By: Michelle Young, Staff Writer
While weekly readings are a valuable resource that provide context, perspectives, and research material to students, they are also very time-consuming. Professors sometimes neglect to acknowledge that students take multiple classes in a semester — all of which require the same amount of reading, depending on the discipline.
Now that we’re learning remotely, I’ve found that many of my professors have added additional mandatory material, demanding more readings, videos, and extra activities to be completed. While it’s great that professors are trying to compensate for the lack of in-person classes, they also need to recognize that completing all of these “mandatory” assignments is impossible for some students.
One 20-page reading can take between 20 minutes to an hour to complete, depending on the speed of the reader. Cumulatively, it can take between an hour and six hours to complete over 100 pages of reading material. It’s also important to consider that many academic readings are difficult to digest and require much longer, more critically engaged reading than the average novel or news article.
My classes generally assign two readings per week. This amounts to about 40 pages for just one course — add another class and it can quickly become 80 pages to read that week. That’s just on the low end of assigned readings. Some classes may demand three to five readings in a week, and full-time studies require three to five classes a semester. That is now easily hundreds of pages to be read in a week in an average, pre-COVID-19 semester — which doesn’t account for the current additional readings.
All this time required to read, reread, and understand new material also doesn’t consider physical restraints, such as the eye strain and back pain that limit how much reading can be done at a single time. It may seem that students are sitting on a load of free time to do “six” hours of reading. However, when factoring in time spent working, time needed to really understand material, and time required to take care of the bodies’ physical needs, it’s clear the average weekly readings are a huge burden on students.
Studies have found that cramming material all at once isn’t an effective way to learn in the long-term either, and the best way to retain information is by taking breaks. However, if excessive readings are constantly being thrown at students, they are more likely to quickly push through their readings in large blocks of time, instead of absorbing the most important ones in a more spaced out session. I know that the university expects students to invest two to three hours of home study per unit taken, but this needs to be balanced against the physical and mental barriers to productive study over prolonged periods.
It’s great that professors are providing students with lots of resources, however, labelling all of these materials as required is giving students work that is often beyond their capacity. With limited time, it’s essential for students to prioritize what they need to know for a class, differentiate it from supplementary material — and for professors to let them know what is most important. Labelling certain weekly readings, videos, or activities as optional, instead of automatically listing every resource as required, will allow students to use their time productively.
Remote learning hasn’t given most students more free time. At best, it has given them the breathing room to catch up on excessive class readings that they didn’t have before.