The American Public University System would like to acknowledge the efforts of two individuals for conceptualization of the APUS Online Learning Contact Hour Calculator. Randy Nelson served APUS as an Administrator to the Dean of Public Safety and Health for several years before passing away in 2011. Randy’s innovative contributions will undoubtedly expand knowledge in the field of distance education, thus providing even more opportunities for students to excel academically and professionally. Dr. Mike Jackson currently serves as the Dean of Public Safety and Health for APUS and also contributed much time and effort toward creating the APUS Online Learning Contact Hour Calculator. The APUS family extends appreciation for this work, and would like to respectfully dedicate this article to both individuals.
Increasing numbers of students taking online courses has gained the attention of both governmental and educational organizations and institutions. This attention, in turn, has prompted these entities to re-examine and re-evaluate how contact hours are assessed and calculated for online programs. Responding to this need, the American Public University System (APUS) developed the Online Learning Contact Hour Calculator to calculate and evaluate the amount of online student contact hours in a course. APUS developed a variation on the traditional Carnegie unit for measuring the amount of time online students are engaged in specific or assigned course learning. This can be expressed as an “in-class” function or an “outside-class” function. These course activities may include in-class and outside-class projects, course reading requirements, discussion board postings, synchronous or asynchronous chats etc. in order to calculate online learning contact hour totals for students. The development of the APUS Online Learning Contact Hour Calculator allows for the evaluation and refinement of any deficiencies and/or excessive online student contact hours. Therefore, it not only provides guidelines for administrators and instructors toward calculating the time online students could and should contribute to their coursework, the calculator is ultimately instrumental in helping students achieve academic and career success. A sample course review using the APUS Online Learning Contact Hour Calculator was conducted by APUS faculty to examine the tool’s efficacy as measured against all Sloan-C pillars including: (a) learning effectiveness; (b) access; (c) faculty satisfaction; (d) student satisfaction; (e) scalability (materials/equipment necessary); and (f) costs associated with the practice. Interestingly, the results of the course review using the calculator revealed that the majority of courses met the set standards for APUS contact time.
As a baseline, the APUS Online Learning Contact Hour Calculator was designed as a guiding template to adhere to best practices in online learning (and learning, in general) and further includes the essential common components of a high-quality online course such as (1) the syllabus, (2) the course objectives, (3) the course materials, (4) interactivity, (5) technology, (6) the assignments, (7) contact hours and student time, and (8) follow-up and next steps.
APUS uses a variation on the traditional Carnegie unit for measuring the amount of time online students are engaged in specific or assigned course learning. This can be expressed as an “in-class” function or an “outside-class” function. As is usual in Carnegie calculations of contact hours, one clock hour is equivalent to 50 minutes of Carnegie contact units. In traditional brick-and-mortar higher education, contact hours can be viewed as the time that a student spends physically in the classroom listening to a lecture, participating in discussion, taking an exam, or doing whatever is required for time in class. As an extension of this, students are advised that they are to spend two to three hours studying per week for each hour spent in the classroom; this provides a basis for discussion of outside-class hours. Both “in-class” and “outside-class” time contribute to the total number of contact hours for each course, therefore demonstrating the capability of the model to adhere to a face-to-face, blended or fully online courses.
Learning Effectiveness/Innovation. Increasing numbers of students taking online courses has gained the attention of both governmental and educational organizations and institutions. This attention, in turn, has prompted these entities to re-examine and re-evaluate how contact hours are assessed and calculated for online programs. An exhaustive search of the literature revealed no such evidence of an existing guiding template or model from which to assist in calculating contact hours in an online environment. This effective practice demonstrates strong interrelationships with all of the Sloan-C pillars including: (a) learning effectiveness; (b) access; (c) faculty satisfaction; (d) student satisfaction; (e) scalability (materials/equipment necessary); and (f) costs associated with the practice.
Access. This effective practice description and all of its associated templates are readily available in chapter 16 of the forthcoming publication of Quality Matters (2013). Tables and templates include:
• APUS Reading Expectations by Academic Classification
• Outside-Class Time Factors and Associated Time Measurements
• APUS Contact Hour Requirements by Academic Classification
• APUS Course Information Examples
• APUS In-Classroom Contact Time Calculation Spreadsheet Example, Part 1 and Part II
Faculty Satisfaction. The development of the APUS Online Learning Contact Hour Calculator stemmed from an evaluation of all APUS university courses to ascertain structural issues, compliance with university guidelines, levels of rigor, instructor interaction, and other course issues. As such, the calculator benefits faculty and program directors by allowing them to effectively and systematically assess total course contact hours. As part of the initial pilot review, APUS leaders investigated contact hours as part of the course evaluation plan. This investigation led to the refinement of APUS standards for contact, which could be seen as equal to those established and espoused by other universities—whether online or on ground.
Judgments regarding each course are standardized, and these standards serve as criteria for new course development. If enhancements or deficiencies are identified in the course review process, the faculty member is designated to make the agreed upon changes within a specific time frame, and the course is subsequently reviewed to ensure that it conforms to the APUS academic quality standards. Interestingly, the results of the initial course review revealed that the majority of courses met the set standards for APUS contact time. Some online courses were discovered to have 300 contact hours or more, and others were found to be short of hours. Courses short or overly ambitious in number of hours were immediately reviewed for student learning and compliance and were thus redesigned or remediated. In short, APUS faculty expressed their appreciation on the level of awareness of any contact hour deficiencies or exceeding allotments of online learning student contact hours.
The process for completing the course review requires the faculty member to do the following:
• complete an evaluation of each course in every program using academic guidelines and templates provided
• provide a report and action plan for remediation and development of weak program courses
• remediate all core and required classes coded as red and as many yellow classes as possible
• provide detailed plans for remediation and development of remaining classes within a specified timeframe
*Important to note that as part of the APUS mission, the APUS Online Learning Contact Hour Calculator is regularly revised and updated as more research in contact-hour equivalents is conducted and specific course requirements are added.
Student Satisfaction. Following the APUS Online Contact Hour Calculator refinement process, results of the course review revealed that seven weeks of discussion boards plus a final examination and a formal research paper submission will typically cover the minimum in-class contact hour requirement. However, if a discussion board seems more like an assignment than a discussion, students may not become suitably engaged in the course. Additionally, the amount of time it takes to prepare for an exam or discussion board posting or to research a paper should bring a course within the expected range for total contact hours and should be strongly considered by the instructor to maintain student engagement.
This effective practice may be used by any When calculating contact hours in online learning, the approach should not be a “one size fits all.” As the title implies, APUS Online Learning Contact Hour Calculator: An Adaptive Model for Calculating Contact Hours, replicability in both design and implementation is paramount. For example, learning strategies and expectations for a math or science course will be different from those for an English course. The APUS Online Learning Contact Hour Calculator allows each faculty member to define and identify specified learning strategies for their respective courses. The collaboration between administrators and faculty to determine the standards for measures is critical, and should be established according to each course’s unique characteristics.
provider of online education at all student levels of learning (with appropriate acknowledgement).
The only possible associated cost to implement this effective practice would be to offer professional development training on the use of this tool—and this cost is purely optional.
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