Dean Simpson

Dean Simpson

Mother, Christian, Friend, Educator, Advocate

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School of Education and Behavioral Sciences

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by Dr. Stephanie Ellis

Several days ago, I was listening to the radio and heard an interview with the First Lady of Afghanistan, Rula Ghani, speaking (in part) about the United States’ relationship with her country. The part of her message that really struck a chord with me was this: She asked the US to continue supporting Afghanistan, but to do so without pity, understanding that the Afghan people (including Afghan women) are a strong, motivated people.

I don’t think many of us know how to do that. And I don’t mean in a foreign policy sort of way. I think that American culture has such a strong focus on independence that we often don’t understand the concept that someone might need or want support, but still not need to be viewed as dependent or made to be dependent.

Consider all the “give support” commercials you can think of. Do starving children and sick puppies and Sarah McLachlan come to mind? Trust me, they do those kinds of commercials because they are the most effective ones at opening pocketbooks.

Can you imagine a commercial that said “The Help-Us-Help-Others organization is functioning well? We have a strong group of volunteers, and the people we serve are strong. Our financial situation is not dire, but adequate. God will meet our basic needs; we don’t have any concern about that. And if we have to change the way function or provide services based on what we have now, that’s also legitimately fine. We will not fall apart if you don’t support us. But it would be nice, and you would be helping, and we and the others who rely on us would benefit. Please donate!”

When you first read that, does it sound a little crazy?! Read it again. And read it again, if you need to. Read it until you realize that almost always true, and it’s still worth helping.

SO, how can we do this better?

How can students support each other better? How can faculty support students, faculty support each other, church members support each other in a way that honors the strength and dignity of the other person, and doesn’t enable them in becoming dependent, while still providing what they need?

Using Discussion Forums in Online Courses

by Dr. Polly Trevino

In the HBU College of Education and Behavioral Sciences we are adding new online courses each semester.  Just like our face-to-face (F2F) courses, HBU online course are interactive, even though students and professor in the online classroom are separated by time and space.  (See Dr. Wilson’s post about interaction in her online graduate courses.)  As we design and teach online courses, we are intentional in structuring interactions among learners.  Discussion board forums are essential for interactive online classrooms.  Are you new to online instruction?  This post will walk you through the basics of discussion forum assignments.

Why discussions?

Discussions forum assignments are to the online classroom what class discussions are for the F2F classroom.  The instructor poses a question, task, or scenario to which students must respond in writing.  Responses are posted publicly for all class members to see, and then class members reply to each other’s postings.  Discussion assignments engage learners in “the cycle of reading, reflecting, considering, and making connections that actually changes the knowledge structure inside the learner’s brain” (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010, p. 85).  Students express ideas, “listen” to one another, connect and apply learning, ask questions, and reflect.  The instructor poses questions, “listens” as students grapple with ideas, and facilitates students’ connections and applications.

Discussion forums provide a social context, allowing individuals separated by time and space to become a community of learners.  As a place for community-building in the online classroom, discussion forums are “the ‘campfire’ around which course community and bonding occur” (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010,p. 85).  Through writing discussion posts, learners engage with the content, with one another, and with the instructor.  Moreover, in an online discussion forum, all learners have the opportunity to “speak” in the discussion.  Even shy or reluctant learners, relieved of the social anxiety or pressure to respond in F2F discussions, participate in the online discussion forum.

What makes a good discussion question?

Boettcher & Conrad (2010) recommend focusing discussion topics on essential course concepts.  Discussions are appropriate for learning goals where students are asked to apply core concepts in various contexts.  Discussion forums work best when students are problem-solving, linking new knowledge to existing knowledge, or applying new knowledge in context.

When developing the discussion topic, avoid knowledge-level questions that have a pre-determined answer.  Asking this type of question on the discussion forum does not encourage deep interactions.  Everyone’s answer will (or should) be similar, and learners will not have anything to discuss.

Instead, choose questions that can have more than one answer.  Ask learners to:

  • conduct research related to course learning and report to the group,
  • express opinions about an issue,
  • analyze a real-world issue in light of course learning,
  • answer higher-order questions rather than lower-order questions, or
  • incorporate personal experiences with academic analysis.

Learners’ answers will vary, which will motivate them to read other’s posts to see how their classmates answered the question.

How many discussion topics should I ask my students to complete in one week?

