What counts as “class time” — especially when you are adapting a course to a new format like hybrid or online? How do you structure time to maximize engagement and (in online or hybrid situations) get the most out of synchronous or in-person time? Here we explain the relationship between instructional time, homework, and credit hours, so you can understand what Champlain and our accreditors require. We also discuss some options for instructional time that may be very different from what you would do in the classroom.
Credit Hours, Instructional Time, and Out-of-Class Work
Students’ class loads are measured in credit hours; a typical full-time load at Champlain is 15 hours, usually equaling five three-hour classes, although this may vary. The number of credit hours associated with a course is determined by the number of hours it “meets” per week — that is, the amount of instructional time. (This will vary for capstones, internships, and some other course types.)
Most faculty who teach in person are not used to thinking about instructional time. Instead, we think about the hours that we are in the classroom with our students each week. But we can learn from Champlain College Online and other online or blended modes of learning that instructional time can take different forms, many of which might not involve synchronous or in-person interaction.
The key characteristic of instructional time is interaction between instructor and students. The New England Commission on Higher Education (NECHE), Champlain’s accreditor, requires that we provide quality learning experiences that include “regular, substantive academic interaction” between instructor and students. Regular interaction means that the faculty member connects with students fairly frequently, in a way that students can grow to expect. Substantive interaction means that the faculty-student interaction is academic in nature and initiated by the instructor.
Therefore, in a hybrid or online course, instructional time is the total hours your students spend in synchronous activities AND asynchronous instructional equivalents like watching recorded lectures, taking quizzes via Canvas, participating in discussion forums, and activities you might normally do as a group, such as a virtual field trip or service project.
According to NECHE, alongside instructional time each week, students should spend approximately twice the number of hours they spend “in class” doing work for that class. That is, if a course is worth three credits (about two and a half hours of instructional time), on average students should be doing approximately five hours of preparation and out-of-class assignments each week, for a total of seven and a half hours of time committed to that course. Rice University’s Center for Teaching Excellence provides an interactive tool for estimating out-of-class student time commitments.
For more information on how this math works, please see Albright College’s explanation of Carnegie Units and credit hours.
Planning Online or Hybrid Instructional Time Equivalents
In the classroom, we know what constitutes instructional time: things we do when we are physically present with students. In fully online situations, we must consider the amount of time students are expected to spend on asynchronous instructional equivalents. In hybrid situations, we must carefully consider the mix of in-person and virtual interaction to calculate instructional time.
Virtual instructional time can involve adaptations of in-person instruction. It can also involve different kinds of activities. Some strategies for interactive, engaging instruction that does not take place through videoconference lecturing include:
Possible Adaptations of In-Person Instruction
- Recorded lecture
- Synchronous small group discussions, critiques, labs, projects, etc.
- Asynchronous discussion forums
- Quizzes and tests delivered via Canvas
- Guest speaker virtual “visit” or webinar
- Library education sessions or consultations with a research librarian (currently offered virtually)
Possible Instructional Time Innovations
- One-on-one or small-group synchronous conversations with the instructor (similar to the tutorial system)
- Individual real-world experiences shared through reflection or discussion (e.g., plant observation walk, interviewing a professional in the field, service learning, etc)
- Virtual tours and field trips
- Lecture-style slides, or written instructor-created content that would normally be delivered via lecture in class
- Collaborative whiteboard, brainstorming, and/or problem-solving activities (synchronous or asynchronous)
- Collaborative reading and annotation using a tool like Hypothesis or Perusall
- Remote/virtual labs
- Low-stakes surveys, quizzes, or check-ins
- Peer review (synchronous or asynchronous)
- Contributing to and commenting on a virtual gallery
There are many options! This list is not intended to be exhaustive. When deciding on instructional time activities, you should focus on options that are highly interactive (student-faculty and/or student-student) and/or focus on experiences like labs, field trips, interviews, or service learning.
This wide range of strategies is great, and it raises an important question: how long does it take students to do these things? How do you get the amount of instructional time equivalents to roughly mirror the number of hours you would spend in a classroom with your students, when you students are completing tasks on their own time and may not work at the same speed?
First of all, something to consider: students generally work a lot less hard when they are sitting in a classroom taking part in an all-class discussion than they do when everyone is required to contribute a discussion post or two on Canvas. A group lab may be less work than a virtual one. The great thing about this is that your instruction can become much richer as students branch out into the things that most pique their interest. However, be aware that asynchronous instructional time can be much more mental labor and organizational work than some forms of classroom instruction, and so your students may be working harder for the same amount of instructional time, or may be spending more time than you think. Create your prompts, assignments, and grading schemes in a way that acknowledges this increased effort.
Pragmatically, here are some estimated amounts of time students might spend doing common virtual learning tasks. (We’re skipping over tasks that have a clearer time commitment like lecture videos and timed quizzes.)
- Discussion posts: minimum of 30 minutes for a 250-word/one-paragraph post and skimming other posts. Direct responses to other students’ posts may take a little less time.
- Blog post: approximately 30 minutes for a 250-word reflection post. If you require research or longer posts, allot at least an hour.
- Case study activities: account for reading time as well as writing time, which will vary widely depending on the exercise. An optimal adult reader who reads visually, does not have reading-related disabilities, and is fluent in English can read about 300 words per minute with no new concepts. For new concepts, writing for an academic audience (eg. journal articles), special genres of writing (e.g. legal cases), or texts you want students to analyze deeply, estimate 150 words per minute. Allow writing time as above. Thus a case study analysis based on a news article–which is a great option for a discussion forum!–with a 250-word response might take 30-45 minutes. On the other hand, analysis of a fifteen-page journal article with a 250-word response could easily take an hour and a half or more.
- Independently arranged interview, field trip, or service learning experience: make sure to add an estimate of the time it takes to arrange an experience (if students are doing that work) to the experience itself.
These suggested times may seem slow to you–but remember, you are estimating based on the speed of an average student.
We also provide a resource on strategies for balancing synchronous and asynchronous teaching, as well as some slides with examples of how to balance and estimate synchronous and asynchronous instructional time equivalents in different types of classes.
Other Institutions’ Approaches
- Course Workload Estimator, Rice University Center for Teaching Excellence
- Credit and Contact Hour and Instructional Equivalencies Guidelines, Valdosta State University
- Guidelines for Instructional Time Equivalencies Across Formats/Assignment of Credit Hours, Misericordia University
- Instructional Equivalencies Chart, Albright College