Faculty Senate approves plan to revamp Stanford's class schedules

In a Thursday voice vote, the Faculty Senate approved a plan to reduce the number of overlapping and conflicting course times. The senate also heard a presentation on getting more faculty and students involved in community-engaged learning.

The Faculty Senate unanimously approved a new classroom scheduling plan designed to reduce the potential for overlapping or conflicting class times, help students get the classes they want or need, and open the entire day to teaching and learning.

In a Thursday voice vote, the senate approved the plan, which would take effect during the 2015-16 academic year.

L.A. CiceroRegistrar Tom Black speaks at the Faculty Senate about the class schedule.

Registrar Tom Black speaking at the Faculty Senate about the class schedule

Before the vote, Harry J. Elam Jr., vice provost for undergraduate education, spoke in favor of the plan, noting that improving course scheduling was one of the recommendations of the Study of Undergraduate Education at Stanford (SUES).

"In doing so, SUES critically underlined the need for a rational system that got rid of overlaps as well as conflicts," Elam said. "Those of you who have classes where students leave 15 minutes early, or come late repeatedly, know exactly what we're talking about. This has been a rather pervasive problem and one that has no pedagogical basis, so one that we really need to do something about."

The Committee on Undergraduate Standards and Policy and the Committee on Graduate Studies each unanimously recommended adopting the plan.

Under the plan, the teaching day will be broken into 50- and 80-minute blocks, with 10 minutes left between classes for travel time. All classes will start at a standard time. Classes may end early, but they may not start earlier or later. Faculty could combine blocks of time to create 2- and 3-hour classes.

For most students, the school day will begin no earlier than 9 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and no earlier than 9:30 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The plan includes an 8:30-9:20 a.m. time slot, Monday through Friday. Typically, that time would be used for language classes, labs and discussion groups, and University Registrar Tom Black said he will strongly recommend that departments not schedule large undergraduate classes at 8:30 a.m.

Black said the new schedule would be posted on the registrar's website within a few days.

The plan had been revised since it was first presented to the senate in January 2013 and reconsidered in October 2013.

Community-engaged learning

Following the vote, Elam began a presentation on the new Community-Engaged Learning program by quoting founder Jane L. Stanford, who said the instruction offered at Stanford University was offered in the hope that students would be of "greater service to the public." He also quoted from the 2012 SUES report, which said one of the aims of a Stanford education was to cultivate personal and social responsibility.

"Given Stanford's history and given the fact that we have always been committed to this idea of taking what is our academic mission and relating it to real-world problems, we should be a leader in community-engaged learning," Elam said.

Community-engaged learning includes course activities that meet academic learning goals through structured off-campus experiences. The courses often partner with community organizations in a way that meets both academic learning goals and real community needs. The Community Health in Oaxaca Program of the Bing Overseas Studies Program is an example of a community-engaged course at Stanford.

"What we want to do is raise the number of courses that we have in terms of community-engaged learning and get more students and faculty involved," he said.

The initiative is a partnership between the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and the Haas Center for Public Service.

Tom Schnaubelt, director of the Haas Center, said Stanford recently hired three academic staff members – known as D-CELs, directors of community-engaged learning – to work with faculty, departments, schools and programs to help expand the opportunities for community-engaged learning: Suzanne Gaulocher, who is focusing on health; Luke Terra, who is focusing on education; and Sarah Truebe, who is focusing on the environment.

During the question-and-answer session that followed the presentations, Al Camarillo, professor of history, urged faculty to take advantage of the new program. He noted that Stanford has been engaged in service learning and has offered community-engaged courses for 25 years.

Camarillo said faculty who might like to establish service-learning courses, but haven't had the time because of their busy research and teaching schedules, can now rely on the new staff members for assistance.

"That's a huge development here at Stanford," he said.

Camarillo said faculty who had participated in community-engaged learning over the years would say that it was absolutely worth trying out.

"It makes you a better teacher," he said. "It enhances the intellectual vitality of our classrooms. And it prepares these students to be better citizens once they leave Stanford. And it gives them an opportunity to experience leadership and service. Put those things together and it is absolutely incumbent upon us as faculty to do this. So, if you hear a D-CEL knocking on your door, open the door and chat with him or her."

The full minutes of the Feb. 6 meeting will be available on the Faculty Senate website next week. The minutes will include the question-and-answer session that followed the presentations. The next senate meeting will be held Feb. 20.