Different Opportunities to Teach Online

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I often write about my experiences teaching online college courses, and share tips that I feel would help other online instructors. However, online teaching looks different for everyone.

I have a friend who works from home leading webinars as her full-time job, another friend who tutors elementary age children from China on the weekends, a friend who used to work from home teaching for Florida Virtual School, and one colleague who not only teaches college classes online but now teaches other instructors how to leverage their skills to write ebooks and apply their talents elsewhere.

Teaching online is incredibly popular these days, and there are so many different ways to do it. If you’re interested in something like this, it doesn’t necessarily have to be anything like my own college teaching experience online.

The other day this article appeared in my inbox (from one of the higher education groups I belong to on LinkedIn), and it reminded me of variety of online teaching opportunities available these days.

If you’re looking for a little motivation, the content in the link below might be just the push you need to get headed in the right direction:

How Online Teaching Opens Up An Alternative Revenue For You

For more tips on how to get into teaching online in the college classroom, specifically, I highly recommend checking out The Babb Group , their Facebook page, and the services they offer.

I wouldn’t recommend purchasing anything from the above links (unless you’re absolutely certain it’s something you want to invest your money in!), but I do suggest taking a look around, getting some ideas, and maybe consider buying Dani Babb’s book, Make Money Teaching Online– it was one of the first books I bought when I started teaching online, and it was incredibly insightful.

Happy teaching and learning!

4 Must-Have Items for Work-At-Home Moms

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Anyone who know me knows that I love efficiency, time-saving tricks, and (of course) results. As a new mom, I feel like the above 3 have become monumentally important, so I thought I’d share what I’ve discovered.

Below are 4 very simple, but (I believe) essential must-have items that every new work-at-home mom should have.

Cute ‘mom’ coffee mug– This one’s mostly for fun, but I find that my ‘Blessed’ coffee mug (a gift from a friend when I had my baby) puts me in the right ‘balanced’ frame of mind when I start my morning. Drinking from it is a reminder to take a moment, think about my little one, and also gives me my caffeine fix to work hard at my laptop for the day.

All-purpose planner– I’m old school (and I think a lot of other college instructors are, too!), so I have an actual paper planner, and it’s kind of like one huge syllabus with assignment deadlines for my various schools for the entire semester (it’s the only way I keep it all straight!), but I also record baby milestones in it (although I have a separate baby calendar, as well), and pencil in dates with friends.

Nursing shirts for every occasion (seriously)- I found some great nursing tops on Amazon that are super cheap, look great, come in 6 colors (I have all 6), and can be dressed up or down, and even worn to work events with a blazer (the colors and fit are perfect for the classroom or meetings). I sleep in them, wear them to workout, meet up with friends (with a scarf, cardigan, and/or necklace to add some variety), when I’m working from home (with a cozy sweater and leggings), and even during webinars with students (throw on a cardigan or blazer and earrings and you’re ready to go!). The versatility and not having to think about what I’m wearing each day has been exactly what this time-crunched, sleep-deprived work at home mom needs.

Freemie pump parts– Whether you’re working from home, in the classroom, or both, this purchase (discrete cups you can put in any shirt- I prefer to also wear a fluffy, light scarf if I’m using them in the car!) will save you time, effort, and make you feel productive during your commute to campus. They’re also great to use while working at your laptop so you don’t have to take a 20 minute break when you’re on a roll grading papers.

The 4 items above may not seem like much, but here’s the way I look at it: the mug is my ‘get-up-and-go’ each morning, the planner and shirts are my tired brain’s best friend when it’s hard to know where to begin (whether at work or when getting dressed), and the pump parts may offer some freedom and can keep me from wasting unnecessary time during the day.

These are the things that keep everything moving forward and functioning the way they need to in my life right now, and that is worth everything!

Happy living, momming, and working!

Why It’s Important to be Approachable, Available, and Empathetic When Teaching Online

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It’s that time of year when spring classes have officially started and us instructors are once again trying to bring the best version of ourselves to the classroom and make a difference, especially for those students that may be struggling.

I think it’s important to take a minute and talk about how to handle students who might seem unorganized, flaky, a bit “prickly,” or all of the above.

Since I teach primarily online, I believe I’ve gotten pretty good at noticing the warning signs when certain students are overwhelmed by school and/or life by communicating with them via email.