The answer to that depends on the type of questions you’re asking and what else you’ve assigned that week (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010).  If your discussion questions are short-answer essay questions in which you ask the learner to comprehend and summarize concepts or apply them in simple contexts, then you might have as many as three discussion questions in one week.  If your discussion questions are more complex and require research, application in complex situations, or problem-solving in case studies or scenarios, then two discussions in one week would be sufficient, provided that there are no other assignments due that week.  If there are other assignments due, then one complex discussion might be sufficient.  Weeks in which students submit a major project or have an exam might not have any discussion questions.

How can I facilitate online discussions?

There are several techniques that instructors can utilize to encourage students to interact and elaborate their thinking.  First, require that students make a specified number of replies in each forum.  Typically, all students are required to make an original response to the discussion topic.  A requirement to reply to their peers’ posts will encourage reluctant students to interact with their classmates.

Additionally, you, the instructor, should participate in the forum and respond to students’ posts.  Respond to the content of the posts in the public forum, and give evaluative feedback to students privately.  When you participating in the forum:

  • Comment on something the student has said in the post:
    • That reminds me of…
    • Thank you for bringing that up…
    • I see your point that…
  • Relate two students’ posts or summarize and synthesize student comments:
    • Check out ___’s post.  She also commented that…
    •  ___ and ___ argued for a different approach to the problem.  How would you counter their position?
    • The majority of our class argued for X, although for various reasons…
  • Ask students questions to encourage elaboration:
    • Can you explain what you meant by…?
    • What has been your experience with…?
    • Would you agree or disagree with that?
    • How does X relate to Y?

Finally, use student names in your responses.  If you’re responding directly to a particular student’s post, then address him/her by name.  When students see that the instructor knows and uses their names, they will feel acknowledged and be more likely to learn and use their classmates’ names.  Before you know it, your students, separated by time and space but connected with technology, will become a functioning learning community!

References: Boettcher, J.V., & Conrad, R. (2010).  The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

The Successful Online Student

by Dr. Alex Spatariu

A new semester has just started here at HBU, and we are all excited but also focused on the course work loads ahead of us. For those of you taking online or blended courses, especially if it is your first online learning experience, check out this guide for successful e-learning experiences.

Personally, I recommend focusing on 3 things. First, log in to your course at least a couple times a week.  Check for materials you have to read or use for class as well as assignments that are due. That will help you keep up with the course as there are no face to face meetings where one would be verbally reminded what is to be done and when. Second, master the technology needed in the course, whether it is Blackboard course navigation, course specific software, or electronic materials associated with your textbook. Third, balance your coursework with other life responsibilities, such as work, family, friends.  Do not forget to take some breaks and have fun as well.

Motivation!

by Dr. Alex Spatariu

The semester end is almost here! Before we can all relax during the winter break, assignments have to be turned in, a few more classes need to be attended, and the finals are pressing for more study time. All of these could make one tired or feel overwhelmed. My best advice to you all for navigating through busy times well is to divide work into smaller tasks and take things one step at a time. Try not to think too much about what you have to do overall, just chunk things and work on each of the smaller parts. Then piece them together.

Here are some motivational video interviews to watch when you have a few minutes. These are done by Dr. Bob Hoffman, a good friend of mine, who is a professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Central Florida. These folks come from all walks of life, but they all have something in common: overcoming hardships and experiencing success by finding their motivation!  You can also sign up for Twitter and follow Dr. Bob.

Finding Joy in a Tough Job

by Dr. Julie Fernandez

Why would anyone want the job of a school principal?  It is a tough position. People yell at you, challenge you, and at times steal your parking space.  The responsibilities of a principal have grown exponentially during the past 10 years.  School accountability means the test scores are pinned to a principal’s shirt for all to see.   There is nowhere to hide when it comes to the endless responsibilities of the job. You must have knowledge of instructional strategies, human resources, special education, budgeting, scheduling, discipline, and serving food in the cafeteria.  If there is a problem on a campus, it is the principal’s problem. However, the job is not all about stress and gloom.  There is joy.

When the day is over and everyone goes home, you can sit back and reflect on the enormity of the job that God entrusted you to do.   It is a calling far beyond any thoughts of glory you had when you first dreamed of this career path.  Children depend on you to hire the best teachers.  They come in the doors hoping for unconditional love and acceptance.  They look to you as their parent away from home.  It is an overwhelming honor.

