Online Teaching Tips

This pages contains various teaching tips and best practices developed by the online STAT instructors.

Click on the links below to expand the selection.

Teaching Tips and Best Practices Section

Canvas File Upload Assignments can be graded in Speedgrader - BUT there is no timer connected to these assignments.

Canvas Quizzes have a timer. Canvas Quizzes can include a File Upload question type.

We use Canvas Quizzes for assessments. Often there is only one question in the quiz. The one question is a File Upload question. When the student enters the quiz, the timer starts and the student is presented in the first question of the quiz which has a a link to download the Word document with the questions to work on. When finished, they select the filled-in Word file and upload this back into the question. Once they get the message that their file has been submitted, THEN they can submit and exit the quiz. The time the student took to complete this one question is recorded.

Grading File Upload Questions

When you open the Speedgrader for these types of One-Question File Upload quizzes you see the results of the one question - the student's file that they uploaded. The Speedgrader will allow you to enter the points received for this one question but does NOT open the Word document online for comments.

Instead, here is one way to make the grading process efficient.

Grading using the Adobe Acrobat Reader App

  • Enter the Speedgrader and click on the link on the right for Download Submissions. You should now have all of the students submissions in one folder on your computer.
  • Use the web service Online 2 pdf ( to convert all the submitted word files into .pdf files if not already. This site will allow you to drag multiple files at once. If you convert multiple files, make sure you select Convert Files Separately for the Mode.
  • Copy all of your files into a folder in DropBox.
  • On the iPad download and install two free apps from the App Store: the Adobe Acrobat Reader app and Dropbox app.
  • In the Adobe Acrobat Reader app - look for the ability to connect this to your DropBox account.
  • Open the student .pdf files in you DropBox account through the Adobe Acrobat Reader app. Here you can use your stylus to grade the papers just as you would if they were printed out. Be sure to save before scrolling.
  • Once you have graded through all of the papers, they can be uploaded back into Canvas for each student.

Here is a quick overview of what this looks like.

Instructors teaching STAT online courses were asked to describe what their weekly work schedule looks like, a schedule that helps them routinely communicate and interact with students. Below are their responses. Obviously this may change from semester to semester based on the course that is being taught or the students in the course. However, the idea here is to share a basic understanding of what blocks of time are necessary for completing work as an online instructor.

Instructor Testimonials

Below are a few testimonials from the Department of Statistics online faculty.

"I work Monday through Saturday – various times of each day, though I log on at least 3 times a day to check for questions. I let the students know at the beginning of the semester that I will not log on Sunday. Assignments are usually due Sunday so I also request that they try to ask questions for the week before noon on Saturday to receive a response from me before the deadline. Each Monday I send an e-mail out discussing the current weeks events. I check my discussion forum and then e-mail to encourage more use of the forum rather than e-mail. If a day is light with questions, I work on adding material to the course, writing exams, or updating assignments."
"At a minimum, I check in at the beginning and end of each work day. This takes between thirty minutes and an hour in the morning and another half hour in the evening. I also look in sometime Saturday and Sunday morning, if I get a chance, and again early Sunday evening, as that is when assignments are due. This includes both Angel email and the discussion boards. Then, I usually spend most of Monday grading. If I have other conflicts on Monday, this gets pushed into Tuesday. This is important, because the students need feedback before they get too far into the next lesson. If I am going to be any later with the grading, I send a message to the class. Similarly, if I am going to be out of touch due to travel, I also send a note and push back deadlines if necessary."
"In my case, the lessons and assessments are posted during the weekend and collected on Monday, one week later. So, most of the students’ questions come in on the weekends. A daily breakdown for me would be as follows:
  • Sunday: new material is already posted; frequent student questions about the assessment on the current lesson due the following day; 2-3 hours are spent over the course of the day answering questions.
  • Monday: moderate level of student questions over current material due later that day; 1-2 hours spent answering questions; I also post an introductory message about the new material for that week.
  • Tuesday: solutions for assessment just turned in are prepared, along with grader instructions for partial credit; 1-2 hours are spent for this; there few questions over the new material at this point.
  • Wednesday: few questions over the material; 1-2 hours at most spent for this; on weeks of midterms, this day and Thursday are usually spent grading and working on solutions, which would be around 6-8 hours.
  • Thursday: few questions over the material; 1-2 hours at most spent for this.
  • Friday: new week’s folder and assessment are prepared, 2-3 hours spent for this. Saturday: any changes to new material yet to be posted are made at this point, frequent student questions about current material, probably 2-3 hours are spent over the course of the day."
"I usually open a new lesson on Sunday, the day before the previous lesson is due. That gets me working in ANGEL at the same time that many of my students are trying to complete their work that’s due Monday, so I’m more likely to be able to respond to emails quickly. During the week, I check email and contribute to the discussion boards around midday. Students who emailed late the night before or in the morning seem to get responses in a reasonable amount of time that way. I do most of my grading in the early mornings or late evenings when students tend not to be working. I don’t think that there’s any particular advantage to this, it’s just more convenient for me to do more substantive work when it doesn’t conflict with my full-time job."
"This is a rough breakdown for the time I spend teaching online each week:
  • Monday: 2 - 5 hours to grade and give feedback for the weekly lab activity and maybe 1 hour to answer any emails that may come in.
  • Tuesday: 1 hour throughout the day to answer e-mails
  • Wednesday: 2 hours to set up and record my office hours in Adobe Connect. 1 hour to answer e-mails.
  • Thursday & Friday: 1 hour throughout the day to answer emails.
  • Saturday: The assignment is due Sunday, so the volume of emails increases, so I spend maybe 2 hours throughout the day answering emails.
  • Sunday: This is the assignment due date, and try as I might to dissuade them, many of my student let their assignments go until the last day. This results in me spending maybe 3 hours throughout the day answering emails.

