Rushed pace of summer classes inhibits learning

Audrey Larcher

A week ago, students were welcomed into the first summer session by an inescapable flood of syllabi and a bit of existential dread—the same way any semester begins. But students sign up for summer courses expecting a fast-paced learning environment different from the spring and fall semesters. Summer courses cram curriculum originally designed to be absorbed over several months into just a few weeks, inhibiting the learning process.

Summer courses try to compensate for the shorter timeframe with longer class periods more frequently throughout the week, but consolidating material does not have the same effect as learning over longer periods of time. Scientifically, learning material is most effective when spaced out over steady periods of exposure. A US National Library of Medicine study reveals that when given more time, our brain absorbs and stores more information.

Plan II sophomore Karen Yang, witnessed this shortcoming in both Calculus II and Politics of New Democracies this summer. “It’s a lot of material in a short time, so the homework load is tremendous,” Yang said. “There’s less time for discussion in class than usual. You really can’t afford to fall behind on daily homework and reading because every single day is new material.”

Nevertheless, these settings are sometimes the only option for students who want to graduate on time. When the university fails to offer enough space during fall and spring, students scramble for summer classes, even if it means sacrificing refined learning. This tradeoff is ingrained in university culture. As a consequence of the public education system’s push to produce the most economic results, we trade opportunities to grow and truly absorb information for opportunities to churn out graduates.

What the rushed summer learning reveals about our university’s priorities is very unsettling. The university views summer semesters as a viable alternative to more immersive learning because the main goal is not to advance our development as humans. The main goal is to pump degrees into the labor market.

This motive is evident in a recent Wall Street Journal study presenting data that graduating Longhorns have lower critical thinking skills than they demonstrated as freshmen. And if students are failing to develop critical thinking skills in the fall or spring, condensed summer classes won't do them any good.

We can trace the roots of this issue back decades to national trends in America’s public education system. That being said, reforming the cultural and institutional makeup that promotes summer classes’ ineffective learning will take more than just a few years. So while we work to solve everything from kindergarten learning to tuition spikes, students at UT need more immediate pathways to expand on their education.

Students should pressure the administration for more class sections at more times, as well as online alternatives that are more conducive to learning. And if your student loans aren’t already breaking your back, it’s not the end of the world to spend one extra year in undergrad.

Larcher is a Plan II and economics sophomore from Austin. Follow her on Twitter @AudreyLarcher.