How Much Time Should We Spend on Online Classes?

Steve, in “Have I spent enough time?” in an online class (9/6/13), says,

I know when I’ve “spent my time” in a face-to-face class: the bell rings and the hour / 90 minutes is up for our meeting. But how do I know how much is “enough” for an online class?


Good question. The answer is it all depends.

Most learning manage systems (LMSs) provide a basic mold with a smorgasbord of features, and the teacher’s task is to simply pick and choose, fill in some blanks, and “pour” her/his material into the mold. Most of the intense work will be in preparation. Once the barebones structure is set up and the term begins, she could, at her own pace, refine the activities and resources.

This tweaking is open ended and is limited only by the teacher’s technical skills. The general rule is that the more skilled she becomes with instructional technology, the more she’s capable of doing and the more time she’ll choose to devote to the task of course construction.  

Thus, with the passing of every term and the gradual accumulation and honing of technical skills, time requirements could increase — rather than decrease — dramatically. In a sense, this is a natural progression in teaching online. There’s just so much more the teacher can do! And with innovations and upgrades coming at ever faster rates, the possibilities are growing exponentially.

Think of this progression as a kind of layering. With every layer of new technology, the course becomes a more efficient and effective environment for learning. The teacher gradually learns how to use the latest technology to improve interactive learning and to maximize self-directed and peer-facilitated learning.

The constant challenge for all online teachers is managing the time they have for one-on-one interactions, either in communicating with students or in evaluating their work. Without an efficient plan, they could quickly and easily feel overwhelmed.

Just because teachers can interact 24/7 with students and their work doesn’t mean they should. In fact, they shouldn’t. Teachers run on an internal clock that tells them when enough is enough. They know when to stop, when to continue, how much they can and cannot do. Like running the marathon, they know they have to pace themselves or they won’t finish.

In online teaching, technology is the primary time management tool. And the key is learning how to use it. For example, if a teacher finds that much of her time is spent helping students to complete a particular task in her course, she could cut down or even eliminate that bottleneck by implementing a technical solution.

The problem may be that textual directions on how to participate in her online discussions may be too confusing, and the teacher finds herself spending hours repeatedly explaining the process to individual students. In time, she may learn how to design and produce brief videos that show students exactly how to do it. Students can then view them 24/7, as often as necessary, to master the process, freeing her from the need to intervene.

Another example: Students may be having difficulty quoting sources in their research papers. Peer review procedures fail to alleviate this problem. The teacher ends up devoting countless hours to the task of repeatedly flagging these errors and offering suggestions on how to correct them.

In time, she may design a system of links to self-learning resources. Using a boilerplate app, she can, with a single click, instantly insert comments with hot links into their text. The student clicks the link and is taken to a webpage or video that addresses the problem.

Technical strategies for improving peer feedback or self-evaluation activities have the potential to save the teacher even more time, but they take time to develop and implement. Thus, teachers need time, at least initially, to save time.

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