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Dec 17, 2004: Another Question

Does anyone know of any examples of academic course catalogs that include collaborative functions such as "Students who took this class also took..."? Or that have used other means to break down the walls between departmental silos?

I realize that there are sites where students can rate and review courses (a la Amazon), but I'm more interested in souped-up catalogs designed by universities and colleges.

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Comment: Austin Govella (Dec 17, 2004)

We offer links to other classes in a department (as that's closer to what they're looking for if they're looking at a specific class).

We're working on a feature that displays other open classes that fit the requirements of a students degree plan, as well as showing them how many seats are left in a class.

I don't think students want to know what classes other students took since the driving factors behind class selection are:
1. degree requirements
2. instructor quality
3. ease/difficulty of completion

Course/instructor quality would be a great sales tool for classes, but the political climate forbids showing instructor ratings. We already have them on the web, but not for students. They won't even let me link to outside sites that rate faculty.

Our newest souped up catalog launches in a couple of weeks. In addition to general catalog information, it offers instructor info, instructor comments, TA information, class websites, class documents (like syllabi), and custom orientation information (most classes differ). I'll send you a link when we launch.

(I'd send the current one -- which is decent -- but having stared at it for a year, it really irks me.)

Comment: ML (Dec 17, 2004)

I think the challenge of doing something like this officially by the university is in conflict with a federal law protecting student information (FIRPA). However I wouldn't be surprised if there are more unofficial websites that students have put together to do that.

I remember some home-built systems that was similar to what Austin describes. We take general info from the registrar and than the professors can enhance it with more info using our CMS system at that time...Last time I was at GSB we used an open source product called Coursework(built at Stanford/MIT) as the infrastructure for including all the course info/materials. Over the next year or so they are planning to expand this to include a student portfolio project where students can track all their digital assignments for their academic career. I would imagine that this could become a way to expand the concept you mention Lou.

Comment: Lou (Dec 18, 2004)

Lisa, would student records be an issue if the system leveraged collective (not personal) data?

Comment: ML (Dec 20, 2004)

I think any system that can trace it back to the individual student is where FIRPA is violated in a publicly accessible site. I think the collective data would not violate but they would have to get the thumbs up from lawyers. I know the students would totally like this feature but I think they use more offline tools to the recommender type system, like "most popular" prof type system since many of the courses themselves are not taught by different teachers at different times of the year.

Comment: Jeff Werness (Dec 21, 2004)

This is an interesting thread in that this situation illustrates there's no difference in the types of trade-offs we see in for-profit public corporations.

1. The school has compliance issues around student data, but they appear to want innovative web features.

2. The altruistic 'breaking down of silos' is admirable, but has less to do with students earning a degree than miximizing revenue through influencing students to take courses they wouldn't consider otherwise.

3. The user-centered design approach would demand that faculty and course ratings submitted by students be included, but politics dismiss this feature.

4. The school's budget for printing degree requirements and course schedules probably outstrips it's web publishing budget by ten-fold, yet there's the expectation that the web will do more for them.

5. The amount of ratings data required to implement rating instructors and courses would prohibit implementation; launching with one rating skews reality, while amassing enough data in order to publish later means that data is obsolete because some instructors teach only a few classes each year, class quality changes over time, and course material and requirements evolve.

I worked on recent revamp of a university web site (launching this summer I believe) and this is what we could get approved all around:

We leveraged the nodal classification of courses in order to represent each course as a part of each of its degrees, and then we used the facted data to represent similar courses, i.e., more courses by this topic, more courses by this instructor, etc.

At its most basic, it was represented as:

Biologoy 101, time, instructor, building, campus

Other times for this course/link

More courses in:
Biology Degree/link
Pre-Med Degree/link
Physical Education Degree/link

More courses this semester by this instructor:
Course A/link
Course B/link
Course C/link

More courses by topic:
Health Science 102/link
Life Sciences 101/link
Human Sexuality 101/link

Apologies for the long post, thought this might be helpful. :-)

Comment: Denham (Dec 29, 2004)

A real interesting application of this type of collaborative filter is library book selection - This has not been implemented (except at Amazon) as far as I know, due to privacy concerns.

I would like to see it implemented the other way around too - here are the 5 people that share your book choices - but this is way too radical for library folk, even with strict explicit opt-in, right now.

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