the last edit to the report was 12/1/2005
The purpose of the project was to test the viability of incorporating an experiential style
for teaching and learning at a public, four-year university. This model involved the
transition to one class at a time block scheduling following the Colorado College model.
Although this was a major change in scheduling, the emphasis was on the experiential
teaching and learning style focusing on students being more actively involved in their
classes. This included more projects, research papers, group learning, and field-based
projects. This pilot project involved 75 first-time freshmen each year taking a revised
General Education curriculum in the block format with four 3.5 week courses during a
semester, for a total of eight courses (32 credits) for the year. The purpose was to
improve student learning and student retention (persistence rates). Improvements for
both learning and retention were achieved during the pilot project and the campus has
since adopted this model and fully transitioned to block scheduling.
Dr. Steve Mock
The University of Montana-Western
710 S. Atlantic St.
Dillon, MT 59725
A. Introductory Overview
This project created a pilot program to determine the visibility of using a focused, one
class at a time approach (the Colorado College model) to a public four-year university.
The primary goals were to enhance student learning and student retention by using a
highly focused, experiential teaching and learning model.
In the mid-1990’s, through our Strategic Planning efforts to develop a campus mission
statement, the faculty at UMW agreed that experiential learning was our most unifying,
coherent teaching and learning philosophy. Many members of the faculty were
frequently incorporating this experiential model into their courses, but we consistently
encountered scheduling conflicts as this approach did not easily fit within the traditional
50-70 minute class time. It became increasingly apparent that our scheduling model
greatly limited our ability to fulfill our campus-wide mission of experiential teaching and
We learned of the Colorado College model, which was also found at Cornell College and
Tusculum College. We sent faculty and administrators to each of these institutions for an
initial assessment of the approach and they reported back. The results led the faculty and
administration to conclude that further investigation was warranted.
Due to economic challenges of experimenting with a new system while maintaining the
traditional model, and due to the reluctance of the campus as a whole to make a decision
and commitment at this point to switch to block scheduling, money was sought to run a
pilot project. The result of those efforts was the proposal to FIPSE which received
funding. This allowed for a pilot project testing this model at UMW without being
forced to make an immediate full transition.
The three-year project consisted of a planning year, then two years where 75 first-time
freshmen each year took a revised General Education curriculum in this block format.
Each semester, four faculty members were committed fully to those block classes and did
not teach any traditional classes. The students in the pilot project matched our traditional
freshman class in high school GPA, high school rank, and ACT/SAT scores, ensuring a
valid comparison. Pre- and post-tests were used to measure various academic outcomes
such as critical thinking. GPAs as well as student retention were compared with our
historic values. The Project Evaluation has a complete description of the tests, test
results, and all other pertinent data.
The pilot project showed enhanced student learning, critical thinking skills and student
retention. Students were happy with the model as shown through course evaluations and
satisfaction surveys. Faculty members who taught in the pilot project also expressed a
high degree of satisfaction through surveys and interviews.
In the spring of 2003, following a very thorough analysis by a committee representing all
campus constituencies, the administration made the decision to implement block
scheduling campus-wide. As a transition year, during the following academic year all
first-time freshmen took their first year courses in the block format while all other
students remained in the traditional course scheduling model. During AY 2005-06, the
entire campus has successfully made the transition. UMW is now the first four-year
public college or university to offer highly experiential courses through block scheduling.
Four issues converged to clarify the need for change at UM-W: (1) dissatisfaction with
student retention and graduation rates (cited below), even though they are about average
for our category of school; (2) faculty desire to increase the hands-on, experiential
content of classes and to reap all the associated benefits of that style of teaching and
learning (cited below); (3) frustration with the barriers that traditional class scheduling
erects for student learning in general and for experiential learning innovations in
particular; and (4) a desire to improve faculty development and retention.
The problem of student retention. Like many other public post-secondary institutions,
UM-W retains less than 50% of freshmen into their second year and graduates only about
10% of students who enter as freshmen.
Faculty/campus desire to increase experiential learning. As a faculty and a campus, we
were committed to increasing the hands-on "experiential" content of our classes.