Note: When I’m answering emails, I use text if the problem is simple, and video if they ask a more in-depth problem, so I may spend more or less time responding to students depending on the material of the week."

"I check emails several times a day, including weekends, and I pay close attention when the deadline for assignments approaches (Monday night). I try to open up assignments a few weeks prior in case students want to get ahead. In a typical week, if the lessons warrant it, early-to-mid week I create and post one or more short (no more than 15 min) videos covering lesson concepts and working through examples. I then grade the labs completed from the previous lesson (this takes the most time). Weekends are spent mostly answering to student questions. There are other non-regular duties, like creating the midterms, updating the labs, responding to discussion posts, adding resources, etc."
"I check my e-mail at least once in the morning, noon, afternoon, and evening daily to see if I need to answer any question or concern. If I need to send a reminder I send them. If I see a student’s comment or concern is valuable, I share that with the entire class. I check discussion forum once a day to see I need address any issue. I have set office hours Tuesday and Thursday 12:00-1:25, and students call in for any question or comments. If a student calls in other times and leaves a message, I return the call. I do grading Sunday evening, all day Monday and Tuesday afternoons."

Interaction between and among students and the instructor is an important component of any online course. In a discussion all can see and learn from the give and take. How do we encourage discussion in the courses we teach?

Best Practices from Colleagues

For more about the tools to use for online discussion visit Communicating Online

Working with TAs is 90% about communication! Here are comments from experienced instructors:

During the First Few Weeks

Below are a few testimonials from the Department of Statistics online faculty.

"My first email to the grader should is a general description of what to expect over the semester. I add their name to the Canvas roster and provide a weekly schedule of topics and due dates."
"I ask about their experience with Canvas and adding comments in the drop box or Speedgrader. It’s not safe to assume that they know all about grading in Canvas."
"I prepare a short document that introduces the grader/TA to the course and lists your expectations."
"In the first few weeks, I review the way my grader/TA is correcting assignments, and make sure I agree with their point assignment and level of detail given in their feedback for the student."

As the Semester Progresses

"I send my grader a weekly note to let them know specific things you are looking for in that week's assignments. Periodically, and for some of the more complicated assignments, I review their grading and comments."
"I copy my TA when communicating in email. They don’t usually log on as regularly. So use this to keep communication open."
"It is very important for the grader to post scores promptly each week, so the students know when to expect them, especially before an exam."

Also Important to Note

"I provide solutions for the grader and then describe with a point-by-point breakdown what to look for and how to assign partial credit for each question. If anything is unclear, I encourage the grader to ask me about it. Students also appreciate comments whenever any deduction is made---or even if no deduction is made. I ask the grader to make such comments available to the students for every submission."
"I stress the importance of detailed comments – even with solutions available. The TA is often the main point of communication with many of the students."