Would You Use a Course Workload Calculator?
Maha Bali recently shared a link to RICE Univeristiy’s Course Workload Calculator. It includes inputs for reading, writing, exams, other assignment, and course info. In the post, Maha reflects on words about Rigor by Sean Michael Morris and others, and mentions cross class analysis of workload. When I see a tool like this calculator, rigor is not exactly where my mind goes. Working in online course development, and previously when I worked on many blended learning format courses, workload for students was on my mind regularly. I recall a story from early in my career as an ID that flipped learning was all the rage. Some folks took that to mean video record lectures. Others, particularly in the health sciences, took it as a license to double the content of many courses. In the latter case, it became a tool to assign readings to students and then use the regular class time – lecture – as a continued stream of content following from the readings.
Face-to-face classes kind of have this proxy in people’s minds about time spent in courses. One of these classes might have three 50 minute meetings per week, with some readings and assignments. Over 13 weeks that gives you at least 39 hours of stuff. A number of Canadian universities seem to go with a 2:1 ratio of time expected outside of class which brings you close to the 100 hr mark per one semester length course. Of course students will spend different amounts on time on each class, and of course that will have different results. No calculator is going to help you design the most effective course for students to learn. Where is does have some value is in reflecting on what you’re asking students to do. I find this more with the readings than with assignments, as assignments are really difficult to pin down to “time spent”. I once worked on a course where the instructor submitted over 500 pages of readings for a one month short course for his students, that was just one component of the course. That’s not that much reading for this class, it’s all very important stuff, is what I kept being told. In another course I had an instructor assign quadruple the reading load in one of the weeks of the course, a distinct change from the original design plan, and drop almost all the readings from the following week, all the while keeping the whole rest of the schedule grounded in “weeks”.
For asynchronous online courses, you tend not to have the proxy of “I have 39 one-hour lectures” to reflect on what you’re asking students to do. It can be easy to really pile on video and readings simply because it’s all important and students should be able to manage their own time because they’re not attending a class. I can think of another course where the instructor had readings, a bit of course notes, but then went full on assigning videos because our university has some really stellar video repos. Video is a bit easier to talk time about. Watching three 2-hour documentaries a week for 13 weeks, might be a bit much in addition to everything else you’re asking students to do.
Using a basic calculator such as the RICE U one allows those working in ID and Ed Development to engage instructors in conversations about their teaching practices and about the design of their courses. But that’s all I see it as, a tool for reflection and catalyst for conversation.