The Course Explorer, a new online course catalogue introduced this spring, is designed to make the process of selecting the next semester’s courses easier for students, as well as to draw students’ attention to a wider range of courses they might not necessarily find if they were to search by specific departments.
The Course Explorer lists course offerings on the left side of its interface and a more detailed description of specific courses on its right. A plus sign-button in each detailed description can designate the course on the student’s virtual schedule, accessible through a calendar icon at the top left of the page. The login feature allows students to maintain a personal calendar. The list of course offerings may be modified using the search engine or narrowed down by department, term, division and distribution requirements.
“Our goal is simple: elevate the courses through good design,” stated the Course Catalog Committee’s plan.
The Course Explorer is part of a larger initiative spearheaded by Professor of Mathematics Satyan Devadoss to revamp the course catalogue. In addition to the new online feature, the Course Catalog Committee released a newspaper catalogue that showed displayed every course displayed in random order, along with brief descriptions. The newspaper, intended to encourage students to consider courses regardless of department and level, did not include course numbers and was the first form of the course catalog to be released.
The committee consists of Devadoss, two other professor, Registrar Barbara Casey, Director of Web Strategy Carl Strolle and two students. The committee also sought to utilize funds budgeted for printing the course catalog. The printed version of the catalogue, which was distributed to all student mailboxes, also featured short descriptions and listed courses in alphabetical order rathern than by department.
“The more text we allow the students to see, the less emphasis is placed on courses,” the plan said, “The courses at Williams are robust and diverse, many of which do not naturally fit inside classical areas of study. To segment them as such leads to cross-listing tensions.”
Devadoss explained that when students search for courses, they generally know what they are looking for. Using the example of an ice cream store with a thousand flavors, Devadoss said that people will generally go with the flavor that they know they like instead of trying something new. This same concept applies to choosing courses, according to Devadoss. Students will choose courses under the department that they are familiar with and know that they like. They are less likely to enroll in courses that are new and unfamiliar. The organization of the current Course Catalog encourages this approach, because all of the classes are separated according to department.
The Course Explorer connects similar ideas between different departments. The search function offers courses that are related to a specific search term, sampling classes from every department.
Devadoss acknowledged that students generally have a preset list of courses they wish to take, and he emphasized that the Course Explorer was envisioned not to force students to take classes outside of their majors, but rather to make sure that the students know what classes they are opting not to take when they are choosing to take a certain class.
The Course Explorer also aims to make some technical aspects of choosing classes easier to navigate. For instance, the calendar feature helps students visualize what their schedules will look and point out any schedule conflicts.
Course Explorer is available on the Williams Students Online (WSO) home page.