Adjusting Your Course to 14 Weeks
“The 14-week calendar offers numerous advantages and opportunities. The primary benefit is that it allows us to better meet the needs of our students' health and well-being. It also creates symmetry between the fall and spring semesters, allowing similar week-long breaks in each, which provides our teaching and learning community respite in the middle of the semester and a break that allows time for true rest and restoration.” - Jim Garrett, Provost
In adjusting your course from a 15-week format to a 14-week format, you have various options to consider. Most of these options involve streamlining or repackaging some aspects of your course to account for the 1-week reduction. We encourage you to think of this process as a way to make your course more efficient and effective for student learning. As you consider the various strategies listed below, please keep the following guiding principles in mind..
- You should not need to redesign your entire course or cut content extensively.
- Your course should still be designed to achieve the original course objectives.
- Student workload (in total hours/week) must be kept the same as the original course, assuming the number of units for your course stays the same. In other words, squeezing a course’s 15-week content and assignments into 14 weeks would not be appropriate
- You may adjust how students spend their time, in and/or outside of class, to be more structured or spent on different tasks
- Consider the impact on course TAs and graders and their workloads, and try to create reasonable grading deadlines, avoiding times when TAs may have their own coursework due.
- Breaks (both fall and spring) are intended to be periods of rest and restoration. Avoid assigning student work over break or scheduling deadlines, exams, or assessments immediately after breaks.
The strategies listed below are grouped according to two broad approaches – prioritizing and reformatting. Either approach can be applied to different aspects of your course (e.g., assignments, in-class activities, outside-of-class work), and you may find that you end up doing a bit of each. For instructors teaching mini courses, we expect that many of the strategies listed below can also work for your teaching contexts. Please consult the 2022-23 academic calendar to see how this change impacts your course schedule.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this process. If you’d like to discuss how to adopt or adapt one of these strategies to your course, or if you are having trouble identifying a strategy that might work for you, please schedule a one-on-one consultation with an Eberly colleague by emailing email@example.com.
Prioritize essential content and assignments
Periodically reviewing your instructional strategies and assessments to make them more effective and efficient is a useful practice. It can help in adapting your course to a 14-week format as well. Explore the strategies listed below to identify which aspects of your course you could trim or adjust to allow for more effective and efficient student learning.
Various approaches to trim/condense.
- Low Effort: Revisit the learning objectives stated in your syllabus and omit or condense any material (e.g., supplemental readings, guest speakers, lectures, etc.) not essential to the learning objectives.
- Medium Effort: Examine the topics/skills you cover and prioritize the ones that students need the most help with or that are foundational in the prerequisite stream. Ensure that these topics/skills are aligned with your learning objectives, and, assuming so, keep the instruction and practice for these... but condense any topics/skills that are not aligned with your learning objectives or for which students need less support/practice.
- Medium to High Effort: Separate the technical skills from the conceptual skills to identify which ones are most aligned with your learning objectives, e.g., Is it more important that the students know how to conceptually interpret the data from an experiment/test or technically how to conduct it? If the former, then reduce or omit the corresponding technical aspects of labs, assignments, and associated lectures.
- High Effort: Generate a table or matrix that maps assessments, assignments, and/or class sessions to your course’s learning objectives. Eliminate or reduce any assessments, assignments, or class session content that is redundant or not aligned with a learning objective.
Assess your assignments and assessments to delete/condense.
- Low Effort: Does your course include one or more assignments that have not really paid off in terms of supporting student learning? (Perhaps you can use past semesters’ course data to help... Contact us if you'd like to explore your course data.) Are there assessments or assignments that do not clearly measure or support the course learning objectives? Assessing your assignments and assessments with these questions in mind might help identify something to delete or condense. Sometimes instructors find a question here or there (e.g., on various homework assignments) that didn’t work well for learning or grading, and so eliminating them can be a good move.
Reduce the time you spend on in-class activities.
Look for ways to shave time from individual class sessions or across your course as a whole.
- Low Effort: Do you typically spend the first day of class reviewing the syllabus? Repurpose this day to be more about connecting students with each other and exposing them to course concepts. Reduce time spent reviewing the syllabus in class by posting it to Canvas and asking students to preview it before the first day. This way, you can touch on syllabus highlights during class, address any student questions, and revisit the syllabus as needed throughout the semester.
- Medium to High Effort: Do you devote large portions of your class time to having students work on assignments, whether individually or in groups? Consider restructuring this time so that students are still practicing but perhaps in a more focused manner (e.g., everyone works on the same problem or task) for less time. This may require students to do a bit of pre-work before coming to class. If so, consider providing guided assignment instruction for collaborative work outside of class so students can be more efficient with their time on task.
Identify redundancy between readings and in-class content delivery.
