My, Oh My.Harvard

University online resources require more serious improvements

Returning to campus often means returning to unexpected changes: some good, some bad, and some inconsequential. The recent redesign of the my.harvard.edu website falls into that last category.

We extend our sincere congratulations to Eva Stojchevska ’15 on her winning and aesthetically pleasant design but lament the fact that that change was mostly superficial, while there is still so much room for improvement. My.harvard.edu remains a poor, out-dated excuse for an organizing tool and resource hub. The administration needs to implement real changes to the website and either hire student programmers to address these issues or allocate more resources to the existing information technology department.

At present, there is a huge gap between the official online tools available to Harvard students and the resources that we are technologically capable of creating. The University as a whole has been frustratingly slow in adopting changes to their online resources. Many student projects, such as Shuttle Boy and courses.cs50 have been far more successful than similar attempts by the IT department to provide for student needs.

Given the immense success and popularity of these tools, Harvard should increase its support for them and provide students with greater incentive to take on these time-consuming but much-appreciated projects. Rather than leaving these independent projects to operate separately, Harvard should embed these valuable tools into official websites such as my.harvard.edu. Many great student-designed tools rely on word-of-mouth to spread among the student body. Harvard could do its part by integrating these tools into their official websites. Further action needs to be taken to ensure that students receive a quality of web services commensurate with the high quality of the University.

One plan of action Harvard could take is paying student programmers for the tools they create. Harvard hires science concentrators to work in their labs and talented writers to work for the Writing Center. Following these precedents, the University should also hire talented student programmers and designers to work on improving their web resources. The benefits would be mutual— students could receive additional programming experience and the University could receive feedback on its websites from the individuals who are most affected by them.

The fact is that subpar organizing tools have a very real effect on our lives. At best, they are time-consuming and confusing. At worst, they are responsible for serious administrative errors that can be costly and limiting.

The pre-term planning tool perfectly illustrates this point. There are many problems with the planning tool, not the least of which is its reliable unreliability in predicting course enrollment as accurately as it might. Overflowing classrooms continue to be an issue, even several semesters into its adoption. In addition, the fact that students are required to watch a tutorial on how to use the planning tool indicates a disregard for usability on the part of the designers.

As online technology becomes an increasingly greater part of student’s lives, Harvard has an obligation to keep its resources up-to-date and user-friendly. In many cases, such as course registration, it is even in the administration’s own best interest to do so. By working with the student body to identify gaps in online resources and then putting its talent to work, Harvard can make their online resources a true work of beauty.

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