The Senior class is in Taipei this Semester for the first time, and the new time zone challenges have affected class scheduling. Toni Shroeder of 2020 writes about her experience and opinion on the subject of late classes and how they affect learning.

For the first time at Minerva, the senior class is in Taiwan for their final semester. While this brings numerous logistical challenges, none should have been more foreseeable, and more predictably difficult, than synchronizing class schedules across time zones. Most upper-level classes are scheduled for the Buenos Aires time zone. Taiwan, being 11 hours ahead of Buenos Aires, left the outgoing class with no option but to take late-night classes. Student’s concerns, voiced individually, in groups, or via the ASM, have been poorly addressed by administration. The resulting class-times for the fourth-year cohort negatively impact class performance, healthy sleep schedules, and learning in general, something that has manifested in my current experience with taking class until 1:30 am. This is unacceptable at an institution claiming to have been built on the foundations of the science of learning. 

Course scheduling limit for M20 students

Course scheduling for the Spring 2020 semester presented M20 students in Taipei with severely limited options. Of the 48 courses available, eight were offered between 9 am – 9 pm, Taiwan time; this being because classes were targeted towards the current junior class located in Buenos Aires. Out of these eight, four were in the Computer Science College, and 2 in both the Arts and Humanities and the Social Science College. The original course schedule did not offer any classes between 9 am and 9 pm in either the Natural Science or Business College. I distributed a survey to the senior class to understand students’ experiences with scheduling and class times this semester. Of the 44 responses (50% of the student body in Taipei), 18.2% had a class they needed to complete their major that was not being offered between 9 am – 9 pm. 31.8% of students had a class they needed to complete their second major, second concentration, or minor that was not being offered between the same time span. Finally, 40.9% stated that there were classes they would have liked to take outside of that same time span. 

Minerva’s Response

Minerva’s official response, sent in an email on November 14th to the ASM, provided several reasons for the current situation. Primarily, Minerva responded that second majors, concentrations, or minors were not a priority in the design of the course schedule. For those missing a course to complete their major, administration stated they were able to place all required courses between 7 am – 11:30 pm. Students asking for new, more reasonably timed class sections were told to find a minimum of 16 students for a new class section to be created; the reasoning being that new sections require a new professor and it would make several students switch sections. The statement continued by saying this would create a ripple effect throughout the course schedule, creating further logistical challenges. Several members of administration asserted that 9 am – 9 pm is a limited time span for acceptable teaching hours. The administration proposed that our conception of reasonable waking hours should be between 6 am and midnight. They then referenced jobs and responsibilities in life that require one to get up earlier than 9 am and work later than 9 pm. On multiple occasions – both formal and informal – Minerva staff have argued they want to prepare us for life post-University, and that this course schedule is one building block in that pursuit. Finally, Minerva administrators have provided examples of their own hectic work-related schedules – such as late-night meetings outside of these hours – in an attempt to explain that working outside of these hours is acceptable. 

This Schedule Directly Oppositional to Science of Learning 

The science of learning – upon which Minerva claims it is built – finds this type of schedule is detrimental to student health and fundamentally counterproductive to student learning. Research shows that, for most people, learning is significantly more effective during the day and increasingly more difficult at night (Chaudhury et al., 2005). Yet, the current class schedule has seniors taking classes until 1:30 am in the morning. Other studies find learning happens most effectively if it occurs at the same hour every day (Paolone, 2012). However, the nature of bi-weekly classes places most Minerva students in the position where they take late evening classes on one day and not the next. This also means that students go to bed at different hours every night. We already know that attention and learning are severely inhibited by irregular sleep schedules (Wright, 2006). The class schedule created for and supported by administration forced students into these types of irregular schedules.

