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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 🙂

The Best Laptops (and Other Office Must Haves) for Working From Home

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The nice thing about working from home as an online instructor is that you can create a flexible schedule for yourself and have some much-appreciated freedom. 

The downside when teaching online is that you have to use and purchase your own resources: laptops, printer, ink, paper, etc. 

Since I’ve started teaching primary online in the past 2 years (about 20 hours a week), I’ve started realizing I need to be more deliberate about the products and brands I’m committing to (for the sake of efficiency, reliability, and my bank account). 

For those of you working from home, these are the products I use and absolutely love:

HP printer– We pay about $5 a month and ink is automatically sent to us when needed. It does everything a printer in a corporate office would do, and it’s been incredible for the last 2 years.

Asus laptop- I could just use our desktop, but I’ve always gravitated toward laptops (so I can work from wherever I’d like). My husband (a PC guy- I’d been team Mac for a decade, but needed to get something that made more sense for working from home), helped pick out this laptop when it was on major sale around the holidays. It doesn’t have any impressive or particularly artistic features, but it’s worked wonderfully for about a year now, and only cost $500. I expect to need a replacement after 2 years of use (not due to the computer’s quality, but because that seems to be how long it takes for me to wear out my work products), but at only about $500, I’m okay with that. 

iPhone– Some people have a smart phone that’s provided to them by their work. I use mine primarily for work (not so much for fun), but the cost is on me. My last iPhone seemed to be on the verge of death for about a year (didn’t hold a charge, some much-needed apps stopped working, etc.) until I sucked it up and paid for the iPhone 7. It’s so much better, and I really shouldn’t have waited so long. I can check emails faster, sign and send documents on my phone, and I don’t have to worry about it dying constantly. Bottom line, get yourself the best smart phone available that will make your work life easier. 

For those of you that are currently shopping around for the best laptop for working from home, I went ahead and included a group conversation I had with some of my other college instructor friends, all of whom work from home in some way (website, small company, and/or teach online in some capacity) and rely on a personal laptop. They all had different opinions about which brand would be the best choice, but their input was invaluable to me. 

For those of you that don’t have a group like this to help you weigh in on decisions, feel free to borrow their advice from the following conversation!

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(Our conversation from December 2017)

Erin:

Hey guys! I have a question. My MacBook officially died last night, so I wanted to know if any of you had some amazing laptop or brand you’ve been using for a while that you think I should consider looking into (I’ll be going to Best Buy tonight). I want to get a PC this time, something between $400 and $600, that’s just a standard laptop that won’t let you down- definitely doesn’t have to be touchscreen or anything. Any suggestions are welcome!

D:

I did the same thing a couple years ago. I bought a Dell that was highly rated (I needed it for some meeting platform that wasn’t supported by Apple). It lasted less than a year, and blew up in a way that couldn’t even be repaired. I had always been Mac loyal, but after that, I’ve never messed with PCs again. My Mac’s typically last 7 years. 

K:

My HP has been pretty good and I’ve have it for 3 years now.

N:

Had a Dell die in less than a year, too, never again! After that I bought my Lenovo for under $300 on Amazon and it’s great- not super fast but it’s touchscreen and gets the job done. I also have had 2 Acer laptops last over 10 years each.

Erin:

Thanks for the suggestions! Acer might be a good idea, I saw some good reviews for that brand last night. 

And about the Lenovo, Adam has a 1 year old Lenovo that I like, but it’s got this glitch where it won’t stay turned off if you unplug it. Ugh. I’ve seen a lot of complaints about that online.  Otherwise it would be perfect!

N:

Wow, mine has been great for 2 yrs- just kind of slow. But unfortunately they make more money when the laptops die faster

Erin:

Yeah, I’m also wondering if it’s because I use it like 25-30 hours a week lol

D:

You wore it out!!

Erin:

Probably haha. I figure it might be time to just buy a reasonable and reliable laptop that I can replace every 2 years. 

S:

They just came out with a new MacBook Pro, so the previous version might be cheaper at Best Buy now

Erin:

Good to know! And D, I was Mac loyal, too, because they always lasted 7 years for me, but my recent one didn’t even make it a full 4 years- I was shocked, so I’m kind of annoyed that I overpaid for it.

Yeah, Natalie, yours might be a different model or something. Maybe I’ll just look at different versions of the Lenovo- those had good reviews too. 

