Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Ratio of class to self-study

Recently I was reading a very interesting article by Dr Lolita Paff on that magic ratio that we use in education as a rough rule of thumb: for every class hour, we expect students to spend two hours studying.

Dr Paff said in her article that the US Education Department suggests each credit consists of "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…", and notes that this was the same when she was studying in the 1980s, and that her professors said it had been the same in the 1970s (28 August 2017). I can confirm that this was normal in New Zealand from the 1980s through to today, because we still use roughly that ratio now. Apparently that ratio is quite old: circa 1909 (Shedd, 2003, as cited by Paff, 28 August 2017), but there is a dearth of underpinning evidence, and little research exploring this.

The trouble is, we don't tend to get specific on what students should spend those two hours studying, and what level they should reach. Going on to say that while an approximate hour guide is somewhat useful, Dr Paff suggested a task mastery focus was a more sound approach. Drawing on her experience in as an educator, and as a child in learning the piano, Dr Paff said that each week her piano teacher would send her home with very specific, clearly outlined practice tasks to complete before the next lesson. While her teacher would say roughly how much time that might take, both parties understood that getting to mastery was not going to be the same for all learners.

I agree with Dr Paff. Completing tasks on the way to getting to mastery is a more sound focus. It allows us to be much more focused on experiential and active learning. What is even more interesting  to me is that this is how I have organised my teaching, without even being aware of it.

Light bulb moment.


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