It can be difficult to see the red flags when I don’t have the opportunity to spend time with them face-to-face, but I try to create a very approachable and supportive online classroom environment so that my students feel comfortable coming to me when they feel overwhelmed (and I’m always encouraging them to come to me with questions and concerns). As a result, my students tend to be open  in their emails, and I do my best to work with them and ease their anxiety when needed (which is very common in a public speaking course).

Typically my students will submit late work or send short, defensive emails when they’re having family issues at home, or when they’ve taken on too much (there are plenty of students returning to school after a number of years who are working full time, have a family, and are also trying to get their degree) and are stressed out as a result (don’t take it too personally if they direct it at you- that’s something I’m still trying to get better at!)

Understanding and empathizing with what students are going through, and keeping tabs on them, definitely increases their chances of success in the class when they may otherwise lose hope and mentally check out.

For instance, when a student seems frustrated in an email, I’ll reply in a calm tone and offer some clear suggestions for succeeding, and I’ll encourage them to follow up with me and let me know how they’re progressing (and when they don’t follow up, I do).

In all honesty, sometimes I never hear from them again, but just as often (even if it takes a few unanswered emails), they’ll respond with an explanation of what they’ve been going through and it’s very rewarding to see them persevere through the rest of the semester.

For those of you getting back into the swing of things this spring, remember that some of your students may need  little extra empathy and kindness, so be mindful when interacting with them. I guarantee it’ll make for a much better semester for everyone.

Happy teaching!

How to Get 4 Full Weeks of Winter Break When Teaching Online

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As college instructors know, winter break typically runs for mid-December to early or mid-January, which means we basically get a month off from teaching, which sounds amazing!

However, when teaching online you also have a lot of work to take care of during your ‘break,’ unless you plan accordingly (which is where this blog post comes in).

If you play your cards right and plan ahead, you can actually get that full 21-28 day break from work (which really is incredible), here’s how: 

  • If the schools you’re working for allow you to set your own date for your final exam during the usual weeklong final exam week, set it for the very first day! Then you’re able to submit your final grades a few days earlier, and take your break earlier.
  • For each school, you’ll have a long list of items to take care of when setting up your Spring classes (it may include updating your syllabus, schedule, assignments deadlines, and many other items within your Canvas or Blackboard course)- don’t wait to do this over your break! I always set up my course within 48 hours of getting my new class schedule (which typically happens halfway through the Fall semester). Not only does this mean I don’t have to worry about it over my break, but I have plenty of time to contact my supervisors about any issues- and they tend to be impressed that you’re so on top of things!
  • Anticipate any student issues or questions that will come up right before or during the first week of Spring classes (if you’ve been doing this for long enough, you know what they’ll be), and have automatic, detailed announcements already set up to be sent out on the first or second day of classes. This way, when students come to you with questions about said issue, you can simply say ‘That’s a great question! Go ahead and read the course announcement that was sent out earlier this week, and after reading through it, let me know if you have any additional questions!’ I promise it’ll make your life so much easier, and keep your time spent checking emails to just a few minutes a day toward the end of your break.

Of course (as you saw in #3 above), you may have to respond to the occasional email during your time off, and then during that first slow week of the Spring term, but if you’ve planned ahead, you can set yourself up for a really nice chunk of time away from your laptop and away from worrying about what fires you’ll need to put out next.

I hope this helps some of you as you’re wrapping up this term (and if it’s too late, remember the tips for next year!).

Enjoy your time off, and happy holidays!

The Best Music for Working from Home During the Holiday Season

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As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I’m not normally a big fan of jazz music, but for some reason I absolutely love it when I work. I have no idea why that is, but if it helps me enjoy working, and also keeps me productive, I’m all for it.

While I’m grading papers or checking emails, I  tend to go to YouTube, type in ‘Jazz music’ and randomly click on whatever appealing option pops up (I rarely listen to the same thing twice- and it’s not uncommon for these ‘videos’ to be removed, so try not to get too attached!). However, during this holiday season, I’ve found 3 new favorites that I’ve listened to repeatedly (and there are so many more like these- especially the Christmas jazz!).

So if you’re anything like me- working from home, and wanting to be productive while simultaneously enjoying the holidays- light your Pumpkin Pie or Fraser Fir scented candle (those are my favorite- especially with the crackling wood wick for an extra wintry feel!), plug in your earbuds, and listen to some of the music below to make your work day that much better.

New York Jazz Lounge (because who doesn’t love New York during the holidays!)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sI_Ps7JSEk&t=1372s

Autumn Coffee Music

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpaJl6UsoZ8&t=2159s

Christmas Songs Jazz & Bossa Nova

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUjRuVhJ_4o

Happy listening, and happy holidays!

