37

Instead of the typical 4 classes every 10 weeks, why not 2 classes every 5 weeks?

Condensed courses usually means:

  • Taking less courses at the same time which makes compartmentalization for memorization easier.
  • You (typically) take the same course every day, thus actively refreshing the neurons on that topic.
  • Taking the same course every day over a shorter time makes cumulative exams much less intimidating.
  • You see the same students everyday. This encourages a more natural stimulation of getting to know your classmates and seems to result in more collaboration outside of class.
  • If you're doing poorly in a class, for whatever reason, only the last 5 weeks of your academic life are wasted (as opposed to 10).

Overall, the same material is taught to students whether it's in 5 weeks or 10. The difference in that in the 5 week plan, students take half the classes they normally would per 5-week term, and the lecture for that class is everyday of the week.

An example being instead of taking intro to biology, chemistry, calculus, and psychology over 10 weeks, you take biology and psychology during the first 5 weeks and then calculus and chem the second 5 weeks.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. (Further discussion in comments will most likely be deleted, since I can't move comments twice.) – ff524 May 26 '16 at 16:30
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    You criticize people making claims without justification. But your question itself does just that. "Taking less courses at the same time which makes compartmentalization for memorization easier." Citation needed! – Nate Eldredge May 26 '16 at 19:17
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    FYI, most of the University of California campuses use the quarter system, ~3 classes every 10 weeks – drewmoore May 30 '16 at 21:05
  • @drewmoore: I was about to write the same comment before I noticed yours :) But (in my brief impression) UC classes are not more frequent than classes elsewhere, so students aren't taking fewer classes per quarter than other students take per term (a class at UC Davis and a class at UMN both take 150 minutes per week), but instead, every single class contains less material and the material is spread across more different classes. So this is not actually condensation. (I personally would much prefer the UC quarters system.) – darij grinberg Dec 1 '16 at 0:45
  • Are 4 classes per semester actually usual? This sounds like a seriously stressful workload to me. – darij grinberg Dec 1 '16 at 0:46

10 Answers 10

70

From an information processing perspective, it is much more beneficial to have four classes over ten weeks than two classes over five weeks. This is because the mind needs the extended time to digest the material that it is being exposed to.

The two class approach is highly beneficial in allowing students to focus. However, the reduction in exposure to the content over time makes it difficult for retention and to acquire in-depth mastery of the ideas of the curriculum.

I have worked at several institutions that offer "intensive" courses for working graduate students. The students will take one class over the course of one week (about 8 hours a day). In such an intense format the students remember very little and demonstrate limited mastery of the content. This is due to the rushed nature of the course. Even though the students were able to focus, the average individual just cannot digest that much content so fast.

Sadly, there is more to learning than just seat time. Students need time to discuss and apply the knowledge they are exposed to in a course. This only becomes more challenging as the number of weeks a course lasts is reduced, even if the number of hours stays the same.

  • Yes, very much this. I did my master's degree in Copenhagen where all courses were 7 weeks and you had two at a time. Looking back now, it is clear how inefficient this was for digesting the material. – Tobias Kildetoft May 24 '16 at 6:38
  • So, so , soooo true. In my second year at university I had two six-weeks terms, and they were awful: no time at all to understand what I was learning. – Lucia Bentivoglio May 24 '16 at 9:48
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    This is very true for any course where you have to research and synthesize the information into a greater whole. In other words, any good class, be it physics (where you may have to wrestle with a concept for a while) or history, or foreign policy. It takes time for your brain to wrap itself around deep concepts. – Jon Custer May 25 '16 at 18:20
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    Actually I'm pretty sure the evidence from cognitive science is that weekly classes are too far apart, and moving to 2 classes per week helps retention of information. Couldn't cite a source though... – beldaz May 26 '16 at 0:38
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    "he students will take one class over the course of one week (about 8 hours a day)." That's dramatically different than what I wrote. Where is the research to back up your claims on the impact these differing schedules have on memory? – 8protons May 26 '16 at 15:14
50

There are in fact two colleges (Cornell College in Iowa, not to be confused with Cornell University, and Colorado College in Colorado) that have students take one class at a time, with 9 3.5-week terms over the course of an academic year.

One reason more colleges don't do this is that most students seem to be not like you and tend not to like summer classes. This is particularly true for students who are not well-prepared for the class they are taking and hence need more time to work on catching up, and also for students who want to be able to slack off for a few days once in a while without falling irretrievably behind.

Another reason is that this schedule is incredibly hard on professors. At most universities, professors are teaching fewer classes than a full-time student is taking, because teaching a class (including all the grading) is usually more work than taking one. When a student is taking one class at a time, the professor for that class has to work extra overtime. Professors at both Colorado and Cornell get terms without teaching assignments, partly so they can do some preparation ahead of time, but there is only so much you can do ahead of time. (Even with 4 terms a year and two classes at a time, it's still hard on professors since teaching a large class is frequently more than twice as much work as taking one.)

