Early classes, lowered learning

Students, staff share experiences of early classes’ potential impacts on learning

Caleb Cissna, Staff Writer

Early classes have been a hallmark of the college experience for many years. Some students have embraced them, while others have done their best to avoid them. In more recent years, some schools, such as Seattle Pacific University, have mostly removed their very early morning classes. For those schools, many have moved the majority of classes to 9 a.m. or later, while continuing to offer a small number of classes around 8 a.m.

Opinions about early morning classes are split within students at SPU. Alec Green, first-year physiology major, prefers to schedule classes earlier in the day. 

“I prefer earlier classes, because then I have time afterwards to do stuff, even though it sucks getting up,” Green said.

Sophie Warren, first-year psychology major, prefers later classes, but often is required to take early morning classes to fill her schedule.

“I generally prefer later classes, but I try to make the most of early classes when I have them,” Warren said. “For [general courses] yes, there are a lot of choices in terms of times to choose, but for major related classes, no. They’re almost always at 9 a.m.”

Some studies have shown that students have decreased attention and learning while in earlier classes. Warren shared some of her issues with early morning classes.

“Early morning classes, getting up for them, I usually feel sad, tired and have trouble focusing,” Warren shared. “Early classes I feel like I don’t learn as well as ones that start later in the morning.”

Green shared similar thoughts to Warren.

“Paying attention in 9 a.m. classes sucks, it’s really hard to pay attention,” Green said. “The 10:30 classes and 1:00 [classes,] it’s pretty much like normal. I’m awake for the day, but the earlier classes it’s kind of hard to focus.” 

A study from Frontiers in Human Neuroscience showed that starting classes later in the morning would be beneficial for the majority of college students, as early start times can throw off the body’s circadian rhythm, leading to sleep loss. This sleep loss is directly linked to higher risk of depression, obesity, drug abuse among many possible health impacts.

However, this can cause classes to run later into the evening, which can run up against scheduling constraints for some instructors.

Associate professor of philosophy Rebekah Rice shared some of the struggles with scheduling classes.

“There are constraints, like you don’t want your class to conflict if it’s a class required for the major, you don’t want it to conflict with other major courses,” Rice said. “You want to make sure they’re offered at times students can take and can get in them. Certain programs have constraints, like nursing and so on, and so there’s a lot of things that constrain your options.”

However, some professors like Rice disagree that morning classes are worse, suggesting factors that impact other times.

“I actually think the worst class time, as much as I may even prefer it, is afternoon. I haven’t done a real study here, but anecdotally it strikes me that I have more absences, more people rolling in, more sleepy students, like after lunch,” Rice said. “On the Tuesday/Thursday schedule, there’s that 12:50 to 2:50 block. That’s pretty rough. I actually think any other time is preferable to that, even though I routinely teach during that time.”

For some students, trying to balance multiple responsibilities limits the already small number of available classes. Students, like Green, often have few classes to choose from.

“There’s three choices and not a lot of spaces in most classes. So it’s ‘When can I get it,’ not ‘When do I wanna take it,’ because you just have to take what’s available,” Green said.

Warren shared some of the constraints she has run into while trying to allow time to work in between classes.

“I do generally try to build my classes in a way that will let me have large blocks of free time to work,” Warren shared. “It definitely does limit my availability for both of those things.”

Between students and staff, the arguments for and against early morning classes are strong. As more research and studies are published, colleges and universities are shifting their class schedules.

“I mean, there aren’t too many classes before 9 a.m.,” Rice said. “It tended to be certain courses and certain kinds of courses, primarily, but I guess I am on that early end now with nine. It is responsive to what we know about circadian rhythms and brain processes and when students of various ages are more likely to be at their best.”

For more information on the Seattle Pacific University Time Schedule, visit https://spu.edu/undergraduate-time-schedule