Experienced online instructors will tell you how important it is to find a balance between being available and responsive to your students and taking time for yourself – taking care of yourself. If you are always on and available 24/7 you run the risk of burning out.
Here are a few things to consider to offer students an engaging and interactive learning experience and at the same time, avoid burning out.
- Establish a clear communications plan. Let your students know the best way to contact you, whether using your campus email account, instant messaging (e.g. Google Hangouts), or by phone. Avoid using your personal email and encourage students to use their campus email accounts. If you prefer not to use your cell phone number, have your work phone forwarded or consider using Google Voice. Voice permits you to screen calls as well as forward messages to your email. There is also a “do not disturb” feature for down time and you can set up a personalized voicemail greeting.
- Include in your syllabus when students may expect a response to their email or instant messages. Although many online faculty respond to student inquiries throughout the day, most tell students that they can expect a response within 24 hours. Let them know about exceptions for holidays, vacations, travel, etc. Post these exceptions in an announcement, on the calendar, and set up an auto email response.
- Set and maintain regular virtual office hours using web-conferencing technology such as Zoom which includes a virtual “waiting room”. Google hangouts is another great way to connect with students and provides for both instant messaging and web-conferencing. You can create a menu item within the LMS specifically for “office hours” including the link and schedule.
- Be present – use the grade book, post personalized messages, provide feedback with assignments. Post short video announcements. This lets students know that you are present and fosters a sense of student-instructor immediacy – especially important in the online learning environment.
- Set assignment due dates and times at times when you are available for questions. Rather than setting the due date and time for Sunday at midnight, try noon on Fridays. If students run into trouble or don’t understand something about the assignment, they can contact you. Or should they run into a technical issue, they can contact the help desk during regular office hours. Added benefit – you and your students can relax over the weekend.
- Finally and maybe most importantly, schedule some down time. Take breaks throughout the day – especially if you take the time to respond to email and student inquiries after-hours. Put the phone down, turn it off during meals and family or personal time.
Over time you will find your new normal – your own rhythm, one that makes sense for you, providing balance and is healthier for both you and your students.