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In the FAQ section of my syllabus, I write:


The general rule is for every hour you spend in class, you need to spend two hours outside of class. In a face-to-face class, you're in class about 5 hours per week*, so you should spend 10 hours outside of class working on this course. That's also why three 5-credit classes is considered full-time. If you are taking three 5-credit classes, you'd be spending about 45 hours a week, both in and out of class, working on those courses.**


As I was writing this post I wondered about the origin of this general rule. It turns out that it is U.S. federal law that applies to any institution that doles out federal financial aid. I have no idea how I’ve managed to make it this long in higher education without knowing that this “general rule” is federal law. In any case, I know now and have changed my syllabus. “The general rule (and the federal law minimum) says for every hour you spend in class…”


This is the federal government’s definition of a Carnegie unit, the credits that our courses are worth. Quoting “34 CFR 600.2 of the final regulations,” a Carnegie unit is:


An amount of work represented in intended learning outcomes and verified by evidence of student achievement that is an institutionally established equivalency that reasonably approximates not less than:


  1. One hour of classroom or direct faculty instruction and a minimum of two hours of out-of-class student work each week for approximately fifteen weeks for one semester or trimester hour of credit, or ten to twelve weeks for one quarter hour of credit, or the equivalent amount of work over a different amount of time; or
  2. At least an equivalent amount of work as required in paragraph (1) of this definition for other academic activities as established by the institution, including laboratory work, internships, practica, studio work, and other academic work leading to the award of credit hours.


These 15 pages from the U.S. Department of Higher Education (published in 2011), will tell you all you could possibly want to know about Carnegie units. You’ll find the above definition on page 5.


That document also makes clear that each institution of higher learning can divide up those hours per week as they see fit. My 5-credit online class, for example, has 15 hours of work per week that is all outside of class time since the concept of “class time” does not exist in asynchronous courses.


Additionally, the 2 hours out for every hour in is the minimum standard. If colleges and universities so desire, they can set a higher standard, say, 3 hours outside for every hour in. Some colleges and universities make their expectations clear on their websites, such as Stanford, Northwestern, and Cal Poly -- all of whom, incidentally, go with the minimum 2 to 1 ratio.


Does your class, each week, have 2 hours of work outside of class for every hour in? How do you know?


Elizabeth Barre and Justin Esarey at the Center for Teaching Excellence at Rice University created a pretty cool tool, the Course Workload Estimator. Put in what and how much your students should be reading, what and how much your students should be writing, how much time your students should be studying for exams, and how much time students should be spending on any other assignments, then look at the estimated workload – how much time students should be working on your course each week.


The website makes it clear that this is an estimator. You would be hard-pressed to find two students who have identical reading rates, identical writing rates, and identical ideas on how they should study. This is a good place for you to plug the study techniques from the website. "The course is designed with the expectation that you will spend <x number> of hours studying for each exam. The more efficient and effective your study techniques, the more you will learn in that finite number of hours. Also, put away your phone while you are studying. You lose a lot of precious study time when you are frequently switching between tasks, between your studying and your phone." [This blog post describes a classroom demonstration that illustrates how much time is lost when we switch back and forth between tasks if you'd like to hammer this point home.]


On the Course Workload Estimator website, scroll down for the rationale and research that went into creating this tool. Their research points out some gaping holes in our knowledge. If you're looking to start a new research program in the scholarship of teaching and learning arena, their lit review is worth checking out. 


Using the Course Workload Estimator, this is how my Intro Psych course breaks down.


I added up the total number of pages I’ve assigned students to read and divided that number by 11 for the number of weeks in the term. My students are reading a textbook with many new concepts. I want my students to not just survey or understand the material; I want them to engage with the material, “[r]eading while also working problems, drawing inferences, questioning, and evaluating.”


For writing assignments, I sampled what some of my better-performing students submitted last term, and on average, they wrote 27 pages of single-spaced text over the course of the term. I give my students application essay questions to answer, and that sounds the most like writing an “argument,” “[e]ssays that require critical engagement with content and detailed planning, but no outside research.” Students can revise whichever responses they would like, but it is not required ("minimal drafting"). Since students’ engagement while reading the text is part of their writing assignments, I manually adjusted the “hours per written page” to 2 hours. That’s about 30 minutes per essay question. Of course that’s an average. Questions that students find easier will require much less time than questions students find more difficult.  


I have a couple other assignments that should take about 2 hours total between them, so I entered 1 hour per assignment.


