Finding On-line Course Information at Haverford College
Doug Davis
11/21/2000

On-line Course Information.Having promised myself and several of the principals that I would understand how Haverfordís Web-fronted on-line course information system came to be unable to meet one faculty memberís needs, I first sought to ascertain what syllabi were in fact linked to the searchable Web portal. My first discovery was that there are infact two such databases; my second finding was that the Collegeís Web resources concerning catalogue information, departmental offerings and requirements, and specific courses can indeed be confusing to a typical Ph.D.

One reason faculty do not know what information about their courses is on-line is that they cannot find the appropriate Web resource. The TriCollege Course Guide (http://www.trico.haverford.edu/cgi-bin/courseguide/cgi-bin/search.cgi) and the Course Information Lookup page (http://adm-cgi.haverford.edu/courseinfo/infosearch.cgi) both present course information from the Administrative Computing database. Each is, IMO, quite straightforward in design and user interface, but the former is more complex and, if its search options are not carefully selected, it can seem to produce different results (or even no results at all) on successive searches. Both resources are linked to the Registrarís page as http://www.haverford.edu/deptinfo/acaddepts.html, but few of us use that route and one can easily forget how one got to a different set of results on previous browsing. My first recommendation: put clear, adjacent, informative links on the Registrarís main page and on the Course Information, Student, and Faculty buttons thereon. Iíd also suggest that all academic departments also add a link to these two search engines in a fairly standard way. Many of our staff and clients will now expect to find course information on departmental Web pages, or in a single catalogue-like resource; but these efforts are likely to be frustrated by the existence of similar-seeming but very different resources

Course Syllabi Linked to Course Information Lookup. I undertook to discover, for a sample of ten faculty (chosen almost at random, though I tried to include junior and senior, male, and female, and non- and scientist colleagues). I entered each name into http://adm-cgi.haverford.edu/courseinfo/infosearch.cgi and got the following results:

        Amador††††††††††††††††††††† 4/5†††††††††††††††††††† 1/4

        Ball†††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 0/1

        Dawson††††††††††††††††††††† 0/2

        Finley††††††††††††††††††††††††† 1/1†††††††††††††††††††† 1/1

        Gollub†††††††††††††††††††††††† 3/3†††††††††††††††††††† 1/3

        Greene††††††††††††††††††††††† 0/3

        Sternberg††††††††††††††††††† 0/4

The first numbers represent how many of the listed courses have any linked information, and the second how many of those links point to actual syllabi. I infer from these sample data that we have far from complete compliance with Carol Wilkinsonís September 21, 1999, memo to faculty about the importance, and the means, of supplying online course information.

Since the two of three faculty with listings are in Physics, I compared entries for the science departments Physics, Chemistry, and Biology, with these results:

        Physics†††††††††††††††††††††† 10/10†††††††††††††††† 2/10

That is, two of this semesterís Physics courses have linked syllabus material , but none of the courses in the allied departments of Chemistry and Biology do. Inference: even scientists do not use this system with aplomb.

I then become obsessed with the question of who actually had managed produce one or more syllabi linked to the on-line system. Here are the results, for Fall 2000, using the departmental listings produced by http://adm-cgi.haverford.edu/courseinfo/infosearch.cgi:

So, several years after Haverford College began to provide Web-accessible data on courses, 17 faculty were found to have supplied syllabus text files to be linked to that database.No wonder most faculty feel guilty about failure to comply with yet another College policy, and most students find it hard to plan an academic career with the on-line resources available. On the basis of this data-gathering, I submit that we do not have a viable resource here for student course selection. The resource works well to list courses being offered, with time and location; but detailed descriptions and syllabi must mostly be found elsewhere. Carol has done a fine job with the materials supplied her in a timely fashion, but she has not had even nearly adequate compliance.

Departmental Information on the Haverford College Website. On the other hand, many faculty do have syllabus materials linked to the various departmental Web pages, and most of these Web pages now convey some of the range and quality of our offerings in each academic field.These Web pages, in turn, are accessible in a variety of ways from the College's main pages Ė but finding that link, too, can be difficult; and the existence of an similar-looking link to the College's printed catalog in Web form creates real potential for confusion.

Browsing Haverford departmental Web pages reveals the following:

The CIO group is now at a point where, having spent collectively dozens of hours on issues related to on-line course information in recent weeks, we should try both to make what changes suggest themselves to the College's Web resources and to the course database Web resource itself, and we should consider both possible revision of the policy of soliciting faculty syllabi for linking to the database and a clear articulation of that policy in writing (and on the Website) so that it can be submitted to the faculty and they can be aided to compliance.