SCUE's Online Syllabi Initiative shot down


Due to 'belt-tightening' in the budget, University says plan is not feasible before 2010




Despite its earlier efforts, putting syllabi online continues to be a pipe dream for the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education.

In preliminary meetings last week, administrators said that the Online Syllabi Initiative SCUE has been pushing for the past three years may not be feasible until at least 2010.

The project would have created a centralized repository system where professors in all four undergraduate schools could upload course syllabi during the advance-registration period.

Many top-tier schools, like Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have such systems.

Last week, administrators told SCUE that "University-wide belt-tightening" due to the financial crisis makes the project impossible at the moment, said College and Wharton senior and SCUE Chairman Zach Fuchs.

College senior and SCUE member Elizabeth Elfman called the decision "absurd."

She added that she believes the University doesn't want to push professors to prepare syllabi earlier.

Efforts to create an online syllabi repository began in 2005 when SCUE members decided it was "ridiculous" that a 21st-century institution like Penn did not have its syllabi online, College senior and SCUE treasurer Aaron Werner said.

In response to the initiative, the School of Engineering put most of its syllabi online in 2007, and Wharton launched a system which is "literally exactly our proposal" this fall, Fuchs said.

In April, SCUE members presented the most recent version of the proposal.

According to Fuchs, the proposal argued that with the current lack of sufficient online syllabi - only 11 percent of College syllabi can be found on the Web -- the Add/Drop period is a "haphazard" process during which students are unable to obtain complete information about a course without physically attending the class.

Fuchs said a centralized online repository would allow students to "make informed course selections" during advanced registration.

Information Systems and Computing was supposed to provide a cost estimate for the project over the summer, Werner said, but SCUE did not hear back from them until late September.

ISC finally estimated the project would cost between $167,250 and $272,500, which Fuchs said was "ridiculous."

According to Rob Nelson, associate director of the provost's office, that estimate was based on the costs of the Wharton and Engineering syllabi repositories, as well as similar initiatives, like the online course evaluation project.

Fuchs said that while the University's response last week was "not a complete shutdown," it was "equivalent to brushing us aside for the time being."

Unlike SCUE members, Nelson is optimistic about the future of the proposal.

"From my perspective, this idea is not dead," he said, adding that the College is now looking into a simpler solution which would be based on existing technology rather than built from scratch.

*This article was corrected at 7:17 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2008 to reflect that CUD did not formally meet with SCUE last week.

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