10 Timesavers for Online Teachers

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I’m an online teacher, so naturally I spend a lot of my day online working. That’s not to say I don’t get sidetracked. I can easily go to a website for research, click a link to another area of interest, and before long, I have a line of browser tabs that extend to infinity and beyond. It’s because of this that I need to remain vigilant to time-saving methods and stay on task. How do I do this? Let me count the ways . . .

1. Gmail Chat: I have my Boise State Gmail open, but mainly for using Gmail chat, so my students can catch me online to ask quick, important questions. This might seem like an interference, but in reality it’s a timesaver, since I don’t have to read an email, figure it out, and then try to answer it. A quick message or chat can help move my day along. Of course, you need to tell your students how to use Gmail chat and also how to install the Voice/Video plugin: http://www.google.com/chat/video

2. Course Discussion Forums: I encourage students to use discussion forums on my course site, using that arena as an efficient place to post questions and receive responses, so other students can also view these communications. Many times, several students may have the same question. By posting and answering questions in a public forum, I can cut down on the number of times I may have to respond to a question.

3. Tech Resources: Having good technical resources for the course is another good way to circumvent and possibly reduce the number of questions. Common questions that pop up every semester should be addressed in easy to find and understand methods. Including easy-to-find links and help or support forums can increase a student’s sense of comfort and provide another area for answering questions.

4. Forum Digests: I always subscribe to all course forums and encourage my students to do the same. In Moodle, students can decide in their profile settings how they want to receive forum digests and also if they want to instantly subscribe to a forum once they post to it. This increases their level of communication and keeps them in touch with course updates and timely information.

5. SMS: I also provide my Google Voice number, which allows my students to send me a quick text message, without them knowing my real cell phone number. This is another quick way for students to contact me using mobile technologies and allows them to instantly get the answers they need when they need them. Again, another way to avoid reading those emails!

6. Google Voice Gadget: You can configure a personalized Google Voice gadget for your course and make it so it will instantly go to voice mail. Students can leave a message and you can be notified when the messages are sent, either through your email or through SMS. These gadgets are easy to embed on your course site. Go to http://voice.google.com and set up a Google Voice account. You link the Google Voice number to any phone(s) you want.

7. Moodle Messaging: Moodle has a great messaging system. You can tell it to send your Moodle messages to your email if you don’t login after a certain period of time or keep them on Moodle until you login. Since I login to Moodle every day, I can quickly see which students have messaged me and message them back in Moodle. No extra emails in my inbox and again, quick answers to questions. Many times students will see me on Moodle and send me a message. I can take care of it right away.

8. Summarizing Discussion Forums
: I have found an incredibly simple way to summarize discussion forum posts. As an instructor, I’d like to respond to each and every post, but that would be incredibly time-consuming and close to impossible. Instead, I read through the responses and then copy and paste them to a text file, using TextEdit on my Mac. Now stay with me here . . . After that I select TextEdit>Services>Services Preferences

and then scroll down on the dialog box that appears and under Text select Summarize.

Next, I select all of the text in the TextEdit file and then select Services>Summarize. I can select how much summary I want by percentage and get a good summary of the responses. I then copy and paste this in a notice to my students, providing them with a pretty good summary to read of all of the posts. Not only is this efficient, but it reinforces to my students that I am actually reading their posts.

9. Have students grade themselves: This is a great way to encourage students to self-assess and make them responsible for their work. From time to time, I simply have them complete a “quiz” in Moodle, indicating they have completed the assignment. Points are automatically posted to their gradebook. Of course, you need to look at their work, too, but you don’t have to grade it.

10. Don’t grade every blasted thing
: I think we sometimes feel we need to have a detailed rubric for every darned activity and grade every single discussion forum. Don’t grade everything. Period.

And with that, I’m going to stop, as I need to serve a slow-cooking dinner I prepared ahead of time to, yes, save time. And please, send me your ideas. We are all in this together.

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