The estimated workload per the Course Workload Estimator? For my class that meets about 5 hours in class each week, students should dedicate about 10.69 hours to this course outside of class each week.


To be clearer with my students about my expectations, I just added the image below to my course FAQ along with this text:

About half of your out-of-class time will be spent reading the textbook and thinking about what you are reading (estimated at 5 pages per hour, that's about 5.5 hours per week). The other half of your out-of-class time will be spent responding to the write-to-learn assignment questions (estimated at about 30 minutes per question, that's about 5 hours per week) where each completed assignment, minus the text of the questions themselves, will average out to be approximately 3 single-spaced pages. 


Course workload estimate from the Rice University Center for Teaching Excellence

Sue Frantz

The right to fail

Posted by Sue Frantz Dec 20, 2017

I was a squeaky-clean new professor at my very first tenure-track job when one of the counselors (academic and otherwise; it was a small college) gave a presentation to the faculty. She said, "Students have a right to fail." That got my attention. I thought, oh wet-behind-the-ears professor that I was, that whether students passed or failed – whether students learned – was all on me.


She went on to say that she’d have students come into her counseling office to say that they needed help because they weren’t passing a class. Her first question: “Are you reading the textbook?” If the answer was no, she told the student that there was nothing else to talk about. “Come back after you’ve done the assigned reading.”


To the faculty, she said that she knew that we all had kind hearts, that we wanted to give students a second (third, fourth, nth) chance. But – and this she emphasized – students have to meet you halfway. If students aren’t doing their part to learn, you cannot make them learn.


Put that way, it sounded like a relationship I didn’t want to be in. I’m doing everything to help my hypothetical spouse* succeed while my hypothetical spouse does nothing. “Honey, I filled out all of these job applications. You got three interviews all scheduled for Friday. Here is where you need to be and when.” Friday evening after I get home from work, “How did those job interviews go? What?! What do you mean you didn’t go? You spent the day playing Call of Duty?!  Okay, okay, here, let me call those places, and I’ll tell them something, like your grandmother died. I’m sure they’ll let me reschedule the interviews for you.”


At the root of “students have the right to fail” is that learning is the responsibility of students. I tell my students that. I say that I’d love to open up their skulls and dump the knowledge in. Or plug them into the Matrix** so they can download it all to their brains. But that’s not how learning works.


Faculty can help students learn, but it's the students who need to do the work, who need to do the learning. Sometimes, for a whole host of reasons, students choose not to do the work. And that's okay. It's the student's grade. They know what the assignments are and how much each is worth. Sometimes they're willing to spend the points on something else, including Call of Duty***.


My senior year of college, my friend and I skipped the final presentation we were supposed to do for a course. I did the math. Not doing the presentation would drop me from an A to a B. I was already accepted to grad school; it didn't matter if I had an A or a B next to that course on my transcript. I consciously chose not to do the presentation. It was a beautiful spring day; spending the afternoon at the lake was worth the points. None of that had anything to do with the professor; that was all on me.

And sometimes students just aren't ready to be in college, again, for a whole host of reasons. I’ve spent my entire career at community colleges. I have students who come up to me on the first day of class and say something like "I took your class 10 years ago (or “I went to <big state university>,” or “I went to <small liberal arts college>”), and I failed. I wasn't ready to be in college. Now I am." And they are; they are frequently some of my best students.


And not all students are striving for an A. Some are shooting for a 2.0 GPA, enough to keep them in college. It may be that they are good with “good enough.” It may be that they have family and job responsibilities that leave them little time for classes. They figure out what they need to do and what they don’t need to do in a course to get the grade that’s going to allow them to keep that 2.0 average. A colleague (an economist) and I were talking about this one day. We now think of that 2.0 as the academic poverty line. Like people living on the economic poverty line, as long as things are good, living paycheck to paycheck is fine. But when the car breaks down or a child gets sick, they find themselves in a financial freefall. The same for students who are aiming for a C in a course. They don’t do some of the work early in the course for whatever reason with a plan to do the later work, enough work to get that C. But then later in the course when the car breaks down or a child gets sick, they don’t have the time to do the later work, and they find themselves in an academic freefall. Now they’re asking for deadline extensions and extra credit; they are asking the professor to bail them out. ("How is it you have the time to do the assignment now or the time to do extra work now when you didn't have time to do the assignment for the last 5 weeks?")


