How Can We Let Students Know What a Class is Like Before They Take It?

What I usually end up hating most about starting a class is that you never really know anything about what the class is going to be like. At most, the instructor will tell a little bit about what they think should happen in the syllabus, but that is rare and sometimes you don’t even get to see that until you sign up and pay.

Will the course be project based? Test based? Group based? What should I expect from week to week?

Throw in this mix all of the new models for courses, from MOOCs to games to blended learning to who knows what will come next.

I have thrown out an idea to few people of creating a system of symbols that represent different aspects of courses, like how much of it is online, how much is independent, how much of it is based on different models, how synchronous it is, etc. Students could look at these symbols to get a quick look at the course to see if it matches their learning preferences or scheduling constraints or whatever.

For example, a computer with a “65” in it would symbolize 65% of the class is online, a calendar with a zero on it would mean that the class is completely asynchronous, and so on.

This wouldn’t be a rank of quality as much as it would be matching students up with a class that they feel most comfortable with. You don’t want to force a student that needs interaction to take a completely independent asynchronous course, for instance.

The problem is, every time I bring up this idea there is some kick back. It seems like anything that might be seen as “rating courses” is some kind of “no-no” in academic circles. Students have been doing that on their own way before the Internet existed, of course, but the point of a system like this is not to rate. It would be to describe.

You can leave this up to sites like – where there is also a “hotness” scale and a place for student to vent about how unfair it was that their copy and paste essay from Wikipedia got a zero – or you can take control of it as a university and make it constructive.

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