How Much Do Philosophy Professors Grade?


A professor at a liberal arts college writes in because she has seen signs of confusion in her department about “what is manageable or expected” in the number and kind of assignments students have to complete in a course “when the professor does the grading.”

(photo of untitled sculpture by Tara Donovan)

She notes that teaching is evaluated by her department in part on the basis of what kinds of assignments instructors give their students, with papers (drafts and final versions) and essay exams preferred over non-writing-intensive work. Recently, there has  been an increase in the number of students most professors in her department teach each term, yet no apparent reduction in the number of writing-intensive assignments professors are generally expected to have their students complete—and then grade. There are no teaching assistants in her department. Her concern is that her department’s expectations are unreasonable.

She is hoping to learn about the grading burden professors at other institutions are expected to take on. What would be most relevant to her is information from other college professors who teach without teaching assistants, but it would be useful to hear from people at a variety of institutions.
What kinds of assignments are you expected to give your students and grade, and generally how many such assignments during a particular course are expected of you, and how many students do you typically do this for each term? When you let us know, please also share what kind of school you’re at. Thanks.
guest
34 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Daniel Groll
9 days ago

I typically have three assignments over the course of a 10 week term (although there are weekly annotation exercises as well…but I don’t really pay attention to them in any detail).

For freshman classes, it’s usually a short argument explanation-objection-response (EOR) exercise and then two papers. Students can do as many EORs as they please (though they must choose a different passage each time, in consultation with me) and they have the option to rewrite their first full-length paper for a new grade.

For mid-level classes, it’s usually three papers. There is no chance to rewrite, but many students meet with me to go over full drafts, so (as I tell them) they have a chance to rewrite the paper if they get a draft done early enough.

Our classes range in size from 15 to 30 students, which plays a huge role in making this manageable.

I think what I do is fairly representative of our department norms, though some of my colleagues do other kinds of assignments (presentations etc.) either alongside or instead of some writing assignments.Report

Erich Hatala Matthes
Erich Hatala Matthes
Reply to  Daniel Groll
9 days ago

I think what Daniel describes sounds standard for SLACs where each professor is teaching somewhere between ~40-60 students at a time. I’d say I do the equivalent of one full work day of grading every week. Given other demands and expectations, I would avoid a grading burden that was any more substantial than that (but this too will no doubt vary based on one’s particular institution/situation).Report

Colin Heydt
9 days ago

Apologies that this doesn’t address the question asked, but one thing I wish I’d known earlier in my career is the value of whole-class feedback on papers. I wasted so many hours providing (often unhelpful and unread) individual feedback. My time would have been much better spent identifying two or three issues and crafting 10-15 minutes for class on how students can improve. It’s much more useful for students and much more efficient for professors.

Another idea that has lots of promise and is underutilized in academia: comparative marking for papers. The basic idea is that you evaluate papers by comparing them directly with each other and saying which one is better. This is then repeated many times in accordance with an algorithm. It has the potential to be more accurate and faster. Here’s a company that provides the software for it: https://www.nomoremarking.com/Report

Dan Bonevac
9 days ago

I teach at a large state university, in a department with a graduate program, so I have teaching assistants in large courses who do most or all of the grading in them. Even in those classes, however, I sometimes grade papers. This semester, for example, I’m grading the last paper assignment; 3 pages X 250 students = 750 pages of student writing.

In smaller classes (35 students and below, usually around 30) I do all the grading—generally 15–20 pages of writing per student—which amounts to 450–700 pages of student papers.

In a typical semester I teach one course of each type. So, I end up grading 1200–1450 pages of writing. Additionally, I set up weekly online quizzes with questions drawn randomly from question banks. Over the past few years I’ve written 2000–3000 multiple choice questions to set up those question banks.Report

Lisa Fuller
9 days ago

I teach at a liberal arts college and give two explain/response papers and a take home/final for my freshman classes. They can revise their first paper but they are max 1000 words. I assign slightly more writing for upper level classes, but one fewer paper (so three main things for the term). All classes have reading quizzes graded by Blackboard and in class group work/discussion questions/case studies that are pass/fail. I have 45-85 students per semester.Report

The Grader
9 days ago

This is at a state university with no grad program.

