Course registration each term can be a tedious experience, only made more difficult by the limited and vague information initially available about each course. As fall semester course selection draws near, a new Columbia College Student Council effort, spearheaded by Academic Affairs Representative Donna Desilus, CC ’09, strives to increase student access to course syllabi in hopes of making the process smoother. Currently, few University professors post their syllabi online early. This lack of information becomes more problematic during shopping period, when students have limited time to seek out other courses and alter their schedules.
“The first two classes, you can’t really make a prediction,” Melissa Santos, CC ’09, said. “The teacher is still introducing the class and trying to sell it to you.”
“I think students will do better if they can make better informed decisions,” Desilus said.
Michael Gill, CC ’10, agreed that the new initiative is a good idea. “It’s only logical. People frequently drop courses when they see the syllabus, and it [the unavailability of syllabi before registration] just adds another step ... I end up choosing courses that are the most descriptive in their titles, which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the best courses for me,” Gill said. He added: “The professor really has no excuse. If they’re ad-libbing the courses, that’s kind of a problem too.”
Desilus recognized the need for student access to valid and unbiased information about courses. Having course syllabi readily available to students, Desilus feels, will “make it easier for students to navigate the bureaucracy,” and students will no longer have to rely exclusively on course descriptions and student reviews on CULPA.
Past CCSC Academic Affairs Representative and current Vice President of Policy Alidad Damooei, CC ’09, said that improving course registration “has been something that has been brought up by academic affairs representatives in the past,” but commented that Desilus has pursued it more thoroughly and with more success. Desilus is running for vice president of policy on the same ticket as Damooei’s presidential bid.
Desilus, with the help of Columbia College Dean of Academic Affairs Kathryn Yatrakis, sent letters out to faculty asking them to make past syllabi available to students on Courseworks for the fall 2008 semester.
While some professors, among them Yatrakis, already post their syllabi online for students to view, others are, according to Desilus, less interested in doing so. Desilus cited a lack of technological know-how as one of the main reasons, but added that, for a number of professors, the issue is over intellectual property.
Desilus has worked to assuage that fear by creating a system where syllabi would be available only on Courseworks under password protection, and thus only accessible to Columbia students.
Economics professor Marcellus Andrews said he supported the sentiment and is in favor of students having full access to information. “Putting syllabi online would be great,” he said. “It’s just a problem of getting myself organized.”
The goal of CCSC is to have syllabi posted for all fall 2008 courses, even if they are not current. Desilus hopes that by spring 2009, most courses will have up-to-date syllabi available.
Damooei said that CCSC is very excited about the movement toward online syllabi. “There are really no negatives on the student side,” he said, adding that student body as a whole seems behind it as well.
“This is something exciting,” Desilus said. “It’s something that students can actually see the impact of today.”