One class at a time

College students do better when they take one class at a time for a short, intensive term. But can a community college redesign its whole schedule?

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  1. Mark Roulo says:

    From the article:

    Science labs could be a real challenge, at least on a large scale. I’m not sure how it would work for courses that require the material to seep in slowly, like philosophy or literature.

    And I’d add mathematics and science. I would not want to try to learn 1 quarter of calculus in two weeks (we used to call this cramming). History might also benefit from a bit of time for the material to soak in.

    What classes are the students taking where cramming for two weeks and then moving on to something else results in better learning?

  2. I was a ‘study as you go’ student, so every 2-3 class meetings I’d summarize my notes and review. In regular semester classes, this meant a weekly review of material for courses that had tests every 3-5 weeks, so I had a lot of time to spend with the material. My first year of grad school was the last year that that schools used the quarter system. Classes met daily, tests were every 2 weeks…and it seemed like a lot more people skimmed along the surface of the material. There wasn’t a lot of time to link things together. As a science person, I liked to learn a pathway and then link it to other pathways/systems, and when you moved quickly the amount of time between learning things and moving on to something new was too short to make those connections. I can easily believe that students would do well with only one class, but I can also imagine that they would retain and understand less.

  3. Roger Sweeny says:

    When students have one intensive class for a few weeks, they can more easily memorize the material. Thus, they will score better on a full course exam than when the course extends for 10 or 15 weeks.

    When the course extends for 10 or 15 weeks, the information in the first few weeks often “decays” as the course goes on. Similarly, the information in the intensive course will probably “decay” as the school year goes on.

    In most cases, I would guess that they hadn’t actually learned more. Not if learning means long-term understanding as opposed to short-term memorization.

  4. This really doesn’t work well for things like math or foreign language. Imagine studying Russian 1 intensively for 6 weeks. Then you take a break and study other things for many months, before coming back to Russian 2 maybe 6 months later? Or how about Calculus I, huge break, and then Calculus II 6 months later?

    For these type of courses, you would have to take them consecutively or not at all… 4 modules of calc I, II, III and differential equations/linear algebra… or 4 modules of Spanish 1-4, all in a row.

    But then what happens after???

    I’m a physics professor… I just can’t see this working because my students need time for the material to settle in…

    • I agree. I was appalled when my old high school switched to ‘block scheduling’, where students took 4 classes in the fall and the other 4 in the spring. While I could be fine with longer classes, A and B days, etc, the idea of dropping a course for, potentially, more than a year seemed absurd. Even as a college student, I would have never made it through if I took the first semester of a sequence in fall of freshman year and the second course in spring of my sophomore year. Ack!

      While I have no doubt that some students can learn more quickly, some ideas are complicated. I had a professor who was famous for telling us, when we asked a question, to draw it or write out what we knew or some such thing and then come see him in office hours. It was amazing how often a little time to think made the answer seem obvious.