Departments should standardize introductory courses to be fair to all students

Just because a class matches in registration number and course name doesn’t mean the content will be the same. Different sections of the same generic, introductory classes have various professors with striking contrasts in teaching style, content and even textbooks. This lack of consistency between sections of the same course poses many problems for students, but there is a solution. Faculty in all departments should make the move to standardize different sections of the same introductory classes.

This past fall, I took Introduction to Financial Accounting – a course that’s required for my business administration minor and offers 10 sections in the fall and four sections in the spring taught by several professors. A few of my friends were in another section of the same financial accounting class with a different professor, but their class was completely divergent from mine. Luckily, I got into the accounting class with a quality professor who provided students with the resources to succeed. But whether a student is adequately prepared for success shouldn’t be based on luck. Everyone should have the same chance at passing, especially when it comes to mandatory courses. While my professor offered students PowerPoint slides, in-class exercises and past exams for practice, my friends’ professor didn’t offer anything near the resources that I got. My professor held review sessions both before and after the exams and allowed students to bring a notecard to each test, while my friends’ professor did no such thing. As a direct result, I ended the semester with an A, while my friends struggled to get Bs.

All professors teaching the same class should be required by their department.

While the learning objectives among all of the introductory accounting classes seemed to be consistent, the assignments and the exam and grading policies were not at all. This creates a problem where students in specific sections are learning more than others, while some are struggling. Academic departments at GW need to make the move to standardize all sections of the same introductory level courses so students can all leave with the same knowledge and understanding at the end of the semester, no matter which professor they had.

It wasn’t fair that some students struggled to put more time and effort into their accounting class or that some had more resources at their fingertips, especially since everyone is paying the same for tuition. It’s also frustrating that some students, like me, were getting more out of their accounting class than others despite learning the same exact topics. This inconsistency led to stressed students with anxiety over grades, with some even thinking they wouldn’t end up passing the course while others coasted.

All professors teaching the same class should be required by their department to work together prior to each year to create a syllabus and have it cleared by the department chair before they can begin teaching the course. This way, all sections of the same standard class will be designed with the same expectations. That means assigning matching homework, resources and in-class exercises, while also crediting each assignment with the same percentage toward a student’s final grade.

GW wouldn’t be the first school to do this. In 2009, York College implemented a school-wide policy that faculty had to use the college’s standard course syllabus, which stated all sections of the same course in every subject must have the same learning goals to ensure students throughout the course are learning the same content. For example, all professors who teach English 125, a composition course, must require the same assignments for the course. While GW shouldn’t adopt a school-wide standard syllabus, it should follow what York College’s English department did.

Although professors should standardize their classes to provide overall consistency, there are specific aspects where they could still have autonomy. Teaching style depends on the professor who’s teaching the class. Some prefer using the whiteboard, while others like presenting their lectures on the screen. Professors should be able to decide how they want to present the content of the class to their students, but only as long as it’s the same content other professors are teaching within the same course. In addition, professors should still write their own exams. There’s no need to require all professors to use the same exams with the same exact questions, but the overall learning objectives and assignments must be the same, so consulting each other should still be encouraged.

If departments don’t standardize their courses, students can be hurt in the long run.

If departments don’t standardize their courses, students can be hurt in the long run. Many courses require that students receive a certain letter grade to not need to retake it. In my news writing class last year, journalism majors were required to earn a B or above to pass the class and remain in the major. If different sections of the same course vary significantly in the requirements and workload, it’s not fair for one section to be significantly more difficult for some students to pass. Additionally, one bad experience can make a difference in someone’s life. Students may be interested in pursuing certain disciplines, but a poorly organized and overly difficult class can give the wrong impression and lead them to pursue something other than their passion.

A professor’s name should not determine whether or not you pass a class. Introductory classes should be an even playing field where all students in the same course are expected to complete the same assignments and put in equal effort. Meaning all departments should standardize sections of the same course that are not taught by the same professor. That way, all students leave the course with the same knowledge and takeaways.


Christina DeBartolomeo, a sophomore majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

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