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Managing Your Workload When Teaching Online

Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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Before you teach online the first time, it is valuable first to carefully consider the start-up costs related to teaching that specific course.


The posting below gives some excellent advice on getting started with online teaching.  It is from Chapter 2, Section 4, Managing Your Workload When Teaching Online in the book, Advancing Online Teaching: Creating Equity-Based Digital Learning Environments by Kevin Kelly and Todd D. Zakrajsek. Published by Stylus Publishing, LLC 22883 Quicksilver Drive Sterling, Virginia 20166-2102. Copyright © 2021 by Stylus Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis


Tomorrow’s Academic Careers

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Managing Your Workload When Teaching Online


Faculty members are regularly overworked individuals who always seem to be scrambling to get a stack of papers graded, running to get to a committee meeting, finding new information for an upcoming class module, or doing one of the millions of various things we are all asked to do. For contingent faculty members, there is often the extra work of another job or two. These are just a few of the many items that demand time, and this discussion does not even touch on family responsibilities and finding just a bit of space to take care of oneself. Overall, being a faculty member is particularly challenging because of three essential ele­ments of the position: (a) faculty members are very bright individuals, (b) faculty members are committed to helping others, and (c) the role of being a higher education educator is ill-defined. When you put bright and committed individuals into an ill-defined job, it is no wonder the result is a habitually overworked group of people. The same holds for faculty members who work entirely on campus and teach face-to-face courses as it does for faculty members who teach only online courses for multiple institutions and, of course, every configuration in between. 

Teaching itself is a demanding profession. Teaching a course for the first time is additionally challenging. Teaching a course in a new format is also very arduous. Experienced face-to-face faculty teaching an online course for the first time will find the online format requires a very different approach to teaching. In this circumstance, it is best to think of teaching such a course the same as a “new prep,” even if you have taught that same content for many years. Overall, teaching is a difficult and challenging process. As a faculty member, in order to be successful, it is imperative that you find a way to manage your workload in a systematic way. This chapter outlines how to manage (a) “start-up” factors that affect workload for anyone teaching online for the first time, (b) student expectations (and your own), and (c) your workload through implementation strategies.

Managing the Start-Up and Ongoing Costs of Teaching Online

Are you new or relatively new to teaching online? Have you been asked to convert some or all of an in-person course to a remote format in an emergency response or campus closure situation, such as a hurricane, wildfire, polar vortex, or pandemic? Have you taught online before, but still feel it takes more time than your face-to-face classes? If so, then you may be facing the start-up costs associated with moving your class(es) online. If you’re not familiar with the term, start-up costs are expenses one must pay before a new business is up and running. For example, before you can open a café, you will need start-up funds to pay initial costs. Consider the financial liability of a physical space, payment for any renovations necessary to turn it into a café, purchasing equipment for making coffee and other drinks, and buying furniture for customers to sit and relax. Second, consider costs for inventory, including your first round of supplies such as tea, coffee beans, syrups, cups, and napkins. Third, prepare a budget for operational costs to train your first employees, and so on. A reliable market analysis and business plan increase the chances the business will generate revenue that sustains the enterprise. When not planned appropriately, such costs appear as surprises, with more expenses to follow. Without adequate planning and prep work, start-up costs accelerate quickly, often resulting in insufficient funding that threatens the viability of the entire project. 

Once the business gets rolling, ongoing costs must be accounted for. The better you are at identifying recurring expenses and budgeting for them, the better you will be at managing your time.

Before you teach online the first time, it is valuable first to carefully consider the start-up costs related to teaching that specific course. In this context, the start-up costs are factors that affect your workload. Those factors include, but are not limited to, gaining skill and experience with technologies that are new to you, modifying your current teaching and learning activities for online use, or adopting teaching techniques that are new to you. Many individuals fail to consider that costs vary by course, by the institution, by students, and by format. An introductory, online, two credit hour language course taught to 10 students who struggle online is very different from a senior level capstone course taught to 20 or more experienced online learners. The start-up costs and ongoing costs are essential considerations in teaching well in a face-to-face, hybrid, or wholly online environment.

Becoming Adept in Using the Appropriate Technologies

There are many technologies, both current and emerging, that can reduce ongoing costs of time but vary significantly by the amount of start-up time costs. Some instructors who start teaching online already have used online tools to supplement their face-to-face classes and/or have taught hybrid courses that use those tools to replace face-to-face activities. We introduced some of those tools in earlier chapters of this book, such as tools to create and share course content in chapter 1.4 and tools to facilitate engaging activities for online students in chapter 2.3. These tools may be part of an LMS for quizzes, discussion forums, and assignment tools in Canvas, Moodle, (D2L) Brightspace, or Blackboard. Some online tools are integrated into an LMS, such as plagiarism detection tools. Stand-alone tools may be used separately to record lectures as screencasts, like Screencast-o-matic, or to facilitate course projects, such as Wikipedia. 

If you have not used these tools for technology-enhanced, traditional, or hybrid classes, then the knowledge and skill needed to begin teaching online may seem daunting. In that case, treat this book like a buffet, but don’t overfill your plate. There will be plenty of options, but start with a small number of tools at first to find those that work for you, your students, and your course topics. Keep in mind a general rule when it comes to implementing new technology: It will take more time than you think. You can always go back to the buffet for more at a later time!

