After 90 years on a quarter system, Ohio State was sure to have some growing pains as the university transitioned from quarters to semesters during the 2012-2013 school year. But as OSU enters its second year of semesters this autumn, some faculty, staff and students are pleased with the conversion thus far.
“I’m shocked how smoothly the transition actually went,” OSU Executive Vice President and Provost Joseph Steinmetz said, “given reports that I was aware of from other institutions that had done it and some of the issues that they had during the first year. We avoided a lot of those issues.
“In the end, I would describe (last year’s transition) as remarkably seamless.”
Steinmetz credited the university’s three years of preparation for the conversion, as well as community’s engagement in preparing for the shift, in allowing the first year to go as well as it did.
There were some problems with the transition to semesters, including a different flow of traffic that contributed to several serious accidents involving students, a meal plan change that sparked mixed feedback and a fee overcharge that led to the university refunding Summer Semester students up to $81.
Wayne Carlson, OSU’s vice provost for undergraduate studies and dean of undergraduate education overall agreed with Steinmetz’s assessment though.
“From my personal perspective, the transformation from quarters to semesters went fabulously,” Carlson said. “Better than anticipated in some ways because there were very few glitches in the whole process.”
Jay Hobgood, an associate professor of geography at OSU who also served on the Semester Conversion Executive Coordinating Committee, said he thought the conversion was “as successful as you can hope for with a university the size and complexity of Ohio State.”
Although these faculty members had a positive outlook on the first year of semesters, they said there were some aspects of the conversion that caused problems.
Steinmetz said one of the main points of feedback he received was that students found the pacing of courses to be challenging.
“They thought that the professors and the instructors had just added more material and expanded the amount of information and discussion, etc., instead of spreading out the same material or the same length,” Steinmetz said. “I couldn’t find a lot of evidence for that except the fact that I think that this was a real perception by the students.”
Steinmetz said he was unsurprised that students felt that way.
“In the past, the full load essentially would have been three courses. Then all of a sudden you have five courses,” Steinmetz said. “I really think that was noticed by the students and that’s what was being reported. I suspect as the students get used to the differences in semesters, we’ll hear less about that.”
Michael Bruce, an associate professor in the Department of Dance who also served on the coordinating committee, admitted he did increase the content in one of his courses, but made the course worth more credit hours (three semester hours as opposed to three quarter hours) in the process.
“It’s a great benefit to have those extra weeks, those extra class meetings,” Bruce said. “Those extra weeks allowed me to get much more content in, and the credit hours went up accordingly.”
Paul Peters, a third-year in Arabic and political science, though, said the conversion to semesters was “really tough” on him because more classes per semester meant less time for him to focus on classes within his major.
“The conversion from quarters to semesters means for me that I’m changing from having Arabic be one out of four classes to one out of five classes,” Peters said. “That reduces the time that I can spend on Arabic and reduces the likelihood that I become proficient in Arabic so I felt that quarters were a lot better than on semesters.”
Adam Baxter, a second-year in mechanical engineering, had another issue with semesters – classes seemed disorganized.
“I had a lot of classes that, halfway through the semester, they had a switch or change of the syllabus,” Baxter said.
Anne Kelly, a fourth-year in international studies, however, felt the extra time for each class was beneficial.
“They were long enough where you got to get to know your teachers better,” Kelly said. “I think that’ll be really helpful for if you’re trying to get recommendations for an internship or study abroad or something. That’s probably my favorite part.”
Steinmetz, Carlson and Bruce were all in agreement that adding a break to the schedule during Fall Semester is a change that could help make the workload more manageable for students.
“We heard a lot, both from faculty and some students, that the Autumn Semester seems to be very, very long, relative to the Spring Semester,” Steinmetz said. “When we think about this, we think it’s the fact that there’s a spring break that’s in the middle of the Spring Semester. One of the things that we need to take a look at is the structure of the Autumn Semester going forward. Perhaps putting a break in, perhaps starting a few days earlier, providing additional days between the sessions, those sorts of things all should be on the table and all discussed.”
