Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Definition of a "Unit"

Carnegie Mellon has adopted the method of assigning a number of “units” for each course to represent the quantity of work required of students. For the average student, one unit represents one work-hour of time per week throughout the semester. The number of units in each course is fixed by the faculty member in consultation with the college offering the course. Three units are the equivalent of one traditional semester credit hour.

Hence, a 9 unit semester-long course should require 9 hours of student engagement, on average, including class time; if the instructor requires 3 hours of lecture and 1 hour of recitation, they can expect students to spend 5 hours outside of class engaging in class work. For mini courses that run for only seven weeks, the conversion from units to number of hours per week during the mini involves multiplying by 2. For example, a 6 unit mini course should on average involve 12 hours of student engagement; if the instructor requires 3 hours of lecture and 3 hours of lab, they can expect the students to spend 6 hours outside of class.

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