My counselor colleague pointed out in her presentation that when students come to you begging you for that deadline extension or extra credit so they don’t lose their scholarship, or so they don't lose their financial aid, or so they don’t get kicked out of college, remember that yours is not the only course that brought the student to this point. Yours is just the last one. The student made a series of decisions that got them here. The result of those decisions, she said, is not your – the professor’s – responsibility. 

As a professor, I take my job very seriously. I have, with much thought and consideration, chosen the content of my courses, the structure of those courses, and the assignments I ask my students to do. The best any professor can do is present content worth knowing in a course structure that will help students who do the work to learn that content.


The one thing we cannot control is what the student brings to the table or even if the student comes to the table.


Students have a number of rights and responsibilities. Among those rights and responsibilities is the right to fail.




*The hypothetical relationship depicted bears no resemblance to my current or past relationships.


**The Matrix was released in 1999. It’s older than a lot of my students. Referencing it probably makes me seem as old as I am. If you can stick with references to the Star Wars universe, you’ll be on less-dated ground.


***I didn’t intend it, but Call of Duty is pretty ironic in this blog post.

I was recently at a conference where a symposium speaker had not prepared for her presentation. After introducing herself, she said, “I’m very sorry. I wasn’t able to prepare slides or a speech, so I’m just going to talk for a couple of minutes on <topic> and just leave it open to questions…” In this case, “a couple of minutes” was 40 seconds. I know, because the session was recorded and is available on YouTube. There were no questions. What was supposed to be a 15-minute talk was 30 seconds of introduction, 40 seconds of content, and 20 seconds of awkwardly waiting for questions. The kicker? This was a conference where speakers know they will be presenting 8 months ahead of time.


She – a graduate student – missed her deadline. Ten percent was not taken off her grade for being late. She was not allowed to present the following week for half points. She got a zero for her assignment – and her presentation is publicly available for all to see. In perpetuity. Whether you are presenting at a conference, presenting for a new client, or preparing a grant application, there are fixed deadlines. Those deadlines are not going to move no matter what is happening in your life.


What were the top 6 reasons the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University found for why new hires got fired (Gardner, 2007)?

  1. “Unethical behavior”
  2. “Lack of motivation/work ethic”
  3. “Inappropriate use of technology”
  4. “Failure to follow instructions”
  5. “Late for work”
  6. “Missing assignment deadlines”


A colleague was telling me that he’s struck by how some of his students have no resiliency. When one thing goes wrong, everything else in their lives must come to a stop until the crisis, however small, is resolved.


Crisis management is a skill. Powering through adversity is a skill. Project management is a skill. Priority-setting is a skill.


The American Psychological Association Guidelines for the Major 2.0  (American Psychological Association, 2016) lists a number of outcomes for goal 5: professional development. These outcomes include at the foundational level:

5.3a. “Follow instructions, including timely delivery, in response to project criteria”

5.3b. “Identify appropriate resources and constraints that may influence project completion”

5.3c. “Anticipate where potential problems can hinder successful project completion”


And at the baccalaureate level:

5.3B. “Effectively challenge constraints and expand resources to improve project completion”

5.3C. “Actively develop alternative strategies, including conflict management, to contend with potential problems”


If you are going to complete an assignment by the deadline, you need to line up your ducks. Aligning ducks is a skill. When we allow students to turn in late work, we are actively helping students NOT learn these skills.


If a student is unable to complete the work in the time allotted, then this is a valuable lesson for a student to learn. Could they have done things differently? For the next project, what will the student do that they didn’t do this time? If the student has just bitten off more than they can chew, this is also important for a student to learn. In the fall I have plenty of students with families who are working full time and trying to go to school full time. They struggle because there are not enough hours in the day to do what they need to do, and what they learn is that taking a few credits per term is plenty.


One final note about recently-deceased grandparents. Some grandparents really are recently-deceased. But some are not. Students learned early on that some excuses are more likely to lead to extensions and grace periods than other excuses. Who wants to be the professor that tells a grieving student to suck it up and finish the paper? This puts professors in the awkward position of asking for proof, because who wants to be the professor who doesn’t believe the grieving student? I gave up on all of that a long time ago. I have nothing in my courses that is worth more than 10% of the overall grade, so missing one assignment will not completely tank a grade. And I drop the lowest score in each category of assignment. If a student has submitted all assignments to date, this one missing assignment will be the one that is dropped. No questions asked and no excuses needed. If a student has a whole string of crises during the course, their best option may be to withdraw and try it all again next term after things have settled down.


