Some faculty go into online education under the impression that it will take less time than face-to-face teaching because lecturing is eliminated. But we know that online teaching takes as much, if not more, time than face-to-face teaching because of the added engagement with students in discussion and other activities. Here are some simple tips for making your online teaching more efficient, as applied to a sample assignment.
The assignment—Experiential education is one of the most powerful ways to learn because it melds theory with practice. There are many ways to get your students away from the computer to apply what they learned in the course. For example:
This type of assignment forces students to understand the material on a deeper level, seeing how it applies to their world. Plus, students can solicit the help of friends to set up experiments or find subjects, which will help retention and completion.
In order to reduce questions about the assignment, you can include a short audio or video clip explaining the assignment, its purpose, the grading strategy, expected outcomes, benefits, and the like. This can serve as a kind of preemptive FAQ, with the topics drawn from past student questions. Multimedia material tends to draw our attention and so can be more effective than the usual text explanation.
Submission—We assume that any student content must be submitted through the LMS assignment bin, but there is no reason that this must be the case. Consider having your students submit assignments to the discussion forum, or to their blogs if you use them in your courses.
The benefit of a public submission is that students can get feedback from other students, not just the instructor. You may find that you do not have to add much beyond what other students have to say. Plus, students will generally put more time and care into work that will be seen by other students, so it may be more polished and require fewer corrections from you. The public forum also forces students to explain concepts in layman's terms, which deepens learning.
We tend to assume students need to be required to post a certain number of responses to any discussion forum, but again, there is no reason to require it if there is no pedagogical purpose. If the goal is to get feedback to the student who made the original posting, then there is no reason to require everyone to reply to it. Requiring responses can often lead to students' just rephrasing what others have said. Making the comments optional will cull the number of responses to those that add original content to the discussion. If you want evidence that students read each other's posts, you might have them write a brief assignment or a post highlighting their three favorite posts and why they liked them.
Grading—Some of the most frustrating time in grading is spent focusing on details that may not matter in the grand scheme of things. If the assignment is for a political science class, grammar and spelling are probably not identified course outcomes. As a result, you may not need to focus on them in every single assignment. As a political science instructor, your first focus should be on teaching political science, not basic grammar. You are a professor, not a copy editor. Give that job to your school's writing center—the people who are paid to do it.
Also consider giving a simple “complete/incomplete” grade for certain assignments. There is no law requiring every assignment to be graded on the A, B, C, etc. letter scale. For some assignments, it may be enough to simply require that students complete all of the requirements of the assignment. I usually allow students with an incomplete score to resubmit once to get a complete grade. With completion-style grading, you save time on small details and focus on the larger issues related to the outcome of the assignment.
Special considerations for large classes: If you have a lot of students submitting, you can have them post to small-group discussion forums, and then have the group post a synopsis of the group members' results.
Student feedback—Faculty generally wait until they get their class evaluations to receive student feedback on the course. But this does not help with crafting individual assignments. All faculty members know that the first time they try a new assignment in their class, it will have hiccups. We learn from the results and modify the next version accordingly. But we learn more quickly when we ask for student input on a new assignment right after trying it. Let students know that you are experimenting with the assignment, and solicit their feedback. Ask specifically about the clarity in the instructions, the time spent doing the assignment, and how much they enjoyed doing the assignment.
Soliciting student feedback gives students the pride of knowing that they are influencing the form of future courses. It also demonstrates your sincere interest in your teaching, and students will pick up on this and be motivated to perform better in the course.
The online teacher is often overwhelmed by the work involved. But a few simple tricks will allow you to achieve your pedagogical goals without becoming buried in that work.
Stephanie Delaney is the Dean of Extended Learning at Seattle Central College. She will be presenting a seminar on “Five Tips to Engage Students Outside of the Online Classroom” on Tuesday, October 6, at 1:00 p.m. CT. See Magna Publications' Live Online Seminars for more information.