  • How is it more work? Theoretically the professor is still teaching the same number of classes; nothing has changed but the fact that instead of being dedicated to a course for X weeks, they're lecturing for the same course for X divided by 2 weeks. For example, instead of the professor having to teach for all of winter, they teach just for "early-winter" or "late-winter". Which gives them, technically, 5-weeks of teaching freedom or to teach another class if they so choose (which in that case would definitely be more work). – 8protons May 23 '16 at 21:21
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    Working 80 hours a week for a month and then having a month off is not the same as working 40 hours a week for two months. – Alexander Woo May 23 '16 at 21:23
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    Wow, that makes sense. That would be pretty brutal now that I think about it :/ I feel insensitive for asking this. – 8protons May 23 '16 at 21:25
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    @8protons the whole point of SE is to learn :-) – enderland May 24 '16 at 2:07
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    From a student's perspective: Missing one week of regular classes due to illness can be caught up on without major problems. One week of intensive classes, not as easily, especially with projects. – mafu May 25 '16 at 0:18
15

Short answer: you can't teach some things if you have short terms.

Some colleges do that. The University of Chicago and Dartmouth, for example, are on the quarter system where classes are 10 weeks long, and students usually take 3-4 classes per quarter. Colorado College has a 3 week system where you only take a single class per week.

The main reason why schools have shorter classes is that it is amazing for research! You can get so much done during the remainder of the year, although that makes the time you are teaching insane with course prep. Most faculty I know love that schedule though, and I am on a similar schedule, and love it.

The main reason for not doing it, other than tradition, is that it is not good for a lot of kinds of learning. Many concepts require a little time to percolate for students to really understand. Things that are skills, such as language, mathematics or art also require practice which can be built into, and assumed, during longer periods, but the shorter the coursework, the less that you get outside.

The quarter system can be a happy medium, depending on how it is administered, but if you are taking a 5 course semester and one language course per semester than language learning is only 20% of your class time, and only needs to be 20% of your extra-course study and you are taking the course all year long. In order to get year long language training in the quarter system (or math, etc.) You'd need to bump up the level to 30% of your coursework, or go half the year without language training. It is essentially impossible to do under any shorter courses. That may seem desirable if all you want to do is that, but such focused training is not the point of a university education.

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    It's Colorado College, which is not at all the same as the University of Colarado. – Alexander Woo May 23 '16 at 21:07
  • @AlexanderWoo Noted and fixed. – The Pompitous of Love May 23 '16 at 23:45
10

Taking from when I was a student, there are a few reasons.

  • Connecting material covered in different courses is important
  • Each student found some courses harder than others, by taking 5 courses at the same time, it is possible to spend longer on what you find hard.
  • Some days I just did not feel like learning some subjects, so having flexibility on time planning is useful.
  • It is never nice having homework you must do for the next day, as it stops you being flexibly on how you use your time.
4

While I think there are a variety of great, more pedagogically-relevant reasons given in other answers, I also see a serious logistical reason. My own alma mater would, I think, be farcically inept at attempting to implement this, and I do not think it would be alone.

The problem I’m referring to is that developing schedules is exceptionally difficult. At my school, there were always numerous serious problems and no one wound up happy with the schedule, but there were just too many conflicts and it took an entire office devoted to the subject enormous amounts of time to even develop the poor schedules we ended up with.

If asked to do so twice as often, I don’t think they’d even know where to start. Simply hiring more staff isn’t an answer, because many of the delays come from conflicting needs outside their own office, and the various departments aren’t going to get twice as fast at arguing about why their needs are greater than others’.

4

I went to WPI, which runs on a system of four 7 week terms where the default load is 3 courses. I loved it.

Advantages: Only 3 courses, so it's easier to manage time between them. More flexible to schedule pre-requisites. A course that sucks is over soon. Compressed time schedule makes reviewing for exams easier because you don't have to look back as far.

Disadvantage: Workload can be heavy squeezing certain courses in to 7 weeks. If you get the flu for a week, you're in deep trouble.

  • Just come in with the flu. Its not like you are doing manual labor. The tears of a stranger are just water. – Jacob Murray Wakem Nov 30 '16 at 17:30
1

I realize high school and college/university are very different levels of education and different age for most students.

I have been exposed to 2 to 3 different teaching periods. In High school I started out with taking the same 8 course all year long with 3 classes in the morning 3 in the afternoon. The next day the last class would not be taken, all classes would be shifted up a period and the classes that were not there were added to first period in the morning and after lunch. Loved this system with classes being only about 45 minutes long, mid term exams at Christmas and end of year exams covered the full year with a bias towards second half of the year.

Later I switched to yet another high school and it was a semestered system. 4 classes for the first half of the year 2 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon. Then after Christmas it was 4 new courses. I really hated this system. The first problem was the length of classes being over an hour and a half. Unfortunately for me my attention span does not last that long and I stopped absorbing information around the 1 hour mark. The second problem I had with the system was if you took say MATH 1 in first term first year, you might not see math again for over a year when you take MATH 2 second term second year. In my opinion, it was too long away from the topic and a lot of information gets forgotten.

