Compressed Semesters

Planning a Successful Summer Course

Congratulations on all of the wonderful teaching you did this semester! Classes end today, and only finals week remains. We hope you’re looking forward to your plans for the summer.

If you’re teaching this summer, you may be in the midst of planning a six-week course. “Compressed” or “intensive” classes, like those in summer A or B, challenge us to distill our courses to their essence. Since we can’t simply cram everything we usually assign into the shorter time frame, we have to prioritize instead, focusing on the course goals and how students can make the most progress toward them in six weeks.

Since most of us are excited about all of our material, it’s not easy to determine what’s truly most important: You might ask yourself what you’d keep if you had only one day to convey the most essential concepts of your course. What would you really want students to take away? What should they be able to do because they took your course? How should they be changed? Your answers will shape your learning goals, and an effective summer course will be built to help students achieve them.

The extended meeting hours of compressed summer courses also demand that we vary our teaching strategies. Learning takes time and effort. It needs elaboration and practice, so galloping through masses of material won’t be terribly effective. Delivering a week of content in a three-hour marathon session will be counterproductive, and exhausting, both for you and for your overwhelmed students. Instead, students need multiple and varied opportunities to engage with the material and with each other. They’ll need to write, talk, solve problems, make predictions, analyze data, and dig into the concepts and skills they’re practicing.

Bill Kops studied faculty teaching summer courses and compiled a list of best practices, summarized below:

  1. Restructure the course: The high-performing instructors in Kops’s study emphasized learning outcomes instead of content. They realized that their students should still achieve the same learning goals, but that they would have to reach these goals in different ways.
  2. Organize and plan for the term: Even more than other semester formats, summer courses require detailed planning of the entire class from the start, which requires anticipating requirements, student questions, etc.
  3. Reconfigure assignments: Longer assignments will need to be scaffolded and broken into shorter ones, in order to give the frequent feedback that students will need in order to keep up with the class. The reduced turnaround time for giving feedback makes it all the more important to break work into chunks.
  4. Maintain expectations and standards: In contrast to the myth of the “easier” summer session, faculty must establish and maintain high expectations for all students.
  5. Capitalize on continuity, smaller classes, and variety of students: Summer classes give you the valuable opportunity to get to know students, determine the extent to which they are learning, and vary your approach based on their individual interests, goals, and/or needs.
  6. Maximize support to students: In addition to making yourself available to students (through longer and frequent office hours), it’s useful to provide students with reading and study guides, class notes, recommended links, etc. given the fast-paced nature of these classes. Additionally, you can help students to form study groups, and encourage them to use campus resources like ACE.
  7. Keep students active and use a variety of teaching techniques: As Terry Doyle insists, “the one who does the work does the learning,” and in an extended session it’s all the more critical that your students do the work—not you. Medina reminds us that the human brain can maintain attention for about 10 minutes at a time. This means that using class time for content delivery (like lecturing) will overtax your students’ cognitive resources, and overtax you. It will be more productive to structure your daily lesson in small segments, using a variety of teaching techniques that offer students the opportunity to move around, discuss course material and problem-solve with their classmates.

If you’d like support as you redesign your course for summer, please get in touch at We look forward to working with you!