Time management while Teaching Online

Contributed by:
Sharp Tutor
This article presents the differences of the time-related issues between face-to-face and online courses, followed by important strategies for time management in online courses.
1. International Journal of Instructional Technology & Distance Learning
February 2006
Editor’s Note: Tools, timeframes, techniques, and time management for online classes differ from
face-to-face classroom instruction. This article delves into literature and analyzes specific class
records from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business to formulate six strategies to make online
teaching more efficient and effective.
Time Management Strategies for Online Teaching
Min Shi, Curtis J. Bonk, Richard J. Magjuka
Instructors need to develop new time management skills when
transitioning to online teaching. Based on the interviews of a dozen
experienced online instructors from a successful online graduate program
and analyses of their online courses, this article presents the differences
of the time-related issues between face-to-face and online courses,
followed by six strategies for time management in online courses.
Keywords: online teaching strategies, time management, web-based courses
The last five years have seen vast changes in the use of the Internet in
higher education and a tremendous increase of faculty involvement in
online teaching. Young (2002) points out that online teaching redefines
faculty members’ schedules. While many instructors consider flexibility a
significant advantage of online teaching (Conrad, 2004; McKenzie, Mims,
Bennett, & Waugh, 2000; Parker, 2003), others may find that their
workload increases due to the heavy time investment in course planning
and find themselves becoming “24 hour professors” in order to be
responsive to student inquiries while teaching (Hislop & Atwood, 2000;
McKenzie et al., 2000; Pachnowski & Jurczyk, 2003; Visser, 2000; Young,
While it is recognized that instructors need to develop new time
management skills when transitioning to online teaching (Levitch &
Milheim, 2003), there is little discussion in the literature regarding what
strategies instructors can take to manage the time demands for teaching
2. online courses (Collis & Nijhuis, 2000). Collis and her colleague’s article
titled “The Instructor as Manager: Time and Task” published in The
Internet and Higher Education five years ago is a rare piece on this topic.
In that article, eight categories of instructional/management tasks are
identified, and the percentage of instructor time spent on each category
is suggested.
If online education is to continue to grow, faculty will have to develop
effective time management strategies. This article aims to provide such
strategies commonly used by some experienced online instructors today.
The Kelley Direct Online Program
The time management strategies for online teaching discussed in this
article are drawn from a study with a group of instructors teaching in the
Kelley Direct (KD) Online Program (http://kd.iu.edu/) at Indiana
University’s Kelley School of Business. KD has offered online Master’s
degrees in business since 1999. Over the last few years, the KD program
has experienced exponential growth with enrollment growing from 14 in
the first year to over 1,000 in 2004.
The courses in KD are mainly Web-based and delivered through a
commercial course management system called ANGEL
(http://www.angellearning.com/). Other course materials such as course
packets and CD-ROMs are mailed to students at the beginning of the
As part of the on-going program evaluation effort, KD faculty members
were invited for interviews related to their online teaching experiences.
This article is based on an analysis of the interviews with twelve faculty
members, all of whom were tenured faculty and have taught online
courses for several semesters in addition to many years of traditional
face-to-face (FTF) classroom teaching by the time of the study. The
course materials from the particular courses these faculty members
taught, which were archived in the ANGEL space, were also analyzed.
Comparisons of FTF and Online Courses
Because the online teaching format is still new, it is common that
instructors have taught FTF classes before they start teaching online
courses. FTF courses and online courses differ greatly in the processes of
course planning and delivery. Many of these differences are time-related.
At the course planning stage, the instructor of a FTF course may choose
3. to only attend to the big picture of the course and develop details as the
class goes on. The instructor of an online course, however, must
familiarize herself with the course management system (CMS), and
develop most, if not all, course materials beforehand because
technology-related materials can be extremely time-consuming to
In terms of information presentation, in a FTF course, it is verbal and
sequential. Presentations have time restraints. Information is presented
period by period. Students hear the same thing at the same time usually
only once. In contrast, the information presented in an online course is
often text-based and non-sequential. Fortunately, such information is
stored online in the CMS and always available. Most course information is
presented to the class from Day-One with instructions given as to what
time to access particular modules or information. Students access
information at a time convenient to them, which can be different from
each other.
In terms of class interaction, the interactions in a FTF class are direct,
synchronous, verbal, and typically one to many. Students can ask
questions and receive answers instantly; instructors can evaluate or
simply sense students’ level of understanding instantly. The instructor
controls the student turn-taking in discussions. In an online class,
however, the instructor and students usually do not see each other. The
interaction is many to many in both asynchronous and synchronous
discussions, and thus, can be hard to follow. In asynchronous
discussions, there is a delay in getting feedback from peers or the
instructor. In synchronous discussions, often there is a typing delay when
fingers do the talking. It can be cumbersome to impose structure to the
turn-taking in online discussions. But as alluded to above, online
discussions can be archived and accessed multiple times.
