Class conversion

Nichol Nelson

Students aren’t the only ones leery about the upcoming semester system.
While students struggle to understand the information in the bright maroon and gold semester transition books, University professors continue to weigh the pros and cons of the new system.
The semester transition required a complete overhaul of the University’s curriculum, a task that took more than four years. Under the guidance of college curriculum committees, faculty members across the campus threw out their quarter-based material and started fresh.
“It’s a huge amount of work,” said Sara Evans, a professor in the history department. “We’re all dying under the workload.”
Yet Evans said the process served a useful purpose. It was good for faculty members to look at curriculums that have been built up over decades, she said.
In the process of changing quarter courses into semesters, faculty members cut the number of classes in the University’s course inventory from 30,000 to 14,000 classes, said Peter Zetterberg, senior analyst in the Office of Planning and Analysis.
In some cases, multiple-quarter classes were merged into one semester classes. Some classes were discarded altogether.
Math professor Donald Kahn called the transition phase of the process “enormous drudgery.” He said his department spent hundreds of hours entering information on the new curriculum into the semester database.
Professors at other institutions that have undergone similar transitions warned University faculty members that the change would be difficult. Kahn said his fellow professors are still uncertain about the outcome of their labor.
“We are sitting back,” Kahn said. “It’s kind of the lull before the storm.”
In addition to the strain of the massive transition, professors will face an increase in teaching time.
“In my department, there will be a work speed-up,” said Kent Bales, a professor in the English department.
Bales said although there is not a University-wide mandate about the number of classes a professor must teach each year, under quarters, most professors teach five classes per year.
Under the semester system, most professors will have to teach four classes per year, Bales said. Assuming each class meets three times a week, the new system will require professors to prepare material for an average of 18 more class periods each year.
“It’s hard to be positive about something when it’s extra work, which it is for everybody right now,” said Peter Hudleston, associate dean of the Institute of Technology. “I think it will be fine once the dust settles.”
Professors acknowledge that despite their increased workload, there are definite advantages to teaching students under the semester system.
Many instructors are excited about the opportunity to teach subjects in greater depth. Evans said the higher proportion of class time makes active learning possible.
“The problem with quarters is that there is no time for students to hit a dead end,” Evans said. “Now we can do things that require a little bit more exploration.”
Bales agreed with Evans.
“At the end of a semester, you are prepared to do quality work.” Bales said. “Students will be able to do longer papers, which are intrinsically more interesting.”
Ann Waltner, associate dean and history professor, said many professors feel that “time is a tyrant.”
“There’s always a little bit of tension in a 10-week class about how you’re going to use your time,” she said.
The change means students need to be aware of their class loads. The official semester transition guide advises full-time students to register for four or five courses. But that might mean more work for students under the new system.
Laura Coffin Koch, associate director for semesters, said work loads shouldn’t rise under the new system, but some professors don’t agree with her prediction.
“Students should be skeptical that there will be less work,” Bales said. “That is not true.”
Administrators are aware professors may have trouble adjusting to the new system. The amount of assigned work per week has to go down from 12 hours to nine, said Waltner.
“I think that (professors) are making a serious effort to do it,” Waltner said. “But everybody isn’t going to get it perfect the first time.”
Waltner said administrators are alert to listening to students feeling overworked in the semester system.