Try MiddCourses

By Guest Contributor

As registration for spring semester approached during my first year at Middlebury, I remember the stress and excitement that came with it. And, like any enterprising first year with nearly a semester of experience under his belt, I immediately began trying to figure out all the important course information not listed in the catalog’s surprisingly brief course descriptions.  How did students like the professors teaching these courses? How demanding would the workload be for each of them? Was I going to be writing papers, completing problems sets, or taking tests all semester? First, of course, I sought advice from the handful of upperclassmen I had managed to befriend during my first few weeks on campus. While helpful, only one of them had actually had any of the professors on my list of potential classes. They did, however, point me to what I thought was the holy grail of course information — middkid.com. 

Initially, I thought I had found all the information I needed. By reading through these reviews written by actual Middlebury students, I could figure out how much time others spent on the class each week, what they thought about the professor’s teaching ability and whether they would recommend taking the class. Slowly, however, I became increasingly disillusioned with the value of the information middkid.com provided in helping me make informed decisions about my classes. For starters, many of the reviews felt dated, with newer faculty having few if any reviews at all — an important gap, given they often teach introductory level courses. In addition, the organization of the site made it difficult to find courses and professors. Multiple pages containing different reviews referred to the same professor, sometimes with different spellings of his or her name. Finally, while I found many of my fellow classmates at Middlebury to be thoughtful students, they did not seem to be the ones writing the reviews on middkid.com. Rather than a general review of how most students felt about the course, the middkid.com reviews were frequently of the “loved it” or “hated it” variety.

Last spring, to improve upon all of these shortcomings, the SGA launched MiddCourses, a student-run course evaluation site. MiddCourses makes sure all the most recent courses are accurately listed by pulling that information directly from the College’s course catalog. More importantly, though, it limits access only to those with a middlebury.edu e-mail address and requires users to complete two new reviews each semester to view the existing database of over 1,500 reviews. This keeps our reviews up-to-date and makes them far more representative of general student opinion than those found on middkid.com. Rather than continuing to sing the praise MiddCourses, however, I’ll stop here and just recommend that you simply visit both and compare. I’m confident you’ll find MiddCourses the better option.

Even if you find the two comparable in quality, however, I think there remains a compelling reason to spend your time on MiddCourses — the student body owns it. We can, quite literally, change anything we want about the site. Middkid.com, by contrast, is a for-profit enterprise over which we have no control. We have already incorporated student feedback into MiddCourses so that it better serves students, and we are currently in the process of adding more features. That level of student ownership makes the future of MiddCourses far brighter than middkid.com. Students will always be in the best position to know how to improve and update the site so that it continues to be a helpful tool prior to registration. In addition, writing a review on MiddCourses increases the likelihood that future Middlebury students will be more informed when making decisions about which courses they should take. I have yet to meet anyone who has actually spent their own time reviewing courses on middkid.com. MiddCourses, on the other hand, creates the right incentives to encourage students to thoughtfully review their courses. 

The reflections we have on our academic experience at Middlebury are incredibly valuable, and we ought to share them with one another. While those reflections obviously extend beyond merely reviewing a course or a professor, MiddCourses gives us an opportunity to capture at least one element of our academic experience and pass on that information to future students. The site offers an invaluable opportunity to reduce the confusion and stress many feel when trying to figure out which classes to take. It is a unique platform through which we can institutionalize the type of information we all try to figure out by word of mouth before we register each year. Since we created it, MiddCourses can ultimately make sure that future students benefit from a large reservoir of past students’ experiences — and, quite frankly, that is something middkid.com will never to be able to offer.

TAYLOR CUSTER ’15 is the SGA President and is from West Brookfield, Mass.

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