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My tenuous relationship with online course catalogs
September 23, 2010 - 4:45am

Most web-based course catalogs that I have surfed through seem like they were designed using an original Commodore 64. As an academic advisor, I often have the "pleasure" of browsing course catalogs from schools all over the United States. I have yet to find a course catalog that has an intuitive interface. My experience as an advisor should theoretically provide me with some advantage when I'm perusing a school's course catalog as I search for course information. However, I can say without any hesitation that most online course catalogs need to be rebuilt and redesigned.

My "dream" course catalog would include the following features:

  • Search: Reliable and relevant search. AJAX-based or even Google Instant.
  • Metadata: content relevant tags would help with browsing and increase search result reliability
  • CMS integration: pull in professor bio information from department websites and place it on course pages. One bio to rule them all.
  • Multimedia: Embedded videos of sample lectures on individual course pages.
  • Course matrices: showcase course relationships with academic programs.
  • Mobile: Yes, people do look at course catalogs while on the go.

Please know that in 2010, it is, in this author's opinion, unacceptable to publish a course catalog as a gigantic and unwieldy PDF. Furthermore, please save trees. Course catalogs do not need to be printed. Web-based catalogs are more efficient, more accessible, and are not the future, they are the present.

Content management systems allow higher education institutions to create fantastic websites. Our student information systems sometimes serve as our course information centers. I am ready to surf through an amazing course catalog that runs via a CMS or an information system. UX stands for "user experience." A course catalog experience should be seamless. Wouldn't it be neat to click through from a school's homepage to a catalog that maintained the overall aesthetic and experience of the "front of the house"?

Do you have an example of a well-designed and intuitive course catalog? I would love to see it!

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