by Phoebe Lostroh
Good microbiologists question assumptions. How about the assumption that semesters are the best calendars for learning? What would happen if rather than taking four courses concurrently during a semester, students instead took those four courses successively, one at a time? This describes the Colorado College “block plan,” first implemented in 1970. We teach every undergraduate course, from Arabic to Zoology in periods of 3.5 weeks.
You may wonder how such a calendar works for science courses with laboratory or field components. But in fact, microbiologists already believe in this model of immersive science education. Consider the short courses offered at the Marine Biological Laboratories, or Cold Spring Harbor. These, however, are courses for advanced students. Would undergraduates learn anything in such a small period of time? The fact that Colorado College graduates go to medical and graduate schools at the same high rate as that of most liberal arts college graduates suggests that they learn their lessons well. And sadly, there is all too much evidence that students learn precious little in most undergraduate science courses. Why not try something different?