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I often see people abbreviate faculty teaching loads ("course loads") as 2:2 or 3:2:3 or 2:1. Sometimes a note such as "3:3 with 2 preps" is added.

What do these abbreviations mean?

  • Posted as a community question since we occasionally get this. – RoboKaren Jul 1 '15 at 5:53
  • A complete answer will talk about how classes are counted and what "number of preps" means. – RoboKaren Jul 1 '15 at 8:23
  • Will this answer help you? And the other answer? – scaaahu Jul 1 '15 at 8:31
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    I asked this as we have the "answers" in responses to other questions (and in scattered comments) but we don't have a single question that asks just this question. This will help us in pointing other questioners to this in the future. – RoboKaren Jul 1 '15 at 14:22
  • @RoboKaren: good idea. – Pete L. Clark Jul 1 '15 at 17:23
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They refer to the number of classes you teach in each semester. ie 2:1 would mean two classes one semester and one the other.

Three numbers (like 3:2:3) refer to the number of classes in each quarter for schools on the quarter system (i.e., three terms per academic year). [Thanks to Mark Meckes]

Not all courses are the same size, although I suspect that the vast majority are the standard "3 credit hour" size. A minority but reasonable number of courses, though, are 4 credit hours (particularly in my area, math). A few courses are even 5 credit hours at some institutions. It depends on the field to a great extent. Nevertheless, the number of courses is still very important. Teaching a four-hour and a five-hour course for a 2-course load is less work, usually, than teaching three different 3-hour courses. [Thanks to Oswald Veblen]

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    To supplement this answer, three numbers (like 3:2:3) refer to the number of classes in each quarter for schools on the quarter system (i.e., three terms per academic year). – Mark Meckes Jul 1 '15 at 7:58
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    Could you add to the answer the information if the number of hours taught per course is standardized (such as 2 or 4 hours per week per course)? Otherwise, the numbers are not very informative. – DCTLib Jul 1 '15 at 8:18
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    No, not all courses are the same size, although I suspect that the vast majority are the standard "3 credit hour" size. A minority but reasonable number of courses, though, are 4 credit hours (particularly in my area, math). A few courses are even 5 credit hours at some institutions. It depends on the field to a great extent. Nevertheless, the number of courses is still very important. Teaching a four-hour and a five-hour course for a 2-course load is less work, usually, than teaching three different 3-hour courses – Oswald Veblen Jul 1 '15 at 10:15
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    @KRyan: You would think so. In reality, many American universities use the term "quarter system" but three of them comprise an academic year. Off the top of my head I don't know of an American university which uses the term "trimester". I suppose there is also a summer quarter...and also a summer semester. – Pete L. Clark Jul 1 '15 at 17:19
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    @KRyan: That's what American universities call the quarter system. The fourth quarter is the summer, where most professors don't teach (but some classes are still offered). Stanford, for example, explicitly calls their summer session a "summer quarter". – Tikhon Jelvis Jul 1 '15 at 17:40
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To answer the part of the question about preps: It's easier to teach two sections of the same course than it is to teach two entirely different courses. A 3:3 load with two preps means that you teach 3 sections per semester but two sections are of the same course. For example, you might teach two sections of Calculus I and one section of ordinary differential equations for a 3 course load with two preps.

In the US, most academic courses are 3 credit hours, nominally meeting for 3 hours per week (often 3 sessions of 50 minutes each on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, or two sessions of 75 minutes each on Tuesday and Thursday.) However, you'll find some courses that are two credit hours or four credit hours (or even five credit hours in some science courses with labs.) In assigning teaching load it's common to just count all of these as one course even though four credit hour courses take more time than 3 credit hour courses.

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    "In assigning teaching load it's common to just count all of these as one course even though four credit hour courses take more time than 3 credit hour courses." Is it? In my department, four credit courses count for...4/3 as much as a standard course. (On the other hand, once I was told that at the end of a given academic year I was ".9 courses behind". Being a number theorist I wondered what could possibly have resulted in a 5 appearing in the denominator...) I expect that if we didn't count the extra 1/3 then we would have a lot of trouble finding people to teach the 4 credit courses. – Pete L. Clark Jul 1 '15 at 17:17
  • I'm sure that practices vary, but in my department (and many others that I've seen), teaching a 4 credit hour calculus section still counts as one course. – Brian Borchers Jul 1 '15 at 17:42
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    Yes but sometimes it's saner to teach two entirely different courses than it it to teach the same course. After 3-4 semesters of Calculus 1 you might be pretty darn sick of it. – Dave Kanter Jul 1 '15 at 17:45

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