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Author Topic: Term Length: Semester vs. Trimester vs. Something Else  (Read 3932 times)
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« on: April 10, 2007, 3:41:08 pm »

The VP at my middling SLAC has told the faculty senate that he's open to changing the current semester system (15 weeks) to something else.  Some people seem to prefer the trimester or quarter system (12 week terms), others think that 8 week terms may be a good idea. (Basically, split the current semester into two halves.)

Does anyone have an experience to share about a school changing its term schedule to something else?  Or have you worked at two different schools and taught under two different term schedule systems?

I am particularly interested in how the teaching and learning may be different under different term schedule models.

One issue that immediately came to mind is that a quarter system course doesn't cover quite as much material, typically 12 weeks vs. 15 weeks for a money & banking course, say.

Thanks, Z.


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« Reply #1 on: April 10, 2007, 4:10:46 pm »

I've been a student in a trimester system and the advantage  seems to be that a student can graduate earlier than the once conventional four years.   As an instructor, I'd like to see three full sessions within the calendar year.  In a 'regular' semester, a student can earn 15 credits, for 30 for the usual fall/spring semesters.  It is difficult for that student to earn a full semester's credits during the summer.  Additionally, summer courses tend to move too quickly for some students.  But if the college offered three full sessions, the student could choose all three sessions and graduate early, or two of the three sessions and still receive the regular instructional time.

Faculty could choose two of the three sessions, or two sessions plus  a class or two for extra money. 

I think one of the main barriers to a full year proposal might be from faculty unions/governing bodies, trying to figure out how to pay faculty.

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« Reply #2 on: April 10, 2007, 4:35:24 pm »

I attended graduate school under a quarter system and they have now moved to a semester system.  I've also taught 8 week graduate courses (once a week) as well as 15 week semesters.  Generally speaking, the advantage of a quarter system is that it's over quickly ( just when you and the students get sick of each other, you're done :) ).  The disadvantage is the lack of time to do major projects, which I as a business prof found very problematic.  Students also took fewer courses at a time.  (I think three was a full load for a quarter).  The only way the 8 week courses worked for me was because I taught a 2 course sequence, with the first course required, which essentially made up one semester course (in terms of learning objectives and requirements, not in terms of teaching load hours). 
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« Reply #3 on: April 10, 2007, 5:01:33 pm »

The University of California (except Berkeley and UCLA) are on the "quarter" system. I use quotes because it's 3 quarters to a traditional summers off calendar. These are 10 week quarters and I found that ten weeks went by way too fast. Depending on your preferred testing schedule, you could have a midterm in week 2! Twelve weeks, as suggested, may be a nice medium between this and the mid semester slump that I have seen in a traditional 15 week semester.
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« Reply #4 on: April 10, 2007, 9:28:16 pm »

I worked at a school that crammed in four quarters per calendar year. I believe they were 11 weeks each, with a week off in between and a month or so off in the summer.

It's incredibly hectic for the students. As their instructor, I found it hard to believe that they could retain much of what they learned. Too short.

I'm currently teaching and student-ing at a traditional semester system school. Round about this time of year, I'm thinking the semester is dragging out too long.

I went to undergrad at a UC campus; we were on a 12 or 13 week quarter. Just right. (I feel like Goldilocks)

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« Reply #5 on: April 10, 2007, 10:09:42 pm »

I was a student under both a 15-week term system and a 10-week term system.  I teach at a 15.

I find the 15 weeks to be interminably long from both perspectives.  As a student I greatly appreciated having the ability to focus on fewer topics at a time, and meeting more often during a week.  I would trade to a shorter term system in a heartbeat.

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« Reply #6 on: April 10, 2007, 10:11:39 pm »

The big problem with quarters or trimesters as opposed to semesters is the increase in teaching-related paperwork.  Three times a year (instead of twice), you have to come up with syllabi, midterms, finals, assignments.  Just think: three sets of final exams to grade rather than two.  Ugh, especially if they're writing-intensive.  You have to do all the math of figuring final grades three times.  You have to learn three sets of names.  All of this can be trying.  I don't personally mind it, but I know a lot of people do.  

On the other hand, in the quarter system, there's no such thing as mid-quarter malaise.  It all goes by too quickly.  That week 11 torpor in the semester system is a killer.  

All in all, having taught in both systems, I'd vote for quarters in which faculty teach 3 and have 1 off.  I rather like the quick turn-around.  Always leave 'em wanting more, right?
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« Reply #7 on: April 10, 2007, 10:40:51 pm »

It would probably be an administrative nightmare to have one long (15 week) and one short (12 week) semester, but I think that would be just right.  I'm in the humanities, and some of the survey courses I teach benefit from the 15 week length.  On the other hand, the courses for majors tend to feel "over" around week 12 because they are on more focused topics. 

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« Reply #8 on: April 11, 2007, 1:14:27 am »

The University of California (except Berkeley and UCLA) are on the "quarter" system. I use quotes because it's 3 quarters to a traditional summers off calendar. These are 10 week quarters and I found that ten weeks went by way too fast. Depending on your preferred testing schedule, you could have a midterm in week 2! Twelve weeks, as suggested, may be a nice medium between this and the mid semester slump that I have seen in a traditional 15 week semester.

