# What is a 4/4 Course Load?February 5, 2015 8:55 AM   Subscribe

In academic discussions, I often see professors describe their course load as a fraction like 4/4 (or sometimes 4-4). What do the numbers mean?

I'm guessing that the first digit is the number of courses per semester. For example: A 3/3 teaching load is defined as the equivalent of teaching three 3-contact hour courses each semester. So I thought that the second digit might refer to the duration of each class. Thus 3 classes / 3 hours per class = 3/3.

But then I read that a 5/5 load is equivalent to teaching five 3-contact hour courses per semester (rather than five 5-hour courses, as I would have expected). And sometimes a 3/3 load is three 4-hour courses. So now I don't know what the second digit actually means or how to interpret the math. I've seen variants including 2/2, 3/3, 4/4, 5/5, 4/2, 4/1, 3/2 and 2/4.
posted by Jeff Howard to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

An answer on stackexchange seems to indicate this is a courses per semester indicator. So 3/3 would be three courses fall, three courses spring.
posted by mikeh at 9:02 AM on February 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

It's by semester: 4/4 means teaching 8 credit courses a year; 3/2 means 5 courses total (3 first semester, 2 second semester), etc.
posted by damayanti at 9:02 AM on February 5, 2015 [4 favorites]

At my alma mater it meant 4 courses per semester, each worth 4 credit-hours. A full-time student nominally had a 16 credit-hour load each semester, hence the 4/4 schedule.

The further implication to your schedule was that classes normally met twice a week for two hour sessions, usually Monday/Thursday or Tuesday/Friday. Wednesdays were often free, which meant Tuesdays were popular nights to go out.
posted by backseatpilot at 9:06 AM on February 5, 2015

Mikeh and Damayanti are right. The first number represents the number of courses you teach in the fall semester, the second the number you teach in the spring semester. Details about credit hours or other things are either implied by what is most common at your university, or clarified in additional sentences. For example, "I teach 2/4, but both my fall semester courses are upper-level writing intensive." Also, instructors who have a relatively low teaching load in a given semester will usually have committee assignments, administrative positions, or research on top of the teaching.
posted by Liesl at 9:15 AM on February 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

At the most basic level, it's how many courses you teach per semester. The first number is the first semester, the second number is the second semester. 4/4 means four courses per semester. Some teaching loads are 3/2 or 2/1 or (at ASU) 5/5. How many credit hours is really dependent on the school and how the courses shake out, but usually one course equals three credit hours.
posted by mrfuga0 at 9:15 AM on February 5, 2015

4/4 means four courses in the fall, and four courses in the spring.

I used to teach 3(fall)/3(spring) and then got changed to 3/2. Then I got a new job and I teach 2/2. Pretty much, it doesn't matter whether I'm teaching a 4 credit class or a 3 credit class, I still teach 2 courses each semester.

I hope with 5/5 you have neither research nor service responsibilities.
posted by leahwrenn at 9:17 AM on February 5, 2015

Yep, the above is right.

Another thing you may sometimes hear is something like the following: "I'm teaching a 4/4 load, with a 3/2 prep." The 'prep' is how many distinct courses you have to prepare for -- note that teaching two different sections of a class requires a lot less work than teaching two totally different courses. So, a 5/5 load with a 5/5 prep would be deadly, while a 5/5 load with only 1 prep each would be (merely) exhausting.

The number of preps is a much better indicator of how much work is required in a term than are course credit hours or class meeting lengths.
posted by meese at 9:23 AM on February 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

On my quarter system tenure track research faculty generally teach 4 courses over the 3 quarters. It can be 2/1/1 or whatever.
2/2 is the normal semester load for my friends in similar research intensive tenure track position.
Credit hours has nothing to do with this.
posted by k8t at 9:25 AM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone. That's much easier to understand.
posted by Jeff Howard at 9:32 AM on February 5, 2015

Also typically your total service load "should" be equal, in my experience. This means that if you see a 3/2 course load, it probably doesn't mean that person gets a reprieve from some work during the "2" semester; they probably got a release from teaching in exchange for some other kind of departmental work.
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:26 AM on February 5, 2015

The unevenness can be structural, actually. When I taught at a school on the quarter system we were 2-1-2 (with 1 being movable). Yeah, you were expected to make progress on research in the semester with less teaching.

Other things can make this less than transparent too. Course relief/release might be standard or might need to be negotiated relative to administrative roles (for example, does the DGS always get a course off? It varies by department at my school). And some places allow independent studies to add up towards a percentage of the total while some don't. Finally the division of the load between grad and undergrad, or upper and lower division, or larger and smaller class sizes, can be quite variable and relevant to interpreting these numbers.

Just in case any of you whippersnappers happen to be out there negotiating new job offers, since it's that time of year, all stuff to bear in mind.
posted by spitbull at 11:41 AM on February 5, 2015

My undergrad liberal arts college is in the process of transitioning from 3/2 to 2/2 teaching load. The 3/2 really did mean teaching 3 courses in one semester and 2 in the other; and it meant that professors were exhausted during their 3-course semester with no time for research. Hence the transition (2/2 is also competitive with other top small colleges).
posted by serelliya at 4:03 PM on February 5, 2015

Just popped in to agree that 4/4 means the number of courses taught in the fall and then the spring semesters. This does not always translate into four courses with four credit hours each, however. A course can be defined as equalling fewer than four credit hours. Further the number of credit hours does not map directly on to contact hours with students. Different universities have different conventions for the credit hour/actual contact hour mapping as well as the course/credit hour mapping. This can be further defined at the department level where a four course load per semester might be standard but the number of credit hours per course may not be all four credit hours.
posted by bluesky43 at 7:48 AM on February 8, 2015

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