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Changes to course numbering slated for Fall 2011

Get ready for some changes to the numbering of Duke staples such as Chem 83, Econ 51 and Math 103.

By Fall 2011, Duke will institute a new course numbering scheme for all of its undergraduate departments, certificate programs and graduate programs that offer courses for undergraduates.

The current numbering system only encompasses four distinct levels of classes: introductory level (0-99), advanced level (100-199), classes for seniors and graduate students (200-299) and classes for graduate students only (300-399). In the new system, 0-499 will be designated for undergraduates only, 500-699 will be for graduate students and advanced undergraduates, and 700-999 will be exclusively for graduate students.

The push for reform came from Ingeborg Walther, associate dean of the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences and director of the Office of Curriculum and Course Development. Walther said it had become apparent that there were a number of issues with the old system and that it was time for a change. She added that she anticipates to have all of the new numbers in the system by November this year so students can register for Fall 2011 classes in Spring 2011 under the new system.

The number of programs and courses at Duke has grown substantially in recent years, Walther said in a presentation to Duke Student Government Wednesday night. In some departments, such as the history department, the lack of a sufficient numbering system has caused an overreliance on special topics courses, as well as the overuse of suffixes to distinguish between similarly numbered classes.

Joshua Sosin, director of undergraduate studies for the department of classical studies, sits on the committee formed by Walther to lead the renumbering process. Because of its interdisciplinary nature, the classical studies department would likely use the new course numbering system to group courses with similar content together, he said. All classical history classes, for example, could be given numbers that end in “00” to “20,” he said.

“The problem was not that we had more courses than available numbers, but we wanted to make the numbers reflect meaningful distinctions in content,” he said.

Walther noted that some graduate schools may not understand Duke’s current numbering system and may think that Duke students are taking lower level classes when they are actually enrolled in advanced courses. Some departments also only allow graduate students to take 200-level classes, while others only allow seniors to enroll in them. The new system will be consistent across all departments and programs.

Walther said she received enthusiastic responses when she first suggested the idea of a new system to the directors of undergraduate studies and the deans of the Nicholas School of the Environment, the then-Sanford Institute of Public Policy and the Graduate School. She formed a committee of faculty members and administrators which then created a proposal to enact the changes. The proposal was approved by the Arts & Sciences Council and the Engineering Council last May.

Although there was no direct student input involved in crafting the proposal, Walther said she suggested it to several students on DSG, including current senior Chelsea Goldstein, DSG’s vice president for academic affairs at the time.

“It did not occur to me to include a student on the committee because this is largely a bureaucratic matter and I didn’t think students would be interested at all,” Walther said. “I was surprised and delighted to find out they were.”

Junior Scott Basford, a mechanical engineering major, said he has often wondered about the rationale behind the current system used by the engineering department, but he questioned the practicality of trying to organize elective classes into meaningful groups.

“People take different classes in different orders, so I don’t know how much sense the system is going to make,” he said.

About 95 percent of departments and programs have turned in their new numbering systems to Walther. She is now in the process of examining each department’s proposal to ensure that they meet the goals set forth in the committee’s proposal.

ACES will display both the old and new course numbers until 2014 so students are not confused during course registration. Student transcripts will only have the new numbers but will include an explanation describing the new numbering system on the reverse side of the transcript.

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