Shopping Period may see changes

Though Yalies may hold shopping period — the two weeks of course selection at the beginning of each semester — sacred, one administrator is lobbying her colleagues to amend what she said is a flawed process.

Associate Registrar Daria Vander Veer is pushing Yale College Dean Mary Miller to rethink the system, arguing that the chaos of shopping period detracts from the quality of instruction and complicates room assignments. And while professors and students alike defend shopping period as conducive to intellectual exploration, Miller said she would be open to considering some changes to the system.

“This is a very long-standing Yale practice, and changes to the system require a great deal of sensitivity,” Miller said. “But I think there may be ways to creatively structure shopping period that would be of benefit to students and faculty, and we need to think about it.”

For the registrar’s office, Vander Veer said, shopping period ushers in many problems. In the weeks before classes start, Vander Veer said she manually assigns each course to a classroom by herself, though with the aid of a computer program.

Before classes began this semester, the online course worksheets indicated that students had selected 52,000 courses — an average of about ten classes per student, Vander Veer explained.

Not being able to predict enrollment for each class means that she must base her decisions on past enrollment, and for new courses, she said she tries to make an educated guess. The problem, Vander Veer said, is that she often incorrectly judges what size room a course needs, leading to complaints from professors and numerous classroom shifts.

“The downside is the wear and tear not only on us, but on students as well,” Vander Veer said in an interview last Friday. “Classes where students can’t even get in the door during shopping period, and they just walk away. Books that sell out because people have no idea how big a class is going to be.”

Registrar Jill Carlton said she, too, thinks shopping period is not always conducive to teaching and learning, adding that she thinks there may be a better way to offer students flexibility in scheduling courses.

Some professors tend to simplify course material during the first few class sessions during shopping period, Vander Veer said, decreasing the quality of instruction.

Vander Veer said she has two ideas for adjusting shopping period. The first, she said, would be to shorten shopping period to a week, but adjust scheduling so that professors teaching two-hour seminars that only meet once a week would conduct two one-hour sessions, so students could shop two classes in the same time period.

Alternatively, she suggested, students could use the preference selection tool used for preregistration in English classes. In this scenario, students would choose their top five course choices prior to the start of the semester. These choices would not be binding, she said, and shopping period would proceed as usual, but the registrar’s office would have a better sense of enrollment.

“At least what we need is a revisitation of shopping period, to say, ‘Is it accomplishing what it’s supposed to be accomplishing?’ ” Vander Veer said. “And ask if there’s a way we can still keep the benefits but get rid of the heartache and headache and frustration that goes with it.”

Some professors said they do have to adjust their lectures to accommodate shopping period, but that it is not necessarily a negative thing.

Glenda Gilmore, the chair of the African-American Studies Department, said she has learned to plan her shopping period lectures to be more general, so that students who do not attend every class do not fall behind. Still, she said she finds shopping period valuable.

“I know that the students in my courses want to be there, and there’s nothing better than that feeling,” Gilmore said.

Ana Paulina Ochoa Espejo, a political science professor teaching “Moral Foundations of Politics” this semester, said professors may find teaching a revolving group of students — some of whom may stand up and leave in the middle of a lecture — difficult at first. But she too said she thinks shopping period allows students freedom of choice.

Vander Veer said she thinks much of the function of shopping period can be fulfilled by reading evaluations and syllabi. But students, such as Justin Petrillo ’11, said the classroom experience is a necessity.

“You might not have your interest [in a subject] sparked until you see a professor talk about it,” Petrillo said. “If you take that away then you reduce classes to a set of books, and you reduce learning to some narrow path that’s predefined.”

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