August 2017 archive

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!

~

(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