The Productive Online and Offline Professor: A Practical Guide
reviewed by Regina L. Garza Mitchell - June 22, 2020
Title: The Productive Online and Offline Professor: A Practical Guide
Author(s): Bonni Stachowiak
Publisher: Stylus Publishing, Sterling, VA
ISBN: 1620367300, Pages: 220, Year: 2020
Search for book at Amazon.com
When colleges closed and courses moved online during the spring of 2020, faculty members across the country taught online or at a distance for the first time. Instructors grappled with new technologies and approaches to teaching and learning, some even having to navigate using their learning management system (LMS) for the very first time. They also had to deal with the sometimes overwhelming issues of task management, time management, and organization that comes along with teaching at a distance. The Productive Online and Offline Professor: A Practical Guide is designed to help with those issues.
I approached this book expecting it to be a guide for new online instructors. However, this is a book about organization, both in terms of systematizing work and your own thinking spaces. In online education, the words efficiency and effectiveness tend to highlight assembly line approaches to instruction that equate students with customers rather than learners. Stachowiak, however, has a different approach. We make what we can more efficient so we can be more fully present in our teaching and other parts of our lives (p. 2). The goal of the book is to help faculty get organizedwith attention given to concepts of mindfulness, authenticity, and productivityin order to be better teachers.
The book is divided into five parts (chapters) with an introduction by the author and two forewords. Part One, Translating Intent into Action, is the longest section of the book. It covers goal-setting, getting things done (GTD), and setting up calendars and task management systems. Part Two, Facilitating Communication, focuses on establishing systems that help us to be more efficient communicators. Those systems include things like blocking times for different communications, scheduling meetings, responding to emails, and conducting office hours. The chapter covers both tools and processes to help streamline communication with students and colleagues. Part Three is titled Finding, Curating, and Sharing Knowledge, emphasizing personal knowledge management (PKM) and how we seek, sense, and share information (p. 142). This chapter gets at an aspect of teaching that is not often discussed: how faculty can engage in life-long learning that benefits their teaching and research. Part Four, Leveraging Technology Toward Greater Productivity, explores how faculty can automate processes to save time on repetitive tasks and be more effective teachers. The idea is that automating some content areas frees up time to be present for students. Part Five, Keeping Current, centers on more efficient approaches to updating online courses. Namely, this section focuses on how to ensure content remains current both inside and outside the LMS. She even covers file-naming conventions to help reduce time spent searching for documents and to avoid potential errors when storing files.
Each of the parts and the introduction ends with a section called Take Action that provides a list of specific actions the reader can choose to take. Stachowiak recommends reflecting on the steps covered in each section and selecting a few to try or to add to your task list. I appreciated this incremental approach that allows readers to select what works best for them and allows them to approach change at their own pace.
Stachowiak does a nice job of laying out the pros and cons of goal-setting and information management, describing the various ways we receive information and noting that instead of the old-fashioned inbox lying on top of a desk, we now have multiple physical and virtual inboxes for receiving and storing information (e.g., social media, LMS, phone, email, physical materials, etc.). She offers recommendations to organize the capture and storage of information rather than a prescriptive, one-size-fits-all approach. She discusses the benefits and drawbacks of handwriting lists, for example, compared to typing them into an app, and encourages readers to adapt a combination of approaches that work best for them. Recommendations are drawn from books, websites, and personal examples. They address task management, email organization, using social media and other online tools to organize information streams, batch-processing work, and more.
The premise of the book is that faculty productivity can be enhanced through organization, something that my fellow list-makers will appreciate. In this book, faculty productivity is not defined by how much research is conducted, how many students are enrolled in a course, or how many students earn a particular grade. Instead, Stachowiak defines productivity as being aware of our commitments and being able to prioritize them holistically (p. 14). In her view, the goal of being productive while teaching online is to be present for our students, effectively facilitate learning while establishing systems that allow us to fulfill our commitments, and have greater peace in our lives (p. 11). That is a goal many faculty members find worthwhile. Even those with existing systems of organization can benefit from the recommendations shared in this book.
Stachowiak provides several suggestions for online and offline tools that can help faculty organize in order to be productive. Although she notes that readers should be aware of the risks and costs associated with these tools, there is not a great deal of information provided for people who are newer to using online tools and services or who may be unaware of associated issues. For example, many of the recommended apps and services require information that could have implications for personal privacy. There may also be intellectual property considerations in regard to the creation and storage of material used in online courses, and issues related to students and student data. For example, requiring students to post work online in a forum outside of the official learning management system may violate student privacy laws or college/university policies regarding student privacy. Even something as simple as downloading and storing student work in the cloud on a non-authorized system (e.g., DropBox, Evernote, etc.) may violate those policies. Using an app that consolidates email accounts requires a faculty members institutional log-in information, which raises security concerns and may violate institutional policy. The book would have benefitted from addressing these issues. Faculty members interested in using recommended tools should check with their organizations information technology department to ensure their use does not violate federal laws (such as FERPA), institutional policies, or put the faculty members or students personal information at risk.
The book references a website (www.thriveonlineseries.com) that is supposed to contain links to assist readers, and the book promises that the site will be updated regularly to incorporate new tools and recommendations from readers using the hashtags provided throughout the book. At the time of this review, the site only contained descriptions of the two books in the Thrive series and a message that resources would be coming soon. The book was released during the COVID-19 pandemic when much of the country was in upheaval, so my hope is that the site will be updated after a new normal develops.
This is not the right book for those interested in learning to teach online. However, I recommend it for anyone teaching onlinewhether novice or veteran, those who feel overwhelmed by teaching online (or offline), and those who are looking to improve their organizational approaches. Stachowiak addresses a practical aspect of online teaching that is mentioned but not often addressed in the literature: how to best organize to avoid information and screen overload when you incorporate technology into teaching.