You guys are awesome! Thanks again! Adam and I will be looking back through these texts as we shop and discuss tonight lol.

3 Incredibly Easy Ways to Establish a Positive Relationship with Online Students via Email

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I’ve written thousands of emails to online students over the years (yes, thousands), and it can be difficult to be sure that what you’re writing is professional, yet human and appreciated by the students you’re working with.

Over the years I’ve learned how important it is to put some effort into leaving students with a good feeling after communicating with them through email (since it’s sometimes the only way you’ll communicate with them during the semester). I try to include a few standard things in most emails to help maintain this positive and respectful relationship:

  • I always end my emails with ‘Let me know if you need anything else!’ or some variation of it (‘Let me know if you have any other questions/concerns.’). This sign off is very simple, and might not seem like much, but I believe it’s important. I want to encourage students to come to me if they need anything- and I believe it helps them feel more comfortable coming to me with questions (especially when I do it in an upbeat and approachable way), and through seeking me out more, they help me address any issues other students might be running into as well.
  • If students come to me with an issue or problem in the course, I always show my appreciation to them. I might start the email with the phrase ‘Good question!’ or ‘Thank you for bringing that to my attention.’ This (similar to what I mentioned above) encourages them to come to me if they notice any other problems, which either helps me improve/fix the content of the course and/or leaves them feeling like they did something worthwhile.
  • Use punctuation purposefully. I try to stay away from using smiley faces (during a post-TED talk discussion in the classroom, I learned from some students that it can sometimes be ‘creepy’ when your instructor uses smiley faces too often, or unexpectedly- so I very quickly stopped using those!), but I think one exclamation point per email when responding to a polite student is perfectly acceptable. I find that it helps to establish goodwill in online relationships, especially when students might expect you to be more serious or unapproachable. If a student seems unnecessarily angry or frustrated via email, you might want to stick to periods and usual punctuation. However, when addressing a student who seems to want to establish a friendly relationship, or a student who needs a little encouragement, feel free to use a well-placed exclamation point to show that you’re human and open to friendly conversation..

These are all very easy adjustments to make when emailing students, and I know from experience that they appreciate these small touches of humanity when navigating a course solo during the semester, so don’t be afraid to show a slightly softer side when it feels appropriate.

Happy teaching!

The Best Technology for Engaging Students in Online Classes

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Teaching online can get a little stale when you’re just using the basics: Blackboard, Canvas, Pearson products, Adobe Connect webinars, etc. 

However, the article Building Real Community Online with Free Apps by Dian Schaffhauser offers some options for ‘meeting’ with online students that may build more of a community in your classroom, and may help to further engage students.

If you’re getting tired of the same old routine, check out the article below and see what inspires you. 

Happy teaching!

https://campustechnology.com/articles/2017/07/05/building-real-community-online-with-free-apps.aspx?m=1

How to Start the Upcoming Semester on the Right Foot

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Every Instructor has certain icebreakers they like to use on the first day of face-to-face classes, and a preferred way of discussing the syllabus with students, I know I do (and old habits are hard to break).

However, if you’re up ready for a change, or think you might find yourself with some extra time on that first day, read the article First Day of Class Activities that Create a Climate for Learning by Maryellen Weimer and plan to incorporate some of the incredibly useful activities she suggests. Weimer offers up some ideas that don’t just get students engaged, but also set everybody up for the most positive and productive semester.

Check out the article below and pick out some of your favorites for the upcoming term :).

Happy teaching!

https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/first-day-of-class-activities-that-create-a-climate-for-learning/

How to Create Boundaries When Working From Home

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There are plenty of things I could work on in my personal and professional life. However, I pride myself on having finally mastered the surprisingly difficult task of working from home (I might regret saying that as soon as Baby joins us in a few months here..). For the most part, I’m organized, efficient, and pretty great with a routine.

However.

As much as I thrive with structure, it still took me a full year of working from home to feel like I had actually nailed it.

