Iowa State students recently completed the winter session, which allows them to catch up on credits, advance their studies, or try new areas of interest.
The Iowa State winter session was first offered during the 2020-2021 winter break. Since then, the university has continued to offer academically sound courses condensed into a four-week session.
Alec Gardner, a sophomore in biology, said his spring program was already full, so he chose genetics, a collaborative biology course, to save himself trouble in the new semester.
“I thought it would be a lot, but I think it just depends on the course because the one I took, a lot of it was a review from an introductory biology course I took,” Gardner said. “Each week has been broken down into a unit, so in a normal semester you might only need a month for that unit, but now that’s a week because you’re only taking one class.”
Gardner said he typically spends about 30 hours a week studying and studying for his course. Of those 30, Gardner said, 10 or 12 were devoted to learning new material, while the rest had to do with reviewing subjects he was already familiar with.
“I would say it was a lot easier because I could do everything at my own pace,” Gardner said. “They had already posted the lecture videos. There were optional review sessions that I didn’t have to attend because I already knew what I was doing.”
Chris Jimenez, a sophomore in mechanical engineering, said he took a winter course to assess whether a new minor was for him. Jimenez said he wanted to add the computer science minor because it would increase his potential for future earnings.
“Well, actually, I thought about adding a minor, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to,” Jimenez said. “So I ended up taking a computer science tutorial to see if I liked it. And I liked it, so now I’ve added this minor.
Jimenez said the course differs from those students work through during a traditional semester because it is more condensed and streamlined. Jimenez said the course he took was also different because the only due date was set for the end of the session.
“This class was different because there were no deadlines,” Jimenez said. “Everything was due at the end of the semester. [The professor] gave us like a schedule to follow, but it was just up to us to turn it off whenever we wanted.”
Jimenez said the course also requires fewer interactions with peers and professors than a traditional one. He said he doesn’t think he’s ever received messages from the professor, and while there was a Discord for the class, students rarely used it.
Sophia Norman, a senior in animal sciences, was taking a course on human sexuality and agronomy 342 during recess. Norman said she chose the fall semesters so she could keep her minor without having to take an extra semester before graduation.
“It was pretty easy because most of the content was pretty much designed for you,” Norman said. “It’s just very focused, so it took longer to get through than I think a normal class would because it was all at once.”
After taking two different courses during the break, Norman said it was a challenge to keep track of the different courses and their due dates. Norman said that while one class was set up with deadlines throughout the course, another simply had a due date for all assignments at the end of the course.
“So I definitely preferred the first method, where she handed it out for us,” Norman said. “In the class where everything was due in one day, I ended up happily cramming for that stuff while there was more distance to it [the other] Class.”
Despite the condensed material and fast pace of the course, Norman said the winter courses were easier because they were online.
“You didn’t want to give a lecture, so somehow they had to give you all the material,” Norman said. “And I guess the professors in my class have been very lenient with things like that, you can use your references, use your notes from watching the PowerPoint videos and things like that.”
The state of Iowa offered its first winter session during the 2020-2021 winter break, which was significantly longer than typical breaks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Interim senior associate registrar Denise Timberland said university administration and an executive committee have begun talks about a winter session to take advantage of the extra-long hiatus.
“It provided an opportunity to try it, and many discussions across campus involved associate deans and others from the different colleges to talk about what approach to take to potentially continue offering it in the future,” Associate said Registrar Diane Rupp.
Deputy Chancellor Andrea Ibeling Peck said administration of the 2022-2023 winter session had been handed over to the chancellery’s office, rather than the committee that organized it for the first two years.
Timberland said the types of courses offered in Iowa State’s winter session set it apart from similar terms offered at other schools.
“A lot of institutions have what’s called J-Terms, where there’s kind of a midterm session, and they’re kind of fun classes,” Timberland said. “But I think one of the things that the executive committee really wanted and the provost’s office really wanted was for these to be academically substantive for the students.”
This means that the university has chosen to focus on offering courses that apply to students’ degree programs. Specifically, courses that apply to a variety of degrees that may discourage students from taking other courses in their field.
According to Timberland, one challenge in delivering academically sound courses during the winter session is ensuring students receive all the required curriculum in the reduced time. One way the university has ensured this is by limiting course offerings to three-credit courses, as opposed to the four-credit courses offered during the original extended winter session.
“And so [faculty] are very thoughtful and purposeful about the courses they offer; Not everything fits into one winter session,” said Timberland. “That’s why this faculty is so important in deciding what courses to teach and what curriculum they have.”
In addition, Ibeling Peck said that many of the courses offered were chosen for their relevance to the study of a large number of students.
“It’s really up to the discretion of the colleges and departments that are currently offering courses or are interested in offering courses in the future,” Ibeling Peck said. “If you look at the course listing, there are a lot of these types of courses of general interest, but not by content of interest, rather that students in numerous majors may need these courses for a course requirement.”
Ibeling Peck agreed that the winter session is an alternative to the traditional two-semester classroom teaching. The winter session offers students the opportunity to study online at an accelerated pace outside of the typical semester, allowing greater control over their academic schedules and content.
“And of course it’s the only semester that that’s the case at Iowa State, where [classes] are delivered exclusively as online parts,” says Ibeling Peck. “But with the rise of online and distance learning, more and more courses are being delivered this way. And certainly COVID has created opportunities for more courses to be offered as distance learning options.”
Timberland said the winter session might not be for everyone; While the courses may provide students with an edge in upcoming semesters, the condensed content and faster pace may pose a challenge for some students. According to Timberland, students should be aware of their academic status and speak to their advisor before registering for a winter session.
“Currently everything is restricted to undergraduate students; We didn’t venture into the graduate or professional field; I don’t think there’s any expectation that they will,” Rupp said. “It’s been quite successful working with the students and really giving them an opportunity not only to capitalize on their break but also to progress a bit with spring semester credits.”
Rupp said the university has made progress on how it will offer the session and disseminate information about it. Rupp also said that once the university goes live with Workday Student, the university would have additional flexibility in presenting course offerings to students.