Calling the first week of classes confusing or overwhelming is a massive understatement, particularly for first-year students. Trying to navigate the maze of buildings (“Which Dodge is this class actually in?”), all while furiously checking CourseWorks and SSOL to try to enroll in courses that excite you, is enough to make summer feel like it happened 10 years ago. The outages of both of these websites on Tuesday reinforced how dependent we are on Web tools to navigate Columbia and how imperfect those tools can be.
Over the past year or so, we’ve seen a number of student-driven Web tools and apps that have tried to make everyone’s day-to-day lives a little easier. Print@CU, for example, has helped speed up the often frustrating printing process. WTF Columbia has aggregated major issues in the community and brought them to the attention of our class councils. In the last few weeks, Lion Textbooks has become an innovative way to shop for textbooks and find the cheapest prices.
Student-driven solutions have proven effective in fixing problems or gaps in Columbia’s network. We have a bright, driven, and creative student body and an increasingly vibrant computer science community on campus. Students are unbound by the constraints that bind bureaucracy and are motivated by a passion for solving problems.
And there’s so much more to be done. Many elements of the housing process—matching possible roommates, searching for an adequate room, and a live update to keep track of which rooms are taken during In-Person Selection—are begging for easy-to-use sites. CourseWorks on mobile devices remains sketchy, at best. A site for selling used textbooks to other students could be developed. The process by which clubs book space around campus continues to be a nightmare. And, crucially, an accurate app that tells you what food is being served in the dining halls each day would bring joy to the hearts (or at least the stomachs) of many.
The list of situations that could benefit from creative solutions is extensive, and we’re certainly not going to be able to come up with an exhaustive list. It is imperative, though, that Columbia support students who propose these new undertakings. The University should be willing and eager to provide data and domains to assist projects like these.
If so inclined, the University might also think about incentivizing these sorts of efforts with monetary prizes. Past history, though, suggests that student innovation is not as successful when prompted by a contest. (Last year’s attempt by Housing to encourage the creation of a video explaining the housing process flew under the radar and ultimately drew only four entries despite a promise of $500 in Flex for the winner.)
Tech-driven solutions can’t fix every issue with Columbia. But when they can, we hope the school will jump at the opportunity to provide whatever resources necessary to make the next first week of classes just a little bit easier.
To respond to this staff editorial, or to submit an op-ed, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.