Here’s how I learned to create a routine, a work space that actually works, and learned to establish some mental, work, and social boundaries (as someone who could easily be tempted to work or play 24/7, but has learned not to):

  • Working from home doesn’t have to be pretty. If you’re better off working from a coffee shop, do it. If you get more accomplished working from a home office or your kitchen table, do it. Since I’ve been pregnant and queasy on a daily basis, my 8-10 hour ‘work from Panera’ days started making me nervous, so I had to retrain myself to work from home. I wish I could say I sit in my beautiful home office, close those lovely French doors, and get my work done gracefully, but as hard as I tried, it didn’t work. In reality, I sit at my new, trendy kitchen table and bury it under schedules, folders, textbooks, and other odds and ends (it easily seats 8 people, but I’ve managed to leave only one clear spot for someone who needs to eat- it’s not great, but it works perfectly for grading and checking emails!).
  • Know what type of schedule is required of you, and don’t overextend yourself. Maybe your boss has told you to work your 40 hours a week whenever it’s best for you, or maybe you’re given a pile of work (like me) and when you’re done you’re done. Know what you have to do, and do no more. Most weeks, if I work diligently, I work all day (8-10 hours) Monday and Wednesday, and just 1-2 hours on the other days (which I don’t count as work days, since it’s mostly checking email, taking care of loose ends, and dealing with the usual student crisis and/or paperwork- but no grading). I try not to drag things out throughout the week (like I’ve done in the past), since it makes me feel like I never get an actual break.
  • Check your email once a day, that’s it. If your company has a different email policy, by all means, follow it. However, as an online instructor I’m required to check email every 48 hours (which initially meant that I nervously checked my email 3 times a day and had a hard time getting anything else done). These days I feel most comfortable if I check my email once every 24 hours (usually first thing when I wake up in the morning, otherwise it hangs over my head until I finally do it). It typically takes 1-2 hours to deal with my emails, but once I’m done, I’m done until tomorrow and I can move on to other things.
  • Don’t make yourself socially available every day of the week, block off solid working days. When I first started working from home, I felt like I could make plans with family and friends every day of the week, but it kept me from getting into the right mindset to get things done, and it set a bad precedent that I was always around and willing to do anything on any day of the week (which was tempting, but I still had work to do!). These days Mondays are definitely off the table for socializing, and normally Wednesdays are, too. I didn’t set out to do things this way, but after a year of working from home and learning what days are best for me and my students, Mondays and Wednesdays organically became my work days (give yourself some time and you’ll likely fall into your natural work-from-home rhythm, as well). Before I knew it, my plans with family and friends started shifting, and they would only ask to hang out on my other available days of the week.

My tricks aren’t revolutionary, but it took a full year to step back and see what I had done. At this point, working from home feels effortless, and if you give yourself some time, you might also find yourself falling into a natural routine that reduces the mental burden of working from home.

Give it some time and patience :). Happy living!

What Every Online Instructor Needs to Post in Their Courses

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If you teach college courses online, I can guarantee that the following piece (by online instructor and occasional Happy Professor contributor, Chris Berg, Ph.D.) will have you vigorously nodding your head with every word.

Do yourself a favor and send the following article to your students as a Canvas or Blackboard Announcement, or even take it a step further and give your students a quiz based on the content; I plan to do the same in each of my classes.

I imagine Chris’s wise words will give my students some clarity, and provide me with some peace of mind as we progress through each semester.

8 Tips to be a Successful Online Student 

By Chris Berg, Ph.D.

Online learning is fast becoming the way twenty-first-century learners choose to attend college. It provides a degree of flexibility and versatility unseen in traditional education.

But, apart from the many benefits online learning provides, there are certain attitudes and attributes that are essential for success in online education. The best online students understand their value and, in this article, I’m going to share what I’ve found to be important considerations for your success in online education.

Read the Syllabus. Seriously, read it. In my experience, if I didn’t require a syllabus quiz in my online courses, most students wouldn’t read it. The syllabus is your key to success in any given course. It is in your best interest to read (often, in fact!) the syllabus to fully understand what your professor’s expectations are for the course and what you can, in turn, expect from your professor.  

Time Management. This one is a challenge for students and is, perhaps, the #1 obstacle to timely submission of assignments and engagement in discussion boards. Some of my students have shared that they make a schedule for the entire semester in advance so they know what needs to be done day-by-day, week-by-week. This requires some initial time investment, but the rewards are worth it. Don’t wait until the last minute before beginning your work. Professors can tell when an assignment was rushed.

