ASL University | Bookstore | Catalog | Dictionary | Lessons | Resources | Syllabi | Library

American Sign Language: 

Also see: Teaching ASL at a High School vs Teaching at a College


Understanding College Credit: Semester Units:
(Why classes meet for the amount of time they do.)

A "unit" or a "credit" is based on the number of hours of instruction per week required in the classroom (and/or lab or independent study). A course earning one semester unit will usually meet one hour a week. A course earning three-college-semester units will usually meet three hours a week.

Here is the "tricky" part: One "classroom contact hour" is considered to consist of 50 minutes of actual instruction (so as to allow for a 10 minute break).

So a three unit class needs to have 150 minutes of actual instruction time (3 times 50 = 150) each week for 15 weeks. But you have to take "breaks" into account.

A three unit course that meets once a week would meet from 6 to 8:50 pm which is 170 minutes.

A three unit course that meets twice a week would meet from 6 to 7:15 pm which is a total of 150 minutes.

WHAT? Why does the once a week course contain 20 extra minutes?

It is because a three-hour once-a-week course will typically have two breaks of 10 minutes each. (2 times 10 = 20 extra minutes).

A three-hour twice-a-week course breaks the seat-time (150 minutes) into two parts. If you break the 150 minutes in half (by meeting twice a week) it is reasonable to teach 75 minutes without a break so there is no need to take a break during a 3-unit twice-a-week class. But it is VERY important to take breaks during a 3 unit once a week class.

So a teacher teaching a 3 hour once-a-week class will end up investing an extra 300 minutes (20 minutes of breaks per class times 15 weeks = 300 minutes) more time than a teacher teaching a twice a week class -- because of those breaks. So, a person might think that the once a week instructor is getting a bad deal!?! Not so fast. Hold on. Did we forget travel time? The twice a week instructor has to travel back and forth to teach class an extra 15 times per semester and thus when you factor in drive time, gas, wear and tear on the vehicle, etc. suddenly it is clear that if the twice a week instructor is making an extra trip for that one class then he or she is actually investing more total time than the once a week instructor.

Now let's consider a 4 unit class. 4 x 50 = 200 total minutes per week of instruction.
If that class met two days a week that would be 100 minutes per day. Such a class would meet from 6 to 7:50 for a total of 110 minutes (100 minutes of instruction and 10 minutes of break time).

Topic: college credit vs high school credit.

The question to be answered is:
Suppose a student takes a college ASL course via early enrollment.  What amount of high school credit is a 3-semester-credit-hour college course worth?
In general my research of state laws is indicating that a 3-semester-credit-hour college course is considered the equivalent of  1-year of high school credit.

High School Credit: 
According to Florida statutes, a class must consist of 75 hours to meet a semester requirement (including study and class time), or 130 hours to qualify for a year credit.  Two college semesters count as four high school semesters. Thus two semesters of college is counted as being equivalent to 2 years of high school foreign language.

 In a message dated 4/29/2004 1:46:42 PM Pacific Daylight Time,  rmlgraham@ writes:
... home schooled and going into 9th grade.  So over the summer I will be doing ASL 1 and most of ASL 2. 
Because the classes are college level, (2 college semesters count as 4 high school semesters) that would be equivalent to 2 years of foreign language.  Thanks so much for replying.  If you have any other questions please e-mail me.
- Brittany Graham

Dr. Bill is thinking to himself:
Okay, state law says one semester of "college ASL" = one year of "high school ASL."  HOWEVER, if you look at actual classroom contact hours, one year of high school is the equivalent of 4 semesters of college at 3-units per semester. I know that sounds crazy, but consider the numbers:  A typical high school year consists of 180 school days.  180 days multiplied by an hour a day comes to a hundred and eighty hours.  A typical college class consists of only 3 hours per week times 15 or 16 weeks (depending on the college). That would be 45 to 48 contact hours.  Thus it takes four semesters of college to equal the actual classroom contact hours of a one-year high school course. So -- the "system is messed up."  If I were a high school student I'd try to take a night school college ASL course via early enrollment.

