Tech implements changes to academic calendar

Photo by Brenda Lin

Tech has implemented the first of the planned changes to the academic calendar.

Final exam week now includes an additional Monday exam period, replacing the Friday afternoon 2:50 pm. to 5:40 p.m. exam period.

Another major change is that the deadline for dropping a class with a “W” has been pushed back.  Beginning in the catalog year 2015-2016, all students will have two more weeks to decide whether or not to withdraw from the class. This is hoped to reduce the number of students on waitlist during the class registration.

The driving force behind the transformation of academic calendar structure dates back to December 2013 when SGA members composed and proposed a white paper to administrators and Colin Potts, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education. Among many potential ideas for creating a more manageable environment for students, the original paper suggests downsizing the total number of instructional days.

Key figures such as Laura Margaret Burbach the Vice President of Academic Affairs of SGA and administrators such as Steven Girardot the Associate Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education and Potts have since convened to redraft the white paper.

“While it’s generally the committee chairs who work on specific projects, I’ve continued to lead this one myself since I’m familiar with its background and because it’s something I’m really passionate about,” Burbach said.

Burbach was last year’s Chair for Curriculum and Institute Policies Committee, which is currently active in improving student-faculty feedback systems such as the Course Instructor Opinion Survey and dead week violation reporting.

A finding National College Health Assessment states that, “approximately 90% of Tech students self reported being “very stressed”, greatly exceeding the national average of 53%.” The paper also refers to the study done by University of Toronto, which suggests that minutes spent in class per credit hour is higher at Tech relative to those of other universities in North America.

Decreasing the number of instructional days may also influence professors’ methods for managing the course learning materials. The idea of shorter timeline to spread out the coursework naturally brought questions of maintaining the institutionally upheld rigorousness of a course.

“Because freshmen are transitioning from high school where the type of rigor is considerably different from that in college-leveled class, college courses often bore and tire them,” said Jiayao Ni, a Ph.D student in economics at Tech. “Considering this, shorter timeframe to complete the course might not be recommended for undergraduates. However, I think the idea of reducing number of school days is practical. When I taught a summer semester course, the class was everyday, unlike in spring or fall semester, so I did not have to invest time reviewing and previewing materials.”

Because financial aid and housing contracts last around a year, any change made to the calendar would generally take its effect after three semesters. Some of the proposal ideas may require approval from Board of Regents and Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, thus requiring more time.

While multiple academic calendar revisions are developing and emerging, Academic Affairs have largely promoted Academic Grievance Website and Dead Week Policy during dead week and finals week this year. Academic Affairs Board also launched social media campaign called “Unofficial Drop Date” to dissuade students from waitlisting classes.

High stress level at Tech has also drawn the attention of Counseling Center, Student Center Program Council, and many other campus organizations.