Organisation - April 18, 2019

‘The new timetable does the job’

Albert Sikkema,Luuk Zegers

The extended daytime schedule (EDS) is affecting the quality of our education, say one in three WUR teachers. Resource asked Julia Diederen and Aniek de Winter of the EDS complaints committee and timetabler Fred Jonker what can explain this unfortunate outcome.

Teacher Julia Diederen, timetabler Fred Jonker and student Aniek de Winter are involved in evaluating the new schedule.

Text Albert Sikkema en Luuk Zegers  Photo Aldo Allessie

More than half of all the teachers have had to adapt their lesson plans to the new timetable, reveals the first questionnaire about the EDS. Quite a lot, isn’t it?
Diederen: ‘A lot of teachers have adapted their material because each class is now five minutes shorter. They have started talking faster, taking fewer coffee breaks or requiring more independent study. When teachers have shortened the class, we don’t know what impact that has. We want to find that out in the next survey, at the end of period 5.’

The quality of the education has gone down, say 35 per cent of the teachers.
Diederen: ‘We’d like to know more about that. The teachers I’ve talked to say: I have shortened the class by five minutes and then you can sacrifice quality.’ De Winter: ‘You might leave out an example in your explanation, or you shorten the coffee break, which the students use to ask the teacher questions. That is the issue, in that case.’

A lot of teachers don’t realize they can ask for more class time

So how could teachers compensate for those shorter classes?
Jonker: ‘Some of the teachers teach less overall now than last year, but that was never the idea. A lot of teachers don’t realize they can ask for more class time now. That means they can teach just as much material, or even more, or give a generous coffee break after all. We are now setting up an open office hour in the Forum, partly so as to point out this option to teachers.’ Diederen: ‘I still teach the same volume of material as last year, my teaching goals and reader are the same. I just tell the students a bit less because the classes are shorter. Is that a bad thing? I am using this year as a kind of test to see whether I should change anything. I might ask for more class time next year.’

The survey results also show that work pressure among teachers has gone up.
Jonker; ‘That is no surprise, because more than half the teachers have adapted their courses and that is time-consuming.’ De Winter: ‘We expect that the other teachers will make changes next year and work pressure will go up for them. The big question is: is that extra work a one-off thing?’

People were also afraid that concentration would go down at the end of the day. What do the teachers say about that?
De Winter: ‘More than 40 per cent of the teachers say their concentration is poorer in the 11th and 12th time slots of the day. The same goes for half the students, say the teachers. But there weren’t very many respondents to this question. That is partly because not many late classes or practicals are scheduled yet.’ Diederen: ‘Of course your concentration is not as good at six o’clock in the evening if you are used to having dinner at that time. We also notice that the late classes are less well attended. But then if you teach at 8:20 on a Friday morning, at least half the students are absent too. So how problematic is that class at the end of the day?’ Jonker: ‘Students especially hate long days of classes, so when we timetable we look for ways of shortening the waiting time between morning and afternoon classes. Next academic year, we are going to schedule more courses late morning instead of early morning, to make the day shorter.’

There are two lunch breaks a week when everyone stops at the same time, so study associations can plan lunchtime meetings. Does that create any difficulties?
Jonker: ‘Teachers would prefer a short lunch break, starting later and ending earlier. There are various options for that. We are currently looking at the first-year practicals, for instance. They last four and a half hours and start at 8:20, but you can also give a practical from 8:50 to 12.30, because you’ve got half an hour to play with. That way you shorten the gap between the morning and afternoon classes.’

Is the introduction of the EDS a success?
De Winter: ‘People were not keen on the extended schedule. It was necessary because of capacity problems, and we can see that it really helps with capacity. It does the job it is meant to do, in spite of the teething troubles.’ Jonker: ‘We can now plan an extra 18 classes per week per room. To compensate for the shorter classes, we need about six extra classes per week. So we gain a capacity of 12 classes per week per room.’

Do you want to lodge a complaint or ask a question about the extended daytime schedule? You can do so at the WUR Council’s EDS desk, student party VeSte and the department of Education & Student Affairs.

What is going on with the timetable?
The extended daytime schedule (EDS) was introduced last September to cater for the increase in student numbers. Lectures and practicals now start at 8:20 instead of 8:30, lecture time slots have been reduced from 45 to 40 minutes, the last lectures go on till 19:00 instead of 18:00 hours, and students no longer all have their lunch break at the same time every day. The change was controversial. Students and teachers feared the EDS would be detrimental to student association life and the quality of the education. The WUR Council and the Student Council eventually agreed to the measure with certain conditions. WUR was to keep a finger on the pulse using surveys, and evaluate the timetable thoroughly one year after introducing it. An EDS complaints committee of four students and three teachers was set up to collect complaints. MSc student of Biotechnology Aniek de Winter and teacher of Food Chemistry Julia Diederen are on this committee. They hold regular consultations with policy advisor Fred Jonker of the Education & Student Affairs department.

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