Trade Secret #4: Be a hoarder

By Dr. Marilyn Herie

This took me a shockingly long time to figure out. I am embarrassed to say that it wasn’t until 2012 that I began to personally archive all of my postings in the group discussion forums, and I now use these as a base from which to continuously adapt and reframe year over year. Although I refresh and update the course content every year, many of the same issues, discussion points, questions and reflections come up. Having a resource archive to draw from has immeasurably enriched my own contributions to our online conversations.

Transcript – Trade Secret #4: Be a hoarder (click to open)

Welcome to my online teaching trade secret series. I’m Marilyn Herie and I’ve been teaching online for a very long time, almost two decades. Along the way, I’ve learned some really great tips that helped to save time and make my online presence in that class even more impactful for my students. This is such a good one. This is, like of all of the secrets. The one that took me the longest to learn but yielded the most benefits. Be a hoarder.

Now, what do I mean by be a hoarder? Okay, year over year over year as I taught my course, I found that in the discussion board, students were making very similar comments about that particular topic. I taught an addiction treatment course. And even though, over the 20 years, obviously, I changed the textbook, I change up the activities, I updated readings and references, that nonetheless, those big, broad areas of addiction treatment were still the same. Joining with clients. Enhancing motivation for change. You know, dealing with resistance. Like, those were themes that that actually were quite enduring and students had very similar reflections and questions about some of these things year after year. So what I started doing, and I didn’t do this until like my 10th year of online teaching, if only I’d started doing it right away, is every single post that I made to the discussion board, no matter how short or how long, I saved it and labeled it as week one. And so, year over year, I started to create this great repository of content that I was writing in those discussion board postings. And so, when the next year rolled around, I was able to go into my Word doc, and find and just filter through the different nuggets or things that I posted, make a few changes, update them, add different student’s names, and voila, post. And all of a sudden, it’s like, this professor has such rich, posting content, engagement, week over week. And guess what, it’s taking me a fraction of the time that it took me when I was doing it from scratch, year after year. So, in addition to saving your welcome messages, your announcements, I encourage you to save every scrap of content that you are posting.

Now, here’s the other secret to this. I like to divide students into small groups of, you know, between 8 and 12 students because the volume of postings is pretty overwhelming for them to see. But, because I am posting fundamentally similar, if not identical postings, in each of my three or four small groups, I don’t really want students to feel like they’re getting a form letter, so I actually lock access. The way I frame this to students is, I want you to feel safe, comfortable, this is your discussion group, and each group has its own culture and learning community that we’re gonna foster together. It feels more intimate and personal to them. And, it gives me the liberty of being able to copy and paste in my postings in those different discussion forums. And I loved seeing the feedback that I got from students. You know, that comment about making my presence known online by posting often, and engaging the class, was done not through hours and hours of fabricating content but because I was a really good hoarder of what I did, year after year in teaching my class. So I think the other piece about, you know, the notion of engagement, how it fosters further thought and learning and reflection, like, that critical analysis, critical reflection, collaboration, teamwork those are some of the other, the other elements of positive dynamic learning communities that we can absolutely foster even in completely asynchronous courses.

So I hope you enjoyed this trade secret for online learning and check out my other trade secrets.

Check out Dr. Marilyn’s Herie’s other Trade Secrets!

Dr. Marilyn Herie, PhD RSW is Vice President Academic and Chief Learning Officer at Centennial College in Toronto, Canada, with an academic cross-appointment as Assistant Professor (Status Only), University of Toronto Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work. I’ve been engaged in online (and classroom-based) post-secondary teaching and research since 1999. My areas of interest include elearning and classroom teaching, interprofessional education research and evaluation, motivation and change, and social media. I blog about education and teaching-related topics at