Monday, January 25, 2016


When Mondays Become Thursdays

Is there a more elegant solution to academic calendar equity than turning Mondays into Thursdays?

Folks in the trenches know what I mean.  For in-person classes, it’s helpful to have the same number of Tuesdays as of Fridays in any given semester.  That seems like it would be easy enough, but it isn’t.  Labor Day always falls on a Monday, and Thanksgiving on a Thursday.  (Canadian readers are invited to substitute their own holidays; the same principle applies.)  Depending on local policy, the Friday after Thanksgiving may also be gone.  Some places take Columbus Day, which, again, falls on Mondays.  

But that’s just the beginning.  Some schools take Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which fall on different days in different years.  Christmas is always the 25th, but the 25th can fall on any day of the week.  If you’re in a location where starting before Labor Day is culturally unthinkable -- such as the Jersey Shore -- then years with late Labor Days create issues. If you’re trying to fit 15 weeks in between Labor Day and (shortly before) Christmas, without making any classes lopsided, it takes some doing.  In the Spring, Martin Luther King Day is always a Monday, and Passover falls on different days in different years.

(Snow days are a separate issue.  They can come at any time, and almost by definition, can’t be predicted usefully. I’ve had years in which we lost three consecutive Wednesdays; it’s annoying, but short of going entirely online, there’s no practical way to prevent it.  The same principle applies to natural disasters.)

I’ve worked in places that tackled the problem by picking a week and switching around its days, so Thursday classes were held on that Monday.  The beauty of that solution is that it evens out the number of days for each day of the week.  The problem is that the rest of the world still thinks it’s Monday.  Faculty who teach in other places suddenly face schedule conflicts.  Students whose kids’ childcare arrangements vary over the course of the week have schedule conflicts.  Students with outside jobs have schedule conflicts.  And yes, some people just get confused and miss the change entirely.  The Monday-as-Thursday solution solves one problem on paper, but causes a bunch of other ones on the ground.

There has to be a better way.

One way might be to junk the idea of parity altogether, and to just accept that some semesters will have, say, 13 Mondays and 15 Wednesdays.  But when classes are just one or two days a week, that doesn’t work.  That’s especially true of the high-enrollment classes that have multiple sections.  If Jen’s section of Psych 101 has two more weeks in it than Jane’s, then you can expect issues.  Even worse, if Jen has two sections and they’re on radically different schedules, you’re asking for mistakes.

Alternately, we could use blended/hybrid formats to even out the rough spots.  If every onsite course has a Canvas shell (or Moodle or whatever you’re using), then theoretically, the folks with the gaps could use the online component to make up for them.  That solution offers the same elegance as the Mondays-as-Thursdays, with the added bonus of not necessarily messing up schedules for outside commitments.  It also adapts well to snow days.

But the adoption of, and fluency in, online learning remains uneven among faculty.  Some do it really well and would do a great job; some would be okay with some help; some assume that it’s of the devil and want nothing to do with it.  Until nearly everybody is in either group one or group two, I’m not sure it’s the way to go.

All of that said, I know I’m not the only one facing these issues.  So, wise and worldly readers, have you seen reasonably elegant ways to even out the days of the week?

What we do: only observe one Monday holiday (in fall, Labor Day; in spring, Martin Luther King Day), include a week-long break, and have a dangling Monday at the end of the semester before finals Tuesday-Friday.

It's not ideal, because students don't always "get" that Monday is a class day but the rest of the week is just finals, and it doesn't leave any days for a quiet period before exams, but it does solve the date imbalance issue.

Ideally we'd start counting our final exam time as part of the academic calendar and trim the semester down a week (like thousands of other colleges and universities seem to do - but somehow we can't for "accreditation reasons" that, uh, don't seem to affect those other colleges and universities). But that's a separate issue.
I am currently living both of those worlds: my HS classes (we're an HS whose class schedule varies throughout the week), as well as my undergrad, accept the fact that you may have fewer Mondays than Thursdays and the rare snow day isn't officially made up unless it's a whole bunch. For my CC classes, each day of the week meets the same number of times, and yes that means occasionally a Thursday may become a Monday; a snow day often results in a make-up day during the pre-finals reading period. For some context, both are in systems that observe Rosh Hashanah, Passover, and other holidays that vary from day to day throughout the year.

