College students are demanding more choices in their pursuit of higher education.
As the Fighting Artichokes at Scottsdale Community College (SCC) begin selecting their Spring 2021 semester courses, they will be using a class schedule that has been intentionally redesigned and reworked to help prepare them for greater academic success – with more options and flexibility baked in.
Even before the global pandemic, SCC faculty and Academic Affairs leadership were planning to offer more shorter-term classes, from the traditional 16-week semester to eight weeks or less, and additional online instruction formats, including multiple programs available 100 percent online.
AJS Program Moves to 8 Weeks and All Online
Wally Olsen has been teaching Administration of Justice Studies (AJS) courses at SCC since 2002, and full time since 2014. Recognizing the need for shorter-term classes and more flexibility given the uncertainties around COVID-19, Olsen and his AJS faculty moved quickly. Over the summer, the AJS Program took the extraordinary step of reworking their entire curriculum from 16 weeks to an accelerated 8-week class schedule and from in-person classes to live online.
Olsen teaches the Police Function course, and one of the learning objectives is to understand the recruitment, interviewing and hiring process for new law enforcement officers. Previously, he held mock oral board interviews in the classroom, with students taking the roles of interviewers and applicants and even dressing the part. After careful research, he identified several impactful video resources that illustrated the same learning concepts.
Students now watch the videos on their own, and then during the live online class, Olsen leads his students through an in-depth discussion on the interview questions and answers. As part of the hiring process, students share their thoughts about policing on a wide range of issues, including for example race and gender, which he says are very timely and an important step in screening for potential bias.
Baillie Gaff is currently enrolled in the Police Function class, and is pursuing an AJS degree with a specialty in Victimology.
She said the lesson on interviewing revealed that there are many more qualifications and steps involved in becoming an officer than she was aware. The insights she gained are critical as she hopes to become a police officer.
“I like how fast the 8-week semester is, as you can learn in a shorter amount of time,” Gaff added. “I feel like I’m more focused versus the 16-week format. The professors really care about you, and make time to make sure you understand what you’re learning.”
Shorter Semesters Improve Student Outcomes
Numerous research studies*, based on other U.S. colleges that have implemented a shorter 8-week schedule, have demonstrated improved retention, GPA scores and overall completion rates.
SCC’s own data shows that students are posting improved success rates when taking the shorter 8-week sessions versus the more traditional 16-week semester format. SCC also offers many courses in an accelerated format of 4- and 5-week timeframes during Summer semester and 7- to 9-weeks in Fall and Spring. Learn more about online learning.
In addition to Olsen’s curriculum change, the popular Associate of Business (University Transfer) degree is offered entirely in an 8-week block schedule format, along with the traditional 16-week term, giving students many options. Over the past year, SCC faculty have added more than 300 classes in an 8-week format, not to mention the 90% of courses that have been migrated to an online delivery method.
Other factors at play with SCC’s new scheduling strategy include when to offer in-person classes during the semester, either in the first eight-week block or the second. This was based on public health guidelines and estimates of when the COVID-19 virus may potentially stage a resurgence in the Phoenix area.
To help give students greater certainty in their academic journey, the college is “guaranteeing” that certain courses will be offered in the Spring semester, removing the potential for last-minute class cancellations due to low enrollment. Due to the accelerated nature of an 8-week class, students are advised to take fewer classes at one time.
Online Instruction Options
Like many educational institutions, SCC moved virtually all of its face-to-face classes online earlier this year, offering two distinct formats: Live Online classes, which have live online sessions that meet on specific days and times, and On Your Time Online classes, which do not meet at specific class times, and coursework must be completed according to deadlines.
These complement the Hybrid class format, which is a mixture of online and in-person, and the standard In Person classes, which today are limited to those courses that require face-to-face instruction (like Nursing, Sciences and Art). The various course delivery methods are designed to give students maximum choice based on how they learn.
According to preliminary data from SCC’s Institutional Research department, success rates for students attending On Your Time online instruction jumped 7 percentage points, from 70.7% for the Summer 2019 semester to 77.6% for Summer 2020. Summer 2020 was the first full term in which Live Online classes were available, and students taking this modality notched an impressive success rate of 88.7%, which is higher than those taking in person, hybrid or online classes during the same period last year. SCC faculty received extensive training over the summer on best practices in delivering Live Online classes. Learn more about student outcomes.
SCC Faculty Lead the Way
Given the significant events of 2020, SCC faculty have been the critical link in responding to a changing landscape in higher education and ensuring the college continues its mission of delivering robust instruction and student success.
“Adapt and adjust has been the mindset of our incredible faculty in 2020,” said Dr. Stephanie Fujii, SCC’s Vice President of Academic Affairs. “Our instructors embraced the need for change and innovated the classroom experience to help our students succeed. It takes a strong culture of trust between the faculty and administration to make it all happen.”
Olsen admitted his new schedule is a significant adjustment and change is never easy, especially dealing with the far-reaching implications from COVID. While challenges remain, he’s confident that he and his colleagues will become even better and stronger teachers.
* The third-party research studies listed below have shown positive outcomes of an 8-week schedule:
--Geltner, P., and Ruth Logan. “The Influence of Session Length on Student Success.” 2010. Santa Monica College. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/267544985_The_Influence_of_Session_Length_On_Student_Success
--Gamboa, Benjamin. “Impact of Course Length on and Subsequent Use as a Predictor of Course Success.” 2013. Crafton Hills College.
--Wyatt, Joe “Student Success on the Rise thanks to AC’s 8-week Class Model.” 2016. Amarillo College.
--Austin Community College. “Austin Community College Eight-Week Course Feedback Survey.” 1998. Austin Community College Website. http://www.austincc.edu/oiepub/pubs/surveys/survey_archive.htmhttp://www.austincc.edu/oiepub/pubs/surveys/survey_archive.htm?
--Odessa College. “Odessa College named finalist for THECB 2017 Star Award.” 2017. Odessa College Website.
--Veneskey, Kevin. “Eight-Week Semesters as the Default.” Innovation Day Pitch Letter—Inaugural Event. 2017.
--Ivy Tech Community College, Spring 2016-Spring 2017. Chronicle of Higher Education.