What's the Workload for Your Course?

An August teacher ritual: finalizing the syllabus. Syllabi is still more of a higher ed requirement than in high school, but at any grade level teachers have to determine how much reading, writing, and other work to assign.

workloadWhen it comes to course credit hours, did you know that there is actually a federal definition for work outside class?  A credit hour should have a minimum of two hours of out-of-class student work per week for a semester hour. That means that a student should expect at least six hours of out-of-class work per week for each 3-credit course. With a 5 course load, that is 30 hours.

How realistic is that? I would expect that number to sound really big to most students. And I'm not sure that a professor would expect that much work from a student. Then again, it is tough to estimate just how long it will take a student to do assigned readings, study for tests and do papers or other assignments.

Can technology help? Two faculty at Rice University, Elizabeth Barre and Justin Esarey, have developed an online Course Workload Estimator tool. On the page, they give an explanation of their way of estimating and point out that “there is very little research about the amount of time it takes the average college student to complete common academic tasks.” Though they used existing research on reading speed and comprehension and a study of students’ self-reported time spent on writing assignments, it still comes down to being an "estimate."

They allow for some manual adjustments for things like paperback versus textbook, how many new concepts are in the reading and the purpose of the readings (survey, understand or engage).

When I was working on the design of many online courses that had been taught face-to-face, I found that many faculty underestimated how much time it would take students to complete all the reading and assignments for the course. Even if you took the time to read a chapter yourself, your speed and comprehension isn't comparable to that of a student.

I like the idea of using something like this estimator and hope it goes through further development and refinement. Frustration on the part of students and faculty over meeting expectations migh decrease.


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