Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Dear Abby's job is safe for now

Today I was sitting in my office when NewColleague appeared at the door.

NewColleague: Do you mind if I ask you a question?

Jane: Sure, no problem! Come on in.
(secretly, to self: Cool! NewColleague is coming to me for advice! I get to impart my wisdom to the new generation of professors! What an honorable moment this is!)

NewColleague: So, I'm trying to figure out how much work to assign the students each week. Is there a rule of thumb here? How do you go about deciding how much work the students should do outside of class?

Jane: (Damn, damn, damn!) Uhhhhh.........

OK, so my first foray into being the Shining Light of Reason for the New Generation of Profs fell a bit short of expectations there. Why couldn't NC have started off with a softball question? Like "where's the library"? Why did he have to ask the one question for which I don't have a good answer? Because to be honest, I don't know how I figure out how much work to assign the students, exactly. I kind of go on instinct there: here's what I want them to learn, here's something I'd like them to do, here's how long I think it should take, voila: homework assignment. And trial and error, of course (LOTS of trial and error). But even though I think I now have a pretty good handle on judging workload, I don't have a good way of explaining what I do and how I do it.

Which is what I ended up telling NC. And I think he understood. But man, I wish I could have given him a better answer.

***
In other unrelated news, I am woefully underprepared for my almost-all-day meeting tomorrow, everybody and their Aunt Matilda wants me to read something for various purposes (by yesterday, of course), and I'm in serious denial that my summer is over. All of which is making me super grumpy and basically a royal pain in the ass to live with (just ask Mr. Jane). Ah yes, the start of school brings such joy.....

5 comments:

What Now? said...

The expectation at my undergrad institution, and one that I think is perfectly reasonable, is that students should expect to do two hours of outside work for every one hour of classtime. So if they're taking 15 credits, that's a total of 45 hours of school work and class time; voila, a full-time job!

I find that useful to tell students, so then they're not allowed to bitch to me about work if they didn't spend at least six hours working outside of class. It doesn't really work out this way in practice, however, because sometimes they have significantly less and sometimes more (when they have assignments due or we're reading a big novel).

jo(e) said...

I use the same rule as What Now? So that is six hours each week for a three credit course ....

Of course, the problem is that I am usually assigning stuff to read; some students read really fast and some read really slow. Once I told students to start a book and just read for an hour, as sort of an experiment to see how far they would get. One student read only 17 pags! Others read anywhere from 25 to 70 pages. I finished the whole book.

There is just such a range when it comes to how fast students read....

Jane said...

Thanks, WhatNow and jo(e)! Yeah, I mentioned the "hour rule", but the problem with that is how do you figure out how much *work* a student can *do* in 10 hours, or 12 hours, or whatever? You have to factor in the students' abilities, sure, but that's so hard to assess, especially when you're starting out and you don't know the students. That's where the instinct part comes in, I think. And that's what made my answer so unsatisfying: how can we say something that *should* be reducible to a formula is really not?

academic coach said...

OMG jo(e) finishes books in an hour? Gosh, and I was just envious of her trip down the river.... and all that canoeing she does with her family...

Actually, Jane, I bet you made new colleague feel much better that there wasn't some sort of rigid calculus being used that he had no idea about.

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