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Labor Saving Techniques

Brigham Young University

Given that a major goal of the course re-design project is to substitute technology "capital" for faculty teaching "labor," in what particular aspects of the course and its delivery are you finding that you are able to do this?

One of the objectives of the redesign was to reduce the cost of teaching this course by making technology capital for labor substitutions. Our proposal predicted that the redesigned course would take less instructor time and that as a consequence, we would be able to increase the number of students enrolled in each section.

We are measuring the amount of time instructors devote to the course during the developmental period. We prepared and distributed a weekly time log survey to the three traditional instructors and the three online instructors participating in our evaluation. This survey asked the teachers to log how many minutes they spent each week in the following categories: (1) preparation, (2) instruction, (3) grading, (4) office hours, (5) email, and (6) teacher development.

Our analysis showed an overall 25% time-savings in the redesigned course during this pilot developmental phase. Generally, we saved time where we expected: in instruction, since the online class met only once a week; and in office hours, since online instructors did not hold regular office hours. Although online instructors spent more time emailing their students, the emailing time was compensated by the reduction of office hours. Instructors said they used email much like office hours to answer student questions about assignments and to provide feedback on student work. Email created more flexibility for both instructors and the students. We are developing training plans to improve the online instructors' use of asynchronous communication technology.

Overall, grading is the most time consuming activity for all instructors. Grading time was reduced in the online course. Due to grading taking such a significant amount of instructor time, we are planning grading workshops to increase our instructors' efficiency in reading and grading student papers. We may also use the standard rubric developed for the portfolio analysis to provide instructors with more direction for grading. We hope that this rubric, along with grading workshops, will improve the efficiency of instructor grading.

Because we are still in a developmental phase, not surprisingly we learned that a great deal of preparation time was spent learning to use Blackboard, fixing technical problems, posting quizzes, and creating course Blackboard sites. This situation will be alleviated in part by more extensive training in using the Blackboard course delivery system and training instructors how to more effectively implement the course modules. Areas for improvement include how to best use asynchronous conferencing software, how to best use weekly class time, and how to best structure writing conferences.

December 2002 Update: During the implementation of the course in fall 2002, we asked instructors to use the discussion board feature of Blackboard to supplement the reduced class time. We also added a new format for the final exam. We expected that these changes would add to the total number of hours instructors spent teaching the class. In addition, we expected that since these instructors are inexperienced, they would spend more time teaching the course than did the instructors from the previous semester (who all had one semester of experience). These extra hours accounted for the time spent becoming familiar with a course they have never taught.

Compared to winter 2002, it seems as though instructors spent a great deal more time teaching this course. However, it is important to note that during winter 2002, the instructors were somewhat experienced teachers, having already taught at least one section of a traditional English composition course. In contrast, instructors during fall 2002 were brand new. Not only did they need to learn how to integrate and administer the technology, they also had to learn the course content and work out lesson plans, assignment descriptions, and grading procedures.

When asked in interviews how they spent their time, all of the instructors agreed that grading took a lot of time and energy. Most instructors felt that the time they spent grading decreased as the semester progressed and they began to feel more comfortable with the class. At the beginning of the semester, the instructors also spent a great deal of time setting up their Blackboard sites and planning for their course. They felt that this time was well-spent, because the next semester they teach they should have a better idea of how to organize their course effectively.

Instructors also noted that conferences took a fair amount of time and that emailing was sometimes time-consuming. Yet in comparison with winter 2002, instructors spent far less time emailing during fall 2002. In fact, the rate of email seems fairly consistent throughout the semester. Overall, the instructors felt they spent less time as the semester progressed, and they felt that next semester they will spend much less time preparing for their course and grading papers.

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