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OFYE Matters: Time Management

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“Time management is the elephant sitting in the middle of the living room for all online learners,” says Risa Blair, an instructor for Southern New Hampshire University, one of many professionals dedicated to the online first year experience (OFYE) of students. Her peers in the online learning environment agree. For the new online learner, organizing one’s time can be a difficult and persistent challenge. Students have to juggle a multitude of commitments outside the classroom such as working at one or more jobs, tending to the needs of children or grandchildren, or caring for aging parents. Trying to integrate focused time for self-development is difficult for most people and particularly daunting for online students in their first few terms. This is a topic where OFYE-dedicated teachers can add meaningful value.

We asked the experienced OFYE community for their perspectives and classroom-tested time management strategies that could impact early student success. Their individual comments and tips have been organized to provide a comprehensive and resourceful collection.

What are the most common activities that online students juggle?

Jennifer Sturge of Southern New Hampshire University shares: Full time jobs, families, friends and coaching are just a few things that vie for our students’ time daily. One of the biggest responsibilities facing our students is how to manage everything that they need to do in their day to day lives and add online college courses to their routine. In general, I find that my students who struggle the most with time management are those who don’t stick to a consistent schedule for completing coursework.

Why is focus particularly important for online students?

Wendy Conway, Assistant Professor at Ashford University writes: In many cases, students who take online classes for the first time have the expectation that it is faster, easier, and provides immediate gratification of their efforts. They are in for a surprise when they learn that the only difference is the method of delivery (and sometimes the length of the course). Writing intently is much different than tweeting or texting and reading a full article or chapter is much different than a summary or synopsis of information fleeting across a smartphone screen. It takes time to ingest and reflect on course material and even more time to prepare a thoughtful and well-written paper or discussion.

How do online students cope with time management challenges?

Connie Lower, Assistant Professor at Ashford University, explains: Many students who have time management issues will simply give up without reaching out to anyone. It is our responsibility, as caring and attentive instructors, to intentionally find those students and provide support while they are making their way through what can be a perilous first year.

Ariyo Oluwunmi, College Liaison and Communication Instructor at Durham Technical Community College, emphasizes: Time management seems to be a skill that many of my OFYE students believe they have under control. Online classes are more self-directed; yet, many students struggle with implementing time management effectively. I instruct the students not to let time control them but to become effective “time managers.”

What are some tips to helping OFYE students with time management?

1. Understand the student and his/her vision.

Risa Blair shares: Find out what the student vision is!  Students most often tell us in their first introductory posting why they want to earn their degrees.  There are a variety of reasons, including career opportunities, advancement, or change; completing a lifetime bucket list challenge; or serving as a good role model for their children or grandchildren.  These factors serve as the fuel for helping students with time management. We have the opportunity to look back in the class and see what inspired these students to choose to earn their degrees in the first place.  We can personalize our responses to the students to include these elements in our discussions or personalized outreach. 

Connie Lower further suggests: Students will drop hints that say “watch me and help me”. Young children, no technology other than a smart phone, three part-time jobs, little support from the family unit all scream, “This is going to be difficult with my situation.” Pay attention to the signs. Make notes about those students that you see at risk.

2. Recommend writing down all tasks.

Risa Blair explains: I generally recommend that students use a monthly calendar (the 30,000′ view) to write down when all of the assignments are due, a weekly planner (the 10,000′ view) to break down the tasks and times to meet the weekly deadlines, and a daily to-do-list (the 100′ view) to drill down and itemize each task that they will complete on a particular day.  They love the idea of crossing things off the to-do-list each day.  There is power in the pen.  The task of writing things down makes it 42% more likely that you will achieve your tasks.  Additionally, for the technophile, I highly encourage students to utilize daily reminders, and perhaps even an online to-do-list application.  Term after term, this formula works!  Students find success in following the strategy.

3. Help students leverage the syllabus and identify “time-wasters.”

Ariyo Oluwunmi suggests: To help students recognize the importance of time management, I first help them realize how to organize and plan their time between specific activities. Creating an engaging syllabus allows me to chart the course’s roadmap for my students. Secondly, I help the students understand what their specific time wasters are and allow those time wasters to assist them. Through an arrangement of various activities, I hope the students discover how to become “time managers.”

Ariyo further shares: The students’ track their daily activities for one whole day including documenting all the times they use their cell phone/social media (even if it is for a second) to assess the roadmap of their day. I allow my students to see what their time wasters are through the previous assignment and recognize how their time wasters can be allies. I introduce the students to helpful apps like Quizlet, Skype, Remind and other programs that they can be used to help them save time.

4. Provide resources.

Connie Lower: Include quotes, tips, and short videos about time management best practices in Announcements as sidebars.   Provide links to high quality time management websites such as “Mind Tools.”  Encourage students to offer comments on these practices if that feature is available in your LMS.

