Student opinions on the module system

Morgan Doherty, Managing Editor

As the module system began, we noticed that students were expressing a variety of different opinions about the start of the school year on social media and beyond. We also noticed a desire for an intentional space to share thoughts and concerns. Now 2.5 weeks in, we have collected four different testimonials that reflect student life in our brand new module system. From a first year, a junior, and two seniors, we recognize that this is only a brief window into the daily routines of Macalester students, but we hope that it serves as a meaningful insight into the student experience. 

Marc Mutka ’22

To begin with some positives of the module system, I find the opportunity to focus my energy on two classes as opposed to four a refreshing way to learn. I am able to throw myself into two subjects wholeheartedly, and I do not feel as overwhelmed as I would have with a traditional semester. However, as a Bonner Scholar I find the module system a bit difficult to navigate with an off-campus work study. Class every day of the work week means I find it difficult to schedule a shift at the Immigration Law Center of Minnesota—my work site for the past two years. I believe many other Macalester students with off-campus jobs/internships would feel the same way. Furthermore, I must say I’ve found it more difficult to focus in this current module system, but that may as well be a result of completely online classes as opposed to the system itself. 

Overall, I want to express my gratitude to Macalester for attempting to find a workable system in unprecedented times, even if said system cannot be perfect. 

Zarra TM ’21

I feel like the module system was a major slap in the face for seniors. No complete capstone can be done in 7 weeks, regardless of major. This left professors with the option to either condense the capstone beyond meaning, execute a full capstone and overload their students to the point of breakdown or start the capstone in the summer/earlier modules and still overload the students.

I want to be clear I’m not blaming individual professors—who I think are doing an awesome job with a crappy situation. The Art and English departments (my majors) are trying very hard and care very much about all of us and I appreciate them enormously. But the structure of the module itself was already impossible to work with. It feels like planning folks and administrators forgot about seniors. 

I feel insulted that this is what seniors were left with — it places people in terrible positions for applying to internships, grad school, apprenticeships and jobs. It also just feels blatantly disrespectful to the amount of work we’ve put in up until this point. The senior experience has really been abandoned in so many ways because of COVID-19, but I had hopes that academic integrity would remain a high priority. I was let down.

I shared this summer with administrators that I hoped the college would think heavily on the senior experience — particularly the capstone. I did this through the avenues provided by the school to make our voices heard—the survey, the video uploads. I believe I was heard, but I don’t think it was taken seriously. Many other seniors have shared with me that they feel that their non-capstone classes are a waste of time. This is not because those other classes are bad, but because the workload is so hard to deal with that any time not spent on a capstone feels reckless. I feel this way as well, and it’s made it really difficult for me to succeed in my other classes.

Additionally, almost everyone I’ve talked to (freshman to senior) has shared that their workload feels untenable. The homework load + the hours of class + having class 3-5 days a week is overwhelming to say the least. As a student who also works full-time, I feel like I am burning the candle at every end possible.

I sincerely hope that things improve as the year progresses, but it really feels like the plan itself has set everything back. I feel really really sad about how this year has turned out so far. Lastly, I am extending love to my classmates and gratitude to the staff and professors who’ve stepped up with so much care and compassion.

Carter Stacy ’24

In March, when my high school became one of many to begin with online classes, they maintained a very similar structure to what was in place previously. Most students took six classes at a time, some seven, and that didn’t change when classes went online. Initially, there were no Zoom meetings, and all the material was presented as homework. Because class meetings were out of the picture, teachers felt a need to assign a much heavier workload. The end result was that most of us students spent all day on our computers, doing far more homework than was ever assigned to us pre-pandemic. When they decided to add Zoom classes back into the schedule in April, the workload got only more intense, as there was less time to get homework done in the first place. 

