Considering student workload is a key aspect when planning your course. Finding the right amount and mix of course content, activities and assessments can be challenging but is essential for ensuring student success.
The points below summarize key considerations for determining appropriate workload in your course. For a more in-depth discussion on the topic, we invite you to read this post by Bruce Tsuji.
Planning and assessing your course design
- Critically assess your course content
- Separate out what’s “nice to know” from what’s “need to know,” revisiting your course’s learning outcomes to help make these decisions.
- Reduce lecturing time: One hour of video lecture with no student interaction is roughly equivalent to two hours of in-class time with student interaction.
- Estimate time on task
- While each course and program has its own expectations, a good starting point is 8-9 hours of work for your students per week, in total, for all weekly class elements —this includes watching any video content, including lectures (Bates, 2015).
- To help with the process of estimating workload, you can use Wake Forest University’s Workload Estimator 2.0 and/or consult Beth Hundley’s blogpost on this subject to determine what is reasonable.
- Align workload and value
- Does the amount of effort required for students to complete an activity align with its value in the course (both yours and your students’)? For example, if it takes students 10 hours of effort to complete an assignment worth 2 per cent of their grade, you may need to make some adjustments.
- Have a weekly communications plan
- Plan for regular “Monday Morning Messaging” that clearly and succinctly lays out the ‘pathway’ for the upcoming week in your course.
- Itemize in a step-by-step list the things your students need to do in a given week: tell students how much time they need to dedicate to each element of your course (watching or attending lectures, doing their readings, lessons and assignments); put this information directly on your course page and in any weekly communications.
- Talk explicitly to your students about your expectations and/or offer them concrete advice about managing their time in your course
- Discuss your expectations during class time, via a video or Announcement post, and/or during office hours.
- Clarify time-on-task expectations: sometimes, students are spending much more time on a task that you want them to. This can also be important feedback for future adjustments to your course!
- Create spaces to discuss such matters with your students, such as open ‘drop-in’-style office hours.
- Make students aware of resources on campus that can help them with time management, such as CSAS’s time management workshops, the Carleton Online webpage, and this resource from the Paul Menton Centre (PMC).
Building in flexibility and managing workload during the term
- Can you add some element of choice or flexibility in your assessment structure?
- Make weekly/frequent assessments “best of” (e.g., only students’ best scores on 10 of the 12 weekly quizzes will contribute to their quiz total); you can use the Categories feature on cuLearn’s gradebook to have these calculations done automatically.
- Where possible, plan for the possibility of extending due dates and consider introducing more flexible late submission arrangements.
- Coordinate with all members of your teaching team
- Hold weekly meetings with members of your teaching team (TAs, lab coordinators, etc.) to make sure you as the instructor are aware of all the tasks your students are being asked to do that week.
- If weekly meetings can’t be accommodated in your team’s schedule, consider having a collaborative document where all teaching team members can post weekly updates, concerns, etc.
- Get feedback from your students during the semester
- Conduct a midterm teaching evaluation, using the Feedback (Survey) tool on cuLearn. We also have a webpage dedicated to helping guide instructors through this process.
- For synchronous sessions, poll your students using Zoom or BigBlueButton. Ask direct questions about how much time they are spending on different components of your course, and/or how they are managing their time. Both Zoom and BigBlueButton offer how-to documentation for their polling features.
Getting feedback and an outside perspective can be very helpful when trying to determine appropriate workload. Even the process of walking someone else through your course plan can help you identify strengths and weaknesses. There are numerous ways to connect with this kind of support: