Summer Classes 5/26/20

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

This post is going to come across as hypocritical. See, I signed a contract to teach a summer chemistry course, but in this post I will argue against taking these courses.

Maybe not all courses.

Okay, beginning at the beginning. There are multiple reasons that students will take summer courses. For example, students can take courses in the summer to get a little bit ahead on their program (a good friend of mine does this), or to avoid falling behind if they don’t get a satisfactory grade on a course. And summer courses are generally shorter than during the regular school session.

At the institution where I was dean, the “sessions” were set up like a series of summer session. Each semester was broken up into two sessions, each session being roughly six weeks long. The advantage to this is that you don’t have time to get too terribly bored with a topic, and you don’t have time to forget the material you learned at the beginning of the term before the final exam. Teaching the course I am (covering general, organic and biochemistry in three different course segments) forgetting material for the final was a significant problem. By the time the final exam rolled around, we had been focusing on organic and biochemistry for so long that the students often forget general chemistry, including things like solutions and gas laws. In a six-week course, general chemistry will be roughly four weeks ago, as opposed to two months. So, that is an advantage.

The disadvantage is that you lose significant time to practice and let things “sink in”. I believe that some things take time before they really start to make sense. You lose this time in a summer course. In the regular semester, a course starts, in the fall semester, in August and runs through December. This is roughly four months, which is approximately sixteen weeks. This summer course I’ve signed up for is six.

Six weeks. Summer courses are not less material; they are less time. And that is what requires careful consideration. This was always my biggest criticism of how that university ran its sessions; it’s nothing but a series of summer courses. To be accredited, there must be consistency in the material covered regardless of the means of presentation, location or time frame. So while students might have a week for gas law calculations during a regular semester, they’ll have two days (a day of lecture and a day before the next) in the summer.

Some courses aren’t so bad. The only summer course I ever took was a high school psychology course. It was a topic that kept my interest, it is a “soft science” so there wasn’t a lot of technical work that required a lot of redundant practice to learn (like math does), and didn’t require excessive reading (like a literature course would). It also helped that I had a good friend taking it with me who was as dedicated as I was, meaning we encouraged each other to work instead of loafing off.

Still there are times that you find yourself in situations you can’t really control. Whatever the reason, if you find yourself taking a summer course (some of which have already started, so my apologies that this is being published after you’ve begun, but there are a few things you can do to help ensure your success.

Most importantly, don’t fall behind. Ever. You must understand that if you’re taking a summer course, regardless of what it is, those weeks are gone. Just accept that; it’s simply part of the cost of taking courses in the summer. Don’t mourn the loss of “vacation time”; you’re learning, you’re working, and you’re getting something out of it, but don’t think you’ll be able to go out and have fun like your friends. In fact, be sure they know in advance that you won’t be available. Ask for their support, part of which is asking them not to tempt you with things you don’t have time for. But remember; it’s temporary. Summer courses don’t last the entire summer; you’re just giving up a portion of your time.

Which brings me to the second point. Leave time for yourself. You need a vacation. Some call it “sharpening the blade”. Your mind needs to rest and recharge periodically. This is why out of every seven workdays, most of us have two days off. It’s why most people have as much waking time off (8 hours) as they work (8 hours) in a working day. It’s why most jobs come with two weeks of vacation in the first year. Our brains are like muscles; as it grows, it needs time to rest. So when you have your time off, do something fun. Reward yourself, enjoy, and refresh so you can hit the ground running when the regular term begins.

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