Courses as dry goods

Mon 01 Sep 2008 06:57 AM

I was recently advising undergraduates as they registered for classes. This Fall, the PeopleSoft database has a new web interface. Now, when students initially select courses, the courses appear in their "shopping cart." The students are not actually enrolled until they "check out." These are the actually terms used by the website.

My initial reaction was to object to the commercial metaphor. We might colloquially say that students shop for classes, but a section of Intro Logic is not like a can of beans. Education is not just another commodity, and the university is poorly served by suggesting to students that it is.

My second reaction was that the new interface is probably a generic e-commerce interface, with as few changes as possible to make it work for a university. For example, it doesn't calculate shipping and handling.

My third reaction, however, is a kind of grudging approval. What else would you call the part of the interface where students have selected a list of courses but have not yet actually taken up one of the seats? "Shopping cart" does that in two words, telling students at once that the listed items have been selected and that the choice has not been finalized. I am not sure what else I would have called it.

My fourth reaction was that I had put too much thought into this. I should write a blog post about it and move on.