Academic Block Plan

In the turmoil of the sixties, academic institutions were reviewing their missions and questioning their effectiveness. Colorado College was coming up to its 100th anniversary (1974) and there were faculty suggestions to review the academic environment with the possibility of significant changes. Professor Glenn Brooks from the Political Science department was appointed by the President of the college (Lew Worner) to lead the review. Brooks made the rounds of each faculty group and gradually put together a radical new plan - the block plan.

Under this new academic schedule, the year would be partitioned into nine blocks of three and a half weeks each. During a block, students would take only one course and faculty would teach only one course. Classes would be limited to 25 students (with a dedicated classroom) and would meet as long or as little as proved effective. Geology courses could include field trips that lasted days and humanities courses could hold discussions all morning. Gone were the 50 minute lectures three times a week.

After thorough discussion of the block plan (and of a carefully prepared alternative proposal), the faculty approved the plan on October 27, 1969, by a vote of 72 to 53. A follow-up motion made the approval unanimous. Once the plan was announced, applications to the college jumped significantly and in the fall of 1970, the college shifted to the new plan.

The mathematics department was slow to embrace the plan. (After only one block of the new plan, Professor Leech decided to retire.) Although a block represented an equivalent amount of contact hours to that of a three-quarters schedule, the concentration was different; one block of calculus presented difficulties that were distinct from those encountered in one quarter of calculus. The quick pace of the block meant that time to digest material was shortened. When the block plan was reviewed in the fall of 1974, the faculty voted 80 to 5 in favor of continuing it indefinitely. Of the five dissenters, most were from the mathematics department (as one faculty member recalled).

Over the years, the mathematics department has adjusted to the block plan and, indeed, found distinct advantages. With such close contact with the students, faculty are alerted to successes and failures almost immediately, in time to make changes. Independent study is easier to incorporate, the complete immersion in a subject can lead to deeper understanding, and there are greater opportunities for bringing in external visitors to enrich the department's curriculum.

One side effect, however, is the increased work load. The teaching load for each faculty member was reduced to 8 blocks in 1980 and then in 1988, the college altered the schedule to divide the year into 8 blocks instead of 9; now the normal teaching load was 7 blocks. To ease special stresses in some departments, paraprofessionals were hired to help with grading and lab work.

Despite the drawbacks, the Block plan has been a success and the mathematics department continues to work within it to improve its program. As of 1999, most of the mathematics faculty approved of the plan.

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