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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

ericwerth, we have our course developers sign a contract that specifies exactly when the course is supposed to be complete by and payment is attached to that date.‌ has a process built for our course developers to walk them through what to develop and in what order. We tend to schedule 3-6 months depending on the developer. Some of them need more time and some of them will get right to work and crank out a course quickly.


Great information!  I'm just curious but are your course developers normally the instructors who teaches a particular course face-to-face?  Do the course developers have training in course development prior to working with you guys or is this done along the ways as they work through the process you mentioned‌ developed?


ericwerth, for the most part, the residential instructors develop the online course. We do hire course developers who don't teach our residential courses as well. The developers haven't had training in the past and that is where‌ gives them steps and walks them through the process. We are getting ready to launch more training for our faculty this coming academic year.



I have had to do that a couple times in my career, because I got assigned a course a week before the term - I HATED IT!


Explorer III

These are some of the things I use most to help myself or other instructors I consult to maximize time for meaningful student contact.

  • 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 at times.  I save the teacher's energy for grading that can only be done with expert insight. For a teacher to just take the pain and skip dinner to grade lower-stakes assignments that have a set "right answer" is not scalable. If there is a solid right answer for something, find a creative way to use the quiz tool (with proctoring if it is high stakes.) 
  • 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/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. 
  • Maximize Discussions. Quality discussion prompts lead to quality learning. Not only do discussions help the instructor monitor the quality of learning, it also gives 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 quantity and content to and 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. Include sample assignments so students can practice submitting, emailing, messaging, and locating feedback. 
  • 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: Things 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. 
  • 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. 


Rachel, this is fantastic! And I can affirm a big yes yes yes to using the quizzes for auto-grading; in my case, it is how students record work completion, which is what the course is all about -- microassignments that they complete, with points piling up in the Gradebook, and I don't have to do anything. I call them "Declarations," and I wish I could change the name of the Canvas area to be "Declarations" (that was something I could do in D2L). Yes, they are quizzes... but not really. 🙂 


Great thoughts!  You make an interesting point about instructor participation in discussions.  I know that there are different thoughts about if and how much faculty should participate in DQs.  Some believe that faculty feedback to students in discussions shows presence, while others that when an instructor replies the becomes a student-faculty focused interaction by changing the dynamic.

I have gone only to replying to students' posts if there is a question posted no one answers to prod folks on, if the discussion clearly stalls, or if something incorrect is written that no one catches and that takes the discussion in an ineffective direction.  These rarely happens.  So students know that I do read their posts, I provide specific feedback to these posts and their replies within SpeedGrader each week.

Thanks for the ideas!


Thanks Eric.  I believe there is research that supports that "intermittent" interaction idea, but I got the idea from being a student--over decades. haha.  I noticed it myself and then experimented during my teaching.  If the instructor is always interacting, it tends to become the focus. (Speaking as a teacher, it can be tough to have restraint and not micro-manage discussions when you are in feedback mode, so it needs to be intentionally minimal to get authentic interactions from student-to-student.) If the instructor is completely absent, as you said, things can get off track or some discussions can go unanswered and stall.  That sweet spot is just the right amount of interaction. 

I noticed in under-grad and grad school that just about when I forgot the instructor was reading through everything, there would be a small comment that made me sit up and think, "Oh wow, she really is following all of this." 

Community Coach
Community Coach  and ericwerthI take that middle-ground approach, and that's the formula I sell my faculty - be present, but don't control the conversation.


Community Coach
Community Coach

My most recent session of a class on creating/facilitating an online course just concluded.  I asked participants to contribute ideas to a Google Doc on ways to save time either developing or teaching an online course.  Most everyone in the class is someone who has taught for a while F2F and are moving material to a blended or online format. 

I thought I would post a copy of the table that was created through this assignment in case anyone finds the suggestions useful.  Some of these are similar to ideas found in this thread already, but it is always interesting to see what others come up with when given an opportunity to research and collaborate!

Ideas on Saving Time Creating and Facilitating an Online Class - Google Docs