WSO implements new FacTrak system to increase responses

April 27, 2016 by Neena Patel, News Editor

On April 16, Williams Students Online (WSO) changed its policy for the FacTrak, a system used to review professors and classes offered at the College.

As of this week, when students log into the system in anticipation of preregistration for next semester, they will be greeted with a policy message stating, “In order to access FacTrak, you must contribute at least 2 reviews per semester.”

The message stated that this requirement is not retroactive and that the year will be divided into two periods: March through September and October through February. This requires that students submit at least two reviews in each of these two time periods before they are able to access other reviews. For example, if a student wanted to view FacTrak in November, they would be required to submit at least two reviews between October and the time of desired access.

“Nearly the entire student body uses or has used Factrak, but very few students actually write reviews,” Matthew LaRose ’16, co-president of WSO, said. “The result is bad for both professors and students, because students want diverse, current reviews (and in many cases can’t find any reviews at all), and professors are hurt by old reviews which may not accurately reflect them anymore (in addition to the simple bias due to small numbers of reviews for a given professor).”

“FacTrak had become a place where there were maybe a handful of outdated and polarized reviews, yet it seemed as though students still relied on the service,” Lauren Yu ’16, co-president of WSO, said. “We wanted to make Factrak more helpful, and increasing the number of reviews being written seemed the best way to achieve that goal.”

Yu hopes that this will generate more helpful reviews on FacTrak. In the past, for the most part, she has seen very positive or very negative reviews about professors and hopes that the new change will increase the number of moderate reviews on the system.

The policy change announcement stated, “To create a forum where students can openly and honestly share their opinions of their professors in a manner that is anonymous and only visible to other students. This feedback is primarily designed to help other students find courses and professors which are the best matches for them.”

This is not the only policy change that has been implemented. Over the past few months, WSO has added more questions to the FacTrack surveys, created a page to view surveys written by users, removed faculty photos from their FacTrak pages and added a bubble-in review option. This last addition is optional, and the statistics and data generated from it will not be used until enough data has been collected.

There has already been a noticeable change in the number of reviews on the system. “Before the change we got maybe one or so reviews per day, at most,” LaRose said. “Since the change last Saturday, we’ve been averaging over 100 new reviews per day, and the rate doesn’t seem to be slowing, though of course it will drop off after preregistration.”

Yu and LaRose both anticipate more changes to WSO in the future. “We’re always looking for new ways to improve WSO,” Yu said. “We also recently released a feature to allow off-cycle students to have their class year reflect the semester they graduate, and we’re close to letting people specify pronouns [like] on Facebook. We’re also busy with mobile app development, improving DormTrak and much more.” Yu and LaRose are also trying to make basic bug fixes and improve the listserv system. They anticipate the release of the mobile app by the end of the semester.

The end of the policy update announcement included a paragraph stating that despite the system’s commitment to being as open as possible, inappropriate comments can be removed or edited at the discretion of the student moderator. It also provided more information on how students can flag comments for a moderator to review by pressing a button that is visible at the bottom of each comment.

FacTrak users are expected to comply with this policy as well as the wider WSO policy and the Office of Informational Technology Computing Ethics and Responsibilities Statement.

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