Practicing Compassion with Course Workload

During this shift to remote instruction, students may feel overwhelmed by learning in this new environment. How can you consider the amount of work you are asking students to do and gather feedback on the workload?


1. Consider the current environmental factors we are encountering.
Students might not have a quiet place to study or be working in an environment that is less conducive to concentration. Students also may not have easy access to electronic devices or internet connections that are required to access course work. These factors may require them to spend more time than normal completing their course work.
COVID-19 Site Resource

2. Estimate the amount of time you think it should take students to complete activities.
Consider the amount of work you are asking students to do now and how it compares to your traditional in-person teaching. Ask yourself how much time it should take an average student to complete major course activities (e.g. readings,  problem sets, discussions postings, or quizzes), remembering that you can likely work faster than your students.  Add up all the activities for the day or week. Is this more or less than what you had students do before?

3. Establish a rhythm for student engagement.
Try to establish a pattern for activities in your course (e.g. order of activities, due dates, and location of instructor feedback) so students can develop effective study habits in this new environment. This will help students acclimate to their new environment and provide some routine in their learning experience from week to week.
Establish a Rhythm For Participation – ACUE
Samples of Course Rhythm Templates – TeachOnline@UW

4. Communicate expectations to students.
As you present work to students online, consider adding a description that communicates the amount of time you expect them to spend on an activity. Example: Please spend 15 minutes reflecting on the following article and share an important takeaway from it in a 3-4 sentence discussion post.  Also, communicate why you are having students engage in an activity and how the activity can contribute to their learning.

5. Consider student feedback and adjust expectations accordingly.
Solicit feedback from your students on workload and compare the results to your estimates. If students are taking more time than expected, check to see whether your expectations were understood. Monitor the situation for a few days and look for patterns. Consider whether activities could be adjusted or if it is essential to student learning.
Create an anonymous ungraded Canvas survey
Create a Blackboard Collaborate Ultra poll
Course Workload Estimate (Rice University)
Credit Hour and Regular Substantive Interaction – Letters & Science
Campus Credit Hour Policy

6. Reduce cognitive load for learning new technology.
As students learn new tools and engage in new learning behaviors, they are also spending time understanding the best way to communicate and interact. Example: Consider taking time before an activity that uses new tools or approaches to get students comfortable in the space so they can focus on their learning.

Further Exploration

References/Related Literature

Kaleta, Robert, Karen Skibba, and Tonya  K. Joosten. “Discovering, Designing, and Delivering Hybrid Courses.” In: Anthony, G.P., Dziuban, C.D., editors. Blended Learning Research Perspectives. Needham: MA: Alfred P. Sloan Foundation; 2007.