April 28, 2004

Early Morning Class Blues

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Bleary-eyed students stumbling to early morning classes may be a thing of the past at Duke University, which recently announced a plan to eliminate 8 a.m. classes. At Cornell, however, where there are no such plans to push back class hours, students continue to do their best to cope with the few hours of sleep their busy schedules afford them.

If you don’t have trouble getting to early morning classes, you might organize your time better than some Cornell students and factor plenty of sleep into your daily routine. Or you might be someone like Katelyn Hollars ’07, who grew up on a farm and is used to early mornings.

“I’ve kind of had perfect attendance since fourth grade,” Hollars said. “I haven’t missed class yet.”

Although Hollars is awake nearly every weekday morning by 7:30 a.m. for her 9:05 a.m. class, at least one former student found that with the stress of a full course load and social life, there was little time for enough sleep to be functional.

“I’d make it to class, but would fall asleep regularly,” said Richard Lee ’03, in an e-mail regarding an 8:40 a.m. class his freshman year.

“My first semester at Cornell was very stressful because I found it hard to manage both my social life and academic life, and it always felt like it was hard to balance the two out and be successful at both,” he added.

According to a survey released in April 2003 by the Senate Educational Policy Committee titled “Attitudes and Preferences of Cornell Undergraduates Toward Academic Scheduling,” 70.8 percent of students are “somewhat or very alert during class on a regular day.”

Students tended to be most alert from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., whereas professors generally function on a different sleep pattern.

According to one of the study’s co-designers, Prof. Susan Piliero, education, professors usually reach their peak about two hours before students because they go to sleep and get up earlier. “I have trouble going to class because it’s really early, my body’s not really awake at that time, so a lot of times I just don’t go and when I do go, usually I have trouble staying awake unless I got a good night’s sleep the night before,” said Andres Blanco ’04 of his 8:40 a.m. class on Monday and Wednesday.

Compared to his other classes, Blanco is “doing the worst in that class,” he said.

The study also found that during weeknights 4 percent of students often pull all-nighters while 42.8 percent of students never pull all-nighters.

Questionnaires were sent to all undergraduates, with 5,874 students completing the survey.

“We wanted to do some really thorough analysis by subgroup,” Piliero said.

Data was found across age, race and gender categories. The summary report of the findings reads: “sophomores and juniors reported higher levels of alertness than freshmen and seniors. Asian students reported the highest level of alertness, while black and Hispanic students reported the lowest level of alertness.” Higher levels of alertness were also found among females, and higher alertness generally corresponded to higher GPAs.

According to Piliero, the differences in alertness between different age, racial and gender groups could have been due to self-perception — one student’s definition of high alertness may be another student’s definition of low alertness.

The debate is still open as to how to help students who feel they have low levels of alertness.

“The question is, should we accommodate this or should we try to think of strategies to help students become more functional during normal business hours,” Piliero said.

Classes and prelims are currently not offered from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., and according to Piliero, most classes are offered from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

By extending academic hours, students might have higher overall levels of alertness, Piliero said. This sentiment was echoed by Annabel Moreo ’04, who works from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Tuesdays and during her time at Cornell has always had at least one 9 a.m. class.

“I think you just need to make sure the classes are offered at a variety of times because there are people who prefer to be up early and prefer to be up late and they’ll do best if their classes are at whatever time they prefer,” Moreo said.

Archived article by Clark Merrefield
Sun Staff Writer