Winter Term’s 55 Minute Class Periods Improve Virtual Engagement and Connection

As students trickle into their Zoom classes, maybe logging in a few minutes late, or as an instructor is organizing their class material, minutes pass, eating away at the 45 minute class period. According to Paul Murphy ’84, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, this loss of time can lead to an even shorter class period, adding more urgency and pressure to get through material.

During Fall Term, the Andover community experimented with an adapted class schedule for virtual learning. Fall Term’s schedule had 45 minute classes and three different sections of the day for class times: 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., and 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. EST

“[The primary reason for the Winter Term schedule change was] to increase synchronous time for classes. Since most of the students would not be in person for the Winter Term, there would also be less classrooms required for teaching, and therefore less time required for cleaning classrooms between classes,” wrote Dean of Studies Rajesh Mundra in an email to The Phillipian.

Incorporating feedback from students and faculty, Mundra announced on November 19 that there would be weekly schedule changes in Winter Term. The changes increased class time from 45 minutes to 55 minutes and moved the start of evening classes from 8:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. EST

Murphy shared an appreciation for this added time because of the slight leniency it gives instructors to teach at a more comfortable pace. He also noted that he felt a decrease in urgency that allowed for a feeling similar to that of an in-person class. 

“I’ve always wanted to be that teacher that follows the ending time, and having the extra ten minutes has allowed me as a teacher to relax a little bit… With 55 minutes, strangely enough, it feels like I can get a tiny bit more time to work together, or I can tell a few jokes and not feel like I’m racing to get into all the work,” said Murphy.

In addition to feeling less rushed, Alicia Finney, Instructor in Biology, noticed that 55 minute class periods give students more opportunities for engagement and collaboration. Despite Andover’s virtual setting, this increase in student collaboration rejuvenated a sense of lost student connection, according to Finney.

“We have a lot more opportunity for discussion, and some of that discussion is just catching up at the beginning of class. It’s really nice to just have casual conversations with my students at the beginning of class, and we have leeway to do that,” said Finney.

Leila Boesch-Powers ’24 shared similar sentiments to Finney. Regarding connection with classmates, Boesch-Power feels that the extended class time allows her and fellow classmates to share more with each other.

“We kind of hear more what classmates have to say… in most of my classes, we talked about what we did during break, so [that] helps me get to know classmates more because we have that extra time. [So,] we’re not like eating into our learning so it’s been nice,” said Boesch-Powers.

Extended class periods have permitted more time for group work and review, whereas the Fall Term often prioritized lecture-style classes, according to Adya Chatterjee ’22. She has noticed a shift in her learning and ability to absorb new information. 

“We have time to work on projects in class. So teachers aren’t sprouting information at you and then leaving. You have time to just work on projects. I’ve been able to talk with my classmates and work on problems by ourselves for longer or have discussions for longer before trying to hurry back [to the main Zoom room],” said Chatterjee.

However, due to these extended class periods, there are now only five minutes of passing period, as opposed to ten minutes in previous terms. This shorter interval prevents students from being able to continue talking with their teacher or ask questions, according to Michael McHugh, Instructor in Math.

“I don’t like the fact that students have less opportunities to ask questions afterwards, because there’s less passing time. Last term, I felt like if people had questions they could just stay after class and ask questions which is really kind of nice because it’s a good time to ask questions,” said McHugh. 

In a virtual community, it can often be challenging to find the optimal length for an effective class, according to MJ Engel, Instructor in English. Similar to Engel, Finney also expressed concerns of screen time fatigue, in the collective efforts to balance increased class time with engagement.

“When we’re on the computer all the time… it feels a lot more tiring. It’s a little bit harder to focus and stay engaged in that space. So 55 minutes, I think, is the threshold of where I think that that attention can live. I think longer would start to have issues of people having trouble focusing even more, and shorter you just run out of time,” said Finney.