Last year a colleague of mine and I were lamenting the fact that students at our school seem to always underestimate the amount of time commitment our classes require from them. To help them get an understanding of that upfront both of us began doing the following sometime within the first week of school. I usually do it immediately after explaining the syllabus. I ask them to take out a piece of paper and write the number 168 at the top of the page. That is the number of hours that are in a week. Then I randomly ask students how many 3 unit classes like mine they are taking. I tell them that the university expects that a 3 unit class is a 12 hour time commitment. That includes the time they spend in the classroom. So, if you are taking 3 classes that equals 36 hours. I then have them deduct 36 (or whatever their total is) from 168. Then I ask them to deduct the number of hours they work at a job from that total. We go on down the list of regular daily and weekly activities: sleep, eat, cooking, laundry, grocery shopping, commute time, exercise etc., subtracting the numbers of hours each of these consumes from the total hours in a week. Most students quickly run out of hours. But, in the process of doing this we've all been talking, suggesting activities which take up time, and usually laughing in shared misery about how over-committed we all are. And by the way, I do mine on the blackboard so I'm participating too. The result of this is that students get an "official" word about the time commitment the university expects they will make for a class such as mine. It also give me another opportunity to tell them that I understand that there will be weeks when they have to make choices about where they are spending their time and it might not be in the class they are taking with me. However, the amount of time they "spend" usually is reflected in what they take from the class, as well as the grade they earn. The exercise also allows me to reinterate that if and when they run into a time management problem, they should come right away to speak to me about it so that we can try to arrange a way for them to do the work required and still keep their other commmitments.
One last note, at times when I've missed a date for turning back work at least one student in every class points out that I must have "over spent" my 168 hours in the preceding week. And, of course, he or she is always right.
Best to All in the Coming Semester,
Dept. of History, California State University, Northridge