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20 Time-Saving Tips for Faculty Who Teach Distance Education Courses

Planning ahead, setting limits, and tapping into reusable sources are ways to keep on-line teaching from consuming your life. Here are 20 tips on how to save time in your work as a distance educator:

1. Post all assignments, lectures, calendar entries, and topic discussions at the beginning of the course. Though this means a lot of work up front, but it pays off later in easing the challenge of course management, allowing you to focus on responding to students. Many colleges now set deadlines at least several weeks before the term begins for on-line courses to be complete.

2. Make sure students have passed an orientation quiz or completed an on-line scavenger hunt at the start of the semester so that they know how to navigate the course; this will reduce the number of questions later.

3. Block out times during which you are available. Use that time exclusively for your on-line course. The best times might be very early or late, when distractions are at a minimum.

4. Check into your course daily—or at least every working day—so that messages and postings don’t become overwhelming. Answer e-mails and posted questions between classes or even while on the phone; these quick responses keep students more involved and help students work through problems quickly. Being visible on the discussion board also helps students feel that you are deeply connected to the course, even if you post only short notes.

5. Don’t respond to every student on the discussion board. Let students moderate discussions, and they can answer each other’s publicly posted questions. In fact, if you respond too quickly, you can inhibit student responses.

6. Insist that students ask non-personal questions on the discussion board so that you don’t have to answer the same questions multiple times via e-mail.

7. Create a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page so that you’re not constantly answering the same questions. Refer students to this page frequently so they get used to checking it. Update this page every time you receive a new question.

8. Set limits. Tell your students when you aren’t available so they’ll know what to expect. If you don’t intend to be on-line during the weekend or on evenings, make that clear.

9. Have students collaborate on group projects, which means not only interaction that doesn’t involve the instructor, but also fewer papers to grade than if every student turned in an individual paper for that assignment.

10. Have assignments due at mid-week rather than at the end of the week, particularly if you want to stay away from the computer during the weekend.

11. Require that students send work as .txt files if formatting is not an issue and as .rtf files when formatting is important. This will minimize download time and problems related to software conflicts. In addition, insist that students label their files with their name and the name of the assignment; this will prevent you from having to rename files, and it allows for smooth downloading of assignments in a batch, if your course software allows this option.

12. Structure assignments in stages, such as a summary, a report, and a bibliography for a formal written report. This will ease some of the pressure of grading, as can staggering due dates across the different courses you teach. Use rubrics or templates for grading to speed up the process. When appropriate, use automated grading allowed by course management systems.

13. Set rigid deadlines. For example, use weekly topics, with no credit for postings once the week ends, no matter what the reason. This will prevent your having to track late assignments.

14. Use reusable learning objects and free on-line resources developed by other faculty and made available for widespread use. See a list of such resources at http://www.itcnetwork.org/resources.htm#Learning%20Object%20Repositories.

15. Check with your textbook publisher for ready-made on-line learning materials that come with the text.

16. Bookmark the course Web site on every computer you use. Write down the password information and tech help phone number, and keep both near your computer and in your wallet for when you’re working remotely on a computer where this information has not been saved.

17. Create an electronic folder for each class. Save these files on a portable USB drive that you can keep on your key chain and have them available no matter where you’re working.

18. Save and reuse postings from one semester to the next. Keep them clearly labeled and always file new material in the appropriate folders so you can easily find it later.

19. Assemble a body of Internet links related to your course, building on it each semester through your own searches and by assigning students to compile and annotate a list of relevant Web sites.

20. Use keyboard shortcuts (such as “control W” to close a document and “control D” to change the format). A handy list is available at http://de.usa.edu/CourseTips2.html.

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