Friday, February 10, 2017

How Well Do You Know Your Class Workloads?

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Photo by Steve Corey
For many professors, it is difficult to gauge how much time their students spend on assigned tasks outside of class. How long does it take a student to read 30 pages from a textbook? Two scientific journal articles? How long would it take a student to write a 5-page, double-spaced article summary? With these difficulties in mind, two professors from Rice University have developed the Course Workload Estimator. This tool allows an instructor to enter the specifics of assignments given to students and to determine the estimated weekly workload.

We gave the estimator a try using an old syllabus from a 3-credit College Algebra course. The class had 4 exams (one of which was cumulative), approximately 20 pages of assigned reading from a textbook per week, and 50 other assignments (25 online homework assignments and 25 online quizzes). Entering this information yielded an estimated workload of 10.1 hours per week, slightly more than 3 hours of study per hour spent in class.

Although it varies by professor, most faculty members try to give students 3 to 5 hours of outside classwork per hour of class. For example, if a student is taking 12 credit hours, she would need to study somewhere between 36 and 60 hours per week in order to keep up.
Unfortunately, there is a substantial gap between teacher expectations and actual student behavior. According to the most recent National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) data, UNF students report studying between 1 and 1.5 hours per credit hour weekly. Thus, the student taking 12 credit hours, would only study 12 to 18 hours per week, instead of the expected 36 to 60 hours.

Recent research has shown, however, that time spent studying is not, in and of itself, a reliable predictor of academic performance in college (Nonis & Hudson, 2006; Plant, Ericsson, Hill, & Asberg, 2004). Rather, time spent studying interacts with other factors, including ability, motivation, and the quality of studying environment, to predict academic performance. The Course Workload Estimator could be a good starting point for translating your class content into clear time-commitment expectations for your students, but more studying does not necessarily mean higher performance. It seems that course workload is no substitute for good course design and planning.

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