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Credits, class hours raise questions

March 1, 2007

While credits represent how many in-class hours a course consists of, students have expressed concern about the amount of work involved in courses with a lower credit value and credits not equaling the number of in-class hours for some courses.

Kelly Winum is in her second year at UW-River Falls and has had the experience of taking several classes ranging from a half-credit to six credits. What she said she thought when she first registered for classes was the lower the credit, the easier the course was. She instead experienced her half-credit to three-credit courses often having the same amount of work as her four or five credit courses.

"I took a zoology course one semester and it seemed like it should have been a four credit course because of how much work it was," Winum said. "It was twice a week; one hour Mondays and Wednesdays and a three-hour lab on Wednesdays also."

Winum also said many of her friends have had similar experiences.

"Many of my friends and I have had classes where the homework load is enormous, but it is only a three-credit course," she said.

Junior Stephanie Greene is another student who has expressed concern.

"I tend to have one to two classes that are two credits, but should be more like three credits," Greene said. "They have a lot of extra class work. I have to know just as much stuff and am in class for the same amount of time as a three-credit course."

Brad Caskey, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said students often think what Winum and Greene thought - that credits reflect how much work is in a course. This is not true.

"Credits indicate how many in-class hours a week there are for a course," Caskey said. "They do not determine how much work it is."

Freshman Elise Reinemann said that is what she thought, however, she has had a different experience.

"I thought it was supposed to be hours per week for the number of credits, but it hasn't turned out that way," Reinemann said. "I have had classes that have been more hours than the credits."

Winum said she disagreed that credits should only represent the number of in-class hours students should expect to be in a classroom.

"I think the credits should also accurately reflect the amount of work students should expect in a class," she said. "It helps students estimate how hard their semester will be."

Caskey said a problem with this is the University can only count in-class hours, not outside work.

"Credits ensure some sort of standard across the University," he said. "So when a student graduates, we know they have been in a classroom for X amount of hours."

The University can't know how many hours are spent outside of a classroom on homework because it varies from student to student, he said.

Caskey also said what needs to be made clear is that homework is different than new work.

"Homework is a review of what is being taught in class," he said. "Some universities will give credit for homework. It probably doesn't happen in the UW system that much."

Caskey also said he doesn't believe there should be a three-credit course where students get an extra credit for homework.

Winum said homework is not always a review of what she was learning in class, however.

"In some classes, the homework is reviewing what I learned in class, but most classes don't seem that way," she said. "Professors often get behind on the syllabus so I am doing homework that is scheduled to be due that week, but it hasn't been covered in class."

Her recommendation is that professors take away some work when they start falling behind in the syllabus schedule.

While it seems students have no way of knowing exactly how much work to expect in a course, math professor Keith Chavey said he thinks students can still estimate how much work there will be for a course based on the amount of credits it is worth.

"The general rule I think some work with is the idea that each credit should account for about three hours a week of work for a student," Chavey said via e-mail. "So a 15-credit load by a student would, in theory, amount to 45 hours per week time commitment once all the in and out-of-class time was accounted for."

He said it should be known that workloads vary by faculty members and how much time students actually put into coursework.

"I suspect there are differences in how much work per credit various courses expect," he said. "Hopefully it all averages out by the end of a degree program."

Junior Sheniece Alexander said while she has had classes that have had more work than others, she doesn't think it is a big problem.

"Last spring, I had a sociology class that was a three-credit course, but should have been a four-credit course," Alexander said. "I don't think this is a problem with a lot of classes though. Just a few."

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