June 23: Why are we Moving to the Block?
Dear CSB/SJU Community,
With the announcement on June 8 that CSB/SJU will be moving to a block schedule with hybrid learning for the 2020-21 academic year, many questions were submitted regarding safety, logistics and campus life. But the overwhelming request was for clarity on one important topic: Why are we doing this?
We recognize a significant change to the academic experience brings valid concerns and we want to ensure every student and faculty member feels prepared and confident in their ability to be successful. Webinars are in development that will provide additional detail and an opportunity for questions to be answered live. New FAQ’s will also be regularly added to the COVID-19 and Fall 2020 Information website. In the meantime, we’re happy to provide the detailed logic below regarding this decision and why the block schedule provides us the best opportunity to return to campus, support academic success and keep our community safe.
Why are we moving to a block schedule?
First and foremost, we did not make this decision lightly. We conducted extensive analysis of several options for returning to campus, including a “back to normal” scenario, taking into consideration the specific needs of our campuses and communities. The reason we made this decision is severalfold:
- Your safety and the safety of our community are priorities. The block schedule is the safest plan to respond to COVID-19 for numerous reasons. First, it means students and faculty will be exposed to fewer students each day over a four-week period, limiting the spread of the virus if an individual is unknowingly infected. Second, if there is a diagnosed case on campus, contract tracing is required and will be more effective when students and faculty are working with only one class at a time. We understand students will still interact with other students outside the classroom, but the block schedule significantly decreases cross-campus traffic and unplanned interaction. Third, this schedule ensures only two classes are in each classroom each day. This allows time to disinfect between class periods resulting in decreased risk of transmission. Fourth, the block schedule addresses a serious busing concern that was unmanageable with the current schedule (and not an issue that some other higher education institutions have to manage). Under the current pandemic circumstances, we are not able to safely bus students back and forth if we were to use the traditional semester schedule. Buses will run at a much lower capacity to maintain social distancing and allow time for cleaning. These efforts are in compliance with the guidelines of the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) in order to open our campuses. All institutions of higher learning in Minnesota, regardless of semester schedule, will have to follow these MDH guidelines.
- The block schedule maximizes flexibility and facilitates student learning if we need to move to fully online courses. We learned from the spring semester that it was very difficult for both students and faculty to manage four courses online. In the block schedule, if we have to move online again during the year, students will only have to manage one class at a time.
- Most importantly, we are confident we will be able to sustain the excellent CSB/SJU education that you expect and deserve within the block schedule. Teaching in a block is a type of “intensive teaching.” The research shows that student outcomes and learning is not significantly different when comparing intensive learning to a traditional semester-based structure. It is actually a model that some other higher education institutions have permanently adopted. This gave us the confidence that the block schedule can be done effectively as it relates to student learning. Learn more about the research from Dr. Pamela Bacon, professor of psychology.
Three hours is a long time to be in class. How can we stay focused and be successful?
Don't worry, you will get breaks! We understand that students (and faculty) will need an opportunity to move around and refresh and refocus thinking.
These class periods are going to look different. You will not be sitting in a three-hour lecture where you are then expected to have material memorized by the next day. Instead, your time in class will also incorporate opportunities to apply what you are learning which helps with both comprehension and retention (if you are allowed to practice your learning, this gives you some repetition and opportunity to deepen your understanding). Classes will have discussions, group-work and other active learning strategies. Finally, the block schedule allows for deeper learning and a chance to focus on a subject matter intensely. You will learn the material necessary for future coursework at CSB/SJU and be prepared for graduate school or your future profession.
Faculty have already begun professional development to aid in the redesign of their courses so they can achieve the course learning goals in these longer class periods. For example, our faculty have established collaborations with faculty at Colorado College to learn how to adapt our CSB/SJU courses and take advantage of the benefits of the block schedule.
What if I still have concerns?
As Benedictine institutions, being together and learning together in community is at the heart of the CSB/SJU identity. We know being together is what our community desires and how students best learn, grow and find support. We believe the block schedule offers us the best chance to be back together on campus in the fall and remain there for the semester.
If you still have questions or concerns, please submit them via this form and we will do our best to address them in a timely manner.
Barbara J May, PhD