The frequency of interaction in these two kinds of classes also varies. In a
FTF class, instructors and students usually interact only when class meets
and during office hours. An online class instructor, on the other hand, is
often available 24/7 throughout the course via web or email. Real-time
interaction may also occur through instant messaging or chat rooms.
When there are confusions or changes, clarification and change
announcements reach the whole class during class meetings at the same
time in a FTF class. In an online class, however, there is usually a delay
for the clarification or change announcements to reach all students
because they do not always access the course website at the same time.
4. Time Management Strategies
Because an online course is quite different from a FTF class in the aspects
listed above, a new online instructor needs to learn some specific
strategies in order to manage the class well. Below are six proven
strategies for time management in teaching an online course.
1. Write concisely and clearly.
Because writing is a major, and sometime the only, channel of
communication in an online class, the importance of clear and concise
writing of the course materials cannot be over-emphasized. If one
student finds a sentence unclear, the instructor will need to spend
valuable additional time responding to clarify. Five or ten minutes of
additional time for polishing a message or task instructions before
distributing or publishing may save hours in clarifying later.
Writing for digital media is different from writing for print media. As
pointed out in a Web writing guidebook “Hot Text: Web Writing That
Works” (Price & Price, 2002), the text on screen is usually harder to read
than on paper because of lower resolution and because the text appears
and disappears in a moment as there can only be one page on screen at
a time. Below is some of the advice from this book that relates most
directly to online course material planning and creation.
Shorten the text:
o Cut any paper-based text by 50%;
o Make each paragraph short;
o Move vital but tangential or supplemental material to the sidebar;
o However, beware of cutting so far that you make the text ambiguous.
Make text scannable:
o Create a meaningful title;
o Insert meaningful headlines and subheads;
o Highlight key works, phrases, and links;
o Turn any series into a bulleted or numbered list.
2. Organize information in an easy-to-follow order.
In order to minimize student confusion and sense of being lost, course
materials should be presented in the CMS in a way that all students can
follow while generally meeting the instructor intent. As noted below, this
5. can be achieved in several ways:
Chunk materials into weekly modules and mark the start and end dates for
each module. If the course materials mandate larger units, it is still important to
mark the units with numbers and date them.
Write a “Read Me First” document for each module. In this document, the
instructor should provide guidelines on how to use the other materials in the
module. Often there are multiple folders or documents in each module. A
document titled “Read Me First” is hard to miss and will significantly reduce
confusion among online students and class guests.
Label optional readings. Instructors can overload students by providing too
much information online. Making nonessential information optional can focus
student attention on the more pertinent information and avoid overwhelming
some students while giving other students opportunities to explore beyond
course requirements.
3. Be explicit and emphatic about the time requirement in the syllabus.
Instructors usually spell out their rules regarding assignment due dates
and participation in their syllabi. In an online course, because the
instructor cannot read the syllabus to the class, it is even more important
to direct students’ attention to course guidelines and policies.
Be extremely clear about the assignment due dates and times. Because students
may be located in different time zones, the instructor must be clear about the
time zone of each deadline. In addition, because distance students often have
full-time jobs, it helps to set the deadline at midnight Sunday or Monday so
students can have the weekend to work on their assignments. The following
quote is a relevant example from a KD instructor in our study:
Unless otherwise indicated, all deliverables are due by Sunday at
midnight (your time zone). That is, homework in Week 2 is due on the
Sunday that begins Week 3, and so on going forward.
In the event of any necessary course scheduling change, be sure to make it as early as
possible and allow students some flexibility in meeting the new requirement.
Be clear about the turnaround time for responding and stick to it. Researchers
recognize that turn-around in distance education is important because when
receiving feedback or guidance on assignments late, students may sometimes
feel “a lack of support which could sap their confidence” (Rickwood & Goodwin,
2000, p. 52). Thus, one should establish students’ expectations of instructor
feedback patterns from the beginning. It is quite common that instructors
promise to reply by the next day, as indicated in the following quote from a KD
My goal is to respond to every e-mail within several hours, and always
within 24 hours. However, there are times when I will be traveling, and
may not able to get back to you as soon as I would like.
6. 4. Manage asynchronous discussions.
Asynchronous discussions, which can increase the interactivity of the
online learning environment when well used, are highly popular in Web-
based courses. However, the time distributions for live classroom
discussions and asynchronous discussions are vastly different. Below are
some tips related to how to effectively manage asynchronous discussions.
