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Too Much Coursework

Guest Contributor: Robert Onorato.

Given the seemingly unlimited, media-rich learning opportunities you can offer in an asynchronous online course, it may be tempting to craft a reading or resource list as extensive as your own time allows. But at what point will students reach the saturation point? In this article, Robert Onorato, instructor at Fordham University (NY) and a Senior Faculty Programs Consultant for Cengage Learning’s TeamUP, shares the experiences that have led him to his own conclusions regarding the answer to the question: “How much is too much?”

I have been teaching college courses for twenty years and I taught my first online course at least eight years ago. Since then, I have taught courses in all sorts of mixed and hybrid formats, those that were offered completely online as part of traditional degree programs, and online classes offered in fully online degree programs

I have also taken several online and hybrid courses. In addition to the content taught in these classes, the format, structure, and processes have proven extremely enlightening. It has been beneficial to “see what the student sees,” instead of experiencing courses only from the instructor’s perspective.

I have often seen the tendency for some (or many) professors to include, require, or “pile on” large amounts of content in addition to traditional textbook chapters and required assignments and testing. When professors migrate content from the classroom to the hybrid format to the pure online classroom, and the physical student contact becomes further removed and distant, professors often seem to compensate for this lessened contact with increased numbers of required articles to read and videos to view.

I have taken at least three different online courses where this has happened. In the first short course (about four weeks), there were several required articles and research studies that were each forty to eighty pages long. In another, in addition to the textbook chapters, there were about a dozen articles to read in each of several modules. Most recently, I participated in an online course that had several units that each had ten to twelve videos that were four to eight minutes long. That’s an hour of video-watching—in addition to all of the other required work in each unit. And none of this was supplemental.

Was all of this content really required? Did I really need ten videos or a dozen articles to get a point across or present different viewpoints? Would three or four of each have been enough?

Digital technology provides what seems like unlimited space for resources and content for hybrid and online classrooms and sometimes our tendency is to fill this space. We can forget that students still have a finite amount of time and often take several courses together. It is one thing to provide supplemental material that students can view or read if that want more information. However, in my experience, professors often make this wealth of resources required.

Often the result is students who are overwhelmed, frustrated, and discouraged. Honestly, this was my reaction. I thought, “Why do I have to watch this seventh, eighth video?” Students can then become less connected and engaged in the coursework and content, and less inclined to participate in the hybrid and online formats, or to take these courses again. So think about this as you develop your next online course and be careful to include what is needed, and not everything in the world that fits.

Robert Onorato, a Senior Consultant for Cengage Learning’s TeamUP Peer-to-Peer Faculty Development, teaches Marketing, Leadership, and Operations Management at Fordham University in New York. In addition, he has established Candlewood Consulting and has authored various instructors’ resource materials. Robert has earned a B. S. in Marketing and an MBA from the University of Connecticut.



Do you have suggestions, tips, or questions regarding assignments in the online learning environment? Write to us via the comments section below.

Words by The Learn Ranger

Five ways to make the best of a bad situation …

The deadline’s looming and you’ve hardly started. Panic is setting in and the fear of failure looming. What can you do?

1. Go for the easy marks

Find the mark scheme for your coursework. It should be available on your exam board website. They’re not always easy to interpret – written in teacher/exam board language but it’s worth persevering.

First, look for simple things that get you marks – maybe the way the coursework is set out – things like sections, headings, word counts, references, diagrams. Make sure you have all these.

Now look at the detail – what does it take to get into the higher levels? Do you have time to show some of these skills? You may not be able to get into the highest levels but you may well have enough time to cover off the basic skills and knowledge and avoid wasting any time on unnecessary work.

2. Start and finish well

Whoever’s marking the coursework it’s likely that they’ll be under pressure to get through a big pile of work in a fairly short time. This means that first and last impressions will matter.

This is why it’s often a good idea to devote some of your precious time to starting and finishing the coursework well. Of course it depends on the subject and format required, but the sort of things that help might be a concise introduction setting out your aims and a summary conclusion showing that you really do understand the key issues.

3. Make sacrifices to gain more time

You’re in a bit of a tricky situation so is it possible to buy yourself some more time? The coursework may get you quite a few of your total marks so can you get up a bit earlier? Carry on working a bit later? Cancel some activities or social occasions – just for long enough to get the coursework done to a decent standard?

4. Find out whether the deadline is ‘flexible’

Well, it’s worth a try. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

5. Make sure you submit the coursework on time

Don’t bury your head in the sand and fail to give the work in. Even if you’re not totally proud of what you’ve done, some marks are most definitely better than no marks.

What are your tips and stories about coursework panics? Post below!

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