January 10, 2014

A better shopping list

Office of the Registrar needs to provide interim platform for course information.

While first week is generally considered the least busy week of the quarter, it also represents a period of flux, when students are scrambling to add, drop, and switch classes. There is one factor that the Office of the University Registrar could improve upon to expedite the process for many students: ensuring that the information provided for each course on classes.uchicago.edu is thorough for all courses. While some courses provide detailed information on course content and required books, others have virtually no information at all. According to University Registrar Scott Campbell, the website’s current system is not able to efficiently coordinate the necessary information for course request, which leads to the absence of some course descriptions and reading lists. The Office of the Registrar is currently developing an improved version of the software for the bidding cycle for autumn 2014. While this is commendable, students should not have to lose out in the meantime. During the wait for the improved software, the Office of the Registrar needs to provide another means for students to access course information so that they can prepare adequately for their coursework.

The information that each course description provides needs to be detailed throughout all classes, especially given that the quarter system does not allow much time for students to consider many alternatives. Even with the add/drop period, it is difficult for students to take a gamble on, for example, a course with no description—particularly when it comes to the humanities or social sciences, for which course names are often ambiguous. Offering an in-depth set of information to students during the eighth-week course registration process can alleviate at least some of this uncertainty and help students bid more precisely.

Included in this information should be lists of textbooks needed for classes. Often, students do not have access to reading lists until very close to the beginning of the quarter. Such short notice is particularly problematic when professors expect students to read for their first week of classes, as students are put under pressure—often monetarily—to acquire the most convenient copy of a book. At least some prior insight into the titles and costs of textbooks can go a long way for students who want to purchase their books in advance, whether to save money or to avoid unforeseen shortages.

Providing reading lists early is convenient for all students, but especially vital for students with disabilities who benefit from electronic versions of texts. Should a student with dyslexia or a visual impairment, for instance, need to convert a text to a format that can be read aloud by a computer, an early reading list can help the student avoid falling behind.

Though the Registrar’s office is currently working on changes to the website, it should also provide a temporary platform to host the course information and reading lists that are not displayed on the website. This could be in the form of a temporary website or new entries in the online college catalog. The Registrar could also communicate with professors and ask them to send out their syllabi to students who express interest in the class.

Early availability of this information benefits students during not only course registration, but also first week, when many students are preparing to add or drop classes that they have not yet attended. Having full information can help students gauge the feasibility and fit of a class, as well as alleviate some of the first-week attendance fluctuation that inconveniences instructors. It is probably difficult to define “Painting, Phenomenality, Religion” even after a quarter’s worth of investigation; before a student dives in, she should at least be given a course description.

The Editorial Board consists of the Editors-in-Chief and the Viewpoints Editors.