Read time: 4 minutes
How long is this going to take?
Recently, our team has been doing a lot of talking about course structures and how you communicate to both instructor and student, just what exactly is expected of them. It’s something quite common in instructional design in higher education, in that the move to online can really mess with our sense of time. This post will provide you with some food for thought around how you account for and communicate reading time for materials in your course.
First, let’s start out by admitting that communicating timing is never going to be a perfect science because we are dealing with various students with different skill sets and distractions in any given moment. It has taken me 20 minutes to get through a complex 5 minute video but typically, I finish 8-hour audiobooks in about 6.5 hours (thank you technology for increased playing speed). So while we may not perfect the time allotment for everyone, providing some sense of page length and time estimations could be a useful starting part.
Coupled with the above challenge, we also have to recognize that different types of reading will demand different potential reading durations. Reading a 10 page journal article isn’t necessarily the same amount of time as reading 10 pages from a novel which is different from 10 pages of a news article. They would all see to indicate a different reading intensity that may make for easier or smoother reader. Of course, there’s also places where length is confusing. If you’re reading 10 pages of poetry, technically, it is likely to be short to read but because processing is so significant in the poetry-reading process, it might be twice the reading duration than any of the others. So different texts may call for different duration estimations.
If we can get passed those challenges, we can recognize that reading time can help prepare any of us for the material we’re about to engage with. “Read time” has become a familiar identifying on sites such as Medium and other blogs (I first encountered it Maha Bali’s great blog on teaching, technology, and identity). If we know that something is likely to be 20 minutes at the beginning (rather than scrolling and figuring out what is the writing and what is the comments section), it helps us decide when is best to read the item.
Calculating the time is probably what’s trickiest about this. One item that we use to calculate our blog post reading, is the Read-O-Meter from Niram.org. It’s a simple tool that you can paste text into and it calculates the amount of time. Along those lines, Rice University has a handy-dandy calculator that allows users to put in various information about readings, assignments, activities, etc to get a sense of the weekly average hourly-load for students. Now, that’s useful to a point in that, it gives you the big picture, but it’s not as useful when dealing with individual pieces as you’re initially building out the course readings and other learning materials. They explain in more detail the considerations and questions one should be thinking about to get calculate learning time in a course in this article: How Much Should We Assign? Estimating Out of Class Workload. Coupled with that, they provide a very smart chart that breaks some of it down for readers. However, this resource from Champlain College goes one step further and creates a solid rule-of-thumb chart about time estimations along the lines of words-per-page, kind of writing, and amount of time.
So how might you use reading times in your course? That part should be pretty simple. Whether it’s in the syllabus or in the course, whenever providing a link or a resource, it would be useful to include the reading time in the title (that is, before the student clicks to go to the reading resource). This has been a general accepted and encouraged practice with video and audio content, so adding it to textual links would also make sense. It might look something like: How Much Should We Assign? Estimating Out of Class Workload (Reading time – 18min)
But what we would strongly encourage is to check in with students as you go through the course to find out of the time-lengths are accurate. If not, then consider re-adjusting and tweaking based upon feedback. This kind of feedback can help make the times increasingly accurate for your course and help your students more effectively plan how to tackle the course content and be best prepared for their learning activities.
What do you think?
Have you tried including reading time in your syllabus or course materials? What precipitated the addition? How have you found it as a contribution to your course and students’ learning? Have you asked students about the listing and what their experiences are?