Does a credit course need to be 13 weeks long? Do alternative formats provide any benefits? Bruce Lanphear, a professor in Health Sciences, shed some light on these questions when he offered HSCI 483-3, an environmental health seminar, as a one-week intensive course during the spring 2013 semester break. Students praised the course (see the student comments below), and Lanphear, who co-taught the class with Glenys Webster, thinks he knows why: “If I had to single out the most important factor of success, it would be the format that resulted in the positive student feedback.”
“The condensed nature of the class allowed for a very high level of concentration and focus on one subject that allowed for more in depth learning. Unprecedented access to the profs for extra help, and the small class allowed for greater discussion and learning opportunities outside the classroom.” – Student
Lanphear previously taught the course in a traditional 13-week, three-hours-per-week format. He found that the change to a five-day format prompted his students to become more connected and collaborative: “When we have students eight hours a day for one whole week […], they are sitting next to the same people hour after hour. People become comfortable talking and dialoguing with each other, so the level of engagement is much greater.” Lanphear found that his own level of engagement rose as well because he was able to fully dedicate himself to the course within its short duration.
“This is an excellent format to offer to students and should be offered for other courses more often. It creates a community environment, allows one to concentrate on the material, connect with the professor and peers, and allows for things like field trips which enrich the experience. Also, the scheduling is fantastic – loved getting to fit in a class between semesters as my schedule is fairly busy and sometimes conflicts with the 14 week semester.” – Student
Remarkably, all 31 students finished the class with a perfect attendance record. Presumably the engaging nature of the course activities had something to do with that—for example, guest speakers were brought in, and students participated in field trips with follow-up activities that reinforced applications to real life—but as the student comments made clear, the course format itself was a big part of the appeal, especially for students juggling studies with work and other responsibilities.
“[The course] allows people to get 3 credits done in a way that probably fits better into the majority of students’ schedules – students who want to work full time, for instance, can take a week off, but not 4 hours a week off for 13 weeks.” – Student
Lanphear has the following words of advice for other faculty members interested in exploring intensive course formats:
- Evaluate your current course format to determine its suitability for an intensive format: If a course consists mostly of lectures presented by a single instructor without other assistance, a one-week format could be daunting for the instructor and the students.
- Enlist help from staff and faculty since the change in format can have implications for systems and operations. In the case of HSCI 483-3, it took two years to move the course forward.
- Consider how you will deal with additional costs for field trips and other activities. Think about where you can obtain funding (research grants, funding from your Faculty and/or the Teaching and Learning Development Grants).