On Course Workloads and Time Audits

New to my syllabi this semester are course workload estimates. This was something my new colleagues at Monmouth encouraged.

However, the timing for this is very providential. I ran a little experiment last semester with my Introduction to International Politics class at Wesleyan. Following the guidelines of Rice University’s Center for Teaching Excellence “Course Workload Estimator”, I conducted a time audit of my course. I was (somewhat pleasantly) surprised to see that the estimator’s feedback suggested I could actually assign more reading than I had in the past. So I tried it out.

At the end of the term, I then asked students to answer a question as to whether they felt the amount of time they ended up spending on the course was more than, roughly the same as, or less than, the expected number of coursework hours per week at Wesleyan. A clear majority of the students said that they had spent either the same amount of time or less than the expected amount. Overall, it was only a smallish minority that thought the workload was too high. Of course, all of this required that students make estimates at the very end of the semester while completing final projects and preparing for exams. So it may be hard to judge what the results mean overall. I took it to mean that I wasn’t too far off with where my syllabus should be, but that this will be an interesting thing to keep monitoring moving forward.

On estimating reading

It seems that the Rice University course workload calculator excels most with its estimates of reading assignments. As they note themselves, there is a reasonable amount of research on college reading and comprehension. So this generally seems like a good place to start. But there still is some room for instructor judgment when assessing workload. For instance, you must have some knowledge of the background of your students to understand whether concepts introduced in the course will be “new”. Here are some sample estimates:

A paperback book, with 450 words per page, and no new concepts, where the students’ purpose is to survey the material, will have an estimated reading rate of 67 pages per hour.

If you just change ONE of those variables, the reading rate can change drastically. For instance, if instead of survey, the student is to engage the reading (their highest level of interaction with text), then the estimated reading rate is only 17 pages per hour.

If you assign a textbook (with 750 words/page), that introduces many new concepts, and the student engages the text, then the rate drops to 5 pages per hour.

That is a dramatic difference!

On estimating writing

My own cursory review of the higher education literature and of Rice University’s research suggest we have no f-ing idea how long it takes students to research and write a research paper.

That really shouldn’t surprise us, since we academics typically have no idea how long it will take us to write our own papers (and books) and usually dramatically underestimate the time required.

Nonetheless, we have to start somewhere and Rice University at least can provide some rough general guidance. So, here is an estimate range from their website:

Writing 250 words per page (a normal double-spaced typewritten page), as a reflection or narrative, and no drafts, will take students 0.75 hours per page. That is the top speed they seem to think we should expect of students.

What might be the slowest speed? Given the same words-per-page, as a research paper, and with “extensive drafting”, they estimate our students may spend as much as 5 hours per page.

Some final thoughts for teachers

Rice University helpfully provides estimates for EXAMS and OTHER ASSIGNMENTS and can try to tabulate your total semester’s workload (although it is a little hard to do that if your reading and writing assignments vary). I highly recommend a visit to their website to judge at least what a typical week of your course might look like. At the end of the day, however, we each must know our own student population. The art of teaching requires we blend knowledge, and experience, and a feel for the classroom to best meet the learning needs of our students.

Some final thoughts for students

In case you are a student taking the time to read this, I have a final thought for you. Consider how much time you are devoting to your courses. For the colleges and universities where I have taught, the total average course time expected per week usually hovers around 11 to 12 hours. If you are taking 4 courses (what I have been used to so far in my own teaching experience), then that means your teachers are expecting you to spend close to 44 to 48 hours per week (including time in the classroom) on your courses. That is more work than a full-time job. Does that match your experience?

You also might wonder where those hour estimates come from. Ultimately, they are linked to how institutions are accredited and are based on standards set by the US Department of Education.

New Website, New Job

After 8 fantastic years at Wesleyan University, I am now headed to Monmouth College in Illinois! I am very excited about this transition and about getting to know my new colleagues and students.

I have decided to move all of my personal website to WordPress. It will take me awhile to finish settling into this space, but in the meantime, all of the old information from my old website is now available here. I will be making some changes over the next few months, with the goal of making this better fit my new position.

But for now, if you have found this page, welcome!

And for those of you unfamiliar with Monmouth, check out this view:

Semester’s Agenda: Begin discussing changes in world order

In response to Trump’s new “America First” foreign policy approach, and in response to other major systemic changes that have been coming along for some time, my introductory course has a new sub-title and focus: understanding the varieties of world order and how world order can change.

I will still cover all of the basics needed for such a course, but I think that this is an appropriate time to think critically about “world order” and the worldviews that inform our understanding of such order(s). Every segment of the class will now include a focus that brings us back to that specific theme. Can’t wait to get started!


Course website: http://internationalrelations-nelson.site.wesleyan.edu/

Feb 6: Film, Merchants of Doubt, Sponsored by COE

From the College of the Environment:

Please join us for the next film in The Elements: An Annual Environmental Film Series, Merchants of Doubt.
The film will be shown on Monday, February 6 at 7:00PM at the Goldsmith Family Cinema, Center for Film Studies, on the campus of Wesleyan University, 301 Washington Terrace, Middletown, CT (directions and parking information).

As described on the film’s website, Merchants of Doubt was inspired by the acclaimed book of the same name by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway. The film provides a satirical exposé into the conjuring of spin in America, and the secretive group of charismatic, pundits-for-hire who present themselves in the media as scientific authorities – yet have the contrary aim of manufacturing doubt concerning the facts, and spreading confusion about well-studied public threats ranging from toxic chemicals to pharmaceuticals to climate change.

merchants of doubt screening poster_lr

Spring 2017 Courses

This Spring I will teach the following courses:

Govt 155: International Politics, Tu/Th, 1:20 – 2:40 pm, PAC 107

While the overall framework for this class is the same as in the past, I have made some major shifts in emphasis. The major theme will be in the question of World Order, inspired by the possibility for foreign policy changes under the new Administration.

Govt 322: Global Environmental Politics, Tu/Th, 2:50 – 4:10 pm, PAC 421

This class gets at the heart of understanding how states (and others) can collaborate at the global level to address environmental challenges. We will focus on approaching these issues as social science researchers and as those interested in creating policy. Readings will illustrate multiple methods for understanding these challenges.

My office hours will be Tuesdays, 10:30 am – 12n, or by appointment.

From Backpacking in the Grand Canyon with Friends

From Backpacking in the Grand Canyon with Friends