Understanding Semester Units:
(why classes meet for the amount of time they do)
A "unit" or a
"credit" is based on the number of hours of instruction per week
required in the classroom (and/or lab or independent study). A
course earning one semester unit will usually meet one hour a week.
A course earning three semester units will usually meet three hours
Here is the "tricky" part: One "classroom contact hour" is
considered to consist of 50 minutes of actual instruction (so as to
allow for a 10 minute break).
So a three unit class needs to have 150 minutes of actual
instruction time (3 times 50 = 150) each week.
But you have to take "breaks" into account.
A three unit course that meets once a week would meet from 6 to 8:50
pm which is 170 minutes.
A three unit course that meets twice a week would meet from 6 to
7:15 pm which is a total of 150 minutes.
WHAT? Why does the once a week course contain 20 extra minutes?
It is because a three-hour once-a-week course will typically have
two breaks of 10 minutes each. (2 times 10 = 20 extra minutes).
A three-hour twice-a-week course breaks the seat-time (150 minutes)
into two parts. If you break the 150 minutes in half (by meeting
twice a week) it is reasonable to teach 75 minutes without a break
so there is no need to take a break during a 3-unit twice-a-week
class. But it is VERY important to take breaks during a 3 unit once
a week class.
So a teacher teaching a 3 hour once-a-week class will end up
investing an extra 300 minutes (20 minutes of breaks per class times
15 weeks = 300 minutes) more time than a teacher teaching a twice a
week class -- because of those breaks. So, a person might think that
the once a week instructor is getting a bad deal!?! Not so fast.
Hold on. Did we forget travel time? The twice a week instructor has
to travel back and forth to teach class an extra 15 times per
semester and thus when you factor in drive time, gas, wear and tear
on the vehicle, etc. suddenly it is clear that if the twice a week
instructor is making an extra trip for that one class then he or she
is actually investing more total time than the once a week
Now let's consider a 4 unit class. 4 x 50 = 200 total minutes per
week of instruction.
If that class met two days a week that would be 100 minutes per day.
Such a class would meet from 6 to 7:50 for a total of 110 minutes
(100 minutes of instruction and 10 minutes of break time).
Topic: college credit vs high school credit.
If you look at
actual classroom contact hours, one year of high
school is the equivalent of 4 semesters of college at 3-units per
semester. I know that sounds crazy, but consider the numbers: A typical
high school year consists of 180 school days. 180 days multiplied by an
hour a day comes to a hundred and eighty hours. A typical college class
consists of only 3 hours per week times 15 or 16 weeks (depending on the
college). That would be 45 to 48 contact hours. Thus it would take four
semesters of college to equal the actual classroom contact hours
of a one-year high school course.
The question to be answered is: Suppose a student takes a college ASL
course via early enrollment. What amount of high school credit is a
3-semester-credit-hour college course worth?
In general my research is showing that a 3-semester-credit-hour college
course is the equivalent of point five (.5) credits of high school
credit. (Which is to say "half a credit.")
High School Credit: According to Florida statutes, a class must consist of 75 hours to meet a
semester requirement (including study and class time),
or 130 hours to qualify for a year credit. (2 college semesters count as 4 high
school semesters) that would be equivalent to 2 years of foreign language.)
> In a message dated 4/29/2004 1:46:42 PM Pacific Daylight Time,
> rmlgraham@ writes:
home schooled and going into 9th grade. So over the summer I
> will > be doing ASL 1 and most of ASL 2. Because the classes are college
> level, > (2 college semesters count as 4 high school semesters) that would be
> equivalent to 2 years of foreign language. Thanks so much for replying. > If you have any other questions please e-mail me.
> Brittany Graham
Thank you for the reply...Of course I'd tell you everything about myself. I am Deaf. I love teaching high school in
ASL. I am a mother of two. My girl, Mia is now 2 (hearing, first language is ASL but is now taking speech therapy hee hee) and the
second one, Michael, just turned 4 months old. Hearing too. Sleeps a lot. :) My husband Michael is an ASL interpreter but he is the director
for the Deaf and Blind at Teacher's College, Columbia University.
