Holiday Quotes That Should Be Remembered Year-Round

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I love meaningful quotes, and for the first time I’ve stumbled upon some holiday quotes that are not only appropriate for the season, but should be remembered all year. Here’s your short and sweet reminder to live simply and be happy every single day.

Happy living!

Favorite Christmas quotes this season:

Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. ~Norman Vincent Peale

Celebrate the happiness that friends are always giving, make every day a holiday and celebrate just living! ~Amanda Bradley

Love the giver more than the gift. ~Brigham Young

(*From Inspirational-Quotes-And-Quotations.com and Forbes.com)

3 Recently Released Books to Read During Winter Vacation

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When I went to check my jam-packed mailbox today, amidst all the bills and Christmas cards from friends, there were two thick bubble-wrapped packages that all book lovers recognize- yay for new books! Naturally, after opening them up, I realized my winter reading plan might make for a good blog post.

This winter as I unwind at my family’s North Carolina cabin, I plan to finally indulge in these two recently released books, plus another work of nonfiction from 2016 that I’ve had my eye on (warning: I haven’t actually read any of these yet, but they have great Amazon reviews and are written by trusted authors!):

Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything

by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

As a kid and through my teen years I wanted to be a sitcom writer; I grew up with Seinfeld, SNL (Tina Fey was my hero back when she was known for writing, not acting), and all the classic 90’s shows that made us millennials addicted to TV, but also heightened our curiosity about the action behind the scenes. That’s why I didn’t think twice about purchasing Seinfeldia. I’m not interested in hearing about the actors’ lives, but I’m told that this book focused on the writers and the unconventional approach that Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David took to creating a sitcom that broke all the rules. This winter, I hope to get a taste of the sitcom writing life that might have been.

Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World Class Performers
by Tim Ferriss

In this phase of life, I’m not interested in taking on new routines and challenges because a book tells me to (not at the moment, anyway). However, I enjoy Tim Ferriss’s books, and after flipping through Tools of Titans at Barnes and Noble recently, I realized that I’m interested in this book for reasons beyond the content it includes. It’s almost formatted like the best encyclopedia or textbook you could imagine, with bolded words and boxes of interesting text on each page, which is not how bestselling authors typically organize their work. Because of the unique formatting (maybe it’s something I’ll try in the future..), and also because it had some great ‘get to sleep faster’ tips, I’m pretty excited to take a highlighter to the pages of this new release.

From Student to Professional: An Essential Communication Soft Skills Guide for Aspiring STEM Professionals
by Gino Perrotte

This one might be best suited to professors, students, recent graduates, or those looking to advance their career, but it was a surprise in the mail from one of my instructor friends, and I was just thrilled to see it in print and hold it in my hands. For all you teachers out there, grab this paperback and help prepare your future students for the real world with the valuable insights from Perrotte’s easy read.

Happy reading, learning, and living.

5 Office Essentials Everyone Needs When Working from Home

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You can go online and look up lists of essential items you might need when working from home (like I’ve done in the past), but I can honestly tell you that different things work for different people.

Having said that, here are my general suggestions for anyone working from home, with some advice for making it fit your own distinct personality and situation:

  1. The best laptop that works for you

I’ve looked at a few different lists of ‘Best Laptops for Working from Home,’ only to realize that the number #1 choice was actually my husband’s current laptop (which I hate using). So instead taking someone else’s advice (and when it comes to computers, everyone has an opinion), consider your own personal style and preferences when deciding which laptop would be best for you.

  1.  Reliable smartphone

I chose to include the word ‘reliable’ here because I used my own iPhone 5 well past when I should have (including the last year of it’s life when it didn’t hold a charge, so I could only use it when plugged into my laptop or a portable battery); it probably wasn’t the best idea for someone whose business relies on being connected. If your career and livelihood depend on responding to texts, emails, and taking notes on your smartphone, splurge for the new model when you need one.

  1. Portable laptop speaker and/or headphones

You won’t always be able to control your environment, or the volume of YouTube tutorials or other videos you may need to watch (or in my case, student speech videos), so I recommend having a good, portable laptop speaker, and a few good pairs of headphones scattered around when you need them- in your home office, kitchen, purse, car, next to your bed, etc.

  1. A makeshift (or real) office

You’ll need some sort of quiet space (or a few) where you can take your work seriously. Over the past year I feel that I’ve turned a few random workspaces into offices- my kitchen, living room, actual office in my home, and some quiet corners of the local Panera and public library. If I didn’t feel that I could comfortably get some solid work done in these spots, the whole ‘work from home’ thing would be a disaster at this point.

  1. ‘Work’ clothes

Depending on your personality and situation, you might prefer to work in sweatpants and a big sweatshirt (like I do from time to time), or athleisure wear (which I upgraded to when I started feeling like a slob in my sweats), or maybe just a comfortable pair of jeans, a cardigan, and high end ballet flats (my trusty Michael Kors flats have never let me down) when working from the coffee shop.

Good luck to all you you location independent workers. Happy working!

How to Give Thanks Every Morning

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I used to write a list of between 3 and 10 things I was thankful for each morning, and it really made a difference in my day (sidenote: it seems like we all develop these really great habits and then abandon them at one point or another- why do we always do this when it’s so good for us?).

