Alas, there really is no free lunch

In the current issue of our campus paper (here’s a .pdf), there’s an article about a local initiative to explore shifting more classes to a twice-a-week model, as a way to improve the use of classrooms, remove or ease various bottlenecks to graduation, and so forth. The reporter does a good job laying out the basic motivation for it. At some point, though, you’ve got to get the student reaction, which I’m only quoting because I’ve heard about 15 people say this, not to pick on the individual student.

“I choose not to have [three-day ] classes. It really could be a good thing because it could give students more time to study. College is stressful for us students and we need time off.”

Let’s pass by the tension between the last two sentences (“we need to study” vs. “we need time off”). Let’s even pass by the implication that students are the only ones stressed out by the semester.

It certainly is pretty to imagine that, if more classes shift to a twice-a-week format, more students will get a twice-a-week schedule. Look: there aren’t enough rooms to have more Tues/Thurs. classes, at least not during peak times. So, if we move MWF classes to twice-a-week formats, then what you’re going to get are TR classes, MW classes, MR classes, TF classes, and so forth. But I’d be very surprised if the result is, for most students, “more time off.”

(I’m a little stressed about this, since I like the MWF schedule–actually, my schedule is MWF+R: I usually teach a 3-hr course on Thursday nights so that I’m out of the house for this show.)

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3 Responses to Alas, there really is no free lunch

  1. Frothy McBaldman says:

    On our campus the twice-a-week imperative has reached critical mass: on Tuesdays and Thursday there’s nary an empty classroom, and parking cannot be had after 9am. The profs jockey for TTh arrangements as well, which makes scheduling a dickens for the chair. Some have more pressing needs for the long F-M weekend than others, but the logic of our course rotation dictates that they be denied every three semesters or so. A good time is not had by all.

    I have no strong preference either way, but the tendency occurs as a double-edged sword in my little world. On the one hand, I wound up with a M-F schedule in the coming fall: the odds that a 400-level course for majors scheduled at any time other than late TTh afternoon would actually make were against me,
    so I bit that particular bullet for the sake of salesmanship. At the same time, however, an introductory course I teach on MWF is capped at 35 students, but scarcely 20 enrolled in my section. They filled the twice-a-week options to capacity instead.

    I sympathize with those students whose commitments prompt them to seek out accommodating schedules, but I believe that most inclined to the twice-a-week pattern don’t have a particularly pressing need for it. I question the wisdom of reinventing the wheel if the students who genuinely need the change may not actually benefit from it.

  2. JBJ says:

    That I’m willing to teach the MWF schedule is one very strong reason that I get to teach more or less whatever I want.

    I agree with your last paragraph, and would go even further: Many students try to get the twice-a-week schedule, and then fill up their time around it, which then becomes the reason for a twice-a-week schedule! Not the best.

  3. I reckon that part of this is prompted by underutilization of classroom space on MWF. Many in my building are empty between 11-2pm on MWF. So, if there were M,W classes at those times I’m sure they would fill.

    I agree with Frothy — much of the problem is with faculty who want a two day schedule. I spread mine out M-R, but it is nice to have Fridays to go to archives in the region and/or conferences. Students often don’t show up on Fridays anyway, in my experience anyway.

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