Online Content Calculator User Guide
Introduction How much time do you spend lecturing in your online class? That question can be a difficult one to answer. Since many online courses are asynchronous, students may speed up a one-‐hour lecture (I wouldn’t recommend lecture for one hour under any circumstances but more about that below) and watch it in 30 minutes. Or the lecture may be difficult and students may need two hours to understand it. So how do you measure the actual contact time? That is not a rhetorical question. Instructors of online courses are required to report their contact hours, which must meet the standards set forth by the Carnegie Foundation. In fact the credit units that we are all familiar with, i.e. 3-‐credit courses, is based on what is referred to as the Carnegie Unit. For a 15 week, 3-‐credit course, the requirement is for 45 contact—that is classroom—hours and a total of 90 hours of homework or lab work in the course. A Carnegie unit defines a semester unit of credit as equal to a minimum of three hours of work per week for a semester. A 16-‐week course equates to three hours of student work per week (1 hour lecture plus 2 hours of homework or 3 hours of lab) for 16 weeks. Although this unit of measure is well established having been developed by the Carnegie Foundation in 1907, it has come under increasing fire with the recent push toward competency-‐based education. But I’m not going to tackle that issue here. For now, we live with the Carnegie unit, so how can an instructor account for the work in an online course given the mostly asynchronous nature of online vs. in-‐class courses? Measuring contact hours by traditional standards seems like comparing apples and oranges. The Carnegie Commission created the infamous Carnegie unit in an effort to standardize learning to support professors. Recently, The American Public University System developed a rather elaborate content calculator that includes myriad items like writing, reading, and web surfing, among others and it asks the instructor to account for 50 minutes of “weekly lecture notes,” as they put it. Personally I cannot imagine lecturing for 50 minutes weekly in my online courses. Sitting in front of one’s computer screen watching 50 minutes worth of lecturing doesn’t seem conducive to effective learning in an online environment. Even in my in-‐class courses, I try to limit my lectures to 20 minutes, if I can even keep students’ attention for that long. And, while one can certainly routinely utilize Adobe Connect or some other online webinar system in which the instructor gives a presentation and then fields questions
afterwards, that environment is not most conducive to online learning. I don’t know about you, but I’ve attended lots of webinars and find myself doing what students tend to do in in-‐class courses – multitask by checking email or engaging in other distracting behavior. In other words, online lectures really don’t work well. I, for one, opt for video presentations that average approximately 6 minutes in length, and if I can embed a quiz to assure that students are attending to the material, all the better. And, those presentations can be viewed at my students’ leisure taking advantage of the asynchronous nature of online education. Presentations in smaller increments, in my opinion, are more likely to be viewed all the way through without disruption. That doesn’t mean that I don’t interact with my students in other ways, through Skype or other means, and it doesn’t mean that students don’t interact with each other, as they do through discussion boards and collaborative assignments. The point is that we need a different measure than contact hours that are based on 45 hours of classroom lecture during a 15-‐week course to measure online courses. Rather, a content hour programming calculation, I think, is a better way to account for time spent in an online course. Here are three reasons: 1. Developing a calculation that includes all of the activities that are likely to be included in an online class can be eye opening, especially when you consider the use of blogs, wikis, websites, and various social media platforms that really open up the course. One needs to develop equivalents regarding how much time it takes not only to write a traditional assignment i.e. the essay or research paper, but also how much time it takes to write a discussion post or a blog post or a wiki assignment, among others. By including all of the activities that are likely to be going on in an online class that extend beyond those of a traditional classroom, you can paint a broader picture for administrators and accrediting bodies that are monitoring or perhaps auditing your program. 2. By counting content, you can get a better idea of the educational mix in your class. Do you have too many videos and not enough writing in your online course? How do you know if you don’t measure the time it takes to watch a presentation, read an article or write an assignment. Courses can become unbalanced in one direction or another. Calculating the percentage of time for all activities provides the instructor with a greater sensibility of where their course is more heavily weighted. Knowing this information provides an opportunity for the instructor to re-‐balance the course should it be weighted more heavily in one direction or another. In other words, the content hour calculation can also become an excellent course-‐planning tool. 3. You can give students guidance about how much time they should be spending on each assignment. Because the online learning environment is new, students have little clue if it should take them two minutes to compose a blog post or two hours. Even if you provide a target word count some will overwrite or under write. As the instructor having calculated the time it takes to complete all the activities in the course, you can post on the course learning management system the expected amount of time that students will spend composing a discussion
post, reading a book, or doing research for a writing assignment, among other activities. Such calculations provide online students with a guideline regarding how much time they should invest in the activity. Therefore, if you identify an assignment for which students are expected to spend two-‐hours doing research, students will have a clear expectation and can measure their own engagement with the activity against the suggested time frame. Contact hours or content hours. Reporting hours in a course is still status quo for both online and in-‐class courses. But the calculations can serve more than a bureaucratic purpose, as calculating content hours is a useful planning device for online instructors and those calculations can provide students with clear and understandable expectations regarding the time it takes to accomplish various tasks and activities in an online course. What can this calculator do? This calculator is concerned with content hours, not contact hours. Content hours are a useful measure, as described above, for reporting purposes and for planning purposes. The number of content hours in your online course can also be helpful for students who want to plan out their own time and level of engagement in your online course. What information do you need to have available? The calculator is based on an interactive PDF form. You will fill in the blanks based on the content of your course. The form will do the calculations for you and provide you with a total number of content hours in your online course. A 15-‐week course will have approximately 135 content hours. If your course has many more hours, it may behoove you to change the amount of work—that is content—in the course. If too few hours are in the course content, you may want to consider additional work. Every course in the Emerging Media program does not have to meet the 135-‐hour mark. It is expected that some courses will have more hours and some fewer; however, all of the courses in the program should average out to that amount. What criteria are the calculations based upon? The basic assumptions upon which the calculations are based have been derived from the work of the American Public University, an online program. Those basic assumptions are discussed under the label of each form of content. However, in general, the following calculations were utilized:
How to Work with the Content Calculator
Step-‐By-‐Step Guide You want to begin working with the form by filling out the top portion. The example here is from ME601, Exploring Digital Culture. It’s important that you fill in the number of students in the course, as that number will affect the total content hours.
