By Wayne Lam
Today, you can use an app to hail a cab or to have groceries delivered within an hour, but college students still use outdated academic services for even simple tasks like signing up for classes, arranging college housing, and paying tuition. Frustrated with such outmoded tools, three UC Berkeley undergrads created an intuitive application to solve a central academic challenge for students there (and at most schools): finding the classes that best suit them.
Developed by Yuxin Zhu, Noah Gilmore, and Ashwin Iyengar, Berkeleytime is an interactive website that provides all of the school's curricular information in one place. Techonomy asked Zhu, a rising senior at UC Berkeley, how the site supplements Berkeley's current online resources and saves students time and effort in planning their college careers.
What tools does Berkeleytime give students that they don't get from the university's online resources?
The site gives users the unique ability to filter and sort through thousands of classes by requirements, visualize enrollment history and grade distributions, and even see a live campus map of ongoing lectures.
UC Berkeley is one of the most prestigious universities in the world, but as undergraduates we found that its online resources were severely lacking. Students have to go through pages and pages of course listings and cross-reference them with two or three other websites before figuring out what those classes are and whether they meet certain requirements.
As freshmen, we were constantly dissatisfied by the fact that we had to waste hours trying to find a class we wanted to take, only to discover that the class wasn't even offered that semester. Berkeleytime combines all the publicly available data across multiple Berkeley websites and presents accurate and relevant information to students.
Why the name "Berkeleytime?"
"Berkeley time" has been an unofficial rule at UC Berkeley: everything starts 10 minutes later than scheduled so students could always get to classes across campus on time. We wanted to create a service for students that was just as useful as its "10-minute" namesake, and we hope we've succeeded.
What kind of adoption has there been on campus?
Since launching in October 2012, Berkeleytime has seen over 250,000 visits by over 60,000 users. On the first day alone, we had over 1,500 unique visitors, and that number more than tripled by the end of the first month. During periods when students are signing up for classes, we frequently see more than 2,000 visitors a day. In the last 9 months, users have clicked on over a million courses. Perhaps the biggest indication that the site has gained a foothold at the university is seeing fellow students using it during classes.
How do you explain its rapid popularity?
Almost every undergraduate at Berkeley has the problem of spending hours juggling between four to five different websites and still not knowing what to take, so it didn't take long for students to tell each other about this alternative. We spent a lot of time coming up with a user interface that condenses all the information about courses, requirements, enrollment, and more into something that still looked extremely simple.
The site also allows students to do things that would previously have been almost impossible. For instance, students can find a course that fulfills multiple requirements simultaneously and also fits the times and days they are available. Students can track how quickly classes are enrolling, compare it to the same course in previous semesters, and sign up accordingly. Berkeleytime's features are very much designed with the undergraduate experience in mind, so it's not too surprising that a lot of students prefer using it over Berkeley's official catalog and course listings.
Did you do anything to actively grow Berkeleytime's user base?
It was mostly word of mouth. Many of the features on Berkeleytime are tailored to the way requirements and courses work at Berkeley, so it fits extremely well to the needs of students. Initially we advertised on social media like Facebook and Twitter, but after a while the growth became very organic. Many upperclassmen and student resources mention Berkeleytime as one of the tools that incoming freshmen can use to plan their classes at Cal.
What kind of challenges did you face developing the website?
When we first started working on the project towards the end of our freshman year, it was safe to say that we had no idea what we were doing. We were still in the midst of our second programming class ever, and finding time to develop such a large website was definitely a learning process far beyond what any course has taught us. We went through many iterations, from our first prototype to the product that users see today. Along the way, we learned countless things about software engineering, Web design, and incorporating feedback from the community.
One of the biggest technical challenges we faced was figuring out a way to intuitively reduce all the information out there into something that's still digestible. What users see as pretty charts and graphs is in fact a large amount of data, and a lot of thought went into what works and what doesn't. Since we started working on the project, we've also grown as a team and become better friends.
Will Berkeleytime live on after its creators graduate?
Our goal for Berkeleytime is for it to continue to help students discover great new opportunities at Cal. We have received countless emails from current students and alumni saying how much they wished this service had been available earlier. We're hoping to collaborate with the administration to incorporate the application as an official university resource, so that it may continue to help Berkeley students after we graduate.
Original article published on Techonomy.com.