Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Swarthmore Course Review, a student-run website put up last semester, aims to address the dilemma nearly every Swarthmore student faces: how to choose the best course load.
Currently, students submit reviews of most courses at the end of the semester to the professor; however, these reviews are only accessible to faculty and administrators.
“The chair of the department reads that and no one else sees it — no one else has any idea what the course is like,” said Razi Shaban ‘16, the site’s Co-Founder and Lead Developer. “All of us have taken a mediocre class, or [have] been surprised by a class or surprised by a professor’s style, so we figure that’s the kind of thing that people should have access to. This way we’re building a community, building a space where hopefully students can share information with each other.”
The community aspect of the site is what separates it from similar resources such as Rate My Professor, said Shaban and Yenny Cheung ‘16, the site’s other co-founder and Front-end Lead Developer. Users can mark course reviews as helpful or unhelpful, and reviewers with the most helpful reviews appear on the site’s leaderboard, which the co-founders hope will encourage higher-quality discussion of courses.
“The idea is that you should be able to trust the reviewer and the reviewer should be able to understand what the reader is looking for […] If you look at the way we do it, it’s filtered towards the things that really matter to a student—how much time is this going to take, how difficult is it going to be, am I going to be totally electrified, is this going to be an awesome course, how useful is it—most of the things that really matter to a Swattie. So in terms of the value it has to a Swarthmore student—this is built for you,” said Shaban.
Another unique feature of the site is that students and professors are able to upload syllabi for individual courses, which are often unavailable for prospective students to find on the departments’ websites.
“We often just look at the course description and then we decide, ‘Oh, maybe I should take this course,’ but a lot of the time you’re not exactly sure what kind of topics they’ll actually cover in class,” said Cheung. “A more open curriculum will be a great tool to help students decide better.”
Currently, the site operates independently of the administration; however, other schools have integrated similar projects into their enrollment process. At the University of Pennsylvania, for example, student course reviews are collected by a student-run site which works in conjunction with the Provost’s office. While they do not plan to work that closely with the administration, Shaban and Cheung hope the site will become a resource for professors and departments to gauge feedback on courses.
As far as the future of the site, the co-founders emphasized the importance of building a community of users to discuss courses.
“In my vision of the Swarthmore Course Review, it becomes a space where students can share reviews with each other, students can see what their friends are reviewing, see what their friends like — you can follow professors, you can find similar professors,” said Shaban. “The goal of this is to become a website that helps you find classes that match, find classes that work. There are a lot of different ways we can do that, and the first is just building up student reviews. So there’s a lot of potential.”
To clarify “While they do not plan to work that closely with the administration”: we tried to work with the administration, and they do not want to work with us. We would be thrilled to receive support from the Registrar’s office.