Let’s appreciate the efficiency of Carnegie Mellon classes
I recently realized that I haven’t had any free in-class work time since arriving at Carnegie Mellon. In my high school AP Calculus BC class, the final three weeks were all free work periods. I’m almost certain that in my senior-year English class, over half our days were free work periods. But in college, despite the difficult transition to a new style of learning, I hardly miss all the wasted in-class work time.
College classes truly are so efficient. What’s the point of having a free work period when you can just dismiss or cancel class instead, letting students do their own work whenever and wherever they want? Well, high schools generally have legal obligations requiring students to be supervised (turns out, being sued isn’t fun). But here at Carnegie Mellon, students are (arguably) responsible adults, so professors can dismiss class early if they have nothing else to lecture on. That’s why substitute teachers in college tend to be nonexistent. In fact, it's mostly the TAs who dismiss recitations early, since they aren’t always given a full 50 minutes of material.
It’s also easy to forget how little time I’m actually spending in the classroom. I never have more than four hours of class a day, and some days, I have only one class. One. In fact, I’ve never just had free time to work on whatever in a class — sure, I’ve had time to work on collaborative assignments with my peers, but that’s about it. The tradeoff is that I have to be more productive with my time — I've certainly been one to squander that freedom by procrastinating on my Calculus homework — but I'll take that tradeoff every time.
Although I love this efficiency, sometimes I miss my high school teachers simply telling fun stories for the sake of discreetly burning time to hide that they didn’t plan enough class material for the day. When professors only have lectures a few times a week, they have to focus on covering and reviewing material. Why do anything else that can be done elsewhere?
Ultimately, I’m glad I wasted all that time in high school sitting in classes that definitely didn’t need to be happening, or to be as long as they were. I was very efficient with my high school unstructured in-class work time, and I had no shortage of great in-class interactions with my fellow students. But as a college student now, I’m glad Carnegie Mellon seems to be more respectful of our time by only holding us in class when we’re truly learning.
I get it; as Carnegie Mellon students, we all love to complain. Especially in an opinion article, it feels weird to unironically argue, “everything is fine.” But take this as your friendly reminder that sometimes, just sometimes, what’s already in place might just be what works best in that specific context. I believe that applies to both the in-class work time I had in high school, and the efficiency of college classes here at Carnegie Mellon. Perhaps in a year or two, I’ll forget how special it is to have this degree of freedom in my academic life. But for now, I’ve really grown to appreciate it.