Course Descriptions Deserve a Facelift
By Jacob Ong '14
Like most other Singaporean conscripts who took an enforced two-year break from formal education to serve in the army, I was eager to start classes, so much so that I planned my class timetable two weeks before arriving at Amherst. I thought I had a perfect course schedule, and that the add/drop period would not be relevant to me or to any other provident student.

But in reality, I struggled with insufficient time for course shopping and scheduling, while some of my friends were rejected from certain classes. I also rushed to finish homework for a science course I eventually did not enroll in, and was penalized for missing the submission deadline of a graded assignment for a class I decided at the 11th hour to attend.

Such course registration woes can be attributed to a main culprit — the lack of clarity and expectation in the course descriptions. Currently, course descriptions only contain a brief and sometimes imprecise summary of content, and the pre- or co-requisites of the courses. A quick reference to other liberal arts colleges’ electronic course catalogs reveal the severe inadequacies in ours. For example, William College specifies, among other variables, the enrollment limit and preference, evaluation format, and notes, such as “Open to First-Year Students,” which elucidate the right fit for the course. Certainly, better alternatives of course catalogs exist. In the online course catalog of several national universities, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale University, the detailed course syllabus and lecture notes can even be retrieved.

Our college has long prided itself on its provision of quality education, and one definite way for our college to improve quality learning is to revamp the course descriptions: With less time spent trying to guess what the course will teach, and who has priorities for certain classes, students can certainly save precious time for relevant homework and academic engagements by registering for courses which they may know they like most or are most suitable for, and will be accepted to. Moreover, class shopping, which may be detrimental, and the demand to extend the add/drop period can consequently be minimized. Such overhaul can also help students select a course by presenting them an additional and objective view of courses, rather than just the opinion derived from their academic advisors.

Issue 04, Submitted 2010-09-28 23:44:34