Carnegie Unit:

Definition according to the Carnegie Foundation:
"The unit was developed in 1906 as a measure of the amount of time a student has studied a subject. For example, a total of 120 hours in one subject -- meeting 4 or 5 times a week for 40 to 60 minutes, for 36 to 40 weeks each year -- earns the student one "unit" of high school credit. Fourteen units were deemed to constitute the minimum amount of preparation that may be interpreted as "four years of academic or high school preparation."


Note this next entry is also filed under "equivalency."

In a message dated 11/29/2006 11:09:40 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, an ASL program coordinator writes:
Out of curiosity, how do you guarantee or verify that students are actually spending those contact hours online (1 hr vs. 5 min. of actual online time, say)?
-- Curious.

Dear Curious,
I've found there are several defensible approaches to the topic of class time equivalency.
The most impressive approach I know of is to use an online timer combined with random identity testing.  I've seen this done for "drivers education" courses wherein the program at random intervals requires the student to input personally identifiable data.  And since the program was connected to the state drivers license bureau it was able to draw upon some serious data.  For example, "What is your drivers license number?"  "Which of the following was one of your addresses?"  "What year were you born?" "Which insurance company do you use for your automobile insurance."
Such questions are likely to trip up someone "sitting in" for a student.
I would reckon such a system cost many hundreds of thousands of dollars to implement.  I can only imagine the work hours and levels of approval that course went through to become reality.
Such an approach is beyond the reach of many instructors, but is becoming more and more possible by using Course Management Software (CMS) such as Blackboard, E-college, or Breeze.  Such programs can actually track time spent online per student.  Thus enabling the instructor to see if the student was logged in for the required amount of time. 

Another approach, (one which I'm pursuing) is to work backward from the expected course outcomes.  For example how does a college decide to allocate 3 credit hours to a language course?  Why are some courses worth 5 credit hours and others worth 3 credits.  Such determinations can be made by using statistical averages and applying them to the presentation times.  Which is to say, on average it takes a certain amount of time to teach a certain amount of material.  How do you know if you have successfully taught the material? Traditionally this is determined via testing.  

We are not considering instructional methodology at this point. The question at hand has nothing to do with any of the dozens of popular or once popular methodologies such as: Direct,  Grammar-Translation, Reading, Audiolingual, Community Language Learning, Functional-Notional, Total Physical Response, etc.  The question we are addressing is how long, on average does it take to introduce 15 concepts.  Note: a lexical concept (vocabulary word) has not been fully introduced until a student understands the grammatical, cultural, and pragmatic aspects related to that concept.  Thus knowing a sign is not the same as knowing how to use a sign according to the grammar of the language and the conventions of the community to which that language is affiliated.

For example, we may determine on average it takes approximately an hour to:
* Welcome students
* Make announcements
* Take care of relevant business: passing back papers, distributing handouts, etc.
* Review 15 previously learned concepts
* Introduce 15 new concepts 
* Introduce the grammatical, pragmatic, and cultural aspects of those concepts
* Reinforce the new concepts
* Provide time for student practicing of the concepts
* Provide corrective and positive feedback
* Answer questions
* Review the 15 new concepts
* Set expectations for the next course period
*  Assign and clarify homework
*  Dismiss class

Thus it is defensible to state that it takes approximately of 4 minutes of classroom time per "grammatically informed" lexical item.  By grammatically informed I mean the sign and the knowledge of how to use that sign.

We can say that it takes 4 minutes of classroom time to teach a student a sign and how to appropriately use that sign in grammatically correct fashion in a conversation.  It is not enough for a student to internalize a list of signs.  The student must also learn how to use those signs according to convention. 

Once we determine how long it takes to learn a thing we can then use multiplication to determine how long it takes to learn a group of things.  If the average student learns one sign or general concept per four minutes, then the average student will learn 15 signs in an hour and 150 signs in 10 hours, 300 signs in 20 hours, 600 signs in 40 hours, and so forth.  A 45 contact hour class, using that rate of acquisition would cover 675 lexical concepts.

