October 8, 2007

One-stop shopping

A smart consumer would never make a multi-thousand-dollar investment solely on the basis of a short product description. Unfortunately, under the current course selection format, students are asked to do exactly that when picking classes each quarter. A system where professors are compelled to post syllabi online before class bidding begins would allow students to make more informed decisions when picking classes.

Students are generally forced to rely on at most the class name, professor, and a brief course description. This is hardly enough information to pick a 10-week class. If students choose a class that turns out be a poor fit, they must sample other classes during the first couple of weeks—all the while falling behind as the quarter continues.

Additionally, because the University doesn’t have a formal “course-shopping” period like some other schools do, some of the more popular professors close registration after the first day of class, making a late entrance impossible.

The U of C should follow the example of its peer institutions, including Northwestern University, and place all syllabi online prior to the enrollment process. This allows students to determine whether a course interests them and whether course demands fit their learning style and the rest of their course load. Providing students with access to current syllabi would give them a head start on buying books, allowing them time to find cheaper books and potentially save hundreds of dollars year.

Student Government initiated and subsequently scrapped tentative plans to open up Chalk sites from previous quarters to allow students to browse syllabi from past classes. However, this would have only been a partial solution as syllabi are frequently changed from quarter to quarter, and not every course has a syllabus on Chalk.

Students would benefit from a policy, enforced by the University, requiring a syllabus to be submitted and posted online when courses are added for upcoming quarters.

Additionally, there should be direct links to course syllabi from the Time Schedules website to streamline the class-selection process. Because professors must prepare their syllabi for the first day of class anyway, this policy would place little strain on professors while providing a big payoff for students. This simple move would allow students to make better course selections the first time around, easing the already stressful first weeks of each quarter.