Thursday, October 20, 2011

dissolve the blocks

Every semester we seem to have these recurring problems in USM: (1) long lines during enrolment, (2) students enrolling late, (3) late start of classes, (4) weeks before a teaching load and schedule is finalized, (5) some teachers are overloaded, (6) some classes have more than 50 students others have less than 15 even on the same course, (7) room "shortage" eventhough other claimed that rooms are not occupied some time of the day.

A probable solution might lie somewhere. I read the discussion forums in facebook (e.g. usmian ka kung; usm-mit-alumni; and other usm fan pages and groups, oh boy there is a lot of them!) and look at the opinions and perceptions. You have to read between the lines, some thoughts are absurd and others out of this world. But somehow you need to look at it and translate the behavioral tendencies of students. I made a model of our problem and its causality (another atik-atik) to come up with few solutions for so many problems.

One solution that came out is dissolving the block sectioning approach in scheduling classes. This means that a subject is offered regardless of a students' academic program and section. The English department can offer English courses from 7-8, 8-9, 9-10, and so forth, then it is up for the students to select which class time, he would like to enroll in.

Here are some advantages:

Minimize late enrolment. A class time will be up for bid on a first come, first serve basis. Those who will enroll late will not get the most optimal time schedule or even closed out and have to wait for the next semester. 

Teach students time management. Students will be forced to learn how to manage their own personal time. Students will be responsible for his own schedule and possible conflicts. Let students think what is best for them.

Enhance collaboration among students from diverse disciplines. At this early, students should learn how to collaborate with other students from other disciplines. In a psychology class, engineering, agriculture, vetmed can come together. The class will be colorful when you have classmates behaving differently. A student can enrol in a class simply because her crush is in that class (for inspiration!).  In the real work out there, it is multidisciplinary and students have to learn teamwork this early.

On the part of the teacher, it will force him to standardize his teaching material. He cannot discriminate a section because they come from a "lowly course". It will enhance his creativity knowing that a "challenge student" can be in any class.

Can deploy teachers as early as possible. When the number of classes are fixed, a department chair can easily assign teachers way before enrolment. So a teacher can be a factor in the choice of a student. If a student thinks that he can learn more from a certain professor, then he has a choice to select this professor. Let us remember that learning is a function of knowledge and the teacher (message and the messenger). Of course, the downside is the possible flocking of students to a "friendly" and "all-forgiving" teacher. But of course, a teacher can set a cap of the number of students that can enrol in his class. If he likes to accomodate more, it is his fault. 

Efficient use of rooms and teaching units. In block sectioning, the administration is obliged to deploy a particular section a teacher and a room regardless whether the expected class size is economically not viable. There is an inherent right accrued to a particular section since it was offered during enrolment. This is really controversial particularly on the part of teachers. There are teachers who can claim "overload fees" even with lesser students because the computation is based on sections handled. While there are teachers who cannot claim these "overload fees" even though his class size is up to roof simply because he has fewer sections.

A skilled department chair can project appropriate number of sections needed in a semester. For example in CENCOM, advanced algebra is offered to six sections. We all know that only a third of the students pass this subject. That means, DESAM will only offer two classes for calculus in the second semester. In block sectioning, you cannot do that. A department knows his resources well (rooms and teachers) and so he can use this resources efficiently. He can easily justify and quantify his need for more rooms and additional teaching staff.

Decentralized scheduling. A department can schedule their classes with minimal intervention from the Instruction Office. A department can make specialized rooms for a particular subject and can develop that room to suit for a particular subject like graphing boards and the like. A department can control his rooms to suit it capacity. Say a computer room can only accomodate 30 students, so limit enrolment to 30. Currently, 60 students can jampack a computer room because of their inherent right as member of that section.

Minimize rescheduling of classes. Sometimes I found it annoying when a certain class reschedules (sometimes for teachers' convenience). If one is an "international student", he will be bolted out from the class who decided by "majority" to resked. Poor student! He has to shop for other schedules. And sometimes his grade got lost, if he is not lucky enough, he got poor grades. Sometimes he got two grades, one 5.00 the other is 1.00. But in an "international class", rescheduling is impossible.

Working student friendly. A growing number of USM students now are working. In a liberal type of schedule, he can schedule his class to fit with his working schedule.

Shutting down the class, not the academic program.  This will minimize the shutting down of worthy academic programs simply because we cannot offer their minor subjects. For example, in block sectioning, BS Chemistry is no longer viable because of the cost of the Gen Ed courses. But in a liberal scheduling, chemistry students can enroll Ged Ed courses with less cost on the part of the university. Meaning, the Gen Ed classes intended for that chemistry section can be dissolved but not the whole academic program.   

On the last note, the current limiting factor in scheduling is the shortage of rooms. So we can solve it by offering courses based on  rooms available and on the anticipated demand of a particular subject not by the academic program. During our time, the limitation is number of sections that can accommodate all of our subject needs, so block sectioning is the best way to go to assure that we can get the right subject on time even though we are few. But currently reality is different and call for a different approach. This is just a suggestion. Of course there are disadvantages of this proposal, and you may write it on the comment section.

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