October 2016 archive

The Student Perspective: 3 Insightful Articles for College Instructors

DSC_4924 copyThe dean at one of my local colleges goes through the trouble of sending out department-wide emails each week with school updates and interesting articles we might be interested in reading. As an online instructor, I probably appreciate these weekly emails more than most instructors since it keeps me in the loop, so I try to get what value I can from them.

I’ll admit, I don’t always click on the website links she includes at the bottom of the emails, but when I take the extra 2 seconds to see what some of the articles are about, I can’t help but feel that I need to share them with other instructors.

Below are the links to 3 eye-opening articles about the student experience, approaches that help them learn best, and student success in general:

What Students Really Think
(Note to new college instructors: From the sound of it, the book To My Professor from the article above would be a valuable to resource for anyone just starting out in the classroom; even after some years of experience, I put it on my Amazon Wishlist!)

The New Classroom Design that Improves Student Outcomes

20 Things Students Say Help Them Learn

Happy learning and happy teaching!

Automate Everything: How to Save 10 Hours Each Week

DSC_4981 copyTim Ferriss has talked about how to cut hours from our busy schedules in The Four Hour Work Week, and I took some helpful suggestions to heart after listening to the audio book. However, I’m sure many people, like me, were still left thinking “I don’t know that I could apply this to my job/life.”

Having said that, I think I’ve found a number of ways to apply the advice, put my own spin on it, and cut out a few tedious hours from each week.

If you don’t teach online college courses, this might not feel relevant to your situation, but who knows- it might just spark some similar ideas for efficiency in your particular field or life in general.

Here’s where I’m at:

I’ve reached the point in my online teaching career that I’ve started having regular conversations with a colleague of mine who lives in New York, has two kids, and has been teaching at multiple universities online for much longer than I have (something I rarely find), so her advice about balancing work and life is invaluable to me.

I’ve discovered a major theme in our phone calls lately, which is simple but also life-altering, and similar to the theme of The Four Hour Work Week and other helpful life hack-related articles I’ve read:

Automate everything.

When I sat back and thought about everything I’ve learned about organization, consistency, and teaching efficiently from my colleague and other like-minded people, I realized that the real gems that are helping me at this point are about automation (or as close to it as you can get as a freelance employee of sorts).

These are 4 new changes I’ve made to make my personal life and work life not only more efficient, but also much less stressful and more satisfying:

  • Set up weekly announcements to be sent automatically to each class at each school months ahead of time. My friend turned me onto this idea, and at first I was afraid there would be some massive mistakes and incorrect deadlines in these pre-planned announcements. However, it’s been two months since I stopped sending bi-weekly announcements, and I have to admit, having one less thing to take care of (in online classes at 3 schools) on Mondays and Wednesdays is so much nicer (and much more of a timesaver) than I thought it would be.
  • Have a separate planner to keep school deadlines and grading tasks straight. I used to rely on a random list of ‘to dos’ for each school that I updated daily (yes, daily- a huge waste of time) based on what I saw was up next in each class’s course schedule. However, after taking the same colleague’s advice, I created a planner that worked well for me (I actually made my own- if that gives you any indication of how obsessively organized I am), and pre-scheduled (a few weeks before the semester started) every day that I would have to grade certain assignments. My brain is so grateful for not having to strain to remember what was on the course schedule for that one school in that one tab that I just closed on my computer. Again, I was very doubtful (I normally have an aversion to calendars and planners), but it has been really nice to have ‘past me’ organize this entire semester’s ‘‘to dos.’
  • Plan meals ahead of time. I have tiny tubs of peanut butter, chicken salad and cracker ‘snack kits,’ and bags of almonds ready for when I need to run out the door (and they’re usually already packed away in my ‘teacher bag’ when I’m in the classroom all day). I also have dinners and lunches set up for my husband at the beginning of the week (all from Trader Joe’s, which eliminates most of the dedication, cooking, cost, and concern about health content on my part- thank you, Trader Joe’s!).
  • Automate your social life as much as possible. My husband and I have a few different groups of friends, and we also enjoy spending as much time as possible with family members who live nearby. For a while, it was time consuming just figuring out how to coordinate plans with everyone. To cut down on having to come up with creative activities to fill our usual 3-day weekends and see numerous people, we’ve established a few different ‘go-to’ activities on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays; it includes movies in the park with friends, Saturday and Sunday farmer’s markets (all scheduled by our city), family dinners on Sunday night, and an always ready guest room for dear friends and family who want to hang out for the night.

