How Short Is Too Short?

In the November 2012 Chronicle of Higher Education article “Need 3 Quick Credits to Play Ball? Call Western Oklahoma” by Brad Wolverton, many concerns are raised over the two-week versions of the community college’s online courses.

I noted quickly that certain subjects, like English composition, algebra, or biology, are not offered in the super-compressed, 10-day format. I have a hard enough time teaching freshman comp in five weeks during the summer, and two weeks just doesn’t give the poor instructor enough time to mark drafts and to really engage students in the writing process.

One instructor of U.S. history noted that he covers about 15 years per day, to get through 150 years of America. In looking at the syllabus for a Humanities class, it requires a 4-8pp term paper, a PowerPoint, discussion questions, and two exams. That’s a good amount of work.


Lord Byron, contemplating.

Now I’m thinking: could I do one of my literature courses in just 10 days?

I have taught English Literature II several times. The course goes from the Romantic era to the present, or roughly 212 years of literature. I would need to cover 15 weeks of material in 10 days, so about a week and a half seriously compressed. Here’s a start:

Day 1

  • video lecture on major themes of the Enlightenment leading into major themes of British Romanticism
  • video lecture on early Romantic poets: William Blake (with his artwork), William Wordsworth, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • assigned readings: about 6 short poems by Blake (pairing Innocence with corresponding themes in Experience); Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey,” parts of the Preface to Lyrical Ballads, and excerpts from Book 6 of The Prelude; and Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”
  • assignment: quiz about Romantic themes and connections between the works (would include some short answer)

Day 2

  • video lecture on how to read poetry more effectively
  • video lecture on later Romantic authors: Lord Byron, John Keats, Percey Bysshe Shelley, and Mary Shelley (emphasis on the Gothic)
  • assigned readings: Byron’s “She Walks in Beauty,” part of Canto 3 of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, and the Dedication to Don Juan; Keats’s “On Seeing the Elgin Marbles,” “When I Have Fears,” and “Ode on Melancholy;” PB Shelley’s “Mont Blanc” and “Ode to the West Wind;” and excerpts from M Shelley’s Frankenstein
  • assignment: short-answer quiz about connections between themes and authors, this week vs. last week

Day 3

  • video lecture on how to read novels effectively
  • video lecture on themes of the Victorian era
  • video lecture on authors of this week: Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Robert Browning
  • assigned readings: Chs. 1-6 of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice; excerpts from Dickens’s Oliver Twist; Browning’s “Porphyria’s Lover,” “My Last Duchess,” and “The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed’s Church”
  • assignment: quiz analyzing specific quotes and comparing narrators in this week’s readings

Day 4

  • video lecture on how to cite literary works and how to do an MLA-style bibliography
  • video lecture on authors of this week: Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Emily Brontë, Matthew Arnold, Christina Rossetti, and Alfred Tennyson
  • assigned readings: 8 selections from Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese, excerpts from Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Arnold’s “Dover Beach,” Rossetti’s “Goblin Market,” and Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott” plus selections from “In Memoriam”
  • assignment: quiz analyzing specific quotes and comparing Victorian poets to Romantic ones

Day 5

  • video lecture on Bram Stoker and evolving ideas of the vampire (Blade, Twilight, True Blood)
  • assigned readings: extensive excerpts from Dracula
  • assignment: m/c quiz over reading, because over the weekend, there would be a short paper assignment on something not easily found in a term paper bank (no, I don’t consider weekends sacrosanct, especially in an online course)

Now, I don’t know about you, but this is a lot of work each day. My video lectures typically run 7-12 minutes, although I could make ’em shorter for a compressed class. The readings probably will take students 2-4 hours, depending on their reading speed and comprehension. The quizzes might take another hour because they wouldn’t be multiple choice.

If students are supposed to spend 3-5 hours per day on these 2-week courses, mission accomplished.

Grading everything in a timely manner, when one lacks TAs, also would be a challenge–my class would be 9 quizzes and 2 papers, with the last one being a final exam. Western Oklahoma caps classes at around 35 students.

Here’s the kicker for me: “the community college mails out transcripts the day after classes end.” How can I certify that students finished the course the next day unless I grade like a maniac…or I only give objective, multiple-choice assessments that the computer grades (and that are very easy to cheat, if one student is willing to take and tank the quiz and thereby provide questions and answers to others)?

But that course wouldn’t approach the rigor of my 15-week version, where students have 15 weekly activities, 2 papers, and two major exams. To get to that level, students would need to spend more like 8 hours per day working on my class to complete the essays, which require scholarly research, and I would be grading quite a lot.

Maybe there’s a reason that Western Oklahoma doesn’t offer literature courses in a 10-day version…


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