The Sandwich Method: The Best Way to Give Feedback to Online Students

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It’s hard to convey emotion and create a positive environment when teaching online, but I’ve found one way to give feedback that I feel is effective, encourages students, and makes the online environment a more positive place.

I call it The Sandwich Method. Quite simply, you construct assignment feedback in the following way:

  • Something (or a few things) the student did well
  • Something (or a few things) the student can work on (constructive criticism)
  • Something (or a few things) the student did well

For example (if you’re giving feedback on a student’s speech):

You did a great job here with eye contact and vocal variation- you were dynamic and engaging as a speaker! In the future, be sure to start with an attention-getter at the very beginning of your speech, organize your thoughts a bit more, and orally cite at least 3 scholarly sources. Work on those content elements for your next speech, but overall you had a great delivery!

Again, it’s super easy to structure feedback this way (although it may take some time for it to become a habit), and I like to think it leaves the student feeling good about at least one thing they did in the assignment.

Happy teaching!

4 Time Saving Tricks When Working From Home with a Newborn

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When my mom friends told me taking care of a newborn would be time consuming, I didn’t realize how much of an understatement that was- that it would take up about 12 hours in a 24 hour day (when you do just the basics- feeding, changing, burping, getting them to bed, dealing with a gassy stomach, etc.). When I did that math when my little lady was about one-month old, it kind of blew my mind.

Right around that one-month mark, after calculating that at 12 hours spent with the baby each day, plus my average of 6 hours of sleep time each night, I was left with just 6 hours left each day.

Just 6 hours each day to do everything else.

That’s the amount of time I have left to work, eat, see my husband when he gets home from work, buy diaper rash cream on Amazon, Google whatever baby crisis is happening, maintain some sort of contact with the outside world (like texting friends), and maybe even change out of my sweats into something different for the day.

After all this hit me, and after feeling like I couldn’t get ahead with my work, I became more strategic with how I did things.

Granted, I haven’t had a maternity leave during these early weeks (no complaining- I have an awesome job, but it can be time consuming!), so I’ve been working 20-30 hours a week without a break (and taking two faculty development classes online, because I kind of wanted to prove something to myself, I guess) and had to figure all this out for survival’s sake. However, I know there are other working moms, or even stay at home moms who are incredibly busy, who could use some of these shortcuts, so here you go!

  • Go to bed early & be willing to sacrifice a little bit more sleep to get an early start in the morning. I know, you’ve probably already sacrificed the max amount of sleep that you want to, but for me a little extra productivity is worth a little less sleep. I’ve been trying to get us all ready for bed about two hours earlier than I typically would like to, that way if I shave off some sleep time in the morning to get an earlier start (like 10 or 11 am- don’t worry, I’m not that ambitious with a 7 week old), I don’t feel it quite as much. I also feel like I then have a chance to build up better momentum to get things done. (Note: If baby won’t go to bed, give dad a pacifier and bottle and have him take over so you can pass out by 10 pm.)
  • Do whatever you can to get baby to sleep faster, or at least find something to occupy her so you can work. I had to experiment with a few things (and I’m still experimenting). The small bassinet she would nap in on the couch in my office left her too fussy to sleep for more than an hour at a time, then the mamaroo worked like magic for a few days so I could work for 3 hour stretches during the day, but it wasn’t nearly as effective a few days later (like most things do with a new baby). Currently, a baby carrier works like a charm to keep her close to mom and keep her content (and normally asleep- like right now) while I’m at my laptop grading papers or writing blog posts.
  • Use feeding time as hour long breaks to recharge for the next work session, as valuable time for baby, and/or keep working at your laptop while she eats. Depending on what I need to accomplish for the day, I might watch Netflix to take a mental break from working, read an ebook out loud to my little lady, play music for her development, or have her eat while she’s in her baby carrier so I can keep working away (it doesn’t always work, but when it does it’s a huge time saver!).
  • Keep snacks next to the laptop. Most people would probably give the opposite advice so that you don’t eat all day long, but I suggest getting the portions you think you’ll need of water, trail mix, fruit, etc. and keep it by your laptop. I tell myself it has to last me until 6 pm when my husband comes home. At the that point I can hand the baby to him, eat some real food, and spend some quality time chatting with him before baby needs us and/or before I need to get back to work.

