As we are nearing the final month of our semester here at Virginia Tech, I’ve been thinking about the semester system which separates the year into fall and spring semesters. It seems a fair assumption to make that most Universities in the south east (if not the entire U.s.) operate on this system. At schools like VT, that means for students to be considered full time they must enroll in 12 hours (many times satisfied by four 3-credit-hour courses).
I take no issue with how the semester system treats late August through November. It allows for a diverse schedule–a student could take one course in literature and another in biochemistry–and affords instructors the time often needed to ease students into course topics. For many courses I would imagine the semester model to be very beneficial, allowing for course material to “sink in.”
I also believe that in many cases instructors aptly prepare students for final work with tasks throughout the semester that end up constituting the foundation for penultimate submissions. However, during my time as an undergraduate and now graduate student, I have witnessed much the opposite with most of my instructors.
Many instructors, practicing poor time-management themselves, often put off major deadlines until the end of the course and don’t allow time for necessary student feedback throughout the semester. In addition it is much easier for instructors to grade students’ final work as a significant portion of the final course score.
This system–which I’ve argued espouses procrastination–also seems to be causing scheduling concerns outside of the classroom. Administrative tasks and other faculty meetings containing issues are often pushed off until the end of the semester, at which in their critical point must be addressed and resolved before the break. Inter-institutional associations are often also affected by the system.
Although it may not allow such diverse schedules, trimester and quarter systems may allow students and instructors with a schedule that provides a bit more focus and a more balanced work load during finals terms. While I’ll be the first to note how good it feels to finish finals work and head home on break, these models seem more appropriate in providing students of modern higher education a more balanced experience.