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Factrack For First Years

Isn’t it about time that WSO’s Factrak was available to first years? Apparently, not.

Q: I don’t have access to Factrack on WSO for some reason. I emailed them but haven’t gotten a response. Any know any other way to find ratings on professors?

A: Eh, this happened to the ’10s last year to, you probably won’t be able to get on until mid September. Until then you just have to be good at guessing.

Too bad. Factrack should be open to first years. In fact, it should be open to everyone. The more transparency and input, the better. Another long term project is to replace Factrack with a more Wiki-type system which would allow for comments on the comments. We shouldn’t delete a student’s opinion that, say, a specific class has a disorganized syllabus, but we should provide an easy mechanism for another student (or alum) to disagree.

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#1 Comment By ’10 On August 13, 2007 @ 6:05 pm

Factrak already allows for comments on comments; you just post another comment. There are lots of profs where one person has posted a criticism and the next has posted a glowing review explicitly contradicting the earlier criticism, or vice versa. You can see how many people have agreed with each comment, which gives a good idea of their relative merits. I think anything more would just add complication without increasing utility.

Also, why should Factrak be open to anyone? The only people who have anything useful to contribute are current students, and it’s meant specifically to help current students choose classes. Profs already have the blue comment sheets to gauge student opinion. I think a lot of the brutal honesty that makes Factrak useful would disappear if it were fully public. Sure, it would solve minor issues like this where WSO is slow to update things, but so would other, less extreme measures.

#2 Comment By Andrew On August 13, 2007 @ 11:13 pm

FacTrak is less useful if it’s fully public, IMO.

As for frosh access, I believe that is a technical issue at WSO’s end, but it’s not their fault. AFAIK, it has to do with compatibility issues between the old FacTrak code and the current OIT login databases. Remember the problems with the WSO Facebook earlier this year?

Look, it’s like this: the school can’t run FacTrak itself for obvious reasons, but the alternative is damn hard to do well given the nature of WSO. No coders are around for more than four years at a time, so God only knows how new coders will find time to learn programs that aren’t their own well enough to successfully fix them to work in new situations.

Disclaimer:

Don’t take my words as official statements of WSO policy; I’m not a WSO member, and I’m just blathering given what little I know of computers and the awesome, underappreciated people who make up WSO.

#3 Comment By Diana On August 14, 2007 @ 8:07 am

AFAIK, Factrak was originally public, but professors got all up in arms about it or something, so it became students-only.

In addition to being able to post a comment after a comment with which you disagree, there is also an “agree with comment” feature. On some Factrak pages, there are comments with many “agrees” (as in, “10 people agreed with this comment”) and other comments with 0. So it’s easy to see which comments are the most accurate.

#4 Comment By Arjun N On August 14, 2007 @ 8:51 am

Factrac is currently being completely rewritten from scratch by WSO. The current system is being scrapped. I dont know in what direction its headed (Im not part of WSO) but Im sure the good folk there would appreciate suggestions / comments / discussion.

#5 Comment By eph ’11 On August 14, 2007 @ 10:52 am

It would have been nice if first-years could see the information on Factrac before they chose their first semester classes. There’s no need for comment-writing, but since each course at Williams costs about $6000, pre-frosh should be able to see which professors to completely avoid so as not to waste a precious course.

#6 Comment By Jonathan Landsman On August 14, 2007 @ 11:25 am

Ha, really Arjun? Factrak was totally rewritten two and a half years ago. I’m surprised it needs to be again.

Diana is right. Factrak 1.0 was launched Spring 2002 and it drew wide response and criticism from professors and administration officials. Threat that it be shut down was very real. Its founders chose then to make it accessible only to students. For reasons not worth going into now, I have (legitimate) access to the original Factrak’s files, including its FAQ. An excerpt:

Why is Factrak only accessible to students?

Factrak has been made accessible only to students largely in response to concerns raised by members of the faculty. It was expressed to us that the site being available to students and faculty might create tensions. Submissions were available not only to the professor they pertain to, but also his or her colleagues. Professors also expressed to us that negative comments were hurtful and insulting. Last, the concern was raised that Factrak might in some way impact the tenure process. We believe that making the site student-only will help to alleviate some of these concerns and will not diminish the value of the site to the student body.

While faculty members are currently unable to read their comments, we at Factrak understand the reasons they might wish to do so. Many members of the faculty have expressed their desire that they be unable to access any part of the site, including their own reviews, but if a large number of professors wish to be able to view their own feedback, we are more than willing to adjust this policy so that professors could access the site. If you have any thoughts about this policy, feel free to e-mail us at factrak@wso.williams.edu.

Critics should realize just how tenuous the existence of Factrak is. As pointed out above, its code becomes a relic every few years, and this is probably most of the reason it is being rewritten now. Additionally, there were once many college officials who wanted it gone, they always refuse to cooperate with its operation, and the wrong stir of the pot might draw their active opposition.

The added benefit of opening the site even to alums, let alone the general public, is miniscule compared to the benefits to students. Furthermore, current students and incoming first-years have a need-to-know claim that the rest of us don’t.

WSO has a track record for the most consistent, best-judgment work of any group on campus. Two generations of programmers have chosen to keep it student only and I’ve no doubt the third will too.

#7 Comment By Anonymous On August 14, 2007 @ 12:46 pm

Outsource WSO code to India!

#8 Comment By Anonymous On August 14, 2007 @ 1:40 pm

I remember when that thing was written – goodness the true stripes of some of those professors (White) came out in that one.

#9 Comment By Anonymous On August 14, 2007 @ 7:14 pm

But we frosh are really at a disadvantage.

And those of us who got bumped out of the classes we signed up for on this latest round of notifications are running into the frosh-one-course-in-a-dept/semester rule, the stuff that really appeals to us is long since full, and huge clumps of classes all meet at the same times. What’s left is really, really slim pickings. Still, I’m thinking you don’t need Factrak to suspect who the really lousy teachers are (hint: look for the ones with smallish classes who still have openings in all their courses). I don’t like to be too much of a consumerist, but at about $6,000 a pop, it looks like we’re buying ourselves a really scary pig in a poke. Not that Factrak would probably help all that much…

#10 Comment By Anonymous On August 14, 2007 @ 10:59 pm

“since each course at Williams costs about $6000”

“at about $6,000 a pop”

“Tuition and Fees” for the 2007-08 school year total $35,670; if a student takes the usual course load of four per semester, the cost for each course is $4,458.75 (less if one takes five).