29 March 2024

“Insights from CALOHEA Project: Student Workload” Webinar by CDAE, USM Highlighted Keys to Improved University Student Workload Measurement

AUN Writer Team

By Mr. Raihan Devano Sinaga, AUN Intern


The Centre for Development of Academic Excellence (CDAE), Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), hosted a webinar titled "The Insights from CALOHEA Project: Student Workload" on 21 March 2024. The objective of this webinar was to share concepts, findings and insights on Student Workload Measurement, one of the three Recognition Mechanisms of the Measuring and Comparing Achievements of Learning Outcomes in Higher Education in Asia (CALOHEA) Project. This webinar is a part of the CALOHEA’s continuous efforts to promote outcome-based qualifications transformation in higher education across the ASEAN region through activities conducted by the members of its consortium.

The esteemed keynote speakers in this webinar were Assoc. Prof. Dr. Muhammad Saiful Bahri Yusoff — the Director of CDAE — and Dr. Mastura Azmi from USM's Academic Quality Centre.

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Dr. Yusoff delivered the initial webinar presentation on his research into Student Workload Measurement in higher education. He derived these findings from the CALOHEA project, which prioritizes promoting internationalization of academic programs via Erasmus funding.

Prof. Yusoff first called attention to the distinction between students' contact hours and independent hours. He described that when considering the time spent by a student to achieve learning outcomes, contact hours refer to the time dedicated by the student with the teacher, while independent hours refer to the time the student spends without the teacher's presence and supervision.

"Basically, in a simpler term, [student workload] is how much time is spent by a student to achieve the linear outcome," he explained. He went further – suggesting that students often shoulder heavier workloads than teachers anticipate under their traditionally-centered views, underscoring an incongruity between teacher perspectives and student realities.

Institutions engaged in this research identified contributing factors that impact student workload through a diverse array of assessment tools: desk estimations, surveys, student logbooks, and focus groups. Prof. Yusoff followed with a snippet of compiled observational data from several institutions. He later stated, "the most important lesson that we learn from here, whatever we estimate as a teacher, is not what the student really [experiences] on the ground."

Prof. Yusoff further advocated the inclusion of student feedback in workload assessment, a measure to achieve more effective curriculum planning, and the documentation of student workload for recognition and internationalization. His conclusion comprised a reaffirmation that ensuring transparency along with compatible student workloads will amplify degree recognition across ASEAN countries. It is this enhanced cross-recognition that subsequently propels their international rankings forward.

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Dr. Azmi then presented her examination of the culture of student workload that offers insights into curriculum design, highlighting the critical balance between academic excellence and students’ welfare. The project aims to improve educational practices to support students in achieving academic success while maintaining their mental health. With experts from the European Union and support from the ASEAN University Network, about 14 institutions in ASEAN participated in this project.

"We want to have a balanced learning experience, especially with the curriculum that offers a balanced mix of academic rigor and also students' well-being," Dr. Azmi stated. The research plans on establishing a curriculum for students that they can manage such that they can succeed both academically and personally without degradation in other facets.

This research focused on the Civil Engineering Bachelor’s degree course and utilized the same assessment tools as used in Prof. Yussof's study to determine student workload. Desk estimation, end-of-semester questionnaires, diaries, and logbooks, as well as focus group discussions each provided different perspectives on the real burden faced by students allowing for holistic evaluation of their learning experiences.

The study revealed a significant gap in workload perception between students and teachers. According to students, they needed about 735.4 hours for the semester requirements as compared to the academics’ view of approximately 696 hours. This difference shows that perspectives on workload differ; therefore, there is a need for direct involvement with students so that we can have realistic estimates. “Academics will always see that the students require less, but the perception is such that it takes more time for the students to complete the semester,” she added.

Most notably, what came out was how effectively the diary and logbook and focus group methods provided detailed insights into students’ time allocation towards coursework. These methods are described as accurate in capturing student workload, so it’s important to incorporate student feedback when planning curriculum.

Figures from the study provide a detailed overview of the workload students have, which ranges between 30 and 46 hours per semester per unit, approximately averaging at about 40.125 hours. This matches with what the national qualification framework states in terms of one credit being equal to forty hours of notional student learning time, hence its correctness in accordance with present educational standards.

You can watch the recording of the webinar at: https://www.youtube.com/live/9x_jqNAkOL0?feature=shared

Please stay tuned as the AUN Secretariat covers more activities relating to the CALOHEA project and its mission, conducted by other universities in the consortium. For more information regarding the CALOHEA project, please visit: https://calohea.org/