Next we need to take into account a number of factors that impact the rate of sign acquisition. When you consider the workings of the human brain it is generally accepted as fact that as the amount of learned information increases, so does the need for additional review time to maintain that learning.

Additionally we need to consider that in most in-person classroom environments there are individuals who are less capable than the rest of the students and these individuals tend to slow the progress of the class.

It is also not uncommon for many college-level classroom instructors on test days to give the test and then dismiss the class even though technically there is time remaining on the clock. Whether appropriate or not, it occurs and must be accounted for when considering, "Where does the time go?"

The list of factors that "eat into" instructional time could go on at length, but let's move on after one more example:  Many instructors take a full day of class to hand out their syllabus and explain its contents to students.  When comparing this to "time spent online" how does one account for the hour a student takes reading a syllabus, emailing the instructor for clarification of various items, and then reading the response?  How do we account for the teaching time of the instructor who takes 15 minutes each to type out a response to 10 different emailed questions from students?  Does that 150 minutes of the teacher's time count toward "class time?"  What if the teacher's responses are posted to a "class bulletin board" or submitted to a class listserv?

Obviously a lot goes on in both in-person classes and online classes that does not directly contribute toward acquisition of topic-related knowledge.  Thus we see our initial determination of 675 lexical concepts is in fact only an "ideal" and must be adjusted downward to more appropriately reflect typical expected learning outcomes.  Again, statistics based on experience might indicate that a more typical amount of lexical concepts (and the attending grammatical, cultural, and pragmatic information) would be in the range of 400 per 3 credit hour course.  Active, awake, motivated students might conceivably complete such a course having learned a great deal more signs.  Students on the other end of the spectrum might complete the course having learned only 60% of the targeted signs (including, the appropriate grammatical, cultural, and pragmatic information), or 240 signs--worthy of a "D minus."  But we are dealing with averages here rather than extremes so let us simply state that a student successfully completing a 3 credit hour class will be able to demonstrate and recognize approximately 400 signs (including, of course, the appropriate grammatical, cultural, and pragmatic information related to those signs.) 

Why do I repeat the instructions "culturally, grammatically, and pragmatically correct?"  Because there are those who will see the words "400 signs" and become blind for the rest of the sentence.  I'm not talking about lists of words here--I'm talking about units of measurement that are embedded in discourse level sentences, paragraphs, and conversations.  Students are learning to engage in discourse. The testing I'm referring to is discourse level testing:  Recognition of whole sentences, appreciation of pragmatic nuances, and selection of appropriate grammar.  The signs I'm referring to do not exist in isolation from their linguistic conventions.  The percentages I'm referring to here require that signs not only be presented, but that they be presented in grammatically correct ways at the discourse level of communication.

Seat time becomes irrelevant at this point and the only real consideration is, "Can a student demonstrate and recognize a certain number of  signs (in a culturally, grammatically, and pragmatically correct fashion)?"  If so, then it is defensible that the student has completed an amount of study equivalent to that of a 3 credit hour college-level ASL course.

- Bill
William G. Vicars, EdD

A high school principal asked how many "credits" my upcoming "Level 3 course" will be.

My response:
The course will be the equivalent of a four-credit-hour 1-semester college course.  I will be using a clone of the course to teach ASL 3 at California State University - Sacramento  (which carries 4 semester-credit-hours). Some high schools consider a semester college course to be the equivalent of a 1-year high school course. Since my courses are offered via distance education and some students work faster than others--the actual contact hours will vary.  What I do is document that the student has completed the course and has demonstrated (via testing and submission of assignments) competence in the topic equivalent to that which is typically expected of a student to pass a 4-credit-hour level-3 ASL college course. Your own school can certainly choose to interpret that as the equivalent of 1 Unit of High School Credit.

Question: The mother of a student asks:  What is more important, that they have completed this many hours studying, or they have adequately learned the material?
Answer: Obviously (to you and me) it is more important that a student has adequately learned the material.

However, to society in general it is more important to keep students "off the street" and in a classroom (instead of out committing crimes). Thus for many in society it is more important that students complete a certain number of hours in a controlled environment so that "mom and dad" can either go to work and/or watch TV (or surf the net) in peace.

