How to Count to 42 (Instructional Hours): Reflecting on Spring 2020 and Looking Ahead to Fall 2020

Instructional Hours . . in Brief

(Compiled by Marilyn Boltz, Richard Freedman, Ken Koltun-Fromm, Ben Le, Casey Londergan, Matt McKeever, Giri Parameswaran, Josh Sabloff, and Dave Wonnacott)

Haverford’s credit system assumes that one academic credit corresponds to approximately 42 hours of instruction. These typically unfold as three hours of class per week for about fourteen weeks. Classes can take place over different periods of time, and of course they can involve practica of various kinds, provided that all of these involve a “minimum two hours of out-of-class student work” for every hour of “classroom or direct faculty instruction,” as set out in the requirements established by the MSCHE (which in turn is a reflection of the U.S. Department of Education rule establishing the credit hour as the basis for measuring an institution’s eligibility for federal funding). 

But what, exactly, is “direct faculty instruction”?

We know from earlier conversations about the LACOL Summer Data Science class that online or other technologically-mediated instruction is as valid as that which takes place in a traditional classroom. The modality of instruction is not in question–a lecture or demonstration recorded in advance for asynchronous consumption by students at their convenience is as acceptable as a lecture delivered in real time over Zoom or one given in a traditional classroom. Laboratory, studio, and other practica can likewise be adapted to include mediated or asynchronous instruction that counts no less than in-person, real time instruction.

The Spring 2020 Experience

During the second half of the term we just completed, we were all forced to move everything online. Various approaches were possible–each aiming towards different combinations of instruction that amounted to 42 hours per credit:

  • We Stuck with Real Time. You could also have decided to stick with real-time class, although large (or long) groups and Zoom often make for a poor experience for all. You could also have added real-time sessions with small groups of students (as instructors in the Writing Program and many others routinely do for classes in ‘normal’ times). This would probably have involved more than three hours per week “in the classroom” for you, which is something we should not expect of ourselves on a regular basis.
  • We Flipped the Class. You could have “flipped” your class (as some already were doing before the COVID-19 crisis). 
    • Student time spent watching and taking notes on a recorded talk or demonstration would have counted as “direct faculty instruction.”  
    • Real-time interaction via Zoom spent discussing texts, working through problem sets, etc,  would also have counted as instructional time.  Both of these are assuming that students also spent two hours of their own time for each hour watching or working with the instructor.
  • We Took the A/B Option. You could have convened subsets of the class for some portion of the time, much as you might have students “pair and share” or participate in a small-group discussion in a traditional classroom. In Zoom it was not possible for you to be listening to every small-group at once (no more than you could do so as while roving in a traditional classroom). But that time would still have counted towards the 42 hours of “direct faculty instruction.”
  • We Went All Asynchronous.  Asynchronous interaction was also an option:  
    • You recorded brief lectures for students to view, as a way of explaining a concept or introducing a text, or setting up a problem. These of course were instructional time. 
    • Students spent other “instructional hours” in discussion, group projects, peer review activities, etc, albeit via asynchronous platforms such as Google docs, Slack discussions, or code repositories.
    • Meanwhile you took time to join these student interactions, commenting on drafts, problem sets and other work done by students on their own schedule (and you on your own schedule). This work, too, could count towards your obligations to offer “direct faculty instruction,” even though it was not happening in real time. 
    • Instructor and student alike still spent preparatory (and grading) time in the traditional ratio of about 2:1

Looking Ahead to Fall 2020

Any of the approaches just noted are valid for the 2020-2021 academic year. Each of us will need to think of the right balance for the given class, even as we keep in mind the goal of 42 instructional hours. Nevertheless, year ahead will be different from the term just completed:

Our campus classrooms will involve physical distancing

Students and faculty alike will be subject to minimum distancing rules, and will be masked. They will not be able to huddle in small groups for discussion and you will not be able to circulate to see what a student is doing on their own desk or computer. Hearing each other at a distance could be difficult, and even knowing who is talking (through a mask) might not be self-evident.

Large courses will be impossible in Face-to-Face mode

Physical distancing rules also mean that any class larger than about 25-30 (TBD, based on evaluations of all of our classrooms by Facilities and the Registrar) will need to be either “all online” or broken into smaller sections. We already know that large online classes are not the best for students. And we cannot expect one instructor to teach multiple sections of a course for a single teaching credit. 

