The Big Switch: Transitioning From Quarters to Semesters

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If a tree falls and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? If it’s December at Ohio University and students aren’t around to experience it, does it still take place?

In many Bobcats’ minds, Ohio University is a magical academic institution that ceases to exist between the holidays of Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.  This year changed it all. With their stomachs still full from turkey and mashed potatoes, students made the trek back to Athens to continue on with an additional two weeks, plus finals. For many students and professors alike, the brief fall break was a tease of the six week winter respite that accompanied quarters.

Ohio University, Ohio State University, University of Cincinnati and Wright State University were the last four public universities in the state of Ohio to make the switch from quarters to semesters. Unsure of how they would be able to handle the new change and the addition of five weeks, students prepared for the worst and hoped for the best.

“It’s hard balancing a hectic schedule during a semester. The semester is longer and so is my to-do list,” said Public Relations major, Melaina Lewis.

Magazine Journalism major, Nick Rees, also shares a strong sense of dislike for the new system. “It stretches out classes that I would rather be done with. Also, it takes away the opportunity to experience more classes since now we are limited to just two semesters instead of our three trusty quarters.”

While many students seem to dislike the change, some Scripps faculty members have their own opinions.

“I am a fan of the switch to semesters because the longer term feels more relaxed and gives more time to go in depth into subjects,” said Associate Director and Professor, Ellen Gerl. “In my case, I teach a capstone class that produces Southeast Ohio Magazine, a 48-page publication. With the longer term, students have time to really delve into their feature subjects and create a quality product.”

Associate Professor, Hugh Martin, is also in favor of semesters adding, “Some topics take more time than others, so there is more time to spend with the topics that take longer.  There is an adjustment period for everyone, teachers and students, but we’ll work through that together.”

Behind the scenes it was not an easy task for the Scripps faculty to create a new curriculum tailored to semesters. Gerl said that there were too many challenges to explain in a short amount of time. Some of these included maintaining the rigor of the previous curriculum, updating and combining similar classes and addressing industry trends by converging multiple sequences into two tracks.

However, the process of transitioning the curriculum to semesters is not the biggest challenge that the faculty and the school face. In the ever-changing industries of journalism, public relations and advertising, the task of constantly having to modify the Scripps school’s curriculum to meet these needs is the greatest hurdle of all.

“The big challenge is figuring out how to make our curriculum relevant to what is happening to the professions we are helping students learn,” Martin said. “That challenge never goes away because the professions are changing so much and so fast. It’s our job to understand those changes and help students learn the skills they’ll need to be successful when they graduate, but also five or ten years from now.”

Whether you are in favor of the switch or not, there is one upside to semesters that cannot be disputed: December in Athens.

“It’s great to have students around after Thanksgiving helping make the holidays in Athens more festive. Uptown was so empty when students left every year in November,” said Gerl.

Although there is now a collective Bobcat groan after the week long fall break, once one arrives back on campus, the magic of Ohio University and the beautifully decorated Court Street take over, giving the feeling that you wouldn’t wish to spend the holiday season anywhere else.