Instead of the sequential presentation of cases for discussion in the traditional
classroom, an online instructor might present multiple discussion topics at the
same time over a longer period of time. For instance, one KD instructor stated:
A case discussion in real time takes about 75 minutes. A case
discussion here (online) takes a week. Typically a case discussion has
what we call
3 pastures. A pasture is where I introduce a question and we run with
(it) and the students give me feedback and we have a discussion about
it. So in a 75-minute session in live classroom time, a pasture is about
20 to 30 minutes, and in online (learning) a pasture is about 48 to 72
Keeping each topic open for discussion for a week allows students to find a time during the
week that is most convenient for them to participate.
Be explicit about the participation rules. Students need to know how often they
are expected to participate in online discussions. It is also quite common that
certain students are always the first ones to post their answers to the discussion
questions, which can be unfair to the other students. In such a case, the
instructor can assign a rotating list of students to spearhead a discussion.
Post answers to frequently asked questions in a public area. When teaching
online, the same question may come up repeatedly. Instructors may use the
announcement area to post answers to individual student’s questions so as to
benefit the whole class while saving their own time.
Set a rule regarding your own participation. The instructor should make it clear
to the class at the beginning of the discussion activity whether he or she will
actively participate in discussion. If there will be instructor participation, then it
should also be made clear to the students of what nature, how often, and at
what time the instructor’s participation can be expected. This way, the instructor
can refrain from checking and posting too often, which can be a burden to both
the instructor and the students.
5. Take advantage of the technical tools available.
Often tools are available in the CMS to help instructors increase work
efficiency. For example, the technology department of the Kelley Direct
program has developed a group of tools, called an E-Learning Toolkit, in
the CMS to meet different instructor needs.
The toolkit includes various customized discussion forums, such as Q&A
7. Forum, Round Robin Forum, and Court Forum, each of which provides a unique
feature that a regular discussion forum does not offer. For example, in the Court
Forum, each participant is assigned a certain role, for example, judge, plaintiff,
or defendant, and posts his perspectives using that role. Such tools impose a
certain structure to the discussion format, thus saving the instructor time and
energy in specifying and reinforcing participation rules.
Another tool in the E-Learning Toolkit is the Hand-in System, which allows the
batch processing function of a large number of files. When the class size is large
(e.g., over 30 students), downloading and uploading student assignments can be
tedious and time consuming. The system is designed to match up the original file
and the graded file automatically for students to pick up. More detailed
information about this toolkit can be found in “Kelley Direct (KD) E-learning
Toolkit” (Shi, Magjuka, & Li, 2005) or http://toolkit.kd.iu.edu.
As many KD instructors have done, making your instructional needs known to
your program head, peers, and technical support staff can often help to identify
or develop new tools that can save time and increase work efficiency.
6. Utilize other resources.
Share course ideas and materials with departmental colleagues. Although it takes
additional time and effort for instructors teaching online courses to meet
physically, instructors may find that the time they spend sharing ideas in faculty
brown bags is well-spent in the long run. In programs such as KD, where the
faculty members are residential, such meetings can be extremely beneficial in
helping faculty share strategies and create a sense of community.
Make use of the resources available on the Internet. Some monumental content
sharing initiatives have been undertaken in North America to establish free online
learning resources. MERLOT (http://www.merlot.org) and the CAREO project of
Canada (http://www.careo.org/) are two good examples. By utilizing these
resources, instructors can reduce the time needed for developing similar
materials themselves.
How to manage time in teaching online courses can be an enormous
challenge for online instructors. In this article, we offer many strategies
that have proven effective in the courses taught by a group of
experienced online instructors at Indiana University. By utilizing these
strategies, both instructors and students can enjoy the convenience of
online teaching and learning without getting lost, feeling overwhelmed, or
sacrificing the instructional quality and overall learning outcomes.
ANGEL Homepage. Retrieved March 30, 2005, from http://www.angellearning.com/
The CAREO Project of Canada Homepage: Retrieved March 30, 2005, from
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pp. A31-A33.
About the Authors:
Min Shi is Assistant Professor of Educational Technology. She holds a Ph.D. in instructional
systems technology from Indiana University.
Min Shi
9. Department of Education, College of Education
Zhejiang University, China, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, Zip Code: 310028
(86) 0132-05815963
Curtis J. Bonk is Professor in the Department of Instructional Systems Technology.
Curtis J. Bonk, Professor
Instructional Systems Technology Department
School of Education, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405
(812) 856-8353
Richard J. Magjuka is Chairperson of the Kelley Direct Degree Programs and Associate
Professor of Business Administration at Indiana University.
Richard J. Magjuka, Professor and Chair
Kelley Direct Online Program, Indiana University
Bloomington, IN 47405
(812) 855-2705