[dropcap]I[/dropcap] teach for two universities and recently checked the class rosters for two online courses that I would begin teaching in a couple of weeks and saw that I had 32 students in one and 28 in the other. These numbers may not be considered a lot by some instructors, but the two classes together represented a hefty teaching load for me.
This led me to reflect on how I could save time on administrative processes by making my students more self-reliant. I needed to eliminate the number of questions asked about assignments and other related tasks to ensure my time was being spent on what mattered most—course content and learning outcomes. I implemented several processes that I found reduced my administrative load considerably.
- FAQs: Maintain an on-going list of the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) students ask during the semester. Share the set of questions and the answers with students at the start of the term and encourage them to get in the habit of reviewing the list whenever they have a question. I find students have questions even after I am careful to include the information in the assignment’s instructions. For example, how many pages an assigned paper should contain, why in-text citations and references are required, what is considered a scholarly source. By including the list of FAQs, students can find the answers themselves without the need to take the instructors time.
- Class chat room: Provide a class chat room so students may engage in conversation or ask questions among themselves. This helps students to not rely on the instructor as their only source for answers and demonstrates that classmates are a useful resource, thus saving the instructor time for engaging in discussions about the content of the course. When I do get a question by email, I often post it to the forum anonymously and provide my answer so that others with a similar question will see it.
- Resources and support: Don’t allow students to bypass the many resources available to them through the school. Encourage and direct the students to the school’s writing center for questions about academic writing style, such as APA format for in-text citations and references, academic title pages, and the use of topic headings. When questions about how to locate academic resources or other material are posed, remind the students of the library’s website where most likely there are tutorials on how to search for academic or professionally relevant sources for papers or engage in virtual consultations with the library staff if needed. The tutorials and a link to the library and the writing center can be built into the course as helpful resources, saving instructors time by not needing to answer questions while building student’s important research skills. If there is a research paper in the class or the need to access the library databases, build in a course guide that provides starting points for the research with suggested databases and relevant journals. Being the sole person answering questions for students when other resources are available is not the best use of an instructor’s time and can take away from time that is needed in the discussion responses to students or grading the assignment.
- Voice feedback: We can speak faster than we can type, so use voice feedback with students. See “Tips from the Pros” articles for directions on how to use voice feedback and how to use screencasting feedback to improve student learning.
- Assignment sharing: Students can learn from one another’s assignments, both in terms of their content and format. Have students share their written assignments after they are submitted for grading, providing more content and comparison of ideas or conclusions the student can discover on their own. At times I build in a discussion question asking the students to review three or so of their classmates’ papers and report on something they learned from the review. This allows understanding by the student without the instructor needing to take the time to explain in greater detail about how a student can improve an assignment or missing pieces in the submission.
- Discussion summary: Instead of replying to each student’s discussion post, post a few summary statements relating to trends or common themes in the student’s postings for the week, noting some of the points students have made and build on those points with added explanation and possibly adding sources such as articles or firsthand experiences. This will save the instructor time while still expanding on students’ comments and demonstrating to the students that the instructor is reading the individual comments of each student.
- Class announcements: Design class announcements in advance using past classes as a general guide. Most likely the same general content in the announcements—assignment reminders, weekly welcome notes, mid-week comments about discussion postings, close of the week remarks—is recyclable from one semester to another if you are teaching the same course multiple times.
- Team projects: When appropriate, rather than having students complete an assignment as an individual, make the assignment a team project. Most likely the students will learn from each other due to their diversity in backgrounds, build essential teamwork skills, and grading the team assignments is much less time consuming that grading the individual assignments.
- LMS search tools: Look for LMS search tools that allow students to locate items on their own, such as information related to topics, material, and authors. There are advanced search tools such as Atomic Jolt for Canvas and keyword search in Blackboard, but instructors may need to ask for them. If students can locate material on their own through these search tools, it relieves the faculty of answering a question.
Building self-reliant students saves instructor’s time, allowing a maximization of the effectiveness and efficiency of time teaching. As important as the resources and tools, is resisting becoming the one who supplies all the answers rather than encouraging students to use their own critical thinking, resourcefulness, and available resources to find answers on their own.
Joyce Henderson is an instructor of leadership and human resources at the University of Colorado–Boulder.