Monday, April 12, 2010

A Broad Education More Narrowly Defined

My first full-time teaching schedule was a four course, Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule where I taught my first class at 9AM and my last class (a once a week graduate course ) ended shortly after 8 PM.  For as long as I was a full time faculty member, my schedule was virtually identical.  Only once did I complain to my department chair about my schedule – in my second year he presented me with a schedule that started at 8 AM and ended (one day a week) at 11PM.  I thought the hours were unreasonable and he agreed and modified it back to the way it had always looked.  My courses during those early years were filled regardless of the time. Many students, especially those who worked in addition to going to school, favored early classes or late classes and consequently almost every time slot had a robust enrollment.  The expectation was clear that as a faculty member I would be teaching an evening class virtually every semester and a relatively early morning class as well.

Over time the typical full-time faculty teaching schedule has moved from 4 courses per semester to 3 courses per semester, coupled with more opportunities for sabbaticals, released time or light loading.  This is a positive, not only in terms of making additional progress on a research agenda but also in terms of enhancing the quality of teaching.  But coupled with the reduction in teaching load, there is another – less positive – trend.  From my experience, many full-time faculty no longer look favorably on a three day a week schedule and strongly prefer a Tuesday-Thursday or a Monday-Wednesday schedule. Furthermore, a significant number of faculty would prefer not to teach an evening class (unless perhaps it was a graduate course) and many would also not look favorably on an early morning class.  Department chairs try to the extent possible to take a faculty member’s preferences into account when constructing that person’s schedule and I certainly believe this is appropriate.  The end result may reflect more courses concentrated into two day a week, prime time teaching schedules and more utilization of adjuncts for the three day a week or early morning or evening classes.

Students have also changed over time.  More students, to the extent possible, would like to avoid having classes on Friday since there are clearly benefits to having a regular three day weekend.  Early morning and late afternoon or evening classes, especially in very residential colleges or universities are also often not highly sought after class times.  Student satisfaction, we all recognize, is dependent on more than the classroom experience. The ability to sleep late, the ability to have “free time” when most co-curricular activities are scheduled, and to schedule your classes when you want them scheduled are all parts of the satisfaction equation. Community colleges, given the numbers of students looking to gain entrance, are able to resist this trend; many other schools that are higher tuition and enrollment dependent will not be able to do so.

The end result is that higher education is making less and less efficient use of campus physical facilities.  We gauge our need based on the number of classes we would like to schedule during the most popular time slots. Consequently, there are often pressures to build more classroom facilities to meet a peak demand when a more efficient scheduling matrix could easily accommodate all classes without additional bricks and mortar.  We all understand that for four months a year (June, July, August, and January) our facilities are not fully utilized to educate our students.  Now the reality is that we are also not fully utilizing our facilities early in the morning, late at night, and Friday’s (plus of course Saturdays and Sundays).  As all of us look for economies that will not adversely impact the quality of our education, efficient utilization of space should not be left out of the discussion.

1 comment:

  1. If capacity utilization is an issue on the non-heavy days, how about reducing the importance of the MWF schedule and have more time slots for day classes on the MW schedule or even a WF schedule? Has there been any study done on whether a 3-day teaching schedule is more/less effective than a 2-day teaching schedule? Having more options for MW or WF schedules will address your point of utilizing the facilities more. Given the problems we have of finding a parking place on campus on Tuesdays and Thursdays, it is obvious that the TR schedule is the most heavily used, and not the other day combinations.

    This is an interesting issue to discuss furthur - thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.