Guidelines on student workloads

Australian Catholic University has, as part of its mission, a primary responsibility to provide excellent higher education for its entire diversified and dispersed student body. ACU graduates will be highly competent in their chosen fields, ethical in their behaviour, with a developed critical habit of mind, an appreciation of the sacred in life, and a commitment to serving the common good. This mission challenges ACU academic staff to provide quality teaching and engaging learning opportunities for all students. The mission also challenges students of ACU to be scholars of their chosen discipline, to be proactive in their learning and to engage in sustained effort to achieve their learning goals.

This document sets out some guidelines to be considered by academic staff when designing curricula and assessment tasks and when preparing to make judgments about student performance.

1. Defining workload

The workload associated with undertaking a unit of study comprises a range of activities. The University specifies that the workload for students should be set at 15 hours per credit point, that is, 150 hours for a 10 credit point unit. Recognising that this will vary from student to student, activities that comprise workload include a combination of some or all of the following

  • Class attendance (both face-to-face and/or online)
  • Undertaking required learning activities including reading or research
  • Undertaking assessment tasks

2. How can teachers improve students' perceptions of workload?

2.1 Communicate learning outcomes and unit design to your students

Make sure you explain to your students what the learning outcomes and embedded graduate attributes are, why they need to achieve them, and how they will be assessed.

2.2 Focus less on content and more on achieving the learning outcomes with embedded graduate attributes

Living in the "information age" means that more and more information is constantly available and that information also dates quickly. While new graduates undoubtedly need to "know their stuff", they have a greater need for skills to be able to deal with increased and changing information, how to find what is required and how to critically evaluate what they find. This means that we need to respond with curricula which focus on those skills highlighted in ACU’s graduate attributes, particularly critical thinking, information skills and learning how to learn. Explain to your students why they need to be able to apply concepts or perform particular tasks as graduates.

2.3 Assess the right things

Assessment tasks are opportunities for students to demonstrate their achievement of the unit learning outcomes. They are not intended as punishment for students or traps to catch them out. It is also questionable to use assessment to "keep them working", although this is a common strategy for less mature, self-directed students. Assessment must focus on what it is that we want students to learn (the learning outcomes). Assessment tasks should give students a reasonable chance of demonstrating achievement of specific learning outcomes and not their ability to memorise everything associated with a subject area. Consider carefully how many times a student must demonstrate a skill in a program - giving a presentation, for example - so that you know they can do it.

2.4 Avoid over-assessing

Assessment needs to be designed so that an appropriate number (according to the Assessment policy, no more than three) and variety of tasks provide students with an opportunity to demonstrate that they have achieved all the learning outcomes with the embedded graduate attributes for the unit. Learning outcomes and embedded graduate attributes should be assessed.

Avoid trying to assess too many learning outcomes with embedded graduate attributes in one task as this can be cumbersome to mark.

2.5 Try to coordinate timing of assessment tasks to be staggered over the semester

This can be difficult to do, especially in generalist degrees and combined degrees. If it is possible to collaborate with organisers of other units in the course or degree being taught to stagger the timing of assessment tasks it can, however, have a significant positive impact on students’ experience.

Issues Impacting Student Workload at ACU

Issues Impacting Student Workload at ACU is a companion document to the ‘Guidelines on Student Workload’. Please download and read this document. We welcome your review and input. The document is not intended to be a set of rules, but rather guidelines and examples of good and bad practice. You may choose to edit the document to suit the needs of your faculty of school, but we would appreciate your feedback on how the document is used and any changes that were made.