Question for the hivemind: What's the fairest way to distribute add codes?

Sep 06 2012 Published by under Academia, Personal, Reader participation

At my fair university, we are in the brief window of time between "drop day" (the date by which students need to drop a course if they don't want it to be listed on their transcript with a W, for "withdraw," next to it) and the "late add" deadline (after which, for all intents and purposes, you can't add a class). This means that I have only a few more days to savor being popular -- or at least, popular with the students still desperately trying to lock in their schedules for the semester and hoping to secure the units and/or general education credit my courses could provide.

Sadly, this popularity mostly manifests itself in messages in my inbox asking that I please give the sender an add code for my class ASAP. Worse, in the small fraction of cases where I have been able to to comply with these requests, I don't always hear back from the student to whom I've given an add code ... and he or she doesn't always use the add code to add my class.

I find that this presents me with a practical problem that is also an ethical problem. Students will frequently email, saying, "In the listing online, it shows that your class still has open seats." From the point of view of official enrollment, the online listing is correct, but in this portion of the term it is also the case that I have usually given out one add code for each theoretically empty seat. If all the add codes I've given out are used, there really aren't any open seats.

But a handful of the people to whom I've given out add codes end up not using them, and not letting me know that they're not going to use them.

I have colleagues who deal with the open-seats problem by giving out excess add codes (i.e., more than could all be used before the class is full). The computerized registration system is set up to close registration once the enrollment cap (which for us is usually the seating capacity of the room) is reached, so there's no chance of having more students than seats and violating fire codes. But, essentially this makes adding the course a matter of being fastest on the draw to use your add code -- which makes things hard for students who need first to get various holds on their registration lifted, a process that requires standing in lines and getting signatures on forms. Also, it may leave a student feeling like she has found a space in a class she needed only to be disappointed that she doesn't really have that space because the other add code recipients got there first.

My goal is to fill all the open seats in my courses with students who need them. I don't want to do this by setting up a bloody battle to use one's add code first. On the other hand, I don't want people who have gotten add codes from me to waste an open seat that someone else could use by not using their add codes.

Is there a good way to make this happen?

10 responses so far

  • gerty-z says:

    could you give out add codes with an expiration? Maybe tell the student that the add code will work for 1 day (or longer if that is unreasonable for holds) and then after that you will give it to someone else?

  • Dan Hicks says:

    If it's on the order of 5 or 10 seats and the students enter the codes and register for the class online, you could have them physically come to your office with their laptop; you give the student the code and, then and there, the register for the class.

    Or, since it sounds like students don't just register online (standing in lines and whatnot), perhaps they have to come and physically get a slip with a code written on it from you (or the department secretary or whatever); the idea is that this will dissuade students who indiscriminately request the codes and then never use them.

  • John says:

    One simple method is to give out add codes in the order you receive requests, leaving some reasonable time (several hours?) between giving out codes. If you let the students know that the code won't work once the class is full, then they have a reasonable window to get the code and respond.

    It's not perfect, but it's simple and it has some reward built in for asking early and for responding quickly, without making it a race. Of course, if a couple people who got the code yesterday wait until today to sign up, then the person who just got the code today may end up being excluded. But they wouldn't have gotten the chance at all if you only distribute enough codes to fill the class.

    Another alternatives is taking bids, but that takes more time to coordinate properly and some universities and/or departments frown on it 🙂

  • becca says:

    I believe a jousting tournament is the traditional way to settle such matters.

  • Jonathan Kaplan says:

    Janet -- I'm afraid the answer, given the system you describe, is very likely "no." There is no institutional mechanism for ensuring that everyone with an add code who is eventually able to use it actually does so (or tries to); no way, in other words, to punish someone who *says* that they need and want the class, takes the add code, and then sits on it, not because they failed to pay a parking fine they didn't know about until they tried to register, but because they are waiting to see if a class that they prefer even more opens up.

