s easier.” And it never fails – I’m sad about that.

What’s in a name? In a constructivist way of thinking, words are just sounds that people, over time, have given a certain shared meaning. But isn’t a name different? Whether you love yours or hate it, have changed it legally, or go by a nickname – the name you go by is a part of your identity. And it belongs more to YOU than it does to other people. Your name isn’t just a random set of sounds that over time people came to recognize you by, as if others (besides your parents!) have any say in what you ought to be called. This has been YOUR name for some time, and it has more meaning to you than it does to someone else.

I don’t have a traditionally difficult-to-pronounce name, so maybe I’m not the best person to judge. But when I hear “oh, just call me _____” – I hear a diminishing. Why can’t the burden be on ME to learn to pronounce your name as you do? Why do you need to accommodate me (or anyone) with something so personal?

And God has some thoughts about your name, too …

Yet Jerusalem says, “The Lord has deserted us;
the Lord has forgotten us.”
“Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child?
Can she feel no love for the child she has borne?
But even if that were possible,
I would not forget you!
See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.
Always in my mind is a picture of Jerusalem’s walls in ruins.
Isaiah 49:14-16

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
Isaiah 43:1

The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life.
I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.
Revelation 3:5

I don’t mind getting out of my ethnocentric head and doing the work of saying your name properly. I want to honor you for exactly who you are and want to be. I don’t want to diminish you.

Will Laptops Save Education?

by Dr. Dawn Wilson, Associate Professor of Instructional Technology

The beginning of a new school year brings renewed energy and new initiatives. Districts work all summer planning for improved ways to increase student achievement and enhance teacher productivity. In Houston, school districts are also rolling out new plans to increase students’ achievement as well as their 21st Century skills.

This year, Houston Independent School District will distribute laptops to every student in 29 of its high school campuses (the final 11 will get them next year) as part of it’s PowerUp initiative. Many other districts are following suit, rolling out 1-1 access to technology for their students either through BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) initiatives or district supported technology initiatives.

How will all this technology in the classroom affect learning? Well not at all, unless the teachers have been given the time, tools and support to change their teaching strategies in the classroom. Teaching and learning won’t really improve unless the pedagogy is modified to fit the new teaching environment. Providing digital devices for students is a great first step, but it will just function like an ereader or etextbook (a different way to take in the same information) unless teachers learn how to change to a more student-centered teaching and learning environment.

Problem Solving with TechnologyIn these new classrooms, students should be collaborating as they research content, analyze and synthesize the information and then find a way to represent their learning using these new tools they have at their fingertips. Students can create videos, animations, websites, blog, even tweet to demonstrate what they are learning. No longer do teachers need to create a PowerPoint to deliver content to students telling them everything they need to know, but instead they should be designing and facilitate learning activities that engage students in learning what they need to about the content. Then the fun part starts. The teachers allow the students to use any number of creative ways to demonstrate what they have learned and how this information is relevant today.

How are teachers going to learn this new pedagogy? It is probably not going to happen by attending a summer technology workshop. Instead, teachers need to be given the time to learn from each other. They need to rethink instructional strategies. Peer-coaching and instructional-coaching are both professional development methods which have shown positive effects on teaching, but it requires an investment of time and people. Teachers need time to meet together, share what they are doing, and try new things. Teachers learn best when the learning is targeted (something for their own discipline that they can use right away), scaffolded, and differentiated (don’t we encourage this for our own students learning).

In order for all of this technology to make a difference for students, we need to be sure the needs of our teachers are being addressed in personal and meaningful ways. School districts need to find ways to address the needs of the individual teacher, while also reaching the masses, and teachers need to find ways to invest in themselves and share their successes! When they create a great new technology rich lesson that works – share it with other teachers!

So all you teachers out there…increase your own personal learning community.  Reach out to  teachers on other campuses that teach what you teach! Connect with others using social media! Partner with another teacher on your campus to learn how to use a new tool with your students. Partner with your students to try something new. Don’t be afraid! Get connected! Make a difference in a student’s life! Make the 2014 school year your most innovative school year yet!

Brain Myths Debunked

Pop culture influences a lot about what we know, or what we think we know, about our brains.

For example:

“We only use 10% of our brains!” or “I’m very artistic, so I am right-brained.  What are you?”

Many times these “facts” are not based on scientific evidence.

