As Covid-19 restrictions were relaxed and students began to return to campus, staff at Melbourne’s Deakin College observed that while students were excited to be back, some struggled to attend classes held on multiple days across each week. With many students commuting long distances to campus, holding part-time jobs, or caring and family commitments, the college responded by implementing the streamlined timetable initiative.
Deakin College Academic Coordinators, Bridget Morrissey and Jeffrey Skolnick explain how the streamlined timetable program, which sees students attend intensive blocks of study on-campus two days a week, provides the structure and flexibility required to support students to balance study, work, and life.
What is the streamlined timetable program and how does it support students?
The streamlined timetable initiative is an opt-in program, designed to provide students with structure and consistency in their program of study, and the days on which they attend classes. Currently offered in the Diploma of Business, Information Technology, Commerce, and Health Science, students enrolled in the streamlined program attend classes on campus two days a week, completing three units in their first trimester, three in their second trimester, and two in their final trimester to complete eight credit points in total. These students create a mini cohort, undertaking all program units together.
Typically, students in the program commence their classes at 9am, followed by an hour break, followed by their second class, another hour break, and finally, their third class. It is a busy and intensive day, but requires students attend campus only twice per week. This creates structure in their study schedule, allowing for more flexibility to balance life outside their studies. For example, students may have casual or part time jobs, family commitments, or caring responsibilities. The streamlined timetable allows these students to plan and structure life outside of their studies, knowing that for the entirety of their diploma, they’re only going to be required on campus those two days each week.
Can you describe the experience of the streamlined timetable for students and teachers?
As a teacher, I (Bridget) loved it. It was my first pure on-campus teaching experience post-lockdown. The energy in the room was irreplaceable, and it felt so good to be back in touch with the “good old” teaching format. I learned the students’ names faster than ever before; after teaching two streamlined classes, I knew each student’s name.
I found that the streamlined timetable facilitated a strong connection between students, their teacher, and peers. It was also easier for me to stay on top of changes or challenges students may have been experiencing. For example, when students began to struggle, or fall behind, that close connection between the teacher and the student made it easier to ensure they were staying on top of their study, and if they needed to access counsellors or learning support, those referrals could be readily provided.
Students in the streamlined timetable program immediately began interacting and learned each other’s names very quickly. Because they had the same peers in each of their units, it was easier to develop and maintain friendships. Students would encourage their peers to present or speak up, creating a welcoming and supportive atmosphere. The cohort itself formed a very tight knit group, were supportive of each other, and worked well together.
Where there any challenges involved in the streamlined timetable initiative? How did you overcome them?
These classes don’t function as well if the numbers are too low. You need enough students in the cohort to facilitate that sense of community. We noticed that the second cohort struggled a little more than the first to form those connections, as there was a smaller number of students enrolled. They were friendly enough with each other but didn’t quite have the same peer connection as the earlier cohort.
Students who are unwell, or unable to attend on the day do end up missing out on three classes, however we have dedicated asynchronous resources and activities hosted in Moodle, which were developed during the Flexible Learning Design Program, allowing these students to catch up.
We also realised that because the students are on campus for the whole day, sometimes in the same room, they will often sit and stay within that single environment. This is obviously not great for their health and wellbeing. One of our teachers took the initiative to encourage the students to pack up everything, take a break, and all go for a walk together. Between classes, she took them out for a forty-minute walk beside the creek that runs along the back of the campus. This was a great teacher-driven initiative that really contributed to the community atmosphere that this program seeks to facilitate.
Finally, one of the major challenges for students is that it is a big day, and there can be a noticeable slump in energy towards the end of the day. Students are attending six hours of classes each, plus two hours of breaks, and we did see some students not attending their third classes, because they were feeling that fatigue, they wanted to go home, they wanted to beat the traffic, and all they’re thinking about is getting their assignments done, so, “do I really need to attend this class?”. That happens in any cohort but at least with this group we are able to see that is occurring and try to find ways to keep the students energised, refreshed and able to engage in the classes. In this study format, it will be an ongoing challenge to be aware of and stay on top of.
What has been the outcome or impact of the streamlined timetable initiative?
We compared students enrolled in the Diploma of Business’s traditional stream with those enrolled in the streamlined timetable program and found that students enrolled in the streamlined timetable program achieved higher pass rates and grades than those enrolled in the traditional stream.
Similarly, in our Diploma of Health Science, 72% of students passed one of the units, compared to 68% of the non-streamlined students. In another unit, 100% of the streamlined students passed, compared to 73% of the non-streamlined, while 88% of students in a third unit passed, compared with only 52% of students in the traditional stream. However, it is important to recognise that the streamlined cohort is much smaller, with only eight streamlined timetable students compared to 29 in the traditional stream.
Student feedback and teacher observation also highlighted various other benefits of the program including:
- Teachers got to know their students faster
- Students build strong relationships with their classmates
- Promotion of an environment where students feel more comfortable to contribute to class discussions and participate in group work
- Students felt more comfortable asking for assistance on unit content and assessments
- It was easier to gauge if students were falling behind and to help them get back on track
- A considerable increase in assessment submission rates
- Better structure to create a healthier study/work/life balance
- Only need to travel to campus twice a week
Moreover, 100 percent of students surveyed said they were “likely” or “highly likely” to recommend the streamlined timetable program to future students.
What are the next steps for the streamlined timetable initiative?
The third iteration of the program launched in Trimester 3, 2022, so at the end of the trimester we will have 12 months of data, learning analytics, and teacher and student experiences. We will be looking to further evaluate the program’s impact and make recommendations for improvements. We have great teachers involved in the program and we centre active learning in our classes, but we need to be perhaps even more mindful about instructional design for the streamlined timetable program, given that students are undertaking three classes in one day.
Want to learn more about the streamlined timetable initiative? Express your interest in upcoming webinars and professional development opportunities below.