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This content was first published at OnlineLearningTips.Com.

The use of online teaching has risen in popularity due to restrictions from the coronavirus pandemic. But teaching online classes can be incredibly time-consuming, because the classroom is always open.

In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen offers several time management strategies to help online educators complete their teaching tasks in an efficient, effective, and organized way while also improving their classroom presence and student engagement activities. Learn more about creating an online planning grid that designates time for grading, classroom activities, curriculum creation, professional development and personal time.

Read the Transcript

This is episode number 30: “Using a Planner for Amazing Time Management in Your Online Teaching.” This podcast is for educators, academics and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging and fun.

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge, and thanks for joining me for today’s podcast. Today, we’re going to talk about a subject that we all care a great deal about. And the main goal of this subject is to conserve our time and energy, and also help us stay connected to our students while being part of that bigger professional picture. One of the things that keeps me engaged is having that variety in my own online work, and I wish the same for you.

In today’s podcast, we’re going to talk about three different areas of time management and how we can plan carefully to get it all done. The first area will be a principle from Getting Things Done, also known as GTD.

The second principle will be to plan a weekly routine that alternates items that must be scheduled so we don’t overlook them. And the third will be a planning grid that includes central teaching tasks and a bigger curriculum work or creative pursuits you want to be involved in as part of your overall career and professional goals.

Understanding Time Management

So let’s dive in. First of all, what does time management really mean when we’re teaching online? Time management is really all about using the energy that we have as human beings to the best way possible. The more we can manage our time carefully, the more productive we can be, the more we can get things done in a responsive way, and the more we’re on top of our game as educators.

After all, our students are looking to us for some sense of connection, for guidance in a subject matter, and for overall connection to the bigger content that they’re learning about. The more we can manage our time well and the more engaged we are in our own thoughtful process, the more we’re also able to connect with them and the more we’re able to also manage all that’s going on in that very complex environment.

Lastly, the more we manage our time carefully and thoughtfully, the more we’re able to do those other things that matter to us in life, like spend time on our personal lives, our family lives, do something outdoors, have healthy sleep habits and other patterns that really need to show up for us right now.

Getting Things Done (GTD)

So let’s get started with Getting Things Done. I took this workshop about a year and a half ago, and one of the biggest takeaways that I had from getting things done was sort of this split idea that there are things you can do in two minutes or fewer than two minutes. Those tasks, when we come upon them, should be just done immediately.

Will It Take Two Minutes or Less? Do It Now.

If we have something that literally will take us two minutes and we schedule it, and we manage it, then we’ve already spent more than two minutes on the task. Pretty soon, we have spent way more time on a two-minute task than the time that it was actually worth.

So the first idea is that when you come across, say, a message from a student, it’s very easy to just respond immediately and be done with it. If we come back later, like I said, we’re going to spend a lot of time and wasted energy just putting it off and trying to manage that.

Store Big Ideas in Your ‘Incubator’ File

The second idea that comes from getting things done that I particularly love is this idea of a folder called “incubate.” Now, an incubator is something that is a machine that we used to put, or we might still today even, put eggs in to keep them warm until they hatch into chickens or other fowl.

So if you are not familiar with the idea of an incubator, it is carefully designed to a certain heat and temperature setting. And also, it’s going to be housing the eggs for a certain period of time.

So the idea of an incubator in our own professional practice means that maybe we come across a multimedia tool we would like to integrate into the online classroom. When we come across this tool, it’s not urgent; it’s not necessarily important to the now. And so this tool can be put into the incubator file until we have a little bit of time, maybe between classes that we’re teaching in the future, during summer break or something like that.

So big ideas that we really want to dive into and pursue can be stored in that special file that we label “Incubate.” That way, we don’t have to always say no to ourselves.

And then we can schedule, like you could schedule one hour a week to just work on things in your Incubate file. That would give you permission to create new ideas, spend time developing things and not feel like it’s always the heat of the moment or the urgent items.

So those two areas of Getting Things Done, I highly recommend for our time management and online teaching. The first was the two minutes or fewer pile and just do them quickly and the second one is to use a special folder called “Incubate,” to put those big ideas that don’t really have a due date. They’re worth considering, but just not right now.

Now everything else that’s not immediate short, two-minute things or long-term, come back and think about it later. Everything else could be scheduled and managed carefully. So these other two ideas are going to be helpful in managing and scheduling the rest of the workload.

