Hack Your Program

Hack Your Program: Indiana University-Bloomington School of Library & Information Science

Disclaimer: This post is a product of my experiences as an IU-B SLIS student.  Please know that my opinions are not intended to be representative of the opinions of any other student, faculty/staff member, or librarian. All criticism is meant to be constructive.

Photo of IU School of LIbrary and Information Science

So, first things first: My name is Brianna Marshall, but you can call me Bri. I’m a first year dual-degree MLS/MIS student at IU-B SLIS and this is my very first post as a contributing writer for HackLibSchool. I also blog at Not So Stern Librarian and tweet @notsosternlib. Now that we’re acquainted, please join me as I hack SLIS…

Program Overview: SLIS offers several degree options: Master of Library Science, Master of Information Science, dual MLS/MIS, a post-graduate specialist degree, and a Ph.D. in Information Science. In fall 2011 there were 333 total students enrolled in SLIS, of which 291 were Master’s candidates.  I don’t have any hard statistics to back it up but I’m pretty sure the majority of those students were either MLS or dual MLS/MIS candidates. I am a dual MLS/MIS student, but in this post I am going to focus on my MLS experience in SLIS.

Program Requirements: The MLS requires 36 credit hours plus S401 (a required introductory technology course) for a total of 39 credits. The five required foundational courses are reference, collection development, cataloging (or a theory-based alternative), a library management course, and a research course.

Specializations & Dual-Degree Programs: SLIS is incredible in its array of options for any student who wants to complete a second Master’s or specialize in a particular area of librarianship. A few examples of dual-degrees that are offered with an MLS include: African American and African Diaspora Studies, Art History, English, Folklore and Ethnomusicology, History, Law, Musicology, and Public Affairs. There are more options, though I don’t have the space to list them here. The most popular dual-degree seems to be the MLS/MIS combination but plenty of SLIS students take advantage of other options as well. Completing a dual-degree option requires admission to both programs, so if you’re admitted to the MLS track and decide you want to pursue a second Master’s in Art History, you need to also be admitted by that program’s standards. Dual-degree options are valuable because they lessen the total number of credits you need to take to earn the degrees. For instance, completing the MIS and MLS together requires 20 fewer credits than completing them separately. Obviously these are really valuable options for anyone wanting to be competitive for academic library positions, since some require more than one Master’s degree.

If you don’t quite want another Master’s, there’s always the option of choosing a specialization. Examples of specializations offered through SLIS include Archives and Records Management, Art Librarianship, Children’s and Young Adult Services, Digital Libraries, Music Librarianship, and Rare Books and Manuscripts Librarianship. Most students choose a specialization; it’s rare for an MLS student not to have one.

Program Weaknesses:

