Intersession courses intensive, but beneficial

Illustration by Sagal Hassan.

Matthew Leonard 
Contributing Writer

While most students return home for a month-long winter break, a small group of both students and professors will find themselves back in the classroom on Dec. 27.

Two days after Christmas, students enrolled in intersession start intensive 11-day classes that cover an entire semester’s worth of content, said Daphne Rankin, associate vice provost for Learning Innovation and Student Success, and the primary administrator of intersession.

“You’re covering a week’s worth of work every day, and then you’re going to go home and study a weeks worth of studying before you come back the next day,” Rankin said.

Classes last from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

“They can expect an intense amount of work. They can expect to be around other students who want to be there or that are there for a specific reason,” said Melissa Koch, summer studies personnel administrator.

Koch said VCU offers 36 courses during the intersession period. Students are only allowed to take one course, and professors are only allowed to teach one. An average of 900-1,000 students enroll for an intersession course. To date, there are more than 800 enrolled for the upcoming intersession, he added.

“The challenge,” said Liz Canfield, who is teaching Intro to Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies during intersession for the third year, “is to make a situation within a really cramped period of time where we can have the level of critical and academic engagement that we do over the course of 15 or 16 weeks.”

Faye Prichard, director of writing in the Honors College who is teaching ENGL 215, textual analysis during intersession, said the winter classes have a community feel to them.

“We all feel like we’re in it together; we just have to make it through those 11 days,” Prichard said.

Canfield said she approaches each class differently, using lecturing, discussion, something active, presentations and student-led classes to make the long class period more bearable.

“I’m a lot more mindful of how hard people are working, how many days in a row we’re working, how our attention spans work,” Canfield said.

Despite intense time constraints of intersession, both students and professors agree that it’s valuable.

“The first one I took because one of my professors recommended doing it to get ahead and so I wouldn’t have to do it in the semester,” said Hannah Brownell, a senior art education and sculpture double major.

“I liked being able to focus on one class without having to worry about anything else,” Brownell added.

Prichard said focusing on one class at a time could lead to better grades.

“I do think that my grades are a little higher in intersession,”  Prichard said. “It’s like an immersion course. You’re talking about something constantly and I think the connections are fresher.”

Canfield also said the long class times allow for students to grow closer quicker and to have deeper conversations.

“We have this really gorgeous, sustained conversation. It builds this kind of camaraderie really, really quickly among people in the group,” Canfield said.

Both Prichard and Canfield have small class sizes, which Prichard said helps with the intense time constraints.

“I think it would be really hard to do a class like this with a large group of people,” Prichard said. “If I’m going to teach you a semester’s worth of work in eleven days, or if you’re going to learn a semester’s worth of work in 11 days, then I have to know you, be able to interact with you, be able to give pretty quick written feedback.”

Registration for intersession began on Oct. 29 and ends on the first day of class, Dec. 27., according to the intersession website.

Some parts of campus, like the library and Shafer stay open over break. Other services, like the Writing Center, are closed. Rankin said students are provided a list of all available resources when they register for intersession.

Brownell said an intersession course is not that different from your average semester-long class, other than the workload and time constraints, but enrolling in one does come with a perk.

“It was set up very similarly. We had three exams, a group project, and a paper,” Brownell said. “It’s also really easy to find parking.”

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