University News

Shopping complicates room assignments

Contributing Writer
Monday, September 27, 2010

Aisles and floors full of students desperately trying to fit into a classroom or a lecture hall are a common sight at the beginning of each semester. According to University Registrar Robert Fitzgerald, it is part of the reality of Brown’s approach to shopping period.

“Room scheduling in many places can be somewhat of a scientific process,” Fitzgerald said, but at Brown, it is rather “unpredictable.”

According to Fitzgerald, before every semester begins, rooms are assigned based on past enrollment records, pre-registration numbers and the expected number of incoming freshmen. However, he said, “all the analyses somewhat go out of the window” once shopping period begins.

“We don’t have any idea who’s going to shop the class or not shop the class,” he said. “It’s difficult because we try to balance faculty needs and student requirements.”

Despite the shopping chaos, only 17 classes ended up moving this semester, Fitzgerald said. When a semester begins, some departments and faculty instantly request changes, but, Fitzgerald said, “we always tell them to really wait until the second week of classes have ended.”

Ultimately, most classes do not end up moving. “Historically, things shake out to be what we expected” by the end of shopping period, he added.

According to Fitzgerald, most issues occur with popular class hours, such as C and D hours — 10 and 11 a.m., respectively, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — during which large lecture classes, many of them common concentration requirements, are clustered. Fitzgerald said 11 of the 17 classes that moved this semester were taught during C hour.  

Classroom changes are more difficult for courses that require certain media or lab equipment. ENGN 0030: “Introduction to Engineering” was not able to move this semester because “there are demonstrations that only work in a particular setting,” said instructor Janet Blume, associate professor of engineering.

According to Shaan Ahmed ’14, a student in ENGN 0030, seven or eight people still end up sitting in the aisles during the class. But “it’s not that big of an issue,” he said.

This year, compounding the problem, Brown lost two of its large lecture rooms due to renovations in Metcalf Laboratory, Fitzgerald said, requiring the Office of the Registrar to “mix and match” by swapping smaller classes with larger ones.

For Ngoc Pham ’12, who has already had two classes this semester moved to different locations, the uncertainty of shopping period is “not a huge deal.”

Fitzgerald said he considers the “churning in and out of shopping period” to be part of “Brown culture.” And in the end, he said, “shopping period eventually works itself out.”