Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Kill the MWF template, please

Andy Guess at Inside Higher Ed reports on the growing trend towards abolishing Friday classes at commuter campuses due to increasing fuel costs. I’m sure there are a few college classes that lend themselves to the MWF, 50-minute pattern—I think foreign languages probably lend themselves to a more intense approach, which you wouldn’t get meeting 1–2 times per week—but I don’t think I’ve ever taught a political science class that worked very well in the MWF pattern. Killing the MWF pattern might lead to underutilization of classrooms on Fridays, but Duke solved the problem by creating a WF pattern as an alternative for the MW pattern and having some 150-minute Monday and Friday classes, primarily graduate seminars.

Another potential cost reduction would be to cut course loads, either by increasing most courses to a nominal four-hour standard from the three-hour standard (Millsaps’ solution), or replacing hours with “credits” (as Duke does) and requiring fewer total courses; the bachelor’s degree at Duke is around 34–36 credits, equivalent to 102–108 semester hours in terms of classroom contact and far short of the 120+-hour requirement at most institutions.

Given the tendency for general education requirements to accumulate over time, you could only really do this successfully with an overhauled gen-ed approach—Millsaps did this by adopting a somewhat flexible ten-item core, while Duke’s seemed more like a traditional system. But many graduates these days end up taking several pointless electives to get to the required 120+ hours, so perhaps you wouldn’t have to sacrifice much from either the major or general education to get the course count down to a more efficient number.


Any views expressed in these comments are solely those of their authors; they do not reflect the views of the authors of Signifying Nothing, unless attributed to one of us.
[Permalink] 1. Rick Almeida wrote @ Wed, 21 May 2008, 1:11 pm CDT:

From the teaching end of the spectrum, I prefer 75-minute classes for upper division courses, but I definitely prefer the 50-minute format for intro American Government classes. I find that it’s pretty easy to deliver a pretty good 45–48 minute lecture that keeps students and I both pretty interested. That seems to be a lot less true as we pass through 50–75 minutes.

Also, I prefer 50 minute blocks for undergraduate methods, it forces me to be very focused and structure lectures into more manageable chunks.


I couldn’t do methods in 50 minutes. A big problem with the 50-minute format is that you either have to give too-short exams or spread them over two days, neither of which is ideal. With a large lecture course where you don’t expect much student participation and very simplistic exams (multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank) American government in a 50 minute block is OK, but even there I can handle the trade-off of preparing longer lectures and trying to hold students’ attention longer. And I’d much rather teach a 4-course load four days a week M-Th instead of three days a week MWF.

[Permalink] 3. Alfie Sumrall wrote @ Thu, 22 May 2008, 6:38 am CDT:

I think attendance rates would rise big time if they went to M-W and T-Th 75 minute classes. I had a couple semesters where I lucked out and didn’t have any Friday classes. If I remember right, South Alabama used to not even have Friday classes back when I was in high school in the mid-90s.


We are going through the same change process that Duke did (my chair and I had a long talk with Munger about it when he visited….shockingly, he can be quite insightful). It will kick in in a year. We used to have no classes after 2pm on Fridays and that was when all university committees would meet. Unfortunately, the president didn’t like how it looked to prospective students who would arrive Friday afternoon to see a campus mostly devoid of student activity….that isn’t to say we were/are a suitcase campus. We very much aren’t, but the kids just weren’t on campus Friday afternoons. Over the past year, the administration started paying for a “co-ed flag football club”....on the condition that they (1) always play on Friday afternoon and (2) always played on the lawn that is first seen when people pull into the main entrance of campus (as opposed to, say, the larger grassy area across the street next to the student center that isn’t quite as visible).

The main impetus for this schedule change is so visitors can see a “fully engaged” campus when they arrive on Friday for their campus visit. I wish I were kidding.

That said, the new schedule, when implemented, will provide more 75 min classes….of which I am in favor. In the fall, I will teach both methods and my upper division parties class in the MWF 50 minute format….and it will sucketh mightily.

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