4th Hour Power: Less learning is making us dumber

Most of us are well aware of last year's upgrade from a college to a university, but few of us know what that shift really means. Many departments are transforming their curriculum and new degrees are in the works, but one change in particular has proven to be contentious and unpopular: That of the class time cuts from four hours to three. Despite the expressed dissent over the change, the university administration has failed to address the complaints in a timely fashion.
Prior to Fall 2008, Capilano College offered four weekly hours of classroom time to students enrolled in most of the University Transfer programs. As of last September, this fourth hour was cut and contact time with instructors was cut to three hours, with the fourth hour retained as an addendum, to be supplied by supplementary course materials, extra homework, and online learning by way of the Moodle system. The reason presented by the administration was that classrooms were full and prime time scheduling slots needed to be maximized to attract students in a time of declining enrollment. The transition proved difficult.
The Courier reported on these changes last year and the response was overwhelmingly negative. Not a single teacher interviewed was pleased and most found their jobs much harder, trying to cram a full curriculum into a circumcised time slot. Most students found the manner in which their professors were implementing the fourth hour frustrating, as well. Some claimed that their teachers disregarded the extra hour entirely, while others claimed ineptitude at implementing proper supplementary lessons. The consensus from the Courier's research was that the changes were unwelcome and that one of the main attractions of Capilano College, personal contact with professors, had been thrown out. The results of that report can be obtained at www.capcourier.com/2009/01/19/caps-forgone-fourth-hour-misfortune.
The administration created an Ad Hoc Committee on Scheduling Evaluation, formed on January 15th, 2009, to survey the school and to determine what was to be done. “We're starting with anecdotal evidence,” said Jackie Snodgrass, Vice President of Education for the Academic and Arts Program, “Then we'll be designing surveys for faculty and students, as well as enrollment data and room usage.”
An email requesting comments about experiences was sent and the official survey was released to student email accounts on March 10, 2009―that is where the trail goes cold. “The final report including recommendations of the Ad Hoc Committee is not yet complete,” says Frank DiPuma, Manager of Institutional Research. It should be noted that despite the surveys completion on March 27, five months have elapsed without any significant address to the results.
When an inquiry was made on the status of the results, Dr. Patrick J. Donahoe, Vice-President of Student & Institutional Support, stated in an email that, in his opinion, the issue was being addressed and that a permanent oversight committee would replace the Ad Hoc committee. Several meetings are scheduled for the end of the month, with the earliest possible change deferred to Winter semester. It appears that there has been thorough consultation over the summer with the scheduling coordinators. In regards to the faculty, Donahoe has made assurances that all important concerns have been respectfully addressed and that the staff has been pleased with the process. I, however, am not.
Respectfully, the students’ input into this matter has been marginalized. Last year, I experienced a twenty-five per cent reduction in the quality of my education. I watched teachers flail around with various gimmicks (mostly YouTube videos and Moodle assignments – hardly an exchange for contact time with a PHD level prof who can personally address my learning concerns) and observed classroom discussions cut short by a stopwatch approach to education. As a returning student who can still remember the old four-hour system, I felt cheated, as the personalized and community oriented aura of Cap College became diluted by the business-oriented boost to Cap University.
The administration survey that was sent out to students to assuage the animosity was also a disappointment, as it failed a 100 level Philosophy and Psychology test, in that it fell prey to volunteer bias.
According to audiencedialogue.org, a site that reviews surveys, volunteer bias is defined as “An error arising from a low response rate, due to the fact that some types of people (usually young, well-educated) are more willing than others to take part in surveys.” This is somewhat ironic, as I once met with Frank DiPuma to discuss the proper way that the Courier should survey the student body, and he impressed upon me the necessity of obtaining a random or at least representative sample of the students for the results to be taken seriously. Once more, in my Critical Thinking class with Mark Battersby, we generally mocked the style of survey that would depend on someone volunteering, especially when that survey was delivered through an email or a website.
The fact is, considering the vitriolic atmosphere that surrounded the cut of the fourth hour, the administration should have taken greater steps to address the concerns of students before Fall session was underway. The steps they did take were not implemented seriously and are bogged down in bureaucracy. And nowhere has there been any mention of the best possible result to all of this confusion: a switch back to four hours of contact time with their teachers. Respectfully, I can understand space limitations and declining enrollment, but from where I'm writing, Cap has simply seen a full quarter of the quality of their education cut up like some sandwich with a stale crust. All for the promise of potential enrollment and to the detriment of those currently enrolled.

//Kevin Murray

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com