Dr Destler:

Your web site on the quarter vs semester debate is nicely done, but it is fundamentally wrong in its assumptions. We will be moving to a "flexible 5x3 semester system" in which most courses are 3 credits but a number (6-8 in a typical student program) will be 4 credits. In that case, the total number of hours of instruction is almost identical to that currently offered to our students in the quarter system.

My Response

Dr Destler,

Thank you for taking the time to email me.

Like with infographs for any system, this doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of the possible variations. As you are well aware, that is one of the many strengths RIT has to offer- students have thousands of options, and I'd be willing to bet no two students have ever graduated from RIT with the same exact student program.

Realizing that accounting for every possible variation would be an insurmountable task (especially given the scope of this tiny project), I chose to make my infograph represent the typical student. And, according to the email, "a typical student would take 5, 3 credit courses per semester." This was the basis for all of my figures- 4 years, 8 terms, 5 courses, 3 credits each (120 credits). The typical student, in a quarter system, will do 4 years, 12 terms, 4 courses, 4 credits each (192 credits).

I created the infograph because I felt the emails provided a brilliant opportunity to visualize what was being talked about. There were a lot of numbers, and I often found it hard to keep them straight. Credit hours (semesters v quarters) had different worths, and it felt almost like using USD and EUR interchangeably. I knew it would be impossible to satisfy everyone (after all, it is a polarizing topic), however I felt it was worth a try. And if it's any consolation, seeing the numbers in this format has made me look toward semesters more favorably. I have had a few other people tell me the same thing.

Finally, you know much better than I do how the semester system will work. However, 6-8 4 credit courses seems high to me- that means that a typical student would have one 4 credit course per semester. This would add 90-120 instructional hours, which seems like a huge amount of extra time. Also, Matt Danna indicated (implied?) that the 4 credit courses would be mostly reserved for basic core classes (for example, the intro to programming courses). This would mean the four credit courses would show up early in a students' RIT career. It was my understanding that a big reason we were switching to Semesters was to make Freshman year slightly more manageable (in order to increase retention)- so, having a large number of four credit core classes seems counterintuitive.

All that being said, I do understand your concerns. With your permission, I would like to include your email as a "disclaimer" on my infograph. I will also make changes to wording and values, and add clarifications and footnotes as much as possible. My goal is to be as unbiased as possible- I was more interested in playing around with data visualizations (and, this topic was rich with numbers and data) than in changing peoples minds. So, I'd be more than happy to do anything that makes the graphs more accurate and fair. Having a solid "6-8 4 credit courses" figure (as opposed to the vague wording of the emails) makes it much easier for me to incorporate into my graphs.

Out of curiosity- how did you come across my site?

Thanks again for your email, and I will do my best to incorporate all your suggestions and concerns into the graph.


Dr Destler Followup:


Thanks for the speedy reply. As an example, take an engineering student who now takes 3 quarters of physics and 3 quarters of math each meeting 4 hours per week. Under the new system, students will still need to complete these sequences in a year in order to allow time for more advanced courses in the engineering curriculum after the first year. For that reason, math and physics will have to be taught in 2 semesters of work, again meeting 4 hours per week (this is how almost all 5x3 semester systems work). Engineering students will therefore take four 4-hour courses just in meeting this requirement, so getting to 6-8 is not a stretch by any means. Interestingly, since we are replacing six courses with four this frees up two courses to help relieve the course diversity issue that results from going from 48 courses in a nominal program under the current system to 40 under the new semester system. If the same is done with required courses in a particular major, the total number of elective courses can be similar to those taken under the old system.

The devil will be in the details, of course, but I am convinced the transition can be managed without changing either the rigor or the breadth of our educational programs.

Bill Destler