#12: Coming Up for Air (Summer Shorts)

A pair of boys swim trunks printed with fish wearing snorkeling goggles

Welcome to Wired Ivy… Summer Shorts! Dan here. How long can you hold your breath?

For 20 million years sperm whales have had the largest brains on Earth. They are five-times larger than ours. And sperm whales are also the loudest animals — emitting nested digital clicks that can reach 235 decibels — that’s twice as loud as a rock concert. They use these songs to communicate over thousands of miles of open ocean.

With their large-brained, digital, long-range connections, sperm whales were the original online educators.  And a sperm whale can dive to 7000 feet and hold its breath for an hour and a half. But even a sperm whale comes up for air.

I have to come up for air much more often. Teaching online courses can be an all night swim, but it’s important to manage your time so you’re not underwater too long. You don’t want Anywhere, Anytime to become everywhere, all-the-time.

I find my course time goes into four main buckets: design, delivery, grading, and technology.

I should add, if you are part of a teaching team, either with other faculty or with TAs, there could be team management time also.

For me, each course is a deliverable project — it needs to be high quality, on time, and efficient. I make a time budget, in my mind, so I know how many hours I can spend per week on average. Could I double my hours and give more individualized attention? Sure — but then I couldn’t come up for air, and it’s not clear the learning outcomes would be any better either. If my presence supplanted peer-to-peer interactions and creativity, I may be doing more harm than good.

Here are some time traps I watch out for and some hacks that might help. Some of these are analogous to issues in managing brick-box courses.

ONE — Conflating Course Development with Delivery. Ideally you are given time and resources to develop your course outside of delivering it. But if not, you need to budget in considerably more time. I find graduate students can be charged with finding relevant resources and leading discussions, reducing the details I have to write into the lesson plans.

TWO — Ignoring the Size of the Roster. What you can do with 10 learners is different from 25 or 100. Some activities scale better than others with respect to the time you have to commit and the time it takes to grade. You don’t want grading to be the weight that keeps you underwater.

THREE — Undervaluing the Impact of Course Design.  This is the most important trap. As you are designing activities for enlightened learning outcomes, be sure to think about how much time each will require from you. Long term papers and large discussions can be burdensome. Group work can be your friend here. We know that group work serves to reinforce peer-to-peer exchange, but it is also more efficient for you and the class to digest student work when there are only five group projects to present and review.

Time Trap FOUR — Being On-Duty All the Time.  In brick and mortar teaching, it’s easy:  you have contact hours and then you have office hours. But in online, especially in asynchronous, it makes sense to be online a lot. I log into my courses every day to check the open threads to see if there are public messages that need a response. Then I schedule several blocks of my time during the week to engage with the student work.

I also find weekly office hours don’t really work with adult learners distributed over many time zones. I give my students all my contact information and encourage them to set up appointments if needed, but they almost always prefer email anyway. The important thing to remember is you want to keep communication flowing and frequent, without being all-consuming.

And Time Trap  FIVE — Spending Time on the Technology, like the LMS or video production. Technology is a tool. It is only an objective if technology is a learning outcome for the course. I subscribe to the philosophy that you want to use the easiest tools to get the job done. I generally limit myself to one new piece of in-class software per semester.

This is what I do to keep my head above water. In the interest of good time management I’m going to end this Summer Short here.

We’re working this summer to put together an exciting Season 2. Our theme will be Innovative Techniques. Have you supervised a history and physical through telemedicine? Do your creative writing students read their poetry from Patagonia? We’d love to talk with you and share your expertise on Wired Ivy.

Send us your questions, comments, and suggestions!  You can leave a voice message at speakpipe.com/wiredivy or send an email to kieran@wiredivy.org or dan@wiredivy.org. And help Wired Ivy by sharing, subscribing, rating, and reviewing us on your favorite podcast app.. 


Looking for more ideas on how to manage your time as an online educator? Here are a couple of links you might find helpful. If you do a search you’ll find plenty more, some useful, others less so… be careful about falling into the time management rabbit hole!

Burn Bright, Not Out: Tips for Managing Online Teaching, written by Ted Cross and Laura Polk of the University of Arizona and published in the Journal of Educators Online provides some chewy food for thought on managing workloads and digital tools.

University of Wisconsin – Stout has created a page of helpful topics that include how to handle student email, discussions, grading, and more.

Our special guest performer this week is a band of sperm whales singing a song of welcome to the newest member of the pod… a relaxing interlude for catching one’s breath!

Wired Ivy is wholly owned by Kieran Lindsey and Daniel Marcucci, and we are solely responsible for its content.   Views expressed in this podcast and affiliated media are those of Kieran, Dan, and our guests, and do not represent Virginia Tech or any other institution.  Our audio engineer is Star Path Images, and a license for our theme music, Breakfast with You, was purchased from SmartSound.

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