Research reinforces the gut feeling most of us have that we learn better when we are
actively engaged and students want this engagement.
The problem of scheduling. Nearly 10 years ago, faculty at UM-W concluded that
traditional academic scheduling was impeding further experiential learning innovations.
Even courses with scheduled laboratories are disjointed by the lapse of time between
lectures and hands-on activities. We also recognized that in a traditionally scheduled
classroom environment, students often feel disconnected from each other and, perhaps
more importantly, from their professors. We know that we fail to retain students because
UM-W undergraduates told us that one of the most frustrating things about their
experience is the constant juggling of different class demands – never concentrating on
learning a single subject, having three major papers due the same week, skipping an
English class to study for a math test, or attempting to set up a work and family schedule
when every day is a different class schedule. We know we also lose students because of
this. In addition, faculty at UM-W frequently expressed a need for extended blocks of
time to enjoy students and acquaint them with the real learning adventures — research,
practical applications, field trips, community service, etc. of their disciplines. While we
were partially successful in providing opportunities for experiential learning, every move
in that direction generated scheduling problems for students and faculty involved in
The problem of faculty retention and development. Retaining high quality faculty is also
a recognized problem at institutions where heavy teaching loads leave little time for
satisfying interaction with students and colleagues or for professional development.
C. Background and Origins
From its inception, this project has been designed and supported by a small group of very
dedicated faculty members and administrators. While wide-spread support among the
faculty developed over time, there were only just a few who made the project a reality.
The main goals of this group of faculty were to:
1. Create greater engagement of students in their courses
2. Develop a better connection between students and faculty, i.e., more of a mentorship
3. Improve student retention by enhancing academic success.
The unifying mission of UMW is experiential learning or learning by doing. This
experiential approach was already incorporated into many classes, but limited by
scheduling; the traditional 50-minute classes 3 times per week were not conducive to this
approach due to limited time and separation of classes. We tried to address this by
having some classes meet all afternoon once a week but this led to scheduling conflicts
and also a full week between meeting times for those classes.
So in 1997, we began to explore other models and discovered the Colorado College block
scheduling model. This seemed to be what we were looking for. The discussion at
UMW was then expanding to the entire campus, including the administration. While the
main push for this experiential model came from a small, vocal group, the goal was to
serve ALL students at UMW. It was suggested by some that those departments interested
in the block might schedule their classes that way while the remainder of campus would
remain in the traditional model. This seemed to many of us to be completely
A few members of the faculty from UMW visited Colorado College, Cornell College,
and Tusculum College to gather information first-hand. Each group reported back to
campus the results of their trips. The model seemed worthwhile enough to examine
further. A Block Scheduling Committee was established to gather data and evaluate
issues, including potential problems and impediments. This committee sought
information from all constituencies on campus. Many on campus were now paying more
attention and the general attitude was NOT especially positive. The campus was divided,
to some extent, into two camps, for and against the block. Many potential problems were
identified. Those in favor of the block searched for solutions. Our Chief Academic
Officer, in particular, developed a document addressing virtually all of the identified
It was at this time that we began to realize and communicate a need for a unique
academic niche for marketing and to establish a very specific role in the Montana
University System. With tight budgets state and university system wide, declining high
school enrollments in Montana, and a large population decreases in our traditional
recruiting base, the campus saw a clear need to establish an academic niche. We
developed some informal slogans, such as “learning by doing”.
During the middle of AY 98-99, our chancellor (the chief executive officer for the
campus) submitted her resignation, effective in July 1999. We began the search process
for a new chancellor. In February, 1999, with the out-going chancellor still here, there
was a campus-wide forum on block scheduling. Frankly, the “forum” began badly and
rapidly devolved into open hostility. At that point, many of us realized the depth of
opposition to this change and also realized that it was less about block scheduling and
more about a change in campus culture. Individuals, and the campus, still carry the scars
from that day. The future of block scheduling at UMW looked bleak. Even the
chancellor search process was pulled into the debate with campus and community
constituencies trying to determine the views of each candidate as to the block. The local
community lobbied downtown to kill the idea of the block. Dillon is a small, isolated,
rural community. The campus is a major part of the town. Quite understandably, many
locals feel strong allegiance to the campus and much ownership. UMW has faced state-
wide discussions of closure in the past, so there is a local paranoia regarding the campus.
