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Time Management Challenge #1: Students are asking lots (and lots) of questions.

(star) Set clear expectations & anticipate questions. 

Setting clear expectations for your students is a crucial strategy for saving both time and aggravation. Spelling things out clearly from the outset means that you have to answer fewer questions from students who are confused about what they need to do.

Were there certain tasks or concepts that several of your students had trouble with this semester? Consider compiling a set of guidelines or a list of tips or an FAQ, which spells out your general policies about how the class will run. Post these these policies in your discussion next semester (as an announcement or an informational topic), to help cut down on repetitive questions.

If there were certain issues related to an assignment that several of your students struggled with, you might consider creating assignment-specific tips, which you could include in the global topic for the relevant assignment – or post as a separate informational topic, if your class uses the newer format (which does not allow assignment topics to be edited). This helps to remind students of everything they need to do and which issues they need to watch out for as they're doing the assignment. 

  (star) Create a class FAQ and require students to read it.

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When first teaching online, I found that I was spending a significant amount of time, especially at the beginning of a semester, answering the same questions from multiple students about the basic class requirements. So I developed informational topics covering each requirement, thinking that would mitigate the situation.

Well, as we all know, many students do not like to read, so posting the topics only had a minimum desired effect. What I now do is require every student to read each informational topic and post that they have read and understood the contents. I constantly refine the informational topic content based on the questions I do get. This has reduced the number of questions overall by at least 75% — freeing up my time to actually teach!

 (star) Post announcements outlining your expectations.

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Make all of your expectations for the course crystal clear in announcements that are posted for the entire semester. When students ask about a policy, direct them to the announcements section of the course rather than typing out the policy over and over and over and over.

I use announcements often and find they can be useful for general suggestions about critique concepts and reminders. If there's a common issue I tend to use the Announcements to address the whole class, or email the students as a group.

(star) Add additional information to your assignment description.

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In setting up your assignments, be neurotically detailed and specific, so that you get exactly what you expect from students.

My global topics are very explanatory, with bullet points on all main requirements for each assignment. I also add new images that supply further rubric information, whether from previous student work or other examples.

 (star) Post tips & checklists in conjunction with an assignment.

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My classes are all beginning design classes and I have found that so many students simply do not follow the instructions that were established to ensure that they learn good design processes—and to make sure that the results of all the assignments and exercises meet the same standards. It can take huge amounts of time explaining to each student what they did wrong or how they did not follow the instructions (even simple ones like put a keyline around your work or use two squares and three circles).

So I developed a checklist system. This is a series of questions for each assignment. The students copy and paste the questions with their answers when they post their work. Every question has to be answered with a yes. If they can't answer anything with yes there is something incomplete, not following instructions, or in of need of attention in some way. A lot of issues are caught by the students themselves. But, of course, there are always those students who simply run down the list of questions and dash off yeses without even reading the questions...and instead of having to give all those long explanations, all I have to do is put a “NO” next to the pertinent answer –sometimes with a couple of words to clarify.

After a while the students start catching each other's mistakes and they make corrections before I even grade them. It really doesn't take long to work up a checklist for an assignment but it saves lots of time in practice.

(star) Simplify & clarify communication.

The best time-saver is tight organization of material, so students know what to do, how to do it, and when and where to post. If, for example, you make it clear to your students that they should post general questions, assignment-related questions, and late homework in specific places, you will be able to find (and answer) crucial questions more quickly. 

For example, one of the most important things you can do at the beginning of the term is to let your students know your policy on late assignments. Making your policy clear at the outset will save you from having to argue with students about late assignments on a case-by-case basis.

  • If you choose to accept late work, the simplest approach is to create a global topic for "Late Homework," which makes it clear to students where they should submit late assignments. You can post your policy in the topic description.
  • Even if you choose not to accept late work, you will still need to accommodate late submissions from students whose late work is excused for certain reasons defined by AAU policy. It's helpful to have a private topic set up where these students can post their late work. Setting up a private Instructor's Office is a simple way to handle this.

Another helpful approach is to use alternative technologies to make it quicker and simpler to answer questions. For example, you record and post videos in your online classes. You can also set up a virtual office and meet with your students in real time.

 (star) Create a topic for late homework.
 (star) Use the Instructor's Office instead of the Mailbox.

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I remind students to use Instructor's Office as much as possible instead of emails so I don't have to repeat answering the same questions. I have to keep reminding this at the beginning of the semester, but it decreases the question type emails substantially. I do of course allow using emails for the private matters. For questioning it's always better to use the Instructor's Office.

(star) Create a private office for personal issues.
 (star) Create "Module Questions" topics.

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Each week I post a topic called, "Questions for Module "X"? Post them here!". This keeps inquires in one location instead of scattered through several topics. It also allows me to address questions as a group or offer extra help to keep everyone focused and on track. I find this process a big time saver, not only because questions are in one location, but also assignments are executed with more accuracy so the review process is shortened.

 (star) Answer questions with the video recorder.

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I have found that the video recorder makes answering students' questions so much quicker and easier! I let students ask their questions using the recorder, and then I record my answer. Especially for complicated questions, for which would take me a long time to write out an answer, the video recorder simplifies things tremendously.

 (star) Hold online office hours.

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I have office hours once a week on Tuesdays in my online office. It really helps struggling students, and when multiple students show up they all learn together.

  • Send an email to onlineoffice@academyart.edu to request an online office and to learn how to use it.

  • Once your office is set up, post an announcement with your online office hours and a link to your virtual office, and invite students to join you there.

  • You may also find it helpful to record the meeting and to post a link to the recording afterwards, so those who could not attend can review the discussion.

  • Caveat: Attending your office hours must be optional for your online students: because of the asynchronous nature of our online program, you may not require students to meet at a particular time.

(star) Encourage students to answer one another's questions, when they can.
(star) Point students to the relevant information (in the module, in your answer to another student, in another student's post...), instead of writing a new response.
(star) Refer all technical questions to the Help Desk.

The purpose of the Online Help Desk (online@academyart.edu) is to provide support on technical and administrative issues related to online classes, so that instructors do not need to deal with these sorts of issues.

Ask your students contact the Help Desk for anything that does not directly involve the class content.

  • You might find it useful to include this reminder in your class policies.
  • And whenever a student posts a question about the workings of the online learning system, ask him or her to contact the Help Desk for support.

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