Imagine being a student who works 20 hours a week discovering on the first day of one of her classes that there will be a major group project requiring significant meeting time with classmates outside of class, and her work hours will likely interfere with her ability to participate.
If she had known in advance about the group project, she might have chosen another course. Now she must scramble to find another class with the semester already underway or come up with some other means to address the class-and-job conflict.
“For many students, the first day of class can be more of a gamble than a guarantee,” said Kelly Hogan, associate dean of instructional innovation in the College of Arts & Sciences. “Traditionally, when registering for classes, students are aware of only the class title, instructor and course attributes. It’s not until the first day of classes that they see the syllabus, assignment breakdowns, cost of course materials and other critical information.”
Created by an academic support committee tasked with addressing student challenges in the pandemic, Class Features debuted last year on ConnectCarolina. “The tool allows instructors to provide much more information about their classes to students, such as a draft syllabus, FAQs or other introductory documents that help a student determine whether the course is a good fit,” said Viji Sathy, associate dean of evaluation and assessment in the College.
Updates are made in real-time and can be adjusted until the last day to drop or add a course.
“This tool was sparked by the pandemic, but it will live on far beyond it,” said Abigail Panter, senior associate dean for undergraduate education. “We hope that it will reduce the number of emails from students to instructors inquiring about basic aspects of the course and reduce the number of students who drop the course after the semester begins.”
The tool has proved popular with students: “The transparency that Class Features creates has been incredibly helpful in allowing me to gauge the expectations of a class and a semester before it even begins,” said Sam Johnson, a senior majoring in public policy and biology. “Being able to see the syllabus, course materials and their costs, as well as other course information, has made it easier than ever to sign up for classes and also feel prepared for them. Class Features also allowed me to explore and enroll in courses that better fit my learning style that I may have previously never considered. I wish I had been introduced to this tool earlier and that more courses utilized it.’’
Faculty reaction to the tool has been positive as well.
“I like that it lets me start setting classroom expectations before the students arrive, said Anna Krome-Lukens, a teaching associate professor in public policy. “For one of my classes, putting together a class synopsis for the Class Features tool helped me improve my syllabus because it pushed me to address student FAQs and to describe the class in a more student-friendly way. I didn’t have a single student drop my class this semester after the first day of class.”
The Class Features tool was highlighted in the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2021 as an innovative tool to promote transparency in course enrollment. Scott Hochberg of OpenStax at Rice University, who tracks programs similar to Class Features around the country, said he has “never seen a listing with that much detail readily viewable.”
Despite the positive student feedback, the tool has struggled to gain traction in some departments.
Chemistry has been the biggest adopter. “We’ve tried to build it into our regular workflow and we’ve sent frequent departmental reminders to faculty because we believe it is an important tool,” said Brian Hogan, teaching professor in chemistry and the department’s vice chair of education. “It helps all students go into a course with their eyes wide open and position themselves to be successful.”
Registration for Fall 2022 begins March 28. To ensure that students have time to learn about classes before registering, instructors are highly encouraged to upload information into Class Features as soon as possible. More information and a demonstration video can be found on the Office of Undergraduate Curricula website.
“Strengthening student success is one of the major initiatives of the Carolina Next strategic plan,” said Panter. “Implementing Class Features is just one of the many ways we are ensuring that students thrive academically and get the most out of their Carolina education.”