My university was more of the later system with first semester and second semester. However classes tended to be short in duration, about 1 hour long. I think the worst case was a surveying class where the class was the entirety of Monday afternoon (3-4 hours straight). This was incredibly tough on the staying focused part during the initial pure lectures, but was required for the outdoor labs. The nice part about my university aside from being incredibly structured were the set class schedules. Monday to Friday 0800-1600. no evening or weekend lectures.

As an aside I also think my final class size of 11 (french class was 4) also gave really good interaction with the professors.

In addition to what other have said about the consequences of missing classes, the amount of homework your need to do, running your mind excessively with out, and more than a few other things, I think that longer classes over a shorter period of time CAN be harder for some people if they have difficulty staying focused for extended periods of times. Would your really want to take it to the extreme and have 1 classe over 2.5 weeks? I think I would eventually tune out. Some people need variety.

1

I attended a University which offered (many of) the same courses in either a full-time study or part-time study program format.

The full-time option offered the course in 3 one-hour sessions over the semester.

The part-time option, depending on on the term came in either:

  • one 3-hour session one day a week
  • 5 weekend sessions, typically, Sat and Sundays, 1/2 day each
  • 1 full week (5 days) of full day (ie 8 hr day) instruction

In all cases, the total classroom time worked out to be the same. I experienced all the forms (different courses :) ). That did not make the classes equivalent by any means. While the full-time program was essentially geared to "classical students", the part-time stream was typically geared to "professionals" looking for further education.

My experience reflects many of the other poster's comments. There was simply no way to deliver a "term" project in 1 one week course, even the 5 wknds was a stretch. There was also simply no was to truly absorb and comprehend the material in the span of a week and be properly tested on it. The tests essentially get reduced down to memorization of the readings or constructed questions.

Was I was in first-year in another "classical" university, the professors suggested it was necessary to spend 3 hours outside the class for every hour inside in order to comprehend the material and succeed. Simple math says that is not viable when the course is now 8 hrs/day for 5 days straight.

Consider too, Medicine is akin to applied biology, is to appl. chemistry, is to appl. physics, is to appl. calculus, etc. Taking these subjects in parallel strengthens the learning process. It is also very challenging to pick up where you left off after not studying that subject for some time (ie: skip a semester) vs the continuity of continuous learning.

1

There are many reasons why this won't work in general.

  1. People have different learning abilities and shortened duration for a class would alienate those that have difficulties. What if a student falls behind, with a longer semester it is possible to recover, and much less so with a shorter one.
  2. This idea rules out classes where in-depth projects are necessary. Some times it just takes time to perform the necessary tasks set out to the students.
  3. You assume that the material taught by the professor is fully prepared before the semester starts. While this may be possible for many courses, some courses reflect the real world and can't be pre-prepared, making it difficult for the professor to ensure a quality learning experience. (Think current events, popular culture, technology, etc).
  4. There are many non-taught educational experiences that are very difficult or impossible without class overlap. For instance, many STEM courses require math as a prerequisite for understanding the interesting material. Without overlap, students would likely have to have a VERY math-heavy first two years. Not really fun and doesn't allow the students to realize why they need to understand Calculus/Differential equations/Linear Algebra, etc. At least until it is long forgotten or seemingly irrelevant.
  5. Shortened semesters also seriously focus the students' perspective. On the material, but also on their social interactions. Part of college/university is to broaden your perspectives.
  6. In order to have pre-requisites work, classes must be more carefully scheduled if there isn't any possibility of overlap. This means that the institution is forcing a sequence of classes (and removing the possibility of the student to tailor their own education). This in turn reduces the possibility of a broad educational experience, which in turn leads to the institution dictating how and what students will be learning. Breadth of education diminishes and we end up without students with varying knowledge making the workforce less imaginative.
  7. College also teaches you some hidden skills such as time management and balancing conflicting workloads. These skills are essential for real-world employment and not forcing students to learn to manage their time is a disservice for employment later.
  • #2 is not quite true. After all, nothing prevents projects to span more than one term (possibly involving several compulsory accompanying classes in the different terms); projects that take a year or that are not aligned with the normal term boundaries exist already nowadays at universities that otherwise organize classes in semesters, after all. – O. R. Mapper May 26 '16 at 17:18
  • #1 is not quite true either. Some students have the opposite problem: they have some issues rendering them unable to work every once in a while (medical issues for example), and so, the longer a course takes, the more likely they miss out a few weeks in the course (which often leads to falling behind). With short courses, they can just retake them until the issue no longer arises. – darij grinberg Dec 1 '16 at 0:40
-1

Lots of great answers here already, just want to chime in with a point I'm surprised no one has mentioned.

Not all students are full time, or capable of taking a full courseload. Many students working part-time, or even full-time, need the ability to take a much lighter courseload. The closer you get to taking one intense class per quarter, the less that students (and faculty!) have the ability to control their schedule.

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