Our first semester is easy. It starts at the end of September, there are twelve weeks and then three weeks off including Christmas. Then there are exams followed by the start of semester 2. Nothing unusual there (and I sincerely do not want an earlier start in September to pave the way for pre-Christmas exams, we barely survive the 12 weeks). Semester 2 however swiftly devolves into some kind of pedagogical lucky dip. Will there be 8, 9, 10 or 11 weeks before the three week Easter vacation? Will we have to condense teaching into a silly number of weeks (try delivering a week of lectures in week 11 after a 3 week break)? Or better still, can we shift deadlines every single year creating great disparities between year groups?
This year we’ve had eight weeks before Easter so week seven and eight were seriously deadline laden for students. Then we’ve had four weeks and next week is revision week for exams. Next year I believe we’ll have eleven weeks before Easter. The problem is, our final year dissertations are generally due end of week 11. Some years the students get 3 weeks longer to do them, all depending on where Easter is. No, students generally do not ‘plan accordingly’, they’ll pick off the deadlines one at a time. Well we all do that so don’t judge.
So we need to fix Easter, either as institutions or as a country. Then we could have second semesters that make sense. Perhaps we could also have a ‘human friendly’ week between the end of exams and the start of the next semester. No, not for skiing but perhaps to allow staff to finish the marking before launching into the next semester. And perhaps to allow students to take a break before launching into it all again. It would be nice to start semester 2 feeling slightly more in control than feeling ‘must mark all the things, bugger got to go teach’.
My perfect 2nd semester would be exams, week of no-teaching, 12 weeks of teaching, 3 week Spring break* and then exams. It would mirror semester 1 and it would be more equal – students get a decent break/revision period before each set of exams. And while we’re at it, I’d only have one reassessment period – a week in August.
*break in this context means teaching free time for staff to take holiday or do other stuff as appropriate.