    • The most glaring weakness in my mind is that the MLS program does not have high expectations for its students’ technology skills. Don’t get me wrong: there are a lot of challenging classes offered by SLIS—you can take EAD or XML or Python workshops, and to an extent you’re expected to on the MIS side of things. There is no such expectation on the MLS side, though. The technology requirement, S401 (otherwise known as Computer-Based Information Tools), is a joke among students. It is required yet doesn’t count toward your total amount of credits, a modern variation on highway robbery. You learn UNIX (which is so decontextualized from its possible uses in libraries that most students immediately discard it), a passable amount of HTML/CSS, and, in one memorable class, how to create a PowerPoint. While the professor was well-meaning and likable, it was obvious from the get-go that we were being herded into a computer classroom so that SLIS would appear to be giving its students tech skills… while really just wasting our time and stealing our money. I don’t think that it is intentionally a useless class; however, I do think in retrospect that I am owed much more by my graduate program, and by extension that all future S401-sufferers are owed more as well. I have full confidence in the technological abilities of my MLS-seeking peers but I know some who hide from new challenges, enabled in part because of the low expectations that my graduate program has set. I think that the heads of this program should be bound by their consciousnesses to stress the importance of being technologically literate—in particular to incoming library students who are nervous about the techie stuff because they have humanities backgrounds. The bar could be set higher for MLS students without requiring any sort of radical technology bootcamp being forced upon them.
    • There are a lot of students in SLIS, so you have to rely on yourself to make things happen. If you come to library school hoping to have your hand held, don’t hold your breath. Here’s what will happen, if your experience is anything like mine was: You will have an orientation in name only. You’ll be stuffed into a room and various people affiliated with SLIS will talk at you, providing a complete repeat of everything the website says, which of course you’ve read over and over already. And then you will be thrown into figuring it all out yourself—it’s an excellent opportunity for self-growth, but only if you’re prepared for it. Sure, you’re assigned an adviser, but it’s up to you to make the connection. A lot of students never do, for better or worse. It’s not hard to become connected with professors, librarians and the SLIS staff, but nobody will take those steps for you.
    • It’s a challenge to find funding. Really, really a challenge, just like a lot of other library programs. Don’t count on getting aid from SLIS, because there are a lot of worthy students and there just isn’t enough departmental money to go around. Likewise, there are only about 30 available graduate assistantships (which often provide tuition remission) within the program. Don’t be too discouraged, though. People occasionally find funding from other campus sources. I definitely recommend applying for all possible sources of funding and making a case for yourself within SLIS; the administrative office is full of great people who will help you out if they can. Don’t ever stop working to gain skills that make you stand out and connecting with faculty and librarians; these are your best strategies to secure funding. (And, you know, a job eventually. Let’s not forget that.)

Program Strengths:

    • The many available dual-degrees and specializations help ensure that you’ll be able to tailor your experience to be exactly what you want. There’s a lot of room to create a niche for yourself in this program, so don’t underestimate yourself.
    • IU offers a rich diversity of libraries to gain experience in while you’re a student: the main library, plus 17 specialized branch libraries. Want to gain experience doing business reference? You can by working at the Business/SPEA library. Interested in rare books and manuscripts? Work at the Lilly Library. Hoping to learn more about digital libraries? IU’s Digital Library Program is nationally known. There are also multiple archives to gain experience at on campus, if that is your focus. Beyond IU, the excellent Monroe County Public Library welcomes SLIS interns each semester. While all library jobs are highly competitive, internships and volunteering are always options for students.
    • Bloomington is a wonderful place to spend a few years. B-town provides easy access to nearby large cities in that Indianapolis is an hour north, Chicago is four hours to the northwest, and Louisville is an hour south, which makes it especially nice when conferences are held in those places. Music lovers and foodies alike, rejoice! Bloomington has plenty of live music, from jazz to opera to indie, and spectacular food and beer selections. It’s a cozy college town with plenty of culture, so if that’s your thing you’ll love it here!
    • Socializing/student organizations: Although SLIS is a large program that throws together students with many different interests, I’ve found that anyone interested in making new friends within the program has plenty of opportunities to do so. There’s a healthy ebb and flow of students in and out of the SLIS commons every day, and the American Library Association-SC plans and advertises social events for SLIS students often. Other active student organizations include Society of American Archivists-SC, the American Society for Information Science and Technology-SC, the Music Library Association-SC, the Society of Art Librarianship Students, and SlisKids (a children’s/YA book club). If you’re so inclined, there’s even a SLIS-student run crafty club!
    • The University Information Technology Services STEPS Workshops are amazing! Multi-level classes are offered on Adobe Creative Suite 5, MS Excel and Access, HTML/CSS, and many other subjects (think ArcGIS Desktop, Perl, Zotero, etc.). I’ve had wonderful experiences with the instructors and the smaller class sizes are much-appreciated. These classes are a low-pressure way to introduce yourself to new programs and concepts that can help you build your resume. STEPS workshops are (blissfully) free for IU students yet I’m not sure how many SLIS students take advantage of them. Needless to say, I highly recommend doing so.

Final thoughts on SLIS: I have grown exponentially since coming to SLIS. So many of the professors, librarians and staff I’ve met at IU and SLIS have been an impressive combination of competent and kind; I could gush about them all day because they are my absolute favorite part of library school (besides my always-amazing peers, of course). While I strongly believe that the MLS side of SLIS should be more aggressive in encouraging its Master’s students to gain tech skills, it doesn’t diminish the fact that creative, motivated students will find many tools at SLIS to help them become competitive for the library job they want.

