Coursework Overload: Quality Over Quantity


(Rex Sakamoto / The Observer)
(Rex Sakamoto / The Observer)

Between four to five courses, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, and you know, life, I would say college students are easily some of the best multitaskers out there. We juggle the entire world with two hands, and not only are we expected to do it all, we’re expected to do it well. School is always supposed to be front and center on our to-do list, but with some professors failing to recognize all the other madness going on in a college student’s life, I would say it unfortunately gets pushed further back. While I’m not going to put all the blame on professors for this (I’ll admit I’ve been a resident of procrastination nation here and there), I argue that by assigning unrealistic amounts of work, professors actually end up hurting students. The endless workload stops students from enjoying classes and absorbing the information they learn. I am the first to agree that students need to be challenged in a productive manner; however, hundreds and hundreds of pages of readings due in two days is not my idea of academic learning.

I think back to the first day of my favorite class this semester as an example. The professor pulled out a heavy bag full of books we’d be reading each week and kindly reminded us that there was an additional course packet and online readings we’d have to keep up with on top of weekly journals based on each reading. My first thought was, how fast can I drop this course, and more importantly, does this professor think I only take this one class? How could I possibly get good grades and keep up in all my classes if this professor alone expected me to do this amount of work for the semester?

This is an unfortunate pattern many college students experience. As a senior in college, I can tell you I’ve had this happen way more than it should have. I’ve walked into classes that I’m genuinely excited about and easily lost interest because of the unrealistic coursework I had to deal with. It’s just been an ongoing cycle for me to complete as much of the work as I could simply for the sake of getting it out of the way so I could move on to the next one. I couldn’t be excited or completely invested in a class when I was always worrying about whether or not I could get the work done.

Sleep deprivation and stress naturally follow when not being able to keep up with all the work. In fact, a recent study conducted by the University of Alabama in August 2014 reported that 60 percent of college students don’t get enough sleep and cite a lack of time as the main reason for this. Not getting the required seven to eight hours of sleep can have negative short and long term effects on a student’s health and learning potential. Therefore, not only is health at risk, but the quality of the work that is being done is significantly reduced. Another study conducted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2011 looked at students’ academic performance based on the time they spent in school or studying, and results showed that the two had no direct link, thus supporting that it is the quality and not quantity of work or the amount of time spent on work that is most important.

Going back to that class I mentioned, you may be wondering how it became my favorite class. Eventually even the professor recognized the workload was too much and decided to reorganize the syllabus by cutting back on some of the readings. Not only did the quality of our discussions improve, but as the professor said, grades saw a significant improvement. For me, this was a result of being able to read and re-read if I had to in order to understand the text. Instead of focusing solely on the fact that I wouldn’t have enough time to get all readings done, I actually had more time to focus and produce quality work. In addition, I’ve been able to enjoy the readings and actively participate in a cohesive manner since gaining more time has allowed me to appreciate what I’ve been reading.

Now I’m not saying professors should drop all the readings they’ve assigned, nor am I saying all professors assign more work than they should. I’ve had professors challenge me to take on more than I thought I could handle and in some cases it has made me a better student, and for that I am very appreciative. I think both professors and students could benefit from focusing more on quality instead of quantity of coursework. Consider the fact that while some college students do procrastinate at times, sometimes even when we try not to, it’s impossible to keep up with five classes all giving us hundreds of pages of readings and do it in a productive manner.