Teaching Winter Term Courses

Short-term intensive courses can pose some challenges for faculty, especially related to how to use significantly longer class periods, how much can be achieved in such short semesters, and how to find times for grading and giving feedback with such an intense pace.

The good news is that students tend to be positive about such learning environments and some studies suggest equal or superior learning outcomes over courses in a traditional format.

Faculty can leverage the opportunities provided by the Winter Term format.

  • Longer daily meeting periods mean the chance for more and different activities inside and outside the classroom and DEEPER learning.
  • Students are more focused because they are only taking one course.
  • Faculty and students get to know one another quickly and can create a comfortable and challenging learning environment.

Characteristics associated with effective learning in short-term intensive courses

  • Depth over breadth of coverage
  • Activities that are engaging and meaningful
  • Opportunities to critically reflect on those activities
  • Variety in the processes of instruction and in learning materials
  • Instructor enthusiasm and interest in students and their learning
  • Clear communication and organization
  • A collegial classroom environment

Suggestions for faculty planning Winter Term class meetings

Focus on what your students will be doing, not what you will be doing or the material you will be covering.

  • If you need the students to learn disciplinary content, what do they need to be doing to learn that content (don’t just say “study” but specify what that means); if you want them to be developing skills, how will they do that?

Think about scaffolding student work and learning.

  • What supports and structures do they need when they begin, and how can you remove that scaffolding as they become more proficient?

Think about both small and large scale work.

  • Consider both the short, daily activities that students do to practice/learn component parts of your goal, and also the bigger, longer-term integrative activities that students do to put it all together.
  • Be clear with students about why you’re doing what you’re doing. Longer class meetings with more and varied activities require more segues and more explicit attention to the purposes of different student work.

Do less better.

  • We often try to cram in too much. As you proceed, ask yourself if students might be able to go deeper if they were to do more focused work.

Mix it up.

  • Long class meetings require a lot of attention, so changing the type of thinking, the style of interactions, etc. can be a good idea.
  • Pay attention to community-building at the beginning of the term. It can pay off with positive classroom participation and environment you’re hoping for.

Plan to recalibrate as Winter Term unfolds.

  • Things rarely go as planned. One strategy is planning a “bonus” activity, something purposeful and reinforcing (and perhaps fun) that you can insert if class is going faster than planned and that can be eliminated if you are running behind.
  • Schedule time late in the first week of class to gather and respond to student feedback about what is (and isn’t) helping them learn in the course so far.

Take advantage of Elon’s Diversity Theme.


Consult with CATL to explore any of these ideas more deeply. Call x5106 or email a CATL faculty member for more information.



Patricia A. Scott, “Attributes of High-Quality Intensive Courses,” New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education 97 (Spring 2003).

Virginia S. Lee, “A Rose by Any Other Name? Learning in Intensive Course Formats,” National Teaching and Learning Forum 15, no. 6 (2006).

Craig Swenson, “Accelerated and Traditional Formats: Using Learning as a Criterion for Quality,” New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education 97 (Spring 2003).

Raymond J. Wlodkowski and Margery B. Ginsberg, Teaching Intensive and Accelerated Courses: Instruction That Motivates Learning (Jossey-Bass, 2010).