The provost has asked professors to start uploading course syllabi onto courses.brown.edu, according to a Brown Daily Herald report last week. This announcement is in response to a recommendation from UCS as well as a column in The Herald earlier this semester.
This simple step will make the course selection process far easier for students. As the student columnist explains, shopping period can be a chaotic, time-absorbing process: students cram into a classroom, hear a professor read through the syllabus, at which point said professor usually refrains from delving into his or her first lecture, knowing that many students there have yet to commit to the class, thereby defeating the whole purpose of shopping in the first place. Some students overload their schedules for the first week or two with classes to shop, either exhausting themselves trying to keep up with all the course work, or falling behind because they can’t. Putting course syllabi online streamlines this process, allowing students to narrow the number of courses they will actually be shopping at the start of the semester, making better use of everyone’s time.
A further advantage is that this increases curricular transparency to those outside of the Brown campus. One of our contentions is that the curriculum is weighed too heavily toward courses that “pay special attention” to issues of race, ethnicity, gender. Meanwhile, traditional great books courses seem to be few and far between. Now, with all course syllabi online, we will be able to see just how biased or balanced the open curriculum really is.