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Save Time as You Teach Online

Community Contributor
4 5 852

These are some of the strategies I use to help maximize time for meaningful student contact. (first mentioned in Saving time teaching online‌ )

The goal is to spend your time and creative presence on teaching. 

The more you can front-load your courses for student success, the more meaningful connections you make with students--and the less time you spend on frustration and tech support.  

  • Use the Quiz tool for more than quizzes.  Think of the Quiz tool as more of an auto-grading tool--especially for low stakes chapter quizzes where the point is to ensure that students read the materials and are prepared for the assignments and discussions, etc. Students are sensitive to busy-work, yet we all know that completing readings and getting some repetition is vital for retention.  Save the teacher's energy for grading that can only be done with expert insight. It is not scalable for a teacher to just take the pain and skip dinner to grade lower-stakes assignments that have a set "right answer." If there is a solid right answer for any question, find a creative way to use the quiz tool (with Proctorio proctoring if the assessment is high stakes.) Students can plow through micro-assignments racking up points without exhausting the teacher's limited time!
  • Implement QM standards. As a nationally recognized quality standard, QM Quality Matters rubric for online courses also maps dozens of trouble-preventing points that immediately improve any type of course.  Many of the user experience UX/HCI errors that derail students in the LMS system can be dealt with in advance to prevent ill-will or frustration that distracts from the topic. This includes explaining what students will get from assignments (what's in it for me) in plain language without edu-jargon. It also includes set-up instructions, help resources, and detailed instructions written for the lowest-level of computer savvy. A week 1 intro assignment where students set-up their computers for Canvas, email the instructor, adjust their personal notification settings to reduce junk mail and get important announcements, etc. reveals any issues before the first assignment is creating pressure. It also makes the instructor real by having immediate contact.
  • Use due dates correctly and pace your courses. Canvas has a nice algorithm to guess due date changes in semester migration of content, but due dates still need careful review by the instructor to make sure everything is predictable and considerate of student needs before the semester starts. Students need to plan and need their curiosity encouraged.  Almost without exception, those instructors who don't understand the benefits of due dates in assignment settings (for the auto-reminders, time-stamps, and to-do list etc.) end up being over-thorough elsewhere and inserting excess information in odd places that waste time. Maximizing what is automated in Canvas prevents--for example--an instructor constantly sending out apologies or correction announcements because students are lost.  It also prevents putting date-sensitive info in Assignment instructions, which don't auto-update. This in turn makes course prep time consuming every semester--or makes courses look unprofessional and awkward. 

Quality discussion prompts lead to quality learning interactions.

  • Maximize Discussions. Quality discussion prompts lead to quality learning interactions. Not only do discussions help the instructor monitor the quality of learning, they also give the students a chance to add value to each others' learning without all of the pressure being on the instructor or content.  Discussions can be primed for creative input by students.  In most subjects, having etiquette/netiquette and discussion expectations made clear at the beginning of the course ensures that the parameters are met (length, politeness, references, professional tone, replies to others.) That's when students start doing more than the minimum for a grade. I recommend grading on content and not grammar in discussions unless it is dire. Then the instructor can participate intermittently. Avoid replying to every post, and also avoid disappearing entirely.  See what develops and only intervene if it seems important--or to round out a late contributor's interactions.
  • Make your feedback meaningful. If you take the time to write feedback or create rubrics, make sure students know what to do with it. That may include rough drafts and final drafts that incorporate feedback, peer reviews (in the PR tool or in discussions) or steps to prepare for big projects or ePortfolio entries. If you are taking your time, it should be for some artifact that the student is perfecting to learn and then remind themselves they've learned.
  • Use the less restrictive settings wherever possible. Modules can be locked-down for every item to be completed in order, but don't use that unless the subject matter requires it (such as competency-based progressions where safety is at stake.) Over-controlling the student's path through the material is usually a sign that the course needs navigation help for student user experience--or possibly that the instructor is old-school and needs to understand the benefits and differences an LMS provides. Example: Avoid available and until dates except on a Midterm and Final Exam. Allow students to click around and look ahead if it causes no harm. Otherwise, you might feel more in control and in return, your students will feel more irritated and treat you to excessive complaint emails and reports that Canvas is broken, etc. Reward student persistence, if possible, by allowing multiple attempts at low-stakes assignments or chapter quizzes where the point is just to get students to engage with the material. Save your energy for the big things. 

Treat course development as an ongoing process.   Take the negatives you experience teaching online and transform them into improvements. 



  • If you get the same question from more than one student, make an FYI general announcement. 
    • Check your announcements for quantity and content. See if they are signaling the need for more logical assignment instructions--or perhaps links to Canvas guides where students can help troubleshoot for themselves. 
  • Include a Get Started set-up section in every course so students can install computer updates, school software, and get help from real tech support before the critical moments of class assignments or webinars. 
  • Consideration lowers stress levels. In webinars, design a Welcome message as the first slide of your PowerPoint and leave it open to welcome the early arrivals--so they know they are in the right place and the software is working. 
  • Allow time: Technology sign-ons and glitches take longer than you think.  Don't try to crowd too much info into a webinar. Spend the first 15 minutes getting each student to message, raise their hand, or otherwise test the equipment calmly, with a sense of humor. Plan for it.
  • Use synchronous webinars as a place to connect and discuss, rather than relaying new information. Use assigned discussions that require students to engage the material and develop their webinar questions in advance. 
  • Trim the fat. Make sure all of your content is meaningful. If students try to avoid busywork, make sure you don't have any. Make assignments relevant and focus on quality rather than quantity. Repeating assignments (rough draft-->final draft--> polished writing sample) may be more meaningful than excess, scattered work. 
Community Participant

I'd like to hear what you mean by "microassignments." It sounds like they're low-stakes quizzes, but you point this out in the context of using the quiz tool for more than just quizzes. Can you give examples? Thanks!

Community Contributor

 @leslie_irvine ‌

Micro-assignments vs. Quizzes may be a matter of semantics.  Of course, your options would only be limited by creativity.

Here are some examples of what I've used:

  • I usually use low-value graded Assignment submissions for incremental steps of a grand project, to prevent procrastination and help students learn to break down major tasks.  However, the quiz tool can also be used with well-designed multiple-choice questions if there is a clear step-by-step the instructor knows in advance as a hallmark of successful projects.  
    • Multiple-choice example from a pharmacy course: Which page of the FDA website holds the search engine for Black box warnings? (It is like a Quiz, but based on actions, not memorized information.)
  • Students can self-report an action. 
    • Depending on your topic/field, students can take actions and return to the auto-graded assignment report their actions on the honor system or as a meta/reflection, similar to a graded survey. (Reflection is a high-impact teaching practice usually accomplished by writing assignments, but it can also be graphed. Students can graph it as a Summative assignment and use-auto-grading for weekly check-ins. Good for social sciences, etc.)
  • Discussions are a place where students can search the web and share content, rather than always being the consumers of teacher-curated content. 
    • This can be followed up with auto-graded check-ins: Did I do this? Did I follow the directions?  Did I complete my assignments on time? Did I post the Scholarly references?
  • A weekly checklist of tasks can be self-reported with points awarded.
  • Likert-scales in graded surveys can be used to encourage student check-ins and self-reporting. Points can be awarded for any entry. This is also an opportunity for a combination of essay and scale answers that a teacher can read for insight, while auto-points are awarded. 

*I personally avoid essay questions in Canvas Quizzes, since it neutralizes the benefit of having auto-grading and instant feedback. 

Community Participant

Thank you!

Community Contributor

Smiley Happy

Community Member

Thank you very much. As a newbee in Canvas, I am learning a lot from the discussion here.