April 25, 2012

Additional Reading Day an extra Flunk?

This winter, students will not have to wait for a blizzard to get a day off during winter term. Thanks to the addition of more Reading Days to the academic calendar, a day will already be built in.

Next year’s academic calendar features two reading days before each final examination period as well as a mid-term reading day during week six of winter term. Due to Fall Institute Day and Flunk Day, no mid-term reading days were added to fall or spring terms.

“If you have a day to catch up in the middle of the term, to me that has unquestionable benefits,” Dean Lawrence Breitborde said.

The calendar has also been adjusted so that freshmen will arrive on a Wednesday instead of a Saturday, with classes beginning on the following Monday.

The Executive Committee of the Faculty has long tinkered with how to balance time in the classroom with time to study and prepare for the upcoming term, largely due to the pattern of having three trimesters and a three-month summer break.

“I sort of figure that five years from now … this will still be being discussed,” Breitborde said. “It’s because of the particular challenges that come with the quarter system.”

Suggestions for giving students more time to study and professors more time to teach have included adding a week to the academic year, as is often done at schools with calendars similar to Knox’s. However, the idea of shortening the summer has been a non-starter among the faculty. The idea of lengthening spring break by a week was also met with resistance.

“There’s no way we can have a two-week spring break and not extend the calendar by a week,” Breitborde said.

While adding extra Reading Days will eliminate one day of instruction in fall and spring terms and two days in winter term, some feel that this disadvantage is far outweighed by benefits to both professors and students.

“I think [more Reading Days] will allow [students] to gather their thoughts, organize what they’ve learned and … move forward with finals in a more thoughtful way,” Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Nic Mink said. “It is a small burden on our time as instructors, but looking at the benefits, I support it.”

In regards to faculty, Breitborde posited that some professors may choose not to have a comprehensive final exam because under the current calendar, students have little time to prepare for it.

“In some cases, the idea that students would have more time to prepare for it might lead [faculty] to do [final exams],” Breitborde said.

Some were skeptical, however, about how students would actually use the extra days.

“Right now, Reading Day is used either really well by students … or some use it as an extra weekend,” freshman Kira Meehan said. “For me personally, I think [the change] is going to be good.”

Professor of Political Science Sue Hulett echoed Meehan’s sentiments.

“I think they’ll be many students who will say, ‘Thank you for the extra Flunk Day,’” she said.

Others, such as sophomore Jacob Schneider, have adapted to the current system to the point where extra Reading Days may be unnecessary.

“One or two more wouldn’t hurt, but around finals, I’ve never really been like, ‘Oh, I need an extra Reading Day,’” Schneider said. “The system has worked fine for me.”

Despite the difficulties of balancing instruction, studying and breaks in Knox’s quarter system, Breitborde believes it brings benefits that the logistically simpler semester system lacks, and the adjusted calendar will help fine-tune some of its rougher points.

“The quarter system is a really logistically difficult system. It’s got terrific advantages in terms of course load and how you can focus on things,” Breitborde said. “The question is, are there things we can do to the calendar … to emphasize the positives and get rid of some of the negatives.”

Anna Meier

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