Tuesday, July 26, 2011


8 a.m. Classes

This piece in IHE last week set off quite the firestorm. It’s about the felt futility of teaching the dreaded 8 a.m. class. I would have written it differently, but it raised a valid issue.

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?

What about classes required for the major? Junior/senior level classes?

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.
"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.)"

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.)
At British universities, teaching time is between 9-5, with an hour's lunch break between 1-2. For family/discrimination reasons you cannot run earlier or later sessions. I taugt 9 a.m classes for first year students and there were ,ore or less exactly the same issues as described here with 8 a.m. classes. There is something about the first/earliest class that feels like an insult to students. Other colleagues had similar problems on particular days when their 10 a.m. class was the first for many students and quite a few were late and hung-over. I still think 9 is a reasonable start-especially if students feel it's already a compromise. I remember in my undergrad days in Germany (where professors have more liberty to select time-slots) there was one class at 7.30 a.m. so the professor could commence admin duties at 9. Ridiculous!
My undergraduate degree is in music education, which meant a LOT of 1 & 2 credit classes to receive PA certification.

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.
I did 8am classes everday for my first two years at SLAC. Mostly because I was carpooling with my mom and that made life easier. I also got my pick of classes that way. Yes, a lot of caffiene was required. In general though, my faculty were in good humor. Some brought food, which is always a plus. The 1.5 hours of family law was a killer class (esp for this non-law major) but we endured. Some of my most vivid memories from college are those 8am classes. Would I have liked 9am, sure but as noted most work days start at 8am. Suck it up, for both faculty and students, is the only answer I see. Unless you can really downgrade for attendance and participation.
If you want to do IR on the topic, you need to separate an 8AM class added during the last week before the session starts and an 8AM class assigned to a top professor from the first day of registration.

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.
Our first period is at 7:25 a.m. No joke.
Up here in the Great White, high school starts at 8:45 — and we have the same problems as American high school which start earlier. When we have a late start day the same kids who are late and sleepy for an 8:45 class are late and sleepy for a 10:00 class.
I don't teach 8AM classes very often (I have colleagues who love them!) but when I do, I don't see a lot of differences. I have great students, and students who register at the last minute who find the 8am classes the only open spots. The last minute students are the ones who don't do well. I think we have to keep in mind that we, at community colleges, don't just cater to teenagers -- the average age at my CC is 27, and many students want early morning classes.

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.
I much prefer teaching an 8am class, to teaching a night class. I can work with some sleepy kids, especially freshmen who are still used to their old high school schedules (and who think 8am is relatively late for school to start!) Also, the many commuters, who have been upright for a while by the time they get there, liven things up. Some of our commuters tell me they choose early classes to avoid parking hassles, too.

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.
I love my 8am class. It's an English course created for non-transfer students in 2 year programs. Many of these programs have back to back classes during the day, so 8am is the only available time slot for a lot of students. I did have problems with some students regularly walking in 45 minutes late, but giving daily quizzes at 8AM has curbed most of that. (My CC is in a rural area, so quite a few students are already up (or at least used to getting up) at 5 or 6 to do farm work. This doesn't mean they're bright-eyed and busy-tailed, but they are present and awake.)

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.
I'm sorry, why would the classes have to be all moved online or into "prime time"? Why not more evening classes? Oh wait, that's right, no one wants to teach them but me. I always get evening sections (I hate 8ams myself, and fully empathize with the students). Night classs would open up a lot of doors, but too many schools don't want to run night sections for a variety of reasons--which doesn't make sense to me since most profs I work with also don't want to teach 8am, they want the 10, 11 and 1 classes just like the students.

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 have done both 8am and 8pm and my students were much more alert and ready to go at 8am. When I started my first faculty job, I was given the 8am and I was dreading it as I am not really a morning person. However, I tried to bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm to it and I managed to slow the rate of drop. However, there was a trend for the students being late for the 8am class which I never managed to crack.
If anyone wants to do the research, they should screen the professors for their internal bias.
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.
I really enjoy the implicit acknowledgement that distinctly poorer student outcomes might be outweighed by the need to pretend to be teaching the 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?

I teach at a military academy. it's as good for controlling for variables as any place I can think of.

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.
As an undergrad, I was a business major at Big State U and actually loved the early classes. If I ran my schedule just right, I could be done by noon every day which was a big plus. However, as I progressed, I found that I had taken all of the available 8 AM classes, then all of the 9 AM classes, until I was eventually forced to start my classes at 10 or 11 every day which ended up ruining my afternoon.

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 CC, we have many class sessions that start at 7 am. It works out fine; students who take these early morning sections definitely self-select, and course success rates are comparable to later day and evening sections. As the posters in this thread have demonstrated, some faculty are "morning people" and others are "evening people". What time of day seems reasonable for a class session depends on what kind of person you are.
I used to beg the department course scheduling guru to assign me 8am and 9am classes. Due to my well-earned reputation, the advising center sent many motivated non-traditional students to my class. It was awesome.
I was teaching lifguard classes before I became a comp. instructor, and I have to say, motivating a class of 20 16-year olds to focus and participate at 8am is no different than motivating a class of 20 20-year olds. It all comes down to whether or not I challenge them to meet my energy level.

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.
I seem to remember doing a 6:45 start time for a summer class, which I loved. I took a class, then taught a class right afterward, and I loved being way more awake than the students.

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.
We start at 8:30 (with a handful of 7:00 classes). Our problem (mostly) is that "day" classes end at 5:15 (instead of 4:45) and "evening" classes begin at 5:30. So there's a 15-minute window in which to empty out and re-load the parking lots. (We're an entirely commuter campus.) So a ton of students coming for 5:30 classes get to class late.

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...
I went to a very overcrowded public college at the height of the baby boom, and for our first three semesters we had to register on the "B" schedule which meant no morning classes. Lucky me! I could sleep until 10:30 am the way my 17yo body wanted and not have to take any class before 1 p.m.

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 definitely think there is a demographic for this. i imagine that your engineering students will probably be more apt to take early classes than the business college guys or the english majors. there are a lot more rise-and-shine nerdy engineering kids than in any other discipline. i was one, and so was my roommate. now i'm one of those people who gets to work at 6:30am.

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 flunked what I think was the only 8am class I took in college, even though it was a topic that I enjoyed. But that was mostly a bout of severe depression, which among other things completely destroyed my sleep cycle.

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.
Seriously but what about classes required for the major? Junior/senior level classes?
The class timings are way to much!
The earlier the class is the hardest it becomes to keep its attendance!
%228 A.m. Classes%22

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.
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College deans work really hard every single day and make sure that they teach there lessons. There are so many places out there that you can learn at, but the teacher is what really makes it. It is really all depending on the teacher on how the students are taught.
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