In a recent post, DDF wrote:

Take a tutorial every semester. The more tutorials you take, the better your Williams education will be. There are few plausible excuses for not taking a tutorial every semester. Although many tutorials are now filled, others are not.

Too many first years take a big intro class because they think they “should.” They shouldn’t! Even a “bad” tutorial at Williams is better than almost all intro courses. If you are a first year and you don’t take a tutorial, you are doing it wrong. Note that, even if you don’t have the official prerequisites for a class, you should still enroll. The pre-reqs almost never matter and professors will always (?) let you into a tutorial with empty spots.

By the way, where can we find data about how popular tutorials are? For example, do most/all tutorials end up filled? How many students attempted to enroll in each one? More transparency!

DDF asks, and we (collectively) can try to answer!

Williams has, very helpfully and very transparently, provided a list of tutorials for the Fall 2019 semester.  According to the list, 61 different tutorials were going to be offered this fall.  If each were full, that would allow for 610 tutorial spots (I think each tutorial has room for 10 students (5 pairs of two kids each)).  If each student were limited to 1 tutorial per semester, that would mean less than one student in three could take a tutorial this fall.  So there is no way for every current Eph to take DDF’s advice.  Moreover, of those 61 listed tutorials, 5 are shown as having been cancelled, presumably either for lack of interest or some issue for the faculty member running the course.  That leaves 56 tutorials for the fall.  Of the 56 tutorials being offered this semester, 10 currently have openings, though its not clear how many openings there are for each one.  That means that 46 are full.  If we assume that the open tutorials have anywhere from 6-8 students currently registered for them, then approximately 520-540 students are taking one this fall.  That’s about 1 in 4 students, which is a pretty good amount.

Tutorials were introduced at Williams in 1988, which was shortly after the Williams at Oxford program really got going. (My recollection was that the Oxford program began sometime after 1986, when I was at Williams, but according to this web page, the program dates to 1985).  I took a tutorial (Heterocylic Chemistry) in the Spring of 1990, right before I graduated.  I only did it because I thought I should (its the same reason I took a Philosophy class my junior year and an introductory tax class my second year at law school), because it was, at the time, a pretty unique educational opportunity.  But I liked the class, and it was a good opportunity to get to know the professor (Hodge Markgraff) in a way that never would have happened otherwise.  I’m not sure I learned more heterocyclic chemistry than I might have in a more traditional chemistry class, but I thought it was very valuable to go through the tutorial process.

I’m not sure I agree with DDF that taking a tutorial freshman year is necessarily a good idea, but I do agree with him that taking one or more tutorials is a good thing.  According to this page, “more than half of all Williams students take at least one during their time” at Williams, so I guess many students agree with me.  But obviously a pretty large chunk of the student body (presumably close to half) never takes a tutorial.  Should the College make taking a tutorial a requirement for graduation?  On the one hand, it is an excellent and, if not unique, at least an uncommon educational opportunity.  Williams might be justified in nudging (forcing?) those students who won’t take one on their own into trying the experience.  On the other hand, as laid out above, it might be difficult for students to get into a tutorial in a subject in which they have significant (or even any!) interest.  It could create some real scheduling dilemnas for seniors every year.  What do you think?

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