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Undergrad Website Ranks Courses

By Alexandra C. Bell, Crimson Staff Writer

If painless classes are “as you like it,” then Dramatic Arts 12, “Acting Shakespeare,” could be a mid-spring night’s dream for you, according to a new website by a Harvard engineering concentrator that ranks the course as the easiest spring semester offering.

And while Mathematics 25b, “Honors Multivariable Calculus and Linear Algebra,” is the hardest spring semester course, according to the site, it might not be “love’s labours lost”: The class also ranks as the best among those with over 15 students.

Michael W. Reckhow ’06 has created a website listing all the classes offered this semester, then ranking them within departments and overall from easiest to hardest and best to worst, using the information supplied by the current Committee on Undergraduate Education (CUE) Guide.

Over 2,600 unique users had visited as of last night, according to the site’s creator.

Reckhow, who has also built websites for the student-run companies Let’s Go Publications and Redline Textbooks, said that the inspiration for his new course site struck as he noticed how time-consuming it was to flip through the CUE guide and manually compare class ratings this past exam period.

“I realized there was a need to have something to aggregate all this information,” he said. “I’m interested to see how faculty will react to getting recognition that their course is the sort of ‘best’ in the department or being the teacher of the lowest-rated course.”

The lowest-rated spring course, according to the site, is Science A-52, “Energy, Environment, and Industrial Development,” which polls a meager 2.4.

Reckhow explained that he had built the site with some “fairly complex code.” First, he created a directory of courses with links to the CUE Guide and Registrar’s list that “filtered out all the courses so that you could see only ones that were offered this semester.” He then programmed a search engine and, the day before intersession, added the course ranking system.

While Reckhow’s site now only orders classes by their overall CUE rating and their difficulty score, he said he plans to add other rankings.

“Now I’ve seen how many people are using it I might incorporate previous years’ CUE guides as well,” Reckhow said.

But the editor-in-chief of this year’s CUE guide, Lyndsey M. Straight ’06, said the site’s rankings oversimplified the CUE ratings and could be misleading.

“I do think it’s very creative,” she said. “I just think that it kind of takes the intent of the CUE guide out of context.”

“It reduces what the CUE guide ratings are to kind of a simplistic level,” Straight added. “It’s important to look beyond the numbers and read the write-up.”

She also thought that the comparisons between different subjects were inappropriate.

“You’re comparing apples and oranges there,” she said. “What a chem major finds hard might be different to what a history major finds hard.”

Straight recommended that “each person should use the CUE Guide a bit more personally.”

She mentioned that there is a high chance that the CUE Guide would soon go fully online, replacing the paper version.

And Reckhow said he hoped that his site might one day spur administrators to create a similar official tool for students.

“I’ve put about 10 hours of work in,” he said. “If they put their resources towards making a tool they could really do something.”

—Staff writer Alexandra C. Bell can be reached at

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