The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 42.0°F | Partly Cloudy

Online Class Schedules Now More Convenient

By Ramy A. Arnaout
Editor in Chief

The registrar's online course listings underwent the first of several planned revisions last month with a site that puts class descriptions, requirements, and schedules on the same web page.

Found at http://registrar.mit.edu, the site also lets students arrange, save, and view potential schedules on-screen, making it easier to see and avoid conflicts. Its database is searchable by topic, course number, or professor name.

"It's been getting a lot of hits," said Michael A. Wessler G, the site's chief developer. Up to 500 people used the service during registration day yesterday morning.

While the new system subsumes the roles of the MIT Bulletin and course schedule guide, it does not currently include links to the online version of the Course Evaluation Guide.

"TheCEG's a little bit tricky" because of the bias it introduces, Wessler said. "It's up to the registrar to decide whether they want to put links in."

Because of formatting details, the site is best viewed with the world-wide web browser Netscape, although Wessler said searching and other functions will work well with any browser or through Linux, a popular UNIX-compatible operating system.

Project started accidentally

A graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science, Wessler started the project accidentally while registering for classes last fall.

Just before the term started, Wessler was looking for classes to take; like many students, he found it painful to keep track of all the course description and schedule booklets. "I was completely helpless."

Wessler thought it would be much easier to have these resources all in one place on computer. He downloaded description, requirement, and scheduling information from MIT's Techinfo database, formatted it so that it would be viewable online, and wrote a program to search it.

Wessler shared his work with staffers of the registrar's information booth on registration day, where it was well received. "They had been planning to do this," he said. "I just happened to come in at just the right time and present them with a finished project."

Site is the first of three phases

The project is now moving into a second phase, where EECS Assistant Professor Gill A. Pratt PhD '89, Wessler, and Dae-Chul Sohn MEng '95 are building a system to recommend classes based on students' academic goals and student-given criteria, Wessler said.

In addition to the scheduling services provided by the current system, phase two will let students select hypothetical enrollments for future terms that would be programmed to meet the Institute's core and degree requirements, Pratt said.

A third and final phase will add what Pratt calls a "possibility display" to help students plan further down the road. This program would accept a desired degree program, date of completion, number of classes per term, and other user-given constraints as input and return a selection of classes and schedules best suited to the student's criteria, Pratt said.

While the timetable for completion of the project is not set yet, Wessler wouldn't be surprised if phase two was ready by the end of this semester.