When I look through a syllabus for the first time, I always scan the required readings to see if there is a course reader. Though these course packets may be beloved by the owners of Quartet Copies, who seem to have a monopoly on producing them, they are completely unnecessary.
Not only are they a massive waste of paper, these typically heavy, often disorganized packets can be a financial barrier for people interested in certain classes. It is time for Northwestern professors as a whole to officially do away with course packets in favor of the cheaper, more eco-friendly alternative of simply uploading files to Canvas.
Course packets are a serious misuse of paper. If a document is in the course packet, it presumably exists as a digital file that could be uploaded to Canvas without printing a single sheet of paper. Instead, these files are compressed into large collections, which might be lugged around for the quarter but afterward will sit under your bed gathering dust for the remainder of your time at NU (my packets from Fall 2015 can attest to this). Eliminating course readers would prevent future students from contributing to this waste.
Unlike textbooks, course packets are not typically resold by students after they have taken the course, since the collection of documents and assigned readings can vary too much from year to year. One rarely finds a course packet listed on Textbook Exchange or Free & For Sale, meaning they are rarely used beyond one quarter. This short-term utility makes course packets an even more wasteful investment. Getting rid of course packets will also enable professors to switch up their readings more readily if needed.
It does not make sense to mandate students purchasing these packets when the readings could be made available for free online. As it is, course packets constitute a financial disincentive for taking otherwise promising classes. Other textbooks and school materials are expensive enough; if professors upload readings to Canvas, students will not have to worry about potentially dropping a class for an avoidable reason.
Most of my classes already function this way and it simply makes life easier. Instead of paying for and carrying around heavy packets to class every day, I can organize readings and take notes digitally. If a professor finds an interesting article or study to include in the assigned readings, it can be added in seamlessly. And after I take the class, I do not have to worry about what to do with the packet.
I understand some people prefer taking notes on paper, and these students can continue to do so. However, they should have to order course packets at their own expense. Professors could offer to arrange for a limited number of packets to be created if specifically requested by students. In that case, students would still have a method to learn in their prefered way but the environmental and economic costs would not be required in order to take a class.
My hope is neither to inconvenience students or professors, nor bankrupt the good people of Quartet. However, the NU academic system’s reliance on course packets is an antiquated practice. If NU professors stop using course packets, it would be a great step toward making the university a more modern, streamlined and inclusive learning environment.
Danny Cooper is a Medill sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected] If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]
The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.