Ten Time Saving, Stress-Reducing Tips for Online Teaching to Implement Before Your Semester Even Starts

  1. Make deadlines the same day and time each week; make all work, including exams, available for at least one weekday day and one weekend day. Most classes can function with a single deadline each week. I recommend Sundays at 11:59 pm since students may be relying on family to provide childcare and that is more likely to be available on weekends.
  2. Stay inside your LMS. Every additional app/login/password is a cognitive burden. Multiply it across 5 or 6 courses and students flounder. Plus, apps outside of your LMS may not be FERPA or ADA compliant, and your IT department will not support them. Finally, if something goes wrong in one of them, you’re responsible. Think of all the faculty who used Zoom without university support or training (which would have taught them how to protect student privacy) and got Zoom bombed. Any injuries in such a case are your responsibility. Your LMS isn’t perfect, but students don’t need more tech to master.
  3. Record lectures in meaningful, focused chunks–and post a note to yourself about which ones contain information that will soon be dated. I aim to have no more than 1/4 lectures include material that will have to be updated semester-to-semester. Otherwise, you will be re-recording them all the time. You can still make a class lively and up-to-date by including current political and pop culture examples in some but not all of your lectures.
  4. Turn off the calendar on your screen when recording so that students can’t see the date or time when you recorded your lecture.
  5. Use a template for the week, so that students quickly fall into a pattern and know what to expect. Keep the workload even, so that no week has an unexpectedly large amount of work; again, this helps students who must work or care for children manage their time.
  6. Don’t number assignments or readings or reference the total number of items. (“The second reading this week…” “Four out of five of the mini-lectures this week…”) This way, if you change your syllabus, you don’t have to revise all the material in the LMS.
  7. Don’t put deadlines anywhere except in the syllabus and in the drop-down menu when you create the submission spot for them.
  8. Allow unlimited resubmissions of assignments before the due date; otherwise, you are going to be resetting those submission buttons all the time.
  9. Permit a second attempt on exams and quizzes. Otherwise, you will have to figure out how to evaluate student excuses for computer problems that interrupted exam taking.
  10. Make your policies for all courses the same to make answering student questions easier. You’re going to get a lot of emails, and if the answer is always “There is no extra credit,” you’ll use less cognitive energy remembering it.

The Desperate Man (Self-Portrait), 1843 - 1845 - Gustave Courbet

Above, The Desperate Man (1845) is a self-portrait by Gustave Courbet. The artist looks at us face-to-face, his eyes wide, his hands raised to run his fingers through his long brown hair.

 

 

One thought on “Ten Time Saving, Stress-Reducing Tips for Online Teaching to Implement Before Your Semester Even Starts

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  1. Re #2: “Stay inside your LMS. Every additional app/login/password is a cognitive burden. Multiply it across 5 or 6 courses and students flounder”:

    And it’s a burden for us instructors, too! 😎 A while back, textbook companies started setting up LMS’s for their own texts; in math, we had three or four all pop up at once. I was one of several people at Arizona State who helped stop this; we’re now down to two or three (WeBWorK for problem generation, Canvas for managing courses in general, with MyMathLab for some lower-level classes).

    Arizona State also has set up their accounts so that every student has a “master” account (called ASURITE: Arizona State University Rational Information Technology Environment), which can be used to log into any LMS automatically.

    #3, #4, and #6 on the list are part of the reduce-reuse philosophy.

    #9: “Permit a second attempt on exams and quizzes. Otherwise, you will have to figure out how to evaluate student excuses for computer problems that interrupted exam taking.”

    Coming from a math background, I second this suggestion, and in some cases, you might even allow a third attempt. It is very easy to mis-copy a number or enter a number incorrectly into a calculator, which would ruin an otherwise correct answer. This is also a reason why students are told to “show their work”; I give partial credit if they have the right idea.

    #7 (“Don’t put deadlines anywhere except in the syllabus and in the drop-down menu when you create the submission spot for them.”) and #10 (“Make your policies for all courses the same to make answering student questions easier. You’re going to get a lot of emails, and if the answer is always ‘There is no extra credit,’ you’ll use less cognitive energy remembering it.):

    It always irritates me that LMS’s default to organizing by week, as opposed to modules which organize by topic.

    What would be nice for LMS’s would be a place where you could put information that only applies to that semester (or that section of the class), and when the CMS needs information, it can go to that page and look it up. That is, you could write something like: “Test 2 will be held on #TEST_2_DATE in the classroom”, and somewhere else in the CMS, you could set TEST_2_DATE.

    After seeing point #10 (this response was originally for just #7), I’d like to add that there ought to be a campus-wide version of the feature above, for the same reason.

    This makes re-using course “shells” easier as well. And if you say the same thing in five different places, and only change four instances, the students WILL find the instance that you haven’t changed! 😎

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