5. Address individual student needs.

Connie Lower: [Consider] giving OFYE students a grace day beyond the university established due date. For many students, one more day is enough to let them breathe, reduce anxiety, and complete their work. After grading an activity, whether it’s the first or fifth in the class, list those students who didn’t submit their work after the grace day has passed. Contact each student by email explaining your concern for their absence and offering assistance. Encourage personal contact with you concerning their circumstances.   Include in this email a link to a time management article or a YouTube video.

6. Show your human side.

Jennifer Sturge shares: One of the first things that I let students know is that I am a working mom. I talk about my struggles with finding time to be an online teacher and still attend my kid’s events and help with homework and get through the day. I share with them that I have learned that Friday’s are crockpot meal day. Seeing me as another working parent helps students to understand that they can take control of their time too.

7. Help students manage their school assignments.

Vicki Pallo, Assistant Professor and Textbook Coordinator at Virginia Commonwealth University, offers: To assist students in my writing intensive OFYE courses with managing their time more effectively, my first line of offense is to scaffold assignments in such a way that things are due incrementally and assignments build upon one another. In essence, I manage the projects for them, step by step. By doing so, I’m training them to see the natural steps involved in the research and writing process, so that they can (hopefully) reproduce this strategy in other courses. Other methods I have employed include:

  • Meeting with students (video conference) to discuss time management strategies like using Google calendar and alerts.
  • Keeping deadlines consistent. In my course, all assignments are shared on Mondays, and due the following Monday. The only exceptions are when I have a two-step assignment that involves peer feedback; the first step will always be due on Thursdays.
  • Giving students until the end of the day on the due date. Students are typically night owls, and value the extra time to scramble right up until the due date.
  • Periodically I’ll email a reminder about upcoming due dates; this helps jog their memory when the class/assignment has drifted to the back of their minds.

What are the characteristics of a student with good time management skills?

Wendy Conway offers:

Planning ahead. The most successful students review weekly requirements a day or two ahead of the weekly start and compare that with their own personal schedules to figure out their study strategies. They also plan time to devote complete attention to their coursework. This might mean delegating some responsibilities to a spouse, significant other, family member, or friend.

Learning how to say “no.” Students need to learn how to say “no,” at least for the first year. Juggling academic, professional, and personal lives can be stressful so eliminating any additional stressors is highly recommended. Many students simply don’t say “no” because of their fear of being judged negatively. The key to saying “no” is to frame it in a positive way. For example, he or she can say, “Thank you BUT I have an important paper due on Tuesday and must spend the weekend preparing for it. I hope you understand how important my academic success is to my career goals.” Or, “I need to say no this time. If I were to accept, I would not be able to devote 100% of my attention to the task and that is not fair to you or me. My coursework demands 100% of my attention right now. Once I complete this (course task, week, class, etc.), I will be happy to help.” Either way, saying “no” removes the guilt and allows the student to feel confident pursuing his or her educational goals.

Other tips for student time management include:

Jennifer Sturge shares:

  • Set a schedule using your calendar and reminders on your phone or computer. It’s hard to ignore a bleating reminder that is signaling you to start your work for the week.
  • Start early in the week. Log in on Monday. Look at what needs to be done and print off the weekly checklist. Checking off items as you do them makes you feel accomplished and more in control of your time.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. So, the floor isn’t vacuumed to perfection. It’s okay. School comes first.
  • Find time to relax. There is nothing wrong with watching your favorite show or binging on Netflix occasionally. Just do it after you get your school work completed.
  • Eat well and exercise. You’d be amazed at how much more you can get done when you feel good and are healthy.
  • Take breaks. When you find your mind wandering or are not feeling productive any more, stand up and take a quick walk, get a drink, or a snack.
  • Put that phone down! Nothing steals time faster than social media. Use a social media break as a reward after accomplishing an assignment, a discussion post, or a Learn Smart.
  • Set a goal and stick to it. And if something happens to mess up your time management goal, just switch it up slightly. No one is perfect: life happens!

Next Blog Topic: Relevance

Many OFYE students are entering college at a different point in life than traditional college students. These students are often balancing complex schedules with work, family, and school and struggle with transferring what they are learning to their work outside the classroom. Our next blog post seeks to highlight ways OFYE educators showcase relevance to their learners. If you are an OFYE educator, please share your thoughts on one or more of the following:

  • How do you take course concepts and present them in a way that showcases their relevance to OFYE students and their work outside of the classroom?
  • What resources are you providing OFYE students to highlight the relevancy of skills presented in your OFYE class?
  • How are you leveraging the discussion forum and grade feedback as opportunities to increase relevancy for OFYE students?

OFYE Matters is a virtual toolbox of skills, best practices, resources, ideas and strategies for online learners and is posted regularly. For previous OFYE Matters blogs, click here.

To submit for publication consideration, please articulate one to three-paragraph responses to Jamie Holcomb, Associate Dean of First Year Experience, Southern New Hampshire University at by Monday, April 2.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.