Course Workload Estimator by Rice University Center for Teaching Excellence

How long does it take students work on coursework assignments?  In a recently released resource from the Rice University Center for Teaching Excellence, Elizabeth Barre and Justin Esarey created an online calculator of out of class hours students spend on coursework, based on their writing and reading rates.  

The online calculator uses various factors of reading and writing assignments to calculate an estimated number of out of class work hours.  Researchers Barre and Esarey used several research sources as a foundation and filled in its gaps with their own assumptions.  The calculator, nevertheless lets you manually adjust if you disagree with their assumptions.  Reading rates are determined by page density, text difficulty, and reading purpose.  Reading to survey a text that has no new concepts, students can read about 500 words per minute.  But when the purpose is more complex (reading for understanding or engaging with a text), the text difficulty is greater (some or many new concepts), and/or the page density increases, the student’s’ reading rate drops.  

Similarly, student writing rates are determined by page density, text genre, and the amount of drafting and revision, and are based on Mark Torrance’s “Individual Differences in Undergraduate Essay-Writing Strategies.”  Torrance’s study found that the students who were most successful at writing had more planning time and revised multiple times.  As in reading, simpler tasks took less time: writing shorter, less polished pieces that required less “critical engagement with content” and “very little planning” took as little as 45 minutes per page.  But as the demand for researched, longer papers, and/or more extensive drafting increased, so did the time required to write.  

Though researchers admit there are many assumptions on which they base their estimates, these are interesting places for further research and possible applications.  For instance, researchers had to assume that all readers and writers write at constant rates according to the chosen textual factors.  But professors know this to be false: all students have individual struggles, from learning disabilities, to balancing school, work, and family responsibilities, to learning English as a second language, etc.  If the estimator shows a large amount of out-of-class coursework hours for the “average” student, how many more will be required of these learners?  And how will knowing the number of hours we are asking of students change our coursework requirements?  How can we redesign student writing assignments to increase the time spent planning and revising, while keeping assignments meaningful, authentic, and engaging?

To use the resource and read more about Barre and Essarey’s research, see http://cte.rice.edu/workload.

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