The first section is for the discussion boards. You only need to fill in the first column, and the calculator will do the rest of the work for you. This is what the blank for looks like:
This second image of the form provides an example of fields that have been filled in. In this particular course there are five discussion boards. You may require a discussion post smaller or larger than 500 words. For this course, the number of words in a post has been pegged at 500. Over time you may determine a better average number of words to determine the number for this section. As there are give discussion forums in the course, and the instructor has determined that each student will post to the discussion board 2 times for each discussion, the “initial posting by student” column will read 10 or 2 x the number of discussions, which equals 5.
It has been pre-‐determined that reading the discussion board will take twenty five minutes, and a calculation will automatically be filled in determining the amount of time allotted to reading a discussion post. Students, in the example, are required to comment or reply to at least two discussion posts. And, the instructor has made the determination that those replies will be approximately 250 words each. Again, this figure regarding the length of the comment or reply, as well as the length of the posts, will vary among instructors.
You can begin to fill out this section for writing assignments by identifying the number of writing assignment you have in the course. Please fill in that number, as it will determine the rest of the calculations. Where you see a zero in the form there is no need for you to fill in a number. This will be a calculated number based on the number of assignments and the number of pages. For a final paper, you need to indicate the number of pages assigned.
VoiceThread is a tool whose use can vary. In some instances, instructors may use VoiceThread as a space to create short video reflections to which an entire class will contribute. In other instances, individual students may create their own VoiceThread for the class to view. And, in other instances faculty may use VoiceThread to give a
short presentation. In this part of the calculator, you will need to identify the number of VoiceThreads required during the course and the expected length of the thread.
In this space, you will identify the titles of the books being read for the entire course, and you will need to determine the number of pages in each book. If your students are reading part of a book, then indicate the number of pages they will be required to read.
In addition to reading books, you may have uploaded PDF files to Moodle or you may include links to articles that are accessible on the web. Similar to books, identify the articles or PDF files and the number of pages in each.
Instructors will vary in their use of technologies for video presentations. Some may utilize Camtasia software for creating video presentations that may be accessible on YouTube.com or via Camtasia’s screencast.com server. Other instructors may utilize Panopto from within Moodle in order to record presentations. In either case, use this section to provide a title of the presentation and the number of minutes of recorded material.
In some instances instructors will include videos from YouTube.com, Ted Talks, or other long or short form videos. In this section, you will provide the title of each video included in the course and the length of the video.
In addition to Camtasia and Panopto or recorded videos available on the web, instructors may create interactive presentations or discussions by utilizing Adobe Connect Sessions, Google Hangouts or perhaps Skype/Facetime/Lync conversations with students. Here you will want give such presentations or discussions a title and indicate the number of minutes in the session.
In many courses, instructors will include links to external websites they want students to peruse. This section is for websites to which students will pay cursory attention. This section of the calculator will provide a generalized estimation of time a student will likely spend on such a website viewing content. In this section you can provide a label or URL for the website, the number 1 should be included in the first column.
Other research websites that an instructor may require students to visit may have interactive features that require Time spent on interactive web sites, performing calculations or filling out forms, among other activities. Please use this space to identify the website and indicate a 1, 2, or 3 depending on how deeply you would expect a student to go into the site. You could also think of this as a multiplying of the value of time spend on a website. In the calculator the basic assumption is that students are allotted 20 minutes per website. If you indicate a 2, the value will be calculated at double.
This final section is concerned with quizzes and exams. The calculator allots for study time as well as time to take an exam. Calculations are made for quizzes, mid-‐term and final exams.
Appendix* The calculations utilized in constructing the calculator are based on the following assumptions. Composition speed for discussion board postings: 25 words written per minute. Time provided fro composing discussion board postings: 20 minutes allotted per discussion board. Reading peers’ discussion board posts: read at 180 words per minute. The assumption is also made that students read all of their peers’ posting for the duration of the course. Reading instructor’s feedback: 10 minutes allotted per graded assignment for the student to review instructor’s feedback. Quizzes: 60 minutes allotted for taking a quiz, and 60 minutes prep time. Weekly lecture notes: this would refer to instructor presentations at 50 minutes allotted for lecture. Links to external websites: 20 minutes per URL. Midterm Exam: three hours allotted for taking the exam and 10 hours for studying/prep. Final Exam: three hours allotted for taking the exam, 10 hours for studying/prep, or 20 hours for study and prep when no mid-‐term is given General reading assumption: 250 words per double-‐spaced, typed page. Reading course materials: 200 words read per miute or 180 words read per minute for electronic materials. Miscellaneous assignments: 120 minutes granted per miscellaneous assignment. Composing a formal writing assignment: there are 120 minutes granted for preparation time, 20 words written per minute, and 30 minutes are granted for each page of writing. Conducting research for a formal writing assignment: 120 minutes granted per page of writing.
*These assumptions are taken from Administration Issues Journal: Education, Practice, and Research, Vol. 2, Issue 2, “Quantifying Online Learning Contact Hours,” Powell, K., J. Stephens-‐Helm, M. Layne, and P. Ice.