Regardless of whether you accept late work or not, be conscious about what you are trying to accomplish with your late assignment policy.


In the end, the question shouldn’t be whether we accept late work or not. The question should be how can we best help our students learn the project management skills they need to complete work on time so they don’t graduate and get hired only to get fired for reason #6. 




American Psychological Association. (2016). Guidelines for the undergraduate psychology major: Version 2.0. American Psychologist, 71(2), 102–111.


Gardner, P. (2007). Moving Up or Moving Out of the Company? Factors that Influence the Promoting or Firing of New College Hires. CERI Research Brief 1, 1–7. Retrieved from 

In a 2016 post-U.S. Presidential election post, I wondered about Donald Trump’s expressed attitudes towards immigrants, ethnic minorities, Muslims, and women:


Is he simply giving a voice to attitudes that are widely shared? . . . Or, with his public platform, will Trump instead model and serve to legitimize the demeaning attitudes, thus increasing their prevalence? Will he make bullying more widely tolerated? (Already, I have heard anecdotes of minority students experiencing harassment, but we need systematic evidence: Will intolerance measurably increase?)


As the Trump rhetoric has continued—in August with the White supremacist marchers in Virginia whom he said included “very fine people,” and recent retweeting of inflammatory anti-Muslim videos from a British ultranationalist—my question has lingered: Does exposure to prejudicial attitudes from high places legitimize such attitudes? Is the Southern Poverty Law Center’s new report on “Hate and Extremism in 2017” right to presume that White supremacy and hatemongering is “emboldened [and] energized in the Trump era”?


Pardon my hesitancy to assume, before having supporting data, that the answers to these questions are yes. Bullying and hate speech anecdotes are not new. Dylan Roof’s 2015 Charleston, South Carolina, massacre, for example, predated Donald Trump’s campaign travels and presidency.


But now we have two new reasons to believe that the answers are, indeed, yes.


First, new data from two large surveys and one experiment confirm our suspicions that hate speech is socially toxic. University of Warsaw psychologist Wiktor Soral and his colleagues report that “frequent and repetitive exposure to hate speech leads to desensitization to this form of verbal violence and subsequently to lower evaluations of the victims and greater distancing, thus increasing outgroup prejudice.”


Second, as if to illustrate Soral’s findings, the U.S. FBI’s annual hate crimes report confirms that, yes, 2016 saw a 5 percent increase in hate crime incidents. Despite increased overall American acceptance of LGBTQ people, they—as well as ethnic and religious minorities—experienced an uptick in hate crime incidents.


Likewise, the United Kingdom experienced a jump in reported hate crimes following passage of the Brexit vote, fueled partly by anti-immigrant sentiments.


We should not be surprised. As social psychologists Chris Crandall and Mark White remind us: Presidents have the power to influence norms, and norms matter. “People express the prejudices that are socially acceptable and they hide the ones that are not.”


So, I now consider my question answered, and the answer defines a task for us educators and social psychologists as we work to encourage a more just and compassionate world.

Ever since I decided to pare down the personality section of my Intro Psych course to modern day theories of personality and their accompanying research, I have been on the lookout for interesting content to add.


The journal Psychological Science recently published a fascinating – to me anyway – article on the relationship between one’s own personality and the ideal personality characteristics of particular jobs and the impact that relationship has on income (Denissen et al., 2017).


Jaap Denissen and his colleagues used Big Five trait data from 8,458 individuals who all had full-time work for the previous year. For each job held by the participants, occupation experts identified the ideal Big Five traits a person in that job should have. Take a look at the ratings for each job, available through the Open Science Framework (OSF).

Before sharing these data with your students now would be a good time to remind them that “psychology doesn’t deal in certainties; it deals in probabilities.” Your students’ personality traits will not definitively determine their future income, but if we know their personality traits and the job that they may have, we can figure the probability of them having a certain level of income.


After covering the Big Five, can your students assign the same traits to jobs as this study's experts? 


Which job goes with which level of the trait, one is high and the other is low? Answers at the bottom of the post.



  1. Actor
  2. Bookkeeper


  1. Prison guard
  2. Religious professional



  1. Financial manager
  2. Decorator

Emotional stability

  1. Firefighter
  2. Embroiderer


  1. Farm hand
  2. Actor

Curious to know the ratings the experts assigned for professors in higher education? All ratings are on a 7-point scale; higher numbers mean more of the trait is expected by the job.

