A full class in half the time

For students in the School of Media and Public Affairs, Carl Stern’s media law course is a flurry of cases, ethical quandaries and reality-based tests.

Now condense all of that into one half a semester.

Lee Huebner, the school’s director, convinced Stern to come out of retirement to teach a condensed, half-semester version of his course. The class met for five hours each week and finished Stern’s difficult requirements in just seven weeks.

Attendance in the class was unusually high, probably because missing one class is equal to missing two classes, Stern said. He added that the condensed material enhanced students’ ability to absorb and retain information.

It was an experiment this year, Huebner said, and “apparently a successful one.”

“(Huebner) had been urged by (former University president Stephen Joel) Trachtenberg to experiment and try some new things,” Stern said. “So we thought why don’t we use the seminar time period and try doing it twice a week? We could do the whole course but we would do it in half the time.”

The class of 29 students met for two and a half hour sessions twice a week.

“There were only two students who felt it was a little too much too fast,” Stern said. “Frankly, out of 29 students, that’s not bad.”

Junior Melissa Attias said it was easier to retain information.

“It was nice that the sessions were so long so we could go in depth into the issues,” Attias said.

Students also said they benefited from having extra time the second half of the semester to concentrate on other classes and jobs.

“It was nice to be done with the course so I can concentrate on other courses,” sophomore William Becker said.

But some students said the two and a half hour classes were too long.

“It was difficult on certain nights to get stuff done,” Becker said. “And at some points (the class length) seemed to hinder my concentration because it was a lot.”

Though this was the first undergraduate half-semester class offered at GW, the School of Public Health and Health Sciences and the School of Business offer half-semester graduate courses.

The benefit of this system, said Prabir Bagchi, senior associate dean of the School of Business, is that it allows the school to “utilize faculty more optimally and also students can get the help of better and shorter courses that give more flexibility, so they can take two in a semester.”

The business school’s half-semester courses are less intensive than the media law course, because they meet for only one hour and 15 minutes twice a week for seven weeks. SPHHS offers classes that meet two hours once a week for seven weeks.

“If you concentrate the courses, students tend to concentrate better,” said Dr. Katherine Hunting, associate dean for academic affairs at SPHHS. “Students may want to take back to back courses and focus on two topical courses in one semester.”

Stern said he compact courses have a future at GW.

He said, “I am reasonably certain that as a result SMPA will be using this course format for other classes.”

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