Pass/fail? More like YAAAAS/fail.
After years of advocacy from student senators, we might see the introduction of pass/fail credits as early as this year. The move comes after a Senate working group was created to conduct research and gather student feedback.
There are stringent limitations, of course. Under the proposed system, students could choose one course in their entire undergraduate career to register as pass/fail, and that course must be outside of their module.
Introducing pass/fail courses will encourage students to take otherwise intimidating courses outside of their field. It’s an effective way to ensure students are more well-rounded at the end of their university career and academically challenged throughout. After all, students who are weaker at the subjects outside of their field can experiment without the pressure of potentially ruining their GPA.
It’s also being framed as a wellness initiative — like much else on campus these days — but it’s likely true that less grade-based pressure in unfamiliar courses will contribute to a healthier student base.
There are a few hiccups, though. One issue is that graduate and professional degree might not accept the pass/fail credits, which might disadvantage applicants. Currently, some graduate schools don't accept pass/fail credits, particularly in highly competitive programs.
As well, there are some issues with the retroactive nature of this proposal. It seems we’re not getting pass/fail courses per se. We’re getting the opportunity to indicate one of our grades as a pass or fail. This would mean a single course would have some students taking it as pass/fail and some students taking it as a standard graded course. When there’s group work involved, this could create issues. After all, the grade may only matter to some.
There are also some courses that make more sense than others for this model. Courses focused on pure mathematics, for example, like 1000-level calculus, don’t function as well under the pass/fail system: you either know the material and the formulae, or you don’t. But for courses like creative writing, the pass/fail would encourage productive experimentation. This way, students can try new things and go in interesting directions without the fear of losing marks for it.
Ultimately, though, these wrinkles can be ironed out. Introducing pass/fail courses in this limited fashion means that students can benefit from them — taking interesting courses, challenging themselves — without a full-on educational overhaul.
It’s a good move. And if nothing else, it’ll mean people don’t keep flocking to the same courses for their breadth requirement (we're looking at you, Geography of Tourism and Earth Rocks!), and instead, try something new and unexpected.