Seniors in a Uniquely Restricted Position

The evidence is clear: this semester’s class schedule hurts student learning. I am in no way insinuating that Minerva placed students in this position by choice, but the administration has also not been forthcoming in addressing student’s concerns. When asked why second majors, second concentration, or minors were not prioritised in the scheduling process, the emailed response was that students were never promised that these classes would be a priority. However, the issue is not even that students are unable to finish their planned degrees, but that there are close to no class options for students who still have credits to fulfill. A senior hoping to graduate in May must finish all their credits this semester. I am a Social Science major; not a single class in my college was offered between 6 am and midnight that I had not taken already. Even in the Arts and Humanities College, the major outside of mine most closely aligned with my interests, there was one class between 6 am and midnight I had not yet taken. The problem is not only that I could not finish my second concentration without staying up until 1:30 am, as I had two courses worth of credits left to fill, I had difficulties accumulating enough credits within reasonable waking hours to graduate this May. Minerva encouraged me to substitute a class with outside summer credit. In other words, my current educational institution was not able to provide me with learning opportunities within reasonable waking hours. Instead, they encourage me to substitute credits for educational experiences Minerva did not provide or contribute to, while still paying the same tuition. 

There are students in class until 1:30 am and then class again at 7 am. These students don’t have a chance at getting the 8 hours of sleep recommended

I am a senior in college and I have to stay up until 1:30 am twice a week to take a Cognitive Neuroscience class. Classes at Minerva are designed to be stimulating; even when class is over I spend 1.5 – 2 hours falling asleep because my brain needs time to shut off. The problem continues on the days on which my classes finish earlier, as the confusion of my internal clock keeps me awake. I have spent the last 3.5 years at Minerva finding the optimal sleep schedule for myself. This has included going to bed between 11 pm and midnight and sleeping a consistent 8 hours. The class scheduling this semester makes that routine impossible. I could see as early as week three that I was performing far below my normal average. This has become apparent through my in-class participation and my grades thus far. The crazy thing is, I’m one of the lucky ones. There are students in class until 1:30 am and then class again at 7 am. These students don’t have a chance at getting the 8 hours of sleep recommended for effective cognitive functioning. 

Minerva as an educational institution must first and foremost educate its students. Currently, Minerva is failing at this task. No other full-time university student has to stay up until 1:30 am to take a class. No other full-time university student has to explain to their administration why this is problematic. If Minerva is not able to provide the opportunity to take classes at a reasonable hour they need to seriously reconsider whether sending seniors to Taiwan in their last semester is a reasonable option. If scheduling classes for seniors in Taiwan is difficult then this needs to be clearly communicated to students beforehand. The current junior class should be made aware that they should strive to finish all their requirements by the fall semester in senior year. If scheduling normal classes for the Taiwan semester is unfeasible, then all senior tutorials should be scheduled during the spring semester, and students who are not allowed to take tutorials, such as Business students, should be allowed to audit them. Minerva must also ensure students can fulfill their required credits within reasonable waking hours, without encouraging students to pay Minerva for educational experiences they did not provide. Finally, Minerva needs to realise there are reasonable limits to the hours at which students can be expected to take class. While I personally agree that a 6 am class is somewhat acceptable, anything beyond 9 pm should be avoided, simply because research on learning shows us this is counterproductive. Most traditional educational institutions would agree that these class hours are unreasonable, to say the least. If Minerva truly wants to revolutionise higher education, they need to seriously confront these issues, if not for my class, at least for those after me. 

References

Chaudhury, Dipesh, Louisa M. Wang, and Christopher S. Colwell. 2005. ‘Circadian Regulation of Hippocampal Long-Term Potentiation’. Journal of Biological Rhythms 20(3): 225–36.

Paolone, G., T. M. Lee, and M. Sarter. 2012. ‘Time to Pay Attention: Attentional Performance Time-Stamped Prefrontal Cholinergic Activation, Diurnality, and Performance’. Journal of Neuroscience 32(35): 12115–28.

Wright, Kenneth P. et al. 2006. ‘Sleep and Wakefulness Out of Phase with Internal Biological Time Impairs Learning in Humans’. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 18(4): 508–21.


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