New classes, new format: Students navigate course selection online

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Madison Xu and Jacob Shaw

Even when school is normally in session, course registration can be a challenging time for students and faculty alike. However, major changes including the new 100-400 level system and the entirely virtual process of course selection will likely make this year stand out from all others.
The 2020-2021 school year will be the first time students can take numerous new courses, which range in difficulty from 100 (least advanced) to 400 (requiring departmental approval). The 100–400 system will eventually replace the Advanced Placement (AP) system, which the school began phasing out in 2018. While AP courses require teachers to prepare students for standardized AP exams, 400-courses give teachers more freedom to tailor to courses students’ interests and their expertise, History Department Chair Dr. Daniel Link said.
Moreover, the continuation of HM Online means that the process of course registration, like all school activities, has migrated to a virtual medium, making this the first year that students must peruse the Program of Studies, meet with teachers, and fill out long sheets all online.
In light of remote learning, it is recommended that students continue to take advantage of their online resources and means of communication, Upper Division (UD) Dean of Students Michael Dalo said. Even though it may seem overwhelming at first, it is important to look carefully through the PowerSchool Learning (PSL) page dedicated to program planning, he said.
Students should meet with faculty in order to address their own situations, Head of UD Dr. Jessica Levenstein said. Recently, all grade deans, Dalo, and Levenstein have opened Google Calendars on the UD Student Life PSL page so students can readily schedule meetings with them to discuss course planning.
Administrators still must work to strike a balance between providing students with information and not overloading their email inboxes, Registrar Chris Garrison said.
Students have had differing experiences in communicating with faculty. Justin Gurvitch (10) has been researching various courses he was interested in by looking over future syllabi and meeting with his advisor. However, many students found that scheduling virtual meetings with their advisors is difficult, Samantha Tsai (11) said. Furthermore, many of her friends have hesitated to schedule meetings with teachers they do not already know over Zoom, she said.
The administration is well aware of the challenge presented by not being able to meet with teachers, advisors, or deans in person, Garrison said. As unfamiliar as online meetings may be for the students, teachers are more than happy to meet to discuss course selection, he said.
However, the complete transition to virtual planning can well lead to a lasting positive change. “I think [the digital longsheet] is actually going to be more streamlined than ever,” English Department Chair Vernon Wilson said. “I don’t see any reason why we would go back to the physical printed sheets.”
The new courses to be taught this fall have been years in the making, and teachers are excited to teach to their expertise, Link said. Department Chair Dr. Lisa Rosenblum said the Science Department was excited by the opportunity to re-think the curriculum. The AP Biology course will emerge next year as a three semester Advanced Biology course where students will spend an entire semester on ecology and evolution as opposed to the three days spent in the AP Bio curriculum, she said.
Many rising seniors plan to register for 400-level instead of AP courses, Evann Penn-Brown (11) said. Penn Brown was planning to take AP English, but is now considering the new 400-level English electives instead, as they would allow her to focus more on her own literary interests, she said.
Administrators are nevertheless excited for everything future classes have to offer. Levenstein hopes that students approach program planning as an opportunity to explore areas that excite them intellectually, she said. “And that should be their priority: ‘What is going to get me excited, so much so that I’ll read even more than I’m supposed to?’”