Monday, January 04, 2016
Best Intersession Class You Ever Took
Many of our summer courses at UCSC compress the normal semester-in-a-quarter even further, doing a full semester's work in 6 weeks. I've not taught a summer course here (yet), but I understand it is quite successful for O. chem and for calculus. Our department will be doing an intensive tech writing course in the summer session this year—I hope that works, as the department can't afford enough school-year offerings (summer school is self-supporting, not coming out of the department budget).
The travel was key. I don't remember much about what I learned *on* the trip, but the tone set by the fact that we travelled helped me with the learning in weeks 1 and 3 (which was way outside my field of expertise...I was a music major).
I have had extremely positive results with 6-week classes in the summer, but students are taking two (or sometimes three) of these at a time so there is no exclusivity of focus that you attribute as the reason for improved success. I attribute it to regular class meetings (our compressed classes meet four or five days a week) with very little time to forget between classes. Students can forget that they even have a class between Thursday and Tuesday, let alone what they did "yesterday". Short terms are like continuous cramming, which results in acual learning.
BTW, when you measure "success" of a calculus class, is that looking only at the passing rate, or are you looking at the pass rate in the next calculus class? The latter is the true test of learning.
Our winter term classes were outside the regular curriculum. You had to take three of them during the course of your four years, but they weren't regular courses; they were crazy things like learning how to weave or short-term study abroad or something so wildly interdisciplinary that it wouldn't even fit into a major or the gen ed program. And I was a music major, so all three of mine were performance-based, which is really ideal because of the singularity of focus. One year we worked up a full performance of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, with orchestra and choir, conducted by a student.
We were expected to have read the novels in advance and one day of each day of the week-long course was spent discussing the respective novels through the course's specific lens (eco-criticism). Essays for grading were due much later, and IIRC the final grade was given at the same time as grades for the spring term courses that started after that intercession.
So really, the course took up much more time than the intersession period itself, but was limited to that time in terms of on-campus face time.
I have also taught several intersession courses over the years that seem to have been successful. The key in all these cases, I think, is having a clear, relatively narrow focus, and careful design in terms of the learning objectives. Minimize the "content delivery" and emphasize "skill development." I think, actually, that a comp course could work well if it was well-organized, structured more like a collaborative workshop, and used a limited range of subject material. I have done similar courses in my fields (Asian Studies and Music), emphasizing skill development in analysis and presentation, with excellent results. In fact, in some respects, I had better results with three-week versions of those courses than with full-semester versions. That could be selection bias (more slackers signing up during the regular semester), class size difference, or the fact that we just didn't have time to fart around and lose sight of the course goals.
Anyway, I have had good experiences with intersession courses, and so have my students.
The CPR library has a number of examples of English Composition assignments.
Best one I taught? International Environmental Law at Colby College -- for the same reason; it's an arcane language, understanding international law, and having a class full of students doing nothing but that for a month gave everyone focus (and also a shared struggle, that bonded them -- it was a full semester course in less than a month, so it required huge research effort).