We often hear that online learning takes a lot of time for instructors. I have found that it can, but when a course is set up in advance, using the appropriate tools, a lot of time can be saved. A little work and planning in advance can save teachers a lot of time when it will really count. Many of these techniques make for a more engaging experience for the students and make teaching online less stressful for instructors.
Note: this is an update of a post from 2012 that adds tips that teachers have sent in since then. Thanks everyone! Here are some of my favorite time-saving tips. Please add to them through the comments or via email.
1. Create a “Welcome Letter” that not only introduces the instructor and the course but gives detailed instructions on how to access the course and where to get help.
2. Use a “Week Zero” that opens up before your class. Create a module in your online class that is always open that tells students how to use the online tools for your course. This module would be a good place for links to online student services that may be available to your studnets.
3. Create a comprehensive syllabus. Use the syllabus to let students know how to find tech support, tutoring, and a librarian. If your college does not provide online tutoring for students, be sure to check out OpenStudy which provides free, facilitated, online peer tutoring.
4. Use a syllabus quiz. Creating a quiz or syllabus scavenger hunt will help students understand how your course is organized and where to find help. I found this to be even more effective if it were worth a few points.
5. Make your course easy to navigate. Keep as much content as you can no more than two clicks away. Use a consistent format week-to-week or module-to-module. Remove buttons or tools you are not using.
6. Schedule your time. Do not work on your online course because you can; work on it because you have scheduled the time. Let the students know your schedule. Access your course consistently (e.g. three times a week) and respond to email promptly (with-in 48 hours).
7. Be strict about forms of communication. If you give students multiple email and messaging accounts to contact you, be prepared for students to use them. Some instructors do not receive class related email but take course related questions only through the learning management system. Some will only use email. Some only take assignments in drop box. Make sure you are clear about how you want to be contacted.
8. Automate your course as much as possible. Take advantage of the time-release feature of announcements and other content in the tools that you are using like your learning management system. Record and reuse lectures. Let online tools handle as much of the grading as you can.
9. Distributing and exchanging documents. Use the assignment feature of your LMS instead of e-mail. Encourage students to share documents using Google Docs or Dropbox.
10. Centralize question and answers. Use a discussion forum for “Frequently Asked Questions.” Create a FAQ page. Ask students to ask questions in the forum rather than e-mail so everyone benefits from the answer.
11. Use online groups with a deliverable. Let the students do the work. Do not respond to every posting, respond to the group deliverable.
12. Use a “common responses” file to quickly paste in answers to common questions. This file can be a Google Docs file that you can open on any computer.
13. Allow students to facilitate online discussions. Giving students an opportunity to discuss what they have learned in their own voice can really help students learn.
14. Use a detailed grading rubric to help answer questions in advance. Teachers can create rubrics online using tools like RubiStar.
15. Encourage student-student interaction and study groups. Give them the space to solve problems.
16. Communicate to the entire class regularly. Use audio and/or video each week. Try to anticipate problems or sticking points in a class and record a video to address these issues. We like to suggest tools like Screencast-o-Matic. A YouTube account is also very handy.
17. Save a tree. If you are still printing out papers, learn to use the “Insert comments” feature in your word processor. Downloading papers, printing, then scanning and re-uploading is an enormous time sink. Find out if your college uses “TurnItIn” or some other such service with quick grading tools for documents. If you have not learned how to do this, it will make a huge difference. (And yes, we still have teachers doing this.)
What about you? How do you streamline your online teaching process? Leave a comment below if you have any time saving tips.