Faculty Focus


10 Ways to Re-energize Your Classes and Yourself

I’ve been teaching online since 2001. I’ve always felt a certain sense of excitement when discussing philosophies, pedagogy, or instructional strategies with others and creating active, energetic online classrooms. So it was disheartening when I “hit a wall” and things started to feel really monotonous.

Here are some tips that might help you re-energize your online classes and yourself:

1. Expand your horizons – Attend a conference, webinar, or workshop relating to e-learning. Delve into an e-learning journal or newsletter that can help you strengthen your online teaching skills, help you save time or better manage your workload, and spark ideas to apply to your own online classrooms.

2. Try using some Web 2.0 tools – If you want to reach a variety of learning styles, Web 2.0 technology is the way to go. There are a number of free and easy tools available at your fingertips that take less than five minutes to learn.

3. Create a more “affective,” diverse environment – As learning theory supports, the affective domain is just as important as the cognitive or psychomotor. Add in some “affective” type questions or assignments that allow for a range of answers and perspectives.

Try posting audio messages to the class as well as to individuals. This can be done by using a simple computer headset with microphone and your computer. Or try some asynchronous and synchronous forms of group audio discussion by visiting www.yackpack.com/ or www.voicethread.com/.

4. Collaborate – Form a learning community with your fellow faculty and friends (even if it’s a small group), and meet at least once a month to dialogue about your experiences, best practices, and e-learning literature.

5. Establish boundaries, but keep your social presence – To reduce the 24/7 feeling some of us experience, inform your students of days and times that you will be available for office hours (live) in person, via online chat, or by phone. Also, consider asynchronous mechanisms of communication, such as a Q&A board that you check twice a week.

6. Include informal, nongraded assignments to stimulate discussion and increase learning comprehension – This can also reduce the amount of grading required of the instructor, but allows the students to stay connected to the content. Self-quizzes, online games, Web tutorials, online chats, wikis, online scavenger hunts, digital storytelling, and blogs are just a few tools used for informal application.

7. Take a break – Back away from your monitor and do something that does not require use of your computer. As hard as it may be, try to reserve your weekends for yourself and your family and/or friends.

8. Use the resources available to help you – More and more administrators are becoming aware of the time and effort it takes to produce a quality online course. If your plate is full and you just never seem to find the time to concentrate on course development or skill building, talk to your chair or department coordinator.

9. Simplify, simplify, simplify – Start by clarifying your job responsibilities and (if applicable) tenure requirements. Like all service-oriented professionals, we have a tendency to feel guilty about saying “no.” Because of this, we often have too much on our plates. Determining how much of those portions come from external demands and expectations and how much we put there ourselves is a critical step in reducing and eliminating burnout.

10. Don’t try to do everything at once – It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by technology because it evolves at lightning speed. Keeping abreast of what is going on in e-learning is important, but don’t try to do more than you can handle. Oftentimes, your students may not be ready either. So take it one step at a time. Try incorporating a new tool once per semester (or year) and/or focus on improving the quality of your design and instruction.

Jody Oomen-Early is an assistant professor in the Department of Health Studies at Texas Woman’s University.

Excerpted from Burnout and Online Instruction: 10 Tips to Revive Your E-Classroom and Yourself, Parts 1 & 2, December 2008 and January 2009, Online Classroom.