Issues of Time in Teaching Online: Part 1

One of the things I have struggled with in going fully online is thinking through issues related to time. Specifically I have had to think through: (a) how much time students should spend engaged in the course during a week and (b) how much time I will be spending. In this post, I want to focus on how I thought through time as it relates to students’ engagement with the course. Next week, we’ll look at how I think about how I will use my time in teaching it.

Previously, when I taught hybrid classes, issues related to time were not terribly difficult. Students typically met face to face every other week with me. We had a defined block of time (two hours and fifty minutes). I knew, from teaching 100% F2F classes, how much work to assign between these sessions. I also knew how to structure class for students.

The weeks in-between, where we didn’t meet in person, might have been a little light if I’m being honest, but I don’t think they were too easy. I’d rather students be able to do something well, even if that means I went a tad light on the workload, than be overloaded and not able to do their best work. These in-between weeks were devoted to things like twitter chats and challenges that were designed to keep them engaged with the overall purpose of the class. It worked fine.

Transitioning to Online

As I planned my first syllabus, I started to realize two things:

  1. It looked like I had identified way more work for some weeks than was reasonable
  2. I had no sense of time from the students’ perspective

After thinking through things like readings, videos to watch, and assignments I realized I had forgotten that I would not be meeting students in person at all. Also, because the course is 100% asynchronous, there are never any formal blocks of meeting time. This was helpful to understand. What it allowed me to do was consider what contact hours in a F2F class might look like when moved into an online environment.

If we think about the standard three credit class, with two hours and fifty-minutes of contact time per week, then the first thing we can do is consider how that time can be spent by students in an online class. Next, we can consider what we would normally assign students to do between sessions and how much time that should take. When we combine these understandings together we can start to better understand how to help students spend their time in an online class.

What I Did

I constructed my syllabus based on what students will read, watch, do, and play. For readings, I assigned what I would generally assign students to read each week in a F2F class. I could assign more, but in thinking through how I wanted students to use their time I decided I wanted them to be engaged with things besides reading. This was a personal choice. You could, of course, assign more readings.

Beyond the readings, I assigned students videos to watch every week. The average time spent watching videos is an hour. I think only one video is an hour long documentary. The rest of the time students watch multiple videos that range from 10-20 minutes. Podcasts are also included here although they are not as prevalent.

My Do/Play column is where assignments are. I wanted to use the most time here. This is where we find assignments that might take several weeks or a semester to complete along with weekly challenges (assignments that are meant to extend learning for the concepts that week and have must be done that week).

In short, I thought about what I would do during a F2F class. We would normally have a short lecture (10-15 minutes), class discussions, likely watch some videos (typically no more than 20 minutes), and engage in what I am now calling challenges. I simply took these aspects and moved them online.

Thinking About the Time Frame

One thing I realized as I planned my syllabus is that the flow of the course is going to be different from a F2F class. For example, in a typical hybrid class (for me) I would normally meet with students F2F during the first two weeks. The third week would start the online week.

For our first session, Week 1, there would be no readings. But I would have readings for Week 2. I would expect students to complete the readings by the time they came to class for Week 2. We would then do work in class around those readings.

For a 100% online class, this didn’t feel right for me. This is because I think I am asking students to already do a decent amount of work each week on their own. For example, during Week 1 for my online class students have plenty to do without adding a list of readings and watching videos on top of it. So what I ended up deciding is that what you see on the syllabus is what you should do that week.

What does this mean? It means that when we enter Week 2, students should start doing everything that is listed on the syllabus for that week. They should start the readings when Week 2 begins. Yes, they can do them sooner, but they don’t have to.

Now, throughout this post I’ve been talking about weekly challenges. In a F2F class, I would have students doing activities (challenges) in class that corresponded with the readings. They showed up to class having completed the readings. This is not the case for how I’ve been thinking about the online class. So…what do these challenges look like?

Well, the interesting thing about the challenges is that I now have the opportunity to blend them across weeks. For example, in Week 2, I might have students do some things that relate to the readings, but I will also have them do some things that extend back to Week 1. I’ll be saying more about my challenges in a future post, but think of them as short assignments students do to extend their learning. I see myself using the online space to constantly explore new ideas and go back and revisit old ones. It’s a lot less neater than when I taught F2F and would have had the challenges align squarely with the readings and topic of the week.

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