By Nashalia Ferrara
It all started with a couple of students who approached Registrar Andy Westfall in 2014, complaining that too many classes happened at the same time, specifically on Tuesdays and Thursdays. After the discussion with the students, Westfall looked into their complaints and found that the students were right.
President Bowen likes to call these overlaps “drifts”, a pile up of classes that happen at the same time, making it harder for students to register for the classes they want, and double major. Micah Webster, professor from the math department and chair of the Academic Policies Committee (APC), volunteered to look at some of these “drifts” and agreed that the students were right.
Webster mapped out every single class on a grid and noticed there were a lot of red zones, many classes overlapped, and start and end times didn’t fit well. Bowen explained this, “If you take a 2pm Monday, Wednesday, Friday, then you will find a lot of 1:30 and 2:30pm start times that you can’t take.” Not only did the previous grid times not work, but the different credit classes were making it even harder for scheduling. Combining 3 credit and 4 credit classes to make a schedule is very and complicated.
When Webster was asked to come up with a new grid that worked better with the community and the curriculum, many things were taken into consideration. For some time now, students and faculty suggested a “common hour” where clubs, meetings and athletics could meet more easily. By making Wednesday afternoons free, athletes could participate in games without missing many classes. Athletes make up about 25% of the student population at Goucher College, so this was a big factor when creating the new schedule. This common hour also allows time for non-athletes to attend more games, get involved with internships, or join a new club they’ve been trying to fit in since freshmen year.
Bowen explained the good news with the new grid. Students won’t be able to pack all their classes in one day, which he says isn’t good for the brain anyway. “It’s bad for learning. Your brain remembers much more if it can reset between courses,” he explained. Even 15 minute power naps can do the job! Another plus? Fewer morning classes. The members of APC didn’t want to overload the students with too many 8 am options. They understand that it’s harder for students to learn so early in the morning after spending a late night in the Athenaeum. Goucher is actually one of the few colleges that doesn’t go overboard with 8 am classes. More spaces and light schedules give students more course options, which makes it easier to double major.
“So the goal was to make it easier to double major and get into courses, more learning, easier to schedule meetings [and] clubs and better for athletes.” Bowen admits, “All of this probably should’ve been explained better in my guess, but the decision had to be made in the summer and the classes were plugged in, so there it is. It will take a bit of getting used to, but hopefully those benefits will become apparent as times goes on.”
The APC is a group of four faculty members, two students, the registrar and the associate provost of undergraduate studies. Webster reminds students, “During every step of the process, there was a faculty, student and administration input.” Of course, APC did not bring in every member of this community to weigh in on the changes of the grid; that’s what the representatives are for.
Although these decisions seem random and without warning, talk about changing the new grid has been going on for some time now. In September of 2014, Webster first began to investigate changing the schedule. Hours and hours were spent on researching how other colleges formed their scheduling policies. After several meetings and conversations with department chairs, program heads, the director of athletics, the dean of students, GSG and many more important figures on campus, it became clear that a couple of policy changes were just not going to cut it. By Thanksgiving in 2014, Webster and APC decided that we needed a new course grid to really address all the objectives expressed, including classes conflicting with sports, more meeting times for clubs, less class overlap.
Webster spent about a month creating twenty different grids, four of them made it to the APC meetings and only two survived to be presented for the head meeting in December of 2014. At the beginning of the spring 2015 semester, Webster says he and Lynne Lochte, the VP of Finance and Adminstration, opened up their decision making to “staff, students and faculty during large meetings, one-on-one interviews, focus groups and email. All of this feedback led to the new schedule of classes that is being implemented this spring.”
The construction of the grid used next semester took about eight months. Six of those were used to gather feedback and do significant research.
Webster spent about10 to 20 hours each week trying to put together a “giant puzzle where the pieces would change their shape and sizes while putting it together.”
As always, change is sometimes hard to swallow. Students have shared their concerns with the new grid. Gabrielle Stoler ‘17 says, “Dance majors are having a particularly hard time. Our 2 hour dance classes are placed smack in the middle of the day, making it difficult for us to fit in any courses in our second major.” The new grid does not address labs, studios and field work overlap. Many students feel as though classes are too long, and impossible to schedule without conflict.
Zoe Jacobson ‘17 responded to Stoler’s comment with, “Even though it’s a hassle, I’d rather attend an accredited institution than have all my classes fit into a prettier schedule. Plus, we’re getting more time in the classroom/with professors, why is that a bad thing?”
No one really knows what next semester will look like or how this new grid will work. Even the mastermind behind it all, Webster, says he honestly won’t know about the challenges and its effects until the end of next semester. “Spring 2016 is just a pilot semester,” he said.
There are more changes expected for the following semester. There have already been approvals on scheduling policies or Fall 2016. If anyone felt left out this time around, consider this an exclusive and start getting involved in changes for next fall.