By Andrea Janus
The chair of Ryerson’s English department believes that students could learn more by spending less time in class, so he’s proposing that a second reading week be added to the school year.
John Cook told the Academic Council last month that students needed a reading week during the fall term.
“I’ve grown increasingly concerned at Ryerson for what you might call the lack of reflection time,” the English professor told the council. “We need to consider what the implications would be of building a reading week into first semester.”
Cook said in an interview that students need to spend less time trying to complete course work and more time reflecting on why they’re doing it.
“We get into the idea that students only learn when they’re in class,” he said.
As Ryerson offers fewer one-year courses and more course material gets jammed into a 13-week semester, Cook said he is afraid that students have to rush to complete assignments, and don’t have time to understand and form critical opinions on what they’re learning.
“It means you get a less critically-astute citizen,” Cook said. “Getting time for reflection is what the university is all about.”
He believes that a reading week in the fall term, in addition to the break in February, will allow students to catch up on course work at a leisurely pace or read background material on a favourite topic.
The proposal was met with a favourable reception at the Academic Council meeting on Dec. 3.
Registrar Keith Alnwick told the council he would take the idea to Ryerson’s deans for consideration.
“You’ve got the registrar’s vote right now, but I don’t know if that vote will carry the day,” Alnwick told Cook.
In an interview this week, Alnwick said no final decision had been reached on adding another reading week.
“It’s certainly an interesting idea,” he said. “I think there’s a willingness to review things and talk about what change might be possible.”
Alnwick said the main stumbling block would be finding time for a fall break.
“The problem for us is that the time available between Labour Day and Christmas is quite limited,” he said. “As it stands, there is not an awful lot of room.”
Because some programs require fall term marks to be calculated before a student can move on to a course in the winter term, the week cannot be made up in December. Alnwick also says that starting the school year before Labour Day is not an option. The term, then, may have to be reduced to 12 weeks, something other professors may not like.
“It would be almost essential to go to a 12-week schedule to accommodate a fall break,” he said.
Many Ryerson programs have a practical component or an extensive lab based on curriculum that needs all 13 weeks of the term.
“Engineering is a 13-week curriculum,” said Stalin Boctor, the dean of the faculty of engineering. “I have no problem with a reading week, but we have to look at another solution.”
Philosophy professor David Checkland, the newly elected president of the Ryerson Faculty Association, said he only heard of the proposal on Monday, and wouldn’t comment on behalf of the faculty. He did say that he would speak with Cool, and echoed the registrar’s sentiments that greater discussion on the topic is needed.
“The implications need to be thought through,” he said.
Cook wants the debate to extend beyond the administration and faculty.
“I’m not so much interested in the particular political response of other professors,” Cook said. “I’m interested in what the students think about it.”
Alnwick said a decision will not be made in time for an extra reading week to be added to the 2003/04 academic year.
But Cook is hoping that his proposal becomes a reality.
“By doing less,” he said, “we may in fact end up doing more.”