Since we just celebrated Thanksgiving, I thought it might be time to start this up again, but in a way that works a bit better for me- as a new component of my daily planner instead of as a completely new addition to my life.

There are calendars and planners out there (I found quite a few on Amazon) that include a blank list of ‘Things I’m Grateful For’ on each page, but I just went ahead and added a quick “Grateful For: 1. 2. 3.’ in a tiny sliver in the top margin of each page on my current planner.

To start things off I wrote:

Grateful For:

  1. Thai food dinners and great conversation with good friends
  2. A husband who makes me laugh hysterically
  3. An incredible job

It might not seems like much, but it’s a start.

This way, every time I get into work mode (aka the place where only my laptop matters and nothing else, unfortunately), I’ll see this small reminder in the corner of the page that life is not all work and no play.

And when I end up with that very serious ‘I’m working face’ on, maybe I’ll lighten up and finish grading those papers with a smile.

Happy living!

The 5 Friends You Need in Your Social Circle

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As life moves forward and we all strive for simplicity and satisfaction with the day-to-day, I think it’s natural (and necessary) that we also start considering who we spend our time with, and who brings out the best, happiest version of ourselves.

The other day I was thinking about the most meaningful friends or family members in my life, and I realize that they each fit into one of 5 pretty distinct categories (I also later realized that you could probably fit each of the 5 characters from Friends into each of these categories, but that’s not really the point..).

I’ve come to the conclusion that to have a happy, simple, feel-good, fulfilling social circle, these are the 5 friends you need to have:

  1. The Lifelong Friend. This is the loyal friend you may have met in college. This person will give you the shirt off their back, make visits whenever they can, be there for you in a jam, and never make anything of it. Maybe it’s selfish to want this kind of friend, but there’s something very comforting about knowing that this person will always be in your life.
  1. The Friend That Feels Like Family. This person is someone who may not have started out with best friend status, but you’ve been through a lot together, you still live surprisingly close, and you realize that a decade has gone by and they’ve been a solid pal. Maybe you don’t have everything in common, but you were roommates at some point, helped each other through breakups, and you can still text each other to run errands at a moment’s notice.
  1. The Friend That Makes You Grow. This person is always coming to you with new ideas that bring out a part of your personality you might need to explore more often. You engage in intelligent conversation for hours and feel inspired as you head back home. This friend may be the artist or entrepreneur in your life that isn’t necessarily your best friend, but the feats, work ethic, and interests they have that line up with a certain part of your personality (that many of your friends might not understand) makes this relationship one that’s filled with growth and common goals.
  1. The Friend You Can’t Stop Laughing With. This is the person you completely let your guard down around. This person doesn’t like you because you’re smart or ‘important’ by society’s standards, and they might even make fun of you when you act too ‘serious.’ You talk about inane things together, watch really lame/embarrassing TV shows and movies together, and have way too many inside jokes that lead to laughing uncontrollably over cartons of ice cream.
  1. The Colleague Friend. Everyone needs a good work buddy. This person might be the same time of worker you are, they’re lighthearted, have some similar interests, you can easily trade tips and suggestions for those projects you’re working on, and they’re totally normal (unlike some of your other colleagues) so you have a tendency to hang out after work and talk about life in general. You absolutely need this person to round out your solid social circle.

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With the holidays upon us, and as we buy gifts and spend time with the ones we love, be sure to cherish these 5 special types of friends in your life. After all, life is short and time is precious, so surround yourself with those that make you smile and fill your heart with happiness and love.

Happy living!

The 6 Best Christmas-Themed Movies You’re (Kind Of) Allowed to Watch Year-Round

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I have to admit, I love Christmas movies, and the cheesier the better.

I’m the person who starts watching Christmas movies in August every year, and no matter how hard I try to resist, I just can’t help myself. I use the excuse that I’m ‘grading papers’ (very inefficiently, I might add) while I watch them, but who am I kidding.

Since I’ve already binged on nearly a dozen (I just realized how crazy that sounds..) Hallmark movies and we’re not even halfway through November yet, I figured many of you out there would appreciate this quick blog post.

If you’re anything like me and you can’t handle waiting until the ‘official’ season’s festivities start after Thanksgiving, here are 5 Christmas-y movies you can kind of get away with watching, no matter what time of year the mood strikes:

  1. “Serendipity”- It may get treated like a Christmas movie, but technically it isn’t, so go for it.
  2. “Love Actually”- According to the title of an article by ThinkProgress.org, ‘‘Love Actually’ Isn’t a Romantic Comedy or A Christmas Movie. It’s A Tragedy.’ Despite this depressing article, we all love Love Actually, so pop it in whenever you want to watch a quality film.
  3. “Just Friends”- The plot takes place around the holiday season, but I don’t think anyone would classify this as an official Christmas movie, so you’re fully allowed to indulge with this one.
  4. “Elf”- I’ve talked to plenty of people who aren’t that big on the holidays who watch this movie whenever they want a good laugh, so grab some spaghetti with maple syrup and enjoy this Will Ferrell flick!
  5. “Sundays at Tiffany’s”- Okay, this one is probably meant for the holiday season only, but it’s more of a standard chick flick than anything else. I just adore this movie, and I watch it/mostly listen to it probably 3 times a year while I’m taking care of household stuff and I feel like treating myself to something Christmas-y, even when it’s 95 degrees outside.
  6. “Four Christmases”- Despite the name, this one is completely appropriate year-round, and I think I could get some other people to agree with me on this one. Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn are not your standard actors for Christmas movies, it’s just a hilarious comedy, end of discussion.

