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I see a push toward having undergraduate curriculums built around 8-week classes. This is mostly in the online education in the USA. Recently I have seen a number of these in sophomore or junior-level math classes. For example you have 8 weeks to cover the entire standard calculus III, and this is not a summer class. Essentially there would be four short semesters in the usual academic year, i.e. September-May. In each of these four accelerated semesters the regular material of a course is to be covered at double the usual speed.

Is there a study that looks at the result or justifies the approach?

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    $\begingroup$ Do you mean 8 consecutive weeks or 8 alternating weeks? (The pace would be faster with the former.) $\endgroup$ May 22 at 1:02
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    $\begingroup$ Cutting a 16-week math classes to 8-week math classes obviously will compromise on quality. The depth, rigour part, we think can not be dealt. $\endgroup$ May 22 at 6:32
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    $\begingroup$ Do you mean something like: 16 weeks at 3 hours per week vs. 8 weeks at 6 hours per week? Or do you mean: taking a 16-week course and making it into two 8-week courses? $\endgroup$ May 22 at 15:01
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    $\begingroup$ @GeraldEdgar 8 weeks at 8 hours of instructions per week for calculus 3. $\endgroup$
    – Maesumi
    May 23 at 4:24
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    $\begingroup$ OK I think it is a good question. 8 weeks 8 hour per week compared to 16 weeks 4 hours per week. Is there a study on something similar in mathematics instruction? Studies would be interesting; not so much anecdotes and opinions. $\endgroup$ May 23 at 14:30
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My school, a community college in California, looked at this sort of thing about 10 years ago when the union was pushing to shorten the semester from 18 weeks to 16 weeks. We have also historically had 6-week or 8-week summer classes, and many faculty have always been skeptical about the quality of instruction in those classes. Often when I see a student who doesn't seem to have the knowledge covered by the prerequisite for my class, I check their transcript and see the same pattern. They took the class once or twice and failed it, then took it a third time in a short summer class and passed.

At the time when we were discussing the shortening of the semester by two weeks, the supporters of the proposal went around saying that "studies" showed that success was actually higher with the shorter semester. Later it turned out that these studies never actually existed.

The problem with trying to do a study of this is that you can't control for all the variables.

The student population taking an 8-week summer course is a different population than the one taking a 16-week course during a regular semester. For example, we would get a lot of students from UC who would show up during the summer at our community college in order to take care of their one remaining requirement.

My school finally did shorten the semester by 2 weeks. You would think we could look at success rates before and after, and see if there was a change. But most faculty responded to the change by cutting material and assigning less work, so again there is an uncontrolled variable.

For a lot of faculty who don't care about their jobs, an 8-week online course is the greatest deal ever. You've already recorded your canned videos. The homework is in the textbook publisher's online system, so you don't have any grading. You were always doing zero work, and now you're just doing zero work twice as fast. Then in November you take that trip to Costa Rica.

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    $\begingroup$ I think all of this is correct, but the last paragraph is (a) irrelevant (nothing in the OP said a word about online courses), (b) opinion-based, (c) disparaging, and (d) not at all realistic. Most faculty who teach online are low-paid contingent workers who do not earn enough to take any vacations, let alone a trip to Costa Rica. $\endgroup$
    – mweiss
    May 24 at 15:45
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting choice of vacation location. $\endgroup$ May 24 at 18:01
  • $\begingroup$ @mweiss: The OP said, "This is mostly in the online education in US." $\endgroup$
    – user507
    May 25 at 0:50
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    $\begingroup$ @BenCrowell That will teach me to read more carefully. Nevertheless, I still think your last paragraph is opinion-based, disparaging, unrealistic, and inappropriate. $\endgroup$
    – mweiss
    May 25 at 1:37
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    $\begingroup$ I find the last paragraph to be 100% accurate and I upvoted this answer on that basis. $\endgroup$ May 26 at 12:39
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In all scenarios, unless the school judges the success of the course by some external metric it is very difficult to objectively compare different methods of instruction. The plain fact is that instructors adjust the difficulty to fit the term.

Summer school in-person instruction can be very effective if the students are focused on just one or two classes. However, if they are working and don't have the time it is disastrous since the lack of elasticity in their schedule means they can't recover if they fall behind.

Online 8 week courses are not a good format for serious math in my experience. The selling point for online work is that school is something you do in the margin of your life. Like the old nights and weekends plans we used to get with cell phones. The thing is, calculus III or real analysis or abstract algebra etc... these are not things you do on the edge of your day. Especially when you've not really absorbed the prerequisites.

As an instructor, the students who are so underprepared which come to online 8 week courses present an impossible problem. It's just about impossible to teach math well without face to face dialogue, ok, perhaps that's too strong, but it is much harder to assess if you are reaching your target audience with your help. The systematic lack of feedback by most online students is simply maddening.

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This is going to get downvoted since it is "tell a man where to go fish" rather than "hand him a filleted, cooked fish with a napkin and a kiss, and moving the fork into his mouth". But a good area to look at would be colleges that do "one course at a time". (Also, at summer schools.)

See for example, this link: https://www.cornellcollege.edu/one-course-at-a-time/

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