Northwestern students design course browsing website to complement CAESAR


Source: Romaine screenshot

Four Knight Lab student fellows designed Romaine, a website where students can select an undergraduate school to see the courses it offers in a quarter. The website is live now and will be updated when spring course information is available.

Shane McKeon, Assistant Campus Editor

Four Knight Lab student fellows have developed a website designed to help CAESAR-weary students select courses. The website uses Facebook integration to allows users to see what classes their friends are interested in. 

Romaine, created to give students a more user-friendly way to search for classes, features a simple design that lets students select a school — or a department within a school — and view its offered courses for a quarter, then save them to their cart for later viewing. The classes they save are then visible to their Facebook friends, who see a list of friends enrolled next to each course’s listing.

Weinberg junior Nicole Zhu is one of the four students who worked on Romaine. Zhu said the program is not a complete replacement for CAESAR, but a way to add two functions the University site does not have: knowing what friends are taking and easily browsing for classes.

“We want it to complement or ease the process of course selection,” she said. “So what we’re really doing is making course selection social. And, at this point, I think CAESAR is good for the people who know what they’re going to take, but it doesn’t make course browsing, especially if you’re a freshman, any less hectic.”

The website went live the final week of Fall Quarter, and students can experiment with it using this quarter’s courses. Zhu said the site will be updated with Spring Quarter course information when it becomes available.

Students cannot enroll for classes through Romaine, nor can they view CTECs.

Medill junior Mallory Busch, who also worked on the project, said Romaine is at the point developers call the “minimum viable product.” It has just enough functionality to go public, but there’s more that can be added.

Busch also spoke to Romaine’s more socially-minded design, saying the website allows you to “base your decision to take an elective on how many or which friends are taking that class as well.”

Zhu said one of Romaine’s better qualities is that it provides an alternative to posting a photo of one’s schedule on Facebook.

“I think people find that annoying,” she said, “or at least it’s not the most effective way of doing it. If it falls off someone’s timeline, no one’s going to see it. So we wanted to take that thing people are already doing on Facebook and build a separate platform for it.”

Zhu and Busch were joined by Medill junior Ashley Wu and Medill senior Suyeon Son in the project. 

Romaine is the latest program aimed at making course registration easier, following CourseDJ, which Associated Student Government launched in November. Earlier this year, ASG released the Northwestern Course Data API, which allows students to use NU’s course data when designing such programs.

Medill sophomore Alex Duner, a Knight Lab student fellow who did not work on the Romaine project, said this project is unique for the lab, given it usually focuses on journalism-related projects. He said the lab is relatively new and still shaping its goals.

Zhu also said Romaine users can view more than 200 course results for a query, and that it works on mobile, two things that CAESAR cannot do.

And yes, Zhu said, students will be able to use their backspace key without Romaine “freaking out.”

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