Tuesday, March 09, 2010
How does your college or university define a credit hour? Put differently, if you propose a new course, what determines how many credit hours it gets? Does a given number of credits require a given amount of 'seat time'? If it does, what happens with online classes?
I'm particularly interested in how it defines credit hours for nontraditional formats, online delivery, etc.
I really should go look up the rules that govern the bureaucracy, since our semester length can vary by as much as a week. If we have a minimum number of hours per credit, it would have to be below the expected norm. That said, we base it on what an average student might be expected to learn or do in 3 hours per week. It is outcomes based, just as it appeared to be when I was a student in the last century. AFAIK we don't have any classes where there isn't an f2f version to provide a point of comparison on time versus objectives.
We use the 50 minute academic "hour" in this calculation, of course.
Hard classes are generally defined as those where the average student reports doing that much (or more) per week. Labs are hated because you actually have to be physically present for much of that work time.
Things with labs become more difficult. We typically schedule (introductory) science classes and labs separately, so an intro chemistry class can be taken without a lab (3 hours) or with a lab (4 hours). But we treat the lab time differently, on the assumption that it to some extent substitutes for work time outside of class...a i credit hour lab meets for 2250 minutes a semester (2.5 hours a week, 15 weeks).
On-line classes are "tagged" to their F2F equivalents. So we don't use a "time" standard. We adapt the content to the online environment and assume that for students to learn it in an online setting, they have to spend as much time as they would spend in the classroom equivalent. So my MBA managerial class meets 2250 minutes per semester F2F; in its online twin, I cover the same material (differently) for the same 3 credit hours.
For labs: 22 hours of contact time = 1 credit.
I'm fascinated by the responses that define credit hours in terms of the number of hours that students work per week. How on earth is that documented or verified?
Lecture: 1 unit (per week)=1 hour class time, 2 hours "homework"
Activity: 1 unit= 2 class hours, 1 hour out of class
Lab: 1 unit - 3 class hours, no out of class work
Washington State has a handbook that gives guidelines for equating contact hours with credits:
10-12 lecture hours = 1 credit
20-24 lab/"applied learning" hours = 1 credit
30-36 clinical/work-site hours -= 1 credit
Incidentally, my undergraduate college did not use credit hours, we just used "credits". With rare exception, courses were worth one credit. The level of the class didn't matter, and it didn't matter whether or not there was a lab attached to it. On my transcript, it does have a conversion from credits to credit hours (3.3 credit hours per credit for regular courses, I think), and the conversion has some adjustment for labs (plus one credit hour, or something close to that).
I ran into a problem while devising a new course that focused on experimental methods. There was no way to fit 9 hours of lab, yet my colleagues and I felt it was important to create a 3 credit class, so the lab time was supplemented with lecture time (regarding the underlying principles) in order to fit within the university's credit structure.
I think it is understood that the expected outside effort is based on what an average student needs to do to pass the class. We know there are students (me, back in the day) who can pass some classes by merely attending and taking notes, while others (people I knew, back in the day) spend several hours a day struggling with reading or doing problems.
I have measured that effort using a survey that I give now and then, and the results are surprisingly stable considering they show a range from 1 hour to 20 hours per week just doing homework. The mean is about 1.5 hours of homework per credit, not counting studying for exams.
YMMV, depending on the expectations set for your class.