So now that you know my thoughts, what are yours? If you’re an IU SLIS student (past, present, or future), do you agree or disagree with what I’ve written in this post? If you’re attending another library school, how do the programs compare? I would love to hear some feedback, either here in the comments or on Twitter @notsosternlib!

23 thoughts on “Hack Your Program: Indiana University-Bloomington School of Library & Information Science

  1. My school definitely lacked tech skills. I twice assisted with training new students at a tech boot camp in my final year and the incoming students were relatively helpless regarding very basic skills. Then in the tech class, I was overwhelmingly bored (my BA was tech related though), but my classmates complained and gnashed their teeth as if making a PowerPoint was the hardest thing in the entire world.

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  2. As a SLIS grad (MLS 2010), I would also add that strengths are:
    1) The administration responds to change. We complained that we needed more career prep; they added the career center. We complained about 401, and well, it’s gotten a lot better, believe it or not.
    2) The librarians you get to work with while you are there are top notch, and most of them are genuinely interested in and committed to mentoring SLIS students. I wouldn’t be where I am with Diane Dallis and Carrie Donovan, and I’m thankful I got to work with such great people.
    3) The alumni network is strong. Any time you go to conferences, you will find IU-SLIS people. We stick together, and there is an amazing fellowship in that.

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    • I completely agree about the incredible people in SLIS/IU/Bloomington. If you put yourself out there, you’ll find SO many people who strive to help you reach your goals. I just think that the orientation would be a great time to stress the awesome nature of the people you can meet… I’ve seen too many shy students thinking they would be a burden and going through the program not connecting with others. Some students would do this no matter what they were told by SLIS, but for others I think it would change their attitude early on and give them a chance to get more from the program.

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  3. I’m a IU SlIS alum and I echo many of Bri’s thoughts. 401 is a joke, you can test out of it ahead of time, but a revamp of the course would be nice. Because of all the libraries on campus you can gain a lot of work experience, but it can be a pain to cobble together 3 10hr a week jobs. It also means lots of librarians available for mentorship!

    I (and many of my fellow graduates) actually didn’t have one of the written specializations. I chose courses that emphasized academic librarianship and took electives such as educating information users, social science information, and web programming.

    My other complaint with IU SLIS (again based on my own experience) was the lack of a career center when I attended. At the time there was a dinky office that seemed to always be closed. It was also advertised as a quite place to schedule phone interviews but alas no cell reception in that room… It would be great to see more workshops and information on finding a job from SLIS especially with such a huge program. I also found it odd that the rare books specialization had no foreign language requirement. The orientation is a joke, and don’t feel inclined to stick with your “assigned” advisor. I found great mentorship opportunities with working libraries and SLIS alums who had found library positions.

    Despite IU’s flaws, overall, I thought it was a great program and I have a job now that I love so it was all worth it :)

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    • The issue I have with 401 is that it’s required in your first semester, or before you’re 9 credits into the program. We were told that we could test out of it but I figured that because I didn’t have UNIX experience I should stay. After all, the class was touted as a means for all MLS students to be on the same page with technology–and of course I didn’t want to fall behind! Now I wish I’d tested out because I could’ve learned the tiny amount I didn’t know already on my own. 401 needs a revamp and the first thing that should go is the huge class size.

      I’ve had good experiences with the Career Center this year; I think they’ve changed a lot, though the office is still small and I can’t speak for cell phone reception. Also, the ALA-SC had a week of career-focused events this past fall that I thought was really valuable, so at least that’s a start in the right direction.

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      • I’m glad to hear the career center is improving it is definitely needed!

        And I think by the end of our first semester we all wanted to riot over 401 and didn’t appreciate how it was required but didn’t count for the degree. Kudos on your excellent write-up!

