Guidelines for Instructional Time Equivalencies Across Formats/Assignment of Credit Hours

While Misericordia University is committed to an outcome-based approach to curriculum and assessment in accordance with its accreditation by the Middles States Commission on Higher Education and other discipline-based national accrediting associations, it also complies with and endorses the requirements of the Pennsylvania Department of Education on what constitutes a semester credit hour of instruction as set forth in Chapter 31.21 on curricula as amended. The standard states that "a semester hour represents a unit of curricular material that can normally be taught in a minimum of 14 hours of classroom instruction, plus outside preparation or the equivalent as determined by the faculty." Thus, a 3-credit course represents the equivalent of 42 hours of classroom instruction or its equivalent, not including final examination or homework as normally interpreted. The following guidelines are intended to assure compliance with standards across the various course delivery formats offered by the institution, a consistency in when and how the equivalency is applied across formats, and the maximum opportunity for faculty to exercise academic freedom in meeting the extant standard while achieving the goals, objectives, and outcomes of the specific course.

Traditional Semester Format

Ordinarily, courses offered within a traditional semester format (14 weeks plus one week final examinations over 2 semesters) will meet the 14-hours-of-classroom-instruction-per-one-semester-credit-hour (i.e. 42 hours for a 3-credit course, 56 hours for a 4-credit course, etc.). However, if a class or classes in a course must be cancelled due, for example, to the closing of the University for inclement weather or the illness or other appropriate unavailability of the faculty member, then additional structured instructional activity (or activities) would be required to meet the equivalency standard. For example, if classroom instruction is 38 hours "face-to-face", 4 additional hours of appropriate "out-of-classroom" instructional activity would be required to meet the semester standard as determined equivalent by the faculty. Wherever possible, this contingency should be explained in the syllabus and documented accordingly.

Alternative Formats

There are a number of outcome-based formats at the University in which "face-to-face" instructional time is less than 14-hours-of-classroom-instruction-per-one-semester-credit-hour, but meet the equivalency standard set forth in the regulation. In these alternative formats, the "face-to-face" instructional time and the additional "outside-of-classroom" structured instructional activities must meet 14-hours-of-classroom-instruction-per-one-semester-credit-hour or its equivalent as determined by the faculty (i.e. 42 hours for a 3-credit course, 56 hours for a 4-credit course, etc.). For example, if a 3-semester course in the weekend college format meets for 32 hours of classroom-based instruction, an additional and integrated 10 hours of structured instructional activities are required to meet the standard. For the same course in a 7-week format that meets "face-to-face" for 28 hours, an additional 14 hours of structured instructional activities are required. For a 5-week course that meets 20 hours "face-to-face", an additional 22 hours of structured instructional activities would be required. Online courses would require 42 hours of appropriate structured online activities to meet the minimum threshold. The syllabus for the course reflects the type of activities to be utilized.

Instructional-Related Learning Activities

An array of instructional-related or student engagement activities can be utilized to achieve the equivalent of the 14-hours-of-classroom-instruction-per-one-semester-credit-hour, not including a final examination, are part of the standard. Choosing a particular "learning outside the classroom" activity or combination of activities is the responsibility of the faculty in terms of achieving the stated goals, objectives and outcomes of the course, enhancing cooperative and collaborative learning in an instructor-mediated environment, demonstrating an awareness of the various learning styles and experiences of the students, and in the determining of equivalency to a semester-credit-hour. The following examples are some of the options that may be considered for utilization:

  • Discussion Board structured to provide guided or instructor-mediated threaded discussions with specified timeframes and expectations for participation;
  • Chat rooms for class or group projects that provide opportunities for collaborative learning that have specific expectations for participation and feedback;
  • Case studies and problem-solving scenarios relative to course goals and objectives utilizing higher-order analytical skills with instructor and class-designed feedback;
  • Blogs, journals, or logs in which students share the most relevant aspects with instructor and classmates;
  • Web Quest activities in which students find Internet sites that address specific course objectives and are shared with class and instruction mediation;
  • Library research in which instructor directs students to locate certain information or resources either online or in situ, relate them to course objectives and present them to the class in a designated manner;
  • Lecture materials – written transcripts or audio recordings – from which students are expected to develop questions, comments, or observations shared with class and instructor through discussion board postings or participation in chat rooms;
  • Instructional CDs
  • Field trips or tours in which students may participate as an individual or group in analyzing an activity (concert, museum, art exhibit, religious service, political debate, etc.) and prepare a paper or presentation to share with instructor and class:
  • Final group projects which represent a culmination of learning objectives and students collaborative via e-mail, chat-rooms, discussion boards, and "face to face" contract to research, analyze, synthesize and prepare projects with the instructor receiving periodic updates and providing feedback. Instructors should establish and control the learning-based interactions (when, where, and why), including frequency, duration, evaluation and assessment techniques. These guidelines recognize the need for the faculty to actively manage the learning space, both in and outside the traditional classroom.

In order to ensure consistency for students and faculty in meeting Pennsylvania Department of Education requirements and good pedagogy, Misericordia university has developed a rubric ("Alternative Instructional Equivalencies") that establishes a standard amount time for setting equivalencies to hours of classroom instruction for various online and "out-of-the-classroom" instructor-mediated activities in the various formats.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education has developed certain parameters to assist in developing curricular content that is equivalent to classroom-based instruction. According to Pennsylvania Department of Education clarification: equivalent content should:

  • Be related directly to the objectives of the course/program;
  • Be measurable for grading purposes;
  • Have the direct oversight or supervision of the faculty member teaching the course;
  • Be equivalent (in some form) of an activity conducted in the classroom.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education states that equivalent content may not be homework assignments or focused on "time spent" (the amount of time the student spends accomplishing the task).