I do not know what is required at my university. Any requirement is likely subject to discussion at the departmental level.

I teach three courses a semester, and I have somewhere around 100 students per semester. Each student submits two medium-length essays per semester. Each student submits one short written assignment per week. I provide written feedback on all of these assignments; sometimes my written feedback on the shorter assignments is very brief.

So, totaling all this up, I grade 200 3-to-6-double-spaced page essays per semester with substantial written feedback. I grade 1000+ short written assignments per semester, with feedback ranging from “Excellent!” or “This isn’t quite right” to a couple of paragraphs of comments.

Writing all that out makes me think that I’m doing too much. But I also just refuse to use written exams in my classes, and I don’t think the grading would be any easier.Report

Jennifer Baker
9 days ago

State college no grad program. Really grateful for these explanations. I normally get to assign a lot of writing (essay midterm and written assignments, paper drafts), but this spring semester I have gotten assigned 120 students to teach and grade, with a MWF schedule, three different classes/meeting times and one new prep. I have no idea how to make that work if I assume reading their writing takes 20 minutes per. (I have had to grade nearly as many students on semester before, but it nearly did me in.)Report

SLAC Adjunct
9 days ago

I have roughly 60 students per semester and each is expected to submit two short (1,000 words max) papers, one at roughly the midpoint of the semester and the other at the end.

During class time, I give fairly detailed instructions on various ways in which one can write a philosophy paper and I give detailed feedback on the first paper so they know what they ought to do differently on the second. The second paper receives no feedback (as it is submitted at the very end of the semester), only a grade.

I don’t do weekly assignments because A) many students will likely perceive it as a sort of busywork and simply rush to jot something down and B) if (A) occurs, they end up just being busywork for me in the form of grading.

I’ve never heard of any expectations regarding grading/amounts of grading in my department, but I’d be reluctant if some greater requirement were introduced. Indeed, I would probably retort something to the effect of, “the courses are about *learning* first and foremost, not workload and grading.”Report

Eric Hagedorn
9 days ago

I teach at a small liberal arts college where I typically have 60-80 students a semester across 3 sections. For lower-level classes, I usually assign two short-answer exams and three 4-page paper assignments; for upper-level classes, it’s two essay exams and three 7-page papers. Every class also has some sort of daily or weekly written work, but in most classes I mark those by a perfunctory pass/fail.Report

Marc Bobro
9 days ago

I teach at a community college, and have 200-240 students each semester with no teaching assistants or graders. This semester I am teaching classes in Ethics (x2), Symbolic Logic, Modern Philosophy, and Philosophy of Art. Students in my Ethics and Philosophy of Art classes are required to write 7 short papers. At my most efficient, I can grade these papers at a rate of 5 per 2 hours. I comment on each one. Some of my comments exceed the length of a paper. Students in Modern (~35) are required to write 3 longer papers. I would say it takes me typically 1/2 to an hour to grade each one, depending on how many comments I need to make. (None of this includes discussions and quizzes which I create, monitor, and grade.)Report

Last edited 9 days ago by Marc Bobro
4-4 SLACer
4-4 SLACer
Reply to  Marc Bobro
9 days ago

I’m trying to make sense of some of the math here. Let’s say you’ve got 35 students in your modern course, and they write three papers each for a total of 105 papers. If each takes you 30 minutes to grade (you say they sometimes take more), then that’s 52.5 hours minimum, in a single semester, to grade the papers produced in one course with 35 students.

You didn’t say how many students are in your ethics and phil art courses, but if there are 30 in each course (I’m guessing there are more), that’s 90 students. You say they write 7 short papers so that’s 630 papers. Let’s say you grade at a rate of three papers per hour, which is faster than what you said. That’s 210 hours, minimum, spent grading papers in those courses.

Adding these two totals together is 262.5 hours to do the grading for four of your five courses. Add on 37.5 hours for the fifth course, which seems low, and that’s 300 hours spent grading in a semester, or six complete weeks of 50 hours doing nothing but grading. For me that would be just shy of an entire semester’s worth of work doing nothing but grading.

  1. Is this right?
  2. Why?
  3. Why?
  4. Do you find that the feedback you give to students is meaningful or important to them? My experience with grading, and I do a lot of it, is that very few students even read the comments I leave for them. Almost all of them want to see their numerical score and be done with the thing.