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      • I graduated in May from IU SLIS and speaking for the career center… there may not be cell reception but there is a landline in there to use for students to use. Rhonda will help you get situated–I used that room several times in grad school for phone interviews, and with the last, landed a professional position. So current and future students, take advantage! I have also heard that with the merger you may be able to use the career services in informatics in the future…

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  4. Bri has done an excellent job covering our program and offering some great advice for new students. SLIS is definitely what you make of it! I remember hearing from every professor in my first term at SLIS that library school was not really about the courses you take but was about the library jobs you had during that time; that the library experience is what would get you a job in the proverbial real world.
    The competition here for library jobs (just like funding) is fierce. There are simply not enough library jobs to go around. When jobs come over the student listserv, most are open and closed within a few hours. I remember meeting several students over orientation who already had campus library jobs lined up, before they even moved to Btown.
    Jobs are often passed by word of mouth or internally within a library on campus. This allows students who have their “foot in the door” at a library to snatch up other openings. It is not uncommon for some students to have 2 or 3 library jobs while some have none. That being said, the hardest part about SLIS is getting your foot in the door.
    My best advice for overcoming that is to get started early. As soon as your acceptance letter arrives, join the student listserv and start applying for every campus library job that comes through. When you start classes, let your professors know that you are actively searching for a library job. At SLIS, the profs do a great job helping students make connections around campus, connections that can lead to jobs. When you arrive on campus, head over the libraries where you want to work and introduce yourself, ask to volunteer, do whatever you can to get involved. That way you can distinguish yourself among all the other rookies who will be applying for the same job openings.
    Most importantly, do not give up and get discouraged. It took me 2 semesters (and countless job applications) to land a paid position in a library. My biggest regret looking back over my time here was that I did not start looking for a job early enough. And it is true, your library job experience is extremely important as you enter the professional job market, so get on it!

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  5. Barbara, your advice is such a great supplement to this post! It is so important for new students to be prepared to throw themselves into finding a job before coming to SLIS. The only reason I was prepared was because of a knowledgeable mentor. I know some students who passed on applying to any jobs posted to the listserv in August, thinking the perfect job would come around. This is often a big mistake. Snatch up any library experience you can in your first year and then try to build on that. Also, your comment about going somewhere in person to express your interest is VITAL. That’s how I got my job at the Lilly, so I know firsthand that boldness can bring results!

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  6. As someone who tried to specialize in children’s and young adult literature, I found the program to be sub par. There is only one adjunct professor who teaches anything along those lines so there is no real diversification in the subject. Also, if she doesn’t especially like you, you are more or less out of luck. I found out after the fact that I could have petitioned to take classes in the education school but that was never brought up during my two years there.

    My major problem with the program is that they don’t appear to care at all about the students. The issue that you brought up with the orientation is the perfect example: they didn’t provide me with any information I couldn’t have gotten online and one professor even tried to deter us from the field saying that the only way we would ever get a job was if a librarian died. Not real inspiring. There is no graduation ceremony for the school and they give you a little star shaped trinket that you can get out of an Oriental Tradings catalog for under a dollar. I mean, really?

    Most of the people I know left with a bitter taste in their mouth. Maybe it is because we felt like at least 80% of our classes were taught by people who didn’t have the slightest clue or maybe it was because we felt like SLIS was just letting us attend so they could have our money without putting forth any real effort, but I think most of us think the negatives outweighed the positives.

    To be fair, this is all coming from a 2011 graduate who can’t seem to catch a break on the job front. It’s been eight months and I still answer phones for minimum wage because the MLS hasn’t helped me get a better job. It is a tough job market out there, but I don’t feel as though IU prepared me for much of anything.

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  7. As a recent graduate I personally would not recommend this program to anyone. You hit the nail on the head by listing the first weakness as minimal technical preparation. I would have loved to take classes on XML and EAD, but when you do a specialization you only get exactly one elective and I was already in so much debt from student loans that I couldn’t afford to do the dual degree. The STEPs classes are great and I have found that they are a wonderful resource to supplement the sub-par technical education from the program. In a field where technology is coming to play a very substantial role, SLIS should know better than to send their MLS students out with only 401 as preparation. In my opinion, technology is becoming even more important than some of the material covered in the “core” classes.

