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Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

MiddCourses, Middlebury’s students-review-based course rating website, remains unavailable

Despite plans to relaunch MiddCourses last spring, the website currently remains on hiatus while a student software development group on campus, MiddDev, works on reprogramming it from scratch. First created in 2014, MiddCourses, Middlebury’s anonymous, student-run course review site, was shut down in spring of 2021 after the software the website was programmed on became out of date. Since last spring, students at Middlebury have no longer had access to the information on MiddCourses, which ranged from grading expectations and assignment types to personal anecdotes about professors and courses.

Middcourses was created on an old coding software, Python 2.0, which became incompatible with Heroku, the hosting platform for MiddCourses, according to Nicholas Sliter 23, the project lead of the MiddCourses project for MiddDev. This incompatibility rendered the MiddCourses site completely inaccessible. 

The Student Government Association’s Innovation and Technology Committee told The Campus in spring 2021 that the webpage would be reinstated in March. Rather than recreate the entire site, the Innovation and Technology Committee was working on converting it from Python 2.0 to Python 3.0.  However, the project experienced difficulties and thus saw little progress. 

“It’s my understanding that there was difficulty getting the program to run on local development machines,” Sliter said. 

As of now, MiddCourses is currently down and the domain is listed for sale. SGA and MiddDev are now collaborating among a team of 10 students to create a new MiddCourses site using modern web development software, React and NeXT.  The website will still be hosted on Heroku. 

Sliter hopes to get at least a partially workable form of MiddCourses out to the public before spring course registration; however, he thinks a more feasible reopening for the website will be in about a year. The new site will have the same features as the old MiddCourses, but will feature a more up-to-date interface. It is unclear, according to Sliter, if the old information about courses and professors from the previous MiddCourses will be able to carry over to the new site. 

Since the site has been down, many students on campus have been affected by its absence. Emma Crockford 22.5 told The Campus that, before it went offline, MiddCourses was an important resource to determine the workload she was undertaking every semester. 

“As an English major,” Crockford said, “MiddCourses was incredibly useful in helping me balance the reading and writing workload of my classes.”

Professor Mark Spritzer of the Biology Department said that this benefit applies to students in STEM majors as well. Spritzer said MiddCourses could be especially beneficial in helping students balance lab courses with lecture courses. Spritzer is wary, however, of potential bias in student-sourced course review sites. 

“It’s selecting for only those students who have strong opinions for courses, and those will generally be more negative,” Spritzer said. “Those more neutral students are less likely to take time to write anything about the course.”

Spritzer fears the bias caused by the strong opinions of only a few individuals could steer students away from courses that would be valuable and important to their education. 

Some students on campus feel completely unaffected by the MiddCourses’ absence. Trey Atkins 22.5 told The Campus that he has not noticed that MiddCourses is down because he never used MiddCourses — even when the site was active. 

Atkins is majoring in chemistry and minoring in computer science. 

“My major has pretty strict requirements,” Atkins said.“Any opinion on MiddCourses isn’t going to change if I take Quantum Chemistry this semester.”