Doug Cohen: Maximizing learning with the credit system

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Doug Cohen

A lot of things will really suck for me after leaving college.

I’ll have to get up before 10:30 a.m. and pay for my own food and rent. And I’ll no longer be able to use the “I’m still in college” excuse when doing dumb things.

And for a nerd like me, it will also suck not being able to just go to class and learn on a daily basis. And in my last semester, I’ve realized that I took some classes in subjects I really enjoyed and wish I could have studied more in-depth.

For that reason, the University should offer students the option to take on an increased workload for additional credit in some classes, allowing students to delve more deeply into topics they find interesting.

Stanford University, which employs this method, offers a sliding scale of credits for some courses. A student can choose to take a course for three, four or five credits. And the more credits you take, the more outside work the course requires.

At GW, students have the option of taking a few courses pass/fail if they really want to avoid doing the work.

Students interested in a particular course or subject should be encouraged to explore the material outside the limits of a traditional three- or four-credit model. This would add flexibility to class schedules, as students could have the opportunity to take fewer classes and focus more on one class worth more credits than the others.

Geri Migielicz, a visiting professor at Stanford University, told me that students take her course for anywhere from three to five credits, and said this flexibility allows some students into her course who would otherwise be unable to take it because of scheduling conflicts.

Sometimes I think back to the different authors or playwrights I studied in a survey English course and wish I had time to read more of their works. By studying a particular writer more intensively, a student could essentially create an individualized seminar.

Class difficulty could be tied to the amount of credits that a student receives. Perhaps by adding extra readings and assignments, the student could receive four credits instead of three. And to add two credits, a student might have to write a research paper in addition to other major assignments.

Many departments at GW already allow students to complete an honors thesis that takes a significant amount of work, but this is something that students can only take advantage of once in their college career. Some courses already use this model, and offer two sections within the same class: a regular-credit section and a Writing in the Disciplines section for those who wish to do extra assignments to satisfy that requirement.

And while it’s unknown how many students would consider using this special credit system, it certainly doesn’t hurt to at least offer the option. Anything that allows students to further explore their academic passions creates a heightened intellectual atmosphere on campus.

College doesn’t last forever, but students should be able to maximize what they learn in their courses while they’re still here.

Doug Cohen, a senior majoring in political science, is a senior columnist.

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