Some students in almost every class will be remote

The reality of the hybrid classroom is something we did not face during the Spring 2020 term. Then all students were online. During the year ahead some students will of necessity be remote on account of travel or health restrictions. Any student obliged to quarantine themselves during the year will likewise shift to online instruction for the duration of their quarantine. Yet all students must have equal access to the educational experience–the same content, the same methods of evaluation and feedback, and (to the extent possible given the medium) the same ways of participating in discussion and debate with their peers.

Many Hybridities; Many Problems

In some cases this hybridity will involve students in person and online at the same time, necessitating some major adjustments in the pedagogy for each. Lectures can of course be delivered in a way that those in class and online will see and hear you, but you will need to think carefully about how you will share boards, media, and other information. Class discussion will also need to be adjusted to assure that the remote students are equal participants in, and not passive observers of, the class. College is not a spectator sport. How will students online and in the classroom hear and see each other (through masks!)? Everyone could join a live Zoom session, of course, but in that case, why not just have the class all on-line?

Any course could be required to go “all online” at any point in the semester

State or county authorities could require the College as a whole to go remote. Any one of us could be required to quarantine (and thus teach online during our own quarantine period). Some instructors might choose to teach online in order to protect their own health or the health of a family member. Finally, we need to be prepared for the possibility that one of us could fall so ill as to be incapable of teaching for some part of the term (suggesting that team teaching or at least syllabus sharing would be prudent where possible. We should authorize “Course Buddies” who can have access to class materials in an emergency).

Some Strategies for Fall 2020


Simply deliver the course online, as you did in the Spring 2020.  Indeed, each of us will need to be ready for precisely this eventuality, should personal or local conditions require it. If you have a large class, you might need extra Zoom sessions in order to engage all students and to give them their full complement of 42 instructional hours. Your instructional hours might increase as a result.

In Person

A small class (10 or under?) might work in person, but you will need to be ready to accommodate remote students. You might need to hold separate sessions for the online students, or otherwise convene some “all remote” sessions as whole or in groups. Your usual expectations for discussion and debate will be highly constrained, and perhaps very unsatisfactory for everyone. Meanwhile, in order to assure each student of something close to 42 instructional hours, your instructional time might well increase compared to your usual three hours of class time.

Flipped and A/B classes seem reasonable choices

You could deliver material asynchronously for one class period, then meet on Zoom or in-person for other instructional hours.  Or you could divide a large in-person class into two cohorts; one meets in the classroom one day while the other is online (then the reverse the next meeting).  But Zoom is not an ideal medium for the two groups to interact as we have learned through classroom tests. Your instructional time might well remain close to three hours a week, but you will probably spend a lot of time preparing the asynchronous materials if you’ve not done this before. 

Slack instead of Zoom Chat?

Zoom chat can be hard to follow, since there is no way for participants can thread their contributions, and no way for them to link to other resources or documents.  Slack (a free collaboration platform) allows the class to create ‘channels’ where conversations are threaded, where they can be connected with other resources, and where students can collaborate. One risk is that Slack becomes a ‘back channel’ rather than the main class session itself.  But it can work synchronously or asynchronously.

T/A’s can help

Teaching assistants can be very helpful, e.g., they can help to manage conversations in real time (and providing you with questions for class discussion), or they can visit Zoom or in-person small groups, helping students to stay on task or alerting you to questions or problems where your help is needed. There are two mechanisms for using a TA: they can be paid (in which case the Faculty Handbook calls them “aides”) or receive course credit. As per the Faculty Handbook, for those receiving course credit: “a formal evaluation of the student’s academic progress is required. The written or oral assignments that will serve as the basis for grades must require substantive academic work designed to enhance the teaching assistant’s command of the discipline. Academic evaluation cannot be restricted to the TA’s performance as teacher”.

The Faculty Handbook also stipulates that “a student may register as a teaching assistant only once in any one semester course; a student may apply no more than one course credit (or two half-credits) as a teaching assistant towards the 32-course graduation requirement; no student may include more than two course credits as a teaching assistant on the transcript.”

Last Thoughts

There are undoubtedly other creative solutions that do not involve endless instructional hours on the part of the faculty member, but which nevertheless give students a solid educational experience with ample time for direct interaction with their professor!

See also this great guide to the possible situations in a classroom from Clemson:

Finally, we encourage you to look at the other materials in our Knowledge Base of tools and approaches for the year ahead: