C/O Tim Gouw, Unsplash
With bird courses changing, so should we
By: Diya Ahmad, Opinions Editor
Even before beginning my first year at McMaster in 2019, the term “bird course” was well-known to the 500-large graduating class of my high school. In particular, McMaster’s fall course selection coincided with our high school graduation. Being one of the unlucky ones with a second-day course selection appointment, all I could do was watch worriedly as my peers scrambled to get a spot in one of the coveted “bird” courses.
The phenomenon of scouring the depths of r/McMaster to find bird courses isn’t one isolated to first year. In fact, the dichotomy between those with first-day enrollments and those with second-day enrollments is majorly rooted in the popularity of bird courses. While getting into a popular course is treated as nothing less of an achievement, it’s important to step back and reflect on the true impact of bird courses.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t students who are genuinely interested in the aforementioned courses, but that the most popular motivation for taking such courses is to receive an easy grade. However, this assumption has its own pitfalls. On one hand, perceptions of which courses are “easy” and which are not are often wrong.
For example, modifications to the delivery of ECON 1B03, a supposed “bird course,” following the termination of in-person classes, such as the introduction of weekly quizzes, left many students feeling as if it didn’t meet their expectations of a true “bird” course. On r/McMaster, students expressed disbelief in the course ever being a perceived bird course to begin with, emphasizing the difficulty of five-minute quizzes that gave one minute per question to be answered.
Clearly, the uncertainty of class formats amid the pandemic and our return to in-person learning have left sentiments about bird courses to be lacking in reliability. The effects of this are more massive than initially meets the eye.
From personal experience, bird courses are often decided upon and chosen through conversations with upper-year students. Even throughout the semester, such students can be turned to for guidance through shared experiences. Due to the changing nature of previously-considered “bird” courses, there’s ultimately a breakdown in communication between younger and older students. The confusion and uncertainty that comes with beginning university is often resolved by connecting with others that have been through the same experiences.
Even something as simple as bird courses illustrates that the changes in the way we learn at McMaster has ultimately led to differences in experience and our ability to support one another.
Apart from our connection with our fellow Mac students, our over-reliance on bird courses has tremendous impacts on our learning. With Mac’s distinction as Canada’s most research-intensive university, it comes as no surprise that nearly all of the McMaster students that I’ve met have plans to pursue a postgraduate degree, whether that be graduate school or a professional program such as medicine or law.
Let’s take the example of medical schools. With rising admission averages for GPA, it’s no wonder bird courses are as popular as they are. After all, if each and every one of your course grades are being evaluated under a magnifying glass, wouldn’t you want to take all steps possible to ensure they’re as high as possible?
Yet, in my experience, bird courses have the potential to cause more harm than good. Oftentimes, I’ve had to spend more time on the endless assignments of a supposedly “easy” course than the ones mandatory for my degree. Even when a class has been truly easy, it’s undeniably difficult to devote time to subjects that you have no passion for. Oftentimes, I’ve felt that taking bird courses for the purposes of taking an easy course has caused me to feel as if I’m wasting my time and money at university.
Reflecting on my negative experiences with bird courses, I’ve changed my mindset entirely to accommodate electives that wouldn’t take away from my mandatory courses while aligning with my interests. Being in health sciences, a program that gives me numerous electives, I’ve found much more gratification in filling up my elective space with economics courses: a field of study that I have cared about since my time in high school.
There’s no doubt that choosing bird courses has its benefits, especially amidst the pressure to do well in order to gain admission to professional schools. Yet, when acknowledging changing course structures, internal satisfaction and “bang for your buck,” perhaps it’s time to do away with the trend towards bird courses.
By Kayla Freeman, Contributor
University is hard, no doubt about it. With the constant stress that many students face, it is easy to see why they may look for easier and less strenuous classes when possible. This is where “bird courses” come into play. The idea surrounding these types of subjects is that one can fly through the course with little to no effort to achieve relatively high marks, such as an 11 or 12.
In reality, bird courses do not exist. Being successful in a course is largely dependent on the skills of individual students, their timetable, their motivation or their effort. To be fair, the harshness of a teaching assistant’s grading or a professor’s teaching style are among other contributing factors that can affect your mark. However, these issues are generally consistent across all courses.
Being successful in a course is largely dependent on the skills of individual students, their timetable, their motivation or their effort.
Courses in certain faculties have become associated with easier courses or workloads. Faculties such as humanities and social sciences are often the faculties that are considered to have a greater proportion of “bird courses” including courses such as microeconomics or medical terminology. This brings a negative attitude towards students and staff in certain faculties or programs. For example, students that are in a class for personal interest may feel that their efforts are worth less if they are investing time and effort into a course with a bird reputation. In a society centred around those in the fields of science and engineering, faculties such as the humanities and social sciences are often belittled and have their legitimacy second-guessed.
Faculties such as humanities and social sciences are often the faculties that are considered to have a greater proportion of “bird courses” including courses such as microeconomics or medical terminology.
Being a part of the social science faculty, I can tell you about the effects that the perception surrounding bird courses or even “bird programs” have on other students. For example, many current students in social science transferred into the program after their first year, which is perceived by some as a step-down from programs in science or engineering. This is disheartening for people that worked hard to get to where they are, who are enjoying their courses, and/or who continue to strive to maintain a high GPA in their program. It almost creates this hierarchy among different faculties, giving other students the idea that social science courses are not as worthy or respectable compared to others.
Some students choose to take bird courses only because they have heard that it will be easy. What they may have failed to consider is that if these courses are from a different faculty, they will likely be taught in a completely different manner than what students are used to. This, along with a disinterest in course material may result in poor performance. For these reasons, bird courses typically have low class participation and general class morale. There is no inherent problem in seeking out less taxing courses based on your own preferences and strengths. Some students may pursue this in order to balance challenging mandatory requirements. However, looking down on others and assuming their intentions and capabilities based on the courses they take is not okay, as it promotes a negative mentality and division among students and faculties.
For these reasons, bird courses typically have low class participation and general class morale.
People might be less likely to engage in the course content or with their fellow classmates if they view that the course is beneath them or an easy A. Rather than focusing on the bird-related differences between programs, I believe that everyone should simply embrace the variations that are inherent to each program. Within the same course, some students will struggle and others may not, but those who struggle will likely face difficulty in other courses.
Each program and faculty offers unique skills and abilities that can provide students with benefits across many disciplines. As each course has something different to offer, we may as well slow down and try to appreciate and understand the content rather than fly through it.