With the increase in online classes being offered by higher education institutions and the convenience and flexibility it affords (particularly for adult learners), it is important that institutions hire, train, and retain high-quality, student-centric online faculty. Just like on-ground students, online students need instructors who are passionate, organized, creative, and manage the (virtual) classroom effectively. Unfortunately, from time to time, online faculty can struggle with burnout, which may make them less effective instructors.
Although from the outside, it may appear that online instructors have a dream job that allows them to work from home and set their own schedules, many online faculty experience some form of burnout. The reasons are plentiful: taking on too many courses per term (often in addition to a fulltime job), the lack of face-to-face interaction, and the high volume of grading and feedback. It can be difficult at times to sit in a home office after a full day of work, offer substantive responses to discussions, respond to student questions, and grade a dozen papers, all without the benefit of any in-person interactions.
With a new term about to begin, we offer a variety of suggestions to help online faculty combat burnout:
- Develop strong classroom management skills. For example, often students have the same questions as in previous terms. Proactively addressing these questions at the start of the course (e.g., via a posting or group email) will give students a strong start while saving you the time of having to answer repeat questions.
- Take breaks while teaching to keep the experience fresh. No one wants to sit in a chair for three hours straight, and it’s unhealthy to do so. When you begin to lose focus, get out of your chair and do something that does not require mental energy.
- Have a set time of day that you log into your classes. When you finish teaching for the day, do not go back to it—being able to unplug and pursue personal interests is essential for maintaining a work-life balance.
- Have some soft music playing in the background while teaching—listening to some non-lyrical tunes may put your mind at ease and keep energy from waning.
- Call students for a more personal interaction—emailing all the time can feel monotonous and does not have the same impact as hearing voices and having a pleasant conversation with a student.
- Create a social media outlet where students can follow you. Set up an Instagram or Twitter account where you can invite students to view your content and help you feel more connected.
- Call a fellow online instructor to discuss curriculum/teaching strategies. Sometimes online faculty feel isolated because they do not have coworkers they can chat with in the faculty lounge. Pick up the phone and interact with your colleagues.
- Pack up your laptop and work in a café—occasionally working in a new location will add variety and allow the opportunity to interact face-to-face with others.
- Avoid eating at your computer. Eating at your desk can make you feel like you live at work. Instead eat in the kitchen or go out and enjoy a meal with family or friends.
- Open a few windows to let some air and sun in— feeling like you are always indoors at your desk in your office at your computer can add to feelings or isolation.
- Get out of your chair and go for a walk. The sunshine and fresh air will help you feel more alive!
- Take a break to have a conversation with a neighbor or friend.
- Join a group fitness class so you can get out, get your blood flowing, and get some face-to-face interaction.
- Take a day off from online teaching to recharge your batteries.
- Do not leave all of your grading until grades are due; spread it out over a period of time.
- Have office hours and discourage students from calling you any time of day or night.
- Join a professional organization where you can attend an annual conference to engage with other online faculty.
- Read academic journals and blogs to gain new teaching techniques and strategies that you could adopt in your classes.
- Read books purely for pleasure or join a local book club.
- Try something different in the classroom each term to break the monotony.
- Teaching the same course term after term could be boring. Mix it up by requesting to teach different courses.
- Avoid working during school-wide breaks. Those breaks are not just for students.
- Volunteer to spend time with residents at a local nursing home.
- Eat nutritiously and sleep well to be fit for the job.
Overall, these suggestions are meant to encourage you to tend to your instructional vitality and personal wellness, so that you can maintain your engagement and interest in online teaching as you grow through the months and years.
Edna Murugan has more than 21 years of higher education experience to include both teaching and administration in online and on ground learning. She is currently an online faculty manager at West Coast University.
Noura Badawi has been teaching online for more than 12 years and taught high school English on ground for 10 years prior to that.