In-depth class descriptions could solve problems

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    The English department publishes a lengthy document with long descriptions for each spring 2006 class.”Modern Fiction,” for example, receives a 222-word treatment detailing the books read, the themes discussed and the work expected.

    But the TCU Course Catalog gives the same class a mere 41-word synopsis. Ten out of 10 students agree: The more informed the choice a student could make about a class, the better.

    Talia Sampson, in the Aug. 29 edition of the Skiff, said, “Adding one more week to the add date would greatly benefit the students.”

    That’s a controversial point, and I have less controversial suggestions that might alleviate problems.

    Sampson went on to say, “This holds true, even for non-freshmen, that some classes (turn out to be) different from their description in the TCU catalogue.” Everyone knows it.

    The descriptions the Registrar gives are generally archaic, recycled blurbs identical to those in the TCU Bulletin, a term interchangeable with “the course catalog.” Registrar employees told me they get their course descriptions from the departments.

    Initially, the descriptions do originate from the departments, but the philosophy department, for example, does not routinely give any course descriptions whatsoever to the registrar. At some point, though, they did give brief descriptions of their classes to TCU course-approval committees. These descriptions are the ones we now see on the Registrar’s Web site.

    Professors want to give fairly broad descriptions of their classes so a detailed entry doesn’t tie them down. After all, different professors teach “Introductory Astronomy” differently. Fair enough. But that doesn’t excuse the entirely worthless descriptions the rRegistrar and the TCU Bulletin sometimes give.

    Experienced college students (and the most savvy of freshmen) know to check with the professor before getting their heart set on a particular course. A good professor can give you at least some further indication of what the class will cover, and what he or she will expect. Long meticulous papers? Pop quizzes? And, most important for yours truly, how many times can you sleep through your alarm clocks without getting your grade knocked?

    Students need to talk to professors before signing up for courses to make sure they know what they’re in for. But incoming freshmen don’t necessarily know this.

    Marsha Ramsey at the Center For Academic Services said she believes telling them during the day-and-a-half orientation session to ask professors about course content would only confuse incoming freshmen.

    I disagree, but if the freshmen are that confused, then the Registrar should help them out. Not all advisers will.

    Imagine a meek student, a socially isolated being, with no way of knowing what exactly the English department’s Intro to Drama course might entail – save from the detailed description that the department put on its own Web site.

    But suppose the department had not done so – as, for example, the psychology department does not. Our poor guy doesn’t think to talk to professors, so he’s left with the Registrar’s class search. There he’d learn Intro to Drama will consist of “reading and analysis of the various dramatic genres.”

    Shouldn’t the Registrar’s page provide more information, particularly if some professors have published example syllabi, and if some departments have printed more descriptive packets?

    Richard Galvin, of the philosophy department, suggested that the Registrar’s class search Web page could become “a clearing-house” for information pertinent to a particular course. Simply transferring detailed descriptions, he said, couldn’t be all that difficult. There’s no real technological barrier.

    Mike Butler, associate dean of AddRan College of Humanities and Social Sciences, pointed out that the Registrar’s class search has done a similar thing in the past: One system, he recalled, allowed professors to add links from the Registrar’s page to further information.

    Butler said the Registrar has to use the titles and descriptions officially approved by the university. If the class search page provided links to further information, the Registrar could still fulfill its formal obligations, and the professors could keep their brief descriptions – only now students could access additional information more easily.

    Is this is too much to ask? Adding a quick line below the description of a class, such as, “Please check with the professor or the department for more detailed information about this course,” would encourage students to double-check the actual content of classes they intend to take.

    When students are uninformed or misinformed, they sign up for courses they do not want. Some once-a-week classes, for example, give you only one day to decide to drop.

    Without detailed course descriptions, switching classes burdens the students who care about the material.

    Douglas Lucas is a junior English major from Fort Worth.