"Wibbly-Wobbly, Timey-Wimey": Perceptions of Time in Online Teaching and Learning

Streamed Session Equity and Inclusion

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Brief Abstract

Many online students, when given the space to manage their own time, do not have specific strategies that work for them, despite understanding that time management is important. This presentation considers both clock and experiential time in relation to self-regulation and time management.


Catrina Mitchum is a Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Arizona. She earned her PhD in Composition/Rhetoric and Digital Studies from Old Dominion University. In 2018, she was, collaboratively, awarded the CCCC Research Initiative Grant. Her research interests are in retention and course design of online writing classes. She has scholarly work published in The Journal of Teaching and Learning with Technology, MediaCommons and Enculturation. She teaches first year writing and professional and technical writing courses online.
Rochelle (Shelley) Rodrigo is the Senior Director of the Writing Program; Associate Professor in the Rhetoric, Composition, and the Teaching of English (RCTE); and Associate Writing Specialist (Continuing Status) in the Department of English at the University of Arizona. She researches how 'newer' technologies better facilitate communicative interactions, specifically teaching and learning. As well as co-authoring three editions of The Wadsworth/Cengage Guide to Research, Shelley also co-edited Rhetorically Rethinking Usability (Hampton Press). Her scholarly work has appeared in Computers and Composition, C&C Online, Technical Communication Quarterly, Teaching English in the Two-Year College, EDUCAUSE Quarterly, Journal of Interactive Technology & Pedagogy, Enculturation¸ as well as various edited collections. In 2021 she was elected Vice President (4-year term including President) of the National Council of Teachers of English and won the Arizona Technology in Education Association’s Ruth Catalano Friend of Technology Innovation Award, in 2018 she became an Adobe Education Leader, in 2014 she was awarded Old Dominion University’s annual Teaching with Technology Award, in 2012 the Digital Humanities High Powered Computing Fellowship, and, in 2010 she became a Google Certified Teacher/Innovator.

Extended Abstract

Session Topic: Perceptions of Time in Online Teaching and Learning

Time is relative. It’s not a new notion, and we’re certainly not the first to have said it, but the relativity of time is important in online courses. We, here, take up Barbara Adam's (2004) definition of clock time as imposed time. Clock time has become the type of time by which we’re all expected to operate; however, understanding that time is also cultural and experiential, and that how we perceive clock time to pass and how we each experience time are critical to online courses. We need to consider that previous experiences with both the content and the learning processes (e.g., reading, lecturing, certain types of activities and assignments) all impact how a student experiences the act of doing them again.  For example, variations in reading speeds might impact not only how much clock time but also how much perceived time doing a reading might take our students.

While face-to-face students may also struggle to manage their time outside of class, they have time constraints built into the face-to-face time for their class. The online student population is typically short on a particular resource: time (e.g., Gayton, 2013;  Globokar, 2012; Morris and Finnegan 2009). Students are usually self-selecting to take online courses for a reason. Online students who are not traditionally college-aged are more likely to work, usually full-time jobs, be responsible for the care of others (children, parents, siblings, a partner), and be more likely to not be able to compromise on the time spent on those two pieces of their lives (Nash, 2005). These students elect to take online courses for a variety of reasons, but flexibility in scheduling is often a top concern because of the other responsibilities that pull on these students’ time (Moore et al, 2003). When choosing between those they care for (or their job that feeds their families) and school, they do (and should) be choosing their job or their family. Our online student population is often the most vulnerable and most at risk (Pontes, et al, 2010; Nichols, 2010; Moore et al, 2003), which means that we need to consider our approaches to timeliness in online courses as a question of social justice. 

This idea of perceptions of time intersects with and conflicts with concepts of time management, which already has ties to student retention in online learning. Time management is often discussed in terms of self-regulation. While there are many self-regulation models, for our purposes here, self-regulation is the ability to manage your own thinking and actions for a specific purpose (Zimmerman, 2011; Wandler and Imbriale, 2017). Attending tutoring sessions, emailing the instructor, and tracking behaviors are some self-regulating learning strategies (SRLS) identified, in the literature, as useful to students’ success. Specifically, studies have found that a lack of ability to self-regulate and use specific self-regulating strategies may be a contributing factor to online student drop out (Wander and Imbriale, 2017; Song et al., 2004). It is important to note that the processes of self-regulation are umbrellas for specific strategies (Wander and Imbriale, 2017). For example, time management is one of many self-regulatory processes that has been suggested to be important to student success (Song et al, 2004). Time management is a process that has specific strategies like setting goals and breaking down projects into smaller steps; however, what is not often considered is the impact of how students experience time (experiential time) on self-regulation, time management, and student retention.  

Interactivity Plan: 

    For this Discovery session, we plan to provide a brief overview of literature on time and perceptions of time followed by some of the ideas we’ve been thinking through in terms of equity and inclusion and course design in student perception and enactment of time in online courses. In our VoiceThread, we will stagger slides that will prompt participants to think about how they perceive and experience time themselves, how they’ve addressed time in their online courses, and how they might change their classes, followed by slides that include our own ideas with prompting to consider those ideas. We plan to ask attendees to participate using VoiceThreads commenting features throughout the presentation.


Attendees will end the VoiceThread presentation with a better understanding of their own perceptions of time, how perceptions of time might impact student experiences in online courses, and some concrete ways to enact equity and inclusion as they relate to time in course design. 


Adams, B. (2004). Time. Wiley.

Gaytan, J. (2013). Factors affecting student retention in online courses: Overcoming this critical problem. Career and Technical Education Research, 38(2), 145–155. https://doi.org/10.5328/cter38.2.147 

Globokar, J. L. (2012). Introduction to online learning: A guide for students. Thousand Oaks, SAGE Publications.

Moore, K., Bartkovich, J., Fetzner, M., & Ison, S. (2003). Success in cyberspace: Student retention in online courses. Journal of Applied Research in the Community College, 10(2), 107–118.

Morris, L. V., & Finnegan, C. L. (2009). Best practices in predicting and encouraging student persistence and achievement online. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory and Practice, 10(1), 55–64. https://doi.org/10.2190/CS.10.1.e

Nash, R. D. (2005). Course completion rates among distance learners: Identifying possible methods to improve retention. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 8(4). http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/winter84/nash84.htm

Nichols, M. (2010). Student perceptions of support services and the influence of targeted interventions on retention in distance education. Distance Education, 31(1), 93–113. https://doi.org/10.1080/01587911003725048

Pontes, M. C. F., Hasit, C., Pontes, N. M. H., Lewis, P. A., & Siefring, K. T. (2010). Variables related to undergraduate students preference for distance education classes. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 8(2). www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/summer132/pontes_pontes132.html

Song, L., Singleton, E. S., Hill, J. R., & Koh, M. H. (2004). Improving online learning: Student perceptions of useful and challenging characteristics. The Internet and Higher Education, 7(1), 59–70. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.iheduc.2003.11.003

Wandler, J., & Imbriale, W. J. (2017). Promoting College Student Self-Regulation in Online Learning Environments. Online Learning, 21(2). https://doi.org/10.24059/olj.v21i2.881

Zimmerman, B. J. (2011). Motivational sources and outcomes of self-regulated learning and performance. In B. J. Zimmerman, & D. H. Schunk (Eds.), Educational psychology handbook: handbook of self-regulation of learning and performance. London, UK: Routledge.