Shorter = Better?

As reported in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education, researchers from the University of Texas, Austin found that students preferred shorter, intense classes to traditional semester-long classes. The study’s authors speculate that in the shorter classes, students develop a better rapport with the teacher and are more engaged with the subject matter.

The study isn’t available, so I only read the brief summary in the Chronicle. It sounds like the researchers only looked at student self-reports instead of actual learning outcomes, and it’s impossible to know if they controlled for class size. (Intersession classes tend to be smaller.) However, as someone who has both taken and taught classes in both formats, I can believe that short, intense courses are more effective and engaging.

For the past two years, during the semester, I’ve taught a once-weekly class lasting three hours a session. Not only do the students forget the material from week to week, they also have short attention spans that make a three hour block hard to fill with meaningful material. In the summer, I taught a five week class which met daily, and in the winter, a three week once a day course. In both of those, the students were more engaged–they had to be because the homework and tests were such that they had to do work for the class every evening.

From the other side of the classroom, at the University of Chicago, we had 10-week quarters instead of semesters, and while it was difficult and you started the term feeling behind, it went more quickly and seemed more coherent than the semester-long classes I later took at the University of Oklahoma and Arizona State.

I would love to see more research done in this area!

Oprah’s 21-day Cleanse

This week, Oprah embarked on a three week cleansing diet that is vegan! Hooray for the queen of daytime for introducing veganism to the masses and making it accessible to folks who may never have thought about a vegan diet before.

Oprah is blogging about her experience and sharing vegan recipes on her website.