Back to School Shopping, AU Style

Late summer brings a cyclone of back-to-school advertisements. A new school year prompts thoughts of fresh beginnings and the need for crisp new school supplies.

But there’s a different kind of back-to-school shopping that doesn’t involve lined paper, fresh pens, or tablet computers. It’s the kind of shopping students do when they’re selecting their next courses.

Course selection began in high school. For the first time, I could choose some courses myself. From kindergarten through grade eight, I had been obliged to take the same subjects as every other student in my grade. For grade nine, we students could?with restrictions?select courses that interested us or related to our chosen career path.

I recall studying the course catalogue over and over. Like looking over a buffet, there were many tempting subjects to choose from but ultimately more than one could digest. Should I take History or Geography? World Religions or Social Studies? Theatre Arts or Music? It seems laughably narrow in scope now, but for a young teen, the option of making decisions for oneself was empowering.

Long after high school ended, I began taking continuing education courses through a community college. Twice a year the course catalogue was published for the upcoming semester. As soon as I heard the catalogue was available, I’d rush over to the campus to pick up a copy (even if it was available online, the print copy was a must for me.)

After highlighting the courses I needed for my program, I would read the catalogue from cover to cover. I’d peruse every available course description and wonder if I should consider it. Perhaps I should pick up some computer programming basics? Take a creative writing course? Learn Spanish? The last section of “general interest and leisure” courses was a fun cornucopia of floral arranging, photography skills, and DIY projects. The learning possibilities seemed endless. I wanted to take them all. Although I usually only signed up for the courses I needed for my program, it was fun to see what else was out there.

At AU, I miss that rush that follows the publication of the course catalogue. Since courses can start any month, AU course descriptions are available year-round. I do look at the course offerings from time to time, especially when it’s time to enrol in my next course, and I check the new course listing frequently.

But I miss a printed course catalogue. I miss reading the descriptions of all the courses, not just the ones I think I might be interested in. Having the courses listed by category on a website means that I have to make a couple decisions before I reach the course description itself: First, I have to decide whether an area of study or subject is of interest to me (ARHI? ENSC? POEC? WTF?), then I have to decide?based primarily on the name of the course?whether it’s worth clicking on to read the syllabus.

While I like that the AU course catalogue is available anytime, anywhere, the online format leaves me wondering if I’m missing some intensely interesting or valuable course because I didn’t click past the course title.

Fortunately, AU students come to the rescue with comments and suggestions on social media and through articles in The Voice Magazine. I’ve followed tips by other students and broadened my list of potential courses. And, just like in high school, there are more courses than I can possibly digest.

Perhaps that’s the AU students’ style: dig a little deeper, work a little harder, and pay attention to what everyone else is doing. I may prefer a print course catalogue, but with AU back-to-school course shopping is like AU itself: open, online, and everywhere.

Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario. Follow Barbara on twitter @ThereGoesBarb.