Students talk pros and cons of U-M and independent scheduling tools

Monday, November 12, 2018 - 4:19pm

As the winter semester at the University of Michigan draws near, students have begun scheduling, turning to course registration tools to help plan their upcoming semester. One of these newest resources students have begun utilizing is Coursicle, which works with students to create a schedule for the upcoming term by allowing instant class filtering, visual schedule planning and notifying them when seats open up in a certain class. At the University, Coursicle has recently gained traction with about 500 current student users.

Co-founder Joe Puccio created Coursicle during his freshman year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill after struggling to register for courses he needed. He explained how the frustration of planning out which classes to take and then not getting all the ones he needed inspired him to write the program in 2012.

“When I was an incoming freshman at UNC Chapel Hill, I spent 7 hours trying to plan my class schedule,” Puccio said. “Then finally when I went to actually register for those classes I only got to one out of the 5 that I needed to take. That night I started working on a program that would notify me when a class I wanted had an open seat and one of my friends suggested opening it up to other students, so we did that and it started growing really quickly.”

Coursicle was unique to UNC-Chapel Hill for its first three years but began expanding to other schools by late 2015. During its first semester, Puccio said the tool had 900 users and by the next semester, the total doubled to 1,800 users. UNC-Chapel Hill offered its support to Coursicle and after becoming partnered with the Information Technology Department, nearly 80 percent of students use it to plan their class schedule. Puccio explained the Coursicle team was encouraged to branch out to different universities after receiving emails and Facebook messages from students across the country. 

“Originally we were just at UNC, so we only had UNC’s classes on Coursicle, but we had started getting some emails from other students and FB messages at other schools asking if we could add support for other schools,” Puccio said. “So we started playing around with that idea and then at the end of 2015 we started expanding to other schools.”

LSA senior Diego Rojas Salvador’s Facebook message caused the Coursicle team to look into expanding to the University specifically. He said he reached out to them after facing difficulties scheduling courses needed for his Computer Science major.

“With my experience with the courses in Computer Science the main problem is you don’t really know what you’re going to be taking,” Salvador said. “It really helped me improve my experience in terms of scheduling and planning my semester because I could add — for some classes — like 4 different discussion sections, which you can attend to any of those in CS courses. I could really understand all of the possibilities of how my schedule would look but using only this tool.”

Though some students have started using Coursicle, others use Schedule Builder, the University-provided platform for students to visually see schedule combinations and plan their semester.

Still, other students are not looking for scheduling help, but rather information on specific courses, which Coursicle does not provide. 

Many choose to use the University-backed Academic Reporting Tools, or ART 2.0. Like Coursicle, ART 2.0 allows students to check courses for the upcoming semester, but it does not have the option to create a class schedule or track open seats in a class. Instead, ART 2.0 focuses on providing separate tabs for “instructors,” “majors” and “courses.” It also lets students look at professor ratings, see what kinds of classes people in a certain major tend to take and look at grade distributions.

The Michigan Daily has also launched Grade Guide, which allows students to compare grade distributions among classes to help decide which classes might fit their desired level of academic rigor.

Salvador commented he was not familiar with ART 2.0, and finds he needs a schedule platform more than an informational guide.

“I have not used that platform. I don’t know how old it is,” Salvador said. “If it’s old then the University has done a really terrible job promoting it. I try to keep updated with stuff regarding technology around campus ... If I really missed it and it was good, then I guess it was my bad.”

But ART 2.0’s creators say the user base of their tool has grown a lot over the last year — they say nearly half the students on campus use it. Throughout the fall 2018 term, the site has averaged around 500 visits a day. The website also has a feedback feature, and over the past year and a half has received about 60 suggestions.

Prof. August Evrard, faculty lead of ART 2.0, said collaboration between students and designers is crucial when it comes to creating the most effective interface for ART 2.0.

“A lot of the design of ART and its functionality is built out by student interns,” Evrard said. “The office hires interns and they do fantastic work, we’re engaging right now with a School of Information class (SI 501) and a team called Team Blue Solution is working with us to explore how course descriptions are managed across the University.”

LSA junior Yara El-Tawil has consulted ART 2.0 before taking classes. She hoped the tool would give her a better perspective about her workload for the upcoming semester.

“It was pretty straightforward, I just looked at the curve and sometimes I looked at the little reviews that people had of how prepared they felt for the class and how useful they felt the class was and what classes they were taking with it to see if I was setting myself up for a good workload or not,” she said.

Although Coursicle and ART 2.0 have different missions for scheduling assistance, Puccio prides Coursicle on its student-focused design which he claims ART 2.0 and other University-created products lack. He noted because it was created by students, concerns of feasibility and efficiency are taken into more consideration than some U-M resources.

“From the beginning we really designed Coursicle from a student’s perspective and also based on the requests other students were writing in,” Puccio said. “Originally it was how do we plan our class schedules and then trying to build a project that made that a lot easier and that just meant fast course searches, it meant being able to see a weekly calendar view and classes that conflict … rather than some university systems that make you go through thousands of different combinations of course schedules. We thought that our approach was better.”

However, one problem Evrard finds with using external tools like Coursicle, instead of University-backed ones like ART 2.0, is the quality of information provided. He explained how ART 2.0 receives its information from several University databases with current course offerings and updates regularly during the semester. Coursicle, on the other hand, utilizes written scripts which extract course data from each school’s public listing of courses.

“I think that an issue with respect to these external services is basically what is the level of trust,” Evrard said. “The point about working directly with the administration and IT providers on campus is that we’re working with the real deal, we’re the truth with a capital T, the services off-campus might be showing you something that looks right but how do you know and do you trust it?”

El-Tawil said the reason she preferred a tool like ART 2.0 was, in fact, because of its direct connection to the University.

“ART is much more informative and it has direct information from students and it’s all from the University,” El-Tawil said. “I found Coursicle to lack that some level of information I went to ART for.”  

Aside from the scheduling aspect of Coursicle, Salvador also touched on the excitement he felt seeing his personal interaction with Puccio lead to a new resource available on campus.

“It’s really cool how with new technology and new companies appearing it’s cool seeing how my interaction because I remember getting in touch and he (Joe Puccio) was like, ‘Yeah we were considering adding Michigan it’s good to hear from a student,’” Salvador said. “It’s interesting seeing how this personal connection can help push some technology toward certain markets.”

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