‘Block plan’ education finds new appeal among universities | The Globe and Mail

In Finland, “intensive courses” scheduled as full days over two weeks (like block plan) encourage world-class instructors to come, when a 13-week program commitment would be too great.

In the “block plan,” students take one course at a time for three-and-half weeks, which spreads out assignment due dates more evenly over the school year and avoids the dreaded end-of-term exam crunch.

Professors with block plan experience swear by it, saying students are more engaged when they can focus on a single class at a time, and the flexibility within the timetable to include field work enriches the educational experience.

So far only smaller schools – Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S., Algoma University in Sault Ste Marie, Ont., and the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) in Prince George – have begun toying with block schedules. Quest University, a unique private outfit in Squamish, B.C., is Canada’s lone university on an entirely block curriculum, which it launched five years ago.  [….]

Despite the block plan’s anecdotal success, no public Canadian university has embraced it on a large scale, and there are logistical limitations. Assignments must be completed and marked quickly; illness can jeopardize a whole block, as making up a lost week is impossible; and the rigorous schedule can be a barrier to part-time students and faculty with other commitments.

Certain courses also simply cannot be adapted, points out David Helfand, president of Quest University. “You can’t do a survey course of 19th-century British literature and read 10 novels by 10 different authors in that amount of time.”  [….]

Acadia’s experiment in block planning required twisting a few arms at first, but “everybody came out of it saying, ‘This is just a much better way to teach,’” said biology professor Marty Snyder. Many faculty liked having alternating blocks off to do research. But the initiative died when she went hunting for other departments willing to join in.

“‘Block plan’ education finds new appeal among universities” | James Bradshaw | Dec. 29, 2011 | Globe and Mail at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/education/universitynews/block-plan-education-finds-new-appeal-among-universities/article2286898/.

'Block plan' education finds new appeal among universities - The Globe and Mail