Supercourses offer students flexibility without compromising on knowledge retention

Zanab Jafry Shah accelerated towards her degree this spring, completing three supercourses in three weeks.

“You live it, you breathe it and you do learn it,” said the third-year medical science student at Brock University.

She earned one and a half credits in three weeks – taking intensive week-long “supercourses” each worth half a credit over three consecutive weeks.

The format was extremely beneficial to learning.

“It really is a semester’s worth of work put into a week,” she said.

Jafry Shah said being able to take the accelerated courses was convenient and has put her in a good position for next semester.

“I saw this as a really good opportunity to lessen my workload in the coming school year,” she said. “The format was extremely beneficial to learning.”

Offering accelerated courses allows more flexibility for students and can make getting a degree quicker and more accessible for some.

Professors Brent Faught and Madelyn Law, from the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, brought accelerated courses to Brock in 2010 with two spring offerings. Now, there are more than 40 supercourses available to students.

In the first year, the success rate was 100%.

“No one failed and no one dropped out,” Law said.

But, there were questions about the new teaching method.

“There was some constructive criticism by faculty – their biggest question was about knowledge retention,” Faught said.

The pair set out to find out how much information students were learning and retaining in the accelerated format, which can range from one to two weeks depending on the class.

“We tested it. There is no difference in knowledge retention after three months, six months and 12 months,” Faught said.

He said their research also indicated that no significant difference exists in the final class average when comparing traditional versus accelerated courses.

The study examined 270 participating first- and fourth-year students at Brock who were enrolled in either a traditional or accelerated course format during the 2013-2014 academic year. One day in the accelerated course covered approximately two weeks’ worth of material in the traditional format.

All of the class content and evaluation criteria, along with the instructors, were the same.

When the course was finished, students were quizzed three, six and 12 months later to test their knowledge retention.

Law and Faught, along with student Michelle Zahradnik, recently released their research through the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario with their paper How much do students remember over time? Longitudinal knowledge retention in traditional versus accelerated learning environments.”

Now that the question of whether accelerated courses are effective learning tools has been answered, Law and Faught said post-secondary institutions should continue developing courses to meet student needs.

“Based on this research, Brock’s commitment to offering a diversity of pedagogic methods will continue,” said Anna Lathrop, Vice Provost, Teaching, Learning and Student Success.

“We anticipate that the University will continue to prioritize flexible teaching and learning strategies in our next Strategic Mandate Agreement. It’s another way to put students first.”

She said Brock has embraced the accelerated format because it offers students more flexibility as they balance work, life and study.

“The Spring Summer survey conducted with students over the last two years indicates that it is what students want and it works,” she said.

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