Opinion | 12:12 pm | September 10, 2013 | By Scott Stern, John Masko, and Diana Rosen

FORUM: Shopping Period

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Photo by Harry Simperingham.

Diana Rosen | Staff Blogger

I entered shopping period two weeks ago with absolutely no idea how to manage it. Fresh out of two semester of Directed Studies, “shopping” had only ever meant receiving a flood of emails from my peers demanding to switch sections and deciding between a couple of QRs when picking my fourth class. As Yale Bluebook Plus, Yale Bluebook (not plus?), and OCS were updated this summer, I found myself entirely overwhelmed. Since when did Yale have so many departments? How was it possible that there were so many gut science classes to choose from? My various worksheets began to fill up with more and more color-coded blocks and my Facebook newsfeed showed me that others were doing the same.

I had no idea what constituted an appropriate number of classes to shop. I asked my seasoned-shopper suitemates when I arrived to campus and their answers ranged from six to twenty. Eventually I settled on ten. I spent my first week and a half of classes desperately attempting to keep up with the readings and problem sets assigned in far too many courses while simultaneously going over and over again to crowded seminars where the professor hadn’t yet released a definite admission list. The stress-free, wonderful-in-all-ways shopping experience my tour guide had gushingly described two years ago left me feeling conflicted and exhausted.

Yale administrators are correct to address the problem of over-shopping. By requiring students to submit a nonbinding course schedule before classes start, the number of overfilled classrooms will likely decrease. This policy will also force students (especially ones who have not experienced shopping period before) to seriously think about what their final schedule will look like before shopping period begins. Had I done this at the start of the semester, my shopping period would have been significantly less stressful. The new requirement that syllabi be posted by professors a week before classes begin will also aid students in making informed decisions before the start of the semester.

Still, as stressful as it can be, shopping period is an important Yale tradition and efforts ought to be made to preserve it, even as changes are made for the sake of organization and certainty. Moving forward, it will be important to avoid enacting further changes that hinder students’ abilities to shop for the courses that fit them best.

John Masko | Staff Blogger

This past week the faculty proposed a spate of rule changes to the system of class ‘shopping’ at Yale, The changes attempt to limit over-shopping by requiring students to submit a preliminary course schedule, rather than enrolling in and shopping all the classes that might interest them.

Looking back as a senior over my Yale experience, I can identify several classes I’m very thankful for having taken, which I would never have enrolled in without a no-strings-attached shopping period. Like the Credit/D/Fail option and other institutions Yale offers, shopping period gives us an opportunity to expand our comfort zone beyond our disciplines or what we assume our interests are.

At the same time, I remember sitting at a seminar table two years ago in WLH, awaiting the arrival of Professor Charles Hill for a seminar, and not being able to see the floor for all the people packed into the tiny classroom. Lines of students (I believe there were 80 or so in all) snaked out the door and around the corner. To help dealing with this seminar problem (which is admittedly rarer than many might think) classes or professors who have a history of having their seminars grossly oversubscribed should be able to have a preregistration system for those courses.

The changes being proposed, however, go far beyond addressing these extreme cases. In general, they are solutions in search of a problem. The reason many Yale students ‘overshop’ classes is not the institution of shopping period itself, but professors’ resignation to their students’ refusal to do work during shopping period. It is usually only very popular courses that have the luxury of assigning reading or evaluating class participation during the first couple weeks.

But, the problems of ‘lost academic time’ could be solved by an institution-wide agreement to treat shopping period as regular class time. The result, particularly in seminars, would be exactly what these rule changes seek to do, but without limiting the freedom of shopping period.

Students will not shop ridiculous numbers of classes, will not flee classes that assign work at the first meeting for those that don’t, and will give valuable academic time back to professors; all while safeguarding a valuable course selection tradition!

Scott Stern | Staff Blogger

In all the talk about shopping period, we often forget to discuss one of its central components: the actual shopping.

Yale classes take quite a bite out of one’s paycheck — books and course packets often cost hundreds of dollars. Yale Financial Aid estimates that “books and personal expenses” run $3,400 a year. Indeed, the price of college textbooks has risen by 812 percent since 1978, outpacing those of all other printed materials.

To counteract this costly burden, Yale has taken some positive steps. The University plans to create a “Course Reserves” tab on the Classes V2 course page so that students will no longer have to buy course packets from the vulture-esque TYCO.

But this is not enough. And as the Yale College Teaching, Learning and Advising Committee comes up with new ways to streamline shopping period — creating a preliminary nonbinding schedule, instituting an amendment period — the exorbitant costs of textbooks should be addressed as well.

This can be accomplished through many approaches. We’ve all taken classes that assign the same book every semester, especially if it’s the textbook authored by the professor. These classes could have a “classroom set” of certain regular textbooks, as most high schools do, which would seriously defray costs.

But wait, some might interrupt, many classes change textbooks every year. Don’t we want classes to be as up-to-date as possible? In a word, yes — but only to a point. Perhaps it’s naiveté, but the difference between volume 10 and volume 11 often seems negligible to me. For instance, I took English 120 last spring, during which volume 13 of the Norton Reader was recommended; the semester before, volume 12 had been used. I got by fine with a friend’s volume 12. Perhaps updating volumes only once they change substantially could save students much-needed dough.

Finally, professors should take care to assign books that can be found free online. This has been an increasing trend, but, as with course packets, we should make it the new normal.

Shopping is expensive and shopping is stressful, but it doesn’t have to be.

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