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Janet Lee 

Innovative Educator

Academic Designer


During the pandemic, I supported brave teachers transitioning to online learning. 

Enjoy my series, 

Face to Face Forever. 

Do You Use a Red Pen?

Do online instructors have red pens? It may not be a tangible inky thing, but yes that critical voice still exists. While grading a set of essays last week, I came upon a student who turned in the bare minimum. He barely mentioned the purpose of the topic and three main points. I started to click the corresponding rubric box for “unsatisfactory” when I hesitated.

I know this student. I know he is a thoughtful, involved, and determined individual. Instead, of grading him harshly, I arranged a Zoom call. We talked about his mother who was suffering from Covid and his little sister he was trying to support. Next, he discussed the topic of his essay and what it really meant to him. He casually included all of the points on my rubric and even added some application items I wasn’t expecting. He thanked me for the call and I was left with a new revelation.

As I suspected, he knew the material. He just didn’t write a good essay. Maybe his life circumstances stood in the way of his essay but he did know the material. What is being graded here? What matters to me and to him? As a result, the grade he earned included a genuine assessment of his knowledge and understanding. Minus the red pen.

Thank you for Responding First

When I taught in a face to face classroom, I loved to give students positive notes. I bought packs of blank cards from the dollar store and selected two students per class to receive a positive note. Spotlighting these students for something positive was very important for motivation. I left the unsealed cards on student’s desks. I left them open so the students could read what I wrote to their caring adults. This ensured the notes made their way home.

As an online higher education teacher, it is so easy to send out notes exclaiming, “I’m worried about you because you are falling behind!” But how often do we take a moment to send positive feedback? Feedback that might encourage students to keep on going or to extend their progress through the course? As an experiment, I made a badge for students who responded to my announcements within 3 minutes. Word got around and guess what? More students started responding to my announcements right away.

This proves it's important to send positive feedback no matter how old our students are.

Yes, please use my badge.

Am I magical?

One of the best compliments I ever got from a faculty member was, “Wow, this is what collaborating and improving the quality of my course should feel like!” Am I magical? No. But I do understand that creating quality content can be enjoyable in manageable steps. It can be fun to think about old content in new ways. I ask, “What if?” A LOT. And then we celebrate successes together.

There are checklists out there that can make any passionate artist (that’s all of us) feel like they will never be good enough. As Instructional Designers, we can add a little magic to the process by breaking things down and building ladders for faculty. Milestones with treats better than chocolate! Genuine compliments! A tracking sheet that helps us see how far we have come. Super cool scenarios and cutting edge content. Moments to breathe and enjoy the process.

Refuse to allow your SME to feel overwhelmed by that 42 page document. Trust me. If you're feeling all tied up in rubrics, here's something you should explore...Best Practices for Teaching Online.

Purpose not Stuff

Google "teacher products" and you will get this list:

Scissors. Easel Pads. Crayons. Paint. Glue. Mr. Sketch. Laminator.

We don’t need ANY of these concrete items to teach online. But we do need the purpose of the things.

Scissors = Cut unnecessary words. Be clear and concise.

Easel Pads = Supply an online place for students to brainstorm.

Crayons = Supply color-full content and let students add to it.

Paint = Paint a picture. Use memes, short videos, graphics, white space, descriptions, etc.

Glue = Inspire students to apply the learning to their lives.

Mr. Sketch = Invite students to bring something to class that adds a new sense dimension.

Laminator = Have students reflect on their learning and ask questions. Synthesize learning with critical questions.

You get the idea, right? Take heart! Teaching is not over, it has just changed. Ditch the stuff, but not the purpose behind it.

"Leaving a legacy of caring is the main idea right now. 

Trust me. They will remember you for it." JL