Sections & Sectioning

Sections

Sections support active student learning through small-group discussion and create equitable teaching loads for TFs.  Despite the complexities, the effort to create balanced sections is time well-spent.

Placing students into sections should occur after Study Card Day because of the difficulty of accurately predicting final enrollment in many courses.  Any increase in the number of sections for each course must be authorized by the Gen Ed Office.  Teaching staff can obtain a class list with the full names, e-mail addresses, and other pertinent information of enrolled students through the course website and my.harvard after 9:00 a.m. on the day after Study Cards are due.

Procedures for Sectioning

We recommend TFs use the web-based sectioning tool that links directly to the my.harvard system and is directly tied to course enrollment.  TFs should be sure to learn how to use the sectioning tool before the Course Registration Deadline, since there will no longer be any sectioning-tool training sessions or weekend/after-hours support.  We encourage TFs to utilize the training resources in the my.harvard Knowledge Center, which has full documentation, demo videos and a downloadable guide.  The Registrar’s Office will be holding a few walk-in labs during “Shopping Week” and immediately after the Course Registration Deadline.  We will notify TFs of the dates and times of these labs.  Please note that these labs are designed to troubleshoot issues or answer specific questions; they are not training sessions. Participants will be expected to have already reviewed the Knowledge Center materials.  TFs should contact the Registrar’s Office at 617-496-5212 or sectioning@fas.harvard.edu with any questions or concerns about the sectioning tool.

Smaller courses (i.e., those with one or two sections) may need to devise a form with a range of possible times or poll students’ availability during class, since students enrolled in a course ordinarily must attend a discussion section.  In these cases, it may be impossible to respond to every student’s time preferences.  Student scheduling conflicts, however, are not a sufficient reason to add sections.  Additional sections will be approved only on the basis of total enrollments.

There are many factors to be considered when sectioning:

  • Maintaining sections of equal size
  • Taking into account students’ choices
  • Providing a reasonable distribution of men and women as well as class year

In some courses, sectioning may be complicated further by the decision to put all freshmen, or all students with a particular field of concentration or language skills, into exclusive sections.  Furthermore, comparison of the sectioning forms with the enrollment list (from the course website) usually reveals discrepancies that will need to be resolved.  After completing sectioning, teaching staff should e-mail students their section assignments through my.harvard.  It is a good idea to include yourself on the bcc, since you will otherwise have no record of your sent email.  Additionally, section lists should not be posted in public areas to ensure student privacy.

You should notify students after you run the sectioning tool, as it does not automatically notify students of their section placement.  

After the initial assignments have been worked out, students requesting permission to add the course or to change sections may be restricted to the least crowded sections.  Alternatively, Head TFs may choose to allow a student to switch sections only if that student arranges to trade places with a student from the other section.  Another option is to limit the re-sectioning period to the first week after section assignments are posted.  In larger courses, some Head TFs have maintained a forum on the course website to track student requests.

In some cases, a student may not be able to make any of the available section times.  If the section is required for the course and no alternate section time can be found, the student may need to drop the class or drop the conflicting class.  It is not possible to create an additional section if a student is not able to identify a section time that works with his or her schedule.

Sectioning Guidelines
We recommend you section only after getting post-Study Card Day allocations.

Section size

  • We strive to maintain consistent average section sizes across Gen Ed courses.
  • Our target section size is an average of 15 students per section. 
    Some sections may end up having slightly more than 15 students, while others may have slightly less.  Please note that it is the teaching staff’s responsibility to balance enrollments across sections.
  • We discourage sections with an average of only 9 or fewer students per section.
  • Grad students are not included in section counts, as their work may not be graded by their peers. See Information for Faculty.

Section times

  • Sections should be offered at times that work well for students. 
    Lectures ordinarily are held between 11-2 Mondays through Thursdays, which means this is not a good time to schedule sections.  
  • We encourage teaching staff to consider offering sections in the Houses in the evenings.

Add/Drop period

  • If your sections are on the small side, we hope that you will still allow students to add the course.
  • Please allow students to add your course only if they can fit into existing sections (until these sections are full).
    We cannot add sections to accommodate student schedules.

Classrooms

  • If you have outgrown your classroom or have any classroom issues, please let us know as soon as possible.

Section Meetings

During the first section meeting, it is helpful to remind students that the course head’s and Head TF’s contact information and office hours are on the syllabus.  For each specific section, it is also a good idea to distribute section lists with the contact information and office hours for the respective TF and a list of the names of all section members so that students may get to know each other.  Note that additional information (e.g., e-mail addresses and phone numbers) may not be distributed without the consent of each student. You may choose to post section lists on the course’s website as well, limiting access to members of the respective sections.

It is important to check section attendance, and to keep track of those who have been admitted to the course or allowed to switch sections, in order to monitor fluctuations in the actual enrollment during the first month of the term.  Updated versions of the Registrar’s enrollment list can be accessed through the course website and my.harvard.  TFs should not assume that students whose names appear on the list but who have not been attending section have “dropped” the course as the names of students who have dropped the course will no longer appear on the enrollment list.  TFs should consult with the Head TF regarding any discrepancies between their section list(s) and those who actually attend.

Various techniques for leading discussions are presented in the Resources for Teaching Fellows website, published jointly by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) and the Bok Center.