At University of Massachusetts Lowell a professor provides an explicit schedule for each day of each week for completion of readings, lecture notes, activities, discussion posts, and so on, that if followed, gives students an evenly paced online workweek. Using this schedule of paced workload/assignments, students would not find themselves overwhelmed for one or two days, or find that a due date has slipped by without noticing it.
How this practice supports student satisfaction: "How to Manage Your Online Week" is a practice I use in my graduate level Young Adult Literature course to help students manage the course load and the demands of the online world. Since due dates are important, and taking an online course takes much planning and self-motivation, students often feel overwhelmed by the readings, tasks, and activities that they have to complete by each week's end. To alleviate the stress and management issues, I devised a suggested work schedule that students can adopt to help them keep up with assignments and coursework and to keep each week as stress-free as possible. Also, to help students find some routine in their week, I made certain weekdays always be due dates for assignments; for example, Tuesdays are always "Post a response" days; on Thursdays, reviews are always due; on Sundays, the final assignments for the week are always due. The suggested schedule is flexible enough for students to use it as a day planner or to adjust to their needs as they see fit. When students feel in control of their schedules and coursework is organized and scheduled in manageable chunks, their feelings of satisfaction and success increase. The following is a template I used while creating each week's course materials; it is also listed below under useful links. Using the template, I fill in what should be completed by each day of the week so that assignments are done in a timely manner.
To find out it this practice was effective, I polled my class with the following questions: 1) Do you use "How to Manage Your Online Week" to plan you coursework for the week? Is it helpful? If so, how so? If not, why not? 2) Do any of your other online courses do something similar? If so, what types of things have you seen? If not, would it be helpful to have such a plan incorporated in other online courses? 3) What other comments would you like to make about this feature? Most of the students were candid and positive in their responses: "Yes, I find this feature very helpful because I am enrolled in multiple classes and this helps me to plan out my work for the week. Several of my courses have had a document that outlines what is due for the week. None of them have been as specific as the document in you class. Any kind of outline of topics and assignments due by week is helpful. In an online environment it is much easier to miss an assignment if you miss a document. This 'check' at the end is very helpful to make sure everything gets done." "I use it on a weekly basis. Before I review the individual assignments for the week, I take notes of due dates in a student planner. It helps me organize myself by displaying the entire week in a "calendar" type format. I think it's great and can't imagine not using it." "I check every week when I go to find out our assignments. You are the only class that does this for me and I like it. I don't necessarily follow it every day, but I like that it's there and can keep me on track. It was a good idea!" "I do use 'How to Manage your Online Week' and I find it very helpful. This is my fourth online course. My first course was very structured and I found the work flowed smoothly. My second course was a little disorganized but the workload was manageable. My third was difficult. It seemed the work just dropped on us like a bomb. We never knew how much or what we would be getting. (We students discussed this among ourselves via e-mail.) I give this background because I feel I've taken enough online courses to size them up. This class flows smoothly and I find the structure, the organization (your organization) helps a lot." "Yes, I do use the 'How to Manage Your Online Eeek.' It is an excellent way to outline my week. I tend to get behind...as you know...but when I see that I am slipping up I use it to help me catch up." "I do think that 'How to Manage Your Online Week' is a 'best practice.' It's a clear, organized way of viewing the assignments for the week, while maintaining sanity. Most of us live and die by the calendar or appointment planner, and this is a wonderful extension of that practice." "I wanted to let you know that I do use that aspect of the weekly outline. This is my first online course so I do not have anything else to compare it to. Every week I print out the syllabus and I put the 'manage' part on my fridge. There is something due every few days so it helps me to stay organized." "Yes I do use 'How to Manage Your Online Week' to plan. I wish all my courses had the same format! I like it because it organizes my week for me and lets me know when assignments are due. Especially with a busy schedule, as most of us have, it is nice to have an organized outline to refer to. Two of my other courses use a calendar which I also find helpful. Assignments are posted on days when they are due; chats and reading are also posted. Both your 'How to manage your online week' and the calendar are very helpful in organizing my work. I think the feature is a great idea and should be shared with other online teachers :)" A few students don't use the feature as planned but see value in its inclusion in the course: "I don't really use the 'How to Manage Your Online Week.' Initially, I did check it, but now I have figure out my own system. But I think it is a helpful idea especially for people who are just starting out with the online class format." "I definitely like to read the 'How to manage' section. Even though I may not follow it, it dos give me a nice breakdown of what I have to do. I think it's very helpful especially for an online course. It's a nice pacesetter. I have seen similar practices in other courses, but I think it's more helpful for an online course." "While I don't necessarily follow it, I do find it extremely useful as an outline for what needs to be done for the week. If I were working full time, this tool would be extremely effective."
The only cost associated with this practice is the time involved in creating the documents. The time is re-paid many times over in not having to answer questions of when things are due or procedures clarified.
Ko, S. and Rossen, S. Teaching Online: A Practical Guide. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004
While taking the online course, "Teaching Online," I quickly realized as a student, I must develop an organized schedule if I was to submit all the assignments by the imposed due dates. I often felt behind and harried at the beginning of the course. I felt, that like others, without the discipline and structure imposed by the requirement of physically sitting in a classroom, students often feel adrift (Ko and Rossen, 182). I then started creating a paced work schedule each week for myself when the course materials were released. I am an extremely organized person, and I needed this type of schedule to effectively (and sanely) get through the week. When developing my own online course, it was a natural development to share what worked for me with my students and save them the pain of finding a management system of their own.