October 2, 2009

It’s time, my friend, it’s time

The University should update the outdated time schedules Web site.

Toward the end of every quarter, I look around time schedules to see which classes I might want to bid for and usually find, to my dismay, that the short list of interesting classes that I compile all share quite an unfortunate defining characteristic: their time slot. I am inevitably drawn to classes taking place on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:30 to 11:50, and I’ve started to wonder whether the heads of the Political Science Department all sit around and evilly schedule their classes at the same time.

Within a few minutes of this bitter realization, I usually just throw up my hands and leave it to the mass politic of my friends on Facebook to help me decide which classes to take. I often get unhelpful “likes” or cute jokes in all caps from my dorm-mates—both completely ineffective responses when one is in the midst of an academic quandary.

It’s then that I wish there were an easier way to find great classes to take. When I was looking around for a Civ course, for example, my advisor gave me a handy sheet with all the possibilities and permutations available, and where I could find the class listed online. It was perfect. I lost it about five days after I got it, but it was perfect while it lasted. It was a simple, clear-cut way to see all the alternatives together on one sheet of paper, with all of the information I needed to know about the course—whether I had to take the quarters in sequence, for example.

The biggest problem, at least for me, is that often I don’t know that I might want to take a sociology class until I’ve received an e-mail about it from my advisor or one of my friends, telling me that the course will count toward my major, or that it looks interesting. I wouldn’t have even thought of looking under that department for possible courses, just like I wouldn’t ever have thought of looking under Slavic Languages and Literature for a class devoted to my favorite book, Pale Fire, had I not already known that it would be there. Essentially, I’ve realized that one really has to spend an inordinate amount of time flicking through departmental lists in order to see if there are any unexpected classes I might want to bid for. The Inner Self in Modern Japanese Literature? No, of course one wouldn’t find it in any place except East Asian Languages and Civilizations. It’s not cross-listed anywhere else, even if you could probably petition for it to count under a number of other majors. And why on earth would I look there when I’m usually off perusing the Political Science and History lists?

For such an interdisciplinary school that boasts a highly varied core, it seems absurd that a Web site designed to replace the hefty course catalog should be so regimented and inaccessible when it could easily be programmed to do so much more—like sort classes by meeting time, or present a master list of classes with options to hide certain subjects from view. The “advanced search” is barbaric—it enables a user to search for a particular type of class within a department, but that, to me at least, is meaningless when I never know which department may be offering classes that sound interesting. And what about classes far outside one’s major? Electives? And how does one discover those types of classes if not by word of mouth or Facebook note? Would it be possible to “tag” all of the classes in some way with key words about their description, and then be able to look for classes by skimming through a list of tags like “postwar literature” or “Vasily Aksyonov”?

Don’t get me wrong—I love procrastinating just as much as anyone else, and playing around on time schedules certainly eats up enough chunks of my time, but I think it’s time for an overhaul. This time around, timeschedules should be designed for the curious, interdisciplinary student. It’s clear that the existing Web site was designed solely for the math major looking to take more math classes which—surprise!—can be found under the Mathematics department listing.

Eliana Pfeffer is a second-year in the College.