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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Do 'weed-out' classes exist at Penn? Students and professors don't agree | The Daily Pennsylvanian - Academics

"When College freshman Sherry Tseng decided to take Computer and Information Science 110 this spring, she did not expect the popular introductory-level computer science course to curtail her interest in computer science altogether." summarizes Haley Suh, Staff Reporter.
78 percent of the entry classes listed as having above a 3.0 difficulty on Penn Course Review are STEM courses.
Photo: Zach Sheldon / The Daily Pennsylvanian

After a semester, she found the course so challenging that she decided not to take any CIS courses in the future.

Tseng’s experience is not a unique. CIS is not the only major that offers challenging introductory level courses for prospective majors, often referred to as “weed-out” courses designed to eliminate students who are not fit to pursue the major.

These "weed-out" courses are particularly prevalent in subjects to do with Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. 

There are 300 courses listed as department-recommended classes for College students who want to explore a particular major. 53 of them fall under the category of STEM, and over 47 percent of those STEM entry courses are listed at a 3.0 (out of 4.0) or higher for difficulty level on Penn Course Review, while only 2.67 percent of non-STEM entry courses are rated in the same range of difficulty.

Furthermore, 78 percent of the entry courses above 3.0 difficulty belong to STEM fields.

Photo: Penn Course Review

Entry courses in the humanities that are also at or above the 3.0 difficulty level include Philosophy 005, Communication 226 and Visual Studies 102.

A recent article by U.S. News quoted STEM higher education experts who expressed concern over the notion of “weed-out” classes.

“We need to wash out the ‘weed-them-out orientation’ in the classroom,” Mary Fox, co-director at the Center for the Study of Women, Science, and Technology at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said to U.S. News. “That is not a hospitable climate for students. We have to teach students to move along rather than have them sink or swim.”

At Penn, many students verify the existence of weed-out courses, though professors disagree. 

First-generation College junior David Thai said there were no Advanced Placement or honors courses offered in his high school, and that he felt unprepared for the level of difficulty of introductory classes at Penn — particularly those in the pre-medicine track. 

“I did really well in the science classes in my high school, so I thought I could definitely take these general intro classes at Penn and do well,” Thai said. “But I realized that I was extremely unprepared for the rigor and difficulty of these classes.”

Thai later dropped the pre-med track and opted to pursue a major in health and societies.
He said he believes that professors should do a better job of retaining students in their classes, knowing that their curriculum might be very challenging for some.

“I don’t appreciate the University’s one-size-fits-all approach, where it assumes everyone comes from the same background,” Thai said. “Professors recognize the difficulty of their course, but don’t do a good job of making sure their students stay.”

CIS Department Chair Sampath Kannan said it is not the intention of the department to make CIS 110 a weed-out class.

Source: The Daily Pennsylvanian