Right now I am teaching ASL Level One using both Vista and ABC Basic Book to high school grade 9th through 12th. I am working at Port
Washington High School (Long Island, NY) and for this coming fall, I will be transferred to another school and will be teaching ASL at
Jericho High School.
I strongly feel that your lessons on website were more effective and
meets the students' skills/interests. They also go on your online for
their receptive skills on signing. They all enjoy it very much.
I will be meeting my chairperson on Thursday to discuss the next
year's schedule. I will be more than happy to provide the information
as soon as I get the information from her.
In the meantime, I am teaching ASL classes as credit courses at Nassau Community College and continuing Education at Hofstra University. I
even mentioned all of my students about your website too. You are
getting popular! :)
Right now at Port Washington High School, I teach ASL 1 once a day. It is a part time job. I was told that there was a budget cut meaning
there is no ASL classes for next year (**pretty upset about it but that is not a definite as of yet**) As I started to research on the New York
State Regents Examination for High School in ASL, it is a pretty intenstive exam and according to them, they use VISTA 1 and 2. I
strongly feel that the VISTA are somewhat too advanced for high school.
I feel that VISTA should be used in colleges/universities.
I'd be more than happy to correspond with you in giving you ideas for
designing the curriculum. I will think of more and write down my ideas
and share it with you. The only thing I am very interested is having a
teacher's version of ASL with supported materials such as tests,
overhead, worksheets, research papers, projects and so on. Oh, I am
doing the activity with my class right now, my students are
researching on famous Deaf people such as Gallaudet, Clerc, Linda Bove and so on. They are to do 2 pages research on their background and
design a poster with 4 or more pictures and add timeline on it from the
day they were born, what did they do to accomplish their careers and so
on and will be displayed on the walls at the high school main area. Students find it amazing because they had no idea that the Hulk was
hard of hearing. Last, students are to sign about their projects and what they have learned. It is a fun project to do. My students are much
of hands on projects. I'd like more hands on projects and more games too. I can't think of any more. I could go on and on but I'll stop for
University College of Continuing Education
250 Hofstra University
Hempstead, NY 11549-2000
Begin forwarded message:
> From: Bill Vicars
> Date: April 27, 2004 1:21:43 PM EDT
> To: mcanale@
> Subject: Re: ASL
... If you'll tell me as much as you can about the nature of what you do
> and what you need in regard to an effective high school ASL
> curriculum--I might soon be in a position to custom design such a
> I'd like complete contact and career data from you:
> name, phone, email, mailing address, school where you teach, number of
> courses, title of course, credit granted, contact hours per course,
> levels available or desired, current curriculum, and what you think
> would be the "dream" curriculum for a high school class. How many
> lessons, what kind of supports, what would the text be like, etc.
> William Vicars, Ed.D.
> Asst. Professor, American Sign Language
> Eureka Hall, Room 308
> California State University, Sacramento
> 6000 J Street
> Sacramento CA 95819-6079
> In a message dated 4/27/2004 5:01:23 AM Pacific Daylight Time,
> mcanale@ writes:
> Hello Bill,
>> Your website at Lifeprint.com is amazing! I've been teaching my
> high school with some of your lessons and they were more than motivated to
> learn ASL. In preparing for next year's ASL lesson plans, I'd like to
> check with you first before purchasing the set that comes with a book
> and CDs. I am concerned about the CD version. I noticed that you
> printed that the CDs are formatted for Windows/PC versions. The
> is we use Macintosh computers. Right now I am using Apple G3 powerbook
> with Mac OS X version. I do have Windows Media Player installed. Will
> your CDs work on my Macintosh powerbook? This computer is connected to
> the classroom equipments such as overhead and screen.
> I'd appreciate your suggestions/comments.
> Thank you,
> Leah Canale
In a message dated 8/26/2005 1:11:03 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time,
To fulfill the foreign language requirement, they would need 3 years of
high school foreign language OR 2 semesters of college level.
