doomed to distraction

How Much Should We Assign? Estimating Out of Class Workload — Rice University Center for Teaching Excellence

“How much should I assign?” is one of the most basic questions teachers ask when designing and revising their courses. Yet it is also one of the most difficult to answer. To help instructors better calibrate their expectations, we’ve created a course workload estimator that incorporates the most important insights from the literature on how students learn.

Source: How Much Should We Assign? Estimating Out of Class Workload — Rice University Center for Teaching Excellence

Like all of us, I think, I have received complaints that I assign too much reading. This happens no matter what class it is. Betsy Barre’s new tool for estimating how long it takes students to read and write given what kind of reading and writing you want is a very cool thing, and the surrounding essay is absolutely worth a read.

I’ve done some public annotating on the article with which you can certainly read and engage with; I’d love to hear what people think about the charts, and particularly how primary sources figure into this for those of us in history. What I think we really need to talk about with our students is different styles of reading. Skimming is very useful, but many of my students have told me it’s not a way they learned to read, it was the reading strategy they were taught to use. With think-alouds, I try to encourage them to slow down, because if you skim primary sources, they don’t take long but they probably also seems like a confusing waste of time.

In discussing the kinds of reading, I think it’s okay to say that deep, engaged reading is hard. It’s not a thing you can do while you watch The Walking DeadI suspect sometimes my students think I’ve assigned more reading than I have because it takes them a long time to read it – not because it’s a lot, but because they’re doing 3 other things at the time. I know I want to be able to “multitask” too, but I think it’s worth noting that it’s only when I got a nice new notebook last month and made myself start reading secondary lit at a desk with no computer that I started getting actual work done on the article I’m writing. Encouraging students to find a place that’s quiet so they can just focus and read should be top priority.


1 Comment

  1. Henry

    When I’ve taught freshmen, especially in the fall semester, mid-term meetings frequently bring to light how long it takes them to do relatively small amounts of work, because of all the distractions that surround them. I’ve had some success explicitly teaching time management strategies, but more generally, it seems that many (most?) of them are unable to see how much they are distracted until they are forced to articulate it (in meetings, in reflections etc.). So simply getting them to identify the problem is a huge step (and I think it matters that they come to this realization individually).

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