Managing Online Courses: Managing Time, Workload, and Policies
Online courses present unique challenges and opportunities for managing teaching tasks and course workloads. These challenges and opportunities range from time management to virtual communication to the grading of digital assignments. With a little forethought and pre-planning, instructors can minimize the challenges and maximize the opportunities of course management through a few simple steps and strategies. After teaching online a few times, instructors develop their own combination of strategies to help them best operate and thrive within the online classroom.
Why is it important?
Teaching and managing an online course means juggling many responsibilities that can be time-consuming. In fact, without an awareness of how best to juggle these responsibilities, instructors’ time spent on their online courses can quickly spiral out of control. Conversely, instructors have more control over their class schedule and might be able to teach an online course while living internationally, whether for research or personal reasons. Just as online students need good time management, organization, and self-motivation skills in order to succeed in an online course, so do instructors.
How to put it into practice?
To conceptualize the various course management strategies, it is helpful to group them into three main categories: manage time, establish student policies, and promote academic integrity. Each of these categories will be familiar to instructors with face-to-face teaching experience. However, there are unique considerations and challenges that apply to teaching online.
Managing time and workload
The time-related flexibilities that online instructors can benefit from can also become a liability if an instructor is not managing their time effectively.
Tips for online instructors to manage their time include:
- Allocate certain amounts of time for working on the course. Resist the temptation to be available “24/7,” or else students will expect you to be available at all times.
- Try to enter the course 5-10 times during the week, and perhaps more often as assignment or exam deadlines arise due to last-minute students' questions.
- Keep a regular schedule of brief log-ins to read discussion items, monitor messages, and check for questions or problems.
- Establish a “day off” during the week. Announce to the students that, for example, on Saturdays, you will not be checking course activities.
- Think carefully about due dates for assignments and days when tests are scheduled. For example, if Saturday is a scheduled day off, then don’t require assignments to be submitted on Saturday or Sunday.
- Arrange virtual office hours and keep them in case a student wants to chat or conference with you.
- Set a maximum response turnaround time, such as 24 to 48 hours, for grading and feedback so that students know when to expect your response.
Also, calibrating and communicating the amount of work you are asking students to do is critical when students are encountering change and disruption in their learning spaces, as well as in the environment at large. Communicating time expectations for individual activities helps students organize their time and thereby focus on the core purpose of that activity. Read more about how to plan and communicate to students workload expectations
One of the most important course management strategies is for instructors to have clear student policies put in place by the start of the course. This way, students are informed of course expectations and procedures from the very beginning of the course. This minimizes administrative uncertainty or issues and saves the instructor time in the long run.
Student policies should cover aspects such as:
- Student privacy
- Email and discussions
- Hardware and software standards
- Assignments and assessments
- Technical assistance
- The student code of conduct
- Intellectual property rights and copyright
Tips for online instructors to manage student policies include:
- Write all policies clearly yet concisely so that students understand all course expectations.
- Be explicit about all time-related expectations and requirements in the syllabus. This includes assignment due dates, student discussion participation timelines, instructor office hours, and instructor response turnaround time.
- Explicitly communicate or link to university policies wherever necessary. For example, some students might have learning disabilities and need additional time to complete assignments or assessments. Therefore, it is important to provide information so that students know who to contact and how to get their accommodations met.
An instructor’s promotion of academic honesty is especially important in an online course. Although the motivations behind academic dishonesty are not that different for online students than students in a traditional classroom, the temptation to cheat or plagiarize is arguably greater due to the online course format and lack of direct contact with the instructor.
Best practices to promote academic honesty include:
- Clearly state the institutional academic misconduct policy as well as your own academic honesty expectations.
- Ensure that students understand what cheating and plagiarism are, as well as how you will handle suspected and known cases. These concepts vary across cultures, so some international students may not have the same understanding of them as students from the United States do.”
- Have students partake in an activity or quiz that allows them to discuss their ideas and attitudes about cheating and plagiarism.
- Write an honor code of honesty and integrity, and ask students to commit to these principles by signing their names to the document
- Teach students necessary citation skills.
- Emphasize the educational benefits of the course, including how students’ learning will be advantageous for other academic work and their professional careers.
- Use multiple assessment methods and grade assessments promptly.
- Be noticeably present in the course and involved in the activities to avoid a learning environment conducive to cheating.
- Promptly address suspected and known cases of academic dishonesty.