Estimating time and workload in course design.
Time is a crucial element in planning teaching and learning. In the past 3 years we have been forced to pay more attention to it as teaching and learning have a different temporal dimension online. But this doesn’t always come easy.
Regardless of the modality and environment, in our rather troubled relation with time we run two risks:
- to spend too little time both for planning and teaching, leaving students with little guidance and support;
- to spend too much time, over-design the course, thus overwhelming students with a myriad of resources and often unrealistic tasks.
Finding the right balance.
Trying to get this balance right is crucial for our well-being and that of our students. Calculating time pragmatically can help us manage our workload and also manage student expectations. We might not get it right the first time around so we need to keep trying. This can only be an iterative process.
Here are some ideas on how to approach this:
- First things first: we can only have a realistic time estimate if we have a clear idea about our teacher presence. How much time are we planning to spend interacting with students? In which way(s)? At which points in the course does the interaction need to be more intense? And how are we planning to provide feedback?
- Consider the fine line between structure and flexibility. Clear task instructions and precise timelines are useful, but offering students a choice on how to tackle certain tasks is part of the flexibility that makes studying online attractive and helps them train their self-directed learning skills. Try to account for both structured time and unstructured time in your estimation.
- It’s a matter of alternately zooming in and zooming out. We need to go granular and calculate time on task but at the same time we also need to maintain a holistic view of the learning process. Learning activities do not exist in a vacuum, they ideally build on each other and require preparation time as well as time for feedback and debriefing.
Don’t forget your students. Make sure you communicate your expectations in terms of time and outputs clearly. Ask them for feedback often (at least in the beginning) and try to adjust accordingly.
Some useful tools.
Estimating time is closely linked to the course design process. The Learning Designer is a tool that enables educators to design and plan their courses in detail, including various activity types, time on task, synchronous/ asynchronous ratio, activities that require teacher presence vs. independent learning, etc. It is also a useful platform to share course design with peers, an important element for creating a community of practice.
There are tools that can help estimate Time on Task (see list of resources below), but we still need to be mindful of generalising and try to remember who our students are and the diverse situations they are in. We need to take into account the various types of learning (passive/ active, individual/collaborative, etc) included in the course and the balance among them. Spelling out the activity instructions step by step, including expected outputs, can help clarify what the task really involves, enabling us to make a more precise time estimation.
Learning Designer: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/learning-designer/
Workload Estimator: https://cat.wfu.edu/resources/tools/estimator2/
Estimating student workload during the learning design of online courses: Creating a student workload calculator: http://www.research.lancs.ac.uk/portal/en/publications/estimating-student-workload-during-the-learning-design-of-online-courses(6ce41c13-9b25-4286-9db8-952fe56c680a).html
Workload mapping (Open University)
- Student perspective: http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/learning-design/?p=358
- Mapping in learning design: http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/learning-design/?p=364
- Concurrency and activity makeup: http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/learning-design/?p=374
Time on task: https://www.uky.edu/elearning/time-task
How much ‘work’ should my online course be for me and my students?: http://davecormier.com/edblog/2020/06/20/how-much-work-should-my-online-course-be-for-me-and-my-students/ A Critical Digital Pedagogy Musing: Going Beyond 11:59pm: https://www.leighgraveswolf.com/2019/08/04/a-critical-digital-pedagogy-musing-going-beyond-1159pm/
Dr. Alexandra Mihai is Assistant Professor of Innovation in Higher Education in the Department of Educational Research and Development, School of Business and Economics, Maastricht University. In the first half of 2022 she was a Fulbright- Schuman Scholar at the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning at Yale University. Previously she worked as Learning Designer at University College London (UCL), Curriculum Designer at the Institute of European Studies, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and led the Centre for Teaching Innovations at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin. Alexandra has a strong background in e-learning, learning design and innovative teaching strategies. In her PhD she analysed in how far technology is used in teaching practices at European universities.