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Thursday, November 27, 2014 | Last updated: 11:19am

Syllabus previews would better prepare students for chosen classes



The information age is also the age of the consumer, and customer-friendly products have accurate labels and identifiable manufacturers and uses.

This ought to be true when students shop online for classes. We choose individual products that we must purchase to earn a diploma, providing us with an essential credential and starting point in the real world.

Associated Students of the University of Arizona Senator Taylor Ashton has been working since last September to keep his 2012 campaign promise of having syllabus previews posted on UAccess. However, Ashton is running into some issues, while trying to get more information made available to UA students.

“Students register blindly,” Ashton said. “I don’t see the efficiency in that.”

The faculty pushback on Ashton’s proposal hints of the ironic stereotype that higher education institutions are chronically resistant to change.

Providing students or customers with the most information possible falls in the category of excellent customer service, a real-world concept that traditional universities are notoriously lacking at times.

Ashton said he understands the enormous amount of work required to post all syllabuses online and how doing so would change the way the university is run. But he also said “peer institutions,” including Arizona State University, the University of Minnesota and Brown University, have similar systems.

“There really isn’t any reason why we can’t have something similar,” he said.

In 2009, when Brown University’s Undergraduate Council of Students attempted to get syllabuses online, the administration played a large roll in making it happen.

The original proposal for the UA received support from university administrators, Ashton said, but without the full support of the administration, Ashton’s proposal will likely fall short. The negative response from professors and graduate students, who often don’t know which classes they’re teaching until shortly before the semester starts, is very strong.

Understanding the impracticality of accomplishing his original goal, Ashton said he still thinks students can be more informed than the “two sentences” provided on UAccess.

Ashton said he is still hopeful to enact “some sort of change or result,” especially in standardized courses in business introduction, math and foreign language. He said alternatives could include identifying class format, its structure and/or the rubric for how the professor calculates the final grade.

No doubt, professors’ academic freedom must be respected. Furthermore, enacting any change would take a great deal of sacrifice, work and coordination by the faculty. But the the return on its investment — modernizing the course shopping process and benefitting the university as a whole — would be significant.

Better informed students equal students who are better prepared to learn. Students better prepared to learn are more likely to reap the reward of the wisdom and knowledge professors dedicate their careers and lives to sharing with students.

Matthew Casey is a journalism senior. He can be reached at
letters@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @matthewcasey3.


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