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Op-eds, Opinions

Ruzicka ’21: Maintain reading period to ensure student success

By
Op-Ed Contributor
Wednesday, April 1, 2020

On the evening of March 24, 2020, Rashid Zia, dean of the College, and Andrew Campbell, dean of the Graduate School, emailed the Brown community detailing temporary academic policies that will be implemented in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of these new policies reads: 

“The last day of classes will be Tuesday May 5, 2020. The regularly scheduled final examination period (May 6 – May 15) will be maintained to serve as a time for faculty and students to complete course requirements. Courses may not meet and instructors may not present new material during the final exam period.” 

This policy excludes one very important part of the semester: reading period. Brown’s regular policies on reading period state that it is “optional and at the discretion of the instructor”; however, students have been thrown into uncharted territory now that classes are online and campus housing has been shut down. Reading period is an essential time for students to process the information they have learned so that they can perform to the best of their abilities on final assessments. Therefore, reading period must be maintained in some form during this crisis. 

It is understandable that the University wants to make up for the classes canceled due to COVID-19. All courses were halted for the week of March 16, totalling five days of lost class time. Failing to recoup those classes takes class time away from the students and puts the University’s accreditation in jeopardy. However, just as academic institutions might make up for a snow day or other cancellations by adding one additional day of classes, it should only add five days of classes to make up for those missed due to COVID-19. It should then designate the remaining days — May 1 through May 5 — as an abbreviated reading period. 

The University is currently planning to eliminate reading period, which was originally scheduled from April 24 through May 5. This means that, with the standing policy, a course could meet on May 5, and the professor could teach new material. The final exam for that class could then be held on May 6, and students would be tested on the material they learned the day prior. This is an absurd turnaround time, especially considering that students are scattered across a wide variety of timezones and may not be able to attend class synchronously. Moreover, it is detrimental to students’ academic and mental health. 

I propose a twofold solution. First, classes should only be held during reading period long enough to make up for missed classes during the week of March 16. In this case, classes would be held for the first five weekdays of the original reading period, April 24 through April 30. This is in contrast to the current policy, which allows classes to occur through May 5, the day before finals period begins. Allowing classes to be held for an extra five days solves the issue of accreditation hours and allows professors to recoup the time that they lost with their students. It also preserves some much-needed time free of classes: May 1 through May 5. During this period, students will be able to study, take focused time to work on papers and projects and ensure that they are as prepared as possible to succeed during finals period. 

Second, professors should not be allowed to teach new material during the originally scheduled reading period, April 24 through May 5. Instead, professors should use the five additional days of classes to review previously taught concepts, provide supplementary materials and offer time for students to practice learned skills and ask questions. This supports academic development and encourages students to take time to digest the information they have been taught. It also ensures that students are not bombarded with new material at the end of the semester and then expected to utilize those skills and concepts in a harried assessment without adequate time to fully comprehend the material. 

In this time of uncertainty, it is essential to students’ success that they be given adequate time to dedicate to finals period. Eliminating reading period is not only detrimental to students’ academic development, but also imposes undue stress on them while they are already adjusting to an entirely new lifestyle and its challenges. The best solution is to allow professors the same amount of class time that they anticipated at the beginning of the semester. Such action would prevent ripping away reading period and subjecting the student body to excessive anxiety and academic pressure. 

Emilia Ruzicka ’21 can be reached at emilia_ruzicka@brown.edu.  Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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