Concern was partly due to the fear that, risky major change might push us over the edge
into insolvency. On the other hand, many supporters felt that a lack of bold action the
more risky strategy.
A new chancellor was appointed that spring and he began at UMW in July, 1999. The
new chancellor was NOT in favor of block scheduling and did not wish to pursue the
investigation or discussion further. In many respects, the issue was nearly dead.
Two faculty members and the Dean of Outreach and Research wrote and submitted a
proposal to FIPSE. The idea was to fund an experiential learning/block scheduling pilot
project. This pilot project would allow a direct comparison, side-by-side with the
traditional learning and scheduling model. With FIPSE support, UMW would experience
no financial risk as there would be no need to make the commitment of a full transition
prior to directly evaluating the model. This proposal required support of faculty and
more than two-thirds voted in favor, that is, to continue exploration of block scheduling
through this proposed pilot project.
Somewhat reluctantly, the Chancellor agreed to support the proposal which was
submitted and turned down. The proposal was submitted the following year with
revisions, but no new funding was available that year, so the proposal got nowhere. A
further revised proposal was submitted once more in the fall 2000 but we were NOT
invited to submit full proposal although the authors did any way. We received
notification in late summer 2001 that the proposal would be funded. Most of us were
rather surprised, probably no one more so than the chancellor.
The proposal included an outside consultant, Dr.Tim Fuller from Colorado College. Dr.
Fuller is a Professor of Political Science and former Dean of Colorado College.
Anneliese Ripley, the Dean of Outreach and Research was the original Project Director,
but that responsibility was turned over to a new Dean of Arts and Sciences. The details
of the pilot project were really faculty issues so were more appropriately addressed by the
So at the time of approval of the pilot project, the situation at UMW was:
1. Very strong faculty support for the project by a small core group.
2. Strong support from Arts and Sciences, the Dean of Arts and Sciences, as well as
3. Some faculty members were skeptical and/or unsupportive.
4. Some administrators were skeptical, even hostile.
5. Most members of the staff were not favorable.
6. Student senate was not favorable.
7. Local community was not favorable.
But, the funding from FIPSE carried some prestige, especially within the Montana
University System. We now had the money in order to run our pilot project, so it was
necessary for us to continue.
D. Project Description
We made the following key assumptions regarding our project:
-Student learning and retention would be enhanced
-Students involved in the project would like the model
-Prospective students (and parents) would find the model desirable and
-We would be under very close scrutiny by the campus and local
-Many within the campus and local community would be reluctant to
assist, even antagonistic
-The project would work!
The initial step was to create a steering committee which consisted of the project director
(PD), the three authors of the grant proposal (two faculty members and the Dean of
Outreach and Research), the project administrative assistant, the local project evaluator,
and the chief academic officer (CAO) of the campus. This group met and communicated
regularly throughout the duration of the project. The function of the group was to
develop a general plan or strategy for the project and also trouble-shooting problems that
Approximately two months after the start of the grant, a general outline for the project
had been developed. A campus-wide meeting was held where the PD outlined the key
points of the project over the next three years. We also had a presentation by Dr.
Timothy Fuller, Professor and former Dean of Colorado College, our project consultant.
The presentations were then followed by an opportunity for questions, which were
abundant. This meeting was the first of many efforts to keep the campus community
informed of the progress of the project.
Within the next few weeks, the eight faculty members teaching in year 2 were selected
through an application process. Preference was given to those who had extensive
experience with teaching General Education courses (which excluded faculty other than
those in the Arts and Sciences), were tenured or tenure-track, and who had a record of
active support of experiential learning. Those applying also were required to agree to
extensive classroom observations by our evaluator and careful scrutiny of their syllabi
and teaching methods. The selection was done primarily by the CAO and the PD with
the consultation of the steering committee. The selection process was completed by early
December of year 1.
