Registering for classes might not be the most exciting aspect of the Duke experience, but it is certainly the most ubiquitous. Every student utilizes the same ACES site to pre-select and then register for classes every semester. While the process generally functions smoothly, a few small tweaks to the way courses are listed and the ACES interface would benefit both professors and students.
Currently, there are several sources of confusion with ACES registration. First, a reconfigured course numbering system is disorienting for upperclassmen used to the old system. Also, course titles, often creatively worded to attract more students, often do not reflect the course’s true content. And although the drop/add period allows for some flexibility, realistically the significant workload of Duke courses right off the bat, and the limited space available in many of the most popular courses mean many schedules do not deviate far from what was selected during bookbagging.
ACES does provide some means of circumventing this information deficit in the form of student evaluations and links to professors’ synopses and syllabi. However, as we have discussed previously, the utility of student evaluations as currently configured is limited, and many professors do not take advantage of the opportunity to post information about their own courses.
This latter omission is particularly problematic. In an ideal world, students would be able to access both a syllabus for the course and a synopsis—written by the professor in his or her own words—prior to registration. This lack of information makes it especially difficult for students to find classes that match both their intellectual interests while fitting within the greater framework of their schedule.
Students enrolling in courses that in content drift far from their expectations may lose interest in the material, detracting from the professor’s ability to maintain intellectual engagement. When there is a chasm between the student’s expectations of the course and the reality, professors are faced with unnecessary complaints and students who feel overburdened or under-challenged. Students implicated in the cheating scandal at Harvard during this past year cited their misperception of their course’s difficulty as motivating their decision to cheat—an extreme scenario to be sure, but reflective of how preconceptions inform the way students engage with the classes they register for.
Professors may not be able to post a syllabus that will be accurate for a course they will be teaching but are still adjusting. But it is in the interest of both professors and students for a synopsis written by the professor to be made available. In the interests of fostering the best academic experiences for all, ACES should include a standardized form on every course page, with space for the professor to outline content, expectations, structure, workload and grading. Completion of this form should be mandatory before the course is made available for registration. Ideally, this would be supplemented by a paragraph or two written by the professor describing the intellectual purpose of the class. At the very least, the presence of this information for every class will give students the broad contours necessary to direct their course selection and position their expectations.