Three Things Thursday: Three Tips For Efficient and Successful Online Course Delivery

I’ve been teaching university level English since 2009, and I’ve been teaching online for almost a year. Despite several universities claiming to re-open in the fall, I cannot help but predicta spike in web-based course registrations. Ultimately, I believe students are apprehensive about on-campus courses because there’s no guarantee that we won’t experience a second — and potentially more damaging — wave of COVID-19.

Now seems like a great time to share some of my top tips not only for delivering and facilitating online courses, but managing your time as you teach, too. Welcome to “#ThreeThingsThursday: Mrs. Poullas, M.A.” edition.

Tip 1: Set work hours. Yes, totally necessary! Just because you can work anywhere doesn’t mean you should work anytime. Big difference. Block out a chunk of your day to answer email, comment on discussion posts, make lesson plans, grade, etc. If you don’t “have anything to do” that day, do SOMETHING because these small, seemingly “extra” tasks can truly help you streamline and refine your courses for future. Here are some of my favorite “busy work” tasks during downtime in the semester:

  • Copy/paste general course announcements into a Google Doc for easy distribution in future semesters (think introductory, reminder, and how-to announcements that can easily become templates).
  • Review assignment prompts and guidelines to identify any information that might be confusing or could be further clarified.
  • Review some student work and tell your students you notice positive, upward trends in their writing skill development.
  • Circle back through discussion posts and see if you can add any commentary or participate further.
  • Check out your email and search for student questions about assignments, policies, and procedures, and make an FAQ document to send in your introductory email next semester. You can see my living document HERE:
  • Look ahead to future lessons and assignments to see if you can add any supplementary materials to aid in student understanding (think YouTube videos — YouTube is a goldmine for teachers, and it helps our students who learn best by listening/viewing!).

“Just because you can work anywhere doesn’t meant you should work anytime. Big difference.”

Tip 2: Do not read email unless you can answer it right then. This is how student correspondence gets lost in your inbox. Push notifications are great, but don’t read the email on your phone unless you can answer it on your phone RIGHT then. Reading it and “answering later” is not a good idea, and I can attest to that because there have been times that many students forward me an email they sent me the week prior (oops…). Since adopting the “read it now, reply to it now” practice, we are all happier and less frustrated.

To add: Students do not need a response within 5 minutes. Sure, they would like that, but you are not obligated to email your students back immediately. I aim to respond within 12-24 hours, and I fully disclose that 1) I go to bed earlier than 8 pm sometimes; and 2) the time to email me with urgent questions about an assignment is not at 11 pm which is 59 minutes before it’s due. You do not need to overwhelm yourself responding to student emails immediately. Oh, and do not read email in bed from your phone if you can avoid it — your bed is your happy place!

Tip 3: Humanize yourself. Participate in discussions; post photos of your dog; have real conversations that are person-to-person rather than teacher-to-student. This is even more necessary today than ever with how much we continue to be isolated. At the start of every semester, I kick off the the first discussion post with a picture of my dog. Puppies are, without a doubt, the great equalizer! My students love getting a glimpse of Miles, and sometimes, they reply with a picture of their dog.

“Participate in discussions; post photos of your dog; have real conversations that are person-to-person rather than teacher-to-student.”

It’s also helpful to empathize with your students when they complain about writing. A lot of students aren’t fond of writing, and the composition sequence is typically nothing more than a set of required general education requirements. When my students tell me they like writing but don’t care for the APA style requirements, I empathize instead of giving them some kind of canned response such as, “Well, it’s just part of the course!” APA has some funky, weird rules — some of which go against the rules we’ve learned the govern grammar and style (don’t you dare capitalize the title of journal articles on your references page unless it’s the first word of a title or subtitle!). You don’t have to be negative, but you can absolutely empathize that certain aspects of our language, grammatical constructions, and different stylistic requirements are downright wonky and confusing.

If you’re scheduled to teach online, fear not! You’ll be a pro before you know it. Feel free to reach out and talk teaching by filling out the form below!

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