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Columns, Opinions

Ruzicka ’21: Don’t Sell Shopping Period Short

By
Staff Columnist
Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Since the University administration announced its plans for the fall 2020 semester on July 7, 2020, students have been focused on making their decisions about whether or not to return to campus. I have admittedly been contemplating the same dilemma and during my research I noticed an oversight in the University’s discussion: shopping period. The lack of guidance on this hallmark of the Brown experience is not only concerning, but threatens the agency of students to determine the proper course load for their current academic and personal situation.

Throughout all of the official materials sent to students about how our education will unfold in September — the 19-page “Plan for a Healthy and Safe 2020-21,” the emails from various administrators and organizations, the FAQ pages and other web resources — shopping period has only been mentioned twice. One instance was in the original email from President Christina Paxson P’19 on July 7, which stated that students would receive “further information about the academic calendar, including the start and end of classes for each of the three terms, and shopping, reading and exam periods” in the coming days. Such information about shopping period has yet to be released. The second occurrence is on the Academics FAQ page, where it simply states, “shopping period dates can be found on the Registrar’s official Academic Calendar, and will take place remotely.” The link to the Academic Calendar does not specify shopping period dates or procedures.

Some may argue that planning for shopping period is the least of our worries during this stressful and uncertain time, but I disagree. The University’s open curriculum is unique in the value it places on student choice. Shopping period is a singularly important support to Brown’s curriculum, encouraging students to step out of their comfort zones and shop classes that they may never have considered if they were required to commit to their course selections from the beginning. In addition, having two weeks of shopping period lets students attend each class at least twice before committing to their course schedule, allowing them time to consider whether the course setup, professor and content are the right fit for them. Without a full two weeks of shopping period, the viability of the open curriculum diminishes, and students’ creativity and curiosity cannot thrive.

Because shopping period is so essential to my and others’ success at the University, I’ve thought deeply about the best way to maintain this system given the hybrid learning model that the University has chosen. Initially, I thought that all professors could simply post the link to their course on their Canvas page, allowing all students with that class in their primary cart on Courses@Brown to access it; however, this is not viable for two reasons. First, many students shop a wide range of courses, often upwards of a dozen each semester. Requiring that students have all of these courses in their primary cart on Courses@Brown would result in a cluttered mess of classes that could not be pared down until students made their final schedule decisions. Consequently, students could experience prolonged anxiety over having many courses to choose from or waiting on override codes. Second, not all professors use Canvas. Introducing faculty members to an entirely new platform through which to run their courses would likely result in even greater confusion with remote learning.

I propose an alternate solution. Instead of relying on individual faculty members to distribute the links to their classes, or overwhelming CAB with traffic by posting course Zoom links directly to the site, the Registrar should centralize where students access these links for the first two weeks of the semester, constituting a virtual shopping period that is standardized and facilitated by a single entity. In order to achieve this, the University should create a single Canvas course titled “Shopping Period” to which all students have access. This course would contain accessible documents that each academic department creates, listing all of its available courses for the semester. Each department’s document should contain the course codes, course titles, professors’ names, class meeting times and the Zoom links for the first two weeks of “live” class. This solution allows students to shop classes even if they are not in their primary cart and avoids forcing professors to use Canvas.

Though all of this would ensure that students are able to attend any “live” course they want, it does not accommodate students who may be in different time zones and cannot take courses on an Eastern Time schedule. To amend this, two actions are necessary. First, regardless of whether classes must be recorded in general, all professors should be required to record all class sessions for the duration of shopping period. This ensures that there is an accessible record of what happened for students who could not be in class “live.” Second, the departmental documents should be updated each day of shopping period to add links to the recorded class sessions.

Because of the ever-changing nature of these documents, a Google Doc or Google Sheet is ideal. Not only are these formats continuously editable without modifying the link to the document, but they allow multiple people to edit them at once, making it easy for professors to update their links on their own schedule. Editing access can be restricted to specific individuals (namely, the teaching staff in each department), and viewing access can be restricted to only those who have a brown.edu email address.

Despite the challenges of conducting shopping period during a pandemic, it is essential that the University maintain this pillar of its educational system in its entirety. Shortening shopping period hinders students’ ability to make informed decisions about their learning experience. In the midst of an already chaotic time, students deserve the right to take their time when choosing courses in order to ensure their health, safety and success in the coming months.

Emilia Ruzicka ’21 can be reached at emilia_ruzicka@brown.edu.  Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com

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