The Duck of Minerva

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Summer Teaching – Why Teach and What Makes It Different

July 18, 2013

Recently, I finished teaching a month long summer course on International Relations to mainly first and second year undergrads at the University of Missouri.  Although I’ve taught summer courses before, this was actually one of my first experiences with having to –for the love of all things holy! – do what my public school teaching spouse does and ACTIVELY TEACH IN A CLASSROOM WITH THE SAME STUDENTS EVERY DAY OF THE WEEK.

This summer class got me thinking – for most people, how different is the summer teaching experience from the the typical semester teaching experience?  Like any good researcher, I went to Google Scholar armed with a couple of search terms and started investigating. I also asked some friends in the field for their thoughts.

Why teach summer courses?

Well, quite honesty, it looks like most people teach for the money.  I know I did, so do my friends and colleagues Terri Towner, Sara Mitchell, Brandon Valeriano, Peter Trumbore, Dana Krueger, David Mason, and Dan Reiter.   Worth noting, Peter Trumbore mentioned money for travel and research; the rest of my friends and I must just like the extra cold hard cash.

There were other reasons my various friends mentioned for teaching in the summer. For some, it’s the format. My Mizzou colleague Marvin Overby teaches a course in Western Europe each year; he said his reasons for teaching in the summer are “Leiden, Brussels, Paris, London, Ghent, Amsterdam, Bruges, Utrecht, Delft.”   Terri Towner mentioned that the structure of summer offerings at her university were also attractive – she could teach completely online over 8 weeks, perhaps eliminating some of the fatigue of shorter condensed courses.  Sara Mitchell also mentioned that she taught summer courses because she enjoys  “ the different pedagogical tools that can be used with longer time slots, “ like ”movies if you teach for long periods (e.g. close to 4 hours per day in the three week session). Students seem to enjoy that.”  Dana Krueger likes the smaller class size.  David Mason says teaching in the summer also helps meet demand for UNT’s great peace studies program.

Brandon Valeriano gave another benefit of teaching summer courses, and one I also admit to enjoying: for those of us who like to procrastinate and watch a whole season of House of Cards in 1 day over the summer, summer teaching gives you a reason to get “out of bed and on a schedule.”

What is different?

My spouse, who also taught middle schoolers this summer, had mainly students that were forced to be there (like students who had failed science in the spring semester). I expected that at the university level.  Instead, I was surprised that many of my students were really the do-gooders, just wanting to get ahead (This might also reflect some difference between Kansas State (my old institution) and Mizzou lower-division undergrads.  Who knows?).  My positive experience is actually reflected in some of the reviews of the literature on university students and summer courses (Kretovics, Crowe, and Hyun 2005).  Some of my friends in academia disagree – esteemed Duck Dan Nexon commented that there is an “unpredictable nature of students” during the summer at his university.  Dan Reiter agreed.  Both in the scholarly literature and in my own unrepresentative sample, many people commented that it’s difficult to get everything accomplished in the shortened time frame.   Kretovics, Crowe, and Hyun (2005) and Anastasi (2007) indicate that student learning can still be high in shortened course settings.  Based on research on students at Arizona State University, Anastasi (2007) even concludes that, unlike conventional wisdom, “overall academic performance was similar in summer and full-semester courses” (19).

Is instruction different?  There seems to be a split between people like me (who don’t really change anything about the course except the dates on the slides) and people like Sara Mitchell, who really do some innovative active learning things in the condensed summer version of a course.  It appears that students like the innovation during the summer (Omelicheva 2012).  As a survey of Kent State faculty indicated, this could be expected, it’s people like me – untenured faculty with pressure to publish- who just change the dates on the slides and don’t do much innovation in a summer course.

Anyway, now that my summer course is over, I’m now having to make up for lost time on my typical summer pastimes, either (a) gorging on sunshine and Netflix or (b) finishing that APSA paper I’ve been putting off all year.  Regardless of motivations and differences in approaches, I think all can agree that summer teaching makes the dreaded end of summer come that much faster!

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Amanda Murdie is Professor & Dean Rusk Scholar of International Relations in the Department of International Affairs in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia. She is the author of Help or Harm: The Human Security Effects of International NGOs (Stanford, 2014). Her main research interests include non-state actors, and human rights and human security.

When not blogging, Amanda enjoys hanging out with her two pre-teen daughters (as long as she can keep them away from their cell phones) and her fabulous significant other.