Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Working Smarter: Workload management strategies for online teaching

I am a Teaching Advocacy rep for my faculty and convene a series of sessions annually in order to help lecturers enhance their teaching and learning. For 2015, the first session is going to be about smart strategies for managing teaching workload and staff will be invited to contribute ideas and approaches to ensuring that our teaching is manageable without unduly sacrificing quality. As all of my teaching is online, my own contribution to the session will relate to workload management for online teaching. I have learned about this via working with colleagues like Stephen Bright (WCEL) who has researched and written on the subject - see Bright's top ten online workload management strategies. I also draw upon 13 years of experience as an online teacher.

I started to brainstorm my strategies using an alphabetical approach - that is, I wrote down one strategy for every letter of the alphabet. It became apparent that some letters were more stimulating than others and that the strategies themselves could be grouped according to theme. At this point, I am proposing a SPACE model of workload management strategies for online teaching. It seems to be working for me, in that I am managing just fine, and have space for the important things in life, while continuing to strive for quality teaching and learning. I also really enjoy what I do, so that is a good sign. 

Here are my thoughts on creating the SPACE to work smarter when teaching online:
  • I share models of student work
  • Share past students’ lessons to learn from their mistakes also
  • Share feedback by providing general pointers for the class – rather than individualised, detailed, repetitive comments
  • Share responsibility – with students, by organising peer feedback/review; student-led discussion; ask students to find and review resources; ask students to nominate their best discussion or selected artifacts for assessment
  • -       with colleagues, by asking for help – planning with the team, guest lecturers or guests in online discussion, videoing on campus lectures (or conversations) for use online and in subsequent years
  • -       including the library staff, elearning designers and tech staff, and members of the profession (teacher guests). In particular, refer students to the library's distance site, helpdesk and relevant websites in order to share responsibility for queries about tech issues and APA referencing.
  • Share my own research and learning with students – so that research informs my teaching, and vice versa; so that students help me with conference presentations, and my presentation reflects student voice; so that when I tweet from the conference I am sharing relevant learning with our class hashtag
  • Share reading with students – tell them about my learning, reading, thinking, via online discussion, and social media.

  • I am mindful that P is not for perfection or procrastination
  • Block out time for teaching online – Q&A every day; discussion twice a week
  • Block out time for research and family life – Hide when necessary (e.g., to start, progress or finish a task). Unplug.
  • Research teaching and share research with students, in order to combine scholarship and to model evidence-based pedagogy.

  • I aim to build reusable resources
  • Devise resources and guidelines with students, and pay forward as a legacy for subsequent cohorts
  • Select models of student work and obtain permission to share with subsequent cohorts
  • Keep a record of student suggestions, ideas for next time, and corrections to make in future. I store these within the Moodle paper where I will refer to them when creating the next iteration
  • Good ideas to share
  • FAQ – to pre-empt common misunderstandings and provide technical instructions (e.g., how to post a hyperlink that opens in a new window)
  • When marking, note common points of misunderstanding and collate these to provide group/class feedback. Use again in the following year prior to the assignment, in order to pre-empt misunderstandings and common errors.

  • I talk with students about what they expect from me; I try to listen carefully with an open mind, and I correct them if I think their expectations of me are unreasonable
  • Clarify office hours and availability – how and when to contact me
  • Keep communication in Moodle as far as possible
  • Explain clearly – if written instructions obscure the message, use video and audio (vodcasting, podcasting, screencasting)
  • Clarify the weekly to do list for students – via a top message and newsforum
  • Take a creative and collaborative approach – using a/synchronous tools, social media, OER, …
  • Invite student feedback along the way
  • Give clear and specific feedback when marking, explaining reasons for grade, so as to pre-empt queries.

Enhance electronic efficiency  
  • Learn new skills to work smarter – e.g., touch typing – 100WPM
  • If a particular tool or approach is not efficient, I don’t use it.

So what works for you? How do you manage teaching workload online or offline? What are the biggest challenges?
Please respond if you would like clarification of any of the points above.


  1. Spot on Dianne, this is a really useful way of looking at it. I think my afterthought would be about considering workload for our students too - who often have big commitments alongside their studies. One way I factor this in, is to encourage my students to choose a topic for their assignment that is relevant to their other studies or work interests, like reviewing a TED talk for example. That way, the students are incentivised to maintain their engagement and - in the true spirit of enhancing the experience - I'm likely to learn something new too. :)

  2. Absolutely Ursula! Brilliant idea. Relevance is an important consideration, and part of working smarter, which is something we should model for students, and expect in turn. You also make a good point about the way that an assigned piece of work can open up a whole new world of interests for students - by showing them the treasure trove that is TED talks. When students share their review of the talk with peers, this adds to the resourcing and enhances that peer-share aspect too. Thanks for comment :)