How you keep all the stress from sucking the joy out of your passion for the job is the biggest challenge.  I struggled with this problem all the time, but I finally found a simple solution. On particularly stressful days, I went to kindergarteners for advice.  It was at the end of the day when they were resting from a long day of letters, numbers, and songs.  I asked them to sit with me and give me their wisdom for living a life full of joy.  One little boy who smelled like Play-doh and sweat looked me in the eye and said, “When I am tired, I take my blanket and snuggle with my mom.  She makes me feel good.  She loves me.”  When I arrived home that evening, I took my blanket and snuggled with my Father.  He made me feel good.  He loves me.  “Humble yourselves, therefore under God’s mighty hand so he may lift you up in due time, casting all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5: 6-7, NIV)

Never underestimate His love and care for you when you follow His calling to positions where you are entrusted with the care of His children.  Stress in any job is inevitable especially in jobs where leadership is vital.  However, how we manage our stress is what separates the believers from the non-believers. Snuggle with your Father and allow Him to take your burdens and lighten your load.  There you will find joy.

How are you managing your stress?

by Dr. Kaye Busiek

Are you thinking that you want to “finish strong” this semester, but you aren’t quite sure if you have the physical, emotional, or mental strength to get there? It’s that time in the semester when major papers, projects, and final exams are coming due, and it might be helpful to read a few tips that can help you do your personal best.

Positive thinking means we look at the unpleasantness in the world—and there’s plenty of that—in a way that is hopeful and aims to get something done well rather than avoid it. Those thoughts that pop into our head when we have difficult or challenging things to accomplish are called self-talk. Some of us tend to have more negative self-talk (pessimism) than others. Conversely, some are prone to letting positive self-talk (optimism) rule the day. There are some major benefits that positive thinking, or positive self-talk, can provide. Some of them include lower rates of depression, greater resistance to illness, better coping skills during difficult times, and even a longer life span.

In order to tell if you are a negative thinking or a positive thinking, you might consider the following forms of negative thinking. (1) Even after a day of completing tasks ahead of time and receiving compliments at school or work, do you focus on the unfinished tasks and forget about the compliments? (2) When something bad happens, do you automatically blame yourself, even though there were other people who influenced the outcome? (3) When a graded test or paper is returned to you, do you automatically expect to get a bad grade—even though you know you prepared well and may have felt pretty good when you turned the test or paper in to the teacher? (4) Do you feel like you’re a failure if you aren’t perfect (by your own standards)?

So, how can you turn your negative thinking into positive thinking so that you “finish strong” this semester?

* Identify areas to change. Focus on at least one area that would make a big difference if you thought about it in a positive way. One area may be to “chunk” your reading, writing, and general studying tasks because they may be more easily accomplished if you don’t have so much to do at one time. You may also benefit from taking breaks between the “chunks.”

* Check yourself. Positive self-talkers check in during the day to make sure they are focusing on what they are doing well and not all that still needs to be done. They reward themselves in healthy ways, and refrain from thinking or saying condescending or derogatory comments about their performance or attitude.

* Be open to humor. We need to laugh—sometimes even at ourselves—so that we break the cycle that makes every task a “make-it-or-break-it” obligation.

* Follow a healthy lifestyle. Do you eat healthy throughout the day—and while you are studying? Do you take a 5-minute break about every hour of studying? Do you practice deep breathing to relieve the occasional stress? Do you get plenty of sleep in order to avoid feeling tired or “fuzzy” throughout the day?

* Surround yourself with positive people. Positive self-talk is much easier if we surround ourselves with people who are also thinking positively about you and about themselves.

* Practice positive self-talk. Replace any negative conversation you’re having with yourself into positive affirmations and gentle encouragement.

Most importantly, don’t forget about the power of prayer! God is ready for you to give your concerns to Him. He knows your struggles and your negative thoughts, and He’s ready to guide you as you strive every day to “finish strong”!

Summarized from Healthy Lifestyle, Stress Management, by Mayo Clinic Staff

Resources for Literature Searches in Education

Here are some resources for finding research articles in the field of education:

  • American Education Research Association’s Paper Repository   This resource is free and published by the largest education association in the US, if not in the world. It contains recent research on almost any educational topic.
  • Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education  This resource is not free, but you can search the titles and abstracts first to see if you have any interest in their research. The association is the premier organization for education and information technology research, so you will find a wide variety of research.
  • Google Scholar  Yes, I do use Google Scholar :) to find abstracts as well as full text articles. It also has a feature that gives you the proper citation in different styles, including APA!

Dean Simpson’s Thinking Aloud Again!

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