Staff Editorial: Focus on syllabus access only

There is almost nothing more frustrating along the academic path through GW than the lack of information provided about courses prior to registration. An often out-of-date class bulletin, cryptic course titles and the lack of consistency in similar courses taken with different professors confounds students and forces them into classes without sufficiently articulated expectations. A new Joint Committee of Faculty and Students proposal to post syllabi online could mitigate this situation, but only if the proposal does not include a mandatory test bank as well.

The idea of putting old exams online is not new – the Student Association has been talking about it for several years and nearly every year an SA presidential candidate promises to post the documents. None, however, have accomplished this task. While access to old tests online may one day aid last-minute studiers, the proposal to require a mandatory posting of all syllabi files online has much more positive potential ramifications.

Allowing access to syllabi should be a much higher priority than posting exams. Students deserve to know the specifics of each class before registering, so that they can determine which professor and which section is right for them. Currently, the only guide to university courses is the University Bulletin, which does not list many specific course descriptions and is often outdated for certain departments, or fails to list descriptions for special topics courses.

In addition to providing more transparency for students, online syllabi would reduce the number of students that add or drop courses after the first day of classes, easing demands on the registrar and possibly ensuring that more students get into the classes they actually want.

Any concerns that educators have regarding public syllabi and privacy rights can be easily mitigated by restricting access to those with a GWid. Ultimately, however, these concerns should come secondary to students’ right to access the information.

Overall, this initiative should prove easy to implement. Many professors already upload electronic versions of their syllabus to the Blackboard system.

Online exams prove to be a much more controversial intellectual property rights issue, as they more directly reflect a professor’s course material. In light of the vociferous debate likely to come from such an initiative, the JCFS should separate a presumed future push for an online test bank from its syllabus initiative. If the two are packaged together, professors may fear that the former may lead to the latter, and not support either.

The placement of exams on the Internet is ultimately a student issue. If those who will be taking tests are unable to adequately ascertain study requirements for an upcoming test during class or during private meetings with a professor, then that issue should ultimately be reported to academic officials. There has never been a requirement or burden on professors to provide students with their past material, and this should not change.

The SA could easily take the initiative to overhaul the test bank; however, under no circumstances should the JCFS require professors to post their exams on the Internet. Doing so would not only open up a Pandora’s box of controversial issues on intellectual property, but it would also erode any efforts to post syllabi online.

Students have a right to correct and detailed information about the courses in which they wish to enroll. Alternatively, they have the responsibility to adequately prepare for tests through consultations with their professor, rather than through the electronic crutch of an online test bank.

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