A Checklist for Evaluating Time Flexibility in Online Courses

  • 3 Min Read

A deeper look into designing online courses that balance the needs of students and faculty

This is the fourth and final post in a series related to various important, but often overlooked, factors in online course design. Previous posts considered the importance of time flexibility in online courses, how to identify the right window of opportunity for student requirements, and four additional factors including the importance of timely grading and feedback.

Find the Right Amount of Course Content

This factor is often overlooked when thinking about the amount of time flexibility in an online course. In on-campus courses, the amount of course content is naturally constrained by the amount of seat time. For the online course, this is sometimes not as obvious. I’ve seen instances where faculty throw all kinds of extra content into online courses, with the assumption that more content is better. This often results in redundancies, and ends up wasting students’ time by exploring resources that are not going to be assessed. In other words, too much content takes time away from what’s most important.

On the contrary, I’ve also evaluated online courses that had too little content. This can force students to spend time looking for other sources of information, which can also be a drain on their time spent on task.

Many faculty who teach both online and on-campus find success by using approximately the same amount of course content for both delivery formats. This approach presupposes that you are starting with the right amount of content in the on-campus course, which is not always the case.

Do Your Online Office Hours Enhance or Restrict the Flexibility for Students?

Many faculty who teach online courses hold some sort of electronic or online office hours (OOH).  When done well, OOH can help provide time flexibility for the enrolled students. However, just the fact that they occur online doesn’t necessarily lead to such flexibility.

One question I always ask about OOH is this: “Are the OOH scheduled in a way that are convenient for the students or for the instructor, or both?” In my experience, some faculty members tend to schedule OOH that are convenient for themselves, while often being oblivious to when students are available and looking for help. Generally speaking, if your scheduled office hours coincide with the normal daily schedule of on-campus activities, which typically includes Monday through Friday mornings and afternoons, then your OOH might not be convenient for a large portion of your online student population, thus reducing their time flexibility for their studies.

Where’s the Rubric?

In this series of posts, I’ve covered many topics related to online course flexibility. My original goal was to develop a rubric that could be used when evaluating the amount of time flexibility that has been designed into your online courses. However, I’ve found that it’s best to have some concrete answers when constructing a rubric, and that’s just not the case for this topic.

Instead, I created the following checklist that can be used as a guide related to online course flexibility. As stated in the first blog post on this topic, research shows that time flexibility is the number one reason why students enroll in online courses. As important as this topic is, I’ve yet to see an online course design rubric that considers any significant aspects related to time flexibility for students. That appears to be an important void in these rubrics.

The Checklist

  1. Does the length of your windows of opportunity match the difficulty or time required to complete the task at hand?
  2. Are your windows of opportunity long enough to allow students to fit your course requirements into their otherwise busy lives?
  3. Does your grading policy provide assurances that students will receive assessment feedback from you in a timely manner?
  4. If synchronous activities are required, have you provided opportunities for students who cannot be in a certain place at a certain time?
  5. If group work is required, have you provided opportunities for students to form groups based on common availabilities?
  6. Are your due dates scheduled in a way, in combination with the length of the windows of opportunity, that provide students with the option of not working on weekends or holidays?
  7. Are you confident that you haven’t overloaded or underloaded the amount of course content needed by students?
  8. Have you scheduled your online office hours in a way that will be convenient to most if not all enrolled students?

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