Meet Olivia Wirsching ’24 and Zane Bookbinder ’24, the computer science majors and girlfriend-boyfriend duo who created a new and improved Bowdoin Course Reviews (BCR) website.
The new website, which incorporates old BCR data into a much friendlier user interface, was announced to the student body via email on Monday at 11:30 a.m. Within the first four days since its launch, the website received over 1800 visits, 535 log-ins from unique users and 394 new reviews. The reviews from these four days outnumbered submissions to the old website over the past four years.
Bowdoin Course Reviews (BCR) is an online platform for students to submit reviews of their professors and classes, helping their peers make more informed decisions about the courses they enroll in each semester. Students rate their classes on scales from one to five using metrics including professor rating, course material, workload quantity, test difficulty and grading difficulty. The website is only accessible to Bowdoin students, and all reviews are anonymous.
The Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) has maintained BCR as a service on its website since 2012, but many Bowdoin students were unaware of the service or did not find it particularly helpful, according to Bookbinder and Wirsching. Because almost all of the reviews are from before 2018, many new classes and professors were unreviewed or missing from the website altogether. With the efforts of the computer science power couple, BCR has undergone what was, in their opinion, a much-needed revamp.
To get started, Wirsching and Bookbinder employed the help of Stephen Houser, senior director of academic technology and consulting and adjunct lecturer in computer science, who gave them access to the existing database of course reviews and helped them host the website on Bowdoin’s cloud services account. Before the launch, Wirsching and Bookbinder also integrated their website with students’ Okta verifications utilizing assistance from Erik Pearson, team lead of integrations and customization in the Office of Information Technology.
Wirsching and Bookbinder redesigned the website in a way that they hope makes it easier for students to use and add reviews. One major difference between the old website and the new one is an added search bar function. Instead of looking for a professor through an index, students can now search for a specific course, professor or department over three different search-bar categories. All reviews for a single course are now also displayed on the same webpage.
The option to submit a review to the BCR website is now a central function and easier to find. The form that students use to evaluate their classes was shortened and made more intuitive to answer to increase participation.
Wirsching and Bookbinder also added a “stats page,” which ranks students’ favorite and least favorite classes on a leaderboard. Users can view the College’s five highest and five lowest ranked courses and departments on the stats page, which will adjust as students add more reviews. Out of respect for professors, only the highest ranked professors are displayed on the stats page without sharing the lowest.
Wirsching and Bookbinder began working on the new website in November of last year, not for any specific class or assignment, but because they saw the revamp as an opportunity for a personal project.
“We got an email from Bowdoin Student Government last fall [asking students] to add a review to the old site, and we didn’t know the site existed and we clicked on it, and it looked outdated and hard to use,” Wirsching said. “It looked horrible … and we had been looking for a project to work on together,” Bookbinder said.
Wirsching and Bookbinder hope that their website helps students choose between classes for the upcoming semester.
“Conversations [about course selection] happen anyways,” Bookbinder said. “[The new website] makes those conversations more efficient and useful.”
President of BSG Paul Wang ’24 emphasized that the BSG advertised this platform in an effort to create equal access to this information, which he believes can help students make informed decisions for their academic success.
“BSG actively promoting Course Reviews as a service is important to promote equity for students who may not have the institutional knowledge that such resources exist,” Wang wrote in an email to the Orient. “More broadly, Course Reviews helps students plan for their academic success and flexibility.”
To incentivize students to add new reviews, Wirsching and Bookbinder also worked with Wang to create a raffle prize. If students submit a review during course registration this week, they are automatically qualified to win a $50 giftcard. Each review written counts as one “raffle ticket,” so students can increase their chances of winning by submitting multiple course reviews.
Beyond the raffle prize, Wirshing and Bookbinder hope that students are inspired to contribute reviews just because the website and existing contributions are helpful to them.
“If it’s easy to use and offers good information, we hope that’s enough to keep students coming back to the website,” Wirsching said.