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KU 'minimester' journalism courses prove popular with students and faculty

Thursday, March 26, 2015

LAWRENCE — An online “minimester” that provides students a flexible and creative path to structure their degree path is popular with both students and faculty in the William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications. So popular, in fact, that several students can't wait for additional intersession courses at the University of Kansas to come online.

“What we've seen is far more demand for the minimester than can be accommodated,” said Ann Brill, journalism dean. “Our students have appreciated the opportunity to complete some of their core courses online, and our faculty have enjoyed shaping their courses for a more intense learning environment.”

Journalism first offered intersession courses prior to the spring 2014 semester. After a successful first year, 100 undergraduates enrolled in a trio of course required for the major and offered prior to the start of spring 2015. Tom Volek, associate dean for undergraduate studies and associate professor, said his experience teaching a course on the First Amendment, JOUR 618, was excellent.

“I was very pleased with the outcomes for the course, and the final news stories were among the best of any of the dozens of JOUR 618 courses I've taught over the years,” Volek said. “The students I worked with were eager to succeed so they could move ahead with internships or graduation plans. Certainly there is a bright future for these offerings not just in the School of Journalism but across KU.”

One of Volek’s students was Allison Kite, a junior from Overland Park. For her, the minimester course was a necessity in order to maintain full-time status while spending the spring as a reporting intern for the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire in Washington, D.C. The extra three hours — and the flexibility as she was moving to D.C. — were a life-saver, she said.

"I actually started the course at home and finished in D.C. In fact, one of the exams was scheduled at the same time as my flight to D.C.," Kite said. "Professor Volek was able to adjust schedules to make sure I didn't miss any work, and I was able to finish the course from D.C. The course kept me on track, but the autonomy and short time-frame required more responsibility than a regular class."

Faculty members teaching a minimester course will reach out to students prior to the completion of the fall semester to set expectations, make sure all technical hurdles are out of the way and ensure all students are prepared for the intensive experience regardless of their location. Students receive the added benefit of gaining the learning outcomes needed for graduation without being in traditional classrooms, which typically are only available within the fall, spring or summer semesters.

“By breaking out of traditional semester timelines, Journalism is connecting with students who can learn in different ways and handle the rigor of a four-week course,” said Julie Loats, director of the Center for Online & Distance Learning. “These core courses are the foundation of the journalism degree, but that doesn't mean the traditional classroom and traditional lecture is the only way to achieve the expected learning outcomes. Moving forward, the experience CODL has had with Journalism is a strong case for offering additional core courses for undergraduates as intersession courses.”

“The early results from journalism clearly show students aren't looking to lighten their classload but to the contrary are using intersession as an option to create flexibility to pursue their research and career interests, which is precisely the goal of our undergraduate curricula,” said Sara Rosen, senior vice provost for academic affairs. “The tremendous demand for these courses in journalism, and the success of those who have enrolled, really hammers home the urgency for KU to move quickly to bring additional options online for our undergraduate students.”