Feb 19, 2021 | NEWS | By Riley Prillwitz | Photo by Anil Jergens
When Colorado College students tell strangers outside of the CC community which school they go to, the question that usually follows is something along the lines of, “is that the school on the Block Plan?”
Ah, yes. The Block Plan. It is a draw to the school for many prospective college students. The unique class schedule is often included on the list of reasons why students choose to attend the school.
Other colleges and universities are also picking up on CC’s popular schedule, such as Cornell College and University of Southern Nevada.
It has been 50 years since CC moved to the Block Plan. Students and alumni alike have been sharing their favorite parts of the Block Plan on the college’s website as a way to celebrate the growth and success of the unique schedule through the years.
“During my sophomore year, I especially leapt at the chance to study as much as I could and to challenge myself in ways that would not be possible on a traditional semester plan,” Chris Lee ’11 said.
Cherie Anne Karo Schwartz ’73, wrote, “I am a better learner, educator, partner, friend, writer, innovator and human being because of Colorado College’s nascent Block Plan.”
“I loved the Block Plan,” Leslie Graver Trevathan ’77 said. “It really gave me the freedom to explore different opportunities.”
As part of the 50th anniversary celebrations, the college released a book, a podcast series, and a documentary feature to highlight the creation of the Block Plan as well as its development over the years.
Professors Susan Ashley and Steve Hayward were the minds behind the projects. Ashley wrote the book, “The Block Plan: An Unrehearsed Educational Venture,” and Hayward created the documentary, “The Block Plan,” both of which were released last Sunday.
“We’ve been working on these projects — film, book, podcast — for about the last three years,” Hayward said.
“It gives us the opportunity to think again about the Block Plan, to encounter it as it changed from an idea, to a plan, to a two-year experiment, and then to an institution,” Ashley said.
Ashley knew how important this project was to her, as well as the community itself. “It was an opportunity to learn more about a central feature of the college’s recent history and to do a kind of case study of the process and the politics of change,” she said.
Hayward also saw the importance of the anniversary project and wanted to make the documentary meaningful for the CC community.
“I wanted to avoid a simply historical piece about the founding of the plan,” Hayward said. “So, we decided to flip it — to tell the story of the past of the plan through the present, by telling the stories of faculty and students at CC today while also interviewing those who were here 50 years ago when it was founded.”
Professor Ashley began teaching at CC when the Block Plan was first implemented. She has seen firsthand the highs and lows of the class schedule in full action.
“The best parts are, as its inventors hoped, opportunities for greater collaboration among students and between students and professors and incentives for faculty to experiment with different pedagogies,” Ashley said. “The Block Plan also facilitates off-campus study, whether for a block, a week, a day, a few hours, and it encourages interdisciplinary collaboration among teachers.”
The professors’ studies also highlighted difficult aspects of the Block Plan that come with taking only one class at a time for a shorter period.
“What’s worst about [the Block Plan] is that it’s very demanding on both students and faculty — if you get sick during a block it’s very difficult and stressful, for instance,” Hayward said. “What was sobering to see is that the problems with the plan 50 years ago are still many of the problems that are with us today.”
Ashley agreed. “The demands that intensive study put on the faculty and the fragmentation of students’ schedules emerged as problems from the start. Despite efforts to minimize these problems, they persist,” she said.
Another aspect of the anniversary was the release of the podcast. Both professors worked hard on making the podcast just as meaningful as the other projects, and not simply creating another version of their work.
“I’m really excited about the podcast, for which we used a lot of the recorded material in the special collections oral history collection,” Hayward said. “We get a chance to hear again voices of people who died decades ago. We also found a pair of audio documents — among them the fall opening convocation — in which the Block Plan, or what would become the Block Plan, was presented to the students of the college for the first time. No one has heard those recordings for 50 years. That’s pretty exciting.”
Among the excitement of newfound history within the archival audio, the Block Plan is also opening up opportunities to better facilitate online learning during the ongoing pandemic. Hayward said there is no better time to operate under a different schedule than during a time where students need accommodated learning options.
“This Pandemic Fall, as other schools experimented with different kinds of modular approaches (one or two courses at a time models) as a way of figuring what to do, some of them reminded me a lot of those first years on the plan,” Hayward said.
So why celebrate the Block Plan? It is a simple scheduling change that seems so routine and normal in the lives of the CC community.
“It’s a chance to look back but also to look forward to the next 50 years,” Hayward said. “That sounds like a cliché, but it isn’t. This is a time for us to examine closely how we do things at CC and decide what has to change. Just as they did 50 years ago.”
Ashley put it in simpler terms. “You could say that lasting 50 years and still going strong shows the Block Plan’s resiliency. That’s a sign of success.”
Successful, indeed. If there is one thing most students and faculty can agree on, it is that the Block Plan is seen as an imperative element of the CC experience.
You can find the documentary, the book, and the podcast, as well as other 50th anniversary events on the CC website.