May 19, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Summer College Courses

Most universities and colleges feature summer semester course offerings, and frequently these courses run on shortened and condensed schedules. For example, the typical 16-week semester gets condensed into 5-, 6-, or 8-week varieties with longer class meeting times and/or more frequent classes.

As a result the college student in a summer semester has to work at 2-3 times the pace of a class offered in a 16-week semester. This allows students the opportunity to knock out a few credits in a shortened term, but the downside to this curricular acceleration is that many students struggle to keep up with the pace.

I normally caution my summer semester students to jump into high gear immediately, though this advice occasionally gets ignored by the unwary. I am also amazed at the number of students who show up for a summer class and who have yet to purchase the required textbooks, which I always post months in advance. Even stranger was the student who recently asked me if "all of these books are actually going to be used."

Uh, yes: that's why I assigned them, dear student.

Admittedly I once learned the hard way about the accelerated pace of summer classes. I signed up for 20 undergraduate credits in the summer 0f 2002, being in a hurry to finish my BA. This was tough enough, but what I failed to consider in my zealous optimism was that 13 of these credits fell in the first 8-week summer session, meaning that I was essentially signed up for a 26-credit load over that shortened semester.

I slogged through and managed three As and an A minus, but I was exhausted after putting in many 14-hour days of study and class (plus I was working 40-plus hours as a server and bartender). Thus it is with the voice of experience that I urge everyone reading this short missive to pause before assuming that summer courses are somehow easier than a regular semester simply virtue of their length.

That, friends, is a dangerous assumption.


Mad Jack said...

...all of these books are actually going to be used.

They may well be in your class, but I've asked the same question and been told to wait until the class was half over to see if we'll get to all the books on the list. We didn't.

I enjoyed the condensed classes, but as you pointed out you must be prepared to run hard from day one, and if you can somehow get a head start so much the better. I never took any hard science classes during this time for obvious reasons, but low level English or History classes were easy enough for this venue. Required electives are really good during the summer, such as theater.

To be or not to be, that is the question:

Paul Swendson said...

I've taught lots of summer classes and other types of condensed formats. Some students clearly don't get the concept that the same amount of work is packed into less time. And yet, in recent years, I have also noticed that grades in my summer classes are much higher than in the spring and fall. This is partly because I have been getting a large number of high school students in the summer who are of higher quality than the typical community college students that I see. So summer classes can work if the students are properly motivated.

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