Pen & Book
Office of the
Associate Vice-President (Academic)

Re-Defining Course Weighting

Variable credit weighting challenges the standard 3 hours lecture / lab assignments of (the majority of North American) university courses. The rationale of defining learning by the number of contact hours is in question and alternatives need to be explored.

By redefining the weighting of credit attached to courses allows for creative approaches to ensure students are involved in their own learning and absorb program material- the difference between deep and surface learning. Credit needs to be "earned" not bestowed.



  • Modularization - redefining program material in terms of 'learning outcomes' or skills. Material can then become modules of varying size. Students accumulate a certain number of modules worth different amounts of 'credit' until they have the required amount to graduate
  • University of Oxford- arts students are normally examined twice: preliminary examinations are taken within the first year and must be passed in order to continue the course, but do not count towards the degree. The second set of examinations (usually called the Final Honour School or Finals) takes place in students last term. Finals consist of several papers lasting three hours, which students sit within a two-week period. For some subjects, such as Modern Languages, there is an additional oral exam. In some courses one or two exams can be replaced by a thesis and/or some extended pieces of written work which will make up part of the final grade.

Science students also sit preliminary exams during the first year, which they must pass in order to continue the course. All science subjects then focus towards exams at the end of the third year, although certain subjects sit some of them in the second year. Some papers are made up of projects or dissertations. Most courses have a fourth year and this is either entirely research- based, or part research and part exams. All the exams count towards the final degree except the first year preliminary examinations

  • The Cambridge University Tripos System- degree courses (called Triposes) are not modular but are divided into blocks lasting one or two years. In some subjects there is a two-year Part I (which may be divided into Part IA and Part IB) and a one-year Part II. In others Part I lasts a year and is followed by a two-year Part II. In Engineering and some science subjects there is a fourth year (Part II or III) leading to the degree of MEng or MSci. There are examinations at the end of each Part and these must be passed in order to achieve the Cambridge degree, BA Hons. One of the most distinctive characteristics of Cambridge courses is that they cover their subjects very broadly in the initial years and then become more specialised and offer a wide range of options in the later years
  • McMaster University- Undergraduate Education-BScN Programme-The B.Sc.N. programme promotes the development of nursing as a caring, client-centred, scientifically based profession. With an emphasis on problem-based, small group, self-directed learning, the programme provides a general baccalaureate education in nursing for the preparation of professional nurses who will practice in a variety of health-care settings. Central to thier mission is the preparation of nurses who will work to enhance the quality of health of individuals, families, communities and society. In fulfilling its mission, the B.Sc.N. programme promotes skills in its graduates to prepare them for life-long, self-directed learning, critical thinking, advocacy and collective action.

As students progress in the B.Sc.N. programme, they will find an increasing emphasis on interpersonal skills, independent learning, and leadership qualities. Applicants should evaluate their own potential for developing abilities to interact with others and to assume leadership roles. Learning is a process of inquiry, a skill to develop as a life-long activity in an environment conducive to openness and sharing between faculty and students. Emphasis on small group tutorials and self-directed learning promotes the development of self-evaluation skills and critical thinking abilities. Extensive multi media, laboratory and library resources support a belief in the importance of independent study. Students apply concepts from Nursing and related disciplines to their experiences in classroom and clinical settings (opportunities exist for international clinical practice experiences).

Evaluation by self, peers and faculty is part of an ongoing assessment process of the achievement of clinical, course, and programme objectives.


© 2006, University of Guelph