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Consider student workload when making course design decisions

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This guide details certain steps professors can take to gauge whether students are receiving too much work from a certain class, to prevent overloading them. Since many of these methods use student feedback to reach conclusions, it is important to involve students in the process (how do I engage students in online discussions?) and ask for their input regularly.

1. Ensuring Appropriate Student Workload in Online Courses: A Guide for Instructors (ISTEP)

Ensuring Appropriate Student Workload in Online Courses: A Guide for Instructors - Learning is hard work. Not all work is equally effective to promoting learning. An excessive workload can actually detract from learning, or simply encourage surface rather than deep learning. Thoughtful and accurate workload planning is central to course design and delivery.

2. Workload calculators

3. Workload assessment tools

  • Course evaluations - students can report and give feedback about the course, including having to do too much work
  • Third-party course/professor ratings forums - many students report their feelings about a particular course or professor as they relate to the difficulty of said courses

To get a better grasp of how students feel about the course (including the workload) throughout the semester, consider making an anonymous survey where students can give their feedback as you are teaching the course (how do I create an anonymous survey?), giving you time during the semester to improve upon your course.

4. Workload moderation strategies

  • Communicate learning outcomes - knowing what will be taught in a given week or lecture session helps students get a better sense of where they are in the course, where they should be at the end of the week, and how this information fits into the larger course
  • Time estimates on tasks - giving students a general idea of how long it takes to complete a given task will ease the students’ stress levels. This provides an opportunity for feedback from the students, in the form of very early or late-submissions, on whether the given time-range was appropriate or not.
  • Workload from previous offerings of the course - it may be helpful to review course workloads from previous offerings by different professors and teaching staff to guide workload estimates from a student perspective
  • Scaffolding assignments - scaffolding assignments is the process of breaking up large assignments into smaller chunks, with deadlines spread over weeks which act as checkpoints. This reduces student stress and workload, but it has the added benefits of reducing the possibility of students falling behind. This strategy allows professors to gain a better insight into the level of understanding of their students have after each checkpoint. Professors can also utilize checkpoints as an opportunity to provide feedback to their students
  • Monitoring weekly workload - Quercus calendars can be used to plan the course schedule so that too many assessments do not end up in the same week.

5. Examples of in person to online workload migration

Shared with permission from Prof. Fabian Parsch via their "EdTech Lessons from your colleagues: "Engage!" webinar.

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