Report

Evan
Reply to  4-4 SLACer
8 days ago

How did you know most of your students didn’t read your feedback?Report

Marc Bobro
Reply to  4-4 SLACer
8 days ago

Thank for your reply. Yeah, I do work harder than any other academic I know. But I would say that I work less overall than I did when I was a woodworker, for instance. In academia, the work tends to be compressed over a short period. It’s intense, but not very lengthy. I research far less than I used to during each semester, but keep in mind that my position is a 100% teaching (+ service) position. It’s my job to teach and grade. And do it well. Also, what’s missing from your numbers are variables such as students not turning in papers, or truncated papers, both of which are very easy and quick to grade. My estimated grading times are for “normal” papers. But, still, the hours spent grading are very long. Yes, most of my students do read my comments. But I would provide comments even if my students didn’t read them. I strongly believe that it’s part of my teaching obligation. Students not reading comments is not a good reason to not provide comments. Finally, I would add that I do have a rich and rewarding life. 🙂 Report

Guy
Guy
9 days ago

I’m at a community college. I teach about 6 classes per semester. Across those 6 classes, I have at least one set of them turning in a short writing assignment every week. On average, I have about 2 – 3 hours of grading to do every Friday.Report

CC3
CC3
9 days ago

I teach 5 classes a semester at a community college. I have anywhere between 80-120 students each semester across a wide variety of classes. Each student turns in 6-8 major assignments a semester, which averages to about 25-35 pages of written work per student. The bulk of that is in the form of take-home midterms and finals with short answer questions, as well as some more specialized assignments I have developed.

I do not assign argumentative essays or final papers except in upper-level courses, which usually have lower enrollment. I do not require students to submit drafts (it is optional.) At this point in my career, I have rubrics for pretty much everything except for final papers, which allows me to be very efficient in my grading while still giving students useful written feedback on top of the rubric score (in recent years I have also become more aware of just how few students actually read written feedback, and just how many simply want an “objective” rubric-style breakdown of their final grade.) I do teach one class by correspondence occasionally, which can involve a really high grading load (8-12 hours/week for one class.)

What counts as a “reasonable” amount of grading depends on what other responsibilities a faculty member is expected to meet. My institution is big on institutional service, high-quality teaching, and student success, and there are no research expectations (although I do write, publish, and present pretty regularly.) So while I would imagine that my colleagues and I spend a lot more raw time grading than most in the profession, that does not mean that much lighter loads at SLACs and research institutions wouldn’t count as unreasonable in the light of the other responsibilities attached to those jobs.Report

Bill Vanderburgh
9 days ago

I have a 4-4 load and no graduate students at a state university. Each class is 20-30 students. At most one of the 4 classes each semester is for majors and the others are general education classes at the freshman or junior level (usually multiple sections of the same course, thankfully, so only 2 preps). All of our classes in Philosophy are designated Writing Intensive, which means we are supposed provide lots of writing practice and feedback. I assign two essays and 10 weekly one-page assignments submitted via a Canvas discussion board. The one-pagers I read quickly but grade only for completion. To get that grade, students need to offer helpful comments on two other students’ posts–metacognition and mutual accountability. The essays are done in two or three stages. For the first essay I give very detailed instructions, students turn in a thesis statement and one-page outline, I give feedback, then they turn in a 4-page paper. After individual feedback on that, students are very receptive to the 1.5 hour advanced lecture I give on argumentative essay writing. (I’ve found that that order works better than giving all the writing advice before the first essay.) For the second essay, students turn in a draft of a 6-page essay (again, detailed expectations), they do an in-class peer review session, I give feedback, then they turn in the final version. I don’t bother to give much feedback on the final version. I’ve decided this semester that I’m going to reduce the second essay to 5 pages next time (I want them to learn to write longer pieces, but I don’t want to grade them!).Report

Bill Vanderburgh
Reply to  Bill Vanderburgh
9 days ago

Forgot to mention: The one-pager after the writing lecture asks students to reflect on what they need to improve on in their own writing. These have been really fulfilling to read! Then student comments on each other’s posts have been really useful to them as well. Highly recommend.Report

