Students registering for fall classes later this month can base their selections on more than just paragraph-long descriptions on Penn InTouch.
During advance registration, professors from Penn's 12 schools will be able to upload syllabi through a centralized repository system.
The initiative to put syllabi online was developed by the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education in 2005. It is expected to be ready for students in time for registration for fall 2009 classes.
Former Provost Ron Daniels and the University administration gave SCUE's proposal final approval at the end of last semester and are currently working with Information Systems and Computing as well as professors to develop the initial interface and begin posting course material online, according to SCUE chairwoman and College junior Alex Berger.
"It really empowers students to make educated decisions about the courses they want to take and encourages them to explore classes they aren't familiar with," she said.
Due to budget constraints in light of the financial crisis, the project was recently deemed infeasible by the University until 2010. But high student demand and urging from the Undergraduate Assembly made it a priority on the administration's agenda, according to Interim Provost Vincent Price.
"We were hearing pretty consistently from students that this was something they wanted," he said.
The online syllabi system will debut as part of the revamped Penn InTouch. Because it will be integrated into the existing Courses InTouch application, it is expected to be easier to use and less expensive than a completely new system.
Initial cost estimates from the ISC ranged from $167,250 to $272,500, but ISC Vice President Robin Beck said the current proposal cost will be significantly less.
She declined to provide a specific cost estimate due to "fluid" expenses, but she said the price is based on hardware and software expenses that deliver the necessary features.
The initial application will remain optional for professors who wish to post future and past syllabi online, though Daniels and Price have encouraged professors to do so and Price said he expects faculty to rapidly pick up the practice.
He added that rolling out the program early and letting it gradually pick up speed will allow it to overcome many of the obstacles it may otherwise face in a mandatory late launch.
Several challenges are anticipated, including new courses that will not have completed syllabi by registration. Professors have also voiced concerns about whether they will be able to finish compiling course material information on time.
However, the administration and SCUE are optimistic.
"Looking at the description is great [during registration], but what's even better is looking at a detailed step-by-step syllabus about what's required and what the readings are," Berger said. "It allows a whole new level of decision-making."