To end this post, and in the spirit of the upcoming season, here is an (initially accidental) Twas the Night Before Christmas-ish rhyme for you..

“For those who have wrapped the presents and put up the tree,
you have my permission to go watch these 6 almost Christmas movies,
completely guilt free.”

Happy living!

How to Help Students Think Critically in the College Classroom: State, Elaborate, Exemplify, and Illustrate Activity

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As I mentioned in a recent blog post, I’ve been working on some face-to-face classroom activities (that I’ve also tried out with my online classes) to help my students answer and analyze questions/concepts more thoroughly in future assignments.

After experimenting a little bit, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the results.

Any instructor, regardless of what course you teach, can use this State, Elaborate, Exemplify, and Illustrate (or ‘SEE-I’) activity to guide students in breaking down and further understanding most course concepts; I may also start recommending it to students as an effective approach to studying.

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Below is the activity I used in my classroom to help students better appreciate the importance of ‘audience analysis,’ which is a crucial concept to grasp and apply in public speaking. After the SEE-I activity, I even had them give 1-minute-long impromptu speeches to speak about topics that would appeal most to their audience, as a way to show their new understanding of being an audience-centered speaker.

The following SEE-I activity can be easily implemented into any course to help guide students in their critical thinking- I highly recommend giving it a shot in your own classroom!

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SPC 1608 Critical Thinking (SEE-I) Activity

Please read the following directions and examples carefully to do the assignment correctly. Good luck!

Directions:

  • Read through the ‘audience analysis’ section of your textbook to gain a deeper understand of the concept (pgs. 34-44)
  • Answer the following 5 questions in 1-3 sentences each:

What characteristics did you consider or “analyze” about your audience before you chose your Informative Speech topic and the content you would speak about?

How did you do this?

Why did you do this?

Was it helpfull?

Is there anything else you might consider analyzing for your next speech?

(Keep in in mind, answers will vary!)

  • Fill in the following 4 components as they relate to ‘audience analysis’ using at least one thorough sentence (except for #2 which will required more)
  1. State the concept or idea in a single sentence or two.

Clearly state/define the concept: ______________

  1. Elaborate on the concept in your own words. Explain it at greater length in 3 or more sentences.

Clarify the concept in your own words:______________ (ie. “In other words,. . .”)

  1. Exemplify the concept by giving concrete examples (and counter examples) of the concept.

Specify the concept by giving at least one specific example: _______________ (ie. “For example, . . .”)

  1. Illustrate the concept with a picture, diagram, metaphor, or analogy.

Draw something, find an existing picture, or create a picture-in-words, such as with a metaphor or analogy: _____________ (ie. “It’s like …”)

 

Here are some examples of the student work from my online class:

  1. State the concept or idea in a single sentence or two.
  •       Clearly state/define the concept:

Student answer: Analyzing the audience’s attitudes and values before choosing a speech topic is helpful.

  1. Elaborate on the concept in your own words. Explain it at greater length in 3 or

more sentences.

  •       Clarify the concept in your own words:

Student answer: In other words, considering what’s important/ unimportant to your audience will leave them engaged. Also considering how your audience may feel about your speech will influence how they’ll respond to you. Considering these small details leaves you with an audience that will be engaged and an easy way to chose a topic because you can base it off of  your audience.

  1. Exemplify the concept by giving concrete examples (and counter examples) of the concept.
  •       Specify the concept by giving at least one specific example:

Student answer: For example, if you have an audience that values education, you might decide to give an informative speech about a new scholarship. This will lead to most of your audience members being engaged and having a positive attitude towards this topic. A bad example would be if you are going to give a speech about Instagram, and most of your audience doesn’t know what Instagram is then they’ll feel disconnected from the topic.

(*Note: The ‘Illustrate’ part was my favorite, and I think it was my students’ favorite as well, so I’ve included a few extra student answers below)

  1. Illustrate the concept with a picture, diagram, metaphor, or analogy.
  •       Draw something, find an existing picture, or create a picture-in-words, such as with a metaphor or analogy:

Student answer: Analyzing your audience before choosing a speech topic is like opening the door before getting into your car.

Student answer: Analyzing your audience before presenting your speech is like tying your shoes before going on a run; it can save you from a fall, or a sprained ankle.

Student answer: Analyzing your audience before choosing the topic of your speech is like cooking. If you don’t know the ingredients, you are bound to make an awful dish. However, if you do know the right ingredients to use, people will end up loving it.

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I hope this activity helps your students to become more critical thinkers, and helps you add even more depth to your lessons.

Happy teaching!

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!

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