WhichClasses: UA's answer to RateMyProfessor.com
Courtesy from WhichClasses creators.
While the rest of us were researching innovative new ways to slack off, computer engineering and computer science senior Jesse Gunsch and computer engineering junior Chas Leichner formulated a system to help UA students choose their next semester’s classes just in time for the first rounds of registration. In the same way Facebook improved on Myspace, their recently-launched new site — aptly titled WhichClasses.com — aims to provide a reliable alternative to the notoriously capricious RateMyProfessors.
Leichner and Gunsch, whose search for electives in their own majors led to the creation of the site, have put together an unthreatening, easy-to-use system of class rankings based on the one thing that should have been obvious all along: Teacher Course Evaluation (TCE) Reports, those class evaluations you bubble in at the end of every semester.
Tell me about WhichClasses.com. How did it get started?
Gunsch: We were just kind of looking around saying, “Hey, we need to take a couple Tech electives for our degree. We know the TCE data is published — we know it’s public information — but it’s really inconvenient to look through and know what classes to take.” We wanted to find out what classes would be interesting to take, which professors were the best at teaching them … and the only way to do that was to click through every single class and kind of compare them individually.
Leichner: So we made a tool for ourselves, where we got all the teacher reports and evaluation data and set it up so that we could answer the questions that we were interested in.
What questions were you interested in answering with WhichClasses.com?
Leichner: Which classes are good? Which classes are bad? Which classes are easy? Which classes are hard? And of course, all the same questions for professors. Then, when we put a nice user interface on it, we thought, “Hey, it might be great for everyone to have this,” so we cleaned it up a little bit. It’s meant to be very fast and easy to answer those specific questions and get that information to people in a quick, informative and accurate way.
Is that the difference then between this and RateMyProfessor?
Gunsch: RateMyProfessor, you get the 5 percent of students who either really loved their professor, or had a weird grading issue that maybe wrecked the class, or the professor just rubbed them the wrong way — and that’s not necessarily representative of the class as a whole. With TCEs, you sit everyone down in a classroom and you say, “Fill this out.” You always have, you know … 65, 70-plus percent attendance, and it’s easy to say that kind of figure is representative of people’s opinions.
Leichner: As compared to RateMyProfessor, the questions that were answered on the TCE reports don’t provide … that sort of flavor, I guess? But, because they are a standardized set of questions, we can look across an entire department and accurately ask, “All right, which professors are consistently rated more effective than other professors?”
Have a lot of people been using the site so far?
Gunsch: Actually, more than we thought would use it. Everyone who has talked to us has said they’ve gotten great information off of it, that they first look up things they already know and go, “Oh, that’s accurate. Let me look up something I don’t know and start judging based on that.” The only issue we’re having is that right now, we’re only really popular in two departments.
Leichner: Right now the site is popular among computer engineers and computer scientists. But it’s exciting, because over the last two days, other people’s traffic has sort of eclipsed our traffic working on it, which to us felt like a huge milestone. We’re starting to see a lot of searches on it that aren’t just looking for things related to computers, which is great, because most people that go to UA aren’t looking for things about computers. It means we’re getting to spread out a little bit to a more diverse crowd than just the people we know personally.
Do you guys see this growing beyond the UA?
Gunsch: Right now, not really. Our motivation for it initially was, “Here’s some data that’s useful to us,” you know? So as soon as we start to extrapolate from that, it kind of loses a bit of that personal benefit.
Leichner: And the way we have it set up right now, it’s dependent on the questions that are asked at the UA with their specific data. So even on a local level, you find complications with different departments doing things different ways.
Why would people benefit from using WhichClasses.com?
Leichner: Because it answers the simple questions you have about classes.
Gunsch: Definitely. It answers all of mine, at least.