Converting Courses for Accelerated Summer Sessions

This summer I’ll be teaching during our accelerated summer session: that means we have six weeks to cover material normally addressed in sixteen weeks of the semester. Compressing a course for summer session isn’t as simple as trying to cram everything into the new box, unfortunately: trying to cover every assignment, project, text, lecture, and activity at breakneck pace doesn’t end well for us or our students. However, it’s essential to still meet the learning objectives of the full semester. As a student, I loved taking summer courses because of the concentrated intensity, and it’s that same intensity I both enjoy and struggle with as an instructor.

  • Plan for variety. I started planning my summer course by laying out a plan for each week that includes a mix of lecture, tutorial, exercises, and a cumulative quiz or project. This gives every week’s material a sense of progression and completion while setting up a rhythm that should help students get into the flow of what can be an overwhelming work load. It also ensures that no week has too much lecture or tries to serve as a condensed version of too much material from the original class plan. This is especially important when designing for an online class, to avoid the problems of video-overload in early modules.

  • Include remedial material online. In an in-person class, for better or worse, I’ll often dedicate part of the first week or so to refreshing knowledge and making sure students are comfortable with the prerequisite material before we dive in deeper. In a technical course, this can be particularly important, as students don’t always follow an immediate path through course sequences and time spent refreshing and drawing existing knowledge into a new context is never wasted. However, there’s less time for that scaffolding in an accelerated course — consider putting remedial materials and tutorials online as optional resources.

  • Restructure long-term assignments. Some projects are designed to be processed over multiple weeks or months: research papers that go through multiple drafts, for instance, or complex modifications of extensive code-bases in programming classes. Intellectually, the compression of these types of assignments is not simply a matter of fitting more hours of effort in the week. Instead, it’s worth thinking where a shorter or more focused assignment might accomplish similar learning outcomes, or when stages of iteration and drafting might  be reduced.

  • Be clear and rigid on deadlines. In abbreviated courses, a student who falls behind on an assignment early has nearly no time to catch up: there’s often very little institutional leeway in the submission of grades following the rapid end of the class. Barring emergencies, a clear firm policy is in the best interests of everyone involved in an accelerated course. For me, this means no late work is accepted outside of emergencies, so that as students move on to the next module I can move forward with them.

My favorite part of preparing accelerated material is a feeling of relief akin to reducing clutter: it helps me focus on where the most important outcomes of the course are concentrated, which in turn gives me ideas for assignments or topics to rethink the next time I teach the full version of the course. On the other hand, I miss having the extra time for experimental assignments and deeper exploration of concepts, and I worry about what is short-changed with each design decision I make.

What are your strategies for approaching accelerated course design? Share your tips in the comments!

[CC BY 2.0 Photo by Flickr User Paul Keller]

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