Monday, September 14, 2009


Ask the Administrator: Activity Hour

A new correspondent writes:

We just learned that our administration wants our spring schedule revised (campus-wide) to include a break from 12:00 - 1:30 every MWF. For those of us in the lab sciences that run classes in two and three hour blocks, this is certainly cause for some hair pulling. We are having trouble finding a way to accommodate the break. We haven't been given a reason for the schedule change other than it would allow all faculty to be available at the same time for committee meetings and such. I would like to know if other schools have a similar break in the class schedule. What length of break and how many times a week?

Also, I feel like this will actually decrease enrollment although the administrative message this year has been "increased enrollment, we want increased enrollment". My lab classes will be pushed from 2-4 to 3:30-5:30. What student can and will take a class that runs until 5:30, particularly on a Friday afternoon? We have a female majority student body and a significant portion are women with family responsibilities. A very informal poll of my classes leads me to believe that no student (out of a sampling of ~100) would take the class in that time slot. Am I just so unaccustomed to this idea that my initial (knee-jerk) reaction of "oh no!" is wrong and that this could be a good thing? Insight, advice, and anecdotal evidence of success would be great!

I did a piece on this a few years ago, but think it may be worth revisiting.

Activity hours, or "college hours," serve two major purposes. They allow student groups to meet, since students won't have classes during those times. For commuter campuses in particular, this is a very big deal, though I imagine it matters somewhat less for residential campuses. And they allow faculty committees to meet, since the major logistical obstacle has been neutralized. (That's especially true at cc's, since faculty here generally have more classes than they do elsewhere.)

I've never known a college to hold 'college hour' completely inviolate. Enrollment pressures, lab/studio classes, and offsite obligations (nursing clinicals, say) each exert pressure, especially at prime time. Holding college hours outside of prime time can reduce their cost, but it also reduces their effectiveness. How many students (or faculty, for that matter) will stick around for a 3:00 meeting on Friday afternoon?

Whether activity hours are worthwhile depends on your evaluation of the activities they make possible. At the Snooty Liberal Arts College I attended, all classes ended by 4:00. That allowed for athletics until about 7:00, followed by meetings and free time. At a commuter college, things just don't work that way. Making extracurriculars available to cc students requires acknowledging the fact that most of them will be on campus only when they have classes, so sandwiching activities between classes is the only way to make large-scale participation realistic.

The folks who study graduation rates routinely report that students who get involved in campus activities graduate at much higher rates than those who don't. To what extent that's a function of self-selection, I don't know, but common sense suggests that self-selection and a positive effect aren't mutually exclusive.

As far as faculty and administrative meetings go, I'll just note that the alternative to faculty participation in governance is faculty non-participation in governance. Participation requires meetings. It just does.

Wise and worldly readers, I'll ask the same question I asked in 2006. Has your college found a reasonably elegant way to handle activity hour?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.

We have "common exam hour" from 12-1:30 on T, TH with the proviso that some small amount of classes can be scheduled during that time. But, if an exam is scheduled it has first priority. Almost all of them are recitation sections of large lecture courses.

We also schedule all faculty meetings during that time and I know many student orgs meet.
I think 90 minutes MWF is too much - That's almost the equivalent of two sections per week.

I taught someplace where they had 75 minutes T/Th -- and it worked pretty well. I often missed that time when I started teaching at the CC. I know my debate practices would have been easier to schedule -- and thus recruiting would have been easier.
The residential university I teach at has 2-3 T/Th blocked off for meetings. It's not quite a primetime slot, but still early enough that students and faculty show up if things are scheduled.
The state U I attended had 90 mins reserved on T/Th. I believe the official rationale was so that multi-section classes could have unitary exams, but many student orgs met during this time as well. Lab and recitation sections were allowed to schedule into this block, although many students avoided them, and the policy was if you had an exam in this block, that trumped whatever other thing was scheduled then.
Our urban CC breaks on Wednesdays from 2 to 4. During that time, student clubs meet every week. Once a month each, the faculty senate, departments, and the union meet.
We have 1:30-2:30 free on Tuesdays and Thursdays - it makes scheduling meetings easier but we also have some labs that by necessity meet during that time so it's not a 100% thing.
"The folks who study graduation rates routinely report that students who get involved in campus activities graduate at much higher rates than those who don't. To what extent that's a function of self-selection, I don't know, but common sense suggests that self-selection and a positive effect aren't mutually exclusive."

Does dd mean that students who participate in extracurricular activities are more likely to be motivated in other areas and therefore more likely to graduate? Or is he saying that providing activities in itself improves retention?
The people who spend more time during orientation pushing extracurricular activities than they do on the need to study an hour or two each day outside of class are True Believers that the correlation is causative. I'm more likely to believe it is symbiotic, reinforcing good habits.

Our college once had a time slot on Tue and Thurs that was kept clear for faculty meetings. (It was in the transition to "bowling hour", not in prime time.) It has long since been absorbed -- but mostly by labs or sections covered by adjuncts. This still makes it a good time for student groups to meet.

However, our college did not mandate that all faculty schedule that time slot as an on-campus "college hour", so plenty head home rather than go to a meeting. Making it official would be a step towards solving TR's slacker service problem from last week.

But 4 1/2 hours in the middle of the day? Our students would revolt. That time slot is second only to 10 AM for class demand. They want to leave and go to work by 1:00, 2:30 at the latest.
I don't recall a college hour when I was an undergraduate. Many art classes were blocked at almost 4 hour intervals with three a day (morning, afternoon and evening). Being an adjunct and that we make up the majority of teachers on campuses these days, I find the campus hour annoying and detrimental to scheduling. At commuter colleges most students want to cram most classes in a day to leave other days for working.
Thanks to everyone who commented and DD for his thoughts in the post. I am the author of the question and appreciate the information.
It looks like administration is dead set on this for the spring semester (with no exceptions except for the Nursing program) but they have accepted that changes/modifications/termination may be appropriate depending on the response. It is nice to know that the activity hour has been done successfully elsewhere so maybe our college plan may work as is or only need "tweaking". I'm going to stay positive! Thanks again.
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