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Course descriptions lack sufficient information

By Andrea Schneck

July 5, 2010 9:00 p.m.

My summer is under siege.

With a full-time job, friends and still two seasons of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to watch, my sleep schedule has been dismal. But perhaps more menacing than the eight hours of work is the quarterly attack of class scheduling.

Course descriptions are limited to a tentative 40-word explanation, according to Kathleen Copenhaver, assistant registrar. This is the same amount of words in the previous paragraph, and not enough to know the truest extent of my summer vacation.

Each quarter, I feel as if I’m lost in a sea of course descriptions and Firefox and Microsoft Word tabs as I search for information on my classes. Words cannot even begin to embody how much I dread picking my classes.

This needs to change.

When students sign up for classes, it is essential we know what we’re signing up for. Forty words cannot outline the tests that will be given, what emphasis is placed on reading and take-home assignments or the exact subject of the course.

Posting a tentative syllabus alongside course descriptions will give students much-needed information, easing the course selection process and enhancing our education.

As students, our goal is to learn, to acquire the most knowledge based on whatever method of learning is best for us. Some students learn better from reading assignments and so should choose a class with a heavy reading basis.

But with only 40 words, students can’t gauge the makeup of a course. As a result, we lock ourselves into courses that may not add a valuable experience to our education. When we’re not interested in something, we simply cannot put forth the same amount of effort to learn the material.

Once we’ve added the class, it is sometimes too burdensome to change our schedule. Or worse, as Jason Youdeem, former Undergraduate Students Association Council candidate for academic affairs commissioner, said, students might have to stay in a class for two weeks before dropping it, taking up valuable room from other students who might benefit from the course more.

Short descriptions cannot give students enough information. While professors can voluntarily post their syllabus, not enough professors do. And for those professors that do, the syllabus is often locked behind a password, only accessible after the student has enrolled.

Youdeem is currently working on a solution with Judith Smith, vice provost of undergraduate education; Stephanie Lucas, internal vice president; and a group of UCLA students. He hopes to include a link to a syllabus on the scheduled course list website, making information easily accessible.

While the idea is still being developed, the syllabus would likely be short. It might include a more detailed description of the class and grading distributions, but it would not be bogged down with exact reading requirements.

Attaching a syllabus shouldn’t be difficult. In order for a course to be created, a course syllabus must be proposed, said Copenhaver. Each quarter thereafter, a professor’s syllabus is archived, so posting an archived syllabus wouldn’t create much additional work.

Perhaps an even better solution would be to post a new, tentative syllabus. This would simply require a professor to create a syllabus a few weeks in advance of the course and would still allow the professor to make changes to the course in good faith. A tentative syllabus would be tremendously helpful in dissipating information to students.

Linking to a syllabus would also be beneficial for professors. Students would know what is expected of them, so professors wouldn’t have as many people dropping classes and could partially mitigate the nightmare of waitlists.

As Youdeem said, “If you know everything about a course, why would you sign up for it in the first place if you didn’t intend to take it?”

Forty words might help make the scheduled class list shorter in length, but it translates into missed sleep, worry and wrong decisions. Making a tentative syllabus mandatory will allow students to excel in their education, something that should never be bound by a word limit.

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Andrea Schneck
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