A new semester means course selection, and for many students, course syllabi play a decisive role.
Since materials are only available on Blackboard for those enrolled in a particular class, students are finding it difficult to look at syllabi for courses until after they’ve already begun. An option on Penn InTouch makes it possible for professors to post their course outline, yet not all professors elect to do so.
Director of Public Services Marjorie Hassen called this “not a Blackboard issue but a question of policy of the University” regarding how information can be accessed via Blackboard and Penn InTouch.
“Not all faculty are interested in having their syllabi open,” she explained, since they can be subject to change and are part of intellectual property. Those that didn’t make use of the option on Penn InTouch “didn’t want [syllabi] publicized.”
Hassen said she “knows it is of interest to students” to have syllabi open, yet faculty reserve the right to preserve their materials for those registered in the class.
After a survey this summer, Hassen said there were “very few” student complaints directly regarding Blackboard’s system, yet the University is always “keeping in mind how to make it easier for students to do their work.”
While many professors are not posting their syllabi to Penn InTouch, a few are making good use of the system. Jonathan Baron, professor of Psychology, has taken advantage of the option to make sure students have access to the syllabus.
“Faculty and students do not invest anywhere near enough time in learning basic computer skills such as how to make a web page without a helper,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Baron recalled when there used to be hundreds of undergraduate web pages on Penn’s servers but said most have been replaced by Blackboard.
In his opinion, the attitude toward the computer used to be about freedom of information. Now, he said, “freedom is too dangerous, we have to do it for you” — the “we” being a small group with technological knowledge such as the creators of Blackboard.
Two students are launching a new site that may supplement students’ use of Penn InTouch and Blackboard.
Dan Getelman, a Wharton and Engineering junior and former Daily Pennsylvanian lead online developer, and Joseph Cohen, a Wharton sophomore, have created a complimentary online source for students called Coursekit. The site goes live on Wednesday.
“Coursekit was born out of frustration from the lack of syllabi on courseweb,” Cohen said.
The site fills what Cohen believes to be a “huge gap in academic social networking” by allowing students to log in using Facebook in order to add classes and post syllabi.
Cohen compared the site to Facebook. A member of the class can add an assignment, exam or notes — all of which can be formatted into a Coursekit calendar and from there exported into iCal or Google Cal.
“The site empowers students to take more control over their classes,” Getelman explained.
As for tampering with the site, Cohen said that since a student’s information is attached to anything he or she uploads, students will be held accountable. A monitoring system will also be in place.
Cohen said he hopes that with student support, he and Getelman can bring the initiative to the University.
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