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On student workload, cognitive load, number of hours per credit hour and the future of online teaching

I have written A LOT about various ways in which we can be kinder and gentler to our students, but I keep seeing op-eds and write ups on Those Higher Education outlets, and I am still thinking that there are things that need to be said. What I am writing about reflects MY experience and may not translate into others’ views.

The Twitter thread that I wrote speaks to the global perception that having a lot of reading material was acceptable in The Before Times and that somehow More Readings + A Lot of Time Devoted to Studying = Better Learning Outcomes. This is not the exact statement circulating, but it’s a common perception and one that I hope the global COVID19 pandemic puts to rest, because I don’t think it is actually true.

The issue of “credit hours” and “contact hours” and “study hours per hour of contact/in classroom time” really bugs me, as you can tell.

On 1) There’s an assumption that students should spend 1-3 hours per credit hour per course. A 3 hour/week class would require 3-9 hours worth of studying. If a student takes 4, 3-credit courses you are talking about 4x[3,9] hours worth of studying ON TOP of IN-CLASS hours.

If my math doesn’t fail me, that means that a student during regular times would need anything between 12 and 36 hours of their time to STUDY (wait until I add the 12 hours of in-class time). So that’s anywhere between 24 and 48 hours of school-related work.

That’s… INSANE.

Yesterday I only had 2 online meetings that required my brain to be functional and I could not wake up at 4am as I normally do – I have 4 meetings scheduled for today and that means I’m going to end up absolutely destroyed by tonight (even with a nap).

We need to reconsider how we approach distance teaching and learning under pandemic conditions.

My cognitive ability to THINK, let alone PRODUCE anything is vastly reduced by *gestures broadly* everything happening around me. I am a senior professor with a permanent job, a very decent salary, who is healthy and whose care responsibilities are significantly low. *I* struggle.

I don’t have much data (only 4 courses, plus one in the summer), but in my evaluations, students clearly marked that they appreciated and value empathy. I DO know for a fact that doing all this online work is taking a toll on my students. My thesis students tell me this, too.

And on the other side of the equation, these conditions take a toll on everyone else in higher education – faculty, families of students AND faculty, staff, etc.

Personally, I think we need to lower expectations, workload AND levels of stress, and just Chill The Fuck Out.

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