Faculty teaching lower division classes assume students will spend more time doing homework than those teaching upper division ones, according to a recent study by ESM Chaperone, a research firm specializing in higher-education finance.
Fifty-nine percent of lower division faculty in the country assumes students do work outside of class for 15 or more total hours a week, while 51.7 percent of upper division faculty expects students to study the same amount.
The data also used information from the National Survey of Student Engagement and the Faculty Survey of Student Engagement, which collected data from the 2008-2009 to 2010-2011 school years.
Mark Thompson, USC professor of chemistry who has taught both upper and lower division classes, said upper division classes seem to have less work because the work requires more thought.
“In lower division classes, a lot of this is giving you a basic groundwork that you’re going to build on in upper division classes,” Thompson said. “The kinds of studying and the kinds of homework you do in an upper division class are very different. We don’t tend to assign 50 problems. We tend to assign fewer problems that require that you think about them more deeply and spend more time on them.”
He said lower division classes must lay a basic groundwork so students can succeed in upper division classes.
“It’s a different style of homework that you have as a junior or a senior,” Thompson. “[It’s] more contemplative and [requires] a deeper sort of understanding that you’re looking for in an upper division class.”
Sarah Francis, a senior majoring in health promotion and disease prevention, said students’ work is more intense in upper division classes.
“Upper division classes are smaller than lower division, so there is more pressure to do well,” Francis said. “There are bigger papers, a more steady focus and an increased motivation to do well.”
Helena Seli, USC assistant professor of clinical education, said students should pay more attention to knowledge upon which they will build, like that taught in lower division classes.
“If there [are] no long term consequences of not acquiring that extra knowledge outside of class, that has less of an impact,” Seli said. “If you’re doing that in your major classes, where you are constantly building on that knowledge and hoping to graduate not as an expert, but [you are] certainly very educated in an area of study.”
Many students said advanced classes require more thought but not more time. Angela Asistio, a senior majoring in political science, said students have to utilize more knowledge in upper division classes, but that knowledge has already been acquired in lower division classes.
“You have more things on your plate,” Asisto said. “Foundation basics are established in lower division. In upper division, they’re just regurgitated.”
Sandra Kaplan, USC professor of clinical education, primarily teaches upper division classes. She said upper division students are expected to be self-starters.
“You’re supposed to grow more independent,” Kaplan said. “The real goal of you being here and going through all these levels is that eventually you’re an independent learner and you make some decisions for yourself.”
She also said students become more efficient at doing schoolwork.
“As you matriculate … your study habits change, you become more discriminating and you know what to focus in on,” Kaplan said.
Several students said working efficiently meant they didn’t do all of the work assigned on their syllabi. Kaplan said teachers expect this to an extent.
“As a faculty member, we have an understanding that there’s a continuum of learning in every class from what is mandatory to what would be the enrichment and extensions,” Kaplan said. “If I put all these things in my syllabus, they’re really separated between the things that are non-negotiable and the things I hope I can create an interest in.”
Kristin Dennis, a senior majoring in sociology, said she only keeps up with work she will physically turn in.
“My major requires a lot of reading, so I usually do the tangible work professors collect and then just cram before tests,” Dennis said.
Nolan Robertson, a junior majoring in fine arts, also said students must discern between important and unimportant readings.
“As a junior, I realize that I don’t have to do all the readings, unlike freshmen,” Robertson said. “You have to figure out what you really have to do.”