Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Reforming the course selection process

This week, we have to pick all of our courses for next year. The way the lottery is done, we rank our top 30 courses. The computer randomizes the order of students and then goes down the list, assigning each student the highest available course on his list. After each round, the computer rerandomizes, giving higher priority to those who placed low the previous round and perhaps did not get his or her preferred course. The idea is that doing the entire academic year in one shot is more equitable because it balances out over more courses; were the lottery to go by semester only, some students might be more likely to get lucky both semesters.

But doing the entire year in one shot means that some students can end up with more courses one semester than the other -- as happened to me last year, though I was able to balance things out a bit. It also means that students can end up with at least one course that they had no intention of taking. I ended up with a course on choice of law doctrine that was #26 on my list; after the first 15 courses, I had just picked the rest at random. Although choice of law doctrine is useful to know, it was not high on my list of interesting courses and I was able to switch out. This year, for fun, I listed a seminar on art law as #30 on my list.

Here's a better way to do it. Throw out the lottery system and institute a market system. Assign students a fixed number of points to bid. For example, students could be given 100 points to bid, and they can assign the points however they want. If a student really wants to take constitutional law with Larry Tribe and the course has 100 spots, he can bid 50 points on that course and get into the course if there are less than 100 other students who bid 50 points or more. In the event of ties, 3Ls could win out over 2Ls, and among students the same year, chance might have to do. If we wanted to further privilege students on the basis of seniority, we could assign 3Ls more points to bid than 2Ls. The market works for almost everything, and I don't see why it wouldn't work here as well.

UPDATE: I thought about this some more, and now propose that students see what other students have bid, so that they have perfect information about the market and can adjust their bids accordingly. The market would "close" at some predetermined date when courses would finally be assigned. Either that, or students would need information about how students bid for particular courses in past years. That would present two obvious problems: how to do this the first time around, and how to do it for courses offered the first time in later years. Although there is something to be said for uncertainty, I think that if students had access to the market information at all times, there would be more consensus that the system was "fair."

4 Comments:

Blogger bum from jersey said...

I have even a better way: I select the order. And yes, I am accepting all kinds of bribes, my favorite being monetary.

4/26/2005 05:20:00 PM  
Blogger The Critics said...

Even better yet, Mr. POYS, why dont you let students retract the bids after posting them, this way we can encourage mad philandering of the utmost kind.

Alternatively, Bum has it down pat. A system based on monetary bribes usually works best. You could pay A, B, C, and D $10 each to bet high on X course. This would thus have the effect of leaving more spots open in course Y. You would then collect bribes from E, F, G, and H in return for what A, B, C, and D did through your direction, i.e. opening more spots in Course Y. It would be a great capital market system where you profit by charging more for opening the spots then you do paying to open them.

Hell, let's just create a true communist system, wherein everyone tries to get to the open spots first, and its equal chance at every spot. Wait a minute, that's what we have now for most courses... Genius, genius I say!

4/27/2005 06:14:00 AM  
Blogger putonyourspecs said...

We had something like a first-come, first-serve in college, and it was a nightmare. Students had to be ready to go at exactly 9 am and we were lucky if the server didn't crash with everyone trying to access it at the same time.

4/27/2005 12:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Or worse, in the pre-online registration days of telephone registration. Yea, getting up at 5am to repeatedly dial up hoping to get something other than a busy signal.


- Upstream, Red Team

4/27/2005 12:52:00 PM  

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