UCLA is on the quarter system except for the law school which is on semesters.    I don't know about Berkeley. 

One of my degrees was quartered, one semestered, and I have to say that I preferred the semester.  I can see where 15 weeks might seem too long, though I never felt like that myself.  10 weeks is just not long enough for grad or undergrad classes.  Much of this is determined by class size, but for larger classes, it's impossible to have students produce more than one substantial project per term.  There's little time to set the project up, and no time for revisions.  I think 12 or 13 weeks would be an idea compromise. 

The other problem with quarters in the second two--we started in January and went until mid-June without a break.  Students got spring break, but faculty got time to grade and prep for another term.  The final weeks of the spring became a kind of death march between the students' spring fever and the faculty's fatigue.  All of this was compounded by my friends who went to school elsewhere and finished in May.  By the end of the spring exam period, I barely knew my own name.

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« Reply #9 on: April 11, 2007, 2:26:47 am »

I haven't read any of the other comments yet, but I work at one school on the quarter system and another on the semester system.  Given that, I think a trimester would be the best.  10 weeks, imo, is just too short.  I don't think the students learn as much, and everything is just too crunched if you try to get all of the information in.

A semester, otoh, is just a few weeks too long. By the 16th week or so, nobody wants to be there.  The students don't want to be there, the teachers don't want to be there.  Everybody is burned out.  I think somewhere between 12 and 15 weeks would be ideal.  There would be enough time to cover the material comfortably, even if there is a missed class (can't do that in a quarter system, one missed class is a major deal) and it's short enough that people would be just ready to be done, but not so burned out that they stop learning anyway.

But, if I had the choice between only the quarter system and the semester system, I'd go with semester.

Hope this helps.
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« Reply #10 on: April 11, 2007, 7:47:45 am »

I went to undergrad at a school with 3 10 week quarters and a 10 week summer session.

I went to graduate school with 15 week semesters.

I have taught 15 week semesters, 7 week summer sessions, 5 week summer sessions and for 3 years I taught on 3.5 week sessions (one class at a time in 3.5 weeks, repeat 4 times per semester).

And I still love 10 week quarters. 

The fact that I have to look at my students for 3 more weeks when they clearly checked out for the term last week makes me kind of depressed. 
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« Reply #11 on: April 11, 2007, 7:53:42 am »

I was on quarters for years. Quarters are 10 weeks. Therefore, 3 quarters (10+10+10) is equivalent to two semesters (15+15). I loved quarters. 10 weeks is no biggie. You know you can survive an awful class that long and if things are going well you can sustain it that long. The number of hours in the classroom per week is the same as on semesters.  The one weird thing is prepping more often.  Summers on the quarter system were just another 10 week quarter (no weird 5 or 6 week terms) which was a bonus.  I have taught and been a student on just about every possible term length from 5 weeks to 16.  I like quarters.

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« Reply #12 on: April 11, 2007, 12:25:25 pm »

The "true" quarter system can be rough for both students and instructors if they've been on a semester system.

By a "true" quarter system, I mean one in which a class that would be taught in a 15 week semester system is taught in 10 weeks.

When I was on the semester system, I could have taught up to 144 students (science lecture and lab) for FT status at my cc on a 9 month contract (summers off).

Now that I'm on the quarter system, I can teach up to 256 students on a 10 month contract.

We cover the same material over approximately the same amount of lecture hours. The compressed timescale requires students be devote more time to each class and the units are adjusted accordingly since the classes are taught in 2/3 the calendar time.

And when the classes transfer, the only thing that changes is the number of credit hours (6 quarter hours transfers as 4 semester hours).

As for amount of material, it depends on what you mean.

When I teach General Chemistry I, the lecture needs to be close to what's taught in other semester-based schools or we risk accreditation problems. Other people have brought up good points in that you can't assign as many projects over 10 weeks versus 15 weeks.

A trimester is different. My grad school was trimester and while it is nice because the year of general chemistry is 30 weeks (3 terms) just like like the semester system (30 weeks over 2 terms), transferring could be weird. Someone would need to take CHEM 1, 2, and 3 in the trimester system in order to get full credit for a year of chemistry.

While I'm not posting any actual numbers and it's not a direct comparison (I've altered my grading since moving to the quarter system), I believe that the students do as well as my previous semester students did. There is little time for procrastination on the quarter system. As an undergrad, I used to routinely fade out for a week in the semester system and still keep my grades up. If a student does that in the quarter system... say goodnight, Gracie. It's extremely difficult to recover from missing 10% of the material.


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« Reply #13 on: April 11, 2007, 12:39:08 pm »

I would relish a 15 week semester.  Ours is 17 weeks.  18 if you include finals week.

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« Reply #14 on: April 11, 2007, 2:47:22 pm »

I've taught "regular" semester courses at a CC, and now 11 week quarters at my current institution.  That said, current school offers classes once a week, for four hours at a time.  So, I teach Composition 1, for four hours, once a week, for 11 weeks.  The school runs year round, no summers off (you get two weeks at Christmas and a week for Spring Break). 

11 weeks isn't so bad, but four hours of Composition can kill you if you aren't careful.  : )

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