News, University News

Critical Review introduces redesigned, improved website

New site more user-friendly, staff members hope to increase professorial engagement

By
Contributing Writer
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Critical Review, established in 1976, underwent its first web redesign in decades, thanks to a group of students who worked to revamp the site as a project in a computer science class.

Since 1976, the Critical Review has helped Brown students navigate the Open Curriculum. The website provides survey-based evaluations of hundreds of courses each semester and incorporates data such as hours of work per week and course difficulty ratings. But its website hadn’t received an update in decades — until this month, when the website debuted a new interface in time for the next round of course registration.

The old site proved to be a problem for some users, who experienced website navigation issues and interruptions in online service.

“If you look at the Brown meme page, we’ve been memed a lot because at critical junctures, our website would just go down,” said Kevin Chen ’19, editor-in-chief of the Critical Review.

Chen said the organization had been looking into redesigning the website for several years with no luck until last spring, when a group of students from CSCI 1320: “Creating Modern Web Applications” expressed interest in revamping the aging site.

“On the user side, our main aim with new website redesign was definitely to modernize it and make it more visually appealing,” said Critical Review staffer Sachin Sastri ’19.

The Critical Review’s webpage now features colorful illustrations of the Main Green as well as an improved search engine that suggests results as you type.

Now that the site has a new look, Chen hopes to work on improving survey response rates and reviewing as many courses as possible. Out of the 900 to 1,000 courses the University offers each semester, the Critical Review is often able to publish only 300 to 400 reviews due to a low professor participation rate, he explained.

“Either they don’t know what we do, or they don’t want to partake in this review process because they’re already going through department reviews and don’t think this is necessary,” Chen said.

The Critical Review aims to increase participation through their professor outreach program, in which staffers contact professors directly to tell them about the service. Critical Review members also hand-deliver packets of surveys, which are printed out for every class in the catalog.

“We recognize that our operations require a lot of paper, and we recognize that a lot of classes don’t participate,” Chen said. “So we want to find the correct balance between getting all the courses involved and being eco-friendly.”

Printing options are still being debated, but in the meantime, the Critical Review’s strong relationship with the Office of the Dean of the College is helping them reach as many students as possible. The class registration tool Courses at Brown features a direct link to the Critical Review’s evaluation of a course.

The office “recognizes that (the Critical Review is) kind of an important resource for students, especially if they want to find a more nuanced opinion on classes,” Chen said.

Many Meiklejohn peer advisors also recommend the resource to their first-year advisees to help them navigate their early course selection.

“We want to communicate more with the Critical Review because the changes in the website are going to impact how the members of the first-year class are going to use it,” said Meiklejohn Leadership Committee member Divya Santhanam ’19. “We want to … reach out and ask them how first-years should navigate it.”