Limited online spring course capacity frustrates students

Wednesday, April 29, 2020 - 5:37pm

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Remote learning has given all University of Michigan students the opportunity to take classes this spring and summer without residing in Ann Arbor. However, for Public Health junior Maddie Malvitz, that meant 50 students in front of her on the waitlist for Chem 230. 

Malvitz, on a pre-med track, had been planning to take Chem 230 this spring before COVID-19, but since the class has filled for both the upcoming spring and fall semesters, she had difficulties with the rest of her course planning.

“I emailed Angie Cox (the undergraduate program coordinator in chemistry), and she said, ‘Even if you get on the waitlist (for Pchem), you probably won’t get into the class because there’s 50 people ahead of you,’” Malvitz said. “I just got into the School of Public Health, and I have required classes to take (in the winter semester) only offered at one time, and it’s stressful to fit Pchem in with that.”

Malvitz worries that if she cannot fit Chem 230 into her schedule next year, she may have to postpone taking the Medical College Admission Test and applying to medical school.

“There is a lot of planning for when people take (the MCAT),” Malvitz said. “It just sucks that there’s so few options (to take Chem 230) and the University isn’t able to accommodate your classes.”

LSA junior Sesilia Kammo was also originally on the Chem 230 waitlist for the spring, but decided to replace the course with Physics 135 because 34 students were ahead of her.

“I definitely think it was a lot more stressful because I’ve taken STEM classes before and the waitlists have never looked like this for them,” Kammo said. “I was number 35 on the waitlist and it wasn’t a very realistic place to be in and I’d rather take a class I’m more likely to get off the waitlist for.”

Students from a variety of majors spoke to The Daily about facing limited class capacities and long waitlists. According to the LSA Course Guide for spring and summer, EECS 203 has 52 students on the waitlist; MATH 214 has 16 students on the waitlist and PHYSICS 235 has 30 students on the waitlist, among others. 

LSA junior Ainesh Shintre is double majoring in economics and film, television and media, and planned on taking spring courses for the additional credits he needs to graduate on time. Shintre said he was originally waitlisted for FTVM 352. He said the Department of Film, Television and Media decided to open a new section to accommodate the long waitlist.

“The classes just filled up faster than usual,” Shintre said. “… I really wanted to take this class during this term, so I’m glad they opened a new section for us.”

Since classes are conducted online, Kammo said it can be difficult for students to understand why courses cannot accommodate more students.

“I also don’t know how the number of students affects the professor and all that,” Kammo said. “From the student’s perspective, it can be hard to understand because there is no physical seat constraint.”

LSA senior Jonah Eisenberg said many students confuse the capacity of the class with the physical capacity of a lecture hall holding a set number of students. He said the capacity actually is in place for the instructors and Graduate Student Instructors to have enough time to interact with all the students.

“If the capacity for a class is 100 students because there is one professor and however many GSIs, that’s because they want to have enough time to interact with any student who needs help during office hours,” Eisenberg said. “So seats are less of a physical restriction and more of a restriction on the capacity of an instructor to their work in an impactful way.”

Chemistry Lecturer Amy Gottfried noted that the change to online learning has raised some difficulties. Previously, Gottfried said the students watched lectures before class and used class time to practice the concepts from the lectures. While the transition to online learning kept lecture delivery the same, Gottfried said the in-person portion of the course was more difficult to replicate and took a lot of time on her part. 

“A morning class as it was, all of a sudden you move to Pacific Time and it’s 5 o’clock in the morning and that’s not a great learning time,” Gottfried said. “…I allowed students to sign up for various times and ran multiple times of team-based learning…. So, that was a lot more work on my end because I was teaching for at least twice as long and kind of manually moving groups around and people around when there were troubles with technology.”

While she wants to accommodate as many students as possible for the course in the spring, Gottfried said it just isn’t possible given both the switch to online learning and the instructor’s capacity.

“Any of us are very happy to do that, but there’s also a limit as to how much you can do and how much that stresses the instructor’s end of things in terms of managing different requests and different people,” Gottfried said. “You get to the point where you want to provide quality, you want to have the energy and patience, and to help everyone and be able to engage with them. There’s only so much capacity.”

Eisenberg speculated the increase in students taking courses in the spring is due to many students losing their summer plans and internships. Since most of these students tend to be upperclassmen, he said underclassmen see a higher chance of being waitlisted for a course they planned on taking in the spring.

“For instance, a junior who was planning to have an internship, but instead is taking the same class as a freshman, is filling up the class before the freshman can register for it because (the freshman) has a later registration time,” Eisenberg said. “So, people whose plans are changing have more of a priority in selection.”

Kammo agreed with Eisenberg that a lack of plans for the spring and summer semesters has led more students to enroll in courses during those semesters than usual. She said accessibility for all University students has increased with remote learning since students don’t have to live in or near Ann Arbor to take classes.

“We don’t know when the bans for (COVID-19) are going to be lifted so people are trying to fill up their time for the spring because there’s nothing else to do besides school at this point,” Kammo said. “I also definitely think it is a lot more accessible for people to take online classes for spring and summer and that’s why they are filling up more quickly. 

LSA and Music, Theatre & Dance junior Kaitlyn Tom said she was not planning on taking spring classes due to an internship, but because classes went online, it became much more accessible for her to take credits while also participating in her internship.

“I was planning on taking (spring and summer courses) at the end of my senior year just because I wanted to reserve my sophomore and junior year summers for internships, but because it was made online, I was kind of like ‘why not?’” Tom said. “I personally wouldn’t be taking spring classes this summer if it wasn’t online because I wouldn’t be in Ann Arbor, and also the flexibility of some of the classes and its synchronous ability with my internship is very nice.”

Daily Staff Reporter Saini Kethireddy can be reached at skethi@umich.edu.