When learning takes a backseat: rethinking the practicality of bird courses

By Dorothy Yu, 4th year Psychology student

Disclaimer: This is entirely my own opinion; feel free to agree or disagree. I’d love to hear any constructive critiques though, so feel free to comment below!

Taking a look at the Queen’s-related Facebook groups on my sidebar, the following three groups stand out in terms of popularity:

  • Overheard at Queen’s – 10, 699 members
  • Free and For Sale – 8, 996 members
  • “Must knows” for courses at Queen’s – 5, 236 members

What does this tell us about Queen’s students?

  1. We have great school spirit and a tight-knit community of students who love to share funny and wonderful things about their school with each other, as well as occasionally bond over their shared fear of mutant squirrels.
  2. We like to make money and get freebies. Who doesn’t?
  3. We care about our courses and doing well in them.

Now, all these things are important and natural things to care about. In particular, we’re ultimately at school to go to class, and we go to university to learn, don’t we?

Or do we?

What I find interesting is the massive number of posts on “Must knows” posing the following question in various iterations:

 “Can anyone recommend me some bird courses?”

 Bird course (n): an easy course in university. Usually taken to lighten one’s workload; an easy A+. Actual interest in the subject optional.

Now, I’m not at all saying there’s anything wrong with wanting to take an easy elective, or boost your GPA. I understand that med/law/grad schools take into account your grades, and sometimes people really need one or two ridiculously easy courses to help get the grades they need, especially when they’re also taking a bunch of other ridiculously difficult courses. Unfortunately there are few buffers in place in admissions processes to account for course difficulty, but that’s an entirely separate discussion for another day.

What concerns me isn’t so much the desire for good grades, but rather when the desire for good grades trumps the desire to learn.

It’s practical, and some would even say necessary, to balance out those “GPA killer” courses with subjects with a lighter workload that are easier to excel in. But I think what we often forget is that GPA should be a consideration, but shouldn’t be the sole criterion for course selection. After all, don’t we come to university to broaden our horizons? To study a certain subject more in depth? To learn something new?

The purpose of this piece isn’t at all to pass judgment on those who choose to take easier courses, or base their course decisions on level of difficulty. I myself have often worried about a course’s notorious reputation, and even posted in “Must knows” requesting grade distributions and insights into various classes. For some, taking a bird course might actually be the right and most sensible decision – maybe they need to work more that semester to pay for tuition, maybe there’s a medical situation that requires attention, maybe they’re just finding that they need more time to do well and don’t have the time to commit fully to five courses. Maybe the subject of that bird course truly interests you. Maybe it doesn’t. That’s okay. You are the best judge of what kind of workload you can handle, and it’s important to take note of those instincts. All I’m saying is, in the coming week as you finalize your courses, before you hit that enroll button, consider: Does this truly interest me? Am I going to enjoy this course? And, most importantly, am I going to learn this semester?

If the answer is no, maybe reconsider. Take something that isn’t necessarily an easy A+ but rather something you love. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. The number one motivator is interest, and if you love something the work won’t even feel like work – it’ll just feel like learning. And when you’re learning, the grades will come naturally.

Featured image from Flickr Creative Commons, taken by Jerine.