The group of eight faculty members selected to teach in year 2 met regularly with the PD
during the second semester of year 1. This group made a trip to Colorado College in
order to learn more about the model first-hand. The trip included class visits, time with
individual faculty members, workshops with the CC Teaching and Learning Center, and
various other meetings. The trip was enormously helpful. Upon returning from CC,
visiting faculty members submitted written reports to the PD (who was along on the trip)
which were shared with UMW administrators and were presented at another campus-
wide meeting. This meeting was poorly attended.
The year 2 faculty developed a series of courses for year 2. Each student would take four
4-credit courses each semester for a total of 32 credits. These courses were modeled after
our existing General Education courses, but were modified, as necessary, to be 4 credits,
to incorporate significant experiential components, and, as a whole, to meet our General
Education outcomes. Great thought and effort were put into this curricular program. It
was also necessary that it be approved through the normal campus processes.
The year 2 faculty also had further training in experiential teaching and learning through
workshops, sometimes with outside experts brought in. All faculty members were invited
to participate but few others accepted the invitation.
During the spring of year 1, the PD and steering committee developed selection criteria
for the 75 first-time freshman to participate in year 2. The key requirement was that as a
whole, the group needed to “match” the profile of our current students. This match was
based on high school class rank, high school GPA, and ACT/SAT scores. This was done
to insure that the measures of student performance and retention were due to the learning
model, not due to initial differences in students. As it turned out, this issue took care of
itself as the students who applied to participate in the program were virtually identical to
the UMW student profile.
The PD and the administrative assistant (with limited help from campus marketers and
recruiters) developed recruiting literature to send to high school students interested in
UMW. We also sent the material to all Montana high school guidance counselors. We
had little trouble in recruiting 75 volunteers to participate and ultimately turned down
well over 30 other students who applied to the program.
Also during the spring, the PD (Dean of Arts & Sciences) and the CAO hired
replacement faculty for those faculty members teaching in year 2 of the project. This
“replacement cost” was the primary expense of the entire project and constituted the
largest portion of the budget over the three-year project. Stated in another way, the
project was not expensive in and of itself, but required that four faculty members each
semester be dedicated full time to the project. In order to insure that we were able to
offer all necessary courses in the traditional model, the replacement faculty were hired.
Over the course of the first year, the Project Evaluator, in consulting with the steering
committee, developed an evaluation plan: what to measure, how to measure it, collection
of baseline data, etc. The details of this can be found in the Project Evaluation.
Year 2 began with a project-specific student orientation for the 75 students and 8 faculty
in the project. This orientation was conducted primarily at our Birch Creek facility in the
Pioneer Mountains approximately 30 miles from campus. The specific outline and goals
of the project were presented to the students, and a variety of bonding and orientation
experiences were conducted over the course of about 24 hours. The orientation seemed
to be highly successful.
The project classes began with the following outline:
-75 students were randomly divided into 3 cohort groups of 25. These
groups remained together (same classes) for all of the first
-Each cohort took a total of 4 classes during the semester
-Three courses were offered each “block,” so each faculty member taught
3 blocks per semester with one block “off” for professional
-Students had no choices as to which classes they took.
-For semester 2, the cohorts were rearranged and assigned based on math
skills (following a math placement exam). The students then
remained with this new cohort for semester 2.
-Four new faculty were assigned to the courses in semester 2, each
teaching 3 of 4 blocks.
-Upon successful completion of 8 courses in the project, a student fulfilled
the campus General Education requirements.
The project itself ran very smoothly that first year with few problems, none of which
were major. Students in the project were generally quite pleased with the courses and the
format. Faculty teaching in the project were all quite positive. Each course included
significant portions of research, group discussions, group projects, lab, and field-work.
An experiential approach was the emphasis as improving experiential opportunities was
the primary goal of the project and block scheduling was the means.
During year 2 (the first year of courses), the UMW administration concluded for various
reasons that it would be best to make a decision by the end of the academic year as to
whether or not Western would adapt block scheduling campus-wide. While full
implementation was still a minimum of one year away, it was felt that there would be
extensive planning necessary for full implementation, so a decision would need to be
made at that time.
