Jan 152010
Authors: Seth Anthony

As winter break, holidays and a new year loom, many of us have begun pondering what we might do during that unstructured block of time before the spring semester begins. The last thing on the minds of most students and faculty is more classes, but that’s exactly what I’m going to suggest.

CSU should create a January term. January term, the middle of what some university’s fall a “4-1-4 calendar,” is typically two-to-four week “semesters” lying between the longer fall and spring terms. During these terms, students have the opportunity to focus on one course or experience intensely.

Typically, students only take one course, but, unlike during the regular semester, when each course competes against the time constraints and demands of several others, a student can give a single topic their undivided attention during such a term, opening up new educational possibilities and experiences.

For decades, January terms have been common at smaller liberal arts colleges; however, larger state schools, including the University of Delaware, the University of New Hampshire and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst have gotten a piece of the action, too.

January terms, like summer sessions, provide the opportunity for students to immerse themselves in a subject. Obviously, not every course makes sense during a January term, but everything from laboratory-based science courses to workshop-based art courses have been offered during January terms at institutions similar in size and mission to CSU.

Unique study abroad experiences are possible during a short winter term.

The University of Maryland offers January term courses in sites ranging from Argentina to Australia, from Spain to South Africa. For law students at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, January term courses have allowed the school to bring in short-term, distinguished guest instructors from other institutions.

Short summer sessions have already proven valuable not just to traditional on-campus students, but also for non-traditional students who may find it difficult to commit to 15 weeks worth of course during a regular semester, working professionals or short-term visitors to Colorado. January courses would offer additional possibilities for all of these groups.

While it may sound like a profound change, a January term wouldn’t actually require radical reconfiguration of the university schedule or operations. While many universities start spring semester courses during the first or even second week of the new year, CSU’s current calendar starts courses on the third week of January — a week that already has one official holiday.

Pushing the spring semester start date back just one week would allow for a three-week short course period.

Imagine the special courses that could be taught in natural resources programs, studying the winter environment and ecology of the Rockies or western grasslands, or in recreation and tourism management, immersing oneself in Colorado’s unique winter tourism industry.

As a large university, CSU is already viewed by many current and prospective students as falling behind when it comes to educational innovation and unique, one-on-one classroom interactions — witness the proliferation of anonymous lecture halls that just keep getting larger and impersonal registration and advising systems that require you to interact with actual humans less and less.

The creation of a January term could help buck that trend and help CSU stand out as offering a unique service and opportunity to students and faculty alike. It’s an idea worth pursuing.

Seth Anthony is a chemistry graduate student. His column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 11:33 am

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