Academic journal article College and University

Graduate Program Scheduling Gains Flexibility through Container Courses: A Case Study

Academic journal article College and University

Graduate Program Scheduling Gains Flexibility through Container Courses: A Case Study

Article excerpt

There have been times in the history of technology when every last shred of value has been squeezed from an idea. The incandescent light bulb is an example. Humanity pushed its use to the limit, and finally, something more energy efficient had to be found. Science went exploring, and now we are all screwing fluorescent bulbs into our lamps. Research was pulled forward by a practical need. There have been other times when technology was way ahead of our imagination for using it. The laser printer was such a technology. Invented in 1969, it wasn't until 25 years later that a mass market model was available to support the (then) new world of desktop publishing (Reilly 2003). Our culture was thrust forward by a "push technology" which had long since been made available (Umbach 1997).

The Internet is apush technology that has not yet realized its potential in higher education. Universities have made great strides in enlivening online materials with graphics, sound, and video. Our sharpest faculty have knit geographically scattered students into learning communities through blogs, wikis, and all the conveniences of social networking. But when it comes to reconceptualizing how we package courses, semesters, and degree plans, we simply don't "get it" yet. In many ways, we continue to organize our fully online degree programs as if our classes were still convening in Lecture Hall #3 at 7:45 on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The end point in the evolution of the Web delivery of college instruction must be the complete availability of everything we have to offer to any student ready to profit from it at any time (Ross et al. 2000). There is little reason that any online course should not be offered in any given semester. In fact, there is little reason to have "semesters" at all, given that online delivery can permit students to begin and finish a course 365 days a year.

What is the "final destination" of this line of thinking? Many disciplines could have fewer traditionally organized courses whereas some might not have any courses at all - at least not as we currently think of them. Common sense dictates that pre-medical students need to demonstrate proficiency in a body of content and skills called "cell biology," and they should not be allowed to progress in their studies until they have done so. The case for linear structure, both within a course and within the sequence of courses that lead to a degree, may be far less compelling in other programs.

Consider a required undergraduate general education course in American history. Few sophomores completing such a course will retain a substantive understanding of the flow of events from the settlement of Jamestown in 1607 to the present, much less the forces that "moved" these events. Gaining such insight is the product of a lifetime of reading and thinking. It is a process, not an event. If the real goals of the course are to instill a fascination with history, a sense that there are principles that govern it, and an understanding of how much pleasure can be had by immersing oneself in it, it hardly matters that one student meets these goals by diving deep into a cluster of learning objects about the Gilded Age while another is captivated by the American Revolution (Gonzalez- Videgary et al. 2009; Hardin ion). Both should be able to follow their interests and achieve the same goals.

It is self-evident that our society has never been ready to think of the university in this way. In fact, it probably has become significantly less ready to do so as a result of The Great Recession. The current generation of helicopter parents hovers over their children's college experience like never before, with justifiable anxiety about whether all their expenditures will end in the new Holy Grail of parenthood: a well-employed graduate who is out of the house and on his way to career, marriage, and family. Parents often think of college as a set of "treatments" (semesters) with a set of "beneficial products" (courses), akin to a four-year sequence of tooth- whitening visits in preparation for a career in modeling. …

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