Evaluating reading week

Photo by Joshua Awolade

Photo by Joshua Awolade

Wilfrid Laurier University is back in action again after experiencing its first fall reading week. The fall break was implemented by the Senate last November and is on a trial period for three years, at which point it will be reconsidered.

Kimberly Dawson, professor of kinesiology and physical education, said she has always been uncertain of how beneficial reading week is in general, finding that it causes midterms to be pushed to one side of the week or the other. However, she found that this wasn’t so much the case this fall.

“I don’t think they felt crunched like they usually do with the spring reading week for some reason,” she said. “It seemed to me that they were able to manage quite a bit of it.”

Part of this, she thought, may be because students are more likely to travel over the winter reading week than in the fall.

“I think having this one in the fall really helped them get back on track — they really used it for what it was meant for,” she continued. “I think the classes all came back quite relaxed.”

She also said that her students seemed more energized after coming back. However, Stephanie DeWitte-Orr, assistant professor of health sciences and biology, noticed the opposite in her classes.

“I did notice after reading week everyone was completely exhausted,” she said. “Participation in class really went down. And I noticed a lot of sick coughs and things like that.”

Both Dawson and De-Witte Orr said they personally enjoyed having the week off, though. Dawson took the time to travel with her family.

“Whatever the need was going to be, I knew I had that week,” Dawson said. “Was it going to be a time to write, was it going to be a time to go to conferences like some professors did — but it gave them the opportunity not to fight the academic schedule.”

She also liked that the week was placed after Thanksgiving, as it encouraged students to stay at home longer.

“I thought it was a really good family decision to put it after Thanksgiving.”

Student experiences varied as to where midterms and assignments were placed in reference to reading week.

“Last year, it was kind of evenly dispersed,” Nicole Morris, a fourth-year global studies student, said in terms of how her midterms were scheduled. “This year, everything was piled the week after reading week.”

Brian Wilson, a fourth-year global studies and women’s studies student, said he didn’t have that problem and that he loved having a reading week in the fall.

“It gave me a chance to go home and relax for a little bit,” he said. “I used the first half of the week to relax and the second half of the week to prep and do work and get back into the swing of things.”

While Brianne McDonald, a fourth-year business student, liked having the break, she said she’d like to see professors coordinate when they schedule midterms and assignments around the week.

“If they organized it better, I think it would be fine,” she said.

DeWitte-Orr recognized this, as she said, “Maybe in science we need to look at standardizing when midterms are so students don’t come back and get burned out.”

In terms of the having to start classes on the Thursday after Labour Day this year, Morris said, “I didn’t even notice that.”

Wilson agreed that it didn’t affect him.

Sam Lambert, president and CEO of the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union, said there isn’t any solid feedback yet in terms of the week, but that there is a sub-committee of the Senate — which he is part of — that will be working to gather feedback and data over the three-year trial period.

“One would be Wellness Centre visits pre and post, just to see if it affected student wellness,” he said. “Obviously over the three years they’re going to look at GPAs just to see if it helped students better prepare for midterms or gave them a break to get their heads together.”

The Union will also be looking at volunteer attrition rates as well as Peer Helpline usage.

Throughout the trial period the sub-committee will deliver reports to the Senate, at the end of which there will be a decision to allow the week to remain as it is, make amendments to the week or forgo its continuation.

Dawson said she’d like to see the week become permanent.

“It was such a great break that I think everyone utilized it personally the way that they individually needed it to be, student and faculty,” she said. “I think it will be a loss if we have this for three years and we lose it [and] I think we’ll really feel the loss of that too.”

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