December 2015 archive

Cabin Life (Mostly) Unplugged

IMG_3587Every time I visit our family cabin in North Carolina, I feel the need to write about it.

And every time I’m here, especially over the winter break, I forget just how much I’ve simply needed to unplug.

As an online college instructor you’re essentially ‘on call,’ even on weekends, which is fine by me since I love working from home at my own pace. However, as someone who has a presence on social media (like most other people), I stay connected even when I’m not working.

It’s easy to forget that it wasn’t always this way. Our careers and personal lives haven’t always been intertwined; it’s a fairly recent phenomenon that has snuck up on us during the last decade when technology has somehow become all-consuming.

I don’t have a solid opinion about our use of technology. I sometimes love it and sometimes hate  it, like everyone else. It’s different and new, exciting and helpful, destructive and fun, and both a productive and unproductive use of time.

But here in the cabin it’s different.

Up on this mountain technology is spotty at best, we chop wood to use for heat, we talk to each other (without the usual companionship of our smartphones), we sleep in, and we slow down.

I could easily get bored if this was my life year-round, but once or twice a year it’s a welcome change of pace, especially without my usual online teaching responsibilities. Each time I begrudgingly remove myself from my reliance on technology, bringing the creature comforts with me to the mountains: the laptop, phone, and iPad.

Which I don’t use once I get here.

Writing this blog post was the hardest thing I’ve done all day, because it meant opening my laptop. I’ve eaten a leisurely breakfast, hiked, carried wood inside the house, and read a book.

Just what you’d expect from a vacation in the mountains.

I encourage you to take a reprieve from your usual routine, from the reliance on technology, and from the fast pace of life, especially during the holiday season.

Happy living, and happy relaxing :).

Happy Professors Series: Helping Others, California Travels, and Twenty-Something Opportunities

IMG_2163“I’ve been teaching part-time since my early twenties, and it really gave me the opportunity and the inspiration to explore other interests, like fashion, acting, traveling, getting an EdD, and starting a website. My favorite part about being an adjunct instructor has always been getting to know different students each semester, and hearing that I truly helped some of them improve their communication and public speaking skills. It’s an amazing feeling at the end of the semester to know that I played a role in helping someone get ahead in life.

I also love the flexibility of my job. I can take summers off when I want, and I’m able to travel to California on a regular basis and meet with friends for coffee in the middle of the day when I’m back at home.

I couldn’t ask for a better way to explore my twenties, while help others find their own potential.”

Communication instructor, EdD student, entrepreneur

A Letter to New College Instructors: Follow Your Instincts

DSC_5026 copyI recently finished up my last semester teaching international college students, and subsequently handed the reigns over to some new instructors I’ve trained during the past few months.

One instructor who shadowed me during the Fall term, a NASA liaison at our university, is trying teaching on for size during the next year, and she expressed her concerns about doing things right as a first time instructor.

I had almost  forgotten what that felt like.

It’s only been 7 years since I started teaching, but it’s easy to forget how confusing navigating the teaching world can be. There are nagging questions in the back of your mind, and you constantly wonder if you’re doing things the ‘right’ way (and by the way, there really is no right way).

You wonder: Am I too easy on students? Too hard? Is lecturing the more appropriate method in the classroom? Are activities better? Are classroom discussions just filler? Or are they a valuable use of class time?

I’m sure these sound familiar, and that’s just scratching the surface. It can be hard to know if you’re heading in the right direction or veering way off track.

Although I don’t think about these questions as much as I used to, they still hang out in the back of my mind. Through reading teaching blogs, books, observing others’ classrooms, and following my own ever-growing teacher instincts, I’ve become more self-assured in my own teaching methods.

In an effort to impart some wisdom to my new instructor friend, I sent her the following email. I hadn’t planned on sharing it with anyone, but honestly, it would have made my life easier as a newbie if someone had shared this with me.

If you find yourself lost and confused in the world of college teaching, I hope this provides some reassurance that as long as you trust your instincts, you’ll do just fine.


Hi Amy,

I’m glad we got a chance to hang out a bit this semester. If you ever need anything, or want to meet up on campus to discuss strategies, don’t hesitate to ask (especially since I’ll have more time working from home!).

So one more time, I can’t say it enough, the book What the Best College Teachers Do will be a lifesaver. It will make you feel 100 times better about using your own best judgement (and no one else’s :)), when in the classroom.

It can be intimidating lecturing on new material, so feel free to use some flipped classroom methods, and you can always assign ‘public speaking tutorial’ type videos or my own YouTube speech content as homework, and have a class discussion about it with students later (It doesn’t have to be you preparing like a madman to create a lecture for most class periods- you can absolutely use flipped classroom ‘shortcuts,’ classroom activities, borrow materials from online sources or other teachers, etc., but everyone will have a different opinion about every approach!).

Lastly, remember, it’s not about working your tail off to prove yourself (not that you have anything to prove :)). At the end of the day, it’s about doing things that mean something to students, increase their knowledge in a meaningful way, and impact their education. When it’s all said and done, that is the only goal.

That sounded more profound than I intended lol, but you’ll do an amazing job! Stay in touch :).


Happy Professors Series: My 20-Year Journey Engaging Students and Teachers with Technology

IMG_0150“I started out my career as a high school history teacher in the mid-1990’s. I loved teaching and trying new things – particularly the new technology tools we had available to us. They were pretty limited – word processing, PowerPoint, slowwwww Internet, and CD-ROM-based digital encyclopedias. Even though the tools were pretty rudimentary, I was inspired by the potential for enhancing teaching and learning with technology.

Over time, I was able to successfully pitch a new position – technology integration specialist. In this job my primary responsibility was to help teachers determine how they might use technologies in their teaching. It was a challenge, however, since these technologies were so new. I found it difficult to help teachers connect these new tools with their existing practice. This experience led me to want to work with preservice teachers – folks that were studying to become teachers. I entered graduate school and earned my doctorate in instructional technology.

For the last 15 years, I’ve worked with both novice and experienced teachers to determine how technology tools and resources can help to support, enhance, and extend teaching and learning. I really enjoy empowering my students to mindfully explore and evaluate technology so that they can determine whether and how they might incorporate technology in their teaching. I love that the tools and resources change and evolve each semester – providing constant variety and updating in my courses. I also love finding ways to engage my students in a constructively critical way as technologies become both more pervasive and divisive in our society.”

Mark, Ph.D.