Friday, December 28, 2012

Twice of Thrice?

As the new semester is about to start and teaching assignments for next academic year are being finalized, I have been thinking about people's preferences when it comes to teaching schedules. I have never been at a US institution with a quarter system, so I can only speak of those with a semester system. I think it's fair to say that a standard course is a 3-credit course, where 1 credit is 50 min of lectures per week.* So a typical 3-credit course is either 50-min lectures 3x a week (MWF) or 75-min lectures 2x a week (TuTh).

Now I am going to expose my "teaching in a STEM field at a major research university privilege." 2/2 is the nominal teaching load, which is in practice reduced to 1/2 or 1/1 for active researchers depending on department policies and buyout requirements. Most research active faculty in my and related disciplines teach one course per semester most of the time. When looking at the teaching preferences of my colleagues, it appears that most like to teach TuTh, i.e. twice a week, because then the other three days are free of teaching obligations. I appear to be in the minority with my preference for MWF classes.

When I was a wee assistant professor, I taught twice a week but then realized it's not my cup of tea. I do the chalk-and-talk teaching with an occasional slide if I need to show something specific; this means that most of the time it's literally just me with a piece of chalk in front of the board, no notes, talking directly to the class, drawing, writing, probing student understanding with my questions and answering theirs. This is essentially a performance that takes considerable focus, which I have no problem maintaining for 50 min.  But, when I teach 75-min classes, I find that the last 15 min or so I am neither as focused as I need to be, nor are the students paying attention as well as they do early in the class. So, to me, the 75-min lecture is not a good use of class time overall. I cover more material and do it more efficiently when I teach in 50-min chunks.

Another consideration is travel -- if I have to miss a 50-min class, the loss is not too devastating. They are also easier to schedule make-up if need be because they are short, and because everyone else seems to jam-pack the students' Tuesdays and Thursdays. Also, with a MWF schedule, I can pretty much get any time of day I like because these days are not as in demand.

But, teaching MWF does infringe upon three out of the five work days, and classes tend to fragment your day which is not the best thing for doing research. So I do understand this important criterion that most of my colleagues make when choosing their teaching schedule. Some also say that travel is easier with a TuTh schedule because they can give talks at other institutions on Mondays or Fridays and still not miss classes.

When teaching more than one course per semester, which faculty in my department occasionally have to do, I am still undecided on whether it is better to have one course MWF and another TuTh, or teach both courses on the same days (MWF only or TuTh only). The former makes it easier on any given day but eats up a bit of each weekday, whereas the latter is really quite exhausting.

Do you prefer MWF or TuTh teaching and why? If you teach more than one course per semester, how would you ideally like them scheduled? All on the same days or spread throughout the week?

Do you prefer to teach MWF or TuTh? free polls 

If you teach 2 (or more) courses per semester, when do you prefer to teach them? free polls 

*  A bloggy friend at an institution with a quarter system says that he typically teaches 3 or 4 unit courses, with 1 unit  being roughly 50 min.


Alex said...

I like MWF because I think students learn better with more frequent exposure. Also, I teach on a quarter system, and so the big dilemma is always one midterm or two. Two midterms in a class that meets twice a week means giving up 10% of the class time. Sure, the midterms have to be shorter in a MWF class, but from an educational perspective I'd rather have two short checkpoints than one big checkpoint.

However, when I teach a more practice-oriented class with a computational component, I prefer TuTh or MW, because the longer blocks give them more time to really get into the activities.

Tanya Golash-Boza said...

My preference is actually for once a week. I teach once-a-week 2.5 hour classes. I am able to show films, discuss them, have in-class writing, discussion, lectures, etc. and completely cover a module without having to pick back up again.

Plus, it's fabulous for my writing time.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

I generally prefer a MWF plus a long session on Thursday, with Tuesdays free to work from home.

I'm at an institution that does "semester-in-a-quarter"classes, with 3.5 hours of lecture a week for 10 weeks as the standard class size. Classes with labs add another 2 or 3 hours for each lab section.

Our MWF classes are 70 minutes, our TTh ones are 105 minutes. I find the 70-minute slot a reasonable length, but the 105-minute one is too long, unless it is a lab course, and then 105 minutes is too short. Next quarter I have a MWF with a 3-hour lab on Thursday afternoons.

Anonymous said...

I teach three 3-credit courses per semester. Each course consists of two 2-hour lectures per week. I guess I prefer to have my classes spread out across all days of the week because having three 2-hour lectures in a day can be fairly exhausting. Fortunately most of the time our courses are not scheduled on Fridays so I generally always have one day free except for departmental meetings.

Unbalanced Reaction said...

I definitely prefer MWF. It ends up being more work for me (more time in class, more prep time because it is spread out, more office hours contact with students because they are THINKING about my class more), but I've found that it is much better for my students. When my course content is only twice a week, I find that students put it on the back burner and live in the valley of Denial all too often. (This isn't true for all courses, IMO, but I find that for my freshmen it is best.)

Anonymous said...

Off topic: Is the blogroll ever coming back?

Barefoot Doctoral said...

I actually think MTW is better for me. It may be better for my students as well for the reasons stated above, but I find it hard to stat focused during 1.5 hour lectures, no matter what side of the lectern I am on.

Anonymous said...

We don't have much choice, because we teach four courses a semester and the admin demands we teach four days a week. Can you tell we're at a research-aspirational institution? Me, either.

acdalal said...

I'm at a teaching oriented institution, with 3 10-week terms and a 5 course load (2-2-1 for me this year, well actually 2.5-1.5-1 technically). Fall and Winter terms have me teaching 5 days a week, and it's brutal. My main classes meet MWF, and TTh I meet with project groups (the 0.5 course), but even though I'm not standing in front of a class on TTh, it's still hard. I like having everything on MWF, because then I can schedule longer blocks of time for research, office hours, projects, etc. on the off days. I feel like I'm always context switching because I don't have a big block of time or one day/afternoon to get the bigger things done.

Anonymous said...

We teach 4/4 with research AND service requirements too! Welcome to a state school trying too hard too be a research university. Your preference for teaching days is largely irrelevant.