Assessment of overbooking experiment after day one: complications arise with lab section

Executive summary: The OAR database being designed should include the option to overbook a course during course selection and should handle enrollment for both lecture and laboratory sections in science-with-lab courses.

SC 130 Physical Science can optimally serve 32 students in lecture, split 16-16 for the two laboratory periods. This generates eight student pairs for the typical laboratory session. The course includes a strong writing component with weekly laboratory reports done as formal write-ups using spreadsheet and word processing software. The laboratory write-ups are marked for appropriate data gathering, table formats, mathematical analysis, critical thinking in the conclusions, syntax (grammar), vocabulary (including spelling), organization, and cohesion. At 32 students the marking load is heavy but manageable.

As a laboratory science, the course is in high demand by graduating students in the spring term. I am keenly aware that course selection rarely "comes true." Course selecting with a cap set at 32 would yield a registration of less than 32. Thus I set a cap at an overbooked 40. My plan was to allow preselected students to enter the course today, Tuesday, and then at 5:00 close the course with whatever number of students had registered for the course, unless the number of registered students was below 32. The worst case scenario would be a 40 student SC 130, a beast but survivable.

I was pleased to note this morning that I already lost two somewhere along the way and that only 38 students were listed from the course selection. I was aware of one F and one W that would likely return and need the class, so the class was at the cap of 40 in my mind (38 plus the one W and the one F whom I was sure were going to return to school).

As the morning progressed, the 11:00 lab was filling at over twice the rate of 8:00 lab. And the students selecting the 11:00 lab were conflicted out of the 8:00 lab by courses that were either offered only once a week in the 8:00 - 10:55 TuTh time slot, or hard to change courses such as Accounting II type courses. By around noon the 11:00 lab had twenty students, and the 8:00 lab had six, plus two 11:00 students who were forced into the 8:00 lab. I say forced because that was what I had to do. Twenty is the theoretic upper limit on a lab section - I acquire equipment to a maximum of ten sets. Even if I acquired eleven sets, there would not be enough space in the laboratory for the eleventh pair to work. So I told the two students, "8:00 lab or drop SC 130."

One young woman from U noted the difficulty of getting to an 8:00 class in Palikir from the other side of Kolonia, and I did empathize with her. Still, she is now in the 8:00 lab. I told her, "Try your best."

The reason for the lab imbalance is in part because the lab sections are not part of course selection in OAR. The students often course select a laboratory, but OAR does not enter this data nor track this data. Thus all forty students could theoretically enroll in one lab (such as the 11:00) and set up conflicts with the other lab - a worst case scenario but not unrealistic given the unpopularity of 8:00 classes in Palikir (transportation is a bear, taxis are notoriously unreliable).

The new database should include laboratory section enrollment, and should stop a student from enrolling in the lecture when the selected laboratory is already full. Tough to program, but necessary to balance the labs in courses.

Thus it would be nice if the new database allowed overbooking in lecture and lab along with the ability to "close" a lab section. For SC 130 the lecture would close at an overbooked 40, each lab at an overbooked 20. Note that some other sciences have three labs. The new database would have to maintain both lecture and separate laboratory class lists.

As it was, I had to bar a student who came in after noon from enrolling in SC 130 because she could not take the 8:00 laboratory. The conflict was MS 099, a course that is full and closed at present. Moving MS 099 impacts not just TuTh classes but also MWF classes, a very complicated affair. SC 130 did once have an MS 098 pre-requisite, but this was deleted when MS 098 was terminated. I have not made a determination on an alternate math pre-requisite. The old MS 098 is close in content to MS 096, so that is probably the logical pre-requisite. Still, MS 099 would be strong boost to a student in the new SC 130, so in a choice between sacrificing MS 099 and SC 130, it is the later that should be dropped.

Tomorrow morning I will know better how the overbooking portion of the experiment went. With enrollment down to a trickle I appeared to have 28 enrolled, with one more sure addition Tuesday morning in the form of a student who took a W in SC 130 fall 2007. The F from fall 2007 is already in the count. Barring a sudden appearance of the remaining eleven or so Monday afternoon, the class may indeed finish Monday near 32.

SC 130 Final report on overbooking experiment

SC 130 Physical Science was the object of the overbooking experiment during course selection fall 2007. Forty students were allowed to enroll. As of 07 January 38 students were course selected for the course. Thirty of those students registered into the course by 5:00 on Tuesday 08 January. Two more students were added, one who had failed the prior term and one who had withdrawn the prior term. The lab remains slightly unbalanced with 14 in the 8:00 lab section and 18 in the 11:00 lab section. Addressing this imbalance would be the only change I would make this term during course selection. My present thinking is to enroll up to 18 in each lab section (nine lab pairs), capping the course at 36 and then expecting attrition to bring the overall enrollment down to 30 to 32 by start of fall term in August.

The upshot is that the overbooking went exactly as I hoped it would. Overbooking worked. The only complication was that students who wanted to add the course were confused by my explaining that even if someone dropped the course there would not be space in the course. At 32 A101 is quite full, even a couple less would be a better fit. My intent was to not "replace" withdrawing students until the lecture fell below 30 students. This never occurred, but the explanation that SC 130 was not likely to ever have space made a couple students very unhappy.