    The orientation session was comical because SLIS staff got up and tried to sell the tale of “Tons of librarians will be retiring and there will be a lot of jobs.” Even though I was a fresh face at the time, I had read enough blogs and looked at enough statistics to know that is not true. Often, when librarians retire, money is so tight that the positions are not being refilled.

    Additionally, I had one class that I felt really challenged me and on the whole, the program was drastically easier than my undergrad program. It’s a joke and is seen as a joke by many of my fellow peers. Sure, there are some fantastic faculty, but they are in the minority and they don’t make up for the other major weaknesses of SLIS. I guess I just expected more from a graduate program.

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  8. I agree with most of what you said and it was a very easy program for me too. I have a MA from other university that I got in 2005 and my MLS from SLIS in 2007 and my MA degree was by far a lot harder. I do also think that more tech skills would be a big plus. Overall I did enjoy my experience though.

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  9. As a current SLIS student at IU, I can definitely identify with what Bri says about the program. S401 is a joke, and I often gained far more knowledge in the STEPS class I’d taken the night before than I ever would have in a class of 40+ people in a crowded computer lab. (Thankfully the instructor realized this and let us go do other work.. but still.. money waster?)

    The reason I chose IU is arguably the Music Librarianship specialization. IU has one of the only programs in the country specifically tailored FOR Music Librarianship, and I was guided towards it by an alum of the program. As a specialization, rather than a dual-degree student (I have an M.A. in Music History already) I admittedly felt a bit out of place when I first arrived. Which department did I deal with? I have a SLIS adviser with a music background, but isn’t specifically involved in the specialization at all. The Music Library, while a helpful resource, and now the source of my required Internship, seemed to be in a whole other universe from my SLIS classes. I found my place, and a niche of equally excited go-getters within the department after a time, but it was certainly daunting for those first few weeks.

    But I do have to echo Bri and state that my JOB here on campus has really made it worthwhile for me. I work in the Archives of Traditional Music, which gives me the Music Library experience I need (cataloging, digitization, etc.) and allows me to continue learning about the ever changing landscape of librarianship.

    Do I regret my choice to come to IU, despite the fact that I got into three other equally reputable Library Schools? No. Are there issues with the program? Of course. But it’s really what you make of it. Being forced to take initiative and be responsible for my own resume building, technology education, and classes has helped me as a student, rather than hinder me. Will it serve me well, once I’m out in the real world? I guess post-August I’ll find out!

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  10. As a current SLIS student finishing the program this Spring, I echo many of the previous comments about the sloppy way technology training is introduced. But beyond S401 there are myriads of classes in programming, systems analysis, etc. that make up for that (this is my perception as an MLS candidate who hears a lot about MIS classes).

    I agree that the largest benefits of SLIS at IU include its location and the wide and rich array of campus resources that allow you to gain other academic expertise (i.e., the many dual-degree options with other departments) and/or library work experience. There are so many branch libraries/institutes that appeal to different interests, including a significant residential library system managed mostly by SLIS students. The university itself has a lot to offer, and the IU Libraries are teeming with very active librarians who are more than willing to mentor students. There are several staff discussion groups and brown bags that seem to be going on every day at every hour, and students are always welcome. These are great opportunities to meet people. While the faculty are all well-credentialed, they can be hit or miss, both in terms of teaching and mentorship. Many are more preoccupied with their research and don’t hide it, which is a tad unfortunate. There are, however, some spectacular professors who are very passionate about the profession-steer towards these people, and you’ll have a great experience.