    One can imagine some 'extra-legal' mechanisms; you could demand that each student to whom you give an add code give you, say, $1000 or, if they don't have the cash, a lien on their car, to be refunded when they either enroll in the class or provide you with an adequate explanation of why they could not. But that's probably not a good idea, even if it was permissible. (Or, being a chemist, you could distribute the add codes with a poison and distribute the antidote in class, if there were actually any poisons that worked that way, and if there aren't, why aren't you working on *that* instead of all this ethics stuff..?)

    One option might be to only hand out add codes in person, after the student has attended the class. But I don't know how to make that fair, esp if the timing (when students have to enroll versus when the class shows as having seats) is awkward.

    I was one of the people quite pleased when OSU's system moved to a computerized wait list. If a class is closed, students sign onto the wait list, and are automatically enrolled as other students drop, up through the last day of automatic enrollment. Problems: students on the wait list don't have access to the course's Blackboard site, so they can't easily get (some of) the readings, participate in discussions, etc. Advantages: if a student comes to me and asks to be let into the class, and they are number x on the wait list, I can estimate the chances that they will get in via the normal route, and, if I wish, promise that *if* they don't get in via that route, that, when the official wait-list period ends, I'll issue a formal over-ride to get them in, IF they've attended and done all the work through then. So if someone really needs the class, I can work with it.

    Final idea: why try to fill every seat? Once the automatic enrollment period ends, say "that's it!" and, being absolutely fair, refuse to admit any more students. Lowers your workload, results in fewer students having to play 'catch-up' and (perhaps) highlights a weakness of the current enrollment system. Don't know how the admin would feel about that, though.

    Good luck!

    • Janet D. Stemwedel says:

      why try to fill every seat?

      In the current climate in our university, I try to fill every seat because:

      (1) Getting students to graduation in a timely fashion is an official priority (and one I endorse), and my classes provided upper division general education credit that is required for graduation.

      (2) This term especially, there are legions of students whose "low-enrolled" classes that they signed up for before the term started got cancelled at essentially the last minute. The difference in labor to me to teach a full classroom of 64 students vs. a not-quite-full classroom of 58 is low enough, relative to the help getting another 3-unit course is to one of these students, that I'm happy to undertake it rather than making fixing the computerized registration system my cause for the semester.

      (3) The smell of things is that departments are being rewarded or punished based on their "efficiency" -- including, among other things, the number of full-time-equivalent-students their courses accommodate in a given semester. Leaving 6 seats unfilled in one of my classes probably doesn't cost one of my colleagues who's a lecturer their job next year -- but if I and my colleagues manage to fill our courses to capacity, the chances of that lecturer being laid off in the next round decrease. I like my colleagues (and appreciate the valuable work they do), so I'll do what I can to help them not get cut.

      • Jonathan Kaplan says:

        That's more or less what I would have guessed, and of course, I think your priorities are correct. Back to the poisoning the students plan, then!

  • Peter R. says:

    Our school recently implemented a school-wide "wait list" for courses through our registration software (Banner, I believe). If a class is full, a student can enroll, but gets put on a wait list. If someone drops the course, the first student automatically gets a message by email that they are now eligible to enroll. They have 24 hours, and then the next student gets a chance.

    This would obviously not work right now for you, but it's something to push for in your system–that is, if IT will actually listen to the needs of the faculty. With computerized registration, there is absolutely no reason for each faculty to waste their time maintaining and monitoring wait lists.

    How do you get the add codes in the first place?

  • Allyson says:

    Thanks for this post, because I was wondering about a similar issue. I'm new at a small university and had two override requests via email this semester. Both gave good arguments about why they should be successful even though they lacked a prereq. Turns out, one was a student who had been denied the override by our dept chair and another never showed to class and dropped before the deadline.

    Is it fair to require students to show up at one's office to get an add code/override? And would this avoid the issue of students not taking advantage of the add code?

  • Janet says:

    We do lotteries for the add codes. Once given, those codes have expiration times.