Wednesday, March 11, 2015

 

Ask the Administrator: Friday Classes and Enrollments


A patient correspondent writes:

I'm hoping that you and your wise and worldly readers can help sort out some contradictory claims I've been running across in regards to academic scheduling. 

A few years ago you did a post contemplating reducing Friday classes to save students and faculty some gas money; I keep hearing about more community colleges that are eliminate Monday-Wednesday-Friday classes in favor of Monday-Wednesday classes for a number of reasons, including potential enrollment increases. Students avoid Fridays like the plague, the argument goes, so more students are likely to pick a particular CC if they can easily schedule their classes in fewer days. Since many CC students work part-time, it is common to prefer to schedule classes so that they are only on campus twice a week; having day time classes meeting MW or TR makes that much easier to do. I've also heard of several CCs looking to move in this direction surveying their students and finding many report that they'd be willing to take more afternoon classes if they can avoid Friday classes. And at most CCs, TR classes fill faster than MWF classes. An added benefit is that a few once-a-week Friday three-hour classes can be added and faculty have more time to meet when everyone's free. 

Yet recently, I hear just as many community colleges moving in the opposite direction. A lack of Friday classes is a massive under-utilization of scarce classroom space, the pro-MWF folks argue; MWF schedules are more efficient because they allow for more class periods, especially during prime time when you can squeeze an extra 25% out of your available seats (MWF 10,11,12,1 vs. MW 9:30,11,12:30). The pro-MW claim that students would rather take more MW afternoon classes than MWF morning/midday classes is suspect when the data show that afternoon classes tend to be among the last to fill up (hence the term "bowling hour"). And if faculty were scheduled to teach on Friday, would they really show up for meetings and office hours?

I suspect that there is some middle-ground (CCs that do both many MWF and many MW classes), but I'm wondering how much that has to do with individual departments with professors that either don't like Fridays themselves or just prefer longer classes. I'd love to hear about as many other people's experiences with MWF vs. MW as possible (and it would be great if there are any MW folks who've seen Friday used as a productive day for faculty work).

You’d think that online and hybrid classes would have settled this by now, but they really haven’t.  (“Bowling hour,” I assume, refers to being able to bowl in the hallways at 4:00 and not hit anybody.)  The Friday question remains.

So I’ll throw it open to my wise and worldly readers, especially those who have worked in both MWF and MW systems.  Does one version work better than the other, particularly in a community college setting in which most students have jobs?

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

Comments:
I notice that none of the arguments, either way, mention student success or learning. They all concern enrollments and space utilization.

There are two factors at work: attendance (so avoid work and party conflicts) and forgetting (so avoid having a 4-day mental break every week). I think the latter is a big deal. Skip one day of a MW or TuTh class and it will be like you were gone for a week of Spring Break.

The first question I ask students when advising one who needs to repeat a math class is whether it was a TuTh class. It usually is, and they immediately understand the forgetting problem as soon as I bring it up.

BTW, my college does not have any Friday afternoon classes, but good luck scheduling meetings then!
 
Of course, the flip side of the "miss one day and you're still OK" argument is that all the evidence shows that many students are more likely to skip class Fridays on the MWF template, particularly the marginal students who are most likely to benefit from the relative intensity.

To me it comes down to equity: I can't assess a MWF class the same way as a MW or TR class and I can't present the material the same way. It creates a real extra burden on faculty to have them teach both 3-day and 2-day patterns of the same class the same semester.

If you want to boost your Friday space utilization, you could run intensive classes, service learning stuff, or labs in that slot. Or do intensive tutoring sessions for at-risk students.
 
At our CC, we eliminated MWF classes several years ago, for basically all the reasons listed above. Prior to being hired, I wondered why my university continued MWF classes given the number of absences and lower enrollments these classes created, so I was happy to have TTH or MW, or some combination thereof.

You would think, then, that this would mean we'd have nothing going on on Fridays, particularly given the proliferation of on-line, hybrid, and the general malaise that surrounds Fridays, but you'd be mistaken. We now have many Friday-only classes, which are similar to weekend college sorts of classes, which are also fairly popular.

So while I'd agree about a general tendency to want to move away from MWF classes, I don't see this as indicative of a Friday-issue, per se. Rather, it may say something more about the sorts of students who are registering for such classes. Those that don't mind being on campus during part of the week seem happy enough to have MW classes, on par with TTH ones. But those who like being on campus only one day a week don't seem to mind Fridays alone. Those seem to be the ones that are registering for many of those classes--though there are still many students who are on campus five days a week.
 
Our very small department has recently gone MW and TTr, and we have reaped benefits.

First, and granted we've only done this for a year, but students are more likely to attend, not skip out on the Friday classes, and because faculty are good about how they use their classroom time, students participate more.

Second, this has left Fridays open for me to hold open advising hours - I know that people don't have class, so I can more effectively manage advising overflow and general questions by having "Advising Day" once a week. I'm also using this time slot for cohort development activities, like a coffee-cookies-current events chat time, semester planning sessions w. the freshmen, etc. Yes, I always have to be careful about using the mornings rather than afternoons, but generally, the 2 day/week shift has done wonders for our advising and student development.

Third, we've used this time to schedule faculty meetings (always before 3 pm). Sure, we have grumblers, but most understand and get on board.
 
My CC switched to MW from MWF about three years ago. I teach science, so it's not quite the same thing as most other classes, because there is a 3 hour lab to contend with as well as the three hour lecture.

