A friend of mine moved to Sweden a couple years ago to study for his masters at Linkopings University. We would communicate occasionally through online chat and talk about ourselves, but mostly about what it was like to live in Sweden. One of the greatest things he said was the way his university structured his study. Rather than take several classes at one time, he would take one class at a time, more intensively, for a short period of time.
Whereas here at UMKC full-time students take anywhere from four to six classes at a time over 16 weeks, my friend would take four four-week classes back-to-back.
He had class every day for several hours, but it was the same class, students and instructor.
The benefits of this structure, he told me, easily outnumbered the benefits of the more conventional structure found at many American public universities. I agree with him.
While I’ve never studied outside the U.S., I’ve had a taste of what my friend loved about his university. One summer I took two four-week classes back-to-back: American Lit 1 and Shakespeare. We met every weekday for several hours and in the afternoons and early evenings I read the 60 or more pages assigned to me, due the next day. The workload was not perceptibly more or less than that of a regular 16-week session, but my focus was stronger.
Without several other subjects crowding my mind, I had time to immerse myself in one chunk of material and allow my ideas to further develop. I earned As in both courses.
The experience you get by structuring an education that way is one of greater community. I saw the same people every day and we were all involved solely in this course. We didn’t have other things hanging over our heads. We were all on a single schedule. Arranging study groups was much easier and, if you studied properly, everyone could get a full night’s rest because none of us had another three hour class that night or a paper due in a course that meets at 8 a.m. the next morning. Whatever ailed them, ailed me. I felt connected.
I cannot fully speak for instructors, but I imagine this would benefit their teaching as well. Fewer students means greater understanding of their ability, what they are and are not good at. Being visible to those students daily creates a comfortable environment for discussion quicker.
A four-week course structure makes life easier for the student and allows him or her to produce stronger work. There’s no juggling with your job on Wednesdays or working around an extra-curricular club’s meeting times on Thursdays. The similarities between in- and out-of-school work times are greater.
Imagine never being let down because the class you want to take isn’t offered at a time you can take it. Great work today is accomplished in short-term, intensive projects. It’s not done in drawn-out, low-gear grind. Collaboration is today’s biggest ethic but a system that jumbles potential collaborators’ chance to work with each other is not supporting that idea.