Course listings need more substance

The Washington University undergraduate body has a reputation for being engaged and academically active in our University. We pack our schedules full of extracurriculars, classes and part-time jobs, and as a result, many of us like to plan out and visualize our future semesters at school. Yet, our school does not give us the resources to accurately figure out our schedules in advance, and ultimately, makes our registration and shopping period a more stressful and challenging endeavor than necessary.

The editorial board of Student Life urges the Wash. U. administration to put better policies into place that require professors and departments to list more detailed descriptions of how classes will be run, whether through previous syllabi or a document outlining what the class will be structured like (effectively a less finished syllabus).

At the heart of this issue lies the lack of information that students receive in the course listings for the upcoming semester. The course description, though a nice touch for more advanced or new classes, is generally designed to attract students with buzzword phrases or simply an overview of the material covered. Each course also has a tab for previous syllabi that the class had, but for most classes those syllabi are outdated by many years or just do not exist.

For new classes, the University could provide an edited version of a professor’s proposal for the class, or at least an explanation of the examination types, the style of the class, and the expected readings. We understand that there are exceptional cases where this is not possible, but we believe that students deserve more complete information about prospective classes they are considering.

Having previous course syllabi or a current document on the course serves a variety of purposes, but foremost it allows students to better plan out their semesters—from their actual time schedule, to their desired academic load, students need to know how a class fits into the experience they want to have in their next semester as a Wash. U. student.

For instance, a student may want to take a history course with a midterm, instead of multiple papers, because that frees up more time for them throughout the semester. If a student is quiet, they may want a lecture class that offers optional participation or is strictly lecture based. Or, if a student is worried about other extracurricular commitments they have, they may opt for a class that is light on reading, which can be incredibly time consuming.

Better yet, having more information available to students upfront about potential classes they are taking will decrease the importance of the shopping period for Wash. U. students. For many, those two weeks are simply a time to assess the workload of a class, which a student can do largely with the help of a previous course syllabus. For professors who want to see less fluctuation in their class size and want to get into the meat of their class quickly, being more transparent ahead of time has the potential to be hugely beneficial.

Though some professors may list this information in their official course description, that is generally an uncommon practice. Having better infrastructure in place to be open with students about the classes they are interested in will enable our heavily involved student body to prepare better for their academic semesters ahead. We hope that in the future, curious students will not have to investigate courses they are interested in, but instead will be able to rely on a centralized database containing the answers they are looking for.

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