Personally, I find the conversion day system easier to work with because it means that every semester the same course -- and all sections -- have the same number of labs and lectures. On the let-the-holidays-fall-where-they-may system, we have to plan the lab schedule around the day of the week with the least meetings, and how many labs that equals will vary from semester to semester.

Students get the academic calendar well before registration so they have ample time to make accommodations for the one or two conversion days each semester.

I'm not a fan of the replace-a-Monday-class-with-online-learning model because online teaching methodology is different than in-person teaching methodology and one cannot simply substitute for another on one particular session of the course. No, looking at pictures of microorganisms on the internet is not an equivalent substitute for Monday students to learn how to make a wet mount slide and focus a real microscope.
We are attempting to return to an additional week for fall quarter, when most of the holidays occur.
Glad HSBio mentioned labs. Several of our lab courses simply avoid scheduling on Monday for that specific reason. Some sacrificial course that only has one or two labs gets stuck with Monday, but they get to meet Thanksgiving week so it evens out.

Personally, I think those problems are the worst part of a semester system. We get 14 weeks plus finals (total of 28 weeks of instruction for a one-year course) while I first learned in a 10 week plus finals (total of 30 weeks of instruction) term system that started after Labor Day and ignored President's Day, etc. It is rather surprising, but it turns out you can teach classes even when the mail isn't delivered and the banks are closed.

But I agree 100% that it is easier to teach classes that have the same format and collection of holidays. Several colleagues in math make a point of teaching totally different courses on the Tue-Thurs schedule so they don't end up with the same course on two different calendars.
Scheduling a faculty/staff development day during the semester is another way to even things out. The CC where I currently teach has a development day (flex day) the Friday before classes start but a school where I previously taught scheduled the development day on Tuesday or Wednesday during the semester.
Scheduling a faculty/staff development day during the semester is another way to even things out. The CC where I currently teach has a development day (flex day) the Friday before classes start but a school where I previously taught scheduled the development day on Tuesday or Wednesday during the semester.
Some solutions that I've seen:

Start on Thursday during Fall Semester - this gives you your Thursday and Friday for Thanksgiving without sacrificing anything. Doesn't help with the Jewish holidays

Cancel all Monday Holidays: This creates the same problems as the Mondays as Thursdays and then some because all daycare is closed on President's Day leaving faculty and students in the lurch. Drives me crazy every year - avoid this solution.

I love the replace holidays with online learning but it does create problems with labs. For most classes though, I think it works fine. OMG this is one of the only professions where employees can throw up their hands, decide technology is the devil and deliberately not learn how to do something that is (at this point) a standard integral part of current practice. I believe the official term for this is "cray". Possibly "cray cray".

Alternatively, you can plan the content to fit into the least amount of weeks you in the section with the fewest meeting, and add things in to fill the extra classes (generally I've seen "make up lab day" and "test prep day" as things that add some "squish" to the schedule- valuable enough students don't feel there is a waste, but not so crucial that the shorter section faces real difficulty).

As a random rant, my kid's grade school *didn't* give off MLK day, but did give off half a day on Friday of that week. I have no idea if they were trying to create an even number of Fridays or something, but it was bizarre.
The best way to cut this Gordian knot: Kill the Carnegie hour. Quickly and without mercy.
In my system we start the semester on the Tuesday after Labor Day or MLK day, regardless of when those fall. We skip the presidential Monday holidays, but in their infinite wisdom, the scheduling admins have decreed that every year we take off for a state holiday that always falls the Friday after spring break. Drives me nuts. I don't know why our spring break can't be moved. And it wreaks havoc with Friday afternoon labs.
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