How to Stay Organized When Teaching Online

As I started teaching my online class this fall, I quickly became aware of the level of organization it would require. Obviously I need to have structures in place to support students. They need to know what they are doing, when, how, etc…I have those in place in a number of ways including:

  • a calendar broken up into weeks to make clear marks/breaks in what we do
  • weekly updates that tell students exactly what they should be working on; these are available in both written and video formats.
  • a playlist for the syllabus that students can access all semester long
  • their own spreadsheet so they can see how they are earning points

Once I was a few days into the semester though, I realized though that I would need better structures to support myself.

Going into the semester, my general approach to organization was one I had always used. I would find a time each week where I would sit down and plan out what was happening in the following one. I would write my weekly updates, make my videos, and update grades. This approach had yet to fail me.

And it’s not that my original approach was bad. It served me well in F2F classes and even in hybrid ones. The problem I realized I could easily have was not keeping up with all the things I had to create, post, and review. In addition to writing weekly updates and so on, I also had to create directions (most weeks) for our weekly online chats and (most weeks) make directions for a weekly challenge. Then, everything has to get posted and released at the proper time.

This, I realized, could easily fall apart. I might not have time to sit down and do everything at once, and I could quickly forget about it. I needed a structure to make sure this didn’t happen.

What I Did

I started with a simple spreadsheet. I put the weeks in column one. The other columns were: (a) weekly update – written, (b) weekly update – video, (c) weekly chat directions, and (d) weekly challenge directions. As I complete these tasks I simple put an X in the corresponding spot.

Next up – keeping track of grades. Students really have a lot of freedom to work at their own pace. Yes, there are start and end dates for things. But things happen at a much different pace. For example, in my hybrid classes I would institute challenges, but they would be done in class and timed. Everyone started and stopped in the same space. Here, you could complete a challenge over the course of a week or two or even more depending on the end date. There is no collective space where we do things together.

This means that things will trickle in at their own pace. Now, on the one hand, you could say that I could not score anything until the deadline. I get that. That was my original approach. However, I found some students completing things at a faster rate than others. I didn’t always want to make them wait until the deadline had hit to get feedback so, if I had time, I scored it. But this required me to check off next to their name that I had it done. Otherwise I’d be all over the map trying to remember who needed what scored. To keep track of what I had and needed to score, I made yet another spreadsheet. This was for each individual student, and it was shared with them. Given the nature of my class, I don’t want students to try to keep a record of their XP. They can of course, but I think that’s asking a lot of them. I give them view only access in case I make a mistake (it happens) and so they can see where they are with things at all times. This allows us easily have conversations about grades as needed.

I’ve always done shared grade sheets where I can edit it and the student can view it, but I think this is the first year I’ve gotten a good format down. I always think my format will work, but it ends up being a mess. For this I again made a Weeks column and numbered 1-14 down the row. Column B is labeled “Quest,” Column C says, “XP Earned,” and Column D is, “Possible Amount.” There’s a place at the bottom for an overall total. This lets me align each quest with the week it’s due and check off that it’s been scored. It’s good for me and the student. These sheets are very important in an online class – I think – because organization and communication become even more critical.

This idea is off to a good start. It’s definitely allowing me to see what I have done, what needs to be done ASAP, and where I am going next. The moments when I find myself in a bit of a panic (OMG – did I do X yet?) are quickly answered by pulling up my spreadsheet.

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