And what about socialization? At some point a student will be able to learn every "academic" thing from behind his/her "Google glasses" and still not know how to "play well with others."

In an ideal world (heh) students would all participate in learning programs matched to their own learning speed. The "smart" ones would learn more in a set amount of time than the "less smart" ones. At the end of the "learning period" they could all turn their attention to recreation (or the "persistent," "determined," "ambitious" students could forego the "recreation" and continue learning until they catch up or surpass their smarter but less ambitious peers).

Personally I'd rather see the "gamification" of learning take place thus turning learning into "edutainment" and then additionally marry that with producing actual benefits to society (work-study).

Then we get into the deeper question of, "Is this material worth learning?" And how about, "Is 5 minutes of learning this material worth 10 minutes of learning that material?" Or how about, "Is 5 minutes with this instructor worth 10 minutes of that instructor?" I daresay 10 minutes learning social studies at the feet of someone like Gandhi could very well be worth many hours of studying in a typical classroom.

Seems to me that it comes down to measurement, testing, and results.
But is it "fair" if "fast kid" and "slow kid" attend 45 seat time hours of college and we give "fast kid" 5 units of credit and "slow kid" 3 units of credit? (Because obviously "fast kid" had better testing results.) Instead of report cards that stated letter grades, we would issue report cards that stated "credit" earned based on performance. An "A" grade would be worth 4 units of credit, a "B" grade would be worth 3 units, a "C" worth 2 units, a "D" worth "1" unit and an "E" worth nothing. Then the student who gets 120 semester units total could graduate college and get on with life.

Question: If a student wants to take ASL at college, and they have had ASL in high school, how do you determine what ASL class to put him in? Does he automatically have to start in level 1, beginner's?

Answer: It varies from college to college. At many colleges it generally isn't addressed at all.  Many students take ASL in HS and then start with ASL 1 in college. Their teachers think "Gee, I'm such a good teacher. Look at how smart so many of my students are! I just wish I knew what to do about those slow ones who are obviously dumb." It never occurs to some teachers that their smart students have already sat through 90 hours of ASL class. Then the "so called" "dumb" students run home and study furiously from Lifeprint (and other online sites) in a desperate attempt to catch up to their pre-educated peers. More traffic for me.

Some colleges and/or individual teachers are more progressive and allow students that have taken ASL in HS to jump to ASL 2. Some programs even do TESTING to see if a student is ready for ASL 3. But here is the thing, testing takes time and effort (if it isn't technology based and automated). Does a college instructor want to spend 30 hours each semester testing (interviewing) students to see if they are ready to take ASL 2?

30 hours of a college instructor's one-on-one time is worth 2 or 3 thousand dollars. (This email reply of mine to you is worth $20 to $30. Heh. Seriously though, go ask a lawyer to send you an email advising you regarding a legal matter and see what happens).

Question: So, if you see on a student's transcript (or he tells you) he has 1 year of high school ASL (you don't know what material they used), do you assume he has covered all the material in your ASL University 1 and 2 and where would you then place him in college classes? If my son were to take your ASL University Level 1 and 2 in high school, where would you place him in college?

If a student tells me (via sign language) that he has taken ASL 1 at a high school I will generally add them via signature to my (CSU Sacramento) ASL 2 class (if I have seats--which I generally don't). I figure if he or she wants to take ASL 2 and gets into my (CSU Sacramento) class and finds it is harder than he/she thought then he/she can go home and study their brains out via my website and catch up. Ah the joys of technology.

Technology is turning the world on its head. The classroom and home are flipping. Go home and learn, come to class and do your homework. (Go home and memorize signs, come to class and USE THOSE SIGNS to sign to your fellow classmates in structured (game-like) activities that demonstrate what you have learned (or failed to learn) at home.

