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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Two or three days per week?

Last semester sort of sucked and I'm still trying to figure out why. And what I mean by 'it sucked' is that I felt like my students were more confused than in the past, more whiny than in the past, and I was often more frustrated than in the past (and I should say that I am referring entirely to my principles class - my upper-division Econ for Teachers class was fine). I think that part of it was a general issue of students (and faculty and staff) being affected by the budget cuts. I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been for students to keep straight which classes were canceled because of furloughs on any given day.

But I also wondered if part of the issue with the Principles class in particular was because I was teaching it as a Tuesday/Thursday class when I had previously taught it as a Monday/Wednesday/Friday class. Aside from the fact that I had to tweak all my materials to make lectures flow OK, I just think 75 minutes is a long time for students to be sitting there, trying to absorb information. Of course, I still broke up every class with clicker questions and some interactive stuff, but I still tried to 'cover' the same amount of information as with the three-day format and that meant that we had a lot to get through in each class. Although the total number of minutes per week is the same either way, it somehow feels more manageable with three days than two. I don't know if others have had similar experiences, and there is probably research out there that looks at such things, but whether it actually matters or not, I'm glad that I'm returning to the three-day format this spring.

4 comments:

  1. Rey Hernandez and I wrote a paper a couple of years ago on time of day and student learning...more frequent class meetings are better. So MWF is better than T/Th for learning (as measured by performance in the subsequent class). Further, classes meeting later in the day are better for student learning.

    Our data were from Clemson which, like many schools, doesn't offer many MWF afternoon classes. In practice, it ends up that late afternoon MW or T/Th classes are best (because MWF afternoon classes aren't offered). The paper is here: doi:10.1016/j.econedurev.2007.08.001

    So rest assured, your intuition is verified by some data!

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  2. Having taught since 1980 on a two-day-a-week schedule, I will say that moving back to a three-day-a-week schedule would be extraordinarily difficult. and if you reall want to talk about difficult scheduling, try the once-a-week-for-2.5-hours class. I have at least one of those a semester.

    But 75-minute classes are too long. After about 60 minutes (at most), I begin to get the folding-uo-of-notebooks and the putting-away-of-pens motions.

    I will also note that at my institution, there would be very strong resistance by students to moving to three-day-a-week classes. We tried it, and there was. (We are an entirely non-residential, commuter campus; many students deliberately schedule their classes so as to be here two days a week.)

    So optimal, for my students, would be shorter, less frequent classes (grin).

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  3. Hi Angela! Thanks for the validation! We don't have afternoon MWF classes either. My principles class meets at noon, which is sort of a pain for me but I think it's a good time for a Friday class - late enough that they have somewhat recovered from partying Thursday night and early enough that they haven't started weekend partying yet (I've resigned myself to working around the fact that SDSU is a Top 10 party school).
    @Doc: I have a colleague who teaches Principles as a once-a-week class and to be honest, I think it's a travesty. I realize it's the best set-up for the professor but there is no way those students are retaining anything. Once-a-week can be good for seminars or other courses where it's good to have the time to get into deep discussions but for Principles, I just can't see it working.

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  4. My once-a-week classes aren't (now) principles...30 years ago, when I was working in local government and teaching part-time, I did have once-a-week principles classes. Now, they are upper-division undergraduate classes (sports economics this semester) or MBA classes. But it's still not a good schedule on which to teach or learn.

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