Last November I took Royal Roads University’s Instructional Skills Workshop Online (ISWO) course in order to prepare for co-facilitating it in February as part of my work responsibilities there. (I’m on a one-year contract as an instructional designer until early June.) The ISWO is a great four-week course about facilitating online that is facilitated online. Most of the people in the course are RRU associate or core faculty, as well as some external people who teach online or want to.

During the course, participants are put in teams and they take turns each week facilitating the week’s activities. In November, when I was a participant in the course, I was part of a team that facilitated discussions around work-life balance as an online facilitator. I found it fascinating, entirely useful and, truthfully, a bit of a wake up call. I was just finishing up facilitating a four-week online course for another organization and I had been burning the candle at both ends that month fitting everything in and around my day job and giving my all to the online course. I soon learned that, even though the course I had taught had been fantastic, I had fallen into some pretty standard pitfalls when teaching online.

The conversation in ISWO centred around the sheer amount of work that it can take to facilitate an online course as opposed to a face-to-face one. When interacting online, participant expectations rise about facilitator response timelines. We feel like we have to be constantly connected and available to them, even on evenings, weekends and holidays. If we’re not careful, it could be that we don’t get a single day of rest from the activity of the online class … the discussion posts and emails just keep coming.

I learned quite quickly that it’s important to set expectations with participants up front at the start of a course about what my online presence will look like over the duration of the course. What can they expect in terms of response times? Office hours? Weekday versus weekend presence? Our class came up with a possible strategy – for courses with assignments – about not making them due on Sunday nights so that the facilitator wouldn’t have to spend all weekend answering student emails about them! It is all about setting boundaries and maintaining that balance between our teaching practice and the rest of our busy lives.

Strategies like these are so important for an online facilitator to incorporate, especially if we are teaching back-to-back courses or several courses at once. It’s a matter of self preservation! As one of my classmates put it, students can put up with a breakneck speed over the duration of their course or program because it’s just for a limited time, but what about an instructor who spends his/her life teaching online? We either come up with strategies to maintain our work-life balance or suffer the consequences. Seasoned online facilitators think about work-life balance strategies not only just in determining office hours, but in considering facilitator and student workload in the very structure and design of the online course.

Experiencing the ISWO as a participant first was the best way to prepare myself for co-facilitating it in February. I was really able to put myself in the participants’ shoes – I had been there! And the strategies around work-life balance – and more – that I learned served me very well when stepping up as a facilitator. I’ll be co-facilitating this course again for RRU coming up in May and am really looking forward to working with another group of instructors in this way.