A creative approach to class scheduling
Dear Faculty and Staff,
Happy New Year! I hope you had a restful and productive break.
Thank you again for your past and ongoing efforts to help us further stabilize the University, tackle our ongoing financial challenges, and prepare UA for the future. We must continue that vital process in 2018 and strengthen UA through our Stabilize, Invest, and Grow strategy and other means. We need to continue our quest for better ways to respond to the needs of current and prospective students; to creatively distinguish ourselves in the marketplace; and to implement unique approaches that attract traditional and nontraditional students.
Creativity in Delivering a Quality Education
To date, our efforts have been well-received by current and prospective students, parents, high school administrators and teachers, the community, and both local and national media. These efforts include the implementation of:
- the Akron Guarantee Scholarship that invests in student success and provides recipients opportunities for automatic scholarship upgrades;
- lower nonresident undergraduate student tuition starting in fall 2018;
- a four-year undergraduate tuition lock starting in fall 2018;
- shifting advising into the various colleges;
- an International Center; and
- an esports varsity team and club program.
To further stabilize UA and prepare for the future, it is imperative that we continue to innovate and distinguish ourselves. Doing so can benefit our students, generate positive attention for the University, and even attract new students to UA. In my experience, improvements to higher education can be made through innovative concepts or unique approaches that simply connect existing things in a different manner. Here is one such approach.
Exploring a Creative Approach to Class Scheduling and ‘Five-Star Fridays’
During fall semester, I openly discussed a novel concept related to course scheduling. In sum, we would shape our core class schedule on a Monday through Thursday model (“Four-Day Core”) while focusing Fridays on experiential, practical-learning, and other concentrated opportunities (“Five-Star Fridays”). Although there would be exceptions to the core course schedule for certain programs that need to meet daily (for example, dance and music programs), the Registrar has confirmed that a Monday-Thursday schedule is possible. Fridays would be unique and specifically designed to benefit our students as detailed below and identified accordingly.
The “Four-Day Core Five-Star Friday” concept has been discussed at town hall meetings, Faculty Senate, and University Council. It has been discussed among the University leadership, within colleges and departments, and with the Board of Trustees. Using expertise in the College of Business Administration, we collaborated with our Undergraduate Student Government to conduct focus groups (prospective students, parents of prospective students, current students, contract professionals, staff, and others) and survey our undergraduate student population. Nearly 5,000 undergraduate students responded to our survey. In addition, we talked with 75 high school counselors and several high school principals. The feedback about the Four-Day Core Five-Star Friday concept has been very favorable on all fronts.
Four-Day "Core" Academic Schedule
To ensure that everyone has all of the available information and ensure open channels of communication, I offer the following details about the “Four-Day Core Five-Star Friday” concept. Please know that scheduling will be carefully thought out, and the concept effectively communicated to University stakeholders and the public.
In principle, this concept is fairly simple:
- Courses typically offered on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday (M-W-F) track could shift to Monday-Wednesday (M-W) courses. Essentially, a standard 50-minute class session could become a 75-minute class session. In short, current M-W-F courses could mirror our current Tuesday-Thursday (Tu-Th) course schedule. Because Tu-Th courses on our campus (and even M-W courses) have functioned efficiently for decades, the same should be true for M-W classes.
- Courses that need to be taught on a three-day schedule for pedagogical reasons could continue as such. For example, classes could be held on a M-W-Th track or M-Tu-Th track instead of the current M-W-F track. Four-day courses would be held M-Tu-W-Th.
- Some individuals have asked about labs. If possible, these would be scheduled Monday through Thursday to maximize student benefits. Scheduling labs on Friday would still be possible, because that is consistent with the experiential learning concept associated with Five-Star Fridays.
- Certain programs that require daily engagement, such as music and dance, would be accommodated.
- If we can get most programs onto the Four-Day Core Five-Star Friday model, not only will our current students stand to benefit, it should help build enrollment.
- In principle, the number of courses offered and number of students on campus would not change, so demands for study space, parking, and our facilities should remain the same. Conversely, the Four-Day Core Five-Star Friday concept would make our facilities available for innovative Friday and weekend programming.
What happens to Fridays?
Fridays would be designed as a five-star experience for our students. This would be strongly emphasized and explained in communications to current and prospective students.
- UA would dedicate Five-Star Fridays to gaining valuable experience applicable to the workplace and hands-on practical learning – including lab time. We would promote Fridays as times for internships, externships, work, club events, community service, special events, and the like.
- On Fridays, UA students would have additional opportunities to meet and actively engage with faculty, pursue research, engage in study groups, study for the upcoming week, and the like.
- Expanded and comprehensive student services, such as academic counseling, tutoring, career services and administrative tasks, would be readily available on Five Star Fridays.
- Concentrated research, extracurricular/service activities, club activities, and focused study could be enhanced on campus due to the lack of class conflicts on Friday.
- We could schedule special events on Five Star Fridays to attract and retain students on campus. Our undergraduate student survey indicated a strong interest in such activities.
- When used in conjunction with the weekends, Five Star Fridays offer opportunities for condensed and innovative programs and course offerings.
Here are a few general reasons underlying the “Four-Day Core Five-Star Friday” concept.
- Quality learning and student success: Without question, quality learning and student success are the primary focuses both inside and outside of the classroom. The courses would be the same number of minutes, and involve the same rigor. Academically, block scheduling can be advantageous for learning and can enhance quality instruction. Also, students can have three days of concentrated time to prepare for classes, engage with study groups, and engage in meaningful study and research.
- Better facilitate student services and faculty engagement: The new scheduling format will enable enhanced student services on Friday, and provide faculty with greater opportunities to engage with students. By focusing time and efforts on teaching and research during the first four days of the week, on Fridays faculty can concentrate on student advising, student mentoring, office hours, faculty meetings, special programs, and University governance meetings.
- Reduce missed classes: Students who travel (student athletes, academic competition teams, design teams, etc.) would miss fewer classes, thereby enhancing academic seriousness even further on our campus. It would also help in scheduling job interviews for all of our students.
- Student organization and preparation: With a weekday dedicated to study and practical learning, students could better organize and prepare themselves for the following week. Students could employ Friday to engage in different ways with faculty, advisors, tutors, and fellow students.
- Enhanced retention and money savings for students: Having an extra day of flexibility outside of the classroom could have a positive impact for our students in terms of family commitments, the cost of commuting, and attending to other obligations. Also, many UA students work to support the cost of their education. Having a dedicated day to work (if necessary) would reduce the likelihood that a student will suspend his/her studies to work.
- Attractive to employers: Having entire days available to work at a job, externship, internship, or co-op is enticing to employers. For example, I know departments at major universities in Washington, D.C., that never schedule Friday courses. This enables their students to intern with governmental agencies on Fridays. If students use the day wisely, this actually enhances the experience and increases the value of the degree.
- More flexible learning opportunities: The Four-Day Core Five Star Friday schedule will free up space on campus on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, which would facilitate flexible learning initiatives and intensive short courses.
- Appealing to prospective and current students: The unique schedule and practical learning opportunities may enhance our recruitment and retention efforts.
- Distinguishing feature: No other universities in the area are doing anything like this so we have the opportunity to further distinguish UA in the marketplace.
Hopefully this is helpful information that puts into perspective some of the thinking behind the study about the Four-Day Core Five-Star Friday concept. Your thoughts and feedback are always welcome.
Matthew J. Wilson
The University of Akron