In a message dated 11/29/2006 11:09:40 A.M. Pacific Standard
Time, an instructor asks:
Out of curiosity, how do you guarantee or verify that students
are actually spending those contact hours online (1 hr vs. 5
min. of actual online time, say)?
- (Instructor: name on file).
I've found there are several defensible approaches to the topic
of class time equivalency.
The most impressive approach I know of is to use an online timer
combined with random identity testing. I've seen this done for
"drivers education" courses wherein the program at random
intervals requires the student to input personally identifiable
data. And since the program was connected to the state drivers
license bureau it was able to draw upon some serious data. For
example, "What is your drivers license number?" "Which of the
following was one of your addresses?" "What year were you
born?" "Which insurance company do you use for your automobile
Such questions are likely to trip up someone "sitting in" for a
I would reckon such a system cost many hundreds of thousands of
dollars to implement. I can only imagine the work hours and
levels of approval that course went through to become reality.
Such an approach is beyond the reach of many instructors, but is
becoming more and more possible by using Course Management
Software (CMS) such as Blackboard, E-college, or Breeze. Such
programs can actually track time spent online per student. Thus
enabling the instructor to see if the student was logged in for
the required amount of time.
Another approach, (one which I'm pursuing) is to work backward
from the expected course outcomes. For example how does a
college decide to allocate 3 credit hours to a language course?
Why are some courses worth 5 credit hours and others worth 3
credits. Such determinations can be made by using statistical
averages and applying them to the presentation times. Which is
to say, on average it takes a certain amount of time to teach a
certain amount of material. How do you know if you have
successfully taught the material? Traditionally this is
determined via testing.
We are not considering instructional methodology at this point.
The question at hand has nothing to do with any of the dozens of
popular or once popular methodologies such as: Direct,
Grammar-Translation, Reading, Audiolingual, Community Language
Learning, Functional-Notional, Total Physical Response, etc.
The question we are addressing is how long, on average does it
take to introduce 15 concepts. Note: a lexical concept
(vocabulary word) has not been fully introduced until a student
understands the grammatical, cultural, and pragmatic aspects
related to that concept. Thus knowing a sign is not the same as
knowing how to use a sign according to the grammar of the
language and the conventions of the community to which that
language is affiliated.
For example, we may determine on average it takes
approximately an hour to:
* Welcome students
* Make announcements
* Take care of relevant business: passing back papers,
distributing handouts, etc.
* Review 15 previously learned concepts
* Introduce 15 new concepts
* Introduce the grammatical, pragmatic, and cultural aspects of
* Reinforce the new concepts
* Provide time for student practicing of the concepts
* Provide corrective and positive feedback
* Answer questions
* Review the 15 new concepts
* Set expectations for the next course period
* Assign and clarify homework
* Dismiss class
Thus it is defensible to state that it takes approximately of 4
minutes of classroom time per “grammatically informed” lexical
item. By grammatically informed I mean the sign and the
knowledge of how to use that sign.
We can say that it takes 4 minutes of classroom time to teach a
student a sign and how to appropriately use that sign in
grammatically correct fashion in a conversation. It is not
enough for a student to internalize a list of signs. The
student must also learn how to use those signs according to
Once we determine how long it takes to learn a thing we can then
use multiplication to determine how long it takes to learn a
group of things. If the average student learns one sign or
general concept per four minutes, then the average student will
learn 15 signs in an hour and 150 signs in 10 hours, 300 signs
in 20 hours, 600 signs in 40 hours, and so forth. A 45 contact
hour class, using that rate of acquisition would cover 675
Next we need to take into account a number of factors that
impact the rate of sign acquisition.
When you consider the workings of the human brain it is
generally accepted as fact that as the amount of learned
information increases, so does the need for additional review
time to maintain that learning.
Additionally we need to consider that in most in-person
classroom environments there are individuals who are less
capable than the rest of the students and these individuals tend
to slow the progress of the class.
It is also not uncommon for many college-level classroom
instructors on test days to give the test and then dismiss the
class even though technically there is time remaining on the
clock. Whether appropriate or not, it occurs and must be
accounted for when considering, “Where does the time go?”
The list of factors that “eat into” instructional time could go
on at length, but let’s move on after one more example: Many
instructors take a full day of class to hand out their syllabus
and explain its contents to students. When comparing this to
“time spent online” how does one account for the hour a student
takes reading a syllabus, emailing the instructor for
clarification of various items, and then reading the response?
How do we account for the teaching time of the instructor who
takes 15 minutes each to type out a response to 10 different
emailed questions from students? Does that 150 minutes of the
teacher’s time count toward “class time?” What if the teacher’s
responses are posted to a “class bulletin board” or submitted to
a class listserv?
Obviously a lot goes on in both in-person classes and online
classes that does not directly contribute toward acquisition of
topic-related knowledge. Thus we see our initial determination
of 675 lexical concepts is in fact only an “ideal” and must be
adjusted downward to more appropriately reflect typical expected
learning outcomes. Again, statistics based on experience might
indicate that a more typical amount of lexical concepts (and the
attending grammatical, cultural, and pragmatic information)
would be in the range of 400 per 3 credit hour course. Active,
awake, motivated students might conceivably complete such a
course having learned a great deal more signs. Students on the
other end of the spectrum might complete the course having
learned only 60% of the targeted signs (including, the
appropriate grammatical, cultural, and pragmatic information),
or 240 signs—worthy of a “D minus.” But we are dealing with
averages here rather than extremes so let us simply state that a
student successfully completing a 3 credit hour class will be
able to demonstrate and recognize approximately 400 signs
(including, of course, the appropriate grammatical, cultural,
and pragmatic information related to those signs.)
Why do I repeat the instructions “culturally, grammatically, and
pragmatically correct?” Because there are those who will see
the words “400 signs” and become blind for the rest of
the sentence. I’m not talking about lists of words here--I’m
talking about units of measurement that are embedded in
discourse level sentences, paragraphs, and conversations.
Students are learning to engage in discourse. The testing I’m
referring to is discourse level testing: Recognition of whole
sentences, appreciation of pragmatic nuances, and selection of
appropriate grammar. The signs I’m referring to do not exist in
isolation from their linguistic conventions. The percentages
I’m referring to here require that signs not only be presented,
but that they be presented in grammatically correct ways at the
discourse level of communication.
Seat time becomes irrelevant at this point and the only real
consideration is, “Can a student demonstrate and recognize a
certain number of signs (in a culturally, grammatically, and
pragmatically correct fashion)?” If so, then it is defensible
that the student has completed an amount of study equivalent to
that of a 3 credit hour college-level ASL course.