Read for Comprehension. Textbooks, for all their faults, are probably here to stay in one form or another. This makes reading time-consuming, but part and parcel of the learning process. This might require reading through a section or an entire chapter more than once. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but reading carefully and thoughtfully requires commitment.

A rule I followed in graduate school when the reading lists were especially heavy was to read for 30 minutes and then take a break for 30 minutes doing something completely different. This system worked well for me; find a system or routine that works for you.

Check-in. Make it a regular practice to check-in the course classroom frequently throughout the week. This is not only a good practice to break-up work, such as submitting an initial post and follow-up peer responses, but is also useful to view important announcements or messages from the professor.

Be Proactive. Take responsibility for your education. This is college-level work and a higher standard is required. Just because a class doesn’t require that you attend in person does not mean that you can cut corners. You are in control of your own learning. Remember that and you’ll take control of your education.

Communicate. The moment you have a question, check the syllabus first. If the syllabus doesn’t address it, contact your professor. Don’t delay! Often, a slight problem can turn into a big problem if too much time elapses. If you’re unsure, email the professor. We’re here to help.

Stay Involved. Discussion forums are ideal, but underutilized, areas for students to engage and interact with each other. Often, you’ll be confronted with a new perspective that challenges your own beliefs. Rather than ignoring the post or comment, start a friendly conversation with your peer. This is a crucial aspect of learning and will serve you well in the “real” world. Take advantage of it.

Go the Extra Mile. I learned this from Napoleon Hill, a protégé of the industrialist and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. What this means is satisfying your professor’s expectations while striving to exceed them. This attitude is not only beneficial in online education—your professors will notice it—but also in every walk of life. Going “above and beyond” might even by the secret ingredient to success in general. Try it.

John Dewey, the architect of progressive education in the early nineteenth century, famously said, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” I hope you you find these tools–I post them in my own online classrooms–helpful as you move one step closer to achieving your educational goals.

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I hope you enjoyed the piece, and again, feel free to pass this on to your students and other online instructors.

Happy teaching!

Big Ideas

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It’s easy to slip into routines. Even things that originally seemed novel can become a normal (and not especially exciting) part of your day to day life.

For the last year I’ve worked toward creating a life that allows me to basically function on autopilot. It was very deliberate- I wanted to get all my ‘ducks in a row,’ so to speak, live in the right location, make the right amount of money, and become comfortable with the new schools I’ve been working for online (mostly to prepare for the wonderful and exhausting chaos that will come with having a child).

However, with routine and the luxury to relax and get comfortable also comes a lack of imagination and creativity (at least, that’s been my experience).

I like to think that I’m a self aware and proactive person, so when I started realizing that my conversations with friends were growing stagnant and less intellectual, and long talks with my husband were gradually moving from energetic and inspiring, to a bland rundown of our work day, I decided to come up with as satisfying (and easy) a solution as I could. I decided that if I could be more deliberate about how I’m spending my time in the car, putting away groceries, and procrastinating on my laptop, I could work in some much-needed ‘educational listening.’

That’s when I got a simple idea that I’ve already fallen in love with:

Listen to 2-3 TED talks or one educational podcast weekly, and write down 3 conversation-generating thoughts from each in a notebook (which I call my Book of Big Ideas, because I’m cheesy :)).

This purposeful listening and note-taking has worked out perfectly (and keep in mind, it has required virtually no extra time out of my day), and it’s provided me with plenty of new thoughts to explore on frequent one-hour-long walks with my husband (naturally one simple idea spirals into multiple ideas that can keep us talking for hours, which is a huge win in my opinion).

Following through on this simple idea has also inspired me to think outside the box more often, it feels good to have some added mental stimulation, and it’s kept me from falling into that all-too-familiar ‘sit on the couch and watch TV/Netflix/YouTube endlessly after work until you go to bed’ rut that I know can become so easy to fall into.

My Book of Big Ideas plan is fairly new, but so far so good. Having been out of school for 6 years, and having finished writing my most recent book two years ago now, I figured it’s important to keep my creativity alive and to continually challenge myself mentally.

Some people enroll in free online college courses, or do crossword puzzles to stay sharp, but for anyone who’s looking for a different solution to help them break out of that weekday TV rut (and tired of feeling like they’ve lost a few IQ points), I recommend starting your own Book of Big Ideas and see what kind of inspiration strikes.

Happy learning and happy living!

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