CoursePlanner: from Science life hack to UU tool
Various UU-media recently announced that the CoursePlanner has been expanded with themes. This allows students to search and filter courses at an even broader level. But did you know that this handy tool originated from the minds of Faculty of Science employees and students?
Featured in this article: Dick Kampman (CoursePlanner development team coordinator) and Mohamed Addi (ICT-Bèta developer)
More than eight years ago, Dick Kampman and a number of colleagues and student assistants stood at the cradle of the first version of the CoursePlanner (then called the BetaPlanner), which was then much less extensive than it is now: “We wanted to make it easier for students to find information about courses so that they could orient themselves more broadly to what courses the faculty has to offer. But where would we start? You can't modify a nationwide programme like Osiris to suit your own needs. In 2014, the solution came knocking at our door: as a Computer Science (red. Informatica) student, I worked with the Computer Science website where we had clear overviews of the courses in our programme. What if we could create such a course overview for all Faculty of Science programmes? As a sort of 'life hack' so to speak?"
What is the CoursePlanner?
The CoursePlanner is a digital tool that helps students organise their studies and gain insight into available courses (which ones are mandatory, what do other faculties offer etc.). In the CoursePlanner, students can find an overview of all exam programmes and their corresponding exam components and courses. It's possible to search by topic, education style or competence.
ICT Bèta is now on its fifth generation of student assistants. Through them, we are in direct contact with our target group
Made by and for students
The plan was green-lit, and Marjon and Dick got to work together with a number of student assistants. Six months later, a pilot was ready. "We devised every code and functionality together. The students - our users - were an indispensable factor in that. They not only helped us with the implementation, but were also heavily involved with the functionalities and design. Because ultimately, they had to use it themselves. With this direct input from the target group, we created a tool that students actually use and enjoy.”
The tradition of a student team at ICT Bèta has remained, Dick explains: "ICT Bèta is now on its fifth generation of student assistants (2 to 3 at a time). To this day, they are a constant sounding board for us. Through them we are in direct contact with our target group."
Fart machine app
Mohamed (Mo) Addi, now Dick's right-hand man, was one of those student assistants in 2018. "I took a gap year after high school, and for fun, I built a fart machine app together with a friend. We earned 50 euros a month with it for an entire year. Who could have predicted that what started out as a joke would end up as an enrolment for the Bachelor of Computer Science."
"In the third year of my Bachelor's degree, I got the chance to work at ICT-Bèta together with other students. The work experience at an ICT department gave me a good start and came in handy during the graduation assignment where we had to build software ourselves. The groups with ICT work students had higher average grades because we already knew how to set up and coordinate an ICT project."
Space to go for quality
After his studies, Mo stuck around at the Science Faculty. Why? Mo: "At ICT-Bèta, no two days are the same. You work on all kinds of facets of all kinds of projects, which means I can develop across the breadth of the field. That is a big difference from 'normal' (ICT) companies. There, you usually get passed on tickets as a programmer, and that's it. Here, I can immediately see the impact of what I do, and I can also contribute to the creative process from the start. We’re here to help the university, its students and employees, not to build a commercial product. That gives us the space to really go for the quality."
More and more people see the added value of the tool and are using it. Super cool!
Almost all of UU is using the tool
After the launch of the CoursePlanner within the Science Faculty, praise for the ‘Faculty of Science life hack' spread through the UU corridors like wildfire. Humanities (GW) and University College Utrecht (UCU) soon contacted us to run a pilot. There are now 683 examination programmes and 7,318 courses in the CoursePlanner, and almost the entire university uses the tool. A great success, according to Mo: "More and more people see the added value of the tool and are using it. Super cool!" Dick adds: "The University Council deserves some of the thanks. They advised us to make it a UU-wide tool and suggested adding the themes. After all, how cool would it be if you could select courses based on a theme such as digitisation so that it would be easy to take a course at another faculty?"
Are students really happy with it?
Both men laugh heartily. Mo: "To be honest, we only hear the complaints! But that's the life of an ICT professional: you only hear things when something breaks or doesn't work properly. It's only logical: you don’t send Microsoft an e-mail to tell them that Word is working so well. We do hear from other employees or student assistants that the users are very happy with the CoursePlanner. The figures also show that the theme filters are really being used."
Do you have an idea for a new functionality? Or do you have questions about the new themes? Then please send the team an e-mail at email@example.com. All feedback is very welcome.
About Dick and Mo: 'Create a new experience out of nothing'
Programming is a very particular skill. What do Dick and Mo like about it?
Dick: "As a teenager, I already had a healthy obsession with computers and I learned programming at an early age. I already knew in high school that I wanted to study Computer Science (Informatica). For me, programming is like a jigsaw puzzle. You first have to analyse the problem (the big picture) and then come up with a solution. That puzzle work has kept me off the streets for years."
Mo: "It's cool to create a new experience out of nothing. You go from a code on a screen to something tangible. Like Dick, I enjoy coming up with clever solutions to problems. During the lockdown, you had to reserve time slots at my sports club. They were full all the time so people started booking all the slots in advance. Regardless of whether they could make it or not. As a solution, I created an app that sent me a message when a time slot was cancelled. That way I was the first to know and I always had a place.”
Do you do anything else besides ‘sitting’ behind a computer?
Dick: "What a question, haha. We are also real people and we have active social lives as well. I’m a fanatical swimmer too."
Mo: "In my spare time I play instruments (bass guitar, classical guitar and piano) and I like to draw. At home I have my own software to mix my music. That's where my computer background comes in handy again."