University News

New course tool links to Facebook

By
Senior Staff Writer
Sunday, October 30, 2011

Correction appended.

CourseKick, a new course-search database created by computer science concentrators Dylan Field ’13, Devin Finzer ’13 and Sam Birch ’14, launched today. The application offers resources similar to those of Mocha but with updated features linked to Facebook.

Finzer described the application as “an outlet for discovering courses rather than just searching for them.”

Users log onto CourseKick using their Facebook usernames and passwords, linking the application to their accounts. They can then scroll through courses and see which of their Facebook friends are in their classes.

A last-minute redesign centralized the site’s friends component. “That’s the part of the page people’s eyes are drawn to,” Field said.

Students can share their schedules on Facebook, and the team is looking to add other features to increase the social nature of the site, like starting chat rooms and allowing friends to recommend and comment on courses, Finzer said.

“School is already inherently social, and this isn’t reflected online,” Field said.

Through another pending feature, the site will soon generate course recommendations based on students’ current and past selections. An algorithm takes into account data from the Office of the Registrar from 2005 to present, producing course recommendations based on the records of past students with similar course combinations, Finzer said.

The site is uniquely formatted to “make shopping for classes a more pleasant experience,” Finzer said. He said that during shopping period, students are not necessarily deciding between two different classes but between two completely different schedules.

Both Finzer and Field expressed discontent with the red block that appears when classes conflict on Mocha. On CourseKick, coinciding courses do not block each other out but instead appear side-by-side in the same time slot. Students can check and uncheck courses to add and remove them from their schedules while keeping them on a list.

The CourseKick application originated in an assignment for CSCI 0320: “Introduction to Software Engineering.”

“We definitely want to see students who get excited about something and keep working on the project after they finish the class,” said Daniel Kimmel ’12, a teaching assistant who helped mentor the group.

This is not the only recent effort to improve the registration process, said Alex Unger ’11, a former head teaching assistant. “Their project was different because it focuses on what your friends are taking.”

“I think that CourseKick could become, and probably will become, the most popular discovery tool,” he said.

“There are a ton of places where this would be equally useful,” Unger said, but he added that the prospect for offering this application to other schools is problematic. “It’s designed for a university where there’s a lot of choice in courses. It won’t work as well where things are more regimented.”

One of the most laborious tasks in bringing CourseKick to life involved persuading the Registrar’s Office to release data from Banner to fuel the recommendation aspect of the application. “Trying to spread it to other schools would be a large time commitment in terms of negotiating with them on that front,” Kimmel said.

But CourseKick also lacks one-click registration, a key feature of the Brown Course Scheduler, which the University launched in Spring 2010. After finalizing their courses on CourseKick, students must recreate their schedules on Banner to register. “We did some user studies at the beginning of the semester, and that’s the one thing people were looking for,” Field said.

One-click registration outside of the Banner system is unlikely, wrote University Registrar Robert Fitzgerald in an email to The Herald. Course registration requires data involving grading and degree completion that are protected under federal law, he wrote.

A previous version of this article left out one of the creators of CourseKick. The website was created by Dylan Field ’13, Devin Finzer ’13 and Sam Birch ’14. The Herald regrets the error.

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