Carlson said the addition of a fall break would not take place until, at earliest, the 2014-2015 school year.
Kelly was disappointed when she realized that OSU did not have a break during Autumn Semester like many semester schools do.
“I think most colleges do have a fall break, and I was kind of bummed when I found out my friends were not in school,” Kelly said. “That would actually be nice, I would appreciate that.”
In addition to a potential future fall break, Carlson said OSU is considering eliminating the summer commencement ceremony.
“There’s a discussion about number of graduations that’s going on — should we have a summer graduation, or just do it autumn and spring?” Carlson said.
For the 2012-2013 school year, OSU held commencement ceremonies at the end of the fall, spring and summer terms. OSU awarded 10,143 degrees during last year’s spring commencement, but only about 3,000 during autumn commencement and about 1,800 for the summer commencement.
On the quarterly calendar, OSU held four graduation ceremonies, with one after each of the fall, winter, spring and summer terms.
Another benefit of the semester conversion, Steinmetz said, is that it makes the transition to OSU easier for students who transfer from other universities who are on semesters.
“When students are transferring credits in, it’s much easier because of the prevalence of semester schools all around the country,” Steinmetz said. “If you look at the numbers of people that are out there that we’re recruiting as faculty and students, particularly the transfer students, most of the institutions are on semesters.”
Kenny Latham, a second-year in business administration who transferred to OSU this year, said the semester conversion made coming to OSU easier.
“I like the semester system better,” Latham said. “Less change.”
The conversion created an issue for some returning OSU students, however, as courses that were taken during the era of quarters had to be converted to semester credit hours.
Carlson said that issue should be behind OSU in the university’s second year of semesters.
“The one big worry we had was students that would get caught in the transition, and that’s less of an issue this year because there are fewer students that might get caught in a transitional time,” Carlson said. “The conversion issue won’t be an issue anymore because that was a one-time deal, where we converted quarter credit hours to semester credit hours.”
As a result of the semester conversion, final exams for OSU students end in April or early May each year, whereas they used to end in June on the quarterly calendar. Steinmetz said this is a benefit to students because it gives them more opportunities for internships and studying abroad during the summer.
“There is access to things in summer now that our students didn’t have access before because of being here later,” Steinmetz said. “I’ve heard in discussions I’ve had with students that internships and other experiences that are off the Ohio State campus, they had an easier time, a more accessible time because of the timing.”
Hobgood considered the earlier end to the schedule to be a “direct benefit” of the semester conversion.
“Students had the option to take advantage of study abroad or start their field work earlier than they would have been able to do under the quarter system,” Hobgood said. “I know that really helped some of our undergraduate students find good internships because they were able to start the internships in early May as opposed to having to wait until later on in June, which was the way it was under the quarter system.”
Hannah Romano, a third-year in actuarial science, prefers being on the same schedule with other semester schools.
“When you go home, most of your friends’ breaks are around the same time, so it makes it a little nicer,” Romano said. “We got out really early, so obviously that was nice, getting out a month early.”
Looking ahead to the second year of semesters, Steinmetz said it is important for the university to re-establish course patterns under the new system.
“When you go from having to develop courses that are taught on the quarter system versus the transition to semesters, it disrupts the pattern that had been established for years and years about how students took courses,” Steinmetz said. “There remains, I think, at the department level, a challenge that will continue this year and I would say next year as well, in trying to establish now what is the new pattern of courses that students take given this calendar with two semesters instead of three quarters.”
Hobgood thinks everyone who teaches “will probably make at least minor adjustments” going into the second year of semesters.
“We all have a year of experience now in the way semesters work here at Ohio State, and so, there will probably be the minor tweaks that the students will notice,” Hobgood said.
OSU’s second year of semesters begins Wednesday with the first day of classes for Fall Semester.