September 24, 2007

Language Courses Suffer Crowding

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For many students, getting a place in certain language courses last August may have been more difficult than actually learning the language itself. As instruction began, however, and students shopped around for courses, most of the long waitlists disappeared.
The present availability of open spots is in sharp contrast to the scenario at the beginning of the semester, when frustrated students failed to get into the sessions of their choice. In the first few days of fall semester classes, the waitlist for JAPAN101: Elementary Japanese contained 58 names; 45 hopeful students were in line for CHIN101: Elementary Standard Chinese Mandarin.
Currently, among the five largest introductory language courses at Cornell, Elementary Japanese is the only course that is still over-subscribed, with 86 students filling up the 84 available spaces. While Spanish and Italian offer the largest introductory courses, which can hold up to 187 students, there are still 33 and 38 spaces open respectively in each class. French, the third-largest class, still has 20 free spots, and the increasingly popular Mandarin Chinese course has 11.
So where did the waitlist applicants go and where do all these extra spots come from? Brisa Teutli of the Romance Studies Department explained that this phenomenon rooted from “a cycle.”
“Students are shopping … They pre-enroll in courses that they aren’t sure if they want to take, they don’t drop their original class until they’ve got someplace else, but this holds up other people.”
All five introductory classes have taken measures to accommodate the growing student demand. The Romance languages try to offer up to two sessions in popular time slots, the number of Introductory Chinese sessions has doubled over the past five years and Introductory Japanese may add one more session in the next Fall Semester.
Teutli said, however, that there will not be a large increase in the number of sessions in Romance languages.
“We’re using all possible time slots we have [as] we have classes all day long from 8 a.m. to 3:35 p.m. The department may add a couple more sessions, but no more than that … It’s hard to justify [that] when there are spaces available.”
Although introductory Mandarin Chinese has been accommodating the growth in student demand by offering more sessions, it is unlikely that the department will increase the size of its sessions. Prof. Weiqing George, Chinese, session teacher of Chinese 101, said, “We can’t make the session bigger — 12 is the maximum … but eight to 10 would be ideal.”
Similarly, even though Introductory Japanese allowed flexibility and admitted 14 students in some sessions that were intended for 12, Prof. Suzuki Misako, Asian Studies, also implied the limited possibility of an overall increase in session size.
“Number-wise, [the current session size of 12] is healthy.”
Although some of these introductory courses boast a class size of over 100, small sessions ensure that a large class size will not hinder students’ language learning experience.
“The [Chinese-Mandarin] lectures are decently large,” said Geoffrey Squire ’11.
Squire said larger class sizes would not affect him academically because “we have session classes everyday.”
“There are 15 people in my [French] session, so it’s really compact,” said Jane Klinger ’11, “There is a lot of personal attention.”
Klinger was waitlisted for weeks in her 9 a.m. French session before she officially added the class in the final day of add-drop.
“I showed up at the 9 a.m. session, and it worked out,” she said.
Staff from all three departments stressed the importance of attending the session from day one even if one is waitlisted.
“Stick to the class and go to class everyday,” George recommended.
“Usually, students who are persistent in getting in a class and don’t give up will get in,” said Prof. Naomi Larson, Asian Studies.
To improve the situation, Teutli emphasised that students should be more flexible in scheduling classes. “Plan your schedule with three different scenarios. By being flexible, you are helping us in helping you to get to the class you want.”
She also suggested that more information sessions should be given to freshmen over Orientation Week.
“They don’t know how the system works and don’t know their options,” she said.