Tuesday, July 26, 2011
8 a.m. Classes
Been there, done that. Hated it. And it raises one of those questions for which nobody has a great answer.
If the Feds would back off long enough to let our Institutional Research staff catch its collective breath on “compliance” reporting and actually do some inquiry-driven stuff, I’d love to see the numbers on student success rates in classes at different times of day. Is the 8 a.m. timeslot actually an attrition machine, or does it just feel like one? (Even if the first-blush numbers were awful, we’d still have to sort out the issue of self-selection. Typically, the early-morning sections fill last, meaning they’re often the only options left for late registrants. We know that late registrants have higher drop/fail rates than students who sign up early. So do worse numbers at 8 a.m. reflect the timeslot itself, or the higher proportion of late registrants?)
In my teaching days, I remember the bleary faces and the late arrivals at 8. It was bad enough at Flagship State, where Friday 8 a.m. classes were populated mostly by the hungover. (Thursday night was the big party night, since so many students went home for the weekend.) At Proprietary U, it was just empty. Out of a class of twenty-five, I’d usually have three to five students present at 8. We’d hit the halfway point around 8:20, and finally get a non-embarrassing turnout around 8:45. Students weren’t even apologetic; they seemed to take the timeslot as an affront, and they responded accordingly.
Yes, many jobs start at 8, but it’s one thing to show up, and quite another to be alert and ready to learn. That’s especially true for folks who are still on the teenage circadian clock, which starts and ends a couple of hours later than for the rest of us. Even the relatively well-behaved and self-disciplined ones are at a biological disadvantage.
I remember reading a few years ago that a couple of forward-thinking high schools experimented with starting and ending the school day an hour later. It causes some issues with after-school sports, but it did wonders for test scores, absenteeism, student behavior, and (eventually) faculty morale. (Apparently, teaching students who aren’t tired and cranky makes for happier teachers. Who woulda thunk it?) It certainly sounded right to me, and it seems like one of those relatively easy reforms that we could choose to enact just by choosing to enact it. Leave the sunrise classes to the little kids, since they’re up at dark o’clock anyway, and give the teenagers a fighting chance to get some sleep.
The major issue with abolishing 8:00 classes, obviously, is capacity. If we didn’t start until, say, 9, we’d have to squeeze the extra sections into classrooms that are already stuffed at prime time. (Alternately, we could replace them with online classes, but that isn’t yet an option for everyone.) But it’s fair to ask just how much the capacity argument applies if real learning isn’t really going on at that hour.
Wise and worldly readers, have you had good experiences with 8 a.m. classes? Does anybody know of any useful empirical studies done at the college level of the effects of 8 a.m. classes? Is this basically solvable with caffeine and nagging, or are we shooting ourselves in the collective foot here?
It doesn't help in the CC world, but... I've taught the same class at 8am for a few semesters and while there's a bit higher absence rates, they all finish the semester.
There is some research showing the high school shouldn't start until as late as practical for reasons related to student development (9am is the proposed time). I could probably round it up.
Having taught at 8 AM and having taught online, I can say without reservation that it's a heck of a lot easier to motivate an engage a student who's a little sleepy but who is sitting right in front of me than it is to motivate a student who is typically also a little sleepy but who is surrounded by distractions and who in many cases is taking a class online because he or she has such a packed schedule that he or she finds sitting in a F2F class 3 hours a week too much of a burden. Online classes are not the solution to problems with space, and they certainly don't solve problems with attrition.
(Let me be clear: I'm actually not against online learning environments, and I think online courses do have their place. I just think that all of the problems you note with 8 AM classes are magnified with online classes.)
It also meant sitting in class between 8-12 and then 1-6, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Those days were for music and music ed classes, Tuesdays and Thursdays were for the distribution requirements. Generally, that was life for 3 1/2 years (student teaching started at 7 AM, thanks to Junior Jazz Band rehearsal).
You can imagine the attrition rates given the sheer GRIND of the program. But, given the harshness of a working musician's existence, it was more than fair. If you can't do the impossible hours at 19, you won't be able to do them at 23.
What I didn't realize is that I lost interest in the impossible hours at age 27, so I switched careers. But my point is some of those 8 AM classes might be tied to certain qualities of a given profession.
The latter is a top performing section at my college, and fills up before many other sections. There are a lot of early birds out there. Much the same is true of evening sections, IME.
IMHO, 9AM sections are the worst. They are populated by kids who were too sleepy to get into a 10 AM class.
Student experience: I took an 8AM class *AND* a 3PM class as a first semester freshman, and swore Never Again. And I never did, until ...
TA experience: I once taught three recitations in a row with the first one starting at 8AM. The 8AM class was brilliant, in both the US and UK senses of that term. I think they got up at 5 to milk the cows and studied while waiting for class to start. I still remember them, decades later. The room was packed. The same was true at 10, except they probably got up at 8 and read some during breakfast. The group at 9AM was still in their pajamas, well before that became fashionable.
As a student, I didn't like 8AM classes, but I did what I had to do. If you want something bad enough, you make adjustments.
