Shopping period rules to be revamped

Students and professors alike often feel overwhelmed by the frenetic pace and uncertainty of shopping period.
Students and professors alike often feel overwhelmed by the frenetic pace and uncertainty of shopping period. Photo by Blair Seideman.

For the first two weeks of every semester at Yale, lecture halls spill over into hallways and students compete for the few spots around seminar tables, all the while balancing the many uncertain slots in their schedules. But next fall, shopping period may become a tamer process.

In February 2013, the Yale College faculty approved a set of rules designed to minimize the ambiguity that plagues the first two weeks of classes. Under these new guidelines, which will go into effect in fall 2014, all professors will post preliminary syllabi online at least a week before the term starts, students will submit an online nonbinding preliminary schedule before classes meet, all course schedules will be due on the same day and a five-day schedule amendment period — in which students can add or drop one course as well as elect to enroll in a course Credit/D/Fail — will be added to the schedule.

“The complaints about shopping largely focus on uncertainty,” Yale College Dean Mary Miller said. “Students would like to know that they have a seat in the class they aspire to get into, and faculty members would like to know that if they take you, you’ll actually come back. … The sooner that both faculty members and students can make their decisions and communicate clearly, the better off we will be.”

A May 2012 report compiled by the Yale College Teaching, Learning and Advising Committee concluded that fluctuating course enrollments adversely impact both students and professors. Miller said losing two weeks of class time limits students’ ability to immediately delve into course material. She added that open enrollments also make it difficult to assign properly sized classrooms and the correct number of teaching fellows for each course.

Miller said the shift of Blue Booking and course registration to an online forum has enhanced the uncertainty surrounding shopping period.

“I think the danger with shopping when it first became an electronic process was that it was more like shopping for shoes on Zappos — you could put 300 pairs in your cart, but at the end of the day, you were only going to buy one,” Miller said. “Shopping electronically is very different than shopping as it was first conceived.”

But despite the difficulties, Miller said shopping period is an important part of the culture of Yale College, and the faculty hopes to make the process easier on both professors and students without eliminating it altogether.

Though students and faculty agreed that the uncertainty of shopping period is undesirable, those interviewed had mixed reactions to the new guidelines.

History professor Paul Freedman said he hopes the new rules will reduce the “anarchy” of shopping period while preserving flexibility.

“I think shopping period is charming — the students don’t make up their minds on the basis of lunchtime or naps or convenience but actually on the basis of course content,” Freedman said. “These changes encourage students to think of their schedule as a somewhat more stable thing, without preventing them from visiting courses, so I think it’s worth a try at least.”

But other professors were less certain that these reforms will make a difference.

English professor R. John Williams said he thinks the best way to eliminate the complications of shopping period would be to eliminate shopping period altogether.

“A more refined registration process that locks things in place would allow instructors to begin with instruction earlier, begin building community earlier and reduce the stress of the first two weeks of the semester for students,” Williams said. “At Yale, we like to have difficult choices between multiple good things … but sometimes too many choices can feel overwhelming and stressful.”

Alex Nguyen ’15 said he believes that a more definite class roster will prompt students and professors to delve into core course material in the first few days of class, allowing content to be spread over a longer period of time. He added that more productive class time in the first few sessions could incentivize professors to spread out midterms, reducing the midterm crunch.

Alex Haden ’14 said the new policies could lessen shopping period’s impact on extracurricular activities.

“I think it will benefit a lot of people because their lives won’t be as crazy,” said Haden, a freshman counselor and intramural secretary in Pierson College. “I really want you to come play basketball, but if you’re doing six classes, you don’t really have time to do that.”

But students such as Ben Della Rocca ’16 expressed doubt in the effectiveness of the University’s plan to provide useful course-selection information through syllabi. Della Rocca, who shopped three seminars this semester, of which he ultimately chose one, said he had to attend class, meet professors and interact with students before he could come to a final decision.

Schedules for members of the class of 2014 will be due at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 11.

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