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#27-Time on Task

March 24, 2003

LTA Overview

For this LTA of the Week, we have Stephen C. Ehrmann, Vice President of the Teaching, Learning, and Technology Group, and Director of the Flashlight Program, to thank for sharing some information that he has been collecting and which is related to “Implementing the Seven Principles: A Library of Ideas for using Technology as a Lever.”


Submitted Anonymously

The “seven principles of good practice in undergraduate education” were written by Arthur Chickering and Zelda Gamson as a summary of teaching-learning activities that usually improve educational outcomes.

In recent weeks, Steve Ehrmann has been assembling a library of teaching ideas for faculty at the hundreds of institutions that subscribe to the TLT/Flashlight Program. A smaller version of this library is available to everyone; it can be found at http://www.tltgroup.org/seven/home.htm

This LTA, drawn from the subscriber version of the library, includes a few of the teaching ideas for advancing just one of the seven principles, “Time on Task.”

This LTA, drawn from the subscriber version of the library, includes a few of the teaching ideas for advancing just one of the seven principles, “Time on Task.”

According to Chickering and Gamson, “Time plus energy equals learning.” Ehrmann adds that technology can play a role here in attracting students to spend more time in their studies, reducing wasted time. To obtain the ideas that the reader may find below, the following question was posed to faculty to answer: “In what ways has technology been used in your courses or at your institution, that directly or indirectly, results in students spending more time and energy in their studies?”

The following set of responses was received. The source of these comments is unknown other than they are primarily from college and university professors.

Impact of Online Assignments on the Timing of Homework

  • Turning in homework by electronic files to a file server, or e-mailing assignments from the students home to the instructor has made it convenient for students to complete assignments on time.
  • I post all assignments on the web and students can download, answer the questions and then return to me. This eliminates the time spent by some students to retype the assignment. I also make use of interactive spreadsheets supplied with the text so students do not need to spend time hand-calculating mathematical answers.
  • I think the ability to store work and work-in process on the school’s network and particularly to be able to access those files and folders from any Internet-connected computer minimizes some of the low value time in getting to campus to access files or copying and carrying files around. These facilities also appear to have some positive effect on minimizing lost or corrupted files on floppy disks and the time spent in recreating lost or corrupted files.
  • The ability to send file attachments with email has made it easy for students to send me a draft of their work for feedback at any time. With randomly generated homework problems, immediate feedback, and the opportunity to try again, students view the homework almost like a game with the challenge of getting all of the problems correct. As a result, they seem to spend more time than with paper and pencil homework.
  • The availability of many research materials on-line and through electronic databases to which libraries subscribe should enable students to access what they need from their home or their dorms at times which are convenient for them. Theoretically, that would seem like a time and resource savings (transportation, subscriptions, etc.) but may also encourage sloppy scholarship, procrastination, and other problems. The same types of rigorous standards for print sources can be applied to e-sources, but that does not guarantee thorough work.

Engaging Assignments Can Attract Students to Spend More Time Outside the Classroom

  • My students remark that they spend a lot more time researching web quest topics because it is “fun.” They enjoy technology and many students are amazed to discover how creative they can be when presenting historical subjects in the form of web quests.
  • The Blackboard course management system encourages students to spend more time on-line in discussions or chats; web searches usually seduce the user into following various serendipity paths to new material that would otherwise not have surfaced.

Computer Tools Can Sometimes be Used to Do the Work Faster

  • Students use computers for word processing. That goes much faster and provides more manageable revision tools than pencil/pen on paper or typewriters do.
  • Access to the Internet has changed research possibilities. Students have access to much more information faster than in the past. In music course, high tech ear training, music sequencing, and keyboards allow much more time experiencing the theoretical concepts being studied about (harmony, rhythm, etc.) We just got our lab this year–it’s a sea change for us–but it will take us a long time to make it work efficiently, as the faculty learn the software, classroom management in a high tech environment, and so on.

Other Ways of Saving Classroom Time

  • Class notes are posted on the class web site for student review, so review of the material covered in the previous class was not necessary, saving quite a bit of time each day.

Saving Commuting Time

  • Students who live off campus do not always have to drive into campus, with limited parking to talk to their professors. E-mail messages are quickly replacing the live visit to professors and probably encouraging more students to talk to professors since it is less scary to them to write rather than face professors face-to-face.

Electronic Reserves

  • We also use electronic reserves at the library which has cut down on photocopying and has made student access to reserve materials much more efficient. Students have commented on how useful they felt that access was. I have to say, since loading materials on electronic reserve, I have noted an increase in the quality and completeness of student response to reserve assignments–they are actually READING the assigned essays! Access helps.


  • One excellent way our institution has encouraged students to reduce time on task though the use of technology is through a program where every incoming student is equipped with a computer. This year, we transition to providing students with laptop computers rather than desktop (previous practice). Students are often seen carrying their laptops with them on campus, are checking email between classes, working on assignments, taking notes to class with laptops. I think this is a great demonstration of efficiency.

Technology Sometimes can Save Faculty Time

  • Going ‘paperless’ has saved me much time on task. I no longer need to search through piles of papers for those handed to me in the hall, or late, or in my mailbox. They are all together–in a computer file–providing I have kept up with e-mail and checking the class web site and filed them then. I ALWAYS file an assignment the first time it is opened online. That was not possible with paper versions.
  • I have used a database approach to cataloging and utilizing the “teaching treasures” that have been collected over the years. This database allows me to have a much greater chance of utilizing these teaching treasures whenver they apply.
  • The publisher of one of our texts provides a tutorial CD and Web site as well as online course support. We encourage our students to access these supplementary services.
  • With my advisees, I use our institutions web page to check transcripts, registration possibilities, and answer their questions.


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