Night classes are a drag. Everybody is tired. Lots of adults who have already worked 8-10 hours that day are cramming in a class before they go home & crash. Much higher incidence of absenteeism due to child care, transportation, and other personal issues. Most of them haven't eaten dinner before class and are running on fumes. The last 45 minutes or so of a class that runs til 10pm is useless, in terms of real learning. And we're all exhausted by the time we get home after class ends.
My vote is to keep the 8am class. It doesn't work for everybody, but it works for enough students to make it viable.
As a side note, I'm a morning person and that helps a lot. If the instructor has trouble being "on" at 8am, then the entire semester will be an uphill battle for ALL parties involved.
In my personal experience 8am depends on the major. I taught at a school with a strong vet tech program. The students were often up doing field work in early morning and would then come to my 8am class. They were awake. They WANTED the 8am. The whole class was all the same major. That helps. But if it was another major, I'm not sure that would work. So maybe having fewer 8ams and keeping them for students who want/need such a schedule and prof. who are also more alert, might be wise. Even as a night owl, teaching that group in the morning kept me more alert than more early classes.
I'd really be interested in one of those implicit association tests- how many people think "morning" and "productive" go together and "evening" and "drinking", really?
I strongly suspect there's a significant subset of people in the world who are not pure larks, but almost-larks who can get there with coffee, are the most judgmental assholes on the face of the planet. Such people will perceive 8am students as having the worst 'attitudes' when they have only the usual segment of bleary eyes. Which can itself sour a class.
Shades of the adjunct debate.
When I was an undergrad, I avoided all classes before 10 AM. Moving from 8 to 9 wouldn't get you much of a payload.
Also, we all know the research that says that the human attention span is approx. 50 minutes, so we're all talking about 3x a week classes, of course, right?
we start our first hour at 0730. (0630 on special days when the administrative gods smile upon us and make us speed up the schedule to fit more stuff in).
cadets are randomly sectioned into our classes - so no self-selection bias (though a handfull of crafty ones may be able to switch to a later hour).
they also *must* show up for class (on time), or face penalties on the military side of the road.
the class I teach occupies three slots in the morning - 0730, 0840, and 0950 - the cadets during the first hour are somewhat sleepier, generally, than those later on in the morning, but their performance across the semester is comparable.
there are, to be sure, lots of forcing mechanisms at work here that aren't applicable to the civilian world, but they're the same age as civilian students and are *incredibly* busy and sleep deprived as a population.
My best semester was when I was able to finagle four classes into a Tuesday/Thursday slot with a Wednesday night class. This gave me a full course load with four day weekends and the majority of Wednesday off. Good times!
At my university, the 8am-students are typically athletes coming straight from practice, and lifeguards too are typically athletes. So, in my experience, it's not too difficult to get them to accept that challenge.
Regardless, I'm still a low-level teaching grunt, so I rarely have classes not at 8am. And even the students who aren't "morning persons" can be chided into being a part of the class.
I will say, however, that my university offers a lot of 8am classes that are either MW or TR, so I rarely have the double-whammy that is Friday at 8am.
The early evening seems to be underutilized. I loved teaching a class with a 4:30 start time. We got out at 5:45, so the students still had evenings and could get personal stuff taken care of.
And...Matthew (@9:09)...I once managed a semester with two seminars on Monday afternoon (1:00 - 2:50 and 3:00 - 4:50) and two independent studies...now, that was bliss...
In four undergraduate years I took only one 9 a.m. class and no 8 a.m. classes.
Two years past graduation, with a masters degree, I got my first teaching jobs as an adjunct, with evening classes.
Eventually I did 8 a.m. classes, and as my body clock aged, I was thrilled to teach classes that began at 7:30 a.m. (at one community college and one state university).
Attendance, lateness, attention: these all vary at 8 a.m. from the kind of school I've taught at (urban cc, suburban cc, SLAC, flagship state, lesser 4-year state, religious-affiliated, private university with mostly athletes with pre-8am training, etc.).
One thing I will never do. I don't wake a sleeping student. That seems cruel. I don't take their sleeping personally, and frankly, if they're that tired, they need the sleep more than they need what's going on in class while they're unconscious.
One time I did catch someone who slept constantly, notified a counselor (since the student otherwise did impeccable work), and we discovered a serious physical problem.
My own body is now ready for 6 a.m. classes. If we could fill them with people in their sixties and seventies, they'd probably be vibrant at that hour.
i somewhat dismiss the notion that 21/22 year olds can't function at early hours, because many turn right around after getting their degree and start their day job that runs from 8-5. it's either magic, or they suck it up (i often use the same argument for ADD kids, but that's another story).
in the end, a good professor will make all of the difference. if they can't engage them at 1pm, they won't be able to engage them at 8am.
I still feel bad about that class, as it's possible I could've squeaked through if I'd had the courage to talk to my prof instead of just disappearing.
The class timings are way to much!
The earlier the class is the hardest it becomes to keep its attendance!
My mac memories: crush day & spo-ing, wmcn, the whole foods protest, grand old days & snow for springfest, living in the veggie co-op, 8 a m classes with cal roetzel.
: Neplai nepali songs
Jak Manson | http://www.shadedesign.net.au/shades-and-sales