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2016 November 19

Electronics course over-enrolled

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:35
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Course registration has been going on for next quarter, and my Applied Electronics for Bioengineers course has more students wanting (or needing) to take it than we had planned for.  The largest previous class was last spring, with 45 students, so I had planned for a modest increase to 66 students this year (3 lab sections of 22 students each).  That filled up before the first round of registration was over, so I squeezed in 6 more students making room for 72 students (3 lab sections of 24 students each).  Those slots are now full and there are 12 students on the waiting list.  I can’t increase the lab sections any more (24 students in the lab is already crowded as there are only 12 benches).

I can’t add another lab section for several reasons:

  • The lab space is shared with another class that has 86 students enrolled (with a capacity of 120) and it took a while to negotiate even the 6 weekly slots for my 3 sections.
  • My lecture hall only seats 75.  Somewhat surprisingly, there are a couple of larger halls available in the MWF 2:40-3:45 time slot, though only one is a reasonable walking distance from my office (particularly given the amount of stuff I often carry to lectures for demos).  (If I’d been looking for a T Th slot, it would have been impossible at most times, as all larger halls are already scheduled.)
  • I’m already scheduled for classes, meetings, labs, or office hours 25 hours a week, not counting my Academic Senate committee or my undergrad directors’ meetings (which haven’t been scheduled yet).  I’ll probably be in the instructional lab TTh 1pm–7:30pm, making my lab hours be 13 hours a week.  (Students will have 190 minutes a week of lab, but there are three back-to-back sections, plus I need to set up and clean up.)
  • I don’t have a TA, so I’ll be doing all my own grading (8 problem sets and 5 large design reports for this course, and 2-3 design reports for the freshman design seminar). I will be able to hire undergraduate group tutors to help me answer questions in the lab—having two people in the lab to ask questions of makes a big difference.  I think I’ve got three tutors (one per section) lined up, but the official hiring doesn’t happen until some time in December.

The problem comes from a combination of factors:

  • requiring this electronics course of all bioengineering students (to reduce the pressure on the EE circuits course)
  • growing enrollment in bioengineering
  • growing enrollment at UCSC generally, without corresponding growth in instructional resources (instructional labs, classrooms, TAships, … )
  • my deliberately not  taking up a TAship for this course in previous years, to free up scarce teaching resources for more junior colleagues (though I fear that some of these resources have been squandered on courses taught by other senior faculty who didn’t really need TAs for their classes that were small or had only modest grading loads).

It looks like next year we’ll have to plan around 100 students:  the 84 students that seem to be the steady-state demand, plus 12 left over from this year, plus a tiny amount (probably too little) for growth.  That means that I’ll need 5 lab sections of 20 next year (or, with squeezing, 4 sections of 24).  I don’t think that I’ll be able to do all the grading myself for that large a class, particularly not with supervising that many labs.  So I’ll probably need a TA, who will have to come from another department, as none of the grad students in our department have electronics expertise. I might be able to get by with undergraduate group tutors and graders (though I’ll need enough hours from them that this might run into union limits—I believe the TA union considers it improper to have more than 20 hours a week of undergrad assistance).



  1. Wow, your teaching load is almost the same as someone at a community college. I have a max of 15 in-class contact hours, although that can increase or decrease by 1 if class hours don’t add up evenly. Those are 50 minute “hours”. The rest is office hours up to our 25 hour requirement. Meetings may or may not be during office hours. I don’t have to do lab setup, but I do have to supervise the adjuncts who teach some of the labs.

    You need to talk to the chair if TAs are being used for classes that don’t have large enrollment. Just the increase from 2 sections last year to three this year should have triggered that and a growing program needs that support. Heck, the grad students in a growing program need that support!

    Comment by CCPhysicist — 2016 November 20 @ 19:09 | Reply

  2. That sounds like rather poor enrollment planning. The department should not be surprised by the enrollment in a core class like the one you teach, but I guess the connection between declared majors and actual enrollment can be a bit difficult if there isn’t a program pre-req before they enroll in it. (My recollection based on other things you have written.) Even so …

    Comment by CCPhysicist — 2016 November 20 @ 19:13 | Reply

    • I was the one responsible for guessing how big the course would be this year, and I overestimated enrollment 2 years ago, and got within 5% last year. I was leery of overestimating, because the parts orders have to be made based on the estimates, but the lab fees that pay for them are based on real enrollments, not estimates. Overestimating would also have resulted in my needing new teaching resources and introduced potentially contentious lab space problems. I’ll be facing the lab space problems next year, but if I can get a co-instructor or a TA and do 5 sections of 20 students (rather than 3 of 24, like this year), we might be able to use a smaller lab space next year. (Meeting to discuss the curriculum tomorrow and the Curriculum Leave Plan next week—and I thought that being on sabbatical would get me out of committee meetings!)

      Removing prerequisites opened the course to more students than before (more first and second year students registering this year) and now almost all students are on the new curriculum that requires the course—the combination made me underestimate by 20% (14% after upping the course to its limit).

      I’m pretty sure that I could fill a class of 100 next year, even if there turned out to be only 80 students in the major needing the course, as I could offer it to other majors (like computer science and physics) after the majors have registered.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 November 21 @ 20:22 | Reply

      • Curriculum change coupled with the pre-req change does make it all much less predictable. When I have been involved in using the college’s “big data”, it is clear that students are pretty predictable on the scale you are dealing with. You might see if you can disentangle the odds of enrolling early (without the old pre-req) versus the odds of doing so later (with it) from the effect of having an overenrolled class. The hardest thing to measure in our enrollment system is un-met demand. We don’t have any system for running a waiting list.

        On a separate question, I wonder if the pre-req change has/will increased recruitment and retention in the program even as it has made the class harder to teach. I can see it going both ways (the lure of the cool physics and the fear of complicated devices), but I can also see in improving their engagement in both physics and calculus when they see them being used in their major.

        Comment by CCPhysicist — 2016 November 29 @ 05:52 | Reply

        • Because students get enrollment priority by number of credits accumulated (seniors before juniors before sophomores …), I don’t see many students enrolling “early” yet, despite the reduction in the prerequisites—the class filled before they had a chance to register. I will have a few more sophomores than in previous years (and some of them may be first-year students with AP credits), but I’m not yet seeing the switch to students taking the course early in their programs. I probably never will, because there are no courses that have this one as a prereq, and students are (sensibly) advised to get the courses which are prereqs for other courses done early.

          While a few first-year students may have gotten on the waitlist, many opted to register for some other required course, so even the waitlist doesn’t necessarily show the full unmet demand. My waitlist is currently at 13, with all 72 slots full.

          One of my hopes in the course is to direct a few students away from the biomolecular concentration (which is overloaded) into bioelectronics or assistive technology: motor, which have more capacity (not to mention a better job market).

          Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 November 29 @ 09:08 | Reply

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