We might have to abide by those numbers, but the fact is it's a messed up
ratio. If you look at the actual contact hours, one year of high school is
the equivalent of 4 semesters of college at 3-units per semester. I know
that sounds crazy, but it is true. A typical high school year is 180 days.
180 days multiplied by an hour a day comes to a hundred and eighty hours. A
typical college class consists of only 3 hours per week times 15 or 16 weeks
(depending on the college). That would be 45 to 48 contact hours. Thus it
would take four semesters of college to equal the actual classroom contact
hours of a one-year high school course.
But many "experts" don't see it that way. I believe I will open up a dialog
on this topic amongst my colleagues and see where it goes.
Definition (according to the Carnegie Foundation),
<<The unit was developed in 1906 as a measure of the amount of time a student has studied a subject. For example, a total
of 120 hours in one subject -- meeting 4 or 5 times a week for 40 to 60 minutes, for 36 to 40 weeks each year -- earns the
student one "unit" of high school credit. Fourteen units were deemed to constitute the minimum amount of preparation that
may be interpreted as "four years of academic or high school preparation".>>
Note this next entry is also filed under
In a message dated 11/29/2006 11:09:40 A.M. Pacific
Standard Time, an ASL program coordinator writes:
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)?
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 insurance."
Such questions are likely to trip up someone "sitting in" for a student.
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
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
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 those concepts
* 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 convention.
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 lexical concepts.
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.
A high school principal asked how many "credits" my upcoming "Level
3 course" will be.
The course will be the equivalent of a four-credit-hour 1-semester
college course. I will be using a clone of the course to teach ASL
3 at California State University - Sacramento (which carries 4
Some high schools consider a semester college course to be the
equivalent of a 1-year high school course.
Since my courses are offered via distance education and some
students work faster than others--the actual contact hours will
vary. What I do is document that the student has completed the
course and has demonstrated (via testing and submission of
assignments) competence in the topic equivalent to that which is
typically expected of a student to pass a 4-credit-hour level-3 ASL
Your own school can certainly choose to interpret that as the
equivalent of 1 Unit of High School Credit.
Question: The mother of a student asks: What is
more important, that they have completed this many hours studying, or
they have adequately learned the material?
Answer: Obviously (to you and me) it is more important
that a student has adequately learned the material.
However, to society in general it is more important to keep students
"off the street" and in a classroom (instead of out committing crimes).
Thus for many in society it is more important that students complete a
certain number of hours in a controlled environment so that "mom and
dad" can either go to work and/or watch TV (or surf the net) in peace.
And what about socialization? At some point a student will be able to
learn every "academic" thing from behind his/her "Google glasses" and
still not know how to "play well with others."
In an ideal world (heh) students would all participate in learning
programs matched to their own learning speed. The "smart" ones would
learn more in a set amount of time than the "less smart" ones. At the
end of the "learning period" they could all turn their attention to
recreation (or the "persistent," "determined," "ambitious" students
could forego the "recreation" and continue learning until they catch up
or surpass their smarter but less ambitious peers).
Personally I'd rather see the "gamification" of learning take place thus
turning learning into "edutainment" and then additionally marry that
with producing actual benefits to society (work-study).
Then we get into the deeper question of, "Is this material worth
learning?" And how about, "Is 5 minutes of learning this material worth
10 minutes of learning that material?" Or how about, "Is 5 minutes with
this instructor worth 10 minutes of that instructor?" I daresay 10
minutes learning social studies at the feet of someone like Gandhi could
very well be worth many hours of studying in a typical classroom.
Seems to me that it comes down to measurement, testing, and results.
But is it "fair" if "fast kid" and "slow kid" attend 45 seat time hours
of college and we give "fast kid" 5 units of credit and "slow kid" 3
units of credit? (Because obviously "fast kid" had better testing
results.) Instead of report cards that stated letter grades, we would
issue report cards that stated "credit" earned based on performance. An
"A" grade would be worth 4 units of credit, a "B" grade would be worth 3
units, a "C" worth 2 units, a "D" worth "1" unit and an "E" worth
nothing. Then the student who gets 120 semester units total could
graduate college and get on with life.
