Get a (three-credit course) load of this

Iowa State’s Campanile photographed after a heavy snow.

Ashlyn Ware

Finals warrant a much-needed break, but the university is offering a new opportunity that asks students not to switch off their academic focus just yet. 

Iowa State University’s winter session is a four-week session that allows students to take up to three credit hours. All courses are offered in an online format and are a flat tuition per credit cost.

Beate Schmittmann, the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has worked alongside faculty in the winter session planning committee to bring this opportunity and its many benefits to students.

“For a student who is comfortable devoting the time, it’s a great opportunity to create a little bit of space in their schedule later on, or potentially find an opportunity to graduate a little bit earlier,” Schmittmann said. 

“Most of the students who registered last year were juniors and seniors trying to sort of get an extra class in.” 

There are 54 courses to choose from this winter session, ranging from introductory courses to 300 and 400 level courses. When deciding which courses to offer in the winter session, the committee considered two things: last year revealed that students preferred upper-level and general education courses.

“Does it have good enrollment, is it a course that is popular with students, will the students take this particular course to satisfy general education requirements, is it a 300 or 400 level course in a large major that we imagine students have the interest to take this class,” Schmittmann said.

The winter session planning committee was diligent with their planning and recognized the time constraint. To ensure the courses were worthwhile to students’ education, the committee limited students to three credits.

In a 15 week semester, the university estimates that a three-credit course will require six hours of work per day. Schmittmann estimates that the winter session will require roughly three hours of work per day.

While the time crunch is intimidating, the outcome of a winter session course can be wonderful. Feedback from students and faculty has been positive as they reported feeling as if they accomplished all of their course goals.

“Because it was so compressed and because the students focused only on a single class, the students seemed to be more engaged,” Schmittmann said.

Faculty also benefit from the winter session because it gives them more flexibility in their schedules. Some professors were given the option to teach one course during the winter session and one less during the spring semester. Professors could also keep the same spring course load and add a winter session class for extra compensation. 

While the planning and logistics of the winter session are well-thought-out, Schmittmann explained that this year is still an experiment.

Schmittmann explained that students are excited to travel and work again this year. Enrollment numbers are down from last year but could be different again next year, making winter session difficult to plan for. However, Schmittmann was confident that the four-week, three-credit format would become standard.

“We plan that it’s going to be a regular feature of the ISU calendar,” Schmittmann said.

A permanent winter session in the ISU calendar would also mean permanently shifting the spring semester back one week. While the schedule for winter session is unlikely to change, it’s unclear if the online format will ever change to in-person.

“I can never say never… The impact is so much bigger. Now we’re talking about keeping residence halls open, keeping more dining halls open, you know, there’s a whole infrastructure that comes with keeping students on campus.”

ISU’s computer system infrastructure is another logistical decision to consider. 

“One thing that I learned and this is sort of amusing, is that our computer systems really weren’t built to accommodate an extra session, which is why we have this awkward way that you have to sign up for winter session as you register for spring classes,” Schmittmann said.

Last year, some students mistakenly registered for winter session courses rather than spring semester courses. Other students had trouble figuring out how to register for winter courses at all.

Nevertheless, with humble improvements to be made, winter session is a great opportunity for all students. The planning and logistics of making winter sessions work is a monumental task that goes unnoticed behind the scenes.

“I certainly encourage all students to take a look at the winter session schedule and see if there’s a course there that they might be interested in signing up for,” Schmittmann said.

The last day to add or drop a winter session course without needing to contact an advisor is Dec. 22. More information can be found on the winter session website.