Personal Information Management


Published: November 16, 2012 by Sue Alman

Computers provide 24/7 access to endless amounts of information for every aspect of our personal and professional lives. We use the World Wide Web for shopping, socializing, traveling, dating, writing, banking, scrapbooking, organizing, and sharing perhaps more details of our lives than most people care to know. With our dependence on computers in their multiple versions and formats, it is no wonder there has been an explosion of online learning in the past fifteen years. While faculty developed their skills for traditional teaching over a lifetime of observation and modeling by their instructors, teaching online exploded without the benefit of established systems and practices. Even faculty who have taught many years struggle with effective practices for managing their course-related files. Managing files can be a monumental challenge when a single course results in dozens of personal emails and hundreds of discussion postings, plus multiple assignments from each student. A single course can easily result in over a thousand digital artifacts that an instructor may need to archive and later retrieve! (Excerpt from: Kearns, Frey, Tomer and Alman. “A Study of Personal Information Management Strategies for Online Faculty,” accepted for publication in Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 2013.)

Are you among the group identified in the literature that has trouble “Keeping Found Things Found?” (

  • How do you deal with the volume of information from email, computer files, web-based information, and learning management systems?
  • How often do you “find” a source that has relevant information for future use in a class or research project so you save it according to your personal information capture schema?
  • How often do you actually use that information source?
  • Does its relevance fade, do you forget about it, or can you retrieve it easily?

Our research team examined the practices of LIS faculty who have taught courses in the WISE consortium, and we investigated the ways they manage the deluge of files associated with their online teaching. The findings suggest instructors commonly lack a strategy, let alone a coherent strategy, for managing the information that is generated by an online course. In other instances instructors reported that their respective file and information management tactics were overwhelmed by the volume of information at hand. A list of recommendations for effectively managing email, desktop, and course management system files was developed based on suggestions made by the participants. The next phase of this research will focus on the development of a model for effective Personal Information Management.

Participant Recommendations


  • Reduce or organize select emails with filters
  • File by using mail folders labeled for topic, sender, and/or course
  • Remember to file sent emails
  • Flag emails as high priority or for follow-up
  • Act on incoming email or delete it
  • Use subject line to keep emails clear and be brief


  • Create folders for each course and subfolders for each semester
  • Within subfolders, create folders for announcements, discussions, assignments, FAQs
  • Use file names that include version tracking info (e.g. version number, date, semester)
  • Make regular backups


  • Save bookmarks in a shareable format
  • Add notes to bookmarks
  • Explore Web 2.0 tools for bookmark sharing, calendaring, scheduling, and media sharing
  • When you upload content to wikis, blogs, or other media sharing sites, keep a copy on your desktop

Learning Management System

  • Keep backup copies of course files on your personal computer.
  • Create, edit, and save documents on your personal computer before uploading to your LMS.
  • Participate in training opportunities to learn more about the LMS in use at your institution.



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