Last fall, we did a survey of our top faculty to gather their best tips for teaching online. We observed that many of our top-tier faculty led very busy professional lives—counseling a full load of clients each week, teaching several classes for Liberty University Online, and in some cases engaging in other professional activities as well. However, in spite of their tremendous workloads, they did not cut corners in their online teaching.
The survey provided numerous valuable tips. This article focuses on the theme of organizing an online course to teach efficiently. Most of the responses from our top faculty emphasized the importance of putting a system in place to make your online teaching efficient. Below are some representative comments.
Various approaches to organization
A three-ring binder—One faculty member mentioned using a three-ring binder for each course, with several tabs—course syllabus, student expectations, assignment instructions, grading rubrics, and weekly modules. This enables the faculty member to easily access information when students ask questions in these areas, without having to switch out of the student's email or discussion forum in order to find the information. “The advantage is that I can answer student questions regarding the course almost immediately rather than jumping screens to find the answer and then having to go back to the student,” the faculty member wrote.
Master document—Another faculty member uses a master document for each course. This document is broken down by weeks. Each week contains announcements, discussion board posts, a devotional, and any grading rubric that will be used that week. “This way I do not have to pull up several documents. It's all in one place. Once I have posted something (copied and pasted the announcement, for example), I change the color of the font, so I know I have ‘used' that item, and it makes it easy for me to find my place when I continue that week's work,” the faculty member wrote.
Central calendar—Another faculty member writes assignment deadlines for all classes in a central calendar. This provides an overview of which classes are on the discussion board, taking exams, or submitting papers each week. “I can then allow ample time for my activity within each course and can also appropriate the needed time for interaction and grading. I work to have all grading from each weekend completed by Wednesday or Thursday of the week, believing that substantive and timely feedback will ultimately help students improve on their following assignments,” the faculty member wrote. “If I know I have a very heavy week of grading (multiple papers/courses), I ensure that I have allocated the needed time to provide detailed grading. I also work to grade papers as they are submitted rather than waiting for the entire class to submit their papers. I remain fresh by doing this rather than reading multiple papers in a row.”
Student roster—Another professor prints a student roster with 20 columns to track discussion board posts for each discussion board assignment as well as other assignments. “This is a spreadsheet on which I can make quick notes about the student's weaknesses/strengths throughout the term. I also note the grades given and late assignments, as well as whether I have responded to them in a discussion board. This enables me to have ‘at a glance' information about each student and his progress. It also ensures that I respond to everyone evenly throughout our discussions.”
Allen D. Meyer is an assistant professor and department chair of the Center for Counseling and Family Studies at Liberty University.