XU: Improve course scheduling

The University should actively promote third party course scheduling platforms

For part of the College, Oct. 11th, 2016 was a momentous day. That day marked the updating of the Spring 2017 course catalogue; anybody walking through New Cabell or Alderman could spot several groups of students clustered around SIS, waiting for Lou’s List to upload the new classes so that they could begin planning for the next semester. However, there was just as a large a group that had no real idea courses were out for the next semester, and would thusly be deprived of the same level of preparation when course enrollment actually began. Although the same resources are available to all students during the pre-enrollment period, more efforts need to be taken on the part of the University to ensure that all students are aware of the many different ways that planning can occur before enrollment.

At the moment, the University’s course advising system consists of a simple “Advisor Hold” on SIS to indicate that a cursory meeting with one’s advisor is necessary before enrollment can proceed. Functionally, however, the advisors students typically meet with in their first or second year — when information is most needed — are either COLA professors or full-time professors without any specific instruction on advising. It is difficult for faculty members already strained for time with research and teaching to have to familiarize themselves with course offerings that are not in their own department. This system also unfairly supplies students with faculty advisors who may only be experts in one field; it pigeonholes students with diverse interests who may not know what classes in different departments could interest them.

Although there exists a wealth of fragmentary, partially updated advisory websites on the official University website, the College fails to promote many of the new, student-created websites made especially to help with course selection prior to enrollment. As a result, many brilliant student and faculty ideas are not fully integrated into the University advising system, and thus have to self-market in order to help out the student body. These resources include: Lou’s List, an updated listing of all course offerings, times and enrollment counts of all classes at the University; theCourseForum, a student-run database of professor reviews, grade distributions and textbooks; and vagrades.com, a systematic compendium of every course’s grade distribution over the last five years. Professors, who are sometimes hardly aware of these tools themselves, have a hard time conveying information about these resources to students, who could benefit from some quick browsing on some of these resources.

What the University does provide, in the form of the SIS, is woefully inadequate to address student needs. SIS’s search, enrollment and planning features all fall considerably short of third-party software. SIS’s search features are eclipsed by Lou’s List and CourseForum combined, and SIS’s scheduler is replaceable with uvaschedule.me, which does the same work with a much more accessible interface. Advisors often tell students unfamiliar with the course catalog for a given semester to browse SIS: if more advisors knew about the alternatives available to students at the University, they would not direct unsuspecting first- and second-years to an unintuitive, clunky website.

The University needs to do a better job of getting course registration information out to new students in a mass-marketed, systematic way, in order to make sure that all students have the same opportunity to learn about interesting classes. Many courses in the College require applications or an early registration time in order to enroll. While this issue is a systematic one related to the amount of faculty that the University hires, as well as the sheer size of the University, there is no reason that students should be placed at a disadvantage for applying to courses simply because they did not have upperclassmen friends to show them around the labyrinthine passages of SIS. A simple online newsletter with links to various advising resources, or a peer group that takes the time to visit every first-year dorm and post information regarding course registration resources before enrollment begins could make a huge difference in information.

Attending a school as large and varied as the University of Virginia is both a privilege and a daunting task. Deciding which classes to take is difficult at any institution of higher education, let alone one with as many varied options as the University. By improving the knowledge that students have about various ways to plan out schedules before enrollment begins, the University can help ensure that all students start on an equal playing field when the floodgates of enrollment actually open.

Eric Xu is a Viewpoint writer.

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