You may look at this list and consider the concept of ‘automating everything’ ridiculous; it is kind of crazy that we’ve become so busy as a society that we have to be hyper-organized to keep up with the demands of life. However, I see this as a chance to eliminate much of the busy work we deal with, and save hours of our lives to more fully enjoy being present, living at a slower pace, and appreciating the simple things in life.

Happy living :).

The Best Rubrics for Grading Online Discussion Posts

DSC_4984 copyTeaching as an online instructor at a variety of colleges has its advantages- one is that I get to see how different deans, department chairs, etc. run their departments, and most importantly, I can see where there might be some overlap in grading requirements among the schools without too much guesswork on my part.

Recently, I discovered that grading online discussion posts doesn’t have to be the headache I thought it was. After consulting with a department chair at one school, and an instructional designer at another school, I realized that many instructors use an incredibly simple rubric to grade their discussions.

For the sake of privacy, I won’t give you their exact rubrics, but I’ll include the rubrics I created based on their original wording and weights:

Discussion Rubric (Worth 100%)

Answered the discussion prompt at a minimum (50%)

Answered prompt/question/s correctly, and with detail (30%)

Responded to 2 student posts (20%)

Discussion Rubric (Worth 10 points)

No participation: Original discussion post is not submitted (0 points)

Competent: Original discussion post does not meet the length requirement and/or is not well developed (5 points)

Proficient: Original discussion post meets the length required and is well developed (10 points)

This following is a rubric I recently reworked for a third school where I teach online, based on what I learned about simplifying the grading process for discussions:

Discussion Rubric (Worth 20 points)

Poor: Insufficient work (5 points)

Fair: Some components missing (10 points)

Good: Competent/minimal effort (15 points)

Excellent: Substantial effort (20 points)

I hope these samples helped some of you struggling out there. Feel free to implement these, share them, or alter them to suit your own needs in the classroom.

Happy learning and happy teaching!

5 Lesser-Known (and Useful) Blogs for College Instructors

IMG_0150When I started teaching, I was constantly looking for blogs and websites with helpful tips for college instructors. I found plenty of blogs for secondary education teachers, and a number of stuffy, hard-to-read higher education blogs, but I wanted something more personal and relatable, and definitely not a blog that felt like work.

Over time I’ve found 5 blogs for college instructors that sound like they’re actually written by real people (you’re welcome!). Not only are they fun and easy to read, but they’re insightful and provide plenty of useful tips for various types of instructors.

All you instructors out there, enjoy!:

The Scholarpreneur

The Philosopher’s Cocoon

Ellen Bremen: The Chatty Professor


Right Brain Journeys

~ Happy learning and happy teaching :).

How to Help Students Think Critically in the College Classroom

DSC_5856Have you ever asked students to ‘evaluate,’ ‘analyze,’ or ‘discuss’ a particular concept, only to feel deflated when you get back a (nearly) copy and pasted textbook definition from a number of students?

First, you’re not necessarily doing anything wrong as the instructor; I felt at fault when I started seeing this pattern in assignments, too. Some college students these days seem to be great at finding and memorizing, but not so skilled at taking a deeper look to apply and analyze.

I see this frequently when I teach courses like Rhetoric, Communication Theory, or International Business Communication. Basically, if it’s a class that students can’t directly apply to their current lives, they tend to skip the critical thinking part and go straight for regurgitation.

In all honesty, it actually makes sense that students would skip this crucial part. Do you remember when you were taught how to think critically? Probably not. It was either something you figured out on your own along the way, or something you never totally grasped. Some students struggle with analyzing and applying material through all their years of schooling because no instructor actually taught them how to think through questions, content, or solve problems using a solid approach.

Currently, I’m taking a faculty development course that is helping me deconstruct the process of critical thinking to help students have a better understanding of it with the aid of a few different approaches.

I’m working on some face-to-face classroom (and potential online classroom) activities that might help my students answer and analyze questions thoroughly in future assignments, and you’re welcome to use all the same tools I’ve been given.

See the following links for extra information:



The Thinker’s Guide to Analytical Thinking: How To Take Thinking Apart And What To Look For When You Do by Dr. Linda Elder and Dr. Richard Paul (can be purchased on Amazon)


I’ll keep you updated on my projects regarding critical thinking that are currently in the works. In the meantime, try to find some new ways to guide your own students in thinking deeply.

Happy learning and happy teaching :).