If a student has taken my (official, registered, tuition-payment required, instructor-graded video project, and proctored comprehensive final exam) ASLU Level 1 and 2 courses via and wants to take ASL 3 at a traditional seat-based college then I would indeed put him/her into ASL 3 at the college. However, it is not all that cut and dried. If the student really did DIG IN AND LEARN in the online classes he will do fine in the College ASL 3 class. If the student did the bare minimum in the online classes chances are he will fail miserably in the ASL 3 college class. The thing about online education is that it gives you plenty of rope with which to educate yourself and/or hang yourself quite handily.

College-bound advanced-class-seeking online ASL students should spend considerable time over at learning how to read fingerspelling -- to the point where they can catch 9 out of 10 words on the first try at "fast" speed.

Keep in mind that ASLU doesn't provide college credit. We only provide documentation that states this student passed a course that is equivalent to a college-level ASL 1 or ASL 2 course. Any actual credit must be negotiated with the local HS and or College ahead of time.
Dr. Bill

Hello Bill,
    Thank you for the reply...Of course I'd tell you everything about myself. I am Deaf. I love teaching high school in ASL. I am a mother of two. My girl, Mia is now 2 (hearing, first language is ASL but is now taking speech therapy hee hee) and the second one, Michael, just turned 4 months old. Hearing too. Sleeps a lot. :) My husband Michael is an ASL interpreter but he is the director for the Deaf and Blind at Teacher's College, Columbia University. 
Right now I am teaching ASL Level One using both Vista and ABC Basic Book to high school grade 9th through 12th. I am working at Port
Washington High School (Long Island, NY) and for this coming fall, I will be transferred to another school and will be teaching ASL at
Jericho High School.

    I strongly feel that your lessons on website were more effective and meets the students' skills/interests. They also go on your online for
their receptive skills on signing. They all enjoy it very much.

    I will be meeting my chairperson on Thursday to discuss the next year's schedule. I will be more than happy to provide the information
as soon as I get the information from her.

    In the meantime, I am teaching ASL classes as credit courses at Nassau Community College and continuing Education at Hofstra University. I
even mentioned all of my students about your website too. You are getting popular! :)

    Right now at Port Washington High School, I teach ASL 1 once a day. It is a part time job. I was told that there was a budget cut meaning
there is no ASL classes for next year (**pretty upset about it but that is not a definite as of yet**) As I started to research on the New York
State Regents Examination for High School in ASL, it is a pretty intensive exam and according to them, they use VISTA 1 and 2. I
strongly feel that the VISTA are somewhat too advanced for high school. I feel that VISTA should be used in colleges/universities.

    I'd be more than happy to correspond with you in giving you ideas for designing the curriculum. I will think of more and write down my ideas
and share it with you. The only thing I am very interested is having a teacher's version of ASL with supported materials such as tests,
overhead, worksheets, research papers, projects and so on. Oh, I am doing the activity with  my class right now, my students are
researching on famous Deaf people such as Gallaudet, Clerc, Linda Bove and so on. They are to do 2 pages research on their background and
design a poster with 4 or more pictures and add timeline on it from the day they were born, what did they do to accomplish their careers and so
on and will be displayed on the walls at the high school main area. Students find it amazing because they had no idea that the Hulk was
hard of hearing. Last, students are to sign about their projects and what they have learned. It is a fun project to do. My students are much
of hands on projects. I'd like more hands on projects and more games too. I can't think of any more. I could go on and on but I'll stop for

Thanks again,

Leah Canale
ASL Instructor
Hofstra University
University College of Continuing Education
250 Hofstra University
Hempstead, NY 11549-2000

Begin forwarded message:

