BYU professors adapt classes to shorter semester

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BYU’s winter semester started a week later due to COVID-19 safety measures. (Preston Crawley)

BYU’s Winter Semester started a week later causing professors to adapt instruction in order to compensate for lost class time.

BYU delayed classes by a week “to allow more time between the holidays and the first day of classes,” according to the COVID-19 updates webpage. The end date of the semester stayed the same, meaning there would be one less week of instruction.

“We’re in this situation where we need to know the same amount of stuff but in a smaller amount of time,” said BYU organic chemistry professor Joshua Price.

Price said normally he starts his organic chemistry classes with a week of basic review to prepare students for the new material. However, this semester he had to cut out all review and instead made an introductory study guide he sent to students.

“Unfortunately, I feel like I am passing the trouble onto the students,” he said. “Some might feel like it’s day one, and I’m already behind.”

Besides cutting review out, some professors have had to cut down on class material, accelerate learning speed, add extra homework, take away active learning activities, combine lessons or take other steps to ensure they are best helping students.

Price said one of his colleagues even recorded and sent students three introductory lectures of information that were optional for students to watch but contained important information.

In organic chemistry and other science classes, Price said it can be difficult to determine what to cut down as much of the information is necessary to understand before moving onto higher classes, research or medical school exams.

Price said he believes students will still succeed because these classes teach skills and concepts, not just facts. While teaching skills takes time and practice, Price said it is possible to recover from losing one week.

BYU computer science professor Mark Clement said for his class they adjusted the number of labs required. He said the students will still learn everything they need, but the downside is they aren’t getting as much experience as a programmer, which might make them feel less confident as they move to the next class.

“Professors care about their students and make changes that will still allow them to succeed,” Clement said.

BYU engineering professor Larry Baxter said for his department, students are learning material faster. COVID-19 restrictions make it so many interactive learning opportunities aren’t possible at this time which means students have more time to master the material but less active experience with the concepts.

Baxter said even though it is harder to learn and teach right now, he thinks BYU has done a great job at giving professors and students tools to succeed.

BYU humanities professor Michael Call said his class was not as affected by this change because it already had large amounts of content, so it wasn’t too stressful for him to take a few things out.

Call said he feels lucky his classes aren’t as dependent on covering every single part of the material as hard science classes do.

After hearing multiple stories of students contracting the virus over the break, he said it was “the right call” for BYU administration to push class back so people could recover from the virus.

“I was fine with the compromise,” Call said. “I want to make sure the campus can stay open.”

BYU was not the only university to adjust school schedules for COVID-19 safety measures. Utah State University and the University of Utah start their spring semesters on Jan 19., a week later than usual, and they also canceled their spring breaks. Utah Valley University started their semester on Jan. 11 along with BYU and will have a full spring break in March.

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