Marco Prounce
8 days ago

I am a continental philosopher at a community college, teaching a 5×5 load, mostly of Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, for upper level and some Western Intellectual Tradition courses at undergrad level. Each class has 50 or so students, with about 5 papers per semester. I am constantly bogged down with paper grading, so much so that I have developed my own method which I feel is reliable. I read the first few paragraphs then just quickly run my eyes over the rest, and then an impression forms in my mind “e.g., B” or “C” or “A”, and then I give that grade. Obviously, it seems unfair to do this, but I think I am a reliable detector of this now (like a chickensexer). I don’t give much feedback (they are welcome to make appointments and if they do I read it properly). But given that I take it that my job is to grade the paper in a way that gets the grade about right, I think my method is perfectly fine. It also allows me to do it all pretty quickly.Report

Name
8 days ago

Not as much as adjuncts grade.Report

Jennifer Baker
Reply to  Name
8 days ago

Do you know how much adjuncts are grading at the various types of schools?Report

Name
Reply to  Jennifer Baker
8 days ago

I am adjunct instructor of writing, or if you prefer composition. I will teach at least 14 classes this school year (that’s not counting summer). I am on one year contracts. My student load is ~140 students a term. I am required to grade and comment on multiple drafts for each student, typically for multiple papers.

You’ll forgive me if I thread-crapped a little here when I see people who teach 6 classes a year saying they feel overwhelmed. No doubt they do, and likely are. Nevertheless, the sheer lack of concern by TT faculty for what is–let’s be honest–an unconscionable system in which the vast majority of grading and commenting is done by people like me upsets me.Report

Jennifer Baker
Reply to  Name
8 days ago

Well, I’m concerned. It sure seems like we ought to be able to recognize and agree when what is being expected is simply ridiculous, tied to time in the classroom and number of students taught (if there is any expectation of feedback on writing, or student writing). 140 students writing and what sounds like around 20 hours of teaching in the classroom– easy to see that you are being overworked.Report

Name
Reply to  Jennifer Baker
8 days ago

Thank you, concern is always appreciated. The point, of course, is that the professoriate in toto ought to be concerned with an exploitative system. Instead, adjunct labor is simply ignored by most, which in turn perpetuates the exploitation. It seems from my standpoint, if I may, that adjunctification is clearly the most central and pressing problem in higher ed today. Yet I would speculate that most of the TT folks both here and in the humanities as a whole, have essentially no idea of how adjuncts are scraping by in a system that treats them as disposable and frankly second-class. Nor do I find it convincing to lay blame entirely on admin. Surely, administrators have set the rules of the game. But there is little to no pushback from the privileged class of the professoriate who are the direct beneficiaries of this exploitation.Report

Jennifer Baker
Reply to  Name
8 days ago

Oh completely agree.Report

Daniel Weltman
8 days ago

I am at a small liberal arts college. I teach 2 classes per semester and enrollment is typically between 10 and 25, sometimes higher or lower. (Right now I have 17 in one course and 40 in the other.) No TAs.

In one course (the smaller one, upper division) I’ve assigned 10 500 word papers and 6 paper revisions, but the 4 lowest scoring papers and the 3 lowest scoring revisions are dropped. So, in principle, students can turn in 6 500 word papers and 3 revisions and get full credit. In the other course (the larger one, lower division) I’ve assigned 8 500 word papers and 5 paper revisions, but the 4 lowest scoring papers and 2 lowest scoring revisions are dropped, so students can turn in 4 500 word papers and 3 paper revisions and still get full credit. This is broadly the sort of assignment structure I use in most of my courses. (I also have additional work the students do that I don’t grade except for marking “complete” or something like that.)

So if students turn in the minimum number of assignments I will have graded 262 500 word papers and 171 paper revisions by the end of this semester. If they turn in the maximum number of assignments I will have graded 792 papers + revisions. They are not turning in the maximum (we just finished week 11 of 13) but some are turning in more than the minimum. Paper revisions are sometimes very quick to grade, and 500 word papers are relatively quick to grade compared to longer papers. (500 words is very approximately 2 pages double spaced.)

I typically write between 150 and 450 words of feedback for each paper, and less for revisions. ~200-250 words is probably the average amount of feedback. I haven’t got a clue how long this takes me on average but I think I’m pretty fast.