The main issue I've noted is that if you miss a M in the MW rotation (holidays, or this semester, we missed two Mondays and a Wednesday in addition to the Monday holidays), it's a huge problem. We usually don't schedule labs on Mondays for logistical (set up) reasons, so each Monday that is missed is the entire week of lecture. We've had to be very creative in how we make up this missed time this semester, and it wasn't really ideal for anyone as far as learning or logistics.

We already had all day Saturday class for science for a long time, so now we've also added all day science classes on Friday. The classes do run, so I'm guessing some students like the format, but I wouldn't want to teach one class for six hours...and again, if that day is missed for some reason, you lose both the lecture and the lab.
 
My experience is at a regional campus of Indiana University, some years back. I suspect our students have much in common with CC students. We decided to offer some MWF classes (because of criticism that we were underutilizing a lot of our space). One issue is that many nursing, allied health, and science classes did schedule on Fridays--typically labs--so, for a fairly large number of students, Friday was not an option.

I was part of the experiment; I had two MWF classes (10 AM and 2 PM). Both had around 40 students. In the 10 AM class, Friday attendance averaged about 30 or so. In the 2 PM class, around 20. Talking with colleagues across campus, I found my experience to be relatively common--Friday morning classes did OK in terms of attendance, but not afternoon classes.

We dropped the experiment after one semester. I think that was a mistake. Basically, we gave students no time to adjust to the schedule, so it's not clear that the one-semester results were what we could have expected going forward.

I will also say that there was massive resistance among the faculty to the change. No prizes for identifying why that might have been.

 
My experience is at a regional campus of Indiana University, some years back. I suspect our students have much in common with CC students. We decided to offer some MWF classes (because of criticism that we were underutilizing a lot of our space). One issue is that many nursing, allied health, and science classes did schedule on Fridays--typically labs--so, for a fairly large number of students, Friday was not an option.

I was part of the experiment; I had two MWF classes (10 AM and 2 PM). Both had around 40 students. In the 10 AM class, Friday attendance averaged about 30 or so. In the 2 PM class, around 20. Talking with colleagues across campus, I found my experience to be relatively common--Friday morning classes did OK in terms of attendance, but not afternoon classes.

We dropped the experiment after one semester. I think that was a mistake. Basically, we gave students no time to adjust to the schedule, so it's not clear that the one-semester results were what we could have expected going forward.

I will also say that there was massive resistance among the faculty to the change. No prizes for identifying why that might have been.

 
I should mention a scheduling arrangement I have experienced at only one place--Western Kentucky University in 1975-76. 3 credit hour classes met MW and every other Friday or TTh and every other Friday--5 hours every two weeks. Attendance was not a particular issue (but WKU is also not a commuter school). I have no idea why they scheduled that way, whether they are still scheduling that way, or whether it ever worked very well...
 
The human attention span has fairly conclusively been established to average out at around 50 minutes.

Make of that information what you will.

 
I'm glad to see CCPhysicist and PunditusMaximus actually considering student learning. I've taught general chemistry 1 as MWF, MW, and TTh. I've noticed both the forgetting and the attention span problems in two day a week classes (although I'm pretty sure the research shows an attention span closer to 20 min than 50).
There is definitely a Friday dip in attendance, but I think my average attendance in MWF classes is actually better than in 2-day classes.
 
In College Algebra at Mediocre Flagship State, there was a statistically significant higher passing rate in the MWF classes than the TR classes. (Confounding factor: graduate students tended to teach the TR sections because their own coursework met on MWF.)
 
To Mike's point about 20 minutes...

I just read last week: you get about 15 minutes of prime attention, then you need to rest/reset. It's a pretty short refractory period here.

You keep cycling through attention/refractory over the course of the lecture but the attention time gets shorter and the refractory time gets longer.


 
UCSC uses a MWF TTh schedule, because we are critically short of classroom space (standard courses are 3.5 lecture hours a week).

Evening classes, however, are MW, TTh, so that Friday evening is free.

That seems to be a well-accepted compromise.

Faculty here generally prefer 2-days-a-week courses, not because they are more effective, but because it interrupts their research less. (I prefer the 3-day-a-week lecture schedule.)
 
Wow, do I feel like an anachronism. In the late 60's, my college scheduled classes on Saturday mornings so that all courses could have 3 50-minute meetings per week. Largely residential college in a small city so even commuters did not have much trouble with this. Educationally, it was fabulous. Logistically (and especially for faculty with kids, I would imagine), not so much. Students tended to work on campus or very nearby, so that was not an issue.
 
One general observation: Thanks for the stats. It is helpful to see what others have seen. Our own data on MW classes is confounded by time of day. The afternoon MW classes are usually the worst (based on individual faculty reports over many years, so more than the plural of anecdotes) while MW night classes are better. That is the "when did they register" effect, something that really should be collected somehow so it can be included in success studies.

Anon@12:11PM - At some universities (or even a CC in a university town) you can't go anywhere on some Saturday mornings in the fall! I have been told that Purdue ran lab classes all day Saturday, which were very popular with the non-drinking non-football subset of their students, but I wonder where the faculty parked.

timfc@10:07AM and Mike@9:08AM - I've noted that 15-20 minute focus time and keep working on ways to deal with it. One way is to break up the period with a key demonstration, although I also find that doing the Best Demos Ever at the start of class (showy but less pedagogical) is a good way to get students to class on time. "What did I just miss?"
 
MW makes no sense, you loose too many days to holidays.

HOWEVER, Eli Rabett's simple plan is go to TTh and WF classes and use Monday for exams and special enrichment, remedial work.

Am willing to help institute this system for pay.


 
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