The trials and tribulations of off-campus-focused curricula
As this spring semester slowly, or quickly, depending on who you ask, grinds to a halt, university students are racing to complete end-of-semester projects, essays and exams, and that is not to mention final exams which are next week. It is objectively a hectic time of the academic year for students, but for some majors, a massive workload is just the status quo.
Everyone knows that the engineering departments here at the university, while prestigious and well-preparing for a future career, assign a notoriously large course workload for their students during their time as an undergraduate. Other university majors, like nursing and elementary education, assign their major workloads in the form of off-campus, hands-on field experience.
On top of their course curriculum, nursing majors have three requirements to fill, according to Maddie McVey, a junior nursing student.
She said that before their senior year, students must participate in field experiences in which they go to an off-campus medical facility and shadow medical professionals to see how they carry out their daily duties.
“Every time I have gone to the field experiences, it’s been good experience actually witnessing stuff in practice, not just in a classroom,” McVey said.
She also said that they also have to participate in skills labs, in which they learn and hone their skills at nursing tasks like safely giving injections. The labs, though have to be signed up for separately from normal courses, leading to much schedule-related uncertainty beforehand.
“We all have to get on there and rush to get in the good times,” McVey said. “So, we never really know what our schedule is going to be like until we can actually pick those lab periods.”
The major’s curriculum culminates in clinical experiences during senior year. That includes spending full days at hospitals and seeing patients.
Shamael Khan is a junior elementary education major who is specializing in special education. She described her major’s off-campus curriculum as mostly divided into two halves.
For the first two years of a student’s time at the university, along with normal classes, they are taking practicum classes in which they tour local schools and tutor local students. For the second two years, students participate in a student-teaching experience.
Khan, as a student specializing in special education, has to take 12 credits of normal courses on top of her student-teaching too, in the evening after the normal school day ends. Though she was unsure of the exact credit amounts of required of students of her age with other concentrations, she said that she believes that they also are doing the same.
The time when a student is student-teaching and taking their own classes is objectively a lot to handle.
“Not only are you teaching, but you also are doing the lesson plans consistently, and keeping up with the deadlines and then you have your courses which have their own work and exams,” Khan said.
She said that the end of each semester is when the workload really spikes, in both the classrooms in which she is the student and the teacher.
“It is manageable, but it is a lot of organization needed so you do not fall back,” she went on to say. “There are certain points in the semester that get really intense and it does make you really, really stressed.”
Both McVey and Khan had changes that they thought would alleviate some of the stresses that currently come with their respective academic programs.
McVey said that she believes that nursing students should be able to start their clinical experiences in real hospitals before their senior year. She said that she has encountered many jobs in her home state of New Jersey that require a year of clinical experience for all applicants, and she is not able to satisfy that requirement if she can only do the clinical work for just her senior year. On top of that, she said that she feels it would make her feel more prepared for her future career.
“Getting a taste of actually having to do stuff in practice … I think it would have made me feel more confident at this point if I had more practice in my skills stuff,” McVey said.
Khan, on the other hand, said she believes that taking fewer classes while simultaneously student-teaching would be a welcome change. A lot of work goes into student-teaching, on top of the time actually spent in the classroom with the kids. To Khan, having to take a full-time course load on top of student-teaching (not to mention often in the evening, right after the school day) would relieve a lot of stress on her and her fellow majors.
One issue that both McVey and Khan both deal with is the issue of transportation. When students are required to fulfill large time commitments, students who do not have access to or do not have the financial means to affords a car are burdened.
McVey currently does not have a car on campus, but she plans on having one next year for her senior year clinical experience. Khan commutes to campus, and she has family members drive her where she needs to be on a daily basis.
Both students were not aware of any way for their respective departments to provide transportation to the necessary locations, though Khan said that her department does their best to pair car-less students with car-owning students assigned to the same school to carpool. McVey said that on top of carpooling, Zipcar and Uber were transportation methods suggested to her.
This time of year for all majors at the university is one filled with much work and consequent stress. It is everyone’s hope that all students can end the semester in one piece, and enjoy a nice summer, before all of the fun starts again in late August.