Committee studying change in schedule, requirements
November 15, 2011
Augustana faculty will get a report next month on how the college could switch from a trimester to a semester schedule and change graduation requirements.
A group of faculty and administrators called RISE (Refocus to Invest in Student Engagement) has been asked to make the report to the faculty. The group is led by Dean of the College Pareena Lawrence.
Augustana's academic calendar of three terms is referred to as a "3-4-3 model," in which students usually take three courses in the fall and spring, and four courses in the winter term. RISE will report on a revised calendar that would include two longer semesters in which students would take four courses, plus a shorter one-course term, a "4-1-4 model."
The idea of changing the academic schedule and requirements has been discussed since 2009, when a committee researched practices at similar colleges. The committee found that Augustana students complete 5-9 more courses than students at comparable institutions.* Augustana students must complete at least 41 courses (123 credits) to graduate, while peer schools generally require 32-35 courses.
Also, the committee found that a full teaching load at Augustana is seven courses per year, compared with six or fewer at peer colleges.
The discussion about changing the calendar, requirements and teaching load began in the 2010-11 school year with the faculty "6/35 Committee." The committee was to consider the implications of a six-course teaching load for faculty and 35 four-credit courses required for students. Last spring the faculty senate voted for a 6/35, 140-credit plan. However, new federal requirements that each class would need to meet for up to 300 minutes per week — or require extensive documentation — made it an inefficient option.
RISE then presented the faculty with alternative plans, using an online survey. The survey results were shared and discussed at several faculty events in October.
Finally, at a meeting on Oct. 27, the faculty voted 88-44-3 to keep exploring the concept of a restructured student and faculty load (35 courses over four years for students, and a six-course annual teaching load for faculty). They then voted 80-53-2 to also pursue a 4-1-4 semester calendar.
That plan would require student to take fewer courses, but their overall time in the classroom and on related study and activities outside the classroom would be higher.
Proponents of the plan believe that a 14-week class could proceed at a pace conducive to more high-impact learning practices, such as collaborative projects, case studies, close reading, process writing, exploration of ideas and research. There also would be the opportunity for an intensive learning experience in the one-term course. However, many of those who voted against the plan feel the 10-week term is working well for their program now. Others had concerns about the impact on international programs, co-curricular activities and other departments.
RISE will report to the faculty in December with a specific credit and calendar plan for a 6/35, 4-1-4 model. Once the faculty votes on a specific 4-1-4 calendar, RISE and the larger academic community will further develop how the overall curriculum could be set up to enhance student learning in the new format. That report will be presented to the faculty in April 2012. If it is approved, the plan then would be sent to the board of trustees.
Implementing such a new plan would take a few years. College committees, academic departments and programs, and nearly every office on campus would need to work together to study the effects of a different calendar on day-to-day and long-term processes.
* Institutions included in the comparison included Knox, Lawrence University, Carleton, St. Olaf, Gustavus Adolphus, Wittenberg, Albion, Luther, Wooster, Gettysburg, Illinois Wesleyan, Wheaton, Denison, Hope and DePauw. Of those, St. Olaf, Gustavus Adolphus, Luther and DePauw use a 4-1-4 schedule.