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Departments Post Class Materials, Syllabi Online

By Jenny Zhang


Some departments have begun posting class material online rather than distributing paper handouts, in an effort to lower paper and photocopier usage.

This change is part of school-wide effort to make as much information as possible available electronically.

The physics department has implemented a set of guidelines for materials that may be photocopied and ones that must be posted exclusively online.

The physics department paper policy, enacted at the beginning of last semester, includes such guidelines as putting solutions to homework and exams online, and having lecture notes on the Web, or having students buy them at CopyTech. Professors have the option of distributing the course information, syllabus, and calendar on paper.

“Our reasons are two-fold: to reduce cost to the department, and to conserve paper for EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] issues,” said Associate Department Head for Education Thomas J. Greytak.

“The same money allotted to xeroxing also is used for other purposes including paying problem set graders and maintaining the physics reading room,” Greytak said.

Greytak said that other departments have posted information online instead of printing it on paper.

“Our feeling is that students won’t have to print everything posted online,” Greytak said.

Greytak added that a small number of faculty members may have continued providing handouts, using money from other sources.

Physics Professor Walter H.G. Lewin was unaware of the department policy, but puts course materials online out of convenience.

“In 1999, I realized that xeroxing -- the hassle of sending things out to be copied and then brought back and carried to the classroom -- was an incredible waste of energy on my part, so I thought, Why not make the students responsible?” Lewin said.

“I do this because I’m lazy. I never did it for economic reasons,” he said. “I have never heard of such a policy. It cannot be the reason; the money saved is trivial.”

Athena printing use rises

Athena printing increased steadily throughout the fall semester. Academic Computing purchased five new printers to compensate.

“I would guess that the overall increase in printer use is the direct result of more course material being posted on the Web,” said Athena Systems Programmer Camilla R. Fox ’00.

“There is no hard and fast limit on the number of pages that may be printed per term, but violations of Athena rules of use will be handled accordingly,” Fox said.

Most departments lack policy

Many departments are beginning to post class material online, but do not have formal rules regarding paper handouts.

“We have no policy regarding this. We do try to get as much of the material as possible online; whether there are hard copies is up to the professor,” said John V. Guttag, head of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

“There has been the general tendency for things to be put in electronic form, but no requirement that they are made available only electronically,” said Subra Suresh PhD ’81, Head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

The civil engineering department has been considering developing a handout policy.

“There has been discussion, but a policy may be more appropriate for certain programs than others, rather than for the entire department,” said department head Patrick Jaillet PhD ’85.

Students pay for 21F handouts

For several years, the foreign languages and literature department has required students to purchase course readers, and has not made changes due to the recent general budget cuts.

“I’ve been here for ten years, and it has been done this way ever since I came,” said Nancy D. Lowe, administrative officer for the department.

Except for syllabi and exams, the cost for copying is divided among the students.

Lowe said the foreign language department does this because it is small and does not have a large budget to support the amount of copying necessary.

“The cost is quite low for each student, but we have around 80 sections of courses and that adds up to a large amount for us,” Lowe said.

Lowe added that some material is very difficult for students to find for purchase, so the solution is to assemble course readers.