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A year has passed since student freedom in course choice faced its gravest test in recent memory. But while Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby’s petrifying preregistration proposal may be dead and buried, it is heartening to note that student interest in enhancing the course selection process has not ebbed. Last Wednesday, student members of the Committee on Undergraduate Education (CUE) presented a report recommending a number of ways for professors to make shopping period more valuable to students.
Indeed, it is high time to reexamine how professors actually use shopping period. Though it adds up to just a few hours of class time per course, shopping period helps determine students’ plans for a whole semester’s worth of learning. Classes generally meet two or three times before study cards are due, and students shopping many courses often base their choices on a single meeting. Burning the first day discussing where to buy coursepacks and textbooks, clarifying due dates for papers and explaining the calculation of final grades is a waste of time. It is exceedingly boring to stand in a packed classroom and listen to a professor read a syllabus aloud. Even worse, that approach to shopping period leaves students much more likely to choose courses based on the quantity of work, not the quality of teaching.
Last week’s report to the CUE recommends a number of common-sense solutions to solve these problems. The most important, is having professors post syllabi and lottery details to the Internet far in advance of the first day of classes. Right now, some professors—especially those with active head teaching fellows—get their course information up on the web quickly, in time to aid student shopping. There are plenty of others, though, who don’t even bother to well into the term. If they would get their acts together, professors could spare more of shopping period to provide a glimpse of course material instead of tediously going over the syllabus. Online videos, old exams and problem sets kept on course websites from past years would be even more helpful for students shopping for classes.
But, as the student representatives on the CUE warned, these recommendations should not give profesors carte blanche to increase academic demands in the first week of the term. Students do want to see more of the real thing in order to make more pedagogically sound decisions; but more work early on would just hamper them from exploring a range of different classes and choosing the ones that best suit them. Instead, professors should stick to presenting a brief overview of course material to acquaint prospective students with the content and methodology of the course. Professors should remember that as long as it’s shopping period, they haven’t sold anything yet.
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