Macalester’s two-class module system has been significantly more manageable than the six-class schedule my high school had last year. In the long run, I think it may be something that the administration should consider retaining once the pandemic is behind us. Here’s why. First off ,a successful college experience isn’t just about academics. Time when students aren’t in class or doing homework is time when we can develop friendships. It’s time when we can get exercise, enjoy the outdoors, develop new interests or skills or devote more time to orgs and extracurricular activities. It also leaves more time to focus on the work we do have. Taking many classes at once can be a lot, and if one night is particularly heavy on homework, skimming through the reading or putting a half-hearted effort into a paper may be the only way to get everything done. With the module system, I’ve found that I can fully commit to the work I’m doing and turn in assignments that I’m truly proud of. I won’t be tired of staring at Zoom by the time the day is over. I can’t speak for the classes I’m not in, but what I can say with certainty is that, no matter how difficult the workload is, it would be even harder if we were juggling more than two classes at a time. This is only the beginning of the third week, and I have no idea what I’ll think of the module system by the time the semester is over. But if it continues to go well, it may be something Macalester should think about keeping, even if the pandemic is no longer looming over our heads.

Elyse Blank ’21

The module system isn’t inherently bad. Given the circumstances of the world, it makes sense that our college would try and adapt to what could work best for students, remaining nimble as some could say. In the original announcement for splitting the semester into two academic periods, it was assumed that students could focus on a maximum of 2 classes, potentially decreasing the amount of total time in a week spent on Zoom; limit the amount of people we come in contact with in classrooms and on campus; and, in the worst case scenario, move to fully-online classes easier than last spring. At first I was impressed with the college for thinking up an entirely new way of scheduling classes, and was excited to try a block system that was similar to what is used at other liberal arts colleges, such as Colorado College. 

In practice, however, the module system not only doesn’t live up to the hype, it is actively making life more stressful for students. To start, we have far more hours dedicated to one class in the module system than we would in the semester system. Take, for example, a standard entry-level chemistry class: Chem 111. During a normal semester a Chem 111 student would have 3 hours of in-class lecture and approximately 3 hours of in-lab time each week. This amounts to 6 hours a week that a student is expected to be in a specific place at a specific time, and over a 15-week time frame that’s 90 hours a semester. 

Let’s now compare to the Module system. For 3.5 hours each day a student is expected to be in their Chem 111 class. Each week that’s 17.5 hours. For 7.5 weeks that is 131.25 hours a student is expected to be in class. 

131.25 registered hours versus 90 registered hours for the same 4-credit chemistry class. That is ridiculous. 

At the very least these students should be earning more than 4 credits. Now, some may try and argue that it’s okay because not all professors are using that full 131.25 hours, which I’m sure is true for a vast majority of professors. However, that does not mean that each professor or instructor is going easy on their students. A fellow Mac student on Twitter recently complained that their professor is using that full 131.25 hours of time and is still expecting work to be done outside the classroom. Even if a professor has set a lighter class schedule for their students than what is registered, it doesn’t stop them from seeing that time as their own. 

Take, for example, the week of Labor Day. If COVID-19 hadn’t changed the world as we know it, classes would have been on a normal MWF and TR schedule. With Labor Day off, then, professors with MWF classes would have simply missed their class period on Labor Day and would have been instructed not to try and reschedule this class at a later time. We have seen that same policy for snow days, cold weather days, and days when a professor or instructor simply can’t make it in. In a module system with an insane amount of hours registered to a single class, professors simply compressed the week to fit into TWRF. This caused many students, including myself, to be overloaded with work in a short amount of time, prompting many to ask for extensions or turn work in late because there are not enough hours in the day to sustain this. 

Many are now hoping that with a normal week in place we won’t be as stressed, and maybe we won’t be, but that doesn’t prevent professors from doing that same thing in the future. Imagine that for two days, for whatever reason, a professor or instructor cannot make it to class. What is stopping them from rescheduling those missed days into the time that has been allotted to them? What then is a student supposed to do when their professor requires them to come to class at a time they already set aside for work-study or capstones or internships or any of the other things in their lives that aren’t class? How are we expected to keep up with our orgs, work, family, friends, activism, volunteerism, community, mental/physical/emotional health and basic needs when class time has increased by 46 percent? 

These past weeks I have become tired. I am tired of being on Zoom for five hours straight each day. I am tired of constantly changing my calendar to accommodate conflicting expectations. I am tired of being told one thing one week and having the rug pulled out from under me the next. I am tired of being “heard and seen” and having nothing we advocate for be adopted into college policy. 

So, hey, if you’re taking a leave of absence, you might just want to consider becoming a Tommie.