Extraversion: 5.7

Agreeableness: 4.5

Conscientiousness: 5.7

Emotional stability: 5.8

Openness: 4.7


Now, that’s all really interesting, right? But here’s where it gets downright fascinating.


Looking just at the extraversion response surface analysis (RSA) below, people who were high in extraversion (“actual personality”) and were in a high extraversion job (“demanded personality”) had the highest income (vertical axis; green is higher income and orange is lower). Those who were in mismatched jobs (low extraversion person in a high extraversion job or vice versa) had lower income. And those low in extraversion in a low extraversion job also had lower incomes. In other words, those who are lowest in extraversion will have the lowest incomes as compared to their fellow moderate and high extraverts, regardless of the amount of extraversion demanded by the job. (For more on this topic, see Susan Cain’s book Quiet.)


[Figure reprinted with permission of the author. For this and the RSA figures for emotional stability, conscientiousness, and agreeableness, see the supplemental materials in OSF. For the RSA figure for openness, please see the original article, also available in OSF.]


Emotional stability shows essentially the same pattern. High emotional stability people earned the most money in high emotional stability jobs, e.g., firefighter. Low emotional stability people earned less money in high emotional stability jobs. Ask students to consider why this might be; invite students to share their thinking.


For conscientiousness, same thing, except that jobs that require high conscientiousness generally provide higher incomes. High conscientiousness people in high conscientiousness jobs made the most money. Low conscientiousness people in high conscientiousness jobs still made money, just not as much as their high conscientiousness counterparts. Who made the least money in the conscientiousness arena? High conscientiousness people in low conscientiousness jobs. Again, give your students a couple minutes to think about why that may be. For those high conscientiousness employees, perhaps “perfection is the enemy of the good.” In all fairness, though, there are no low conscientiousness jobs, just lower conscientiousness jobs. The lowest jobs came in at 5.17 (again, max score is 7).  


High openness people in high openness jobs, e.g., actor, had higher incomes than low openness people in high openness jobs. Again, ask students to consider why this may be.


That leaves agreeableness. Who made the least money in this trait? High agreeableness people in low agreeableness jobs, e.g., prison guard. Who made the most money in this trait? Low agreeableness people in moderately low agreeableness jobs, e.g., taxi driver. One last time, ask students to consider why this may be.


Alternatively, if you want to give students some practice in reading graphs, divide the class into small groups of 3 to 4 students each. Give each group a different trait RSA. Ask each group to briefly describe the graph, perhaps prompt with something like, “What is the relationship between a person’s personality trait and the trait demanded by the job in terms of the impact that relationship has on income?” Walk through the RSA for one trait first, and then distribute the other four traits to the groups.




Denissen, J. J. A., Bleidorn, W., Hennecke, M., Luhmann, M., Orth, U., Specht, J., & Zimmermann, J. (2017). Uncovering the Power of Personality to Shape Income. Psychological Science, 95679761772443.



  1. Actor (high)
  2. Bookkeeper (low)


  1. Prison guard (low)
  2. Religious professional (high)



  1. Financial manager (high)
  2. Decorator (low)


Emotional stability

  1. Firefighter (high)
  2. Embroiderer (low)



  1. Farm hand (low)
  2. Actor (high)

In my psychology texts, and in other writings (such as here for the faith community), I have explained the growing evidence that sexual orientation is a natural, enduring disposition (most clearly so for males). The evidence has included twin and family studies indicating that sexual orientation is influenced by genes—many genes having small effects. One recent genomic study, led by psychiatrist and behavior geneticist Alan Sanders, analyzed the genes of 409 pairs of gay brothers, and identified sexual orientation links with parts of two chromosomes.


Today, Nature will be releasing (through its Scientific Reports) a follow-up genome-wide association study by the Sanders team that compares 1,077 homosexual and 1,231 heterosexual men. They report genetic variants associated with sexual orientation on chromosomes 13 and 14, with the former implicating a “neurodevelopmental gene” mostly expressed in a brain region that has previously been associated with sexual orientation. On chromosome 14 they identified a gene variant known to influence thyroid functioning, which also has been associated with sexual orientation.


Although other factors, including prenatal hormonal influences, also help shape sexual orientation, Sanders et al. conclude that “The continued genetic study of male sexual orientation should help open a gateway to other studies focusing on genetic and environmental mechanisms of sexual orientation and development.” The science of sexual orientation (for females as well) marches on.