Planning an online course takes a great deal of work up front. You have to create an online infrastructure for learning to take place (the learning management system (LMS)). You have to plan a syllabus for the online environment. You have to plan assignments and assessment. And, you have to develop a calendar with attainable weekly tasks.
Many instructors new to online teaching find online classes to take considerably more time than a face-2-face class. I remember that feeling, but after practice everyone can learn how to organize their time wisely. New and returning students to online classes might not know how to organize their schedules for your online environment.
Here are some Time-Saving Tips for Online Instruction that I have found helpful in my asynchronous courses. Even when using these tips, you might receive push back from students. While planning your course, try to anticipate the needs of students in your discipline.
Here are 5 tips for online students to manage their time during online instruction
- Not A Correspondence Course
Many students believe an online class will resemble self-paced correspondence courses common to distance education a generation ago. When students first enter the class, they need to become aware of weekly due dates. You might even try addressing the differences between your course and a correspondence course in an introductory announcement.
After a few weekly assignments have been completed, some students become frustrated about “all the work” they are completing, so try giving them a reminder about not being enrolled in a correspondence course to help them stay on track.
- A Weekly Routine
Many online students need suggestions for establishing a weekly routine. During a face-2-face class, students experience the structure of “real” class time and “real” homework time. They have a “real” person telling them when to complete assignments. Most online students allow announcements and calendars to tell them when to complete tasks, which means most homework is completed according to the calendar schedule--just prior to the deadline.
Suggesting a routine for your online students can be helpful, “Try to complete Task A by Thursday and Task B by Monday.” Most students may not follow those suggestions, but many students will adapt those suggestions to their own schedules. They understand that you are suggesting to break the tasks into multiple sessions.
Many online educators, especially for first and second year students, will say multiple deadlines throughout the week is the best way to establish routines for students. For many students, suggestions will not work. Many students need deadlines. See what works for you.
- Spend X Amount Of Hours Per Week On This Class
Reminding students about the amount of study time per week for the courses at your college can be a big help. In a face-2-face class, it usually ends up being something like this: 3 hours in the classroom and 3-5 hours outside of class reading and working on assignments--call it 8 hours per week total. The time spent in the classroom fragments the hours into manageable segments.
How do online students divide their hours? Most of them probably do not, so all class tasks fall into the homework category. Spending 8 hours each week on homework can burn out students, so try categorizing their hours for them early in the semester--you likely won’t need to keep it up for the entire course--they will catch on.
Here is a simple schedule to divide the work into manageable segments for online students:
1.Readings (3 hrs)
2.Assignments (3 hrs)
3.Discussions (2 hrs)
Readings and Assignments are generally the same for face-2-face classes and online classes. Comparing online discussion time to face-2-face class time can be a helpful comparison for students to see how to manage their time.
- Give Clear Directions And Be Consistent
Online students will need more direction than face-2-face students. Establish clear patterns of communication and stick with it throughout the semester. If assignments are submitted via a certain process, then collect all assignments with the same process (or highly publicize exceptions). If 4 replies are needed during discussions, then always require 4 replies. If you have an agenda for weekly tasks, then always have an agenda for weekly tasks.
Consistency adds a natural clarity to the course. Once students learn a process (and you’ve written out the directions for that process), don’t make changes. If changes do need to be made, only try to change things once. Most of the time, students do not want to email their instructor for extra directions, and students don’t want to re-learn how to do things. For example--A bug infected our video-discussion site so some students had difficulties watching their classmates videos. I changed the directions for the rest of the semester to write out posts so everyone could begin communicating again. Even though the bug would likely be fixed within a week or two, it was much easier on the students to make one change and not try to coordinate a change back.
There will be times when you may need to make changes and change back. When doing so try not to make changes “as of now.” Try to give as much advanced warning as you can. Clear and well-planned changes are the most effective.
- Know When Good Is Good
Students who try to be perfect can drain a great deal of time into online course activities. They might re-record video posts if there is the slightest stutter in the recording. They might write a novel for every discussion post. They might reply to every discussion post, always trying to have the last word in dozens of conversations.
Perfectionist students are a joy to have in class, but they can burn themselves out and become frustrated. Give perfectionist students (all students for that matter) clear expectation for how to receive high marks in the class, and it doesn’t hurt to give them a nudge that lets them know when they are overdoing it. Make sure students who are exceeding your expectations are doing it for themselves, not for you. If they are doing it for you they will become frustrated with you. If they do it for themselves, they will just burn out.
There are many other methods for helping students manage their time in asynchronous online classes. These are just a few tips that I find helpful. Each student has different needs, so these tips won’t work for everyone. Hopefully some of these can help your classes.