Introduction

The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) is defined as “a student-centred system based on the student workload required to achieve the objectives of a programme… specified in terms of the learning outcomes and competencies to be acquired” (See the first link at the bottom of this document). It is important to keep in mind that the credits reflect the quantity of work required to achieve the outcomes of the course, and therefore the hour calculation is an important element of this system.

Notional Learning Time

In establishing the expected workload for certain assignments we are working with the idea of notional learning time, which is defined as “the number of hours which it is expected a student (at a particular level) will need, on average, to achieve the specified learning outcomes at that level” (See the second link at the bottom of this document). The key phrase in this definition is “on average”, because differences will occur among students due to previous education, intellectual capabilities, life experience, etc. Further, there is a certain correlation between the time a student puts into the work and the grade he or she receives. This will help the students see how much time they need to invest in order to get a good grade.

Practical Guidelines

It is impossible to give precise criteria for calculating the number of hours for the various assignments. Experience and feedback from students play an important role. The following are guidelines for the most obvious assignments.

  • Textbooks. In establishing a specific ratio for the number of pages per hour, the following factors need to be considered:
    • How much text is there on a page? Page size, letter font, pictures, etc. play a role in determining the number of pages per hour.
    • What is the purpose of reading the textbook? Reading a book in preparation for a detailed data-test requires more time than reading a book for writing a general review.
    • What kind of book is it? A philosophical text reads much slower than a book with many stories.
    • What is the level of the course? If students are expected to be familiar with the material because of previous courses, their reading can be expected to go faster than when the content is completely new to them.
    • Are there any issues relating to language? For instance, if the book is written in a language other than the student’s native language, students will need more time to read it.
  • Quizzes, tests and final exam. The hours indicate the time students need to invest in the preparation for the quizzes, test and final exam. Most of the preparation could already be included in the textbook hours. When students need to review their class notes for the test, this needs to be included in the time alloted to the test, or it can be mentioned under a separate activity such as “reviewing class notes”.
  • Papers. The length of papers is always described by the number of words, not pages. A grading rubric for the paper will also be provided so that students know in advance how the paper will be evaluated. Various factors play a role in determining the number of hours:
    • What kind of paper is it? A research paper for which the students need to do additional reading or specific interviews will probably take more time than a reflection paper.
    • What is the level of the course? Certain assignments should not take as much time for a fourth level student who is familiar with the material, than a first year student to whom it is totally new.
  • Other assignments. For every assignment expected of the students, a time indicator needs to be provided. If students are expected to evaluate, for instance, a church service, the time for attending the service and for reflection and writing the report needs to be indicated in the syllabus. If a search on the web is required, a certain number of hours for researching the web and preparation for reporting in class needs to be provided. If there is a certain excursion or retreat planned, a reasonable number of hours for the duration of these events needs to be listed in the syllabus.

Web Addresses

http://ec.europa.eu/education/programmes/socrates/ects/index_en.html
http://www.unideusto.org/tuningeu/