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6 Steps to Minimize Stress for a New Semester

“There cannot be a stressful crisis next week. My schedule is already full.” – Henry Kissinger

Let’s face it, no matter how you prepare or how many courses you’ve taught the start of a new term is always stressful. And while eliminating all stress might prove to be impossibly elusive, there are a few proactive ways that you can lessen the crazy demands, student concerns, and questions that come with the start of a new term.

  1. Start Early

Last-minute changes are unavoidable, but having your course nearly developed a couple of weeks before class, is still the ideal. If there are things you have forgotten or need a refresher on, see if your school’s IT or department offer any support. If you’re using publisher materials, like McGraw-Hill's Connect, they often have pre-created getting started resources available for easy use. Make sure to bake in time to modify the aspects of your course that may not have worked or “clicked” with your students in the past.

  1. Reuse & Tweak Your Course(s)

When developing a course, don’t start from scratch! If you’ve taught this class before try starting with last year’s syllabus or online course. You can save a lot of type and headaches by tweaking things, rather than trying to build something completely new from the ground up. Haven’t taught this course before? See if the department or your colleagues have courses they can share with you as a starting point.

  1. Mass Update Dates

One of the most tedious and time-consuming aspects of a new semester is updating all of your due dates. One of the big benefits of using an online program like McGraw-Hill's Connect is the ability to update everything in one fell swoop. What typically would take 6 clicks to change them in other programs, Connect allows you to update all assignment due dates at once. An easy way to save yourself the annoyance of cross-comparing syllabi, calendars, and university schedules.

  1. Eliminate Unknowns

To alleviate panic and a flood of emails from your students regarding the “unknowns”, create clear and consistent messaging around the tools and materials that the students will be expected to purchase or have access to within the course. Post this information in multiple locations including, but not limited to, your learning management center and syllabus (the more locations the better!).

  1. Video and/or Step-by-Step Tutorials

Today’s students are not only required to learn the institution's learning management system, but they also need to learn a variety of homework platforms for the classes they are enrolled in. To ensure your students understand the digital components within your course, create videos and/or step-by-step tutorials explaining the purpose as to why the component is being used. Providing clarity and details on how these resources will benefit them will help students see the long-term value. If you are teaching in a face-to-face or hybrid course, prepare and deliver an overview presentation. Set the expectations early on to ensure consistent usage.

  1. FAQs as a Sample Assignment

Personally, I receive the most number of emails at the beginning of the term – sometimes to an overwhelming level. To eliminate, the demand placed on me, I post a student FAQ based on the most frequent and popular student questions that have been sent my way in semesters past. To make students actually read and learn from this FAQ I have turned the questions into a Connect quiz. Students have access to this low-stakes assignment, which provides them with additional clarification on the expectations of the course while simultaneously letting them practice the system they’ll be using most frequently.

By being proactive and incorporating some or all of these best practices instructors can greatly minimize or even eliminate the stress and demands that all too frequently mark the beginning of each term.

For additional information regarding reusing a course, click here.

For additional information regarding mass updating dates, click here.

For additional information regarding pooling, click here.

For additional information regarding building your own questions, click here.

About the Author

My name is Melissa Wagner and I have been teaching exclusively online at Triton College for 3 years. It is clear that today’s students are overachievers; they have families, work full time and still find time to go back to school. Teaching at a school that embraces and encourages online learning is wonderful, because it opens the door of opportunity for more students. My favorite part of teaching is getting students to see and make connections between what they are learning and how that relates to the real world. These students are the nation's future and my goal is to prepare them for that!

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