There are things I would do differently in different situations:

The students here are very good and they benefit a lot from 1) lots of assignments and 2) feedback on those assignments. They improve quickly and a lot. If the students were not so good, and if they didn’t benefit from the work I put into grading, I would probably assign fewer papers, and/or assign short answer response assignments that would get less written feedback and more feedback in terms of numerical scores for each answer. (My paper feedback is primarily written: the only score is an overall score for the paper. Ditto for revisions.)

If I were teaching more than 2/2 or if I had larger classes I might assign fewer, longer papers because when you have lots of small assignments, the number of papers you have to grade gets very high once you start adding more students.

If I were very pressed for time (which would be more likely if I had more students and/or taught more classes) I would maybe triage things and spend less time writing feedback for papers earning very high scores, since those students are already doing fine. If I did this I would maybe have fewer or no revision assignments since I think it would be not good to ask students to revise a paper they didn’t get a lot of feedback on.

I haven’t got a clue what is “reasonable.” I am not sure there are very many higher education systems in the world that approximate reasonableness in any of their key components, just like there are very few institutions in any present society overall that approximate reasonableness in any of their key components. I certainly think the whole idea of grading things is misguided, but it’s rather hard to get away from that for a variety of reasons, and in any case in my ideal situation where I am not grading students, I would still be giving them much of the same sort of feedback I currently give in the context of grading, and in my ideal situation I’d spend a fair amount of time doing that. So perhaps there are ways in which my current setup approximates some features of something I’d be willing to label “reasonable.”

I also haven’t got a clue what the expectations are. In this country a 2/2 teaching load is beyond the typical expectations, and in general, there are not a lot of small liberal arts colleges, so it’s tough to know what society at large expects. My university gives almost complete autonomy to faculty and so there seem to be zero expectations there. I don’t know what the students expect. I think my colleagues in my department just expect me to teach some classes well, and to do whatever grading that entails, but I’m not sure they have more precise expectations than that.Report

benjamin s yost
8 days ago

As the comments here have indicated, I think the OP’s question is better phrased as a question about *commenting* expectations. With a few years’ experience, one can grade papers, i.e., put a grade on them, very quickly. Commenting always takes a lot of time if one does it well. So if you are just grading 250 papers a semester (3 papers for three classes of 25, which was my load when I was at a SLAC), that’s not that a terrible amount of work *if* you aren’t commenting much or aren’t commenting carefully and constructively. But if you’re doing the latter, it’s quite a bit of effort. I can grade a paper much quicker than I can grade a short-essay take home exam, but the overall time I spend on a paper is longer than a short-essay take home exam, because I don’t comment much on the latter.

(I think Erich’s calculation of 1 full day of grading per week is in the ballpark of what a lot of people at SLACs do, but for me it was a bit more than that, probably closer to 2. But it’s hard to estimate b/c I find it very hard not to procrastinate while grading.)

If OP’s dept is requiring her to assign an unfair amount of writing, it might be that she can ease up on the commenting, so long as she is not required to show the latter to her tenure committee or whatever.Report

Jennifer Baker
Reply to  benjamin s yost
8 days ago

This is so helpful. What I can’t get my mind around is doing this with more than the usual 75 students but 120. That might be three days (or four?) days of grading doing it the way you describe (assigning normal amounts of writing, if not commenting or doing anything with drafts). But with nine hours of teaching and office hours that’s nearly a full work week– no time left for reading for the one course that is a new prep. (Let alone research and service, other expectations of my Department.) I wonder if students also dislike not getting comments (maybe they hardly notice it they are not used to it from an earlier class).Report

Evan
8 days ago

In these types of high writing demand, having an online forum can help. The teacher can issue a prompt every week relating to that week’s lesson or topic.

Second, have students respond to that prompt with a minimum and maximum word requirement. And then have them respond formally to each other’s in the online forum with expected minimum and maximum word count. You don’t have to provide feedback, but you should read what they say and see if they meet the requirements. Give them participation grades.

These prompt exercises can be helpful to stimulate good reasoning, better writing skills (get rid of fluff), and for weekly practice. Last, make the prompts interesting; you don’t wanna bore your students.

Remember that most first time students are not at the cognitive level of a professional philosopher. Most of them don’t know what questions to ask, let alone know how to ask them. This is where your job as a philosopher steps in. You provide those questions.

