Course Selection or Speculation?
story | Dion Ho & Ng Yi Ming, Contributing Reporters
photo | Ng Yi Ming, Contributing Illustrator
“Do what you like most” — so reads the Yale-NUS College admissions page. Yet, choosing what we like turned out to be a curious challenge, as the freshmen experienced during the ongoing module registration exercise for Semester 2, AY2017/2018.
Much of the module selection process was based on guesswork, hearsay, and pure speculation. What are my chances of getting into a course? As a prospective Physical Sciences major, should I take a prerequisite course now? What are the consequences of trying a Level 3000 Philosophy module in freshman year? These and many more questions echoed across the campus during the recent module registration period, with a jumble of answers in response.
Every student is assigned an academic advisor; every student can approach their Vice Rector, email Registry, consult Residential College Advisors, orientation leaders, big siblings, seniors from student organizations, and professors; almost everyone is an important source of information. Yet, each person only offers one piece of the full picture, and the pieces do not always fit together. This is, in part, a natural result of the amazing diversity of courses at Yale-NUS. Nevertheless, more can be done to provide students with a stable framework by which they can assemble the jigsaw puzzle of module registration.
Key information unavailable
There is a dearth of essential information, from technical details like how modules will be allocated in event of oversubscription, and the process of overloading, to essential module-specific information: some important prerequisites are only offered in Semester 2 each year. Having to go through the advisory system to garner such fundamental information should be unnecessary, and missing out can lead to adverse consequences.
So far we have managed to get by figuring things out on our own — be it going after seniors or school staff to understand how things work, or crowdsourcing opinions on social media. Marcus Chua ’20 took things a step further and set up an online crowdsourced repository of module and professor feedback from past students.
Yet, much of the advice offered was arbitrary and rooted in individual opinion. For example, information spread between students were contradictory, and we have heard diametrically opposite answers to the question of whether one can select overloaded modules in Round One. Moreover, as our college grows, the list of modules and faculty members grows with it, and this informal approach may be unsustainable.
General inefficiency of current system
On the other hand, the over-dependence on Vice Rectors, Registry, and professors for reliable information creates information choke points. When a professor has to reply to a dozen emails all asking for the course syllabus, one can wonder if it is the most efficient use of time for both the professor and the students.
Some find the current system tenable. Dr. Robin Zheng, Assistant Professor of Humanities (Philosophy), said that she did not mind explaining her Oppression and Injustice module multiple times. Dr. Paul Gallagher, Vice Rector of Saga Residential College, said that he ultimately managed to complete every student appointment, although he also said that he will clear his schedule of staff commitments throughout Round One and Round Two in the future.
Nevertheless, the school staff will be dealing with larger volumes of students as the school population increases. A more efficient system for the mass dissemination of information will save a lot of time for both students and staff.
Drawing inspiration from other Yale-NUS programmes (Week 7 LAB, Language Programmes), as well as the methods of other universities, we found two sets of solutions worth considering.
Proposal: Official Briefing on Module Registration
Similar to the Week 7 LAB and the language courses, there should be an official briefing on module registration. The briefing could cover the three rounds of module registration, explain the prioritization of students and the Level 1000 to 4000 module classification, as well as clarify the module overloading process. Such a briefing would be especially relevant for freshmen and sophomores. However, given the constant evolution of the module registration process, this briefing could be helpful to upperclassmen too.
This would be similar to an expansion of the sophomore advising event in the Elm Common Lounge hosted by the Vice Rectors and Dean’s Fellows on 30th October 2017. Commenting on the success of that event in allowing sophomores to work out their module selections, Dr. Gallagher said that he “would like to apply [the sophomore] advising model to the other classes as well”, as he sees “much benefit to class-wide sessions followed by more individualized advice as needed.”
Proposal: Publishing of Module-Specific Information
Besides elucidating the module registration process, more module-specific information should be made publicly available. Essential information including course syllabi, forecasts of future reiterations of modules, and recommended prerequisite modules (in addition to compulsory prerequisites), could be officially published. For example, it is highly recommended, but not required, to take Proof before Linear Algebra. Faculties could also put up suggested pathway(s) for each major, including information about which semesters essential pre-requisite courses will be offered in, so students will have a better idea of how to plan their major modules and electives over the four years.
Statistics on course popularity and available slots could also be published. This would be in-line with the current practice at the National University of Singapore (NUS). NUS OurCORS publishes statistical reports to show the quotas available for each module before each bidding round; every module even has a “popularity indicator”. Separately, statistics on the past performance and drop-out rates for modules that students have overloaded on will provide a benchmark for future prospective students to gauge their own limits.
These measures will greatly ameliorate the information void and reduce the reliance on informal sources. If students are quickly brought up-to-date with the system and the general ‘do’s and ‘don’t’s, cases of misaction due to misinformation and the unnecessary funneling of common student enquiries towards school staff will decrease.
The views expressed here are the author’s own. The Octant welcomes all voices in the community. Email submissions to: firstname.lastname@example.org