Balancing Workload (For Online Faculty)

In a recent survey of more than 1,000 higher education professionals, 50% said their job is more difficult than it was five years ago (Bart, 2013). Reasons range from larger classes and shifting into online teaching to unprepared students, additional administrative responsibilities, and budget cuts. Nearly 64% of participants teach, manage, or support online or blended courses (Bart, 2013). The best practices below will help you balance the workload in your online class.

How to Get Started

Step 1: Get organized.

  • Consider this folder structure for course files (Schiffer, 2013):
    • Current Semester
      •    This is where you will store graded student work. Create multiple folders within this folder (one for each week’s assignment).
    • Past Semesters
      •    Each semester you will drag the Current Semester folder into this folder.
    • Announcements
      •    This is where all announcements will be stored, along with any FAQs from previous semesters.
    • Syllabi
      •    This is where you can store all versions of your syllabi.
    • Assignments
      •    This is where all assignment files will be stored.
    • DQs (Discussions)
      •    This is where you will have one document for each DQ that includes the prompt/question along with your own “keeper” posts (posts that are reusable for higher-order thinking or explaining difficult concepts).
    • Feedback
      •    This includes at least two folders (one for DQs and one for Assignments) with documents for each assignment that include “keeper” feedback. When providing feedback to students, you can personalize your initial comments and use one of the “keeper” posts from this folder for more common points.

Step 2: Examine student workload.

  • Consider the amount of work you are assigning your students. For a typical semester-long, three-credit-hour course, you would typically want no more than nine hours per week of student total time on task. Keep in mind that the academic credit hour was developed over a century ago and is based on seat-time; use this rule of thumb as a guide and be sure to consider the level of student effort as you plan your online course (McDaniel, 2011).

 Step 3: Have your course reviewed by a peer or DELTA staff member.

  • You might be surprised by a colleague’s observations after “taking” your course (or just working through 1-2 modules).
  • Consider scheduling an Instructional Consultation to review your strategy. An instructional designer can review your course learning objectives, activities, and assessments.

Best Practices

  • When grading individual files, re-label each student’s graded paper with the grade earned in the file name. This provides you with an easy reference to old assignments, if needed, and will be helpful when posting grades, e.g. JohnSmith.125 (Schiffer, 2013).
  • Rather than crafting brand new responses for each student assignment or Discussion Board posting, use “keeper” feedback to provide thoughtful, customized grading feedback in a timely manner (Schiffer, 2013).
  • Include a grading rubric at the top of files in the feedback folder so you can copy and paste it to student files for efficient grading.
  • If the course is blended, you would simply subtract the amount of in-class time from the total time to determine the optimal workload.
  • Keep in mind that students do not typically read or absorb information as quickly as you do, so ensure that time assessments are based on their level of study and not instructor ability.
  • Visit Discussion Forum Best Practices for help with Discussion Boards, as these tend to be a large part of the workload for online faculty.


  • The table (Turner, 2005) below provides an example of one week of learning activities and their completion times:
    TASK TIME (in hours)
    Viewing three, 15-minute lectures (text or video), with web links  1
    Reviewing lectures and exploring links  .5
    Posting a short “knowledge check” self-assessment statement to the drop box  .5
    Reading assignments  1
    Completing a 10-item online quiz 1
    Posting to Discussion Boards (original post, responses to three classmates’ posts, responses to responses) 2
    Small group project meetings (video conference or asynchronous discussion) 1
    Work on final research paper and presentation 1.5
    TOTALS  8.5 hours