On June 12, amid the public health concerns of COVID-19, Albion College announced its decision to implement a module system for the Fall 2020 semester. In this system, academic instruction is broken into two seven-week modules where students take up to two and a quarter units in each module.
The setup yields, on average, a four-unit semester, paralleling the average unit total of a normal semester. That, however, is where the similarities between a modular semester and a regular semester end.
In a typical semester, professors have fourteen weeks to teach the material that coincides with their classes. Given that each module is seven weeks long, classes that run within each module have been accelerated to fit fourteen weeks’ worth of material into half the time.
“I feel like I’ve had an exam every week,” said Jackie Martinez, a junior from Chicago.
Therefore, while the unit total for this modular semester might be the same, the learning curve is not. Fitting fourteen weeks’ worth of material into seven weeks is a heavy undertaking, and students are feeling the heat.
“In one of my classes, I have group projects every single day,” said Autumn Simpson, a senior from Turner, Maine.
In order to keep class sizes small, another facet of the modular system is hybrid in-person and online instruction. Although students are back on campus for the semester, that doesn’t make them exempt from having to utilize virtual learning platforms that colleges across the nation are switching to in the midst of COVID-19.
This means that while students’ uptick of stress trying to keep up with an accelerated courseload is partly facilitated by an increased amount of schoolwork, it might also be caused a changed format of instruction as professors try to adapt their course material to not only fit into a smaller time frame, but transition online as well.
“One of my classes literally just occasionally comes into a video chat,” said Sam Calhoun, a senior from Mason, Mich. “We just chat about the video we watched online for half an hour.”
There is no perfect solution for attempting to hold online instruction at the college level in the midst of the pandemic. The two simply don’t go hand-in-hand. That being said, Albion’s creativity in creating the system is commendable, and it does address many fears that people across the country had regarding students returning to campus.
Having only two classes per module limits the number of people that students, faculty and staff come into contact with on a regular basis. Using a hybrid style of learning where classes don’t meet in person every day further limits potential exposure to the virus as well.
Despite that, students’ stress and class work continues to build. Along with that, along with having the same two classes each day, comes a feeling of repetitiveness, one that is only matched by the quarantine fatigue felt at the beginning of the pandemic when every day essentially felt like a repeat of the last.
“I feel like it’s pointless,” said Simpson. “We didn’t need to have two classes for a full semester.”
For now, another module system looms in the spring semester for Albion College students. Hopefully, by fall of 2021, the nation will have seen an end to the pandemic and a return to normalcy along with that.
The module system might work for now as a temporary solution to remain on campus as COVID-19 rages on, but the elevated stress levels and work load generated by the module system aren’t sustainable.