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Skidmore College
Curriculum Committee

Course Conversion to Four Credit Hours

Presented to CEPP by Standards and Expectations Committee

Revised by CEPP, 3/29/1999

Central Questions

As we increasingly direct students to take possession of their own education, we should ask two central questions:

  1. What are we asking students to learn?
  2. How do students demonstrate this knowledge, capacity, or skill?

Principles and Questions Central to Course Conversion

When faculty consider converting classes that currently count for three units to 4-unit courses, we think it imperative that they do so with the following in mind:

  1. Consult with their department chair to consider the potential conversion's impact on:
    1. the department's ability to deliver the major;
    2. the Department's ability to deliver all-college requirements; and
    3. teaching schedules.
  2. Remember that students came to Skidmore for a liberal arts education. They need room to explore. A norm of 4-credit courses would diminish the breadth of a student's experience. Students benefit from a mix of different credit-bearing classes both within the major and across the disciplines.
  3. Think about the core educational concerns expressed in the department's mission statement and consider ways in which converting a course can best address those core concerns.
  4. Consider which courses lend themselves best to conversion. Not all courses merit the extra time and attention students and faculty would devote to them. Given our time resources, which areas are best suited to the added attention?
  5. What is the purpose of the additional work? How will you assess that work? Describe what it is you plan to do. What are the criteria of the assessment?
  6. Is the additional time and work you assign consistent with the goals of the course? (What are the goals of the class?) Are these additional activities consistent with and appropriate to the level of this course?
  7. A course that counts for 4 units significantly affects a student's GPA. With the increased importance that these grades will have for students, are you planning a parallel increase in your performance expectations?

Counting Time

The underlying defining measurement of these courses is the "Carnegie Unit," a State-defined fifty-minute class meeting three times per week over a fifteen-week semester. Notably, the State of New York expects that each credit hour includes two hours of assigned work for every hour of in-class contact. The state also regulates other kinds of contact so that different experiences (science labs, mathematics labs, rehearsals, private lessons, lectures, etc.) count for different amounts of credit.

Not only should we be counting the fifty-minute class hour, but also the two hours of assigned independent work. In other words, the State does not intend that faculty monitor all credit-bearing hours. We expect students to work on material independently and then report their work back to us, but we do not watch them do their "homework." Indeed, in order for them to be successful in their post-Skidmore life, they will need to develop the ability to work extensively in both independent and group contexts outside of their work environments.

Flexible Credit Hours

As some of us consider focusing student time more intensely in reconfigured four-credit classes, our committee suggests that faculty consider how they apply flexible credit hours. By "flexible credit hours," we mean the time that students spend on class work outside the usual classroom context, but that faculty still monitor. In essence, the difference between our typical 3-credit course and a 4-credit course with a flexible credit hour is three additional hours of accounted time on average per week.

Many of us engage our students in diverse activities. We meet students in our offices, we trade email with them, we hold extra review sessions, we ask them to supplement class work by attending lectures, conferences, and performances, and we instruct them to work among themselves. In this last instance, we aim to have them work without us, but expect that they will bring that work back to their classmates and us. Our expectation should be that this additional work should result in better performance in the classroom and on assignments.

In a flexible learning environment, we need to be certain that we are enhancing the quality and concentration of student involvement with their own education. We need to be certain that we have found a legitimate balance between faculty guidance and independent student activity. We need to know that commitment and integrity are inherent in the arrangement. Teachers still need to be in control of the decision-making and academic guidance.

We already use flexible credit time, including (but not limited to) the following examples:

  • We require peer tutoring and critiquing (and self evaluation) where the instructor guides and grades the process.
  • We require extensive readings that go beyond the State-mandated two extra hours that students must then describe in writing.
  • We require them to attend lectures and performances and ask them to describe that material within the context of our classes.
  • We take them on field trips to explore class material outside of the classroom context.
  • We put them in problem-solving sessions, often with other faculty members and classes, to focus on important themes and/or issues.
  • We expect them to engage in community activities directly related to their classroom work in order to apply the skills they have learned intellectually.
  • We have them engage in ongoing laboratory research, collaborative learning, and fieldwork.
  • We engage in electronic dialogues with our students about their ongoing work and/or periodically check their work sheets, logs, and notebooks as their work evolves over the term.