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More classrooms in use at KU on Tuesdays and Thursdays; far fewer on Fridays


Not only did KU cancel classes today because of snow for the first time in just more than two years, but it happened on a Thursday. That means more actual classes were canceled than would be if there were a snow day any other day of the week, with the possible exception of Tuesday.

If KU calls off classes tomorrow, though, the loss of actual class time will be far less.

I know this because of this chart that was posted yesterday in several spots at the KU master plan forums I checked out:

Percentage of classrooms in use on KU's Lawrence campus, by time of day and day of week.

Percentage of classrooms in use on KU's Lawrence campus, by time of day and day of week. by Matt Erickson

In my infinite wisdom I failed to get a shot of the chart that included the times in the far left column, which are half-hour increments. But that point where it switches from AM to PM is noon (yes, yes, I know, you could have figured that out yourself).

But anyway, the chart shows what percentage of classrooms on the Lawrence campus are used at different times of day on different days of the week (from this past fall semester). The cells colored in darker are when the greatest percentage of classrooms are in use.

As you can see (I hope), the Tuesday and Thursday columns are darker in more spots -- that would appear to be when the most students are in class. Every day, the high-traffic periods are roughly between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., though on Tuesdays and Thursdays things stay pretty busy until 4 p.m.

And on Friday, nearly the whole column is white. You'll often hear that the weekend really starts on Thursday night for a lot of students, and this would appear to be literally true for many. Especially by the afternoon, only about two-thirds of classrooms are in use at times when nearly all of them are being used earlier in the week.

All this matters to the KU officials and contractors planning the development of the KU campus over the next 10 years or so, because it has implications for how efficiently classrooms are being used. Does it make sense to add more classrooms on campus when they're only being used at full capacity for a few short periods during the week? Or is it worth having classrooms sit empty a lot of the time if that's ensuring that students are in class at times when they'll learn best? These are the sorts of questions those folks are thinking about, based on my talks with them yesterday.

I'm sure that while you've all been snowed in today, you've been busy composing well-crafted KU news tips to send in. When you're finished, direct them to merickson@ljworld.com.


KU_cynic 5 years, 4 months ago


I appreciate the sentiment expressed by "Does it make sense to add more classrooms on campus when they're only being used at full capacity for a few short periods during the week?"

That said, a lot of faculty service and research activity happens on Fridays. Specifically, Fridays are when faculty within schools and across units typically schedule meetings, confident that diverse participants will be able to attend. Friday is also when a lot of guest scholars visit campus or departments hold research seminars, again confident that teaching won't impede participation by most of the faculty. And, of course, research conferences sponsored by academic associations are typically held on Thu-Sat schedules, and not having classes on Fridays means that faculty members can participate in critically important intellectual exchange without material disruption to scheduled classes.

Like many I also bemoan that many students treat Thursday evening (or Wednesday) as the start of a weekend typified by non-academic activities and perhaps even personally destructive behaviors such as binge drinking. That said, having more Friday classes taught or led by tenure-track faculty members is not a good idea.

What would be great would be if KU could create a culture in which many co-curricular activities requiring student participation and leadership were scheduled for Fridays on campus -- symposia, guest speakers from industry and professions, community service activities, career development activities, etc. That kind of activity -- rather than faculty-led classes -- would be a much more productive use of KU's physical spaces on Fridays.

merickson 5 years, 4 months ago

Thanks for adding your thoughts. Yes, those are all interesting points. Indeed, classroom use is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to the KU campus (in fact, another thing I learned yesterday is that classrooms take up only 5 percent of the space on campus). A lot of variables will be at play during the master-plan process, no doubt.


yourworstnightmare 5 years, 4 months ago

Most faculty would rather teach a Tuesday-Thursday class. This does not explain why classroom occupancy is lower on Fridays, as compared to Monday and Wednesday, given the MWF class schedule. Maybe a MW schedule is becoming prevalent.

oakfarm 5 years, 4 months ago

My grad school alma mater addressed this capacity issue with a schedule that included Saturday mornings and 7:45 start times all week. And they carved out fifty-minute slots each hour that allowed these 'mods' to be packaged in other ways than a traditional MWF 10:00 to 10:50 schedule. They could create a rich, full capacity schedule -- without conflicts -- that had classes meet, for instance, Tu and Th at 9:00 and then Friday at 2:00. Or TuThSa at 7:45. Science labs might get three consecutive mods.

And don't buy the 'research' argument for shorter work weeks. This was at a much more productive and research-oriented university and, besides, many of the 'bad' schedules were covered by graduate teaching assistants. Run this same analysis, one for tenured faculty and one for everyone else and you will likely see a big difference in schedules.

Anne Hamilton 5 years, 4 months ago

Many large lecture classes that are 3 credit hours are held on MW with a 1 hour "discussion", usually taught by a GTA. These discussions are spread out throughout the week, eliminating a Friday component of the class. Many classes with a lab component are structured the same way, so this is not at all surprising to me.

valgrlku 5 years, 4 months ago

A comparison of these same usage stats would be interesting - say, compare now to 20 years ago when I was an undergrad at KU. Everyone had MWF classes, except perhaps the professional schools. There were no weekly 3-day weekends, for those of us in liberal arts, unless we skipped our Friday classes (with penalty, of course).

My understanding is that there has been an institutional shift toward not scheduling Friday classes, because it's not what the students (and probably faculty) want, as opposed to any documented pedagogical or other worthwhile reason (e.g. saving energy by shutting down those classrooms, buildings, etc. Friday to Sunday or potential payroll savings). Gotta keep those enrollment numbers up! We certainly can't have students failing, because they choose to skip Friday sessions. Seems like a dirty little secret in higher education that isn't really so secret.

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