Student workload

Finding the right balance

“Good morning all! Time for a new exciting project!”. You enter your class full of energy and eagerness to “seduce” your students with the new project you have in mind, instead you get frowning faces and never ending complaints; “But we already have other things to do. It’s too much, we don’t have the time needed and the day has only 24 hours”. Sometimes students haven’t read the recommended literature nor attend the exercise sessions. On the other hand, there are times when students think they should have worked more for a course, given the number of credits it offers.

In general, it is important for the teacher to have a clear view of the intended learning outcomes and the corresponding learning activities which could be the most appropriate, so that they assign an appropriate type and number of projects, exercises and assignments.

Having a general idea of the average student work time required for each exercise, project or course helps balance the workload. Here you can find some numbers:

  • On average, 1 ECTS credit corresponds to roughly 2 hours per week of student work in a 14-week teaching semester (2 ECTS corresponds to roughly 4 hours, 3 credits to roughly 6 hours and so on).
  • This workload includes both timetabled time in class and non-timetabled student work outside class.  For example, a course with a weighting of 3 ECTS credits may have 2 lecture hours, 1 exercise hour, and 3 further hours of student individual work which should cover homework, personal study, and preparing for the exam – in other words, as much time spent on the course outside class as time spent in class.
  • The ECTS credit system allows considerable flexibility. The balance of lectures, exercise and individual student work can be adjusted depending on the course. Courses could have more hours of students individual work (reading, homework, projects etc.), and fewer timetabled lecture, lab or exercise hours. But since students sometimes think in terms of timetabled hours rather than ECTS credits, you may need to remind them of credit weightings and of how their time should ideally be distributed.
  • Students will sometimes tend to devote more time to projects and less time to exercises than is merited based on their credit weighting. You may need to remind them of the credits associated with each component of the course.
  • Students will sometimes complain if a workload seems heavy, but this may not affect their overall evaluation of a course if the work is seen by them to be productive. However, work which is seen to be irrelevant or to be a result of bad organisation will often leave them feeling very frustrated.

For further information, take a look at the credit system. Credits allocated are set out in the course descriptions.

Coordinating workload with colleagues

If possible, you may wish to coordinate your assigned work with that of other courses. Experience has shown that the number of assignment submission deadlines at the end of term for each student can be excessive. Further, it should be taken into account that for cross-section courses students have often different deadlines. 

It is worth spreading submission deadlines and coordinating them with other faculty members from your sections, if possible. You could also discuss with colleagues, so that you make sure that there is no overlapping in the assignment schedules of classes.