> From: Bill Vicars
> Date: April 27, 2004 1:21:43 PM EDT
> To: mcanale@
> Subject: Re: ASL
> Leah,
> ... If you'll tell me as much as you can about the nature of what you do and what you need in regard to an effective high school ASL
> curriculum--I might soon be in a position to custom design such a curriculum.
> I'd like complete contact and career data from you: name, phone, email, mailing address, school where you teach, number of
> courses, title of course, credit granted, contact hours per course, levels available or desired, current curriculum, and what you think
> would be the "dream" curriculum for a high school class. How many lessons, what kind of supports, what would the text be like, etc.
> William Vicars, Ed.D.
> Asst. Professor, American Sign Language
> Eureka Hall, Room 308
> California State University, Sacramento
> 6000 J Street
> Sacramento CA 95819-6079
> In a message dated 4/27/2004 5:01:23 AM Pacific Daylight Time,
> mcanale@ writes:
> Hello Bill,
>>     Your website at is amazing! I've been teaching my
> high school with some of your lessons and they were more than motivated to
> learn ASL. In preparing for next year's ASL lesson plans, I'd like to
> check with you first before purchasing the set that comes with a book
>  and CDs. I am concerned about the CD version. I noticed that you
>  printed that the CDs are formatted for Windows/PC versions. The
> problem is we use Macintosh computers. Right now I am using Apple G3 powerbook
>  with Mac OS X version. I do have Windows Media Player installed. Will
>  your CDs work on my Macintosh powerbook? This computer is connected to
> the classroom equipments such as overhead and screen.
>     I'd appreciate your suggestions/comments.
>     Thank you,
>     Leah Canale


Want to help support ASL University?  It's easy DONATE (Thanks!)
(You don't need a PayPal account. Just look for the credit card logos and click continue.)

For a list of various ways to donate see:

Another way to help is to buy something from the ASLU "Bookstore."

Want even more ASL resources?  Visit the "ASL Training Center!"  (low cost / high quality courses)   CHECK IT OUT >

A must see!:  ASL University's YouTube playlist

You can learn sign language online at American Sign Language University ™
hosted by © Dr. William Vicars



UNITS/HOURS The Carnegie unit formula directly relates to instructional assignments, both in and out of class. The sole exception to this formula is for internship or work experience courses which are governed by a separate section of law. The Carnegie formula requires three hours of work per week by the student, either in or out of class, for the duration of the term. Three hours of weekly work—whether lecture, laboratory and/or homework—is assigned a value of one unit. One lecture hour equals one unit as it is presumed that the lecture format will require at least two hours of study outside the classroom. Three hours of laboratory is commonly equated to one unit because it is acknowledged that most work will occur in the classroom. The curriculum committee expects course outlines to specify units and hours as if each course were intended to be offered for a full term (semester calendar equals a minimum of 17.5 weeks). Once the hours and units conform to the formula and the course is approved, faculty are free to schedule the course however they deem it as most appropriate for the students being served. That is, offering a course on a weekend or for eight weeks is a scheduling issue to be managed through the schedule of classes, rather than a course outline issue managed by the curriculum committee and the college catalog. The Carnegie unit formula is applied as follows: For a minimum of 17.5 weeks, 1 class lecture hour weekly + 2 study hours weekly = 1 unit 3 classroom laboratory hours weekly = 1 unit Applying this formula to a typical college course, a student enrolled in a one-unit lecture course would spend a minimum of 17.5 hours in class (1 lec hr/wk X 17.5 wks=17.5 hrs) and would study 35 (2 hrs/wk X 17.5 wks = 35 hrs) hours out-of-class. So, the total hours committed to this one-unit course is 52.5 hours (17.5+35=52.5). Internship or work experience courses are subject to different formula. The applicable law requires more hours per unit, and assigns these hours to two groups of students: those who are volunteers or unpaid and those who are paid to work. This formula is applied as follows: Unpaid volunteers: 60 hours per semester = 1 unit Paid workers: 75 hours per semester = 1 unit based on 17.5 weeks 0.5 unit of lecture/lab/activity = 26.25 hours 1 unit of lecture/lab/activity = 52.5 hours 1.5 units of lecture/lab/activity = 78.75 hrs 2 units of lecture/lab/activity = 105 hrs 2.5 units of lecture/lab/activity = 131.25 hrs 3.0 units of lecture/lab/activity = 157.5 hrs 3.5 units of lecture/lab/activity = 183.75 hrs 4.0 units of lecture/lab/activity = 210 hrs 4.5 units of lecture/lab/activity = 236.25 hrs 5.0 units of lecture/lab/activity = 262.5 hrs 5.5 units of lecture/lab/activity = 288.75 hrs 6.0 units of lecture/lab/activity = 315 hrs