Today let’s debunk 7 common myths about the brain:

Be More Awesome

This pep talk is for all the teachers and the students out there….and that means YOU!

“Everybody is a teacher, and everybody is a student….What are YOU teaching the world?”

Thank you Kid President for this great pep talk!

Lectio Divina


By Dr. Valerie A. Bussell

“Be still and know that I am God” -Psalm 46:10

I recently started a new daily devotional book using the practice of lectio divina. This small book is elegantly and simply titled by the Psalm: Be still and know that I am God.

The first few pages of the book compiled by Amy and Judge Reinhold (yes, the actor!) describe the ancient practice of lectio divina or “sacred reading” which uses scripture and silence to invite and then contemplate God’s presence or voice. While reading, I was reminded how important it is to build Christ-centered quiet and stillness into our increasingly frantic routines – for both our physical and spiritual well-being.

The Christian psychologist, Dr. Henry Cloud argues that getting out of the “noise to focus and be still” brings about very practical and physiological benefits like lower blood pressure and a stronger immune system. However, he adds that Christian contemplative prayer is very different from the more generic or New Age practice of meditation in that it focuses on a relationship with God rather than other secondary goals such as health (cited in Be Still, 2007, A. & J. Reinhold).

In terms of spiritual benefits, the book explains that to “rest in the Lord amidst it all” will bring a more intimate relationship with God helping us to stay grounded while engaged in our everyday busyness.  These authors argue that our lives are not going to slow down or become less complicated so we must make deliberate choices to “power down” with God’s Word. This stillness in His Word will bring about a greater sense of personal peace and a stronger trust in the Lord.

We usually start the New Year with several new and healthy intentions. This year, let’s encourage each other towards a more deliberate (mindful) practice of quiet contemplation with God.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. – Matthew 11:28-29 NIV

Multitasking… or not.

If you’re reading this and checking your Facebook, STOP!

I want to talk to you about multitasking. Nat Geo, of all places, recently brought the issue to light in a brief article on their website, see it here:

We live in a multitasking culture, right? We all need to juggle multiple things at once, don’t we? That’s just the nature of life these days. But I think maybe what we really want is to get more done in less time, right? So I want to tell you how to accomplish that, and the answer isn’t multitasking.


Well, that’s not true, is it? Certainly you can breathe and type at the same time! Certainly you can walk and talk at the same time! Certainly you can take an exam while you nervously tap your foot or twist your hair or chew on your pen!
Your brain (and thus, your body) can do two types of things: conscious and automatic. A conscious process is one that needs you to actively receive and manipulate and respond to information. Like writing a paper, or talking to a friend, or reading an exam. An automatic process is one that your brain basically takes care of for you, in the background. Like breathing, or walking a familiar path, or nervously tapping your foot.

You can do more than one automatic process at a time, and thank goodness! Your brain, in the background, is always doing the things that need to be done to keep you alive, at least. You can also combine automatic and conscious processes – like chewing gum (automatic) while reading this blog (conscious).

The trouble is, you CAN’T do more than one conscious process at a time. You can’t add 345 + 619 at the same time as you read the rest of this sentence. And it’s not about your eyes being occupied! You can’t even add 3 + 6 at the same time you read this sentence. If you were paying close attention to yourself just then, you’ll realize that you stopped – just for a tiny moment – to come up with the answer “9” before you finished reading. That’s what “multitasking” really is – it’s attention switching.

Every time you switch between writing your paper and checking your Facebook, you lose a little bit of time. You also lose a little bit of your “flow.” You have to switch out of academic zone into friend zone, actually take the time to read the post (or send a text, or update twitter, or just see what “dinged” in your email), and then you have to switch your attention back to the paper and get your brain back in academic gear. And hands down, study after study after study finds that you are more productive when you do one thing at a time. So go where you won’t be disturbed, turn off your phone (YES! TURN IT OFF! ALL THE WAY OFF!), and put on something like Antisocial (Mac) or Cold Turkey (PC) so you won’t be disturbed by your Facebook, Twitter, etc. Just do it for 40-60 minutes. Then take a break. Stop studying or writing that paper. Actually pay attention to Facebook or Twitter or your roommate or text your mom back.

Just make sure you have the self discipline to go back to studying at some point!

Dean Simpson’s Thinking Aloud Again!

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