How much is enough? Figuring Out Online Class Time

How much is enough? Figuring Out Online Class Time

By Andrea Stanton, Chair of Department of Religious Studies

In ordinary times, the DU faculty members I know already worry that they aren’t giving their students enough. Many of us already have to hold ourselves back from adding more and more readings (a critical text in the field, a ground-breaking new article, a major report on new research) and more content to our class sessions (an extra item in a lecture, an additional in-class active learning strategy, a follow-up element to a lab). Our courses are already stuffed full of everything we can possibly teach in ten weeks, but we still worry that we are letting our students and our fields down by not adding one (or ten) things more.

These are not ordinary times. I think that our well-intentioned anxieties about not doing enough for our students are exacerbated because most of us do not teach online regularly. We aren’t sure how to calculate whether we are doing enough – or whether we might be doing too much. But doing too much can be exhausting. As Dean Danny McIntosh keeps reminding CAHSS faculty, this will be a long quarter, and we need to make sure that what we do is sustainable, for ourselves and our students, so that none of us burn out.

By some strange twist of fate, I’m teaching the pedagogy course for our PhD program this quarter. When I was trying to figure out how to calculate course time, Karen Swanson’s OTL blog post was a lifesaver. Here’s how I did it:

Our associate dean Ingrid Tague regularly reminds us that a 4 credit-hour course equals roughly 12 hours of work per week. In ordinary times, this would have been just over 3.5 hours per week of class time, and 8.5 hours per week reading and doing out-of-class assignments.

For this quarter, we are accounting for class time as follows: 1-hour weekly Zoom sessions, 1.5-1.75 hours writing a 3-4-page reflective analysis, and .75-1 hour writing a discussion post, reading other posts, and writing one response. This breakdown might not be a perfect representation of every student’s time allocation for every week of the quarter, but it gave me confidence that I wasn’t under- or overwhelming my students, and it gave us a place to start.

By Week 2, it turned out that I still needed to make some tweaks.

My students are dedicated and highly engaged, and each group kept posting after their required posts / responses were completed. The discussions were rich and important, but I worried that having to continue checking on and responding to the discussion throughout the entire week would be a burden on them as the quarter continued. Some students also reported that they already had a higher reading/writing load than usual, across all their courses, which was leading to some discussion post fatigue. We talked about the options on Friday during our live session, and they worked out new discussion groups that will meet for 30-minute live sessions on days and times that work for the people in each group.

They invited me to join the group sessions, which I truly appreciate (sometimes online teaching feels lonely!). I’m holding myself back from joining this week, so they can figure out their working process and establish a rhythm on their own, but said I would join them for subsequent weeks – and that we can check back in Week 6 to see whether my presence in a help or a hindrance.

I don’t think it’s helpful in uncertain times to change the entire course structure every week, but I do think that checking in and making tweaks along the way can make sense. Calculating out class time helped me figure out the right balance for my course, in ways that support my students without exhausting any of us.