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?