Course Proposal - Credits

Academic units must follow the federal credit hour definition: "A credit hour is an amount of work represented in intended learning outcomes and verified by evidence of student achievement that is an institutionally established equivalency that reasonably approximates not less than -
  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 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." 

UW-Madison Credit Policy and Interpretation of the Federal Credit Hour Definition

A course generally consists of one or more of the following components:
  • Lecture (LEC) - In accordance with the Federal Credit Hour Definition, one 50-minute hour of in-class activities in LEC plus two hours of student work outside of class (reading, studying, writing, doing homework sets, rehearsing/practicing, memorizing) in the aggregate, and including time spent in DIS (if applicable), correspond to one credit hour. 
  • Discussion (DIS) - A learning activity in which the instructor and students engage in a carefully planned, explicitly interactive, manner, in a way that affords an effective opportunity for active learning. The marker DIS refers to student groups of a size small enough to permit meaningful ongoing discussion; DIS sections only complement learning activities marked as LEC.  One hour of DIS plus two hours of work outside of class (see LEC above) correspond to one credit hour. The work in aggregate (in a LEC + DIS) should comply with the Federal Credit Hour Definition, according to which one 50-minute hour of in-class activities plus two hours of work outside of class correspond to one academic credit.
  • Laboratory (LAB) - A learning activity in which students engage in a carefully planned, explicitly interactive, manner. Students may engage in more hands-on learning than in LEC or DIS, and they may have an opportunity to learn theoretical or practical knowledge by engaging in practices that are relevant to expert behavior associated with the subject (e.g. performing scientific experiments, practice of relevant skills).  The learning experiences on which students work in LAB are typically planned and overseen by the instructor. A qualified instructor is present to guide students as needed. LAB sections may supplement one or more hours of LEC per week, or may stand alone. Typically 2-3 hours of LAB activities per week plus some work beyond the activities in the lab correspond to one credit hour. LAB activities typically take place in a space that contains special equipment, such as a science laboratory, a media production facility, a design laboratory, an art studio, etc.
  • Field Study (FLD) - A learning activity that is a primary component of a class, arranged by the instructor in which typically pre-professional students learn by practicing expert behavior on-site. The experience is carefully supervised by a preceptor, with whom the instructor maintains close contact. Credit is typically assigned by a formula appropriate to the academic or professional discipline. The class time is typically listed as TBA; the profession defines expectations for the number of credits earned.
  • Directed/Independent Study (IND) - Directed study is to be a high-quality mentored learning experience that includes regular instructional contact between the instructor and the student. Students become more self-directed learners while they work closely with faculty mentors who guide their research, provide feedback, and model scholarly and professional behavior. By their nature, these experiences are highly variable. Common expectations as defined in campus-wide guidelines are minimum standards that ensure the integrity of the student experience across the breadth of the university offerings. The instructor oversees the student’s learning experience. The instructor ensures that credit awarded is linked to instructional activity and to projects appropriate to the UW-Madison learning experience. According to the Federal Credit Definition, the amount of credit for regular group instruction is such that each credit should be equivalent to one hour of classroom instruction and a minimum of two hours of additional student work per week over 15 weeks, or the equivalent effort over a different time frame, or an amount of academic work equivalent to what would be expected in other for-credit activity. For directed study and other forms of independent study and one-on-one instruction, the amount of work and learning must be consistent with that required in a group instruction course of the same number of credits. Given this federal mandate and the ambiguity inherent in the wording, determining the appropriate equivalent effort of a directed study experience to group instruction requires judgment.  For specific policies governing directed/independent studies and additional information please see:
  • Seminar (SEM) - A learning activity in which the instructor and students engage in intensive discussion, often on the basis of substantial independent work and in a small-group setting. Students are expected to take a particularly active role in their learning and in knowledge production. Unlike DIS sections, SEM classes typically do not complement learning activities marked as LEC.  One hour of SEM plus at least two hours of work outside of class (see above) correspond to one credit hour. Occasional individual student consultation with the professor may substitute for group-based activity. Seminars graded on an A-F scale typically require regular attendance, group and individual interaction with the instructor, and extensive work outside of class. In some cases, one-credit seminars graded on the S/U scale weight attendance and participation most heavily in evaluating students.

    * One instructional hour equals 50 minutes.


    A research paper on its own will not normally be considered the equivalent of an hour of instructor-student interaction.

    Online courses will be considered by the same standards as face-to-face courses.  Instructor-student contact hours must be consistent with the number of credits assigned to the course.

    The number of scheduled instructional hours must be consistent with the number of credits.

    The work described in part two of the federal credit hour definition should involve regular interaction with and supervision by a qualified instructor. Independent work by the student with no instructional contact will not suffice.

    See Also:

    Keywords:"Credit Hour" "Credit Hours" "Federal Definition" "Contact Hour" "Contact Hours" "Learning Outcomes" Hour Instruction Lecture Discussion Laboratory Lab "Field Study" "Field Work" Seminar "Independent Study"   Doc ID:24558
    Owner:Michelle Y.Group:Courses and Academic Programs
    Created:2012-06-01 18:52 CDTUpdated:2016-05-01 10:31 CDT
    Sites:Courses and Academic Programs
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