The University of Calgary's new mandatory circle-time course, now nearing the end of its first semester, has been hailed as a rousing success by students and faculty alike. The communications department offering encourages university students to enjoy each other's interesting stories, paintings, chants, songs and objects in a safe, nurturing environment.
The class is the brainchild of Jennifer Zimmerman who noticed many U of C students lacked key skills in verbal interaction, motor skills and listening ability.
"It's a chance for the students to develop their sensory experiences, auditory memory and a time for them to socialize," said Zimmerman. "These are the most formative years of a young person's life when they absolutely need a class like circle-time."
Zimmerman explained the class is made of distinct sections over a three-hour block that allow students to experience a wide range of activities.
"The biggest change most students notice is the lack of desks, we just sit or lay on the floor," Zimmerman said. "We always start by getting into a circle, holding hands and just smile and hum at one another until we start to giggle, then the real work begins."
The work consists of students being required, in groups or by themselves, to complete that classes' assigned project which can be anything from writing a list of why they're a nice person, to deciding if cats are better than dogs.
Third-year communications major Jeremy Stern said the course has been one of the most exhaustive he's ever had, but also the most rewarding.
"By the time we get to free-play, I usually have to dig into my snackpack for some pudding energy to get me all the way to group-nap," said Stern, working on a class spelling assignment. "B-A-T ... bat? This class is going to bring down my GPA for sure."
U of C arts faculty curriculum supervisor Jeffrey Rosen said the school needs to make the class a requirement across disciplines.
"Students come into the post-secondary environment ill-prepared for what's in store," Rosen said, looking through enrollment applications at his desk. "Look at this finger-painting, it's atrocious. How can students expect to be accepted into an institution like this when they can't even demonstrate what a turkey looks like?"
Zimmerman agreed with Rosen's assessment of the level of students she sees in the classroom.
"It's tough for sure," Zimmerman said. "We go through six or seven crates of Elmer's glue the first few weeks of class, the students really have a taste for it. It takes a while to wean them off of the paste and explain it doesn't fit into a healthy meal which will make them big and strong."
Currently, analogous courses are being investigated for the Universities of Alberta, British Columbia and Mount Royal where administrators have admitted their attempts at student discipline have met with failure.
"Students just don't take to the lash anymore," said U of A headmaster Edward J. Winniesnivle. "In my day you could maintain order and discipline by bending the head-boy over your knee and giving his bottom a how-you-do. But, by Jove, it might be time to take a more gentle approach."
Several U.S. schools have already implemented similar approaches to early college development. Vice-president of student affairs at Washington State's Westridge College Cindy Williams said although their five-year project has met with resounding success, there are still some students who can't grasp the material.
"Some [students] just can't do the assignments," said Williams. "It doesn't matter how much time you give them with the See'N'Say, they just don't understand that a cow doesn't say 'woof.' "
Not all U of C students have been receptive to the new learning style either. Fourth-year architectural sciences student Alicia Mayoi took circle-time as an option but hasn't found the class beneficial.
"Jeremy took all the green duplo!" the 21-year-old woman shouted across the room at no specific target, despite Zimmerman's soft, comforting hands stroking her hair. "I hate this place! I hate it! I want to go home! I have [unintelligible] now!"
Students interested in registering for the winter term can take out a circle of paper and use any colour crayon they like to write their first name, initial and draw a picture of themselves on summer vacation.