A large Block Implementation Task Force was created in order to acquire as much input
and data as possible as to the costs and benefits, advantages and disadvantages, of block
scheduling. Each of the main campus constituencies were represented on the committee.
Many sub-committees were formed for specific tasks. This investigation evaluated
virtually every conceivable aspect of the impact of block scheduling, including assessing
the number of faculty necessary, classroom space required, impact on athletics, residence
halls, food service, student workers employed on and off campus, etc.
As PD, I also conducted four public sessions for students at UMW who were NOT in the
pilot project to ask questions of some students who were in the project. While most of
these sessions were poorly attended, one session attracted about 20 students who
aggressively questioned the one “block student” who participated. While this one lone
student did a stellar job of dealing with a somewhat skeptical and hostile group of
questioners, it was not a positive experience for anyone.
Quite frankly, the issue of full implementation created (or exacerbated) a significant
divide on campus. Most faculty, staff, students, and community members were firmly
committed to their support or opposition to block scheduling. Though the
Implementation Task Force gathered data, it did not recommend for or against but just
provided the information gathered. The only formal recommendation asked for by the
Chancellor was from the Faculty Senate which recommend FOR block scheduling on an
8-0 vote (one abstention). The Chancellor followed the recommendation, and with the
final approval of the University of Montana president, block scheduling was to become a
reality in public higher education.
Opposition did not end with the decision, however, and more problematically, the
Chancellor also announced that he was leaving for another job. The university president
decided that it was too late in the year for a full search, so he chose our CAO (a long-term
supporter of block scheduling) as the Interim Chancellor.
Year 3 was a very challenging year as the campus was planning for full implementation,
conducting a search for a new Chancellor, and operating a second year of classes in the
pilot project. This year of the project was not as successful beginning even with student
orientation. There was NOT a specific block orientation, but all students were together.
This probably contributed to some misunderstandings and confusion of the project
students as to what to expect. Also, recruitment of these students was done by the
Admissions Office rather than the project staff, which seemed to provide the students
with less information than the previous year. Academic success and student satisfaction
seemed much lower and data in the evaluation report support that perception.
It was decided during this year that full implementation would be phased in over a two-
year period. The following year, all incoming freshmen would take all of their courses,
consisting of the General Education courses, in the block system. All other classes and
non-freshmen students would remain on the traditional semester schedule. While this
dual system created some minor staffing and scheduling challenges, ultimately, it worked
Local community opposition to block scheduling peaked during this final year of the
project. The concerns of the locals were communicated by them all the way to the
Montana University System Board of Regents who eventually asked Western for a formal
presentation as to what we were doing. Several faculty and students from the project, the
PD, and the Interim Chancellor were all involved in the hour-long presentation which
was VERY well received. Local opposition, at least outwardly, greatly subsided after
The search for the new Chancellor culminated in the hiring of Dr. Richard Story, Dean of
the College at Colorado College, a 25-year veteran of the block plan. For all intents and
purposes, this ended any hopes of some in putting an end to block scheduling.
The conclusion of year 3 found the project with some money remaining in the budget.
We requested, and were granted, a one-year extension in order to use these resources.
We used that money during year 4 primarily to hire additional faculty during this
transition year when we were offering block scheduling to freshmen and traditional
scheduling to all other students.
This year 4 extension year expired at the beginning of this 2005-06 academic year. We
are now offering essentially all of our courses in the block format and the system seems
to be operating smoothly. We still offer a few courses in the traditional format, but those
are primarily evening courses, internships, student teaching, and some music or art
classes which do not lend themselves well to the block schedule.
E. Evaluation/Project Results
The stated academic outcomes of the project were to assess the impact of a
combination of immersion scheduling and experiential learning (I/E model) on student
thinking outcomes and student academic performance within the general education
program. Other variables of interest related to academic outcomes included student
academic self-concept, general student retention, and the specific retention of students
identified as being academically at-risk within the general education program. The
general education program was selected as the academic program of interest due to its
potential to serve as an induction program for first-time students and because previous
research indicated early academic success to be one predictor of student persistence.
