Filling a Lab Course

One of the things I’ve found frustrating about teaching a lab course (Biochemistry 341) is having the course full at the beginning of term, but having empty spaces by the “add” date. We’re limited by the number of lab sections we can offer and I would like to see every section full. I’ve been told that the average University of Calgary undergraduate takes five years to complete a four-year degree; so many students are sampling five courses at the beginning of term, deciding which four to take.

This year (Winter 2018) we increased to six lab sections of 20 students each and were fortunate to be assigned a lecture room with a capacity of more than 120 students.  When students contacted me as course coordinator about getting into the course, I could tell them that they could attend the lectures and there was a good chance that there would be space for them by the “add” date. If a student skips the first two weeks of a biochemistry course, there is little chance that the student will be able to catch up. The first lab is during the first two weeks and I couldn’t allow an unregistered student to attend; but we have a policy of one excused absence from the lab. I let the class know we had never been full on the “add” date and to let their friends who wanted to take the course know.  Last year, only 94 of the 100 places were taken.

To find out which students were not attending, I monitored the D2L site to check who hadn’t accessed the course and the Graduate Teaching Assistants let me know who was missing from their lab sections. I contacted each of those students by e-mail, asking if they were planning to take the course.  One student who was following the lectures was able to get into that first lab, another only registered after the first lab. I took messages from students wanting to switch lab sections so that they could accommodate other courses.  I posted these requests as news items on D2L. One switch worked, another student had to drop the course because the lab section in which that student was registered conflicted with courses required for graduation.

Was it worth the effort? We still had three openings after the “add” date, but 97.5% full was better than last year’s 94% full. As long as we get a sufficiently large lecture room next year, I’ll be able to tell students wanting to get into the class in Winter 2019 that we’ve never been full on the “add” date; so they’ll have a good chance of registering in the course. Please just show up for the first two weeks of lectures!

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