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Overlapping class meeting times leave students stressed

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After taking virtual classes for over a year, Stanford students are eager to return for in-person learning — especially incoming frosh and rising sophomores.

Even before stepping foot on campus, however, multiple students were confronted with an unusual scheduling obstacle: course section times overlapped, albeit usually only for 15 minutes. In previous years, course scheduling was done in blocks that did not overlap. The new conflicts are a product of pandemic considerations, according to a University spokesperson.

Though seemingly small, these time conflicts are frustrating inconveniences for some undergraduates attempting to chart out their schedules during fall enrollment.

With instruction slated for fully in-person learning, students with whom The Daily spoke say they were left to decide whether to take two conflicting classes for the next 10 weeks or push a course — which may be necessary for their major — to a future quarter or academic year.

“I hate to be late to places,” said Alessandra Maranca ’24.

Maranca found herself in a tough position when she registered for SOC 379: “Methods for Network Analysis” and MATH 171: “Fundamental Concepts of Analysis,” two classes that she “really wanted to take.” With SOC 379 ending at 11:15 a.m. and MATH 171 beginning at 11 a.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, Maranca said she emailed her math professor to explain her situation, writing that she would be 15 minutes late to every class.

Thankfully, the two classes are not located far from each other, and her math class functions as a lecture — meaning less strict attendance and participation measures. Maranca said she hopes to make it work.

“It has definitely made me nervous,” she said. “But I figured it was worth going through even with all the anxiousness.”

This academic year’s changes in course scheduling are the first in some time. Documents provided to The Daily by student affairs spokesperson Pat Lopes Harris provide a fuller picture of the new schedule compared to those of prior years.

Previously, the University-approved course calendar scheduled classes to start on the hour or at the half-hour, and sessions lasted for either 50 or 80 minutes. In between classes, students were provided with a 10-minute break to allow for campus commuting.

Currently, course meeting times have implemented 60 or 90 minute time slots and created 15-minute breaks. The new longer break duration is “to reduce the density of students in narrow hallways between classes,” Harris said.

An increase in total student enrollment, renovations for several instructional spaces and COVID-19 safety measures for classrooms have led to these schedule updates. The 15-minute period between classes will be adjusted as needed in future quarters depending on COVID conditions, Harris added.

Because of the new changes, some students face 15-minute scheduling overlaps for courses they prefer to take during the same quarter.

Samantha Thomas ’24, a biomedical computation major, attempted to add PHYSICS 41: “Mechanics” and BIO 83: “Biochemistry & Molecular Biology” into her fall quarter plans. Like other students, Thomas noted that PHYSICS 41 and BIO 83 — two core classes required for her major and only offered for select quarters — overlapped on Wednesday and Friday mornings. Thomas recalled scheduling her fall schedule and the anxiety that came with it.

“When I saw that they overlapped, I was freaking out because I kind of needed to get both of them in,” she said. 

Fortunately for her, PHYSICS 41 lectures will be held virtually during the fall, allowing her to take BIO 83 concurrently. Still, Thomas anticipates that obstacles may arise.

“It is going to be stressful just knowing that I am going to go into the biology session a little bit late,” she added. “I predict that even though it is not a lecture, there is still going to be important information that they will be talking about.”

Others have not been able to fit everything in their schedules, dropping courses completely.

For Ting Lin ’24, enrolling in both COMM 166: “Virtual People” and LINGUIST 110: “Introduction to Phonology” this fall was ideal for her major. Both are required for a degree in Symbolic Systems, and both classes are offered in Autumn quarter only.

Upon a closer look into the course times, however, Lin said she realized that COMM 166 encroached into LINGUIST 110’s Friday section, which runs from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m.; with COMM 166 ending at 11:15 a.m , she could not afford to take both at the same time. She ended up swapping out COMM 166 for ENGLISH 108A: “Intro to Disability Studies: Disability and Technology.”

“It really kind of sucks to have to give up a class that is not offered during any other quarter,” Lin said. “It fit pretty perfectly into my schedule if we disregard the overlap, but I guess I’ll have to make do.”

Other students expressed their concerns that pushing classes to future quarters would hinder their academic plans and progress. Johnny Dollard ’24 decided to take PHYSICS 41 over MATH 53: “Differential Equations with Linear Algebra, Fourier Methods and Modern Applications,” but he fears pushing back MATH 53 would require more rigorous studying in the future.

“It has been winter quarter [of 2021] since I took MATH 51,” Dollard said. “The longer I wait, the more it fades, and the more I will have to review.”

Some students are pursuing a combined major and minor, like Laney Conger ’24. Hoping to major in earth systems and minor in Spanish, Conger will juggle two Earth Systems and Spanish classes that overlap. Still, she anticipates that she may have to drop her Spanish course if managing her schedule becomes too much to handle.

“I am worried that fulfilling my major and minor will be close to impossible,” Conger said.

Thomas Hayden,  director of the Earth Systems Master of Arts program in Environmental Communication, confirmed that co-term students he works with experienced “new or unexpected” scheduling conflicts.

“We’re working with students to find alternative classes they can take to fulfill requirements now, and when we can we’ll make further changes to the classes we control to avoid overlaps in future years,” Hayden said. “My advice to students running into scheduling conflicts is to contact the student services specialist in their department or program — there may be alternative classes they can take to fulfill a requirement, or other creative solutions they can work on together.”

In an email to The Daily, Harris acknowledged the new changes, and likewise recommended that those experiencing scheduling challenges seek guidance from departments and advisors.

“Departments are working to reduce, as much as possible, the possibility of overlapping classes in the same field of study,” Harris wrote. “Students who need help navigating these changes can contact their academic advisors.”

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Vol. 260 Academics Desk Editor
Tom Quach '24 serves as the Academics Desk Editor for Vol. 260 and previously covered startups for The Daily's SciTech section. Tom also serves as Account Manager for The Daily's Marketing Team. He's from San Francisco, CA, and enjoys biking, building LEGOs and watching Stars Wars on his spare time. Contact him at tquach 'at' stanforddaily.com.