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Forgetting what I’ve written

Warning! This is one of the musings best classified as whiny.

The other day, I was making plans for how to work with graders this semester. Then I remembered a conversation with a colleague last semester [1] about the use of graders. They thought faculty should do all their own grading. I think there’s a huge positive to having graders, in part because it means that we can assign more checked work. And yes, there’s almost certainly evidence that when students do checked work, they learn more [2].

But I worry about the time commitment of grading everything I assign. So I decided to do the math for CSC 151, the course in which I most frequently use graders.

I have a fifty-hour per week job [3]. We say that my job should be about 50% teaching, 30% scholarship, and 20% service. It doesn’t quite work out that way, but we’ll pretend. We are supposed to teach the equivalent of five four-credit courses per year. If I do the math, that suggests that a Grinnell faculty member should spend about ten hours per week per course [5].

Let’s see how that breaks down for CSC 151. I have three eighty-minute class meetings per week, but I’m usually there five minutes early to set up the classroom and stay five minutes late to answer questions and clean up a bit afterwards. That’s four-and-a-half hours per week. I tend to spend about one hour of prep time per hour of class [6]. That’s another four hours per week. I meet with my mentors for thirty minutes each week and my co-teacher for another thirty minutes. I write an assignment or exam approximately every other week [7]. So we’ll say an average of an hour per week to write the assignment or exam [8]. Perhaps thirty minutes each week to write and photocopy the quiz. When we put that all together, I’ve already spent eleven hours each week on CSC 151 [9].

What about grading? CSC 151 students have three kinds of work due each week: an assignment or exam, two or three daily lab writeups, and one quiz. With 30+ students in the course, it takes about two hours to grade something small (e.g., a lab writeup or a quiz), about six to eight hours to grade something medium (e.g., a homework assignment), and about twelve to fifteen hours to grade something large (e.g., an exam). I grade every quiz. I grade each of the four exams. That’s another fifty to sixty hours across the semester, or an average of about three and a half hours per week. So now we’re at an average of over sixteen hours per week on one class. And, remember, we haven’t counted the time I spend answering student questions in my office, in the lab, or via email. I don’t have time for another six to eight hours to grade a homework assignment or the three weekly writeups.

I’ve talked to faculty at institutions that require them to do all of their own grading. You know what? They respond by giving less assigned work. Problem sets migrate from required to recommended. Students tend to avoid recommended work. And, I would venture to guess, they learn less. I’m also not sure how institutions like this ensure that their students meet the federal standards of three hours outside of class for each hour inside of class, but that’s not for me to judge.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. I was thinking about my discussion with a colleague. I decided to calculate times as a starting point in my reflection. You can read those calculations above. What next? Oh, I went back to see if I could find the context. And you know what? I’d already written about using student graders back in musing #202.

It appears that I have reached the point in my musings that I no longer remember everything I’ve written about. Or perhaps I’m just old enough that I no longer remember lots of things [10].

As I look back at the prior musing, I see that my estimates were a bit broader and longer in that musing (e.g., 1-3 hours for lab writeups and quizzes; 20 hours for exams). But I’m fairly consistent in my estimates.

Does this new musing serve any purpose? Well, I’ve done a more thorough calculation of the time I spend on CSC 151, and it seems worthwhile to record that. I find it a bit scary that one class can take more than 16 hours per week [11]. I should try to more carefully record how much time I really spend on each course.

This musing also serves a second purpose: We have a new thread to carry through the musings: Sam forgets way too much. Or have I said that before?

Now what was this musing about?

Postscript: When I went to post this musing on Facebook, the;standard Your memories on Facebook post was at the top of the page. And you know what the memory was? Yes, that’s right.

It appears that Facebook has a better memory than I do. It also appears that there’s something about this time of year that leads me to muse about my workload as it relates to grading.

[1] Or maybe last spring.

[2] I say almost certainly, because I’m sure I’ve heard it. But I don’t have a citation.

[3] I think I’ve heard some people at work-life balance sessions say 40. I find that am rarely able to work fewer than 60 hours per week. And I’ve also heard someone at thework-life balance" sessions say that they work 80 hours per week [4].

[4] That sounds a bit imbalanced to me, unless work is life.

[5] I don’t normally count office hours and email questions towards that, which means that the 10 hpw model leads to over 50% of time allocated to teaching.

[6] Last semester, when I was writing new material for CSC 151, it was usually two or three, and sometimes more than four, hours of prep time per hour of class.

[7] We have weekly exams and assignments. Since two of us teach the course, we tend to alternate who writes what.

[8] Exams take more time to write.

[9] Okay, it’s more like an hour to write and photocopy the quiz. But I’m going to be optimistic.

[10] I’ve had way too many experiences in which Jerod or Janet discusses a teaching technique and I say That sounds like a good idea. Where did you hear about it? And they say From you.

[11] When I taught two sections, things should have scaled a bit. But there were a lot more questions!

Version 1.0 released 18 January 2018.

Version 1.1.1 of 2018-01-18.