An Information System We Could Use

Like most colleges, ours invests on an ongoing basis in administrative software for tracking students from admissions, academics and finances. New tools are invented to help administrators track course enrollments or for the registrar to get students registered for classes. Only exceptionally are innovations driven by our core business: teaching and advising undergraduates.

What if we had a system that students and their advisors could use to sketch out long term curricular possibilities. A sociology adviser, for example, might sit with a student and talk about how she could do a sociology major with a focus on things urban along with doing the pre-requisites for admission to the MBA program after graduation. The system would actually have built in a number of faculty-thought-through templates that would describe coherent constellations of courses built around different themes or emphases, but she’d be free to mix and match according to her interests.

The system would then query the database as to when various courses were currently expected to be offered over the semesters the student has left at the college and suggests her scheduling options.

Either based on the initial expression of interest or in response to a tentative checking off in the scheduling options, the system records the interest so that instructors and department heads have a prospective pre-pre-enrollment count. This information can be used to project staffing and/or to develop PR strategies (e.g., no one seems to be thinking about taking economics next year — maybe we should talk it up, advertise, put our best teacher in the intro class).

Additional features would be links from course listings to commentary from past/present students, curricular maps of alums along with descriptions of what they are doing now and perhaps commentary from them about how they wish they’d structured things, commentary from advisers as to WHY various constellations of courses make sense, and so on.

The specs for a system like this grow out of the real experience of teachers and advisers rather than the needs of administrators so it will probably never be built. Like most systems, though, just thinking through how it might work is a useful organizational exercise.

Author: Dan Ryan

I'm currently an Academic Program Director at I've been a professor at University of Toronto, University of Southern California, and Mills College teaching things like human centered design, computational thinking, modeling for policy sciences, and social theory. I'm driven by the desire to figure out how to teach twice as many twice as well twice as easily.

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