It may not sound ideal, but so far so good! For you busy work-from-home moms, it’s all about trial and error (as I’m sure you know), so keep powering through. You’ve got this!

Happy living 🙂

Quick, Healthy Foods to Snack on When Working From Home

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When I tell people that I work from home, a surprising number of people respond with ‘I could never work from home, I’d just eat all day.’

However, I actually find that (1) when you’re focused on working, you’re not usually mindlessly rummaging around the kitchen, so you’re fine. And (2), it’s easier to eat better, healthier options and feel satisfied than if you had to limit yourself to whatever you’d brought for lunch or had available at a traditional office.

During the last year or so that I’ve worked from my actual home a few days a week,

I’ve found a few snacks that hit the spots, keep my energy up, and can sit at my desks for a few hours or days if I don’t want to break my work flow by taking too long to eat.

  • Water. Of course, maybe you wouldn’t consider this a snack, but it’s good for you, and it does energize the body, help you stay full, and it will get you up and moving every couple hours to refill your bottle and/or use the restroom.
  • Dark chocolate. I keep a stash of small dark chocolate bars in the kitchen, and normally snack on one over the course of a day. I eat the really dark stuff (85%), so that I’m not tempted to eat too much, and so that I get a nice little boost of energy.
  • Melon (cantaloupe, honeydew, or watermelon). We have one of these cut up into huge slices in the fridge at all times. If you want something refreshing that you can eat a lot of without overdoing it, start snacking on some type of melon.
  • Nuts. If you’re in the middle of a project and don’t want to break your focus, keep a small bag of nuts at your desk. Nuts aren’t my favorite food, but if I’m getting hungry and I really don’t want to start preparing something in the kitchen (which, I know from experience, inevitably leads to a longer break that could lead to procrastinating), I’ll eat some almonds or cashews to hold me over until I can take a real break.

You may already eat some of these snacks at your home office, or even from a traditional office, but if you haven’t discovered these choices, I encourage you to give them a try!

Happy living :).

The Power of Believing That You Can Improve (a Must See TED Talk for the Classroom)

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If you teach (and even if you don’t teach), you may have heard of Carol Dweck, author of the book Mindset and a researcher in the field of motivation.

I’ve referenced Dweck in the classroom a number of times to encourage struggling students, and just a minute ago the dean of one of the schools I work for shared Dweck’s TED talk with us to share with our students.

If you or your students or a friend believes that talent or intelligence is fixed, share the following video with them about developing a growth mindset to become more successful:

The Power of Believing That You Can Improve

Happy teaching, learning, and living!

How to Use TED Talks to Engage Online Students

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Recently I was asked by one of the schools I work for to submit an activity I use in my online classes to engage students. Some sort of Discussion board prompt might have been the most obvious activity to submit, but I chose something a little different that I think impacts students in a more subtle, but probably more long lasting way.

It’s not necessarily a specific activity, but I always try to share my love of TED talks with online students in a way that will truly impact them. I find it’s a great way to bridge the gap between student and teacher (since TED talks are becoming a popular trend not just in the classroom, but in society among people of all ages).

Occasionally I’ll recommend TED talks in Blackboard Announcements to the class if they relate to a topic/s we’re covering, and I include relevant TED talks when grading student assignments (in the written feedback I provide), and in responding to student Discussion posts. I also send Announcements out reminding students to revisit old discussion boards to find these helpful videos and tips through the end of the semester, and I believe it’s effective at keeping them involved in the Discussion boards, even if it’s just as a reader when it comes to old Discussions.

Lastly, I find that as an instructor of communication courses, where students frequently have to present speeches, I’m able to tap into their passions (based on what they choose to speak about), as well as their insecurities as a speaker, and use this knowledge to recommend videos that are tailored to them as individuals.

For instance, at one school I had an autistic student in my online speech class who expressed to me her disappointment in herself as a speaker (she didn’t like being a ‘disabled’ speaker, and having to present differently than everyone else). So I sent her some incredible TED talks by very impressive speakers with a number of disabilities (this was one of them: I got 99 problems.. palsy is just one), to prove that speakers come in all forms (and to keep her motivated through the end of the semester!).

I think reaching out in this way was simple, but very effective and very human, and I believe it’s why she remained connected with the students in online discussion boards, stayed in contact with me via email, and was engaged (and successful) in the course until the very end.

It always feel good to see small signs of this positively impacting my students, not to mention getting emails from students at the end of the term telling me that they now watch TED talks for fun in their spare time!

Happy teaching 🙂

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