The rule of 168: it's driving me crazy

The rule of 168 is a phrase I learned from my husband. What is that magic number? It is the number of hours in a week. And it is all that we have, no matter how excited and busy and important we may be - from Barack Obama to the biggest slacker at my university: we all just have 168 hours per week to work with.

Well, I keep banging up against this rule in wanting to improve my classes. Every semester I get some ideas about great things we COULD be doing.. but of course anything I add to the class means I would have to take something out. I've pared my class down to the absolute essentials: I ask the students to dedicate 6-8 hours per week, every week, to the class, and I guarantee they can finish the work in that time (I list time estimates for each assignment, as you can see in a typical weekly schedule here: http://tinyurl.com/yg2apzc). Some students, because they are so overcommitted, cannot manage to even come up with the minimum amount of time, and as a result they miss assignments, lose points, and end up with a B or C in the class. That's not the end of the world, of course… but I know that the students who do not have time for the class will not learn as much. Learning TAKES TIME: how could it be otherwise?

So, in the shower today (where I get all my good ideas), I had this great idea for a way to expand on the variety of writing assignments for class (based on a really genius dream-based story that one of my students did this week)… well, how could I fit that in to the class without adding to the students' time burden or making things more complicated (I definitely try to keep the routine very simple because my students are busy doing other things: if I make things complicated, they will get confused and lose time as a result).

Well, here's the revelation I had: I'll make it extra credit. Admittedly, the extra credit situation in my class is getting kind of ridiculous - out of 450 points, I'll have something like 150 points of extra credit available. But here's the deal: even though I am calling this "extra credit" (a traditional label for school work) what is really happening is this: I am offering students a wider and wider range of activities, a kind of smorgasbord of things to choose from… and letting them choose is GOOD. I think these extra credit activities are all useful and all just as valid as anything of the so-called "required" activities in my class.

So, I've decided not to be hesitant to keep adding on "extra credit" activities in the class, expanding the range of things for students to choose from. Admittedly, too much choice can itself be overwhelming and not good, so eventually I'll reach a limit on the extra credit, too… but for right now, I think I can certainly afford some more extra credit options… and I will have so much fun figuring out how to design this new "variety of writing styles" activity for next semester (or maybe next year: I'm always a little hesitant to implement a course change over the winter break… but the way I am envisioning this one, it could be so much fun that it is worth it!)

So, the rule of 168 really does drive me crazy. But I guess there are ways not so much to break the rule, but to outsmart it. Sometimes. :-)

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