After reading the interesting paper “Effective Workload Management Strategies for the Online Environment” of Dr. Lawrence Ragan (Director of the Faculty Development World Campus, Penn State University (http://www.personal.psu.edu/lcr1), I decided to ask him the following question:
It’s important in an online course that students study at their own pace, but how can an online teacher manage his time when there are many students in an online class? For example, when the teacher set up a discussion forum and all students should participate, or when many of them become frustrated with the course’s difficulties, what can the teacher do not to delay other teaching responsibilities?
The answer of Dr. Lawrence Ragan was:
My answer comes from my training and experience of course, in instructional design. Understanding the dynamics of the online course (number of participants, type of course content, level of learners, grad vs. undergrad, etc...) all influence how we construct and design the online course. I think that the term "asynchronous learning" can be misleading.
Yes, the students can learn at their own pace but usually within a tightly controlled timeframe. For example, a 15 week 3 credit course has to be completed in that time period. Students are not free to be working on week 2 assignment during week 10. I'm not sure we always do a very good job explaining this aspect to the students. Although there are online courses that are independent learning where the student is free to progress or not at their own pace, most online courses that I see being developed and delviered are cohort-based.
To the issue of faculty time management in the online course, my answer would be the same. We must design a course that is "reasonable" for the learner AND the instructor. There are tradeoffs of course, more students may equal less student-to-faculty interactions. BUT, there are also other strategies that we can use that engage the learners that do not require additional faculty oversight.
I see these issues and challenges as the "fun" of our field. It is where we get to bring the artistry of teaching to the pragmatic constraints we deal with the operating parameters.