Posted tagged ‘semsters’

A question of dates

January 4, 2009

I believe I am right in saying that, from next September onwards, all Irish universities will have academic years divided into semesters, with Trinity College Dublin the last institution to adopt this format. I might just add in passing that, at least if you’re a pedant like me, you can only have two ‘semesters’ per year, the term having a Latin origin and meaning six months – although of course since nobody’s semester covers six months of teaching, maybe we are all using the wrong term. However, the idea of a ‘third semester’ that is sometimes mooted, it seems to me, is an absurd concept linguistically; and whether it has much pedagogical value is also highly debatable. 

However, though we may all now have semesters, we have an array of different arrangements for these, with some universities starting their first semester in early September or so and finishing it (and all associated examining) by Christmas, and others (including DCU) starting in later September and finishing in late January, with a break for Christmas before the examinations. Leaving aside the question of how we should deal with Christmas and Easter for these purposes, there is the other question of whether one of the argued advantages of semesters – a degree of uniformity in the system with some resulting capacity of transfers and collaborations – is not being delivered.

It is likely that, over the coming year or two, one of the key issues that we will have to consider is how we can pool some resources between institutions in order to offer students programmes that have both intellectual depth and provide access to cognate areas. This may require us to consider whether we can synchronise our dates a little better than we have done so far. And that in turn may prompt a useful debate about what, pedagogically, we are hoping to achieve in how we structure and deliver teaching and learning. Some comments responding to my earlier post on modularisation show that we have a long way to go before we have a shared vision of what is required of universities to deliver ambitious, demanding and stimulating education.