CSUN course schedules up for review by committee

Daily Sundial

Two administrators and representatives from eight academic colleges met at the behest of the provost this summer to discuss alternatives to CSUN’s scheduled curriculum of 50-minute, three-day-a-week courses.

“There’s been some unhappiness,” said Harold Hellenbrand, CSUN provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, regarding faculty concerns about the current course scheduling model.

One of the proposed models would schedule classes during Monday and Wednesday “blocks,” as well as a Tuesday and Thursday block, for an hour and a half each day.

Two one-day blocks, one on Friday and Saturday, would be an extension of the two-day blocks, with one class for three hours each day.

“Taxpayers are concerned that the facilities are in use,” said Diane Stephens, director of Academic Resources, regarding a push to have campus buildings more utilized, specifically on Fridays and Saturdays.

“We have a finite amount of space, so we need to utilize that space,” said Stephens, who is also on the ad hoc committee. “(At the same time), we’re also meeting the needs of the students and faculty.”

Another way to utilize the Friday or Saturday block day is to use it as an online activity day, Stephens said. Using the day for online activities would make the course web-enhanced, and could require students to come to campus only two days a week.

A favorable alternative among the ad hoc committee is to implement three different blocks in the evening, rather than one 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. block.

Instead of having one three-hour night class every week, students could attend different class sessions during 5:30 to 7 p.m., 7 to 8:30 p.m., or 8:30 to 10 p.m., allowing students to take three classes in two nights.

Some three-hour evening courses would remain for students in education and credential curriculums, Stephens said.

The focus of the course scheduling discussion is on C1-C6 three-unit lecture courses. There are six levels of C lecture courses: large lecture, lecture discussion, composition lecture, lecture/recitation, seminar, and seminar/clinical demonstration.

Community colleges surrounding CSUN are using the Monday/Wednesday, Tuesday/Thursday block schedule, according to Stephens and Hellenbrand. It is also important to use similar scheduling because many students enroll at CSUN alongside a community college, according to Stephens.

Janice Bell, chair of the Accounting Department in the College of Business and Economics, said technology is sometimes a problem in setting and keeping class meeting times.

“It’s hard to do the material, particularly with more technology in the classrooms, such as PowerPoint (presentations),” Bell said. “You hand back papers, take role, get yourself connected and class is over.”

Stephens said she believes technology can often take too much time to set up during a 50-minute class.

“By the time the overhead is set up, you have eaten a large chunk of class time,” Stephens said.

Bell was also apart of the ad hoc committee, and said longer time periods are better so students can apply themselves to the learning experience.

“I don’t know that three-hour classes are for everybody, (but) I think two days a week is a very good model,” Bell said.

To implement any changes in scheduling, proposals have to go through several departments and committees on campus, Hellenbrand said.

“First, we want a clear indication from the students,” Hellenbrand said. “(Then) we want endorsement by the (Faculty Senate’s) Educational Policies Committee, (the) Educational Resources Committee, departments and chairs, the Provost’s Council, the Provost Cabinet and Faculty Senate.”

Hellenbrand gave the ad hoc committee three guidelines to follow in developing scheduling alternatives: to not make changes in credits, to keep utilization of the campus the same, and to guarantee that with any scheduling alternatives the campus would still be able to produce full-time equivalent students to meet enrollment targets.

If the number of units were changed for a course, it would have to remain consistent with the number of units for the same class at community colleges, Hellenbrand said.

“I think it is easiest to do one thing at a time,” he said. “If we do a unit change, we will have to go back and redo general education.”

Some department chairs expressed an interest in wanting the number of units for certain courses to be changed.

“I would say give students four units (per class) for the two day blocks,” said Marta Lopez-Garza, chair of the Women’s Studies Department. “Faculty can spend more time with students.”

Lopez-Garza is a proponent of the two-day blocks of Monday/Wednesday and Tuesday/Thursday.

“I think three days a week, 50 minutes, doesn’t really do justice to a class,” Lopez-Garza said. “We have to deal with it, but it is the least desirable type of time situation.”

By spending more time in class, Lopez-Garza said the number of topics covered in class will decrease, but professors can spend more time with students, and the topics being discussed would be more in depth.

“How do we get our students to graduate? We spend more time with them,” Lopez-Garza said.

“The objective here is to better accommodate faculty and students,” said A.S. President Chad Charton regarding scheduling alternatives.

Charton said he is for changing the current course scheduling model, adding that the main concern is giving flexibility and various options for students and faculty.

“(We want) additional flexibility to allow students to limit their time on campus,” he said. “(We want to) provide additional options. Let the students decide. Students can identify with what schedule works best for them.”

A.S. hopes to solicit students and faculty with surveys based on scheduling alternatives, Charton said.

Hellenbrand consulted Charton in September about the proposal created by the ad hoc committee. A.S. was then requested to review the draft and provide feedback on the various models.

“There were two of the (six) we found to be favorable,” Charton said.

Nancy Burstein, chair of the Special Education Department, said she would like to see a change in units for a special education course that is currently counted as two units.

Burstein said the department’s courses are already offered during block times because most of their students are graduate students.

“Our faculty feels it’s much more productive to meet two hours per week,” said Burstein, who also supports creative scheduling.

Burstein said some courses in her department are hybrid classes, meaning some class meetings are online, and some are on campus. So far, those classes have been well received, she said.

“(Faculty) prefer it to an all-online course because there is some interaction (with students),” Burstein said. “Students like it because they don’t have to come to school every week.”

The ad hoc committee is still in its preliminary stages and plans to conduct a campus-wide student and faculty survey questioning demographics, commute time, and hours worked per week, according to Stephens.

Alternative scheduling options would take a year to be approved and would go into effect the following year for the fall semester, according to Hellenbrand.

Cynthia Ramos can be reached at cynthia.ramos.838@csun.edu.