The cohort system, one of the main aspects of all of the engineering programs at Waterloo, is one of the many expected things to change in the faculty. This has been a result of the desire to add 8-month co-op terms, the reduced course-load program and to make students’ schedules more flexible. With these and other changes coming to engineering, it is time for some programs to give up on the cohort system.
Before getting into which programs this would work for and the factors involved in those decisions, it is important to explain what programs would be like without the cohort system, or at least what we think they would be like. Without the cohort system, Engineering would resemble how other faculties operate in terms of course selection and scheduling. Students would be given a list of courses that they need to take for their specific program and then have to schedule themselves into those courses. Each program would still have to take their concepts or seminar course each term (similar to how Physics students take PHYS 10 every term). However, a Mechanical Engineer would not have to take Calculus in a pre-chosen section and would be able to take it with any engineer at any time (non-conflicting ofcourse) that it was offered. This would also function similarly for materials, circuits or any other course with a variety of anti-requisites offered in other departments.
So why is this better? Well, for starters, this would allow students to make a schedule that is more personal and works better for each student. Second, this reduces the number of course conflicts when choosing electives. Students are often forced to take 3-hour night classes for their linkage electives because nothing else fits in their schedule. Without the cohort system, moving a mandatory course around to fit an elective in becomes a reality.
However, one large caveat is that this does not work for all programs. Programs like Nanotechnology and Software have specific courses that, if an anti-requisite is taken, would significantly impact a student’s ability to succeed in later courses. This is the nature of these programs and is the primary reason that the cohort system should not be abolished for all programs. Nevertheless, there are still many other benefits for other programs.
One of these benefits is that courses can now be offered year-round instead of on a specific term. This solves many issues with students who fail a course, want to take 8-month co-ops, or who need to take a term off for personal reasons. Currently, certain courses are only offered in certain terms. For example, ECE 250 is only offered in the Fall and Winter because it is only taken by 2A ECE students. If the cohort system was removed, the previous term requirements could be fulfilled in any term as long as a student fulfilled all of their course requirements by the time that he or she graduated. This would be similar for a student who fails a course. The student could easily make up that requirement in the next school term instead of waiting, sometimes over a year, to take the course again.
Another benefit to the removal of the cohort system is the ability to support 8-month co-op terms. Currently, for this to work properly, a student needs to start in 8-stream and then switch to 4-stream after their 8-month co-op term. With year-round course offerings and the ability to take anti-requisites, 8-month co-ops become a reality for any student in a program that supports both 4 and 8 streams. For other programs, this is more difficult but is still an option depending on which term it is taken after.
Opponents to the removal of the cohort system have stated that “it will destroy class spirit”. This could possibly happen. However, if we take a look at the smaller, more tight-knit programs outside of engineering, this is not the case. For example, physics students are a fairly tight-knit group because there are very few of them – less than 100 on average per year – and they all take the same classes with each other. This is very similar to how engineering programs currently operate, except that they have the flexibility to the sections in which they take their non-physics (and sometimes physics) classes. If engineering programs moved towards this model, where classes are still technically together, class and program spirit would still exist.
To conclude, the cohort system is not good for all of engineering disciplines. Certain programs, like Nanotechnology and Software, should keep the cohort system because their programs are very specific with course selection; however, most other programs would greatly benefit. Students would have more flexible class schedules, co-op schedules and it would make it easier for students to make up failed courses. This change isn’t going to affect most of us, as we already have our course plans locked in by the university. However, when this does come, it will change engineering as we know it.