Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 18 seconds

Reflecting Allowed

Would You Use a Course Workload Calculator?

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 18 seconds

This is the second time I come across something like this. A course workload calculator. This one from Rice University (I have a soft spot for them because I taught there in 2008).

On the one hand, I feel like it can be useful for people who teach courses at the same level to compare their workloads to each other or what is expected.

I do like that they ask if readings have new concepts or are difficult, for example, so I think some people might find that useful, e.g. should they assign the reading and expect students to understand it before they discuss it in class? Perhaps certain readings can be done before, but others after. Also, the calculator doesn’t account for reading ability esp for non-native speakers. But it does allow you to adjust the reading speed for example, which I guess to be honest you may need to do for different segments of students. I once had two freshmen in my mostly senior and junior class, and they truly struggled with some of the readings. The other students had no problems at all, either they were better readers or better bluffers (which, honestly, is a good strategic learner move).
I do think it does not work well for non-traditional digital assignments. E.g. my students sometimes annotate an article rather than write a reflection on it, and they create multimodal things like digital games that involve lots of writing but just take longer because of the creative formats (which are part of my learning outcomes, but they’re skills not knowledge ones).

It differentiates between reflective, argumentative and research writing. But it does not ask any contextual questions about exams. Like how much needs to be studied, what the format is (MCQ, essay, problem-solving, open book, take home) but I wonder if using it in a workshop to promote critical discussion – e.g. when we are building a new syllabus, might be useful? So not necessarily to use the calculator per se, but to critique it and use it as a starting point for discussing workload and academic rigor and what it means for us.

Which reminds me of one of my favorite articles of all time – Beyond Rigor, in which Pete Rorabough, Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel write:

We must move past our traditional definition of rigorous academic work, and recognize that a learning experience or a pedagogical methodology can be both playful and also have the qualities of the best academic work, if not the reagents of traditional rigor.

What do you think? Should this kind of calculator be used? How useful is it for doing its job, vs for a starting point for critical conversation in a workshop around rigor?

11 thoughts on “Would You Use a Course Workload Calculator?

  1. I share a link to this type of tool with my students who are designing online courses – largely so that they can figure out a ballpark for the amount of work they assigning. It is usually helpful to get students to pair down what they are assigning, as they tend to assign way more than they should – underestimating the amount of time it takes to participate in online discussions. In some ways, I see these tools as more of a “cognitive load calculator” to help highlight when you are overloading students … but students are never a homogenous group and so no calculator can really define what goes into all learning – it is really when we assume too much based upon the results of the tool that things become a problem.

    I think it is a good discussion point – and useful for those new to teaching in a different medium but should not be overly relied upon.


  2. This might be a difference in systems but a argumentative essay with little secondary research which invariably fail in the UK HE system (at least in the bits I work in). The feedback would have variations of “you have failed to support your argument”.

  3. Surely things work the other way. Students have x hours a week to spend on your course and you adjust tasks to fit the time. E.g., choose and read five pages (for an hour). We limit work to make the tasks manageable given everything else they have to do (incl. living).

  4. I have this resource bookmarked but I have never seriously considered using it. The value of it, IMO, is the fact that it exists: instructional designers and faculty experts who design courses should consider workload balance as part of the course design consideration. In practice, I have used a simple Excel sheet to estimate workload.

  5. I would, for conversations like those emerging in your other replies. (I used to believe in precise measures of time put into student work, until Carnegie shared research on the worth of their own credit-hours a few years ago.)

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