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Graphic of Ukrainian Colours
In recent weeks as the war in Ukraine has unfolded I have watched educators trying, with significant success, to use events as teachable moments. The intricacies of shifting boundaries and conflicts used to fuel debates about historical context. Economics teachers use economic interdependences between countries, evidenced through oil and gas supplies, phosphates and grains to great effect. Exploring ethnic identities form a core part of anthropological and social sciences conversations. What I see, are teachers in the English-speaking liberal democracies, the ‘West’ (where I have sight), teaching this war as not being ‘over there’, as some distant disconnected experience
. Rather it is being taught in the context of ‘it is happening here’ or at the very least ‘could it happen here?’

Very often teachers are struggling to answer questions from students and still ‘getting through’ the prescribed content, predetermined in curriculum structures and resources imposed from outside. The best national, regional and institutional systems empower teachers to leverage events that are affecting their students. The worst amongst them have rigid content requirements. These later are written by bureaucrats not by teachers. Concepts are more powerful than content, ideas more enduring than facts. Giving students a framework for critical thought using ideas and concepts allows them to seek out and identify facts and content. Importantly, it empowers the student to make connections between disparate thoughts, across time and geographies.

I think education should be radical, it should be focused on change, not on maintaining the status quo; it should be focused on transformation not normalising; it should be focused on the individual as a member of diverse and overlapping communities, not as unique cogs in a machine. Radical education should be innovating not perpetuating, enriching not sustaining, challenging not confirming.

Oscar Wilde said that

“The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.”

True. So little has changed since the 19th century despite the dawning of a digital Information age. In my view, we are still too committed to a curriculum of content rather of concepts.

Courageous teachers across the world are navigating troubling times with creativity and insight. They are often forced to bend and circumvent an imposed curriculum to make the learning effective and real. Why teach about supply and demand to business students using Californian almond production when you can explore the impact of disrupted wheat exports from Ukraine? Why explore the English Reformation when a contemporary example of religious disaggregation is happening today in the Orthodox Churches. Ideally, teachers should have the flexibility to compare and contrast established (predetermined resources) with students' own contemporary comparators.

I believe it is important to design learning from the learners perspective. That means learning that is both relevant, meaningful and motivating but also that is realistic and feasible within an agreed timeframe. This is a very brief explanation for those new to designing courses of how to work out "how much is enough?"

I believe we should calibrate our learning to take account of the 'notional study hours' or NSH (alternatively referred to as 'Notional Student Hours').

The calculation may vary from the country by country. In tertiary institutions in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, South Africa and other jurisdictions, a single academic credit equates to 10 hours of student learning. In the European Credit Transfer Scheme, one credit equates to 25 to 30 hours. My explanations below take the UK/NZ model and assume that a single course, worth 15 credits has an NSH value of 150 hours. A full-time student would be expected to study eight such courses in a year, 120 credits in the first year, 120 in the second and so resulting in 360 credits for a three year degree.

Remember that the NSH is the total students are expected to study to earn their credits, NOT the amount of time you have to be guiding them. Work out what time each week you are expecting students to spend on independent study (without any guidance from you) and what time you are responsible for guiding them on. This last number that is most important to faculty designing courses.

Here is a simplified list of actions that all Faculty might want to enact:

  1. Review the course documentation (check level and benchmark statements from national or regional quality assurance agencies)
  2. Remind yourself of any assumptions made as to prior learning
  3. Remind yourself of the learning outcomes for your course
4. Remind yourself as to the credit weighting and work out for your course NSH 1 Credit = 10 hours NSH

15 Credit= 150 hours NSH

5. Remind yourself of the number of hours expected to be guided, as opposed to independent study. Institutions sometimes have different interpretations of national guidance. Usually, they see a decline in the number of guided hours as you go up the level. First-year undergraduates receiving more guided hours (65%) than masters students for example (33%)
6. Remind yourself of the assessment hours allocated to your course. It is not uncommon to deduct a number of hours for overall assessment tasks, these are usually included in the independent study hours. So say we deduct 30 hours off the 150 hours for this 15 credit course.
7. Then do a calculation of the number of weeks over which your course is expected to run and divide the NSH of the course by the number of weeks. This will give you the number of notional study hours (NSH) for your course per week We would then take the remaining 120 hours, work out what percentage of that was appropriate for guided learning hours (@ first year let's say 120 x 0.65 = 78)

Divided by the number of weeks in a  course (say 12) that would mean in this example we would be expected to provide learners with (78/12) 6.5 hours of guided learning.

You need to work through an example based on guidance from your own quality assurance colleagues to ensure you stay in tune with regional or national guidelines.

What is essential is that you do not see the guided learning hours as time spent directly with students. It includes anything you direct a student to watch, read or listen to. Any activities you instruct them to undertake as well as any online resources you choose to provide.

It is very often the case that we are 'over-teaching' in our on-line courses. Being aware of the NSH for your course is a good place to start.

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