Critical Thinking: The critical thinking skills of the students were assessed using the
Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level Z (CCTT-Z). The CCTT-Z is based on the
conceptualization of critical thinking as the ongoing process of the evaluation of a stream
of incoming information while deciding what to believe or what to do. The CCTT-Z
consists of 52 questions to be answered within a 50-minute time limit. This measure of
critical thinking has established substantial validity and reliability evidence for
undergraduate populations. Research has established the CCTT-Z as an indicator of
academic success for higher education students.
Results of the CCTT-Z pre and post-tests indicated there was no significant difference
when comparing the performance of the project students with the control group from the
traditional general education program. The finding is somewhat tainted by the fact that
while the traditional program tended to retain the better-prepared students, the FIPSE
project tended to retain both better-prepared and under-prepared students. In other words,
by the time we collected the post-tests at the end of year the group equivalency we
established at the start of the year had dissipated and we were no longer comparing
Student Academic Performance: The summative assessment of the students’ academic
performance was accomplished through final course examinations, projects, or
performances and faculty evaluations. Each examination, project or performance task was
developed from a set of course objectives and goals common to both the I/E and the
traditional courses. Common goals and objectives corresponded to the published general
education program outcomes. Precautions were taken to preserve the integrity of the
assessment tools. All assessment techniques followed accepted measurement guidelines.
Assessment examples included, but were not limited to, traditional objective tests,
traditional performance tests, projects, and portfolios.
Anecdotal reports from faculty overwhelming reported improved academic performance
on tests, projects, and homework assignments. Evidence from social science, natural
science, and mathematics courses substantiated improved test performance. In those three
areas it was possible to establish a basis for comparing performance within the traditional
program and the project courses. No real basis was available to establish an empirical
difference in the areas of homework, projects, and in-class problem solving. In those
areas all we have are the reported impressions of the faculty. Still, within that limitation,
faculty did report superior performance in all areas.
Additional evidence was available in the form of student grades. For the purposes of this
report general education grade point average were considered indicators of student
success. For this project, student grades improved with time spent in the project. By the
end of the fall semester there was no significant deference between project grades and the
traditional program. By the end of the spring semester the project students outperformed
the traditional student even though more at-risk students were retained in the project
Academic Self-Concept: For the purposes of this project, self-concept was defined as a
person's conceptual organization that is derived from ongoing internal and external
experiences. Self-concept theorists have found that students with positive self-concepts
tended to be more successful than students with negative self-concepts. Also, students
with positive self-concepts tended to receive more positive affect than their counterparts.
Within the study of self-concept, academic achievement has been found to correlate more
highly with academic self-concept than other facets of self-concept. In all age groups,
academic self-concept has been found to be a significant predictor of academic success.
Academic self-concept was included as a variable of interest in the present project due to
evidence that indicated it is amenable to change under appropriate conditions.
The academic self-concept of the students was assessed using the Student Descriptive
Questionnaire III (SDQ-III). The SDQ-III is based on the conceptualization of self-
concept as a multifaceted, hierarchical construct. The SDQ-III is a 136-item instrument
that was designed to measure 13 factors of self-concept. This measure of self-concept has
established substantial validity and reliability evidence for undergraduate populations.
Only the SDQ-III items specific to academic self-concept were administered to the
participants of this project.
The results from the SDQIII were positive. The pre-post test change scores for the project
students were significantly better than the change scores for the traditional program
students. In the case of the project students, the improvement in academic self-concept
would manifest itself in how students approach and persist on academic tasks.
Students with limited academic self-concept tend to start an academic task assuming that
they are going to fail no matter what they do. Given the slightest difficulty, they usually
quit. Often, they won’t even make an attempt when faced with a difficult, ill-defined task.
In those cases, avoidance is their typical response. Though low academic self-concept
individuals require considerable emotional support when attempting academic tasks, it
may not be enough to motivate them to persist even when engaging in well-defined tasks.
Students with a robust academic self-concept tend to persist when faced with a difficult
or ill-defined task even when experiencing a lack of success. These individuals will not
require extensive emotional support during academic tasks and are resistant to
experiences of failure. They will keep trying until successful.