- Low to Medium Effort: If you assign readings that cover basic content for your course, do not spend class time covering that same material. Instead, hold students accountable for the reading by using low-stakes pre-class assignments, quizzes, or in-class polls to triage what concepts require clarification. Then you can spend class time on these concepts and skip the ones that students grasped via the readings.
Use appropriate technology tools to make grading more efficient
Technology tools for grading can streamline grading for your instructional team and get feedback into students' hands more quickly. For example, many CMU instructors use Gradescope for problem sets and exams, especially in STEM courses. Similarly, many instructors use Canvas rubrics for written and/or project work. Eberly technology consultants can help you and/or your TAs to use these tools. Other strategies related to grading written work may also be helpful.
- Low Effort: Create a map of the lab techniques required for each experiment and identify and cut any redundancies. If students are starting a new experiment using the same techniques they’ve previously learned and practiced, consider starting students in the middle of the new experiment (i.e., with an intermediate product), so that they can focus on the rest of the process. This strategy may allow for two labs to be combined into one. Note: This strategy may not be desirable if there is marked value in students getting repeated practice at critical skills.
- Low to Medium Effort: Consider the potential overlap between lectures and labs, and condense/omit as necessary. Is the lab showing lecture concepts in action (significant overlap) or are students applying content in labs that was not covered in lectures (little overlap)? Consider whether any of the pre-lab lectures can be condensed and perhaps delivered in asynchronous, instructional videos that can be reused every semester.
- Medium Effort: Tighten up class discussions by providing more explicit prompts that steer students towards the main takeaways. Consider allowing students to preview these discussion prompts before class and ask them to generate ideas. This pre-work will not only help to save time during class discussion, but will likely also lead to more thoughtful student responses. Explore the idea of starting the discussion asynchronously via a Canvas discussion board and then leveraging students’ online responses to jumpstart the in-class discussion.
Reformat teaching strategies, assignments and content
It may not be feasible for you to trim content from your course, so instead you may consider repackaging or reformatting certain components of your course to achieve time efficiencies. Some of these strategies may require you to write different assignments or to restructure the use of in-class time. In doing so, please be sure to consider the guiding principles listed at the top of this document.
Reconsider student presentations.
- Low-Medium Effort: Do you typically schedule student presentations during class time? Unless oral communication or public speaking is explicitly one of your learning objectives, you might consider a different student deliverable that could be submitted outside of class and still allow students to engage with each other’s work (e.g., discussion board post, recorded video posted to Canvas). To ensure that student workload is managed, assign students to view a limited number of these deliverables.
- Studio-based courses. This same strategy could be applied to in-class critiques. Shift some in-class critique to an asynchronous format and/or assign students to review a subset of their peers’ work to reduce the amount of in-class time needed.
Leverage the final exam period.
- Low Effort: Do you typically give the last exam during the last week of class? Instead, schedule your last exam to happen during the final exam period, and repurpose the last week of class for content delivery or practice/review of course content. Note: As per university policy, during the final examination period, each course may only have an exam OR a final project, not both. If your course already had a final exam during the final exam period, this would involve a substitution or merge; if your course had a final project due during the final exam period, this strategy would not apply or would require bigger adjustments, e.g., moving or removing the final project.
Reconsider the purpose and use of guest speakers.
- Low Effort: Do you use guest speakers in your course, and if so, how does this instructional strategy align with your learning objectives? If these speakers are supplemental to student learning, then consider asking the guest speaker to record a 10-15 minute video of their presentation (they may already have existing materials like a TED talk) that you can post to Canvas for students to view. If the guest speaker is more essential to student learning, you could still leverage this technique and reserve some in-class time for student Q&A with the speaker. You’ll still save class time by having students view the condensed presentation beforehand, and student questions will likely be more informed than if they had to think of them on-the-spot. This strategy also gives you the option to reuse the guest speaker’s materials in future semesters (with their permission).
Combine topics that illustrate the same skill or application of a principle.
- Medium Effort: If you teach multiple applications of the same skill or principle over several class sessions (e.g., a statistical modeling technique applied to different data sets), consider whether you could combine those class sessions into one and divide the different applications among students. Rather than having every student experience every application, students might only experience one application. This approach could give students a chance to “be the expert” on a given topic and teach their peers about it. If adopting this approach, first consider whether the value of repeated practice/exposure to the same skill or application is critical for learning. If it is, then this approach may not be desirable.
- Discussion and reading-based courses. Do you spend 1-2 class sessions exploring the same topic from different perspectives? Consider combining those perspectives into one class session, assigning different students different perspectives/readings, and providing more structure to the class discussion to ensure that all perspectives are addressed.
Eberly colleagues are here to help!
As you prepare your course, please feel welcome to contact the Eberly Center with questions or to request a consultation. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org