February 1, 2012

Faculty aim to alleviate class scheduling issues

Students can only take one class during third period, but sometimes they do not get the class they want. The overuse of this class period and the virtual disuse of others (namely, first period) have created scheduling conflicts for both professors and students.

“We don’t have — like a lot of schools have — mutually exclusive class schedules,” Dean Lawrence Breitborde said. “A lot of semester schools, for example, have courses either offered Monday/Wednesday/Friday or Tuesday/Thursday. We don’t do that. Although many of our courses fall into that pattern, some of them don’t.”

Courses that often come into conflict with each other include science classes, which contain a lab component that takes place on Tuesdays or Thursdays; art classes, which usually meet only on Tuesdays and Thursdays; math classes, which occasionally meet four times a week; and language classes, which often meet five times a week.

“There’s no way to reduce all the conflicts,” Breitborde said. “The question is could we reduce more of them?”

The Instructional Support Committee and Executive Committee of the Faculty have both been meeting to discuss potential solutions to scheduling conflicts.

“People, of course, are interested in having fewer conflicts and using college resources more effectively,” Chair of the Instructional Support Committee and Professor of Economics Steve Cohn said. “But any change is going to have some downsides.”

After bringing this issue to the faculty, a number of potential solutions were presented. In January, faculty members were surveyed on some of the more prominent ideas, such as trying to even out the number of Monday/Wednesday/Friday and Tuesday/Thursday courses, adding more evening classes, eliminating classes that meet four times a week and holding some classes off campus.

One of the least popular ideas was offering more courses during first period, thus relieving the use of other more prevalent class times. While it seems understandable that students may not wish to attend class at 8 a.m., professors may not wish to teach then, either.

“One of the really nice things about teaching at Knox is that you really have a lot of freedom in your scheduling and your calendar — more so than some other places,” Breitborde said. “We don’t really want to constrain that.”

An alternative option, then, would be starting first period half an hour later, which seems to be more agreeable to both professors and students.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” sophomore Esther Farler-Westphal said. “I would be much more willing to take a first period class if it was at 8:30 instead of 8.”

Another agreeable option was introduced in discussions within the Instructional Support Committee. “The most popular option seems to be to have people voluntarily distribute courses more evenly over periods two through six,” Cohn said.

Although these solutions to scheduling conflicts are being considered, it is difficult to determine if and when Knox would see any major changes to class schedules.

“I don’t think we’re in any crisis,” Cohn said.

Students, in this same spirit, do not seem to be overly concerned with the schedule. When it comes down to deciding between two classes that take place during the same period, it is simply a matter of prioritizing.

“It matters which one is more important at the moment,” sophomore Marika Takemura said, “whatever has to be done now.”

The scheduling situation, however, could worsen.

“As the college size has grown, the dimensions of the problem have grown,” Cohn said. “We’ve increased enrollments, but we haven’t increased in buildings.”

Thus, there is still interest in discussing these issues. According to Breitborde, the schedule has not been of concern in over a decade.

“It’s probably good to be looking at it again,” Breitborde said. “Periodically looking at [the schedule] is a healthy thing to do.”

Currently, though, potential class schedules are still being experimented with.

“We’ve just tried to do a modest amount of tinkering to improve the situation, and then take a wait-and-see attitude,” Cohn said.

“It’s not a mechanical kind of thing we can figure out,” Breitborde said. “It’s a balancing act.”

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