Work smarter, not harder: Set up an online course to save time!


Higher education professors found themselves with more classes, more students, and overall less time and less time-saving methods. Therefore, using time more efficiently has become necessary to achieve our goals. Below are strategies that professors can use to allocate time efficiently, maximize output for students, and minimize time spent revising or creating course materials throughout the semester or academic year. Each of these recommendations requires a bit of upfront work, but the payback can be valuable during the busy semester and academic year.

Build the whole course

Faculty members have the privilege of reviewing student assessments prior to the next semester and monitoring how students navigate assignments and course materials as the semester progresses. Therefore, faculty can apply these changes to assignments and upload them to the online course shell and make them available to students before the semester begins. By preparing in advance, professors can negate the need to continually prepare and load content as the semester progresses. Additionally, this practice can prove to create a less frustrating experience for students, as well as reduce student questions, as all content and assignments are accessible from the first day of the course.

Topics with saved comments

Many faculty members use rubrics to grade specific assignments to ensure that students understand the requirements of an assignment, but also to provide a method for easily grading an assignment. However, in the spirit of in-depth feedback, many educators choose to provide feedback on student work as well. Often the same comment is required for multiple student projects and time spent repeatedly typing the same comment can add a significant amount of time to the overall grading process. One method to maximize the time spent grading assignments is to create in-depth comments that can be used multiple times for different levels of student work. By creating a list of comments that can be copied/pasted for students, teachers can move more efficiently through the grading process, which saves time.

Scheduled notifications

Each semester is riddled with questions from students in each course, but anticipating these questions before the semester begins can be beneficial for you and the course’s student success. Moreover, predicting that students will inevitably attempt to turn in late work can also be avoided, not completely eradicated, but diminished. The results described above can be obtained by preparing and scheduling the publication of notifications throughout the semester. This can be achieved through your e-learning system, email or social media. Simply prepare the notification for each individual class, schedule the notifications to post, then forget about them. For example, if your class needs a large research paper, schedule a notification about when students should begin their research for the paper, then schedule a reminder a week before the paper’s due date. Scheduled notifications can also be useful when group projects are needed to prompt students to contact their group members. There are a multitude of ways scheduled notifications can benefit the course instructor; however, the unintended consequence is that the quality of student work often improves.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Applying CUD as the basis for course design can circumvent many accessibility issues that students may encounter in an online course over the course of a semester. The UDL can be broken down into three main considerations for course design:

  1. Multiple means of representation
  2. Multiple means of action and expression
  3. Multiple means of engagement (CAST, 2022)

Multiple means of representation include how information is presented to students; therefore, ensure that in your course, students have access to materials and content in multiple formats, such as video instructions, reading materials, PowerPoint presentations, practice videos, or examples and webinars. In addition, students should have the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge or mastery of content in multiple ways. It is not necessary to include several means of action and expression for each mission; however, students should be given different types of assignments throughout the course. Finally, students should engage with the class in a variety of ways to include discussion, independent work, or group work. Instructors should differentiate their assessment modalities and provide students with various opportunities to access and assess their understanding of the course material.


Faculty may receive specific accommodations from University Services for Students with Disabilities, however, it is not required for students to disclose a disability. As a best practice, all online course content should automatically include the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards for accessible design. Hyperlinks should start with the link title (for example, to view UDL components, visit, or better yet, hyperlink directly to the text so students can directly click and be redirected to the website which is especially useful if there are long URLs (e.g. UDL Components). It’s also best to use a font like Times New Roman, use minimal bold or italic text, and avoid using high-contrast colors (eg, red/green or blue/yellow). If you use images, be sure to include a description of the image. Clear audio is also a necessity when posting lectures or other material that includes a video component and it is best to limit video content to no longer than 10 minutes and include a transcript and/or subs. – coded titles.

Google Drive

A Google Drive can be used to meet the demands placed on higher education faculty to stay organized and retain essential documents. Google Drive offers the ability to quickly give feedback, retrieve old versions of documents, collaborate live with others, manipulate settings for multiple levels of access, and search and locate files. As teachers, materials are constantly updated and shared among professionals through collaborative research and teaching. Google Drive offers the possibility of avoiding round trips with e-mails. A document shared with another professional remains updated thanks to live editing and the recipient can access it at any time. Google Drive also lets you create folders for organizational purposes. Creating folders for each project or class can help group documents together so they can be easily located, edited, or copied. Using Google Drive to track course materials allows for quick editing and less work over time. For example, using a live Google Drive link in your active program document allows you to make changes without having to re-upload a new file to the e-learning platform. Google Drive provides the freedom to access documents from any wifi connected device instead of being tied to a single computer where all documents are saved.

Information Videos

Faculty can create introductory videos that provide students with detailed information on how to access resources (eg, how to find items in the library, how to access the Student Writing Center, APA formatting). Informational videos can also be made to walk through course syllabus and expectations or outline expectations for major course assignments. For example, a discussion of a previously submitted and anonymized exemplary assignment can be shared showing alignment to the assignment’s rubric. These videos are great references that students can revisit at any time during the semester.

Faculty members have multiple responsibilities related to teaching, scholarship, and service, and working more effectively has the potential to increase productivity if prior thought about course design, assessment, and contact with students is made.

Randa G. Keeley, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of special education with a research focus on classroom interventions that promote inclusive learning environments for students with special educational needs and disabilities as well as preparation teacher initials.

Maria B. Peterson-Ahmad, PhD, is an associate professor of special education with a research focus on teacher preparation, particularly for general and special education teachers of students with mild/moderate disabilities. Other research interests include technology to support teacher preparation and high leverage practices.

Schuyler Beecher, MEd, is a doctoral candidate with a research concentration in initial teacher education in instructional strategies and social-emotional learning. Other research interests include inclusive practice and innovative teaching strategies for higher education.


“UDL Guidelines.” CAST on line. 2022.

“Advancing full access and inclusion for all.” American Access Board. 2022.

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