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Helping Students to Manage Their Time in an Online Course – Featuring Elena Velasquez

Do your online students lose track of due dates? That’s what was happening to Professor Elena Velasquez’s students in her online class. She found that her students, often taking their first online class with her, needed a nudge to schedule set times to complete their online coursework. To help solve the problem, she decided to have her students create schedules at the beginning of her courses.  

Benefits Of Having Students Create a Schedule

Online learning requires students to be more self-directed in managing their time and learning than in more traditional learning settings, especially since many of them are non-traditional students who have many responsibilities competing for their time and attention. Having a schedule helps her students set aside the right amount of time for each of the many competing demands in their life. It also helps them to prioritize what needs to be done at a given time and make better decisions regarding their schoolwork. This enables them to complete study activities at the appropriate time, which in-turn allows them to learn more effectively, by improving their engagement with the course material, peers and instructor.

Elena explains that as students develop their schedule, they begin to recognize a pattern; and as they recognize patterns, they start to get better at planning. For example, they learn about a topic Monday and turn in homework on Wednesday. If they don’t review the topic on Monday, they’ve fallen behind. The next topic is coming on Wednesday. Each topic builds on the one before. Students learn through understanding and repetition of the concepts under new conditions. Schedule making also builds awareness of the tools available to support their learning. For example, worksheets, videos, discussion boards and live sessions are laid out in the course. Creating a schedule allows students to put them together in the best way possible for their own learning. Reflecting on what works best is learning how they learn.

How it’s Done

In Elena’s course introduction, she outlines the flow of a typical week along with an estimate of time needed for each activity. In the first week of class, students use this information to create a study schedule which Elena grades.  In her feedback, she offers suggestions like making more time for homework or including other life and school events in their schedule. 

“The classes are 4-credit courses, and students underestimate how much time they’ll need!”

Elena Velasquez
In addition to students being required to create a schedule in the first week, Elena sends them back at the end of every week to look at their schedule and review how well their planning went. She sets up optional (unsubmitted) 30-minute weekly activities in which she asks students to reflect on the effectiveness of their schedule and make appropriate changes to it: What worked, what didn’t work, and what they need to do differently. While this has been helpful for some students who presumably choose to do it, she is considering making the weekly schedule reflection/update a required activity or offering extra-credit points for completing it — especially after exams. Her goal is to foster good habits in her students. Below are some examples of a student-created study schedules as well as a template.

What Students Say About It

By asking students to create a schedule and then consider what works or doesn’t work for them, the activity goes beyond scheduling.  As students move their learning activities around on their calendar and adjust it to fit their needs, they are learning how they learn best. This helps them focus their attention on what works as well as on areas for improvement.

Tips for Implementing This in Your Course

  • You might want to include this activity in the first course in a fully online program or first-year classes. 
  • Include prompts that direct students to review their progress, make use of learning resources and make appointments for extra help.
  • To encourage them to attend optional live sessions, add them to their calendar in the first week of class. This builds awareness of the tool and encourages them to use this valuable resource. 
  • Encourage students to add events to the Calendar page in Canvas or use Google Calendar. In her course, Elena asks students to submit their calendars in an app she uses in her course called Gradescope, which also gives them practice using Gradescope before the first quiz.


Article Credit

Thanks to professor Elena Velasquez as well as Noreen Beckie, the eCampus instructional design team manager who worked with Elena to write this spotlight.