Shorter, Intensive Courses Rated More Effective

University students indicate greater course satisfaction with intensive classes than with traditional length 15-week courses, according to a recent University of Texas at Austin study.

John V. Kucsera, Dr. Dawn M. Zimmaro and Avani G. Trivedi, who are in the Division of Instructional Innovation and Assessment, conducted the study to assess instructor effectiveness in traditional courses versus intensive courses.

"Intensive courses are usually defined as semester- or quarter-equivalent classes that are taught in an accelerated format," says Kucsera, who is a doctoral candidate in the College of Education's Department of Educational Psychology. "There's a substantial body of research showing that intensive courses result in equal, or at times superior, learning outcomes for students.

"A wealth of scholarship reveals that students seem to learn as well in abbreviated courses as they do in longer ones, but we wanted to see which format students rate as more effective. We looked at effectiveness, as indicated by course instructor surveys, and found that intensive nine- and 11-week classes garnered significantly higher overall course ratings, even after controlling for class size, probable grade in course and workload."

The study of 130 cases looked at the same instructors for the same long courses and intensive-length courses in the same academic year.

Researchers note that this is only the first step of inquiry into students' preferences regarding course length, and future inquiry will address potential reasons for students' greater satisfaction with intensive courses.

The researchers who conducted this study speculate that being in class daily rather than two or three times a week may enhance rapport between instructor and students and make retention of course material easier.

"At least three or four previous studies have revealed that instructors modify their teaching techniques for the accelerated format of intensive courses," says Kucsera, "and usually incorporate more constructive, experiential learning and discussion than they do in a long semester class. They use more in-depth classroom discussions and less straight lecture. The increased classroom interaction and student participation may be facilitating learning and engaging the students more.

"In any event, these preliminary findings regarding student satisfaction and intensive courses would suggest that universities may want to look at offering a greater number of summer courses. It also might be beneficial to encourage students to take summer classes--right now only a rather small percentage of students elect to do so."

Kucsera, Zimmaro and Trivedi presented their findings at this year's American Educational Research Association's meeting.