More than 1,000 students participated in January Term, or J-Term, classes since its official integration in the 2012-2013 school year, and it seems support is only increasing.
Nearly 500 University of Wyoming students took advantage of accelerated courses offered during the winter break, said Miguel Rosales, project coordinator in the office of Summer Session and Winter Courses in the UW Outreach School.
“These are some super-accelerated courses, similar to the 3-4 week summer courses,” he said. “This last (J-Term), we had right around 20 courses, from international courses to online and hybrid face-to-face courses.”
Upperclassmen looking for some additional credits, students trying to lighten their traditional semester course loads and winter athletes already on campus are a few students that can really benefit from the program.
The program got its roots in the 2008-2009 school year when Bonnie Zare, gender and women’s studies professor, squeezed a full trip to India during the winter break.
“It’s much more conducive to go in winter,” she said. “It’s better to go when its 80 degrees out instead of 120.”
While she made it work, it was a close call — students were in class within 24 hours of their flight landing at Denver International Airport.
Eventually, a J-Term was officially integrated into the calendar in 2012-2013, giving professors enough time to comfortably teach a fast-paced course.
“It allows us some flexibility in terms of taking advantage of some festivals in India; it gives us breathing room in terms of returning and starting the next semester class; and it gives (students) a chance to recover and absorb what they’ve learned,” Zare said.
While originally made to allow international trips, professors have volunteered to teach tailored classes to a variety of groups, such as engineering students in trouble because of an extended graduation date.
“There is an engineering course that, if you don’t pass (in fall semester), it puts your graduation date off course for a year,” said Anne Alexander, associate vice president for academic affairs. “But this course took students that weren’t doing well and allowed them to (the course again) through an accelerated program.”
However, integration of the term increased the winter break to five weeks — a bit long for some students, Associated Students of the University of Wyoming President Brian Schueler said.
“There is a decent contingent of students that get antsy and eager to get back to campus,” he said. “I’ve heard students say it’s just long enough to get bored but not long enough to get a job. But I would classify it more as a nuisance rather than a critical concern.”
Calendar changes have ensured that, even with the extended winter break, fall and spring semesters are nearly the same length — 71 fall instructional days, 70 in spring, Alexander said.
However, it did push graduation back from the first week of May to the second week.
Many faculty members don’t mind the extra break time, Faculty Senate Chair Tucker Readdy said, but actually welcome it.
“(J-Term) allows for pedagogies not available during the semesters, such as taking students on an intensive study field experiences where need to be in the field for six, eight or 10 hours a day off location,” he said. “They just can’t do that during the semester.”
Extended breaks also give more time for research, an important part of every faculty member’s workload that can get lost among the many courses taught when school is in session, Readdy said.
“It’s a great opportunity to revise manuscripts or start new projects so you’re not focused on research solely during the summer,” he said.
The future for the January Term is bright. Enrollment has increased every year, and Rosales expects it to continue.
“There is a lot of potential for growth,” he said. “Students are looking for an opportunity to earn credits, free up time for the traditional fall and spring semesters and make their final semester a little less intense than they were anticipating.”