I’ve long been fascinated by studies on time factors in online learning. The issues of teacher time are especially relevant given the high cost of teachers, the threat to the profession, MOOCs offering much less teacher-intensive education opportunities and my own online equivalency theory.

This study

Mandernach, B., Hudson, S., & Wise, S. (2013). Where has the time gone? Faculty activities and time commitments in the online classroom. Journal of Educators Online, 10(2).  http://www.thejeo.com/Archives/Volume10Number2/MandernachHudsonWise.pdf.

This study was done with 80 FULL TIME online teachers, teaching 4 online courses during the same semester. This is a much less common administrative format for online teaching in that most online teaching is done either by part time adjuncts or by teachers teaching both online and on campus.

Teaching in any context varies a great deal based on personal teaching style, use of synchronous tools, discipline, level and motivation of learners, support and funding for teachers and a host of other contextual factors. Nonetheless aggregate data is very interesting and helps paint the reality as well as vanquish some myths about online teaching. As expected the data confirmed that teachers did spend slightly more time online than literature reports for oncampus. (Averaging 44 hours/week for the 4 courses). But perhaps of greatest interest is the tasks that made up these 44 hours.

Teacher tasks onlineAs can be seen from Table 5 Grading and assessment took almost half (45%) of time commitment. I am hopeful that steady progress in machine marking and faculty use of  tools like audio marking and templated responses, will be able to both reduce this time and allow for more formative and summative feedback for students. Student communications is time well spent, despite the fact that these communications are never spread equally among students – some want (or need) much more attention than others.  I was pleased to see that when faculty are experienced (and working full time online helps here) only 2.9% of time was spent on technical issues. Too often novice teachers consider their lack of Net Literacy as a deterrent and necessary component of online teaching. Whereas, if they were literate Net users, they would find that their competence in using the net for a host of personal and professional applications transfers easily to online teaching.

Traditional university faculty will note that 2.13% spent on research and service is far less than expected and demanded in a research university. There is time devoted to course development (6.6%) and PD (8.08%). However, these figure are likely inline with time provided to community college and other professional educators.

The study doesn’t say what type of pedagogical model was underlying the online courses. Jon Dron and I have written about three generations of pedagogical DE models, and I am quite sure that each has different time and related task requirements for teachers.  In my experience, I have found that  having an occasional synchronous webconference session – recorded of course for those can’t attend, can save a lot of time in addressing common issues and helps students know and come to rely on support from each other.

Finally, I note that the subjects in this study worked noon-8 PM, 5 days a week in a defined location. Thus the key advantage of time and pace shifting that is always available to online students, was denied to these teachers. Perhaps they used 44 hours because that was how long they were at work????