You can ask a question pertaining to questions: “What question(s) did X philosopher fail to address?”

You want your students to be each other’s and their own best critics. Feedback and remarks shouldn’t solely come from you.Report

Jennifer Baker
Reply to  Evan
8 days ago

great tips, thank youReport

Evan
Reply to  Jennifer Baker
8 days ago

You’re welcome! Just make sure they answer the question(s) to get full credit and check if their responses to other students are substantial and not superficial. You want to press them for justifications of their claims. So if they agree or disagree they still have to provide reasons.Report

Last edited 8 days ago by Evan
Jason Brennan
8 days ago

For me, generally, 2 shorter papers (5 pages), one longer paper (8 pages), one take-home mid-term test, and one long group paper and presentation. I don’t have TAs.Report

Reviewer C
6 days ago

I teach mostly gen ed courses as an adjunct. This semester I’m teaching at 3 places (community college and 2 private universities), a total of 8 courses. 3 in the classroom, 5 asynchonoous online. I have overall about 200 or so students on the rosters, but at 2 of the schools, about 1/4 of the students drop out within a few weeks. No papers for 4 of the online courses — weekly discussion assignments of about 300-600 words instead. I give comments on a few posts in the discussion, and grade using a rubric and give no comments in grading. For other courses, there are 1-3 papers, varying in length from 500 words to 1500 words. Drafts optional, which get comments giving top 3 improvements to make. Few students do drafts. I rarely put comments on papers, but grade using a rubric.

How much work is that? Hard to quantify, but it keeps me busy. I budget my time and make sure the work does take over my life.Report

ajkreider
6 days ago

My grading has changed significantly during the pandemic.

On average, 150-200 students/term – all introductory level

Pre-pandemic.

6 quizzes with open-ended questions.
3 exams with open-ended questions and an essay question.
1 paper- 1000 word minimum.

During-pandemic (using the online shell courses)

12 250-350 word journal entries or reading summaries
10 Computer-graded quizzes
4 350-500 word essays with discussion board posts
1 Computer-graded examReport

Charles Pigden
3 days ago

A non-US voice might be of interest to readers. I work at the University fo Otago in New Zealand. The university is ‘R1’, the equivalent of a superior US state university, the vast bulk of our funding coming from the government.  I teach two solo courses per annum and I also have substantial input into a team-taught course on Political Economy. (It is mandatory of our PPE programme of which I was the sometime chief.) It is difficult to assess the workload for the latter since it varies up and down from year to year depending on which member of the team is serving as the ‘primary’ and how he or she wants to organise things. However, I would expect to attend most sessions as our policy is to have at least two staff-members in class on any given day. Sometimes I grade some assignments . Returning to the solo courses, they consist of 26 two-hour sessions each.. The courses average at about 30 students. Each student has to do three essays per course, clocking in at about 2500 words each. There are no exams and I have no TAs. Thus in any given year, I would expect to be reading and grading 2 x 30 x 3 =180 essays of about 2500 words each. So each year I have to wade through at about 450,000 words of student essays. I comment, but in pen, as I am a slow and incompetent typist. Generally speaking, on the other hand the better an essay is, the less I have to say, though I am lavish with ticks and comments such as ‘good point!’ and ‘excellent’. The reason is that I find I can’t comment helpfully on a good essay without writing a counter essay myself and I just don’t have the time or the energy to write the counter-essays. With bad to middling essays it is often possible to make a constructive criticism in a couple of short sentences.  Grading – and commenting – is the part of the job that I really hate though I do think it is pedagogically useful. (I enjoy class-room teaching, though at 65 I am beginning to feel that it is good thing of which one can have too much. ) Having given up on final exams a few years ago, at least I don’t have to decipher the scrawls of exam answers as nowadays everything is typed. Because I only teach 200-level and above, most of my students have chosen to do philosophy after some experience of the subject. Since people tend not to do subjects that they find boring or difficult this means that most of my students are reasonably competent. I don’t face the chore of dealing with the barely literate, with people who simply don’t know how to write essays or who have no idea of what a philosophy essay ought to look like. People tend not to fail my courses if they turn up to class and turn in their essays and some of my students are really good.Report