After modifications to the course schedule increasing the time between classes debuted this fall, class times for the spring will see a few small changes in response to student and faculty feedback.
The opening of Round I of registration on Monday marked the end of a process that occurs behind the scenes in the months leading up to each semester.
Registrar Martina Duncan explained that the Office of the Registrar delegates more specific responsibilities to each department, giving them relative autonomy to develop course offerings while considering how their department’s curriculum fits together as a unit and with those of other departments.
Each department decides which courses it will offer before the start of the academic year. The actual course schedule is determined just ahead of each semester. Each department submits these schedules in digital “offerings worksheets,” and staff at the Office of the Registrar builds the courses into the system through a manual process. Once that process is completed, the Office runs data checks to make sure the schedule is accurate.
“That’s also why we turn on Polaris early,” Duncan said. “It’s a chance to have faculty and coordinators be able to check our work so they can say, ‘oh wait, you got this piece wrong’ or maybe it was submitted incorrectly to the curricular committee and they need to make a change or revision there.”
Departments don’t have complete freedom, though. The Office of the Registrar requires that each department utilize a certain number of designated underutilized time (UT) blocks to create a more even spread of classes throughout the day—though the office does not mandate which UT blocks must be used. Among the available UT blocks are 8:30 a.m. courses, Monday/Wednesday/Friday courses and evening courses. Duncan explained that the number of UT blocks a department must use is proportional to the total number of sections it will offer that semester.
In the spring, two courses are scheduled during the 6:30-7:55 p.m. time block, which was not an option in previous years, and not used by any departments this fall.
Duncan’s goal is to vary the types of underutilized spots that are available in order to give each department adequate wiggle room for its specific pedagogical needs or preferences.
The Latin American Studies Department, for example, uses UT blocks to its advantage by offering foreign language courses that meet four days a week but that also allow students to pursue other interests. It schedules these classes during the 8:30 a.m. time slot, allowing students to maintain a degree of flexibility in choosing classes in other departments.
The UT requirement is also not necessarily seen as a burden by professors whose class format fits better with the UT slots.
“There are some specific seminars that I teach in which I ask students to read a whole novel every week, and it’s a novel they read in a foreign language,” said Associate Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Gustavo Faveron-Patriau, who prefers three-hour class blocks. “So I particularly don’t like to have to divide those courses in two sessions a week. I want to give them the time to read the whole book before the next session.”
Departments try to accommodate professors’ needs, but also avoid scheduling too many classes at the same time. In the Department of English, each professor sends in preferred times, and the department then tries to ensure its various course offerings create a workable schedule for students, according to Professor of English and Chair of English Department Brock Clarke.
“We take a look at the schedule and make sure that there’s a decent balance, that there aren’t too many courses at the same level taught at the same times on the same days. And if there are, then the chair asks/begs/threatens until we strike a better balance,” Clarke wrote in an email to the Orient.
Going forward, the Office of the Registrar will assess student and faculty feedback to improve the system. For example, this semester, one block ended at the exact same time that another block began. The Registar overrode the conflict for students who had scheduled a class in each block, and many have been struggling to make it to their second class throughout the semester. For the spring semester, the block starts 10 minutes later, eliminating the conflict.
“There was one block [that] used to end at 2:50 p.m., and this block here starts at 2:50 p.m., and that was a problem in the fall. We ended up overriding that time conflict for a number of students, and in some cases it worked, and in some cases we heard from faculty that students were really struggling to make it to those classes,” Duncan said. “This adjustment was made in the spring to make it a real time conflict so people wouldn’t try to make it and be in a tough situation where they were missing something out of at least one class, or worse, both.”
The College’s system of delegating responsibility to departments is similar to its peer institutions, such as Hamilton and Amherst.
“The schedule isn’t going to be perfect for anyone, because we’re trying to fit in so many pieces. But it shouldn’t be impossible for anyone,” Duncan said. “Really what we’re aiming for here is to allow the life of the College to go on.”