A new way to educate

A new form of university education has arisen in certain institutions across Canada, one that allows students to learn a semester’s worth of course work in the span of a few weeks.

Block classes have been introduced this year at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC), as well as at Quest University, developing from a successful program at Colorado College in America.

Block Classes foster a full course condensed into a few weeks. For UNBC, the course pans out across two-and-a-half weeks. Then, students are given three or four days of break and start back up again with a new course. Since it is difficult to expect students to write research papers in the constricted time period of the semester, there is a concluding slot at the end of the semester that requires students to work solely on a research paper.

Neil Hanlon, chair of the geography program at UNBC and one of the professors teaching in the block program, explained that this program is a pilot and required the recruitment of students to participate.

“We had to really carefully recruit them ahead of time to participate in this and make sure their schedule worked,” Hanlon said.

Upper year geography students were given the opportunity to enroll in block classes and experience a different type of post-secondary education.

“The value of it is that it is an interesting idea,” expressed Zach Dayler, the national director at the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA).
“It’s something that’s getting a conversation going about the structure of our educational model.”

Hanlon elaborated on the fact that it takes a commitment, from both students and faculty, to ensure that it will be successful.

“It’s just a different way of doing things, it has its strengths and weaknesses,” Hanlon said. “It’s not for everybody, but everybody agrees that you can dive into the subject matter and you can really build on the things you are learning.”

Hanlon explained that it is all about the kind of student learner you are. He added that one of his students expressed that he was a procrastinator before, but after enrolling in the block classes, he can no longer be one.

Dayler furthered this critique, acknowledging that “it does come down to your learning style.”

Hanlon additionally explained that their program has arrangements in place if students do get sick, which hasn’t happened thus far at UNBC.

“We have a Skype system set up,” he discussed. Students who are unable to make it to class but can Skype in from the comfort of their home and are able to participate in class.

At UNBC, the program began in January and Hanlon expressed that it was going “extremely well.”

“It is everything we thought it would be.”

When asked by The Cord if there were plans to permanently establish block classes at the university, Hanlon responded that a lot of it is beyond their control. “I know that we will use this model in non-traditional types of teaching because we run a lot of field schools and this is a good way to prepare students.”

Block classes are not beneficial to all fields of study, in particular to the ones that require extensive reading, such as English and history courses.

“This might be the thing we need to draw people into a larger conversation about what are the positive changes we need in our education system,” concluded Dayler.

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