University News

New site showcases ‘best’ classes

By
Staff Writer
Thursday, February 9, 2012

A new online course review tool, whose number of users has climbed to 600 in under two weeks, may make future shopping periods a little less hectic. Best of Brown, a website created by Jonah Kagan ’13 and Liz Neu ’14, displays a list of the most popular courses at Brown that are submitted to the website. Students can submit their three favorite courses and, in return, view a list of the most recommended classes. 

Kagan, a computer science concentrator, said they started Best of Brown to help his suitemate, Chris Fitzsimmons ’13, find the perfect fourth course. The site has now been visited 1,800-2,000 times, Kagan said. In addition to ranking courses, the website filters out courses not currently offered and ranks professors teaching the same course. Kagan said they may add a feature allowing students to update their top three choices. 

The site has received mixed student feedback, with the main criticism being that the site’s rankings are biased, favoring large, introductory courses over smaller ones. CSCI 0150: “Introduction to Object-Oriented Programming and Computer Science” and CSCI 0310: “Introduction to Computer Systems” are currently the leading courses. Kagan said this bias was interesting but added that he plans to add course enrollment numbers to “normalize” the data. 

The Critical Review, another student-run course review, avoids bias by using a three-stage editing process that averages ratings from student evaluations, said Charis Loke ’13, the Critical Review’s executive editor. 

Though based on a similar premise, the Critical Review does not feel “threatened” by Best of Brown, Loke said, since no other site compiles as much course data as it does. But Loke added that there is always room to be more relevant, noting that the return rate of Critical Review surveys has declined in recent semesters, with only 35.8 percent of evaluations returned last spring. In the past, the percent of student evaluations returned was higher, at roughly 38 percent. 

Kagan said his site “fills a gap” in the Critical Review’s data, since Best of Brown rates courses relative to each other, rather than independently, as the Critical Review does. He said he intends for the site to supplement other course review sites and does not want it to take over the course-shopping field.

Students have also complained about having to use Facebook to submit their favorite courses on Best of Brown, which prevents multiple entries by the same user, Kagan said. He added that though many people said the website is “cool,” few said it influenced their course selections. 

Irene Rojas-Carroll ’15 said she used both Best of Brown and the Critical Review during shopping period. She learned about Best of Brown through Facebook and found the site to be helpful in finding course ideas. But she said she was not too influenced by the site, since only a few people have submitted their top three courses. She added that the Critical Review was more useful in narrowing down courses to shop.