Showing results for 
Search instead for 
Did you mean: 
Community Coach
Community Coach

Saving time teaching online

Hello everyone, 

I teach a course on developing/facilitating online classes and have a question I wanted to pose based on one of our class discussion topics.  For those who teach online, how have you found ways to save time on various teaching tasks so you can spend this instead on engaging and connecting with students?

This topic has come up in a couple of blogs before (see Canvas Tips to Save Teachers Time and Time-Saving Tips: Stop Repeating Yourself (CanvasLIVE Session)), but it would be great to see what else folks have come up with!

My hope is to hear if there are Canvas tools, outside apps, or general teaching techniques you have found which could help others. Here are a couple I have used with success:

  • On a topic about student/learner characteristics, I have class participants draw a picture and post this instead of providing a written response as I can grade the images more quickly than papers (and it is more engaging!).
  • When teaching math classes and a student has a question about a concept, I will make a recording of solving a problem with Explain Everything, upload it to YouTube, and then post it in Canvas for the entire class to review.

I look forward to learning what others have found to be beneficial to their teaching . . . thanks in advance!

36 Replies
Community Coach
Community Coach

Hi ericwerth

 After 20 years of teaching online, I would like to assure folks who might be new to this that teaching online is very time-consuming. So pay attention to this discussion and the other two Eric referenced!

  • The first tip I give my own faculty is to develop a well-aligned curriculum in which all learning activities are directly related to student achievement of the stated course outcomes. Unrelated activities need to be developed and graded and both take time. Pointless busywork for your students is pointless busy work for you. Don't waste time on what is often called "hidden curriculum". Working for a tech college, and teaching for a health career program, Professionalism is the most frequent hidden outcome I see. If it isn't stated explicitly as a learning outcome, don't waste time on it.
  • Provide very clear and often repeated instructions. In fact, incorporate the Transparency Framework in the development of assignments/assessments. Not only can this practice save you time, it can improve learner performance.There are few activities that take more time than answering student questions, which leads me to my next point.
  • Develop and maintain a FAQ. I use a Q&A Discussion to develop my FAQ, which in itself is a time-saver. My Q&A discussions are well promoted which helps make sure that I only answer each question once. At the end of the term, I gather any "new" questions and their answers to add them to my FAQ. I also encourage my students to answer the questions posted by their classmates. Not only does this further save me time, but is helps engage my learners - there is no better way to learn than to teach! I then simply have to mark the student answer as correct, or clarify a tad-bit.
  • Design a well-crafted consistently structured course! There are two good reasons for this. 1) a well crafted course makes it easy to set up each term with much less chance for those "oops I forgot that" moments which really do take time to fix. 2) A consistently designed course makes it much easier for students to keep on track and know what they need to do, where to find it, and how to do it. This, again, limits the numbers of questions you have to answer.

That's enough for a start. I want to see what other folks have to say, because despite 20 years, I still have a heck of a lot to learn!



Great points, Kelley. I wonder about how you "process" your FAQ (I have gone back and forth on this one myself for years) -- Do you go through it in prepping the course for the next time and incorporate the information into your content because, obviously, there were some gaps or misunderstandings that you were filling in or making more transparent, then start over with a new FAQ. Or do you weed through and cull? Or do you just keep adding on?

How do you organize? -- complexity, frequency, categorically,.... ?





I have not had to add to my FAQs for a long time, mostly because I have been teaching the same courses with essentially the same content and structure for a long time. However, I used a Google spreadsheet for this purpose. Questions organized into categories, the would use sort/filter funtions to see if a question was already included or not.

However, thanks for asking, because I am thinking I should review them for outdated info.



Learner II

Deactivated user‌, using course cards to check on students and message them is a good shortcut. I also love using "message students who" in the gradebook. 

You said no apps, but, a clipboard manager makes life much easier for saving frequently used text snippets for grading, messaging, announcing, etc. 

Are those the kinds of things you are looking for? Smiley Happy 


dhulsey@nmjc.eduI also like "Message students who....." - a couple clicks and I have saved myself from answering bunches of individual messages. Of course, it does sometimes backfire, and create message of the "my dog died and my mother was hit by a train....." variety. Even then, this is saving time with folks who forgot a due date.


Thanks!  Apps are great suggestions as well.  I am hoping to hear any and all ideas folks have be they specific to Canvas tools or otherwise!

Like mentioned, teaching online can be time consuming, particular the first couple iterations of a course where course development is also higher than in subsequent offerings.  Since we in the Community all have different experiences, teach different subjects, etc., I thought we could generate some great thoughts on how to make our efforts more efficient.  Time saved on one task can be spent making the course more meaningful to students.

You are referring to student context cards (How do I view a context card for a student in a course?), correct?  We haven't turned this on at the account level yet but am unsure why.  I can't think of a good reason to leave this off as they look great.

Do you have a particular clipboard manager application you particularly like?

Thanks again---


Yes! Student context cards are pretty handy. I use them most when reading and participating with students on the discussion board.

I like ArsClip because it is Freeware, and I like the feature set, but it is a Windows only clipboard manager. There are many options out there though. 

Community Team
Community Team

ericwerth‌, when I was involved in helping instructors bring their courses into a fully-online format in Canvas, one of my guidelines that surprised many was that an instructor should expect to have the course structure fully built out and at least 95% of the content created before publishing the course in the first day of classes. (I always had my courses 100% in place before the first day of classes, after which I only made edits to graded content when someone pointed out an error.)  And I was surprised that this was met with surprise, since orienting students to an online course requires the ability to share a schedule of activities, ideally in the course syllabus, along with a detailed explanation of how grades would be calculated—but content creation workflows for face-to-face instructors are quite different. So I think it's important to set these expectations for prospective online instructors so that they are able to set expectations for their students in turn.


I agree, stefaniesanders, while this upfront work seems daunting to new online instructors, the reality is that it saves them considerable time through the duration of the course. The students know, because they can see, what is coming up and when; therefore they are not asking as many questions.