Clearly, the elevated academic self-concept of the project students is directly correlated
to their superior grade point average. Additionally, the improved SDQIII scores add
evidence to substantiate the anecdotal faculty reports of high levels of student enthusiasm
Student Retention: Further evidence for the success of the project can be derived from
improved retention rates from fall to spring and spring to fall. During the course of the
project the FIPSE students had higher retention rates than the students in the traditional
Student evaluations of their courses offered additional evidence to support the suggestion
that the project was responsible for the improved retention. Analysis of course
evaluations and student comments indicated that student perceptions of the FIPSE
courses were more positive than those of the students in the traditional program.
The FIPSE project has had a profound influence on the campus, resulting in sweeping
changes in the way academic programs are delivered, the way student support services
are offered, the way the campus markets itself, the way the campus is perceived by the
Board of Regents and other campuses in the Montana University System, and the way in
which students and potential students view the campus.
By improving student recruitment and retention, funding by the Montana University
System has automatically increased since a portion of the campus budget is FTE driven.
In addition, the success of the pilot program led to the gain of additional financial support
from The University of Montana through its Strategic Growth Initiative to assist its
smaller campuses in building enrollments. Western is viewed as using these initiative
funds very effectively, a major part of which was the implementation of Experience One
across campus. Western is the only campus in the Montana University System to have
exceeded its enrollment projections over the past two years. A major reason for this is
the implementation of Experience One scheduling.
The campus plans on continuing Experience One scheduling indefinitely. Due to the
publicity the conversion has received, there have been a number of inquiries from
campuses investigating the implementation of Experience One-type scheduling for some
or all of their programs. The campus has provided information on its conversion to
Experience One to these campuses, hosted one visitor from a campus considering the
implementation of this scheduling model, and agreed to send personnel to another
campus for consultation purposes. Recently the governor of the state of Montana became
aware of the scheduling system and would like other Montana University System
campuses to consider its adoption. Representatives from campuses with two-year
programs from across the state discussed this at a September meeting.
The campus plans to continue the assessment of the success of Experience One through
multiple measures. These will include changes in: student applicant profiles, student
retention and graduation rates, student learning, student success after leaving Western,
employer satisfaction with graduates, and student and faculty satisfaction. While many
other variables are functioning concurrently with the change in course scheduling, either
associated with or independent of the scheduling system, the campus hopes to isolate, as
much as is feasible, the importance of the scheduling model on the outcomes being
F. Summary, Conclusions, and Lessons Learned
Overall the project progressed much as anticipated although, since this was a totally new
experience for a public university, many details needed to be worked through without the
benefit of the experience of others. While personnel from Colorado College were very
useful for consultation purposes, for the most part, these details needed to be worked
through by existing faculty, staff and administrators, sometimes leading to less time being
spent on other critical affairs of the university. In retrospect, it probably would have been
better to secure additional interim staff to assist the existing faculty, staff and
administration through the transition.
Some of the barriers that were encountered were also associated with the novelty of the
scheduling system being used. Typically, agencies do not have policies that apply
specifically to this type of situation, a semester system being subdivided into 4 blocks.
This resulted in the need for much explanation and negotiation with the Board of Regents
of the Montana University System, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and
Universities, financial aid, and veteran’s benefits. The new scheduling format has
required ongoing adjustment of such things as drop/add deadlines, all types of student
services, faculty training, and marketing efforts. Solutions to issues cannot generally be
derived linearly but must be examined in the context of a web of interacting factors.
On the surface the FIPSE-funded pilot project affected only the way the campus
schedules its classes. However, this change has resulted in a cascade of other changes
that have transformed and revitalized the campus. While still being assessed, these
changes show promise of having a positive influence on student success at learning,
student retention and graduation rates, student recruitment, and establishing a unique
niche for the campus.
Other campuses considering the adoption of block scheduling should build considerable
momentum for its implementation within its faculty and staff, since it is extremely effort
intensive. The adoption of Experience One scheduling has been a very long and
complicated process so the decision to implement it should not be taken lightly.
However, the rewards, at least in the case of UMW, have apparently been worth the