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Need for a course catalog system

posted Oct 15, 2016, 6:06 PM by Fanda

In Friday’s CFANS graduate student board (GSB) meeting, the need for a clear class catalog across CFANS resurfaced. CFANS students find it hard to find classes that may be useful but only offered in another department. In a previous meeting, another board member voiced her experience of the drudgery of finding a class in the stats department (under CSE) just so that she can learn some techniques that her department does not teach.


There is definitely need for graduate students to quickly find out what classes are offered on a particular campus based on topics taught in a class or mentioned in the syllabus. A natural solution is to expand the functionality of the class registration system. But sometimes, the particular topic a student want to know may be phrased differently on the syllabus. Sometimes, a student may not know the current terminology to filter in all the relevant classes. For example, a particular method known to a student may be just a special case of a more generalized method. By searching for only the special case, the student may not find out the class actually over the more generalized version of the method. In this case, a class catalog “librarian” may come handy. It is impossible for a person to know technical topics of all classes in a university that offers more than 150 majors. However, this “librarian” can be the connect person to a network of DGSs of all programs.


This idea of enhancing the registration system and instituting a class catalog librarian work well if the university have classes that are suited to all students who may have varying degree of mastery in prerequisite topics. Well, but that’s hardly the case. When it comes to graduate studies, hardly there is a one-size-fits-all cookie cutter class. A higher ed student may want to know how to conduct regression analysis. It is arguably a waste of time for the student to know how the weighting matrix is constructed in Generalized Method of Moments (GMM), though they may want to know under what circumstances GMM is appropriate. Realizing GMM might be something she needs in her future research, the student then goes on to the registration system and searches for a class by particular keywords. She finds that the Economics department offers an econometrics class that happens to cover GMM. As most students would do in that situation, she asks the instructor for a peek at the syllabus and realizes that all the matrices in the class material cause nothing but her loopy eyes. She then approaches the class catalog librarian for a more targeted search. In this hypothetical university, the econometrics class is the only class that teaches GMM. The class catalog librarian sends her best luck to the student and parts her way as well. What can this student do? “Only wish there is an on-demand class marketplace where I can shout out my class needs to the entire university and a professor upon hearing is willing to teach.” says the student. 

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