Columns

Malik ’18: Time shouldn’t equal credit

By
Staff Columnist
Thursday, September 29, 2016

We have all probably noticed a new feature on most course syllabi this semester: the inclusion of estimated completion times for assignments and readings. When I first saw these, I was intrigued. I hadn’t seen them before, and I wondered why they were listed. I have never believed that the amount of time spent on something accurately reflects its quality or significance. Why should it matter that one student spent five hours on a paper and another student spent 10 hours if both students produce excellent work?

Yet the federal government apparently thinks that the amount of time spent on something is indicative of accomplishment. According to Herald coverage, the university is up for reaccreditation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges this year. As per NEASC’s “Policy on Credits and Degrees,” the organization adheres to the federal definition of the credit hour, under which one credit hour for a college course is equivalent to three hours of work each week. This means that, in order for a 15-week course to be worth four credits, it has to take 180 hours total.

But to measure the quality of work by the amount of time spent on it is inaccurate and lazy. The use of the credit hour to regulate educational institutions does not make sense. We can all attest to this. We can remember times when we were able to pick up a lesson in a classroom quickly, breeze through the homework or complete a good project in a short time span. What mattered in those instances was how effectively we used our time, not the number of hours it took.

Moreover, to use an example from years ago, there were times during middle school when I wondered what the heck I was doing in class. Though I am grateful for the extraordinary teachers I have had in my life, there were many instances when the amount of time spent in the classroom did not correlate with the improvement in my knowledge. I also remember occasionally doing homework that did nothing to enhance class lessons but was just busywork. I was using up a lot of time but wasn’t getting much out of it. These experiences have helped me understand that time does not translate to educational value.

I’m not saying that professors at Brown assign busywork. They don’t. I’m also sure that a course made up of busywork won’t be given credit. That is because NEASC does consider the qualitative aspects of academic programs. They look at “breadth, depth, continuity, sequential progression and synthesis of learning.”  These characteristics cannot be determined by a simple metric, and NEASC seems to understand that certain important qualities of academic programs cannot be quantified.

If only the metric of hours spent did not matter due to federal regulations. Since it is clear that there can be a sharp difference between the amount of time spent on work and the quality of the work, this method of measuring the success of a course is obviously faulty. I also feel that a student shouldn’t be compelled to spend a particular amount of time on a course if they can understand the lesson and produce quality papers or projects in less time. Plus, there are instances when counting the number of hours spent on something can be a wildly inaccurate way to measure its impact. For example, when I’m working on a creative assignment, I reflect upon my thoughts and intentions and am conscious of my feelings before, during, and after completing the assignment. My assignment can occupy my thoughts for days. How can I translate that into number of hours spent?

I believe certain national standards are important. But the credit hour is a ridiculous measure that the federal government has unfortunately decided to adopt. It forces coursework to be determined based on how long it takes, at least in part. But coursework should be determined based on how well it serves the needs and goals of the course, irrespective of estimated completion times.

Ameer Malik ’18 can be reached at ameer_malik@brown.edu.

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