Semester Conversion Faculty Panel

On February 10, 2012, Teaching & Learning Services invited RIT faculty who had previously taught in a semester system to share some of their thoughts and experiences with RIT faculty.


  • Mike Yacci: GCCIS, instructional design experience,
  • Alex Lobos: CIAS, formerly u of Illinois, CIAS, teaches project-based classes
  • Anne Houtman: COS, formerly undergrad/UCLA/Wesleyan
  • Bruce Myers: CIAS, semester experience with lecture based experiences

Key points

The semester format allows time to go further or time to go deeper with teaching.

  • They are better for the experiential nature of the sciences.

Weekly workload probably will not change, though that may vary across colleges. The number of students will increase in semester format, so the course load may increase.

There are different ways to see the teaching load and hours, since the amount of contact hours differ and may go up or down depending on college and department. For example:

  • If you have more time, what are you going to do with that time? Will ways of teaching change?
  • Will students take fewer classes? Will there be more students in each class?

The first of year is going to be rough—we've been sprinters on the quarter system—now faculty have to be marathon runners for semesters.

  • Students will have more time to fail, but this is part of the experience of learning.
  • Students doing poorly in a class during a semester, have 15 weeks to "redeem themselves." In 10-week quarters, if they mess up, there are not many chances to up their grade.
  • It's a good opportunity for teaching.

Semesters allow more time to get resources to the students (for example through interlibrary loan)

  • Students think they do not have enough time to figure things out in quarters. Sometimes they freak out, because they really hit the ground running, especially with studio-based courses.
  • With the pace of quarters, there are missed opportunities for covering certain content and topics; semesters can fix this. With semesters, faculty can cover more breadth and depth on topics.

If keeping the same curriculum, the implementation would be much simpler. But at RIT, it is being recommended as an opportunity to pilot or test new curricula, not just for converting existing curricula to semesters—“moving around the apples." There are more opportunities to take risks, such as blended learning. Excused absences and holiday observances are difficult in a quarter; they are easier to accommodate in semesters.

  • Students will take fewer courses but the courses will have more depth

How can instructors keep pace in the course and keep the energy going?

  • 4-5 preps for faculty is too much.
  • Look at what you are doing in terms of smaller blocks—that’s better for everyone

How do we help students?

Students might have the perceptions that they will have more time, so setting expectations will be essential.

It’s important to have assignments clearly defined.

Underscore that even though you have more class meetings, it is the same curriculum, so students have to keep pace.

The visual structure of an online course could be helpful when designing for semesters; structure around weekly readings, regular homework, or activities.

What strategies can faculty use for shorter classes (less than an hour)?

  • Clarify expectations early on in the course.
  • Use mini-lecture for 10 minutes and then small group activities.
  • Some classes just need a three-hour block, such as studios.
  • Lecture-style classes gives you more activity options
  • There is more overall class time over the course of a semester; if the instructor does not get to end of the discussion/content, it can carry over to the next session.

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