Julia Nagel / Sun Staff Photographer

This semester’s hybrid classes have complicated the often-difficult process of enrollment, and the student-run CourseCrafter program seeks to supplement word-of-mouth course information.

December 2, 2020

‘CourseCrafter’ Guides Students Through Complicated Class Roster

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With spring pre-enrollment less than a week away, students now have more than their friends to turn to for course recommendations as they fill their Student Center shopping carts.

CourseCrafter, a student-developed website, is connecting students to classes based on their interests, filtering through thousands of courses with a simple prompt: “Describe your ideal course in a few sentences.” 

The program then searches the response for key words and sentences and recommends a list of related classes from Cornell’s course roster. 

This semester’s hybrid classes have complicated the often-difficult process of enrollment, especially as students struggle to discover new classes and interests. CourseCrafter helps replace word-of-mouth course information, encouraging students to look beyond their majors and schools.

“It’s a good way to broaden your horizons, which might be extra important now that so many things are online,” said Tiffany Zhong ’22, a CourseCrafter team member. 

Prof. René Kizilcec, information science, organized the CourseCrafter student-based development team and launched the website in fall 2019. Developer Souleiman Benhida ’20 joined Kizilcec first, and the project grew to include everything from designers to data analysts.  

CourseCrafter’s developers said they wanted to create a tool to help students parse through the more than 4,000 classes offered at Cornell and encourage them to look outside their core departments, rather than help them navigate graduation requirements. 

“One of my hopes is that CourseCrafter will help elevate those courses, because it helps them show up in the search results,” Kizilcec said. 

But CourseCrafter is not just a tool for students — it’s also a research program that collects data on student searches, allowing analysts, including Zhong, to track student interest trends.

Zhong said she noticed many students searched classes related to public health and community building for the fall 2020 semester, likely a response to the pandemic environment.

Thomas Chen ’19 MEng ’20, an alumnus who is a member of CourseCrafter’s original team, also said he saw specific goals reflected in course enrollment trends. For example, seniors searched for “fun” options such as unique PE courses, while juniors tended to look for major requirements.

Chen said he also believes that the program can reveal broader-reaching trends. “The usage of CourseCrafter will be very reflective on whatever political climate, whatever social climate, is happening,” Chen said, adding that the trends could be a reflection of the mental health and racial justice climates at Cornell.

Around 1,500 students used CourseCrafter for the fall 2020 semester. Some have used the program creatively, pushing for social change alongside their personal academic programs — this summer, Prameela Kottapalli ’23 and Louise Wang ’23 used CourseCrafter to compile a list of classes on racial justice and racism. 

Kizilcec said he believes CourseCrafter has the potential to revive small classes or inspire new ones, simply by spreading awareness and gathering information. 

Chen, however, was concerned that the website would not reach its full potential due to the “intense” amount of data it could gather if used for demographic research beyond Cornell. Filtering through and distributing information could be difficult — the blank text-search format allows for limitless inputs, and over a thousand students already use the program.

In the future, the CourseCrafter team hopes to improve its algorithm and reach more of the Cornell community, perhaps even extending beyond it. Benhida hopes to upgrade existing features and add new ones, such as a favoriting system. For the immediate future — next semester’s approaching pre-enrollment — developers plan to add filters for time of day and class modality.

Correction, Dec. 3, noon: A previous version of this article misstated Chen’s concerns about CourseCrafter reaching its full potential. Chen later clarified that his concerns were not solely related to Cornell and believed that CourseCrafter could not reach its full potential if the system is not used by others outside of Cornell. The article has since been updated.