5 Time-Saving Tips for Online Instruction

5 Time-Saving Tips for Online Instruction
Summary: Do you check your email before breakfast? Ever feel like your online class is taking over your life? Online instruction does operate at its own schedule, but the schedule should not control you. Here are some time saving tips for the online teaching environment.

Managing your time during an online class is much different than a face-2-face class. During a face-2-face class you have a set number of hours per week in the classroom. You have your typical class prep. You have scheduled office hours that may or may not be visited by students. Unfortunately, online instruction can easily be added to the habitual tasks of our daily routines--answering emails and all that other work that keeps us bound to our computers. The workday can mix with real life. Before long, you are checking up on the progress of online discussions and answering emails before bed. Before long, your online class can turns you into a workaholic.

Here are 5 tips to manage your time during online instruction

  1. Re-Use Content
    You know that slideshow you uploaded to describe the tasks for next week or to highlight important content from the textbook? You remember that video you made for next week’s announcements or that presentation for the next unit? Plan everything, even assignment sheets, as if you will use it again. Oftentimes, you won’t be able use all the content, meaning you might be able to use the middle of the slideshow but have to edit the beginning and end. You might not be able to use the same announcement video, but you might be able to use most of the same script. Saving ten minutes here and there can really add up.
  2. Create a community so students can help one another
    It feels great to keep students on the right track, but there is no reason you should have to do it all on your own. Remember when you were in college and you asked your classmate to clarify the assignment before the professor entered the room? All students need that space, and at times, it might seem like students are more successful explaining the assignments to one another than hearing it from the professor, again. 
Create a help center in your online classes so students can help one another. Oftentimes, they will help each other out with very little urging on your part. Beware, however, there may be misinformation. Check the site regularly.
  3. Establish grading/commenting strategies while planning your course
    In my discipline, I spend more time grading papers throughout the semester than I do any other activity. When shifting a class from face-2-face to online, it is really easy to try to take the assignments with you. Before scheduling them, plan the assignments: How will I need to prepare students to complete the assignment? How will students submit the assignment? And, most importantly, how will I grade the assignment? If I can’t write notes in the margin in ink, how will I give suggestions about content and endnotes?
Downloading, saving, and uploading can take a great deal of time. Sometimes it might be easier to assess a discussion rather than a document. As often as possible, try to establish a rubric for assessing small assignments. Rather than typing unique comments, a highlighted rubric can easily show a student that the number of replies were not satisfied. When grading projects with end comments, try keeping a file on your computer for all the end comments associated with that project. Only a small portion of the comments may need to be individualized. The rest can be re-used.
  4. Online hours from 9 to 5
    Most work schedules, I think, are more like 8 to 6 or 7 to 7, but the point, here, is to set limits. I have rules about not checking email or reading discussions after 6 pm (also have exceptions to those rules--always exceptions for grading that inbox of assignments). The online environment makes it easy to check-up on student progress. You have to fight that urge. Millennials might expect immediate feedback at a touch of a button, and by extending your workday into the evening or night you will reinforce those expectations. Most educators, I think, want their students to think independently rather dependently. Begin that training in your online classes. You might find that in the long term you actually receive less emails with a timestamp in the evening. And, most importantly, by scheduling an end to your workday, you can relax on the couch with a book rather than a string of discussion posts.
  5. Disconnect
    In my first and second year of full-time teaching, disconnecting for an afternoon seemed like an impossible task. Now, some weeks I can disconnect for the entire weekend. A full weekend might be far too long, but try to disconnect for one day a week. Try disconnecting from teaching and from the internet at large. No email. No grading. No social networking. No web surfing (except for the occasional streaming of a sports event via online radio, of course). No text messages. Cutting the distractions from our lives allows us to remember how fulfilling a hike can be or how a well crafted dinner can nourish more than the belly. If I had a family I would write something about family time, but instead I will just mention how my dog really appreciates “Get outside Sundays” on hiking trails in the nearby mountains or along salmon streams. You might even find that after disconnecting you return to work refreshed and ready for the screen full of emails.

These are just a few strategies that can help you manage your time. There are, indeed, other strategies that can help you maintain a life away from your online class. Find what works for you and adapt as necessary.