Deciding What to Teach, How to Teach it, and How Much Material to Include

Deciding What to Teach, How to Teach it, and How Much Material to Include

So, how do you decide what to teach, how to teach it, and how much?

Backward Course Design

Why is your course important? How does it fit in the overall curriculum of the program(s) in which it is offered? How is it essential or enriching for students in their pursuit of the end goals of the program?

Backward Course Design starts by identifying  learning outcomes and assessment methods before selecting materials and deciding on teaching strategies. This approach ensures that instruction is focused on what is truly important for reaching learning outcomes... and is not there just to fill the required contact hours.

For more information, read this excellent overview of Backward Course Design from Western Washington University or watch the video below.


Credit Hour, Contact Hour, and Student Engagement Explained

One of the most common questions that faculty and administrators ask me is how much material and/or how many activities should be in an online course. 

According to the package of program integrity regulations issued by the Department of Education in 2010 (NAICU), a "credit hour" is defined as 

  • "(1) One hour of classroom or direct faculty instruction and a minimum of two hours of out of class student work each week for approximately fifteen weeks for one semester or trimester hour of credit, or ten to twelve weeks for one quarter hour of credit, or the equivalent amount of work over a different amount of time; or 
  • “(2) At least an equivalent amount of work as required in paragraph (1) of this definition for other academic activities as established by the institution including laboratory work, internships, practica, studio work, and other academic work leading to the award of credit hours.” 

Often used interchangeably with credit hour, contact hour refers to the time in which the student is involved in direct face-to-face instructional contact with the faculty member teaching the course. Although, even for many federal compliance purposes, an institution may comply using a different measure of student progress (US Dept of Education), credit hour is still often used as a gold standard to determine the amount of student engagement.

In the traditional face to face classroom, for each credit hour in a 14 or 15 week semester, a student can expect to have contact hour (usually 50 minutes of instruction), and 2 hours of work outside of class each week. In an online classroom, there may or may not be a contact hour. Therefore, for each credit in a 14 or 15 week semester, there is usually a combined 3 hours of student engagement. Student engagement refers to the time student might spend on a particular activity, such as watching videos, reading, preparing for and taking exams, participating in discussions, etc. To calculate estimated total student engagement time, you may use tools, such as this Course Workload Estimator or Hours of Instructional Activity Equivalents (HIA) for Undergraduate Courses.

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