As East Carolina University begins Block B of the fall semester of 2020, university officials and professors feel optimistic about the next eight weeks as they reflect on the first eight-week block.
In May 2020, ECU split the fall semester into two 8-week periods with classes divided up between Block A and Block B.
Acting Vice Provost for Academic Success, Angela Anderson, said many ECU students and faculty have adjusted well to the block schedule format that has been implemented. The ECU community will continue to be successful during Block B.
“Student success and involvement initiatives have continued despite COVID (-19),” Anderson said. “Academic credit has been earned, students who’ve become ill have had an opportunity to adjust their schedule and to continue to make progress towards their degree and faculty have learned how to use new technology. They (faculty) have implemented innovative teaching techniques to ensure student attainment of knowledge of the material.”
Professors will continue to use Canvas as well as other platforms, such as Zoom, WebEx or Microsoft Teams for synchronous class discussions, according to Anderson. She said she remains optimistic for Block B as she hopes students will be able to return to campus early next year.
Anderson said ECU had worked toward the implementation of the block schedule for some academic department’s programs prior to COVID-19. She said the block schedule will remain as an option for departments for the spring semester but it is not a requirement for future academic terms and programs.
“By moving the decision of using the block schedule or the 15-week schedule to the academic unit, we are ensuring the academic units may make these decisions based upon faculty preference and programmatic needs in the future. This was always the plan for block scheduling,” Anderson said.
Dean of ECU’s College of Education Art Rouse said despite COVID-19 and the conversion to online instruction, the faculty who delivered instruction and students who took classes in his department did relatively well during the first block.
Some professors may have found it difficult to teach virtually, Rouse said. Some courses in the education department were harder than others for ECU students, such as math and science courses, according to Rouse.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty in the unknown and I think there's a lot of pressure and a lot of stress on students, so I think everybody did as well as they could do under the circumstances. It has been really stressful for everyone, but I know everyone has done the best they can do,” Rouse said.
Some students and professors have their own preferences between online 8-week instruction, 15-week scheduling or face-to-face instruction, according to Rouse. He said although default course instruction for the spring semester will be a 15-week format, academic departments and programs can choose to do the 8-week format in the spring if they followed this eight week schedule prior to the fall of 2020.
It is important for ECU to offer and be open to various course delivery models so that all student’s needs are met, Rouse said. He said he thinks if programs have the option to choose an 8-week or a 15-week schedule it will be valuable to students.
“I think our students are very resilient and they're very loyal to ECU,” Rouse said. “We are all in this together and mental health and caring for students and faculty through these challenging and uncertain paths is very important.”
Rouse said the Master of Arts in Reading and Literacy Education Degree graduate program organized through College the Education was delivered through an 8-week instruction before COVID-19 affected everyone’s schedule. Rouse said the 8-week model worked for this particular program and students who participated in this program were already familiar with the 8-week format before ECU transitioned.
John Howard, a communication professor, said in an email statement online classes have required students to be more self-directed, self-motivated and have more accountability.
“I know my class encountered numerous challenges. One of my own mistakes was to go too long between class posts during one week – it clearly impacted the students to not hear from me. I’ve made changes to course policies and my habits for the same class in Block B and am seeing differences already. I know my Block B will go better – I suspect it will for other faculty and students alike,” Howard said.
The 15-week format may help bring more of a sense of normalcy for students, Howard said. He said the semester will be less compressed compared to the fall semester and this slower pace should make academic courses better for everyone involved.
Howard said the University of North Carolina Board of Governors played a role in the process of reopening college campuses, students returning to campus and the reopening and closing of on-campus housing.
Allen Guidry, associate professor for history education and Assistant Dean for the College of Education, said he is excited to move into the second block of the fall semester. He said having instruction be compressed in half was a challenge for some students and it was also difficult for professors to redesign their courses and readjust their assignments.
“My hope is that both students and professors have learned from their experiences in this first eight week block and they will apply that new knowledge to the second eight weeks,” Guidry said.
Time management and work and life balance is very important and some students at ECU may have found their courses during the first eight weeks more rigorous and intense since there was less time to learn the material and complete assignments, according to Guidry. He said he hopes students feel more comfortable with the 8-week format ECU has implemented since they already completed the first half.
Guidry said one positive outcome of the block schedule was he was able to devote more time to the classes he was teaching. He said he usually teaches four classes at once, but during the first eight weeks he only had two and he will have two this block.
Since Guidry said he was able to focus more on the two classes he taught, he was able to connect with his students more and provide better and more effective feedback.
“I had to provide them (students) with feedback quickly. That way my students could complete future assignments better and more effectively,” Guidry said. “The timeliness of feedback is important and students should take advantage of our feedback and then manage their time wisely so they can turn this challenging time into a beneficial experience.”
Students can visit the News Services website to find further information about the block schedule as well as tips from ECU faculty about this adjustment.