Thursday, July 23, 2009

12 Time-Saving Tips for Teaching Online

PLANTATION, FL- NOVEMBER 02:  Howie Brown adju...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Online learning saves time for students. Students in online courses have 24/7 access to their course materials, other students, and their instructor. For working students, this is an incredible benefit. But we often hear that online learning takes a lot of an instructor’s time. I have found that it can be, but when a course is set up in advance to take advantage of a learning management system’s features, a lot of time can be saved. Many of these techniques make for a more engaging experience for the students and less stress for the instructor.

Here are some of my favorite time-saving tips. Please add to them!

1. Create a comprehensive syllabus.
  • Utilize a "Week Zero," a module that explains to new students how to be an online student and use the learning management system (LMS).
  • Direct students to tech support and the help desk as much as possible.
  • Create a course “scavenger hunt.”
2. Use a syllabus quiz.
3. 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.
4. 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).
5. Automate your course as much as possible.
  • Take advantage of the time-release feature of announcements.
  • Record and reuse lectures.
  • Let the LMS handle as much of the grading as you can.
6. Distributing and exchanging documents.
  • Use the assignment feature of your LMS instead of e-mail.
  • Have the students attach documents to a forum posting.
7. 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.
8. Use online groups with a deliverable
  • Let the students do the work.
  • Do not respond to every posting, respond to the group deliverable.
9. Use a "common responses" file to quickly paste in answers to common questions.
10. Allow students to facilitate online discussions.
11. Use a detailed grading rubric to help answer questions in advance.
12. Encourage student-student interaction and study groups.
  • Give them the space to solve problems.
What about you? How do you streamline your online teaching process? Leave a comment below if you have any time saving tips.
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Monday, July 13, 2009

What is Innovation?

As I have been working here at my new job, I have been thinking a lot about innovation. In previous postings, I have talked about how money, or the lack of it, influences change and innovation.

I am at a new college, College of the Redwoods, as Director of Instructional Design. It is an exciting time at an interesting college (think of the old Chinese curse): a ten thousand square mile college district needs to expand its online college with little to no money and with what I would consider a minimal infrastructure. This is just the sort of climate that breeds innovation. I also have a chance here to work with innovative people like Maggie McVay Lynch, the Dean of Distance Learning. If her name rings a bell it might be from her article on preparing students for online learning; it is often cited. We used these ideas in our health information management class. She is also responsible for bringing Sakai (called "MyCr" here as customized by rSmart), Gmail, and Google Apps for Education to the campus. Many campuses would consider these radical and outrageous moves - especially IT depts. - but they feel like the most natural solutions here.

So a definition of innovation that is useful here is one by David Yost who used to work for Apple's Advanced Technologies Group: "Another way of putting this is that an innovation lowers the costs and/or increases the benefits of a task. A wildly successful innovation increases the benefits-to-costs ratio to such an extent that it enables you to do something it seemed you couldn’t do at all before or didn’t even know you wanted to do." That is certainly what is happening here. We are moving from a linear, hierarchically organized "learning management system" to a "collaborative learning environment" that is much more inline with constructivist (and connectivist) models of online learning. One of the things that makes College of the Redwoods such an exciting place to be right now is that few here have any real idea how a combination of tools like Sakai and Google Apps for Education can dramatically increase the interactivity of their courses and build community among the students and faculty.

Yost also makes a note of James Burke's ideas on innovation: "...the web of innovation has been and always will be highly interconnected, how each innovation brings forth a paradigm shift which enables other innovations that were unthinkable in the previous paradigm."

I often wonder if ideas from people like George Siemens are not acceptable to some because Siemens is answering questions that some people are not asking yet. And when you find yourself in an institution that is short on money that their ability to see beyond their traditional positions also changes. So a few things have to be in place for innovation: the right people, ideas, and a catalyst (like a budget collapse!). Anyone of those may not be enough.

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