August 17th, 2009

Time Management Tips for Online Instructors

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Online instruction invariably requires more time for logistics than does face-to-face instruction due to interaction needs, extraneous cognitive load (mental effort needed to attend to non-content-related course elements), and poor self regulation by students.

One factor that tends to increase the amount of time an instructor spends teaching online is the need for interaction. Students crave online interaction with their instructors. More interaction may not mean more learning but it does mean a greater time commitment for both instructor and student. Paradoxically, the learner who seeks interaction can also create pedagogical problems for the instructor who may find responding time-consuming and labor-intensive.

The key is to increase the amount of time spent on instructional interaction while reducing the amount of time spent on dealing with logistical issues by altering course attributes, features, and policies.

I recommend reducing or removing extraneous cognitive load and embedding support features to encourage students to engage in self-regulating activities such as organizing learning materials and monitoring progress—two activities strongly associated with higher achievement.

One tool I use to reduce the amount of time commitment on the part of the instructor caused by extraneous cognitive load and students’ lack of self regulation is the assignment table, an online course feature that displays every assignment in chronological order by due date, with the assignment name, where it is submitted in the online course, and the number of points it is worth. This puts the most critical information that the instructor and the students need to constantly monitor in one location.

The assignment table helps poorly self-regulating students find essential course information and reduces the number of logistical questions they ask the instructor. The assignment table also means that any updates to assignment information need be made in only one location.

Kathryn Ley is an associate professor in the Instructional Technology Program at the University of Houston—Clear Lake.

Excerpted from Saving Time Online Through Effective Communication, Online Classroom, July 2009.