Welcome to the Information Site for the Committee on Course Registration.
Our committee was formed in the Spring of 2018 by vote of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to study the current system of course registration. That includes Shopping Week, and a lot of other things besides.
In fact, the term "Shopping Week" means many different things to many different people, so we wanted to start out with a brief description. For a longer explanation of the current system and the need to study how to improve it, you can start with this report.
- Exploration: Shopping Week gives students a chance to learn about the many different courses that Harvard offers. They can experience what the instructors are like in class, get an impression of what being in the class is like, and ask questions about the course.
- Controlled Enrollment: Many courses at Harvard aren't completely open for enrollment. For many different reasons, instructors place controls on who can enroll, such as the need to satisfy pre-requisites, limits imposed by lab spaces or other physical constraints, pedagogical reasons to limit class size, and the like. Instructors use many different mechanisms to handle such controlled enrollment, ranging from random lotteries, to applications, to individual interviews. In the current system, these controlled enrollment processes take place during Shopping Week.
- Teaching Staff Assignment: The College wants to give as many students as possible to take the chance to enroll in the courses they want. That means assigning Teaching Fellows, Course Assistants, and other support staff to courses in line with student interests. Currently, these assignments are finalized, and sometimes only made, right after Shopping Week concludes.
- Scheduling: Many courses have section or lab components, and these are scheduled once enrollments and teaching staff assignments are settled. For many courses, that scheduling currently happens during and after Shopping Week.
As you can see from the Report that led to the formation of this Committee, the fact that Shopping Week plays all of these different roles creates a lot of costs: to undergraduates, to graduate students, and to faculty.
- Undergraduates have to deal with the uncertainty of lotteries and other controlled enrollment processes at the same time as they are supposed to start doing work for classes they may or may not get a chance to enroll in.
- Graduate Students face a lot of uncertainty where, and in some cases, whether they will work as teaching fellows. Dealing with this uncertainty impacts their ability to prepare for their role as teachers, it sets back their research, and it creates mental health problems.
- Faculty do not know how large their classes are. They might expect to teach a lecture course, only to have to modify it for a small seminar on the fly. And the uncertainty makes it very difficult to plan for the use of collections, field trips, and many other innovative pedagogies.
- Everybody loses a lot of instructional time as enrollments and schedules are settled.
Our goal is to study the current system, understand exactly which aspects of the system lead to problems, and propose a solution that disengtangles the many different elements so as to preserve what is excellent about shopping while mitigating its costs.