Strategies on How to Plan a Weekly Work Routine that Alternates

So we’re moving on to idea number two, planning a weekly routine that alternates the items you need to schedule. So one time management strategy that would really work for planning your routine could be to post a minimum number of your forum discussion responses to your students every other day, and completing a percentage of grading students’ work on your off days in between and taking one day completely offline so you can have a mental break each week.

Schedule a Break from Work

This is going to help you have the space to recharge and come back at it fresh. I have known a lot of online educators who literally are online seven days a week. They’re really answering messages every other minute on their phones. They’re taking their laptops to their outings with them, and they’re sort of half-present when they’re with family members or doing other things.

I don’t recommend this. It is helpful to be responsive, but if you plan that time, instead of kind of putting out fires and treating it like everything’s an emergency, you’re going to have better peace of mind, a more planned approach to your work. You’re going to also have a greater sense of wellbeing at the end of the week.

Time Management Scheduling Example 1: Divide Work by Day

So this one-time management strategy of posting in your discussions every other day, and doing a percentage of your grading work on the off days in between, it might look something like this: Maybe you’re going to grade 30 essays this week, and you’re going to post in your forum discussions Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

Well then on Tuesday and Thursday, you could divide that up and grade 15 of the essays on Tuesday and 15 of them on Thursday.

Now, some people really love to go all out and just do all of their grading on one day. I personally find that a bit draining, and I also find it difficult to treat each student’s work uniquely when I take that kind of approach.

So I do like to split it up. I like to plan it on a couple of different days, and you’ll need to just decide what works for you in terms of do you want to do a little bit of grading every day, every other day or all on one day.

Time Management Scheduling Example 2: Divide Work by Time Duration

Another time management strategy you might consider in terms of this second idea, planning a weekly routine that alternates, could be to engage for a specific length of time each week, a specific duration. This would be instead of dividing the workload into quantities or proportions.

Again, I always recommend taking one day completely offline each week to disengage and be able to come back fresh for the week ahead.

So with this approach, you might find that there’s a bigger workload waiting at the end of each week if you use the duration method.

The duration method might look something like this: I have a 40-hour workweek I’m trying to fill, and I’m teaching four classes. And that means I’m going to try to get the work done in each class during a 10-hour period, spread out throughout the week.

This might mean that I’m going to spend about two hours each day in the class. That would be correct if I think all of my job is teaching. Now, if some of my job is also creating curriculum and contributing to bigger professional endeavors outside the classroom, this might be different.

Maybe 30 hours a week is my teaching and 10 hours a week is divided between my curriculum work and my professional pursuits. Or depending on my teaching load, it might be further yet broken down differently.

Either way, when you use an approach of time duration spent in each course, you’re going to need to anticipate what will happen at the end of the week when there is a large workload still waiting if you haven’t budgeted to adjust to getting the grading done throughout the week and being in the course, engaging with students regularly.

Weekly routines overall include developing and posting your announcements, engaging in forum discussions or other interactivity, grading and returning your students’ work, replying to their messages, answering emails and questions, posting your grades, hosting virtual office hours, if that’s something you do, and creating additional content for that course.

When you establish a pattern or a schedule for these routines, this is really going to help you ensure that you’re able to complete everything by the end of the week and at a professional, helpful level for your students.

Create a Planning Grid

I love this idea number three, trying a planning grid that includes your essential teaching tasks and curriculum work or creative elements and including your bigger professional goals.

I created this grid several years ago. I was a full-time faculty member at American Public University. And in my courses, I wanted to engage my students fully, but I also wanted to be sure that I was demonstrating social presence, teaching presence and cognitive presence. I really thought about these, read some of the research and decided what this would look like for me.

Once I decided how this would show up in my courses, I broke my teaching down into little tasks. For example, certain days, I would engage in the forum discussion. Every day, I would answer the messages.

And on certain days, I would do my grading and post the grading. There were a few other things I also needed to do, like publishing a weekly announcement.

Either way, I planned this out thoroughly and then I scheduled another section for my professional responsibilities. I had an agenda of posting lots of research, writing a lot and contributing to professional conferences. I decided I wanted to actively present at professional conferences every year, and so I did that. I scheduled that time using this kind of block planner that I created.

Now, I’m going to include a link to this planner in the podcast transcript so that you can check it out, see what it looks like and perhaps, it will inspire you in your own version of this kind of planner.

There are also a few examples in my book published by Oxford this year, Teaching Music Appreciation Online. In Chapter 12, there’s an example of the weekly schedule of how you might use time limitations to plan your work. And then there are a lot of different discussions in there about how to engage, how to plan time for grading, and some example grading comments. You might find these helpful if you’re looking for more ideas about that.

