English scholars digest a Dickens of a change

May 15, 2008

It gave students a chance to catch up on their work - or, for some, to get some extra sleep - but now "reading week" is to end in one university's English department.

The mid-semester week off from teaching will stop from next academic year in Northumbria University's English and creative writing division.

The change brings English into line with the university's other departments, which teach throughout their 12-week semesters. The change also provides students with an extra two weeks of teaching a year.

Lynn Dobbs, dean of the School of Arts and Social Sciences, said the move would not increase the number of hours taught by individual academics because the English department is hiring three new staff.

Professor Dobbs said staff, students, trade union representatives and senior management were consulted over the course of a year before the changes were made.

She said that although the reading week was also used to provide guidance to students outside normal classroom contact this can be provided throughout the term.

"It is about continuity of learning, and we are very confident the guidance that was provided in that week in English can be provided in the rest of the year," she said.

"It is to increase contact time and provide consistency of student experience."

Professor Dobbs acknowledged that a "small number" of staff wanted to keep the reading week.

One staff member said: "For any students who have done a module of something like the 19th-century British novel where they are doing a Dickens or an Eliot a week, reading weeks are important.

"Everybody has their lectures and seminars planned and learning outcomes met in the 11 weeks we currently teach, so I do not see the rationale for an extra week that neither staff nor students want."


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