Let’s go exploring

May 6, 2015 by The Williams Record Editorial Board

The recent initiative to reimagine the course catalogue is overall a positive addition, and we at the Record applaud the introduction of the new Course Explorer as a combined effort of faculty and students. Nonetheless, while the Course Explorer is a step in the right direction, the College’s class registration process, which involves the difficult-to-use PeopleSoft, remains a general flaw in the College’s digital presence. Given the multitude of separate channels one must use and go through in order to sign up for classes, the registration process is too long and too complicated. Thus, we recommend further changes that will condense and streamline this process.

This being said, the Course Explorer has several features that make it easier to use than the old online course catalogue, including the keyword search and sample schedule. Compared to the prior iteration of the course catalogue, the new website is overall more user-friendly, and it is significantly easier to add and remove classes from the sample schedule than it is to do the same on PeopleSoft, providing students with the ability to experiment with a range of potential course choices and weekly schedules. The website’s aesthetically-pleasing design and updated look are also positive changes from the old course catalogue.

We also believe that the Course Explorer is the best of the three tools that resulted from Professor of Mathematics Satyan Devadoss’ initiative. The concept behind the newspaper catalogue, also a novel outgrowth of this initiative, was a good one, as it aimed to encourage students to browse courses not by department or specific subject but rather by interesting course descriptions. We commend this effort to encourage a more liberal-arts approach to selecting classes. However, the newspaper could have been more practically useful and helpful to students had it included course numbers next to the course names and descriptions and been more organized. Thus, while the newspaper was interesting because of its novelty and because it was the first form of the course catalogue to be published, the Course Explorer is much more useful. In fact, through its keyword search tool, it still encourages students to browse classes in ways not restricted by department, which is in line with the College’s liberal-arts philosophy.

Additionally, the printed version of the catalogue did have features that made it easy to use, such as the table of contents for each department. Yet, its alphabetical arrangement of classes is an irrelevant system of organization and thus, the catalogue was largely impractical. In general, it was not as necessary or as useful as the online resource, and it would be sufficient and more environmentally friendly to distribute fewer copies only to key locations, such as the Admissions Office, rather than to every student.   

While the Course Explorer has many helpful features, there is still room for improvement within the website itself and with scheduling tools at the College more generally. The website is lacking some features of the original online course catalogue, including the ability to filter classes by time slot and by the type of class (i.e. seminar, lecture or tutorial). It would additionally be helpful if professors’ names within the catalogue were linked to FacTrack.

Furthermore, while most students learned of the Course Explorer sufficiently via word of mouth, we believe it could have been more effectively publicized upon its inception so that students could have made better use of the tool.

We also feel that the course catalogue should be available to people who are not students at the College. Prospective students and other people outside the College community should have access to the catalogue in order to view classes and get a better understanding of how scheduling at the College works. Though anyone can access the Course Explorer, the full use of its features is limited to students at the College. However, the old course catalogue and all its features are still available to everyone, and thus both tools still serve a purpose and should exist separately until they can be merged into one tool that combines the best features of each and that remains available to the outside community.

While we think there are a few minor issues with the Course Explorer and some improvements could be made, overall we believe it is a positive addition to the old course catalogue and is a step in the right direction toward a better course registration and scheduling process.

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