    While it can be argued that SLIS, like many other MLS programs, is not ‘academically rigorous enough,’ that is one element of the program that I actually appreciate, because it allows me to dedicate a majority of my time to working, building my practical skills, and exploring parts of the library profession that interest me. Some of my friends in other MLS programs complain that they are almost ‘too academic,’ in that theses/comp. exams don’t seem to be necessary for one to develop into a good librarian. We all need good research skills, but the emphasis shouldn’t be on grooming us to be scholars instead of librarians (unless that is a personal goal). With that said, my favorite and most challenging class as SLIS was S505 (essentially a research methods course), for which students are required to produce a rather substantial original project. I think it’s much more beneficial to view one’s time at SLIS (and any LIS program, for that matter) as a 2-year practicum with a diploma tacked on, rather than academic training that will make one ‘qualified’ for a library job. What I’ve learned on the job far outweighs what I’ve learned in the classroom. It is, as others have said, unfortunate that there are so few jobs relative to the number of SLIS students. Persistence is key!

    In addition to the foibles with technology instruction, I think the program would greatly benefit from economizing the content of its core classes. Fifteen credits is just too much for baseline requirements, especially for the diverse array of interests SLIS students have, and during the beginning of my SLIS experience I found there to be a lot of overlap in the core classes. I think SLIS could take a cue from U of I in reducing its core to 2, perhaps 1 course(s) to allow for greater flexibility in the program. Like Carolyn, I chose not to complete a specialization because the requirements would have prevented me from taking some classes that have proven to be very useful to me. Instead, I chose classes that would advance my skills and interests, and this has paid off.

    As others have mentioned, SLIS doesn’t seem to be terribly concerned with the ‘human’ aspect of the program experience. The department holds social events, but they tend to feel cold and artificial. The student organizations are much better at fostering a sense of community, which is difficult with officers constantly changing due to graduation, etc. SLIS’s chapter of SAA puts on a great conference every year for students and young professionals interested in archives and special collections, which is usually attended by individuals from several other states and institutions.

    Overall, I think the program could improve its academic structure, but I have been very satisfied with my SLIS, largely because of the opportunities outside of the program that the university provides.

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  11. I am also a current student. While overall I have had a really good experience and met so many great people, what annoys me the most about this program is that so many of my courses have been taught by PhD candidates and adjunct faculty. I could count on my hand the courses I’ve taken that are actually taught by full professors. I would expect that as an undergraduate student, but I’m trying to get Master’s Degree, and am being taught by people no more qualified than I am? I feel that especially if you are interested in public libraries, and especially, especially youth services, you are really kind ignored by the majority of the faculty here.

    I do agree that the work experience available here is the best thing about IU’s SLIS. It was discouraging trying to get a job when I first arrived, but by my second semester things started opening up and I now have 3 jobs on campus, and they are giving me the kind of experience I will need when I go into the job market.

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  12. I am also a current dual MLS/MIS student and am slightly disappointed with the program. Some of the classes have been a complete waste of time and money. I wish there were more practical courses, like web programming and information architecture for the web. The most valuable experiences I’ve gotten are through my 4 jobs.

    I also wish SLIS was more upfront about the lack of library jobs and the difficulty of entering this job market. Most people I know that graduated in May are still looking for full-time library employment.

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  13. I realize this is an old post (how did I miss it?) but as a May 2013 graduate I would have to agree with many of the comments and the post as a whole. Tech skills definitely can be acquired through the STEPS workshops, and finding a job/scholarship money can be difficult. I earned a MA in African Studies as part of the dual MLS/MA program, and it was through that MA that I received funding (2 of my 3 years were paid for), and it was also through African Studies that I got both of my part time jobs (in Wells and in the IU Liberian Collections). So really consider a second masters’ degree, especially in a smaller field–it could help you get connections and experience in school. My current professional job doesn’t relate to African Studies, but I was told that having that second degree made me more desirable. Overall I loved my time at IU and would recommend the program to anyone who is willing to work hard to create and find opportunities for their development.

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  14. Pingback: Brianna Marshall » Q & A, part 1

  15. Hi,

    I’m half way through the MLS program, and I was hoping someone could help me with courses that possibly take around 12-15 hours of work a week. This last one I was in took 20-24 hours a week, and with a full time job as well as other responsibilities, I just don’t have the extra 10 hours a week to put into course work. Any suggestions on any of the MLS courses that require a ‘normal’ amount of time to do the assignments?

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