One of the most common frustrations of the registration process is that all course descriptions are not created equal. While some descriptions on the Registrar’s Web page give clear, thorough overviews of a class’ expected material and workload, others merely consist of one or two sentences that barely extrapolate beyond the most basic information of what the class will entail. So, while students might be drawn to a certain class because of its title, its subject matter or its convenience in their schedule, too many course descriptions will still leave them wondering if the venture is actually worth taking.
The simplest remedy for this would be to hold all course descriptions to a stricter standard, ensuring that they all, at the very least, detail the expected workload for the class (the number of papers, exams, etc.). However, for a great number of classes, there’s a solution that could be even more helpful: provide a link to see a version of the syllabus.
While there are a few new classes each semester which, obviously, won’t have a preexisting syllabus to draw from, the vast majority of courses are not new. For classes that are traditionally taught each semester by the same professor, making the syllabus publicly available would take care of many common student queries. Even for classes that will be undergoing a change — either through an adjustment to the curriculum or a new professor taking over — a recent version of the syllabus could greatly help students conceptualize what the class will be like, as long as they understand that the material is subject to change. Access to the syllabus could also prepare students for the expected selection of required readings.
The registration period is typically a time of uncertainty and disappointment for many students, but it is also a time for academic discovery. In between searching through all the graduation necessesities and all the locked-out dream courses, a student can happen upon an exciting elective course and, because of the UR curriculum, have the freedom to pursue it. But with course descriptions being as inconsistently informative as they are, one student’s choice of elective could just result in disappointment. Academic experiments should be an exciting decision, not a gamble. Providing digital syllabi during the registration period could not only encourage students to explore their academic freedom, but also help them do so wisely.

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