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Practicing Compassion with Course Workload

Designing activities that consider student workload

Instructional Challenge

During instruction, students may find themselves overwhelmed by the many changes taking place. In addition to learning in new online environments, they are learning in new physical environments. The tips presented here address the question: How can you consider the amount of work you are asking students to do and gather feedback on the workload?

Quick Guide: Practicing Compassion with Course Workload

At some point in the semester, students may feel overwhelmed by the course workload. How can you gather feedback on student workload?


  1. Consider the environmental factors. Students might not have a quiet place to study that is conducive to concentration. Students also may not have easy access to electronic devices or internet connections required to access coursework. These factors may require them to spend more time than normal completing their coursework.
  2. Estimate the time students should take to complete activities. Consider the amount of work you are asking students to do now and how it compares to your traditional in-person teaching. Consider the time it should take an average student to complete major course activities (e.g. readings, problem sets, discussion postings, or quizzes), remembering that you can likely work faster than your students. Add up all the activities for the day or week. Is this more or less than what you had students do before?
  3. Establish a rhythm for student engagement. Establish a pattern for activities in your course (e.g., order of activities, due dates, and location of instructor feedback) so students can develop effective study habits in this new environment. This will help students acclimate to their new environment and provide some routine in their learning experience from week to week.
    Establish a Rhythm For Participation – ACUE
    Samples of Course Rhythm Templates – TeachOnline@UW
  4. Communicate expectations to students. As you present work to students online, consider adding a description that communicates the time you expect them to spend on an activity. Example: Please spend 15 minutes reflecting on the following article and share an important takeaway in a 3-4 sentence discussion post. Also, communicate why you are having students engage in an activity and how the activity can contribute to their learning.
  5. Consider student feedback and adjust expectations accordingly. Solicit feedback from your students on workload and compare the results to your estimates. If students are taking more time than expected, check to see whether your expectations were understood. Monitor the situation for a few days and look for patterns. Consider whether activities could be adjusted or if it is essential to student learning.
    Create an anonymous ungraded Canvas survey
    Course Workload Estimate (Rice University)
    Credit Hour and Regular Substantive Interaction – Letters & Science
    Campus Credit Hour Policy
  6. Reduce cognitive load for learning new technology. As students learn new tools and engage in new learning behaviors, they also spend time understanding the best way to communicate and interact. Example: Consider taking time before an activity that uses new tools or approaches to get students comfortable in the space so they can focus on their learning.

Further Exploration

References/Related Literature

  • Kaleta, Robert, Karen Skibba, and Tonya K. Joosten. “Discovering, Designing, and Delivering Hybrid Courses.” In: Anthony, G.P., Dziuban, C.D., editors. Blended Learning Research Perspectives. Needham: MA: Alfred P. Sloan Foundation; 2007.

Keywordsstudent workload, activity design,Doc ID103760
OwnerTimmo D.GroupInstructional Resources
Created2020-07-08 12:53:12Updated2024-04-16 08:26:37
SitesCenter for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
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