Translating Teaching and Learning to the Online Environment

Have you ever learned a new language or studied in another country? Until you become fluent in that new language, it seems like every conversation takes a lot of energy and requires extensive mental effort. Sometimes you come across a word, phrase, or idea that doesn’t translate properly. Even worse, you may encounter what the French call a faux ami (“false friend”)—a word in your native language that seems like it should be the same but has an entirely different meaning in the new language. 

Trust us; we know firsthand about false friends. When Kevin studied abroad in college, he told his entire French host family how processed snack cakes have long shelf lives thanks to all of the sugar and preservatives. In that moment, he guessed that the word préservatifs was the French word for “preservatives,” inspiring much laughter. It turns out préservatifs means “condoms” in French. Kevin should have said conservateurs. Kevin had found a false friend, which resulted in his new friends laughing at his choice of words.

The same false friend concept holds when translating face-to-face class activities to the online environment. For example, it can seem natural to post a 45-minute lecture video you recorded the previous semester during an in-class session. Although that lecture recording would support face-to-face students who want to revisit what they experienced in person, it would not work as well for an online student. Instead, rerecord the lecture in 10- to 15-minute chunks that include a summary statement of major concepts for each chunk. As you record, prompt the students to pause the video to complete specific learning tasks, such as writing down what they already know about a new topic, completing a worksheet, or applying what they have just learned. The general rule for posting digital recordings is to keep in mind what is lost when students are not sitting in a classroom and able to interact with you directly, particularly to ask questions. Typically, recorded material must be more descriptive and more transparent regarding the learning process than must be done for live presentations. 

Trying Entirely New Teaching Techniques

Gaining familiarity with and confidence in using new teaching techniques are additional start-up costs you may face as a new or relatively new online teacher. For example, you may have extensive experience giving lectures each week in your classroom, but you may not typically include facilitated discussions as part of your teaching strategies. In that case, you will need to learn not only how to use the technology to set up a discussion but also facilitation strategies to engage online students. Once you consider start-up costs regarding your time, it makes even more sense to start small and build over time, which might mean conducting discussions once every 2 or 3 weeks at first, rather than once every week. 

Managing Student Expectations (and Your Own)

Thanks to sophisticated online and phone-based support for businesses, like Zappos, Southwest Airlines, and Amazon, students today are accustomed to robust support centers that answer any question at any time of day. Along the same lines, thanks to learning platforms like Udemy and Coursera, students are used to seeing sophisticated online courses produced by well-equipped teams designed to maintain high production values. Following are strategies to help you manage everyone’s expectations about your online course.

Make Yourself Available, but Not Always Available

Whether it’s the only time they can get to it or it’s the time of day when they think of it, online student activity increases dramatically from the late afternoon until after midnight. In an era of services that operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, everyone seems to expect to receive assistance as soon as it is requested. If you are looking over credit card statements late at night and find a discrepancy, you likely expect to be able to call the card company and get someone who can assist you, even at 2:00 a.m. If you decide to take a vacation and want to buy an airplane ticket at midnight, you would expect to be able to call the airline and get help at that time. The same is true for students in our online courses. Students often expect immediate replies to their discussion forum and email questions. It is not that students feel entitled or impatient, but instead, it is often simply that the world they live in provides airplane tickets and customer service desks on-demand and 24 hours per day. Unfortunately, answering student email messages as soon as they arrive at all hours of the day is neither reasonable nor efficient. Unlike airlines and credit card companies, we do not have phone banks of individuals to respond to queries. Best practice in online teaching is to pick specific blocks of time when you are going to answer students’ questions (Bregman, 2012) and let students know when that will be.

Kevin teaches his online courses as an adjunct, which is his second job. To manage expectations, he puts the following information in the Communication section of his syllabus:

·      Regular communication: Use the ITEC 299 Community Café—an open forum in iLearn (Moodle)—for general questions. [text links to a discussion forum for general questions]

·      Emergency or private communication: Use the previous email link to send me a private message (please include “ITEC 299” in the subject, or I may not see it).

·      NOTE: I will reply to all questions via the discussion forum and email within one business day: usually between 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.


Although responses to messages may occur early in the morning (before work) or at lunch, he is committing to responding within one business day. You may decide to answer questions during your office hours, before your day begins, or at the end of the day, like Kevin. Whatever days and times you pick, choose specific blocks of time that you have available regularly. Most online instructors do get back to students within one business day. 

If you are new to online teaching, please be aware that students are not on campus and cannot drop by to see you during office hours. Similarly, if you are only teaching online, you may not have an office to visit! As a result, responding to requests promptly through email is essential to your students’ success. 

Start Small and Build Over Time

It can take hundreds of hours to build a quality online course. In an ideal world, you would add online activities to your fully face-to-face course, then convert it to a hybrid course, and finally turn it into a fully online course. That would allow you to build over time, but often that time is not available. If you are a new online teacher and do not have the luxury of a large block of time to build your course, pick a small number of strategies for assessment, engagement, and content sharing that you can repeat each week. Do be careful of both the start-up time cost and the ongoing cost. Carefully supplement your core set of learning strategies with more robust activities that might take more time to implement. For example, you might have weekly quizzes but ask students to write essays only once a month. Each time you teach the course, you can continue to refine it and add new activities to enrich the student experience. 



Bregman, P. (2012, May 8). A super-efficient email process. Harvard Business Review