Senate Educational Policy and Planning Committees (1999-2000)

Report on S-9906: "Investigate and report on the implications of the expansion of Winter Session to offer three-credit courses over a 15-day instruction period."


In the 1999/2000 academic year, for the first time, a Winter Session was offered on the New Brunswick campus between the Fall and Spring semesters; 415 students enrolled in 19 courses. The Camden Campus had begun its own Winterim session the previous year with 90 students enrolled in some dozen courses; in 1999/2000 they too had some 400 students in 19 courses.

On both campuses, the Summer Session office was given the responsibility of running the Winter Session program. The decision to participate in the Winter Session, as well as the selection of any courses, was left to individual departments. Both undergraduate and graduate courses were offered; almost all courses were three-credit courses. All courses were previously approved as full-semester courses. Classes initially met on Thursday, December 23, resumed on Monday, January 3; and ended on January 14, the designated exam day. Most classes met for four hours a day; there were both morning and evening classes.


Both in the initial committee discussions, and in meetings with other groups, it was clear that there were two major areas of concern regarding the implementation of a Winter Session: procedure and pedagogy. Many faculty have serious concerns about the process (or lack thereof) by which a Winter Session was implemented, and the failure to consult with faculty bodies prior to implementation. However, while agreeing that the process by which this program had been instituted appeared to be seriously flawed, and that the lack of consultation with the bodies normally responsible for matters relating to curricula was indeed a serious issue, the Committee felt that ultimately there would be little gained in focusing its efforts on determining exactly how Winter Session had come into being. Instead, the Committee chose to concentrate primarily on the pedagogical issues, including:

• Do courses compressed into this kind of time frame make academic sense? Is this in the best academic interest of the students?
• Is it possible to maintain educational standards within a Winter Session time frame?
• How do the requirements in these courses compare to the requirements when the course is taught during the semester?
• Are there some courses that are more appropriate for this time frame/format than others?
• Is there a viable review process which could ensure that only courses which are appropriate to the Winter Session format would be offered?
• How did the students who took these courses evaluate their educational experience?
• Are similar programs at our peer institutions being offered within the same kind of time constraints?


In the course of the Committee's investigation:
• The Committee received input from the Senate Faculty Caucus whose October 22, 1999 meeting focused on issues relating to the Winter Session.
• The Committee met with Ray Caprio, the Vice President for Continuous Education, and reviewed his March 20, 2000 report and recommendations, based on focus groups of participating faculty and department chairs, on the initial New Brunswick Winter Session.
• Committee members met with Tom Venebles, the Director of Camden's Summer/Winter Session.
• The Committee examined course lists, and compiled and reviewed the course evaluations for the year 2000 New Brunswick and Camden Winter Sessions.
• The Committee developed a series of questions and requested that the Office of Institutional Research conduct a survey of AAU institutions concerning any similar winter, or other short-term, sessions that they might offer.


Session Duration:
• Official descriptions refer to the Winter Session as a "four week" session. In reality, there are actually 11 class days, including the exam day.

• While decisions as to which courses, if any, were to be offered in the Winter Session were departmental decisions, it's clear that not all departments approached the process in the same way, and that not all gave serious consideration as to which courses might be most appropriate to this intense format. The Camden course offerings included a large number of writing courses, as well as courses that made extensive use of media, which would seem to be more appropriate choices within a constricted time frame than courses with extensive reading lists. With the notable exception of some field courses offered in the Little Cayman Islands, most of the courses offered during the New Brunswick Winter Session were traditional reading courses.
• While participating instructors may have all intended to teach the same course that they taught during the normal academic year, when pressed most would admit that it was not possible. Even if they succeeded in presenting the equivalent amount of information, in terms of readings, quizzes, projects, papers, exams, and other normal expectations, modifications had to be made to accommodate the Winter Session format.
• Some of the courses offered during the Winter Session were listed under departmental "Special Topics" numbers. It is highly doubtful that some of these, "Survival German," for example, would have ever been approved as 3-credit courses by an academic curriculum committee.