Back to this last idea, the planning grid. The planning grid that I used had a big category of daily requirements for Monday through Saturday, grading tasks, also for Monday through Saturday, housekeeping announcements, notes, and wrap-up posts and lastly, other professional activities. And I would just call those my research and scholarship time, even though some of it was curriculum creation and some of it was preparing to present at professional conferences.

Under those daily requirements, the kinds of things that I would look at every day in my online teaching that I highly recommend thinking about are checking your email every day or at the very least every other day, checking and responding to messages, reading forum discussions and posing questions and sharing expertise, prompting students for more thought, more engagement there.

Forum Work Section

In that forum section, I always broke down a few ideas just to remind myself. So I have some bullet points here that include:

  • Instigating higher thinking that applies to students’ lives, jobs, etc.
  • Connecting conversations between posts to guide productive and relevant dialogue about the task
  • Establishing a supportive community environment

Another area that I scheduled every day is whatever I felt was my minimum attendance in the classroom as the instructor. I always wanted to make sure I at least met that and hopefully went beyond it.

But sometimes there are days where meeting the minimum is all you can do, and then there are other days where you can spend a lot more time and a lot more energy in that online classroom.

Grading Task Section

In the grading task section, I included:

  • Forum grading
  • Posting announcements
  • Zeroing out the grade book so students know when they haven’t turned something in
  • Editing written assignments to ensure the directions are clear in their examples
  • Returning the graded work with comments on it in a timely manner
  • Zeroing out the scores for quizzes at the end of the week. So if there are quizzes in the course, I would always add the zeros after the due date, so students would know they missed that assignment. If I’m going to let them go back and fix it, they can always do that, but they need to know where they stand at all times.

Housekeeping, Announcements, Notes and Wrap-Up Posts Section

And then this last section, housekeeping, announcements, notes and wrap-up posts. In this section, I have private messages and video screencast tips to guide students.

During Week One, I spend some time giving them guidance to move around the classroom. I like to help them know how to get started, what are the critical spaces they should know in that classroom, and how can they engage in their assignments, their learning, and their discussion.

I also have some before the week starts announcements. I also include instructions for how to participate, and I give a screencast that shows me so they know I’m a real person and I’ve got some presence there.

There might be a wrap-up announcement or something that’s telling them their grades are published, and they can check for feedback. I might use a closing comment in the discussion forum to wrap up the dialogue that has occurred.

I’m also going to reach out to non-participating students. Now this is a big area and it’s really helpful to add it to the calendar.

We often forget that when a student is less engaged, they need some follow-up. I like to schedule that so that by Friday of the week, if I haven’t reached out, I’m going to do that because some of the work is due on Thursday.

And then lastly, I’m going to communicate when an assignment or a quiz has been missed. The passive way to communicate is to fill in zeros in the gradebook. And the active way would be to send messages or emails to reach out to those students.

Scholarship and Professional Time Section

In terms of the scholarship and professional time on that planner, I try to do one thing a week at least. That might begin with looking at a call for proposals to a conference. Maybe I will read some research papers to get some ideas about what I might study next or write about next.

Either way, I’m going to do something that consumes or contributes to my field in research, scholarship or conference presentations, or nowadays it might also include writing blog articles, creating podcast episodes, or otherwise engaging with people about things.

Which Time Management Strategies Work for You?

Whatever your calendar is going to look like in the end, it’s very helpful if you use a thoughtful approach so that you can manage the workload of teaching online and ensure that you’ve got every avenue finished up and checked off. One of the things that is going to help you the most as you do all of these activities and consider your time management, whether you use the getting things done approach, plan the weekly routines that alternate or try the planning grid, or maybe you want to do all three of those things.

All of these depend on having a well-developed class that you really prepared and ensured is ready to go for students before that first day of class. These time-management strategies I’m talking about have to do with teaching the course itself.

Presence in the live lecture class can be easily established when you’re just walking around the room and talking to your students. But in online teaching, your presence comes through in all of these different ways: teaching presence, social presence, and cognitive presence.

Each of these areas are needed to help you connect with your students. And also to build that robust academic atmosphere where all kinds of learners are going to be successful.

Together, all of these time management strategies will allow you to develop a strong presence in your online teaching. But more than that, they’re going to help you be efficient and help you connect more with your students.

It might take some time to develop time management strategies that really suit you, but it is highly worth the time and effort to allow you to enjoy your online teaching and to focus on getting connected with your students, overall.

I wish you all the best in your online teaching this week. This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast to share comments and requests for future episodes. Please visit bethaniehansen.com/request/. Best wishes this coming week and your online teaching journey.

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