Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Time Saving Tips for Teaching Online

Time Selector
Time Selector (Photo credit: Telstar Logistics)
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 to take advantage of a learning management system’s features, 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. Here is our example from DE 101.

2. 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. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

 5. 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).

6. 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.

7. Automate your course as much as possible. Take advantage of the time-release feature of announcements and other content. Record and reuse lectures. Let the learning management system handle as much of the grading as you can.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. Use online groups with a deliverable Let the students do the work. Do not respond to every posting, respond to the group deliverable.

11. 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.

12. 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.

13. Use a detailed grading rubric to help answer questions in advance.  Teachers can create rubrics online using tools like RubiStar.

14. Encourage student-student interaction and study groups. Give them the space to solve problems.

15. Communicate to entire class in general terms using audio and/or video on a regular basis. 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.

Bonus: There is a great resource from Dennis Thomas O'Connor, "Time Management Strategies for Online Instructors," that he sent to me in the last incarnation of this post.

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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Thursday, August 08, 2013

Are You Ready for Online Learning?

computer lab
Educators will often discuss the barriers to online education without considering what a student would need to do to overcome those barriers. The typical answer to "are you ready for online education?" is "online education isn't for everyone." As someone who has taught English at all levels, face-to-face and online, I could not disagree with this more.

If you are new to online learning, you might be wondering what skills you will need to be successful in your online classes. Students are often surprised at the fact that they already have some of the main skills it takes to be successful as an online student. Many of the skills that you need to take online classes you can learn as you take the classes; there are, however, some differences. The seven factors below are some of the considerations you may want to keep in mind as you take online classes.

1. Time Management
Time management is very important in online courses; be sure to download the course calendar and keep it near your computer. Keep "to-do" lists and take advantage of any calendar and alarm functions on your phone or computer. You can use online calendars like Google Calendar. Take some time to develop a system. Students tend to take online classes because they want to take advantage of the flexibility it gives their schedule.

 2. Academic Rigor
Often, students new to online classes expect them to be easier than face-to-face classes. Classes online are just as academically rigorous as face-to-face. Online classes require the same amount of effort as traditional courses, sometimes more; the convenience is that you can select (to an extent) when you show up in the course environment. They may require a little more for some students as they learn the technology. Online courses can rely heavily on reading assignments, written lecture, and written communication in groups. If you learn best by reading, then you have an advantage in an online environment.

3. Communication Skills
Online classes are primarily text-based environments. Communicating online lacks the visual cues we are all used to in conversations; be specific when you ask questions and don't assume that someone else can tell when you are joking. Remember to take a few moments to check spelling and grammar, as this it will affect the impression you create with your peers and instructor.

4. Technology Skills
You do not have to be an expert in technology to be successful in an online class. You should be comfortable navigating the internet, using email, and attaching documents to email. Technology skills are not a barrier to your success: just as you learned how to be a face-to-face student, you can learn to be an online student. Be sure to check out the minimum technology requirements recommended by your school's distance education department. As you take online classes you will become more comfortable with online technology. You can't "break" anything in your online class. Go ahead and click all the buttons and get use to the environment. Take the time to find out what kind of tech support is available to you and keep that information handy.

5. Networking Skills
Online learning is a social environment. Participate in your class. Online learning is about connections you will make with your instructor, your fellow students and the course content. Take some time to read about your instructor in the faculty area, and be sure to ask for a face-to-face or virtual office hour if you feel you aren't getting the information you need in the online environment.  Be sure to give some extra effort to all the group activities, discussion forums, or social lounges offered in the course. The real learning in your online courses comes in the connections you make with your instructor, fellow students and the content of the class. Use social media like Twitter and Facebook to help other students create learning networks - study groups and connections that will follow you throughout your academic and professional career.

6. Critical Thinking Skills
The same kind of critical thinking skills that are required in paper-based research is required online. You will need to remember that not all sources on the internet are equal as far as academic credibility is concerned. The same citation questions for paper-based research apply online: what are the author's credentials? What is the author's purpose in writing? Is the author an expert in his or her field? Remember that as an online student, you have access to a librarian for guidance by phone or email. Consult your college webpage for the reference librarian's contact information. Your college may even have a librarian that specializes in online learning or internet research.

 7. Motivation
The habits that you developed to be a successful face-to-face student are also required in online learning. Online learning requires a little more discipline. Online classes are generally not to self-paced classes and participation can be a major factor in your success as an online student. Typically, as an online student, you will need to check in with your class at least three times a week and take time to do your assignments completely and thoughtfully. Ask questions if you do not understand an assignment. Go into the discussion forums and see if there are students forming study groups (or form one yourself). Set course and personal goals in your calendar and don’t forget to reward yourself or celebrate your accomplishments. Remind yourself why you are taking classes online and keep fixed on your goals.

By keeping in mind these seven factors, any student can successfully take online courses.
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