: If a student wants to take ASL at college,
and they have had ASL in high school, how do you determine what ASL
class to put him in? Does he automatically have to start in level 1,
: It varies from college to college. At many
colleges it generally isn't addressed at all. Many students take
ASL in HS and then start with ASL 1 in college. Their teachers think
"Gee, I'm such a good teacher. Look at how smart so many of my students
are! I just wish I knew what to do about those slow ones who are
obviously dumb." It never occurs to some teachers that their smart
students have already sat through 90 hours of ASL class. Then the "so
called" "dumb" students run home and study furiously from Lifeprint (and
other online sites) in a desperate attempt to catch up to their
pre-educated peers. More traffic for me.
Some colleges and/or individual teachers are more progressive and allow
students that have taken ASL in HS to jump to ASL 2. Some programs even
do TESTING to see if a student is ready for ASL 3. But here is the
thing, testing takes time and effort (if it isn't technology based and
automated). Does a college instructor want to spend 30 hours each
semester testing (interviewing) students to see if they are ready to
take ASL 2?
30 hours of a college instructor's one-on-one time is worth 2 or 3
thousand dollars. (This email reply of mine to you is worth $20 to $30.
Heh. Seriously though, go ask a lawyer to send you an email advising you
regarding a legal
matter and see what happens).
: So, if you see on a student's transcript (or
he tells you) he has 1 year of high school ASL (you don't know what
material they used), do you assume he has covered all the material in
your ASL University 1 and 2 and where would you then place him in
college classes? If my son were to take your ASL University Level 1 and
2 in high school, where would you place him in college?
If a student tells me (via sign language) that he has taken ASL 1 at a
high school I will generally add them via signature to my (CSU
Sacramento) ASL 2 class (if I have seats--which I generally don't). I
figure if he or she wants to take ASL 2 and gets into my (CSU
Sacramento) class and finds it is harder than he/she thought then he/she
can go home and study their brains out via my website and catch up. Ah
the joys of technology.
Technology is turning the world on its head. The classroom and home are
flipping. Go home and learn, come to class and do your homework. (Go
home and memorize signs, come to class and USE THOSE SIGNS to sign to
your fellow classmates in structured (game-like) activities that
demonstrate what you have learned (or failed to learn) at home.
If a student has taken my (official, registered, tuition-payment
required, instructor-graded video project, and proctored comprehensive
) ASLU Level 1 and 2 courses via Lifeprint.com and wants
to take ASL 3 at a traditional seat-based college then I would indeed
put him/her into ASL 3 at the college. However, it is not all that cut
and dried. If the student really did DIG IN AND LEARN in the online
classes he will do fine in the College ASL 3 class. If the student did
the bare minimum in the online classes chances are he will fail
miserably in the ASL 3 college class. The thing about online education
is that it gives you plenty of rope with which to educate yourself
and/or hang yourself quite handily.
College-bound advanced-class-seeking online ASL students should spend
considerable time over at http://asl.ms
learning how to read fingerspelling -- to the point where they can catch
9 out of 10 words on the first try at "fast" speed.
Keep in mind that ASLU doesn't provide college credit. We only provide
documentation that states this student passed a course that is
equivalent to a college-level ASL 1 or ASL 2 course. Any actual credit
must be negotiated with the local HS and or College ahead of time.
Dr. Bill's new iPhone "Fingerspelling Practice" app is available now for just 99
GET IT HERE!
NEW! Online "ASL Training Center!" (Premium Subscription Version of ASLU) **
CHECK IT OUT **
Also available: "ASLUniversity.com" (a mirror of Lifeprint.com
less traffic, fast access) **
VISIT NOW **
You can learn sign language online at
American Sign Language University ™
hosted by Lifeprint.com ©
Dr. William Vicars