Teaching Evaluations:
Both Camden and New Brunswick evaluations included the standard evaluation questions as well as three (different) questions designed specifically for the Winter Sessions:
• The Camden responses to the standard evaluation questions were slightly more positive than those in New Brunswick; overall, students in Camden expressed significantly more interest in enrolling in another Winter Session class than students in New Brunswick.
• In Camden, the question generating the least positive response (3.5) overall was Question 11: "The campus services (bookstore, library, etc.) were available and convenient to my needs."
• In New Brunswick the question generating the least positive response (3.62) overall was Question 12: "The learning experience in this Winter Session course was equivalent to a course given during the regular year."
• In response to New Brunswick's Question 16: "The average time spent studying outside of class each day was, in hours," 48.7% of the students indicated that they spent 3 to 5 hours studying outside of class, while 19.4% claimed spending six or more hours studying.

Camden evaluations included comments. As might be expected, courses where the instructor was perceived as enthusiastic and positive about the subject generated the most positive comments; much of the criticism had to do with format.

Where the time frame of the Winterim session was specifically mentioned, it was almost always referred to as a "nine day" or a "two week" session.

AAU Survey:

Of the 32 AAU institutions responding, four (University of Arizona [winter], University of Colorado [May], the University of Maryland [winter], and the University of Minnesota [May]) currently offer winter or other less-than-four week-sessions. In the sessions offered in the last academic year, no session consisted of less than 14 class days.

Two institutions (the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Kansas) indicated that they were considering offering winter or other short-term sessions.


While there are serious pedagogical issues that must be addressed, it is clear from the course evaluations that many students did find the Winter Session to be a valuable educational experience. The Committee agreed that if conducted within an appropriate framework, such short-term sessions could be academically viable.

Vice-President Caprio's "Wintersession Evaluation and Recommendations" [March 20, 2000] offers a number of recommendations with which the Committee can concur, namely:

However the Committee would further recommend:

1. Credits:

A. Winter Session courses should be primarily one- to two-credit courses. Three-credit courses should be the exception, not the rule. There was consensus that it was extremely unlikely that the normal expectations for a three-credit course could be met in a 9- to 11-day session.

B. No student should be allowed to register for a total of more than three credits during a single Winter Session. In light of the commitment of time and energy required from students in Winter Session courses, many of whom are attending these classes while also working full- or part-time, attempting to complete more than three credits during this period would be both personally and educationally counterproductive.

2. Review Process:

A. All courses, including three-credit courses that are currently on the books, must go through the normal curriculum-review process (i.e., review by departmental and college curriculum-review committees) prior to being offered during the Winter Session.

There was consensus that it was extremely unlikely that the exact equivalent of a previously approved three-credit course could be offered in this abbreviated time frame. Therefore, any existing course that is being modified for the Winter Session format should be considered a new course.

B. Curriculum committees should conduct their reviews within the framework of a consistent set of considerations developed for Winter Session courses.

C. Each Special Topics course must undergo a review process prior to each Winter Session in which it is offered.

3. Courses:

Emphasis should be placed on developing field or study-abroad courses (for example, "London Theater," "Renaissance Art in Florence," "Coral Reefs"). Such courses could take advantage of the Winter Session format and genuinely enrich Rutgers' course offerings.

4. Program Descriptions:

The Rutgers' Winter Session is currently an intensive Two-Week/Eleven-day session and should be described as such. While official descriptions refer to the Winter Session as a "four-week" session, in reality the number of actual class days is significantly less than at institutions that refer to similar sessions as "three-week" sessions. Just as Spring Break doesn't figure into the calculation of the length of the Spring semester, the winter holiday break should not figure into the calculation of the length of the Winter Session.


Be It Resolved, that the Rutgers University Senate accepts and endorses the 1999-2000 Educational Policy and Planning Committees’ Report on "Winter Session" and